Reply To: 3rd November: Joseph Tainter

Author Replies # Posted on November 13, 2014 at 21:19

Reply to Ellen’s reflections on Tainter
I think that Ellen has a rational and interesting reflection on Tainter’s theory and discusses the issues of sustainability and the human nature for the development of a society very clear. Her description of the result of human activity in systems or states from the “helicopter perspective” is very good as it demonstrates the extent to which societies have expanded their organization. Tainter describes many former states and cultures that have collapsed, but only one at a time. Today the interaction and communication between different societies is extremely fast spreading and efficient. Cyberspace is used by powerful NGOs or corporations, but people in power, or experts in other positions with authority to decide how to act, could have changed the character and progress of the scheme a collapse will have today compared with historical time. A society with a low grade of complexity, let’s say in a developing country in Africa, might have a huge impact on not just one single state in the Western world, if it collapses. We are so dependent on specific minerals, as just one example, to be able to function in the society we have created. This connectedness and dependence on states of different stages in complexity building did not exist historically.
I agree fully with Ellen that Homo sapiens is not evil, but he/she has not reach (by evolution) the mental capacity to foresee the effect of its own inventions. Primarily, not for the long term perspective, but even less in the short run, as we cannot wait to reflect and consider for better alternatives. I still believe that science and technological is the best way to prevent collapse of the society, for environmental reasons like the climate change. But, very important, given there is a high level of transparency to involve and engage the civic society.
Ellen’s discussion of sustainability and people’s value is suggestive. What does Tainter mean with sustainability? An economically sustainable society with markets to support the complexity of the society, or is it an advanced technological state with scientific solutions? If so, who decides what is “good for the society and how to support the chosen system/politic/technology so that it doesn’t collapse? In my view, for a state to be sustainable, it must be integrated in the whole society, including human and economic values as well as practical technical solutions with focus on the environment and its resources, which are essential for our survival.