How Do You Know When Society Is About to Fall Apart?
Meet the scholars who study civilizational collapse.
“Civilizations are fragile, impermanent things,” Tainter writes. Nearly every one that has ever existed has also ceased to exist, yet “understanding disintegration has remained a distinctly minor concern in the social sciences.” It is only a mild overstatement to suggest that before Tainter, collapse was simply not a thing.
If Joseph Tainter, now 70, is the sober patriarch of the field, it is not a role he seems to relish. His own research has moved on; these days, he focuses on “sustainability.” But even in his most recent work his earlier subject is always there, hovering like a ghost just off the edge of each page. Why, after all, would we worry about sustaining a civilization if we weren’t convinced that it might crumble?
By Ben Ehrenreich, The New York Times