How Do You Know When Society Is About to Fall Apart

Ben Ehrenreich at The New York Times

A thoughtful and ultimately hopeful discussion with historians and social scientists studying why societies have broken down, over thousands of years of history.

Societies develop complexity and specialization to solve problems: Feeding all its members, protecting from famine, natural disasters and pandemics, fighting wars, etc. But eventually the complexity and specialization becomes so brittle that societies can no longer solve those problems, and they collapse. Rome won significant wealth by sacking its neighbors, but “but was thereafter required to maintain an ever larger and more expensive military just to keep the imperial machine from stalling.” And eventually the cost of keeping up the military broke the empire.

Societal collapse may not look like collapse to the people on the bottom. To them, it might look like liberation.