Societal collapse

Societal collapse

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Societal collapse broadly includes both quite abrupt societal failures typified by collapses (such as that of the Mayan Civilization), as well as more extended gradual declines
Dark Ages
The "Dark Ages" is a historical periodization emphasizing the cultural and economic deterioration that supposedly occurred in Europe following the decline of the Roman Empire. The label employs traditional light-versus-darkness imagery to contrast the "darkness" of the period with earlier and later...

 of superpower
Superpower
A superpower is a state with a dominant position in the international system which has the ability to influence events and its own interests and project power on a worldwide scale to protect those interests...

s (like the Roman empire in Western Europe
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

 and the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 in East Asia
East Asia
East Asia or Eastern Asia is a subregion of Asia that can be defined in either geographical or cultural terms...

). The general subject arises in anthropology
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

, history
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

, sociology
Sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

, politics
Politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

 and other fields, and more recently in complex systems
Complex systems
Complex systems present problems in mathematical modelling.The equations from which complex system models are developed generally derive from statistical physics, information theory and non-linear dynamics, and represent organized but unpredictable behaviors of systems of nature that are considered...

 science.

In systems science
Systems science
Systems science is an interdisciplinary field of science that studies the nature of complex systems in nature, society, and science. It aims to develop interdisciplinary foundations, which are applicable in a variety of areas, such as engineering, biology, medicine and social sciences.Systems...

 it refers to the presumed organizational structures of societies and how they prevent societies from adapting to change in their circumstances. A simple example would be the dissolution of the Soviet Union
Dissolution of the Soviet Union
The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the disintegration of the federal political structures and central government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , resulting in the independence of all fifteen republics of the Soviet Union between March 11, 1990 and December 25, 1991...

. The abrupt disappearance of a global superpower in the course of a few months, without any external attack, was evidently caused by some kind of structural change in its internal complex system. That researchers, as yet, have very little ability to identify such internal structures for large distributed systems like human societies is an important scientific problem. That genuine structural collapse seems, in many cases, the only plausible explanation supports the idea that such structures exist. However, until they can be concretely identified, scientific inquiry appears limited to the construction of scientific narratives , using systems thinking
Systems thinking
Systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish...

 for careful story telling about systemic organization and change. History includes many examples of the appearance and disappearance of human societies with no obvious explanation.

Although a societal collapse is generally an endpoint for that form of administering the social and economic life of a culture, it can be as another kind of change of administration of the same culture (Russian culture
Russian culture
Russian culture is associated with the country of Russia and, sometimes, specifically with ethnic Russians. It has a rich history and can boast a long tradition of excellence in every aspect of the arts, especially when it comes to literature and philosophy, classical music and ballet, architecture...

 would seem to have outlived both the society of Imperial Russia and the society of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

, for example). Frequently the phenomenon is also a process of decentralization of authority after a 'classic' period of centralized social order, perhaps replaced by competing centers as the central authority weakens. As when the black plague
Black Death
The Black Death was one of the most devastating pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. Of several competing theories, the dominant explanation for the Black Death is the plague theory, which attributes the outbreak to the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Thought to have...

 contributed to breaking the hold of Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an feudal society on its underclass
Underclass
The term underclass refers to a segment of the population that occupies the lowest possible position in a class hierarchy, below the core body of the working class. The general idea that a class system includes a population under the working class has a long tradition in the social sciences...

 in the 15th century, societal failure may also result in a degree of empowerment for the lower levels of a former climax society, who escape from the burden of onerous taxes and control by exploitative elites.

Societal collapse is not a benign social process, but remnants may linger long after the high culture
High culture
High culture is a term, now used in a number of different ways in academic discourse, whose most common meaning is the set of cultural products, mainly in the arts, held in the highest esteem by a culture...

 of the society vanishes.

Causes of collapse


The common factors appearing to contribute to societal collapse are economic, environmental, social and cultural, but they manifest combined effects like a whole system out of balance. In many cases a natural disaster (e.g. tsunami
Tsunami
A tsunami is a series of water waves caused by the displacement of a large volume of a body of water, typically an ocean or a large lake...

, earthquake
Earthquake
An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. The seismicity, seismism or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time...

, massive fire or climate change) may seem to be an immediate cause. However, other cases of civilizations in similar situations that were resilient and survived the same kind of insult show that such causes are not sufficient.

This is the reasoning method used by Joseph Tainter
Joseph Tainter
Joseph A. Tainter is a U.S. anthropologist and historian.Tainter studied anthropology at the University of California and Northwestern University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1975. He is currently a professor in the Department of Environment and Society at Utah State University...

, and how he examined the evidence to eliminate the insufficient causes in his thesis that societies essentially exhausted their own designs, and were unable to adapt to natural diminishing returns for what they knew as their method of survival. It matches closely Toynbee's
Arnold J. Toynbee
Arnold Joseph Toynbee CH was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A Study of History, 1934–1961, was a synthesis of world history, a metahistory based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined history from a global...

 idea that "they find problems they can't solve".

The diversity of forms that societies evolve corresponds to diversity in their failures too. In other instances significant inequity may combine with lack of loyalty to a central power structure and result in an oppressed lower class rising up and taking power from a smaller wealthy elite.

If there is a general "antidote" to collapse, it would seem to be social cohesion
Social cohesion
Social cohesion is a term used in social policy, sociology and political science to describe the bonds or "glue" that bring people together in society, particularly in the context of cultural diversity. Social cohesion is a multi-faceted notion covering many different kinds of social phenomena...

, economic growth and adaptability
Adaptability
Adaptability is a feature of a system or of a process. This word has been put to use as a specialised term in different disciplines and in business operations. Word definitions of adaptability as a specialised term differ little from dictionary definitions...

.

Collapse vs. decline


The term "societal collapse" usually refers to the disappearance of human societies along with their life support systems, but due to the lack of clear definition for why that occurs includes both quite abrupt societal failures typified by collapses such as that of the Mayan Civilization, as well as more extended gradual declines of superpowers like the Roman Empire in Western Europe
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

 and the Han Dynasty
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 in East Asia
East Asia
East Asia or Eastern Asia is a subregion of Asia that can be defined in either geographical or cultural terms...

. The great irony expressed by these and others like them is that civilizations that seem ideally designed to creatively solve problems find themselves doing so self-destructively.

What distinguishes the more dramatic failures of human societies, seeming to deserve the term "collapse", from less dramatic long term decline is not widely agreed on. The subject also then generally includes any other long term decline
Decline
Decline is a change over time from previously efficient to inefficient organizational functioning, from previously rational to non-rational organizational and individual decision-making, from previously law-abiding to law violating organizational and individual behavior, from previously virtuous to...

 of a culture
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

, its civil institutions or other major characteristics of it as a society
Society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 or a civilization
Civilization
Civilization is a sometimes controversial term that has been used in several related ways. Primarily, the term has been used to refer to the material and instrumental side of human cultures that are complex in terms of technology, science, and division of labor. Such civilizations are generally...

, generally permanent.

The coupled breakdown of economic, cultural and social institutions with ecological relationships is perhaps the most common feature of collapse. The most accessible and thorough discussions of the subject are the review of the scientific anthropology literature by J.A. Tainter and the popular but thorough book of similar title by Jared Diamond.

Linking social/environmental dynamics


Modern social critics commonly interpret things like sedentary social behavior as symptomatic of societal decay, and link what appears to be laziness with the depletion of important non-renewable resources. However, many primitive cultures also have high degrees of leisure, so if that is a cause in one place it may not be in another—leisure or apparent laziness is then not a sufficient cause.

What produces modern sedentary life, unlike nomad
Nomad
Nomadic people , commonly known as itinerants in modern-day contexts, are communities of people who move from one place to another, rather than settling permanently in one location. There are an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world. Many cultures have traditionally been nomadic, but...

ic hunter-gatherer
Hunter-gatherer
A hunter-gatherer or forage society is one in which most or all food is obtained from wild plants and animals, in contrast to agricultural societies which rely mainly on domesticated species. Hunting and gathering was the ancestral subsistence mode of Homo, and all modern humans were...

s, is extraordinary modern economic productivity. Tainter argues that exceptional productivity is actually more the sign of hidden weakness, both because of a society's dependence on it, and its potential to undermine its own basis for success by not being self limiting
Self-limiting (biology)
In biology, a self-limiting organism or colony of organisms limits its own growth by its actions. For example, a single organism may have a maximum size determined by genetics, or a colony of organisms may release waste which is ultimately toxic to the colony once it exceeds a certain population...

 as demonstrated in Western culture's ideal of perpetual growth.

As a population grows and technology makes it easier to exploit depleting resources, the environment's diminishing returns
Diminishing returns
In economics, diminishing returns is the decrease in the marginal output of a production process as the amount of a single factor of production is increased, while the amounts of all other factors of production stay constant.The law of diminishing returns In economics, diminishing returns (also...

 are hidden from view. Societal complexity
Complexity
In general usage, complexity tends to be used to characterize something with many parts in intricate arrangement. The study of these complex linkages is the main goal of complex systems theory. In science there are at this time a number of approaches to characterizing complexity, many of which are...

 is then potentially threatened if it develops beyond what is actually sustainable, and a disorderly reorganization were to follow. This is like the scissors model of Malthusian collapse where the population grows without limit and resources do not, and is the usual simple idea of great opposing environmental forces cutting into each other.

It also appears to occur in complex forms in real collapses. For the modern world economy, for example, the growing conflict between food and fuel, depending on many of the same finite and diminishing resources is visible in the recent major commodity price shocks
Commodity price shocks
Commodity price shocks are times when the prices for commodities have increased suddenly. - 1971–1973 :At the time of the 1973 oil crisis the price of corn and wheat went up by a factor of three.- 2005–2008 :...

, and is one of the key relationships people since the early studies of the Club of Rome
Club of Rome
The Club of Rome is a global think tank that deals with a variety of international political issues. Founded in 1968 at Accademia dei Lincei in Rome, Italy, the CoR describes itself as "a group of world citizens, sharing a common concern for the future of humanity." It consists of current and...

 have been most concerned with.

Energy return on energy invested theories


A related economic model is proposed by Thomas Homer-Dixon and by Charles Hall in relation to our declining productivity of energy extraction, or energy return on energy invested (EROEI
EROEI
In physics, energy economics and ecological energetics, energy returned on energy invested ; or energy return on investment , is the ratio of the amount of usable energy acquired from a particular energy resource to the amount of energy expended to obtain that energy resource...

). This measures the amount of surplus energy a society gets from using energy to obtain energy.

There would be no surplus if EROEI approaches 1:1. What Hall showed is that the real cutoff is well above that, estimated to be 3:1 to sustain the essential overhead energy costs of a modern society. Part of the mental equation is that the EROEI of our generally preferred energy source, petroleum
Petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

, has fallen in the past century from 100:1 to the range of 10:1 with clear evidence that the natural depletion curves all are downward decay curves. An EROEI of more than ~3, then, is what appears necessary to provide the energy for societally important tasks, such as maintaining government, legal and financial institutions, a transportation infrastructure, manufacturing, building construction and maintenance and the life styles of the rich and poor that a society depends on.

The EROEI figure also affects the number of people needed for food production. In the pre-modern world, it was often the case that 80% of the population was employed in agriculture to feed a population of 100%, with a low energy budget. In modern times, the use of cheap fossil fuels with an exceedingly high EROEI enabled 100% of the population to be fed with only 4% of the population employed in agriculture. Diminishing EROEI making fuel more expensive relative to other things may require food to be produced using less energy, and so increases the number of people employed in food production again.

Population dynamics and other features of collapse


In the general study of cultural change and population dynamics
Population dynamics
Population dynamics is the branch of life sciences that studies short-term and long-term changes in the size and age composition of populations, and the biological and environmental processes influencing those changes...

, a whole system displays complex ecosystem change, and organizational adaptability
Adaptability
Adaptability is a feature of a system or of a process. This word has been put to use as a specialised term in different disciplines and in business operations. Word definitions of adaptability as a specialised term differ little from dictionary definitions...

 relates importantly to organizational diversity. Several key features of human societal collapse can be related to population dynamics

Reversion/Simplification: A society's adaptive capacity
Adaptive capacity
Adaptive capacity is the capacity of a system to adapt if the environment where the system exists is changing. It is applied to e.g., ecological systems and human social systems.As applied to ecological systems, the adaptive capacity is determined by :...

 may be reduced by either a sharp increase in population or societal complexity, destabilizing its institutions and causing massive shifts in population and other social dynamics. In cases of collapse civilizations tend to revert to less complex, less centralized socio-political forms using simpler technology. These are characteristics of a Dark Age. Examples of such societal collapse are: the Hittite Empire, the Mycenaean civilization, the Western Roman Empire
Western Roman Empire
The Western Roman Empire was the western half of the Roman Empire after its division by Diocletian in 285; the other half of the Roman Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly referred to today as the Byzantine Empire....

, the Mauryan and Gupta
Gupta Empire
The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire which existed approximately from 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model of a classical civilization. The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the...

 Empires in India, the Mayas, the Angkor
Angkor
Angkor is a region of Cambodia that served as the seat of the Khmer Empire, which flourished from approximately the 9th to 15th centuries. The word Angkor is derived from the Sanskrit nagara , meaning "city"...

 in Cambodia, and the Han
Han Dynasty
The Han Dynasty was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin Dynasty and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms . It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin Dynasty of the former regent Wang Mang...

 and Tang
Tang Dynasty
The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

 dynasties in China.

Incorporation/Absorption: Alternately, a society may be gradually incorporated into a more dynamic, more complex inter-regional social structure. This happened in Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 and Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

, the Levantine cultures
Levant
The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

, the Eastern Roman Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

, the Mughal
Mughal Empire
The Mughal Empire ,‎ or Mogul Empire in traditional English usage, was an imperial power from the Indian Subcontinent. The Mughal emperors were descendants of the Timurids...

 and Delhi Sultanate
Delhi Sultanate
The Delhi Sultanate is a term used to cover five short-lived, Delhi based kingdoms or sultanates, of Turkic origin in medieval India. The sultanates ruled from Delhi between 1206 and 1526, when the last was replaced by the Mughal dynasty...

s in India, Sung China
Song Dynasty
The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

, the Aztec
Aztec
The Aztec people were certain ethnic groups of central Mexico, particularly those groups who spoke the Nahuatl language and who dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, a period referred to as the late post-classic period in Mesoamerican chronology.Aztec is the...

 culture in Mesoamerica, the Inca culture in South America, and the modern civilizations of China, Japan, and India, as well as many modern states in the Middle East and Africa.

Other features
  • Destratification: Complex societies stratified on the basis of class, gender, race or some other salient factor become much more homogeneous or horizontally structured. In many cases past social stratification slowly becomes irrelevant following collapse and societies become more egalitarian.

  • Despecialization: One of the most characteristic features of complex civilizations (and in many cases the yardstick to measure complexity) is a high level of job specialization. The most complex societies are characterized by artisans and tradespeople who specialize intensely in a given task. Indeed, the rulers of many past societies were hyper-specialized priests or priestesses who were completely supported by the work of the lower classes. During societal collapse the social institutions supporting such specialization are removed and people tend to become more generalized in their work and daily habits.

  • Decentralization: As power becomes decentralized people tend to be more self-regimented and have many more personal freedoms. In many instances of collapse there is a slackening of social rules and etiquette. Geographically speaking, communities become more parochial or isolated. For example, following the collapse of the Mayan civilization many Maya returned to their traditional hamlets, moving away from the large cities that had been the centers of the empire.

  • Destructuralization: Epiphenomena, institutions, processes, and artifacts are all manifest in the archaeological record in abundance in large civilizations. After collapse, evidence of epiphenomena, institutions, and types of artifacts change dramatically as people are forced to adopt more self-sufficient lifestyles.

  • Depopulation: Societal collapse is almost always associated with a decline in population
    Population
    A population is all the organisms that both belong to the same group or species and live in the same geographical area. The area that is used to define a sexual population is such that inter-breeding is possible between any pair within the area and more probable than cross-breeding with individuals...

     densities
    Population density
    Population density is a measurement of population per unit area or unit volume. It is frequently applied to living organisms, and particularly to humans...

    . In extreme cases, the collapse in population is so severe that the society disappears entirely, such as happened with the Greenland Vikings
    History of Greenland
    The history of Greenland is the history of life under extreme Arctic conditions: an ice cap currently covers about 80 percent of the island, largely restricting human activity to the coasts....

    , or a number of Polynesia
    Polynesia
    Polynesia is a subregion of Oceania, made up of over 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean. The indigenous people who inhabit the islands of Polynesia are termed Polynesians and they share many similar traits including language, culture and beliefs...

    n islands. In less extreme cases, populations are reduced until a demographic balance
    Demography
    Demography is the statistical study of human population. It can be a very general science that can be applied to any kind of dynamic human population, that is, one that changes over time or space...

     is re-established between human societies and the depleted natural environment
    Natural environment
    The natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things occurring naturally on Earth or some region thereof. It is an environment that encompasses the interaction of all living species....

    . A classic example is the case of Ancient Rome
    Ancient Rome
    Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

    , which had a population of about 1.5 million during the reign of Trajan
    Trajan
    Trajan , was Roman Emperor from 98 to 117 AD. Born into a non-patrician family in the province of Hispania Baetica, in Spain Trajan rose to prominence during the reign of emperor Domitian. Serving as a legatus legionis in Hispania Tarraconensis, in Spain, in 89 Trajan supported the emperor against...

     in the early 2nd century CE, but had only 15,000 inhabitants by the 9th century.

Models of societal response


According to Joseph Tainter
Joseph Tainter
Joseph A. Tainter is a U.S. anthropologist and historian.Tainter studied anthropology at the University of California and Northwestern University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1975. He is currently a professor in the Department of Environment and Society at Utah State University...

 (1990), too many scholars offer facile explanations of societal collapse by assuming one or more of the following three models in the face of collapse:
  1. The Dinosaur, a large-scale society in which resources are being depleted at an exponential rate and yet nothing is done to rectify the problem because the ruling elite are unwilling or unable to adapt to those resources' reduced availability: In this type of society, rulers tend to oppose any solutions that diverge from their present course of action. They will favor intensification and commit an increasing number of resources to their present plans, projects, and social institutions.
  2. The Runaway Train, a society whose continuing function depends on constant growth (cf. Frederick Jackson Turner
    Frederick Jackson Turner
    Frederick Jackson Turner was an American historian in the early 20th century. He is best known for his essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History", whose ideas are referred to as the Frontier Thesis. He is also known for his theories of geographical sectionalism...

    's Frontier Thesis
    Frontier Thesis
    The Frontier Thesis, also referred to as the Turner Thesis, is the argument advanced by historian Frederick Jackson Turner in 1893 that the origin of the distinctive egalitarian, democratic, aggressive, and innovative features of the American character has been the American frontier experience...

    ): This type of society, based almost exclusively on acquisition (e.g., pillage or exploitation), cannot be sustained indefinitely. The Assyrian and Mongol
    Mongol Empire
    The Mongol Empire , initially named as Greater Mongol State was a great empire during the 13th and 14th centuries...

     Empires, for example, both fractured and collapsed when no new conquests were forthcoming.
    Tainter argues that capitalism
    Capitalism
    Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

     can be seen as an example of the Runaway Train model in that generally accepted accounting practices
    Gaap
    In demonology, Gaap is a mighty Prince and Great President of Hell, commanding sixty-six legions of demons. He is, according to The Lesser Key of Solomon, the king and prince of the southern region of Hell and Earth, and according to the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum the king of the western region and...

     require publicly traded companies, along with many privately held ones, to exhibit growth as measured at some fixed interval (often three months). Moreover, the ethos of consumerism
    Consumerism
    Consumerism is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts. The term is often associated with criticisms of consumption starting with Thorstein Veblen...

     on the demand side and the practice of planned obsolescence
    Planned obsolescence
    Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence in industrial design is a policy of deliberately planning or designing a product with a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete or nonfunctional after a certain period of time...

     on the supply side encourage the purchase of an ever-increasing number of goods and services even when resource extraction and food production are unsustainable if continued at current levels.
  3. The House of Cards, a society that has grown to be so large and include so many complex social institutions that it is inherently unstable and prone to collapse. This type of society has been seen with particular frequency among Eastern bloc
    Eastern bloc
    The term Eastern Bloc or Communist Bloc refers to the former communist states of Eastern and Central Europe, generally the Soviet Union and the countries of the Warsaw Pact...

     and other communist
    Communism
    Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

     nations, in which all social organizations are arms of the government or ruling party, such that the government must either stifle association wholesale (encouraging dissent and subversion) or exercise less authority than it asserts (undermining its legitimacy in the public eye).
    By contrast, as Alexis de Tocqueville
    Alexis de Tocqueville
    Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was a French political thinker and historian best known for his Democracy in America and The Old Regime and the Revolution . In both of these works, he explored the effects of the rising equality of social conditions on the individual and the state in...

     observed
    Democracy in America
    De la démocratie en Amérique is a classic French text by Alexis de Tocqueville. A "literal" translation of its title is Of Democracy in America, but the usual translation of the title is simply Democracy in America...

    , when voluntary and private associations are allowed to flourish and gain legitimacy at an institutional level, they complement and often even supplant governmental functions: They provide a "safety valve" for dissent, assist with resource allocation, provide for a for social experimentation without the need for governmental coercion, and enable the public to maintain confidence in society as a whole even during periods of governmental weakness.

An example of Tainter's Critique of Simplistic Models


Tainter argues that these models, though superficially useful, cannot severally or jointly account for all instances of societal collapse. Often they are seen as interconnected occurrences that reinforce each other.

For example, the failure of Easter Island
Easter Island
Easter Island is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian triangle. A special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888, Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapanui people...

's leaders to remedy rapid ecological deterioration ("Dinosaur") cannot be understood without reference to the other models above. The islanders, who erected large statues called moai
Moai
Moai , or mo‘ai, are monolithic human figures carved from rock on the Chilean Polynesian island of Easter Island between the years 1250 and 1500. Nearly half are still at Rano Raraku, the main moai quarry, but hundreds were transported from there and set on stone platforms called ahu around the...

as a form of religious reverence to their ancestors, used felled trees as rollers to transport them. Because the islanders firmly believed that their displays of reverence would lead to increased future prosperity, they had a deeply entrenched incentive to intensify moai production ("Runaway Train"). Because Easter Island's geographic isolation made its resources hard to replenish and made the balance of its overall ecosystem very delicate ("House of Cards"), deforestation led to soil erosion and insufficient resources to build boats for fishing or tools for hunting. Competition for dwindling resources resulted in warfare and many casualties (an additional "Runaway Train" iteration). Together these events led to the collapse of the civilization, but no single factor above provides an adequate account.

Mainstream interpretations of the history of Easter Island also include the slave raiders who abducted a large proportion of the population and epidemics that killed most of the survivors (see Easter Island History#Destruction of society and population.) Again, no single point explains the collapse; only a complex and integrated view can do so.

Tainter's position is that social complexity is a recent and comparatively anomalous occurrence requiring constant support. He asserts that collapse is best understood by grasping four axioms. In his own words (p. 194):
    1. human societies are problem-solving organizations;
    2. sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance;
    3. increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; and
    4. investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response reaches a point of declining marginal returns.


With these facts in mind, collapse can simply be understood as a loss of the energy needed to maintain social complexity. Collapse is thus the sudden loss of social complexity, stratification, internal and external communication and exchange, and productivity.

Toynbee’s theory of decay


The British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 Arnold J. Toynbee
Arnold J. Toynbee
Arnold Joseph Toynbee CH was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A Study of History, 1934–1961, was a synthesis of world history, a metahistory based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined history from a global...

, in his 12-volume magnum opus
Masterpiece
Masterpiece in modern usage refers to a creation that has been given much critical praise, especially one that is considered the greatest work of a person's career or to a work of outstanding creativity, skill or workmanship....

 A Study of History
A Study of History
A Study of History is the 12-volume magnum opus of British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, finished in 1961, in which the author traces the development and decay of all of the major world civilizations in the historical record...

(1961), theorized that all civilizations pass through several distinct stages: genesis, growth, time of troubles, universal state, and disintegration.

Toynbee argues that the breakdown of civilizations is not caused by loss of control over the environment, over the human environment, or attacks from outside. Rather, ironically, societies that develop great expertise in problem solving become incapable of solving new problems by overdeveloping their structures for solving old ones.

The fixation on the old methods of the "Creative Minority" leads it to eventually cease to be creative and degenerates into merely a "Dominant minority
Dominant minority
A dominant minority, also known as alien elites if they are recent immigrants, is a group that has overwhelming political, economic or cultural dominance in a country or region despite representing a small fraction of the overall population...

" (that forces the majority to obey without meriting obedience), failing to recognize new ways of thinking. He argues that creative minorities deteriorate due to a worship of their "former self," by which they become prideful, and fail to adequately address the next challenge they face.

He argues that the ultimate sign a civilization has broken down is when the dominant minority forms a "Universal State," which stifles political creativity. He states:
He argues that, as civilizations decay, they form an "Internal Proletariat" and an "External Proletariat." The Internal proletariat is held in subjugation by the dominant minority inside the civilization, and grows bitter; the external proletariat exists outside the civilization in poverty and chaos, and grows envious. He argues that as civilizations decay, there is a "schism in the body social," whereby:
  • abandon and self-control together replace creativity
    Creativity
    Creativity refers to the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new that has some kind of value. What counts as "new" may be in reference to the individual creator, or to the society or domain within which the novelty occurs...

    , and
  • truancy and martyrdom together replace disciple
    Apprenticeship
    Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a skill. Apprentices or protégés build their careers from apprenticeships...

    ship by the creative minority.


He argues that in this environment, people resort to archaism
Archaism
In language, an archaism is the use of a form of speech or writing that is no longer current. This can either be done deliberately or as part of a specific jargon or formula...

 (idealization of the past), futurism (idealization of the future), detachment
Escapism
Escapism is mental diversion by means of entertainment or recreation, as an "escape" from the perceived unpleasant or banal aspects of daily life...

 (removal of oneself from the realities of a decaying world), and transcendence
Transcendence (philosophy)
In philosophy, the adjective transcendental and the noun transcendence convey the basic ground concept from the word's literal meaning , of climbing or going beyond, albeit with varying connotations in its different historical and cultural stages...

 (meeting the challenges of the decaying civilization with new insight, as a Prophet). He argues that those who Transcend during a period of social decay give birth to a new Church with new and stronger spiritual insights, around which a subsequent civilization may begin to form after the old has died.

Toynbee's use of the word 'church' refers to the collective spiritual bond of a common worship, or the same unity found in some kind of social order
Social order
Social order is a concept used in sociology, history and other social sciences. It refers to a set of linked social structures, social institutions and social practices which conserve, maintain and enforce "normal" ways of relating and behaving....

.

Foreign invasions


The decline of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 is one of the events traditionally marking the end of Classical Antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 and the beginning of the European Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. Throughout the 5th century, the Empire's territories in western Europe and northwestern Africa, including Italy, fell to various invading or indigenous peoples in what is sometimes called the Barbarian invasions, although the eastern half still survived with borders essentially intact for several centuries (until the Arab expansion
Muslim conquests
Muslim conquests also referred to as the Islamic conquests or Arab conquests, began with the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He established a new unified polity in the Arabian Peninsula which under the subsequent Rashidun and Umayyad Caliphates saw a century of rapid expansion of Muslim power.They...

). This view of the collapse of the Roman Empire is challenged, however, by modern historians who see Rome as merely transforming from the Western Empire into barbarian kingdoms as the Western Emperors delegated themselves out of existence, and the East transforming into the Byzantine Empire, which only fell in 1453 CE.

North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

's populous and flourishing civilization collapsed after exhausting its resources in internal fighting and suffering devastation from the invasion of the Bedouin
Bedouin
The Bedouin are a part of a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab ethnic group traditionally divided into tribes or clans, known in Arabic as ..-Etymology:...

 tribes of Banu Sulaym and Banu Hilal
Banu Hilal
The Banu Hilal were a confederation of Arabian Bedouin tribes that migrated from Upper Egypt into North Africa in the 11th century, having been sent by the Fatimids to punish the Zirids for abandoning Shiism. Other authors suggest that the tribes left the grasslands on the upper Nile because of...

. Ibn Khaldun noted that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert.

In the brutal pillaging that followed Mongol invasions
Mongol invasions
Mongol invasions progressed throughout the 13th century, resulting in the vast Mongol Empire which covered much of Asia and Eastern Europe by 1300....

, the invaders decimated the populations of China, Russia, the Middle East, and Islamic Central Asia
Islam in Central Asia
Islam is the most widely practiced religion in Central Asia. The Hanafi school of thought is the most popular.-Medieval:The Battle of Talas in 751 between the Abbasid Caliphate and the Chinese Tang Dynasty for control of Central Asia was the turning point initiating mass conversion into Islam in...

. Later Mongol leaders, such as Timur
Timur
Timur , historically known as Tamerlane in English , was a 14th-century conqueror of West, South and Central Asia, and the founder of the Timurid dynasty in Central Asia, and great-great-grandfather of Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty, which survived as the Mughal Empire in India until...

, though he himself became a Muslim, destroyed many cities, slaughtered thousands of people and did irreparable damage to the ancient irrigation systems of Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

. These invasions transformed a civil society to a nomad
Nomad
Nomadic people , commonly known as itinerants in modern-day contexts, are communities of people who move from one place to another, rather than settling permanently in one location. There are an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world. Many cultures have traditionally been nomadic, but...

ic one.

Encounters between European explorers and populations in the rest of the world often introduced local epidemics of extraordinary virulence. Smallpox
Smallpox
Smallpox was an infectious disease unique to humans, caused by either of two virus variants, Variola major and Variola minor. The disease is also known by the Latin names Variola or Variola vera, which is a derivative of the Latin varius, meaning "spotted", or varus, meaning "pimple"...

 ravaged Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 in the 1520s, killing 150,000 in Tenochtitlán alone, including the emperor, and Peru
Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

 in the 1530s, aiding the European conquerors. Some believe that the death of up to 95% of the Native American population
Population history of American indigenous peoples
The population figures for Indigenous peoples in the Americas before the 1492 voyage of Christopher Columbus have proven difficult to establish and rely on archaeological data and written records from European settlers...

 of the New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

 was caused by Old World
Old World
The Old World consists of those parts of the world known to classical antiquity and the European Middle Ages. It is used in the context of, and contrast with, the "New World" ....

 diseases.

Examples of civilizations and societies that have collapsed


By Reversion/Simplification
  • Hittite
    Hittites
    The Hittites were a Bronze Age people of Anatolia.They established a kingdom centered at Hattusa in north-central Anatolia c. the 18th century BC. The Hittite empire reached its height c...

     Empire
  • Mycenaean Greece
    Mycenaean Greece
    Mycenaean Greece was a cultural period of Bronze Age Greece taking its name from the archaeological site of Mycenae in northeastern Argolis, in the Peloponnese of southern Greece. Athens, Pylos, Thebes, and Tiryns are also important Mycenaean sites...

  • The Neo-Assyrian Empire
    Assyria
    Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

  • Indus Valley Civilization
    Indus Valley Civilization
    The Indus Valley Civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that was located in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent, consisting of what is now mainly modern-day Pakistan and northwest India...

  • Mauryan and Gupta
    Gupta Empire
    The Gupta Empire was an ancient Indian empire which existed approximately from 320 to 550 CE and covered much of the Indian Subcontinent. Founded by Maharaja Sri-Gupta, the dynasty was the model of a classical civilization. The peace and prosperity created under leadership of Guptas enabled the...

     states
  • Angkor civilization
    Angkor Wat
    Angkor Wat is a temple complex at Angkor, Cambodia, built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation – first Hindu,...

     of the Khmer Empire
    Khmer Empire
    The Khmer Empire was one of the most powerful empires in Southeast Asia. The empire, which grew out of the former kingdom of Chenla, at times ruled over and/or vassalized parts of modern-day Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, and Malaysia. Its greatest legacy is Angkor, the site of the capital city...

  • Han and Tang Dynasty
    Tang Dynasty
    The Tang Dynasty was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family, who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire...

     of China
  • Anasazi
  • Western Roman Empire
    Decline of the Roman Empire
    The decline of the Roman Empire refers to the gradual societal collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Many theories of causality prevail, but most concern the disintegration of political, economic, military, and other social institutions, in tandem with foreign invasions and usurpers from within the...

    , Decline of the Roman Empire
    Decline of the Roman Empire
    The decline of the Roman Empire refers to the gradual societal collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Many theories of causality prevail, but most concern the disintegration of political, economic, military, and other social institutions, in tandem with foreign invasions and usurpers from within the...

  • Izapa
    Izapa
    Izapa is a very large pre-Columbian archaeological site located in the Mexican state of Chiapas; it was occupied during the Late Formative period. The site is situated on the Izapa River, a tributary of the Suchiate River, near the base of the Tacaná volcano), the fourth largest mountain in...

  • Maya
    Maya civilization
    The Maya is a Mesoamerican civilization, noted for the only known fully developed written language of the pre-Columbian Americas, as well as for its art, architecture, and mathematical and astronomical systems. Initially established during the Pre-Classic period The Maya is a Mesoamerican...

    , Classic Maya collapse
    Classic Maya collapse
    The Classic Maya Collapse refers to the decline and abandonment of the Classic Period Maya cities of the southern Maya lowlands of Mesoamerica between the 8th and 9th centuries. This should not be confused with the collapse of the Preclassic Maya in the 2nd century AD...

  • Munhumutapa Empire
    Munhumutapa Empire
    The Kingdom of Mutapa, sometimes referred to as the Mutapa Empire was a Shona kingdom which stretched between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers of southern Africa in the modern states of Zimbabwe and Mozambique...

  • Olmec
    Olmec
    The Olmec were the first major Pre-Columbian civilization in Mexico. They lived in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, in the modern-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco....



By Incorporation/Absorption
  • Sumer
    Sumer
    Sumer was a civilization and historical region in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age....

  • Ancient Egypt
    Ancient Egypt
    Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

  • Babylonia
    Babylonia
    Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia , with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as a major power when Hammurabi Babylonia was an ancient cultural region in central-southern Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), with Babylon as its capital. Babylonia emerged as...

  • Etruscans
    Etruscan civilization
    Etruscan civilization is the modern English name given to a civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany. The ancient Romans called its creators the Tusci or Etrusci...

  • Ancient Levant
    Levant
    The Levant or ) is the geographic region and culture zone of the "eastern Mediterranean littoral between Anatolia and Egypt" . The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and sometimes parts of Turkey and Iraq, and corresponds roughly to the...

  • Classical Greece
    Classical Greece
    Classical Greece was a 200 year period in Greek culture lasting from the 5th through 4th centuries BC. This classical period had a powerful influence on the Roman Empire and greatly influenced the foundation of Western civilizations. Much of modern Western politics, artistic thought, such as...

  • Dacians
    Dacians
    The Dacians were an Indo-European people, very close or part of the Thracians. Dacians were the ancient inhabitants of Dacia...

  • Eastern Roman Empire (Medieval Greek
    Medieval Greek
    Medieval Greek, also known as Byzantine Greek, is the stage of the Greek language between the beginning of the Middle Ages around 600 and the Ottoman conquest of the city of Constantinople in 1453. The latter date marked the end of the Middle Ages in Southeast Europe...

    ) of the Byzantines
    Byzantine Empire
    The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

  • Modern North East Asian civilisations
    Korea
    Korea ) is an East Asian geographic region that is currently divided into two separate sovereign states — North Korea and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula, Korea is bordered by the People's Republic of China to the northwest, Russia to the northeast, and is separated from Japan to the...

    , Hindu
    Hindu
    Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

     and Mughal
    Mughal Empire
    The Mughal Empire ,‎ or Mogul Empire in traditional English usage, was an imperial power from the Indian Subcontinent. The Mughal emperors were descendants of the Timurids...

     India
  • Qin
    Qin Dynasty
    The Qin Dynasty was the first imperial dynasty of China, lasting from 221 to 207 BC. The Qin state derived its name from its heartland of Qin, in modern-day Shaanxi. The strength of the Qin state was greatly increased by the legalist reforms of Shang Yang in the 4th century BC, during the Warring...

    , Song
    Song Dynasty
    The Song Dynasty was a ruling dynasty in China between 960 and 1279; it succeeded the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty. It was the first government in world history to issue banknotes or paper money, and the first Chinese government to establish a...

    , Mongol
    Yuan Dynasty
    The Yuan Dynasty , or Great Yuan Empire was a ruling dynasty founded by the Mongol leader Kublai Khan, who ruled most of present-day China, all of modern Mongolia and its surrounding areas, lasting officially from 1271 to 1368. It is considered both as a division of the Mongol Empire and as an...

     and Qing
    Qing Dynasty
    The Qing Dynasty was the last dynasty of China, ruling from 1644 to 1912 with a brief, abortive restoration in 1917. It was preceded by the Ming Dynasty and followed by the Republic of China....

     China
  • Tokugawa Shogunate
    Tokugawa shogunate
    The Tokugawa shogunate, also known as the and the , was a feudal regime of Japan established by Tokugawa Ieyasu and ruled by the shoguns of the Tokugawa family. This period is known as the Edo period and gets its name from the capital city, Edo, which is now called Tokyo, after the name was...

     of Japan, ending with the Meiji Restoration
    Meiji Restoration
    The , also known as the Meiji Ishin, Revolution, Reform or Renewal, was a chain of events that restored imperial rule to Japan in 1868...

  • Aztecs and Incas

Places that are believed to represent past "societal collapses"

  • Cahokia
    Cahokia
    Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the area of an ancient indigenous city located in the American Bottom floodplain, between East Saint Louis and Collinsville in south-western Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri. The site included 120 human-built earthwork mounds...

  • Easter Island
    Easter Island
    Easter Island is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian triangle. A special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888, Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapanui people...

  • Lost cities
    Lost Cities
    Lost Cities is a 60-card card game, designed in 1999 by game designer Reiner Knizia and published by several publishers. The objective of the game is to mount profitable expeditions to one or more of the five lost cities...

  • Norse
    Norsemen
    Norsemen is used to refer to the group of people as a whole who spoke what is now called the Old Norse language belonging to the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages, especially Norwegian, Icelandic, Faroese, Swedish and Danish in their earlier forms.The meaning of Norseman was "people...

     colony on Greenland
    Greenland
    Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, east of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Though physiographically a part of the continent of North America, Greenland has been politically and culturally associated with Europe for...

  • Pitcairn Island
  • Malden Island
    Malden Island
    Malden Island, sometimes called Independence Island in the nineteenth century, is a low, arid, uninhabited island in the central Pacific Ocean, about in area...


See also


  • Anarcho-primitivism
    Anarcho-primitivism
    Anarcho-primitivism is an anarchist critique of the origins and progress of civilization. According to anarcho-primitivism, the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural subsistence gave rise to social stratification, coercion, and alienation...

  • Survivalism
    Survivalism
    Survivalism is a movement of individuals or groups who are actively preparing for future possible disruptions in local, regional, national, or international social or political order...


Malthusian and environmental collapse themes
  • Behavioral sink
    Behavioral sink
    In 1958, ethologist John B. Calhoun conducted over-population experiments on rats on a farmland in Rockville, Maryland which resulted in the publication of an article in the Scientific American of a study of behavior under conditions of overcrowding , also referred to Crowding into the Behavioral...

     - rat colony collapse
  • Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
  • Earth 2100
    Earth 2100
    Earth 2100 is a television program that was presented by the American Broadcasting Company network on June 2, 2009 and was aired on the History channel in January 2010 and will continue to be shown through 2010...

  • Ecological collapse
    Ecological collapse
    Ecological Collapse refers to a situation where an ecosystem suffers a drastic, if not permanent, reduction in carrying capacity for all organisms, often resulting in mass extinction...

  • Exploitation of natural resources
    Exploitation of natural resources
    Main article: OverexploitationSome exploitation of natural resources is an essential condition of the human existence. This refers primarily to food production and necessities...

  • Malthusian catastrophe
    Malthusian catastrophe
    A Malthusian catastrophe was originally foreseen to be a forced return to subsistence-level conditions once population growth had outpaced agricultural production...

  • Medieval demography
    Medieval demography
    This article discusses human demography in Europe during the Middle Ages, including population trends and movements. Demographic changes helped to shape and define the Middle Ages...

  • Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
    Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
    The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, released in 2005, is an international synthesis by over 1000 of the world's leading biological scientists that analyses the state of the Earth’s ecosystems and provides summaries and guidelines for decision-makers...

  • Overpopulation
    Overpopulation
    Overpopulation is a condition where an organism's numbers exceed the carrying capacity of its habitat. The term often refers to the relationship between the human population and its environment, the Earth...

  • Peak oil
    Peak oil
    Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline. This concept is based on the observed production rates of individual oil wells, projected reserves and the combined production rate of a field...

  • Risks to civilization, humans, and planet Earth


Cultural and institutional collapse themes:
  • Crisis state
  • Decline
    Decline
    Decline is a change over time from previously efficient to inefficient organizational functioning, from previously rational to non-rational organizational and individual decision-making, from previously law-abiding to law violating organizational and individual behavior, from previously virtuous to...

  • Dependency ratio
    Dependency ratio
    In economics and geography the dependency ratio is an age-population ratio of those typically not in the labor force and those typically in the labor force...

  • Economic collapse
    Economic collapse
    There is no precise definition of an economic collapse. While some might consider a a severe, prolonged depression with high bankruptcy rates and high unemployment an economic collapse, others would additionally look for a breakdown in normal commerce, such as hyperinfalation, or even a sharp...

  • Evolution of society
  • Failed state
    Failed state
    The term failed state is often used by political commentators and journalists to describe a state perceived as having failed at some of the basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government...

  • Fragile state
    Fragile state
    A fragile state is a low income country characterized by weak state capacity and/or weak state legitimacy leaving citizens vulnerable to a whole range of shocks....

  • Resource depletion
    Resource depletion
    Resource depletion is an economic term referring to the exhaustion of raw materials within a region. Resources are commonly divided between renewable resources and non-renewable resources...

  • Social contract
    Social contract
    The social contract is an intellectual device intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments. Social contract arguments assert that individuals unite into political societies by a process of mutual consent, agreeing to abide by common rules and accept...

  • Social cohesion
    Social cohesion
    Social cohesion is a term used in social policy, sociology and political science to describe the bonds or "glue" that bring people together in society, particularly in the context of cultural diversity. Social cohesion is a multi-faceted notion covering many different kinds of social phenomena...

  • Social cycle theory
    Social cycle theory
    Social cycle theories are among the earliest social theories in sociology. Unlike the theory of social evolutionism, which views the evolution of society and human history as progressing in some new, unique direction, sociological cycle theory argues that events and stages of society and history...

  • Social disintegration
    Social disintegration
    Social disintegration is the tendency for society to decline or disintegrate over time, perhaps due to the lapse or breakdown of traditional social support systems. In this context, "society" refers to the social order which maintains a society, rather than the political order that defines its...

  • Sub-replacement fertility
    Sub-replacement fertility
    Sub-replacement fertility is a total fertility rate that leads to each new generation being less populous than the previous one in a given area. In developed countries sub-replacement fertility is any rate below approximately 2.1 children born per woman, but the threshold can be as high as 3.4...

  • Urban decay
    Urban decay
    Urban decay is the process whereby a previously functioning city, or part of a city, falls into disrepair and decrepitude...

  • Social solidarity

Further reading

  • Diamond, Jared M
    Jared Diamond
    Jared Mason Diamond is an American scientist and author whose work draws from a variety of fields. He is currently Professor of Geography and Physiology at UCLA...

    . (2005). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
    Collapse (book)
    Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed is a 2005 book by Jared M. Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at University of California, Los Angeles...

    . New York: Viking Books. ISBN 0-14-303655-6.
  • Homer-Dixon, Thomas
    Thomas Homer-Dixon
    Thomas Homer-Dixon holds the Centre for International Governance Innovation Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ontario, and is a Professor in the Centre for Environment and Business in the Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo...

    . (2006). The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization
    The Upside of Down
    The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization is a non-fiction book published in 2006 by Thomas Homer-Dixon, a professor at the University of Toronto....

    . Washington DC: Island Press.
  • Tainter, Joseph A
    Joseph Tainter
    Joseph A. Tainter is a U.S. anthropologist and historian.Tainter studied anthropology at the University of California and Northwestern University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1975. He is currently a professor in the Department of Environment and Society at Utah State University...

    . (1990). The Collapse of Complex Societies
    Joseph Tainter
    Joseph A. Tainter is a U.S. anthropologist and historian.Tainter studied anthropology at the University of California and Northwestern University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1975. He is currently a professor in the Department of Environment and Society at Utah State University...

     (1st paperback ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-38673-X.
  • Toynbee, Arnold J
    Arnold J. Toynbee
    Arnold Joseph Toynbee CH was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A Study of History, 1934–1961, was a synthesis of world history, a metahistory based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline, which examined history from a global...

    . (1934–1961). A Study of History
    A Study of History
    A Study of History is the 12-volume magnum opus of British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, finished in 1961, in which the author traces the development and decay of all of the major world civilizations in the historical record...

    , Volumes I-XII. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wright, Ronald
    Ronald Wright
    Ronald Wright is a Canadian author who has written books of travel, history and fiction. His nonfiction includes the bestseller Stolen Continents, winner of the Gordon Montador Award and chosen as a book of the year by the Independent and the Sunday Times...

    . (2004). A Short History of Progress
    A Short History of Progress
    A Short History of Progress is a non-fiction book and lecture series by Ronald Wright about societal collapse. The lectures were delivered as a series of five speeches, each taking place in different cities across Canada as part of the 2004 Massey Lectures which was broadcast on the CBC Radio...

    . New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. ISBN 0-7867-1547-2.