From “The Collapse of Complex Societies” by Joseph A Tainter

The citizens of modern complex societies usually do not realise that we are an anomaly of history. Throughout the several million years that recognisable humans are known to have lived, the common political unit was the small, autonomous community, acting independently, and largely self-sufficient. Robert Carneiro has estimated that 99.8 per cent of human history has been dominated by these autonomous local communities. It has only been within the last 6000 years that something unusual has emerged: the hierarchical, organised, interdependent states that are the major reference for our contemporary political experience. Complex societies, once established, tend to expand and dominate, so that today they control most of the earth’s lands and people, and are perpetually vexed by those still beyond their reach. A dilemma arises from this: we today are familiar mainly with political forms that are an oddity of history, we think of these as normal, and we view as alien the majority of the human experience. It is little surprise that collapse is viewed so fearfully.

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