An incredible example of societal collapse

“Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish; and short.”

1 Like

Thanks, that was an interesting read, I‘ll probably read up on that. I am not sure what extensive automation does to his calculations about marginal costs, and I am very cautious when it comes to bringing models from ecology to the interpretation of human systems.

You haven’t answered my question about what else you found out about Turnbull and the Ik, though :grinning:

1 Like

Good gosh we studied Turnbull back in the early 80s and he had very little credibility THEN. If you read the book closely, you can see that there ARE in fact signs of an intact & complex culture, just one that Turnbull as a field worker is being shut out of-- the book is practically a lab report on the inherent failure of “objectivity” in social sciences research. He didn’t like the Ik much; if you look at it closely, its pretty clear they didn’t like him much either.

Just because some white dude goes out and spends a few months living in a hut in proximity to some brown people does not mean he can give an authoritative report on the intricacies of their culture and its development and/or decline.

Simple fact-- if you read the book, it sounded like the Ik were pretty close to dieing out, they’d all be gone in a few years, they were so dysfunctional. Well here it is what 60 years later, and they seem to be going strong. Hmm. Maybe Turnbull missed something.

8 Likes

This seems to be the key here-- extreme stress destroys a society. What he is describing is no different than Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” We all have it coming, if we’re not careful.

Only some vague ancient writings proclaiming, “Make Uganda Great Again!” provide any clue of a past culture…

3 Likes

In the larger context of Tainter’s book, the thesis is more like; “Routine stresses destroy a society, when that society has grown specialized enough to no longer have the ability to repurpose itself”.

1 Like

Ah the Ik. They were a cautionary tale of what we would become, you see, without the benevolent patronage of strong white, capitalist leaders. Yet another classic of the Texas junior college curriculum in the 80s along with “Scorpions in A Bottle: the myth of moral equivalence” as a small book. Makes for a great laugh now. Serious propaganda at the time.

edited: because it’s really hard to reply on mobile for some reason.

2 Likes

It speaks volumes about racism: if he’d passed on the idea that some white culture in the Balkans abandoned their kids to the wild at age three he’d have been laughed out of academia. Such a society wouldn’t collapse, it simply wouldn’t exist in .5 generations.

Meanwhile if you went around saying that some white Midwestern farm family who let their three-year-old go out in the garden to pick blackberries abandoned their children…well, okay people actually do that these days, but anyway…

6 Likes

I can’t speak for Tainter, but I’d put that in a subtly different way: a society that has only learned to respond to challenges by increasing its structural complexity will eventually fail to provide enough energy to maintain that structure. A resilient society, would have more inner complexity, but just enough structure to get by, and, of course, cultural norms to support that.

1 Like

Yeah. My source-critical heckles were already up but this is the point where I tipped into “this is basically completely made up”

3 Likes

11th-doc-this|nullxnull

5 Likes

“Collapsed” suggests the change was durable, which doesn’t seem to be what happened.

This has been my go-to during pandemic times. Recommended by a happy mutant, but I dont recall whom.

2 Likes

Some have more complex relationships than others, though. Eric Cline has a really interesting talk on the collapse of the Bronze age Mediterranean civilizations - he’s talking in this case that to be a “bronze age” civilization - the high tech of the age, very consequential for all operations from farming to warfare - you need raw materials that come from locations that are very far apart, neither of which are necessarily in your territory, so you need trade. I believe he said there were 11 civilizations (Egyptians, Minoans, etc) that were all trading. When this society collapsed those trade routes ended and he describes the later states of the civilizations and what the impacts were on the people and what they were capable of doing.

Imagine our civilization without fertilizer or cobalt or neodymium (10 years ago I would have said oil but today not necessarily) and you get the idea.

My dad was a cultural anthropologist (and construction worker) who went to the AAA (American Anthropological Association) annual conference 15 years ago and took photos late in the evening in the hotel bar with a telephoto lens of the “mating habits of the American anthropologist”. It was not a hit.

6 Likes

As inferred on wiki, that’s what can happen when your group is already weak relative to other groups, displaced from your land, and hit by extreme famine

I’m not surprised. Personally, I think that kind of thing would make a great project, turn the tables and look at our own social institutions in the way that we look at those we deem “exotic”.

4 Likes

I still remember our 7th grade social studies class being presented with this classic paper:

https://www.sfu.ca/~palys/Miner-1956-BodyRitualAmongTheNacirema.pdf

5 Likes

That’s a good one!

1 Like

It’s still used in undergrad Intro to Anthropology.

2 Likes