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Why Societies Fail and a Lesson from the Game of Monopoly

They say if we don’t study history, we’re destined to repeat it. Many of you will be familiar with Jared Diamond and his work. Author of Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Mr. Diamond has put a lot of energy into studying various cultures that have come, and, significantly, gone again. Amongst these is the example of Easter Island, where it appears that despite the islanders’ major resources being clearly in decline, they continued to use these resources for their own particular, peculiar economy — that being to make their giant Moai idols. Not only that, but, over time, as the resources needed to create them dwindled, the Moai statues only got larger. Their economy not only had to continue, but it had to grow — regardless of their context, and despite what should have been obvious consequences.

Some dispute the exact nature of the collapse of Easter Island, but what we do know is that pollen samples taken from the island show that it was once covered in forest, yet by the time Europeans arrived the island was treeless. There are no pollen traces dated beyond around 1650, around the same time the statues ceased being made. Surviving clans after this time, no longer able to create more competing statues, instead took to pushing over those of rival clans — until by 1868 all the Moai had been toppled, and many beheaded.

It’s ironic that the islanders were undermining their own viability in order to create the all-important Moai, and then fought and killed (and possibly even ate) each other as they tore it all down again.

Isn’t it similar today? The entire world’s resource base is dwindling rapidly, but for many, in our socially atomised society, it just encourages them to strive all the harder to get a slice before it’s all gone. Our aspirations, and our toys, continue to grow….

12 Comments

  1. “Economic growth is part of the glue that holds together the social contract between the rich and poor, and between citizen and state. It stands behind our expectations of technology, the rise of China, population growth, and pensions. Growth shaped the specialisation of our occupational roles and the forms of social relations. It acclimatised us to increasing wealth, both personal and in the goods and services we expect from society and the state. We are now claiming as rights, services that only fifty years ago would have been considered miracles. It shaped our identity as the tormented consumer and the anxious lover. – David Korowicz” See: https://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-05-27/world-limits-growth

  2. Permaculture needs to start “permeating” more quickly if we are going to start heading off some of these time bombs ! Lumbuck

  3. Mr Holmstad:
    I think that many people, at least here, are calling a miricle, what, just a few years ago, were considered “inalienable rights”…

  4. Yes the whole planet is now resembling Easter Island–consuming the very resources required for our survival. Below is a link to an interesting article on the recent report by the International Energy Agency on climate change and the response of those who claim world leadership.

    It is obvious to many now that the world is being managed in a completely irrational way, driven by the agenda of a few for ever greater profits, at the expense of the vast majority and the entire planet.

    We humans generally have the technology to remedy the situation. We in permaculture are actively implementing the best know-how to demonstrate how this can be done.

    We still have the problem of the great big toads in the middle of the road forward: the handful of very wealthy who call the resources of the Earth their own private property, which they continue in the face of all evidence of catastrophe to pillage and destroy for their personal gain.

    https://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/jun2011/clim-j11.shtml

  5. Nature punishes greed. And so does capitalism; why be so greedy as to consume one’s own capital on top of production?

  6. @Reesa, I think it’s very important that we are now not falling into the trap of the old-fashioned socialist or communist clichés!

    “What’s fascinating about Generation OS13, and about the new culture of resistance in general, is that it’s trying to carve out a new ideological niche that is firmly critical of our present world order without falling into the trap of the old-fashioned socialist or communist clichés. After all, we need new critiques, new narratives, new inspiration.” – Jérôme E. Roos

    Reed the whole article and see the video “Generation OS13: The new culture of resistance” here: https://roarmag.org/2011/06/generation-os13-the-new-culture-of-resistance/

  7. This Generation OS13 video is very good as telling us about what is going on, what is wrong with the world, the banks and finance capital, house prices ballooning, and other ills … but what is the perspective for going forward?

    Protest and more protest … spontaneous with no leadership?

    I think that it is vital that we study the communist and socialist movements of the past and present in order to understand what went wrong and why. The why being the most important question. We don’t need to start from scratch. We must not start from scratch. We must build upon the work of generations past in order to battle the oppression of the banks. To simply say reject the communism of the past is to go down the road of repeating the mistakes of the past.

    Generation OS13 makes note of the protests of February 14-15, 2003, when 10 million people around the globe protested the bombing of Iraq, loudly and clearly telling George W Bush not to invade Iraq–to no avail. We can conclude that protests alone are not enough. But what then is the way forward?

    I don’t see a perspective for a way forward in Generation OS13. It ends with, “off with their heads”. This is not a new critique or narrative or inspirational. It is more of going down a blind alley to more of the same.

    We must study the socialism and communism of old and find out what went wrong and why and then build upon the work of previous generations who have fought battles against the same foes, sometimes winning and often losing. But let us not repeat their mistakes because we failed to study their fate.

  8. What is wrong with all the tree major ideologies of the 20th century, Modernism, Socialism and Capitalism, is that they are all anti-fractal, and they are anti-fractal because they are built up from anti-patterns, all tree destroying The Dance of Life: https://zeta.math.utsa.edu/~yxk833/LECTURES/Biophilia-CUNY2011.pdf

    Personally I more and more look upon myself as a fractalist, even I’ve still a way to go to fully understand what this mean.

    “Such an approach is urgently needed to be implemented into all aspects of our communities, that Alexander uses examples from architecture is simply because he’s an architect by profession. Even I don’t fully understand the idea of fractals yet, it seems to me that a sustainable system should consist of fractals at every scale, emphasizing the smallest scales, and the force that builds and maintains this coherent system of fractals is pattern languages. If the language used fails to maintain order and stability within the smallest scales, then we get unsustainable systems, like I’ve tried to describe it in my article Anti-Pattern Capitalism. Another failed language is the language of modernism, completely neglecting the importance of human patterns and fractals. We may describe all stable complex systems as having “fractal properties”.” – https://permaliv.blogspot.com/2011/04/timeless-way-of-building.html

  9. For big toads … see BRW’s 200 rich list. It took $215 million to get on it this year. Those at the top of the list are all raking in billions from the mineral resources ripped out of the Earth. Gina Rinehart–$10.31 billion from in-perpetuity royalties of iron ore from the Pilbara region now mined by Rio Tinto; Ivan Glasenberg, a Swiss-based resources commodities trader who recently became an Australian citizen and is valued at $8.8 billion; Andrew Forrest, West Australia-based iron ore miner, valued at $6.18 billion; and Clive Palmer, Queensland-based coal and iron ore miner, with a personal fortune of $5.05 billion … toadies and/or Jabba the Hut every one.

  10. That was a double entrende’ on Orwell’s Big, from 1984..
    So, without getting teargassed and jailed, who are the ones that own the bankers? I’m guessing that that’s not Bernanke. We’ve come too far to hide behind antisemetic comments; I’m thinking international corporations and consortiums. Name names.

  11. “It all goes back in the box” is, I think, based on an Italian proverb which translates as: “After the game, the king and pawn go into the same box”.

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