Review: Joseph A Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies

The Collapse of Complex Societies (1st paperback ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tainter aims to provide a theory as to why most complex societies so far have not just faded away but abruptly collapsed, short of the current world-wide one, there we don't know yet. But he fails. He repeats the phrase "diminishing marginal returns on complexity" a lot but it sounds like something he overheard someone in the economics department saying (which he is not from, he's an archaeologist) and now just repeats it. Just repeating it doesn't make it true.

However in the course of building his case for his theory, he's providing a lot of detail about societies past & current that you can use to come up with your own theory. Now here is mine: Complexity requires a lot of communication and, short of the Internet, communication is expensive, so they start building hierarchies. A society's political/social/economic hierarchy is simply a communication hierarchy the same way we build our star-shaped networks, hierarchical DNS etc. Any more decentralized communication structure requires redundancy and that was too expensive in the old times and may or may not be too expensive in our time, time will tell.

The Country of Palestine: A Zero State Solution


For over half a century the conflict between Israel and Palestine, the centre of the world's three Abrahamic monotheisms, has raged. Space is not sufficient here of course to detail the main events of this conflict, except in title alone: The British Mandate in Palestine and the Balfour Declaration, the Arab revolts of the 1930s, the declaration of the State of Israel (with scant regard of local opinion) and the subsequent war in the late 1940s, raids and counter-raids in the 1950s, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1967 Six Day War, the 1973 Yom Kipper War, the 1982 Lebanon War, the First and Second Intifada, the 2006 Lebanon War, and the Gaza War of 2008-2009. With over 100,000 casulties since 1945 and with economists estimating that the opportunity cost of the various conflicts representating trillions of dollars [1].

The dead are many, the costs are high and the divisions are deep. David Hacohen, a supposedly left-wing member of the Israeli Knesset for six terms once described Arabs as "... they are not human beings, they are not people". At the start of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the first secretary-general of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, announced: "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades" [2]. These are just illustrative examples of how deep the hatred has often reached; there are plenty of others and from equally senior positions.

Peace efforts have only had a modicum of success. The two United Nations Security Concil Resolutions, 242 and 338, have provided a temporary cessation of hostilities, but have not been unable to unravel the continuing damage, let alone implement, the original UN General Assembly Resolution 181 for the partition of Palestine. Resolution 242 called for Israel to give up the occupied territories and the resolution passed was passed 15 to 0. It has not, of course, ever been implemented. Indeed the opposite has been the case; there are now 0.5 million Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jersualem, turning the region into a "pastrimi" [3] of harshly discriminatory settlement policy, of restricted movements, of concrete and iron 'separation barriers' - of kibosh ha'adama - "conquest of the land". The 1993 Oslo Accords fared somewhat better - they allowed for the formation of the Palestinian National Authority, providing the 'right' for Palestinians to police their own imprisonment.

Born of desperation and hopelessness some Palestinians fight back against this systematic, grinding humiliation with the predictable tools of people in such a situation; the use of violence against non-combatants for political ends, better known as terrorism. A tragic shortlist can easily be rattled off - the 1972 Munich Olymipics massacre, the 1974 Ma'alot massacre, the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, the 1989 Tel Aviv-Jerusalem bus attack, the 1993 Mehola Junction bombing, the 2003 Maxim restaurant suicide bombing, the 2008 Mercaz HaRav massacre, along with thousands of Qassam and similar rockets being launched indiscriminately into civilian areas. All, it must be grimly accounted, with relatively few fatalities and absolutely no threat to the Israeli State. But of particular note as the conflict drags on, the desparation of the Palestinian people grows, along with their acceptance of the use of violence against civilian targets and support for less flexible religous doctrine [4]. Without freedom, there is nothing left to lose.

The Evolution of the Human Spirit

Development and Spirit

"Evolution" means change, an "unrolling", according to the Latin root evolvere. There is something naturalistic, remorseless and in some cases even tragic about it. Because of this, Alex Callinicos, Professor of Politics at the University of York, prefers the term "development" to indicate those changes where conscious human agency is involved, where human beings can direct change itself. "Development", of course, is a French-derived words "développement", or "from evolution". Callinicos is quite correct to make this distinction and it is particularly important in reference to the subject matter. There is no suggestion here that the human spirit is evolving in a naturalistic fashion. Thus I will cede to Callinicos that "development", in lieu of anything else, is a better description; consider the presentation to be better entitled "The Development of the Human Spirit".

Nature of the Period: Background and Perspectives

Social systems don't live forever. They have their own internal contradictions, which produce systemic crises. Capitalism is no different; someday it will end. The question we are addressing is whether it will be followed by barbarism, mass death, and barrenness, or by a better world. The current crisis is not only one of greatly increased attacks on the working class and oppressed people but is also a fundamental crisis of the system itself. We cannot predict the demise of the system, something in which the working class and oppressed people must also play a conscious part. We can, however, state that this is the most serious crisis of capitalism since the 1930's--and that one was only "solved" by World War II.

An understanding of today's world crisis must begin at the end of that previous crisis.

From World War I to the Great Depression and then World War II, the world capitalist system went through 30 years of crisis and decay, politically reflected in revolutions in Russia, Europe and Asia, the rise of fascism in Italy, Germany, Spain and elsewhere, and the counterrevolutionary consolidation of the Marxist-Leninist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union.

After World War II, the U.S. emerged as the dominant world power. The Axis was in ashes. The old British and French empires were greatly weakened, and the USSR was a weak rival to the USA. World dominance—imperialism—was the basis for the long postwar boom in the U.S. Although it contained several recessions that didn't threaten the system, that relative and limited prosperity (for European-Americans, anyway) lasted through the '50's and '60's. It was based on enormous military power and spending (what some have called the Permanent Arms Economy), industrial superiority, financial control (the Bretton Woods agreement and gold reserve standard), and oil. Consequentially, there was a vast expansion of car ownership and suburban living (again, at least for white folks). There was a vast looting of natural resources, treating the natural world as a limitless mine, while undercutting our biological basis of existence. Growing from the experiences of the Depression and war came the dominance of the liberal idea of contra-cyclical government intervention to stabilize the economy (Keynesianism).

Isocracy Network Inaugural General Meeting

The Isocracy Network is establishing a formal Melbourne group. This meeting will be held on Saturday, June 12 at 2pm at 110 Grey Street East Melbourne; the date coincides with the adoption of Virginian Declaration of Rights, one of the earliest and strongest modern statements on the limitations of government and the rights of individuals. Light refreshments will be provided.

Public Finance: The Spectre of Henry

Governments and Taxes

As long as there are humans, we will form societies. As a result of those societies there will be governments [1], and in all probability these governments will require a source of human energy. This may be achieved through some fairly blunt means, such as slavery, corvée, a portion of a crop to more abstract methods through the monetary system which generally come in the form of taxes on transactions, taxes on production, taxes on consumption. Almost invariably the people who are required to pay taxes dislike the experience and some aggressively so, claiming that tax is a form of theft or slavery [2]. Others will debate on the proportion that should raised as a function of the total income of a country, or they will argue the relationship of the tax on income (progressive, proportional, regressive), the source of the tax, the most efficient ways of collecting it, and, quite importantly, where the money is going to be spent.

Volumes could be spent on each of these topics, and indeed already have. As a result, the following is only a sketch. But the core premise is for a tax that isn't a tax, nor a form of theft or slavery by any definition, that is a source of public income whose collection is extremely efficient, that spurs productivity rather than acts as a deadweight [3], and a means of expenditure that provides both welfare without corruption. Everyone from the most ardent socialist, to the Austrian-school capitalist should support it. How could such a thing exist? Economics, as a social inquiry, must begin differently to physical sciences. In the social world normative values alter positive values, rather than the other way around. As such, we begin on a normative basis - political-economy.

The Gifts of Providence

Online Activism And Political Involvement

It is easy to become caught up with the online world. There is a certain wonder with meeting people on the other side of the world with similar interests, to share stories, to swap tips ... and to argue incessantly about some of the most seemingly trivial things; I swear I've seen a knitting flamewar. Such discussions can amaze observers who do not have those interests and compare very poorly with the necessity of involvement in politics; "... the chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule." (Plato, The Republic, Book I, 347-C). Politics however, like any other interest, is subject to such debates and distractions. For someone who wants to be a serious political activist, to make real changes in the world, this is a problem. The following are some suggestions on how to manage online activism in a manner that furthers actual social change.

1. Extend Real-World Activism With ICT

The purpose of political activism is to successfully introduce legal change and public awareness. This can be assisted by information and communications technology. Information technology is an extremely effective means to record, store, search and distribute information. Communications technology allow for asynchronous as well as synchronous two-way information flow whilst at the same time independent of spatial constraints. These are exceptional tools to aid one in promoting their cause to public officials and interested members of the public. Of course, there are other tools that one can use for direct political effect such as denial of service attacks and web vandalism. It must be pointed out that these have limited effect beyond the media interest that they generate.

How defenders of slavery mothballed a constitutional right

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

When it comes to complexity, The First Amendment is rivaled perhaps only by the 14th Amendment. There are voluminous bodies of law attached to a number of brief clauses; non-establishment of religion by law, free exercise of religion, free speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom of assembly. Any one of those clauses have been the subject of many important court rulings.

Then there is this odd clause at the very end - to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. It’s rarely discussed in legal treatises and there are precious few cases where the “Petition Clause” is at issue.


“Petitioning the government” may sound like formal language for any act of what we might call “lobbying” today. But petitioning was more than that.

From precolonial days until just before the U.S. Civil War, petitioning was a particular formal procedure that was commonly used by citizens and groups to make their wishes known, especially to legislative bodies, with the expectation that the request would be taken up on the agenda and considered on its merits. In other words, ordinary people introduced the equivalent of “bills” to be debated in legislatures and either passed in law or not. This is not the same as modern initiatives and referenda, which are subject to a public vote and pass or fail without legislative deliberation, although some states do allow for “initiatives to the legislature.” However, in the heyday of petitioning, a single individual could petition the legislature, and that individual’s request would be considered.

Interview with Joe Toscano, Anarchist Media Institute

Dr. Joe Toscano, of the Anarchist Media Institute, is a well-known libertarian activist. A medical practitoner and surgeon, he has run the Anarchist World radio show on 3CR since 1977 and producted a weekly newsletter, the Anarchist Age Review, since 1991. He was a chief organiser of the 1986 Australian Anarchist Centenary Celebrations. One of the most prominent recent campaigns he has been involved in is founding and promoting "Defend and Extend Medicare", Australia's public health system, through decentralised community groups. The groups attracted not only the criticism of the government's health minister (and now opposition leader) as well as briefing papers on the activists by "a senior intelligence official".

The Isocracy Network raised a number of questions with Joe, which he responded en bloc Firstly Joe, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed on The Isocracy Network. Can you give our readers a brief background on your own activities and that of the Anarchist Media Institute? You're an anarchist, you are not enrolled to vote, and yet you stand as a candidate for Federal parliamentary elections and as the Lord Mayor for Melbourne. You have probably received some criticism, both by from fellow anarchists and from mainstream politicians. Why do you do this? Politically, you've advocated delegative and direct rather representative and indirect democracy, and collective rather than representative decision-making. A serious criticism of this model is that majorities can - and often do - oppress minorities. What are the limits of collective action in your view? What about economically models of organisation? What is your perspectives on anarchist economic organisations, such as mutualism, or commonwealth approaches, such as Georgism? Finally, what are the priorities of activity for an politically-involved anarchist today?

Anarchism vs Isocracy vs Democracy

This short text is about the differences between anarchism, isocracy and democracy. Anarchism means the absence of any kind of public commitments. In democracy and Isocracy, we have public commitments. In democracy which means rule of the nation, you need to belong to a nation, if you want to have a share of political power. The size of this share is not defined. A CEO of a big company has significantly more power than his cleaning lady. Now back to the isocracy which might mean equal power. In isocracy, nobody may dream about the romantic idea of having significantly more power.


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