Episode-1856- Societal Collapse with CJ Kilmer — 22 Comments

    • I agree Brent that JMG does a better job than most in looking at the pattern of collapse, especially through the lens of catabolic collapse. But I also know from reading him for years that he can easily piss a lot of people off because he has no sacred cows that tilt his analysis on these matters, which offends both the left and right quite frequently.

  1. I really enjoy Prof CJ’s perspective on things. I haven’t missed one of his Dangerous History Podcasts. Thanks Jack for having him on!

  2. Here’s one for the “Muh Roads” file. I just turned 50 and the interchange of I-95 and I-10 has been under constant construction since I was in 4th grade. Some years ago I finally figured it out with an admission from a state DOT employee that got little attention in the press. The way the department works is their next year’s budget is determined by what they spend this year. So, this person explained that if they don’t submit an ever growing cost to the higher ups. they get less money and if they have no pending or continuing projects they get downsized (right, like that ever happens with bureaucrats). Apparently there are those in the vast rat maze of local DOT bureaucracy who have made entire comfy careers off of dragging out the “improvement” of the I-10/I-95 area for decades. Not to mention the select few contractors who’ve built personal empires off of it. That is the part that the “Muh Roads” people don’t understand. The govt. doesn’t build roads. They inefficiently/corruptly hire private companies to do it all. I also learned something about this from one of the family members of one such private empire that originally did the paving of the FL part of I-10 as well as the launch pads for NASA at Cape Canaveral and various military runways all over the world.

  3. I enjoyed this podcast very much, as the subject matter is something right in my wheelhouse. I’ve read Tainter’s book as well as many other sources about civilizational decline and collapse, and I was very happy to hear Prof CJ give a shout to Tainter here.

    I’d characterize Tainter’s argument a tweak different than Prof CJ. It’s more like the seeds of a complex society’s destruction are sown by the very things in which it finds early success. For example, when the Romans were conquering relatively wealthy Etruscan wheat farmers a few mountain ridges over, they got a tremendous return on their investment through plunder. This allowed them to field more legions to conquer more territory, bringing in more plunder.

    But the further afield they went in their conquest, the greater the costs in raising and maintaining the legions. Plus, they had to administer their conquered territories (greater complexity) and the wealth flow slowed from a deluge to a much smaller stream. As their targets of conquest shifted from wealthy settled wheat farmers to warring, nomadic Germanic tribes, they also received a much smaller return on their investment (diminishing to negative returns on complexity).

    Finally, there was the farming models of the Roman Empire and the havoc their wreaked on the environment. It’s telling that North Africa was the Empire’s breadbasket, and now it’s largely desolate. Also, as the organization of farms shifted from a yeoman model of smallholders in the early Republic to the slave-labor latifundia of the Empire, there was no incentive to steward the land, only profit to be squeezed out of it. If any of this sounds similar to the farming trajectory of the US, please stop me….

    All in all, excellent podcast today. Thanks for having Prof CJ on again.

  4. Re: Rome and Mayan collapse
    Rebecca Costa suggests biology/limits of the brain (the brain at that state of evolution could not deal with the complexity of society. A great read.
    She quotes Yaneer Bar-Yam (Professor at Harvard, President of New England Complex Systems Institute) as saying
    “The rule of thumb is that the complexity of the organism has to match the complexity of the environment at all scales in order to increase the likelihood of survival.”

    Her book (2010)

  5. Is this the same Pournelle that wrote for Byte magazine in the 80’s?
    Was he not a Sci-Fi writer as well?

  6. “Move to Canada”
    Best line

    Jack, I know you don’t like the cold but… 🙂

    This was an amazing podcast Jack. May have to listen again

  7. Regarding the history segment and the possibility of death from the croup (a barking cough), in the modern day it is rare that one dies from the croup due to the vaccination for diphtheria and influenza. No such vaccinations existed in 1856 and drugs to treat the croup were ZERO. If you got it in 1856 you were in serious trouble.

    I am willing to be corrected by Dr. Bones, or even , a first year medical student. I am going on memory and a quick scan of Wikipedia.

    Alex Shrugged

  8. I found this video extremely interesting and though provoking. The parallels are uncanny.

    The Truth of the Fall of Rome and Modern Parallels

    Stefan Molynuex, MA, is the host of Freedomain Radio (, the most popular philosophy site on the Internet, and a “Top 10” Finalist in the 2007-2010 Podcast Awards.

  9. About the fact that the size of livestock decreased during the roman empire collaspe: this could obviously be the direct consequence of the animals’ malnutrition, but it could also be a consequence of an insidious and accidental selection.

    When food gets hard to come by, we tend to eat the best looking animals as soon as they are fat enough, and we don’t give them a chance to reproduce. The smaller animals that require less food are the ones kept alive, in the hope that they will get fatter, eventually. Those animals become dominant in the gene pool.

    I believe that this is something preppers should be aware of, especially regarding small livestock with a shorter life cycle (more generations in a given time = faster evolution), if they don’t want the gene pool of there animals to deteriorate to fast in a rapid decline type situation.

  10. “The Harrows of Spring”, by James Howard Kunster from his World Made by Hand cycle puts flesh on the bones very well.

  11. Mark Shepard the author of Restoration Agriculture, guest of TSP and friend of Jacks, laid out in an excellent presentation about the time of the release of his book that, “All civilizations based on annual crops have collapsed.”

    While Mark’s presentation is very long, it is packed full with practical “real” permaculture practices tied into restoration agriculture along with numerous examples of various civilizations brought down by degenerative agricultural practices, AND more than a slight bit of emotion as to how he feels about how things are and need to be changed.

    This has been supported by research by the likes of Jarrod Diamond, author of the Pulitzer prize winning book Guns, Germs and Steel, in his short piece, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.” .

    Of course societal collapse can ultimately be triggered by a number of events, as was mentioned by CJ, Diamond notes that it does not take an ever-increasing complex society to collapse. Numerous paleopathologist have noted collapse of individual human beings in the transition from hunter gatherers to farmers.

    Regarding larger complex societies, it has been noted that they mostly follow a specific pattern, discovery and exploitation of natural resources, (arable land, timber, mined material, human labor,etc.); establishment of a fungible, real value-backed currency; rise in public works; rise in a standing army to protect or expand that countries’ interests; debasement of it its currency; greater class divisions between the rich and poor; loss of trust in government; and collapse by insurrection from within or being overtaken from outside or just dissolving back into Nature as the Incas, Mayans, and the vast numbers of Amazon Indians at the time of the Conquistidores. SOUND FAMILIAR?

    If not, just look back to the ‘60s and ‘70s in the US in your (or your parent’s lives) and ask how things were then regarding individual standards of living, wages, job opportunities, home ownership, single-earner household income providers, health (wastelines?), individual debt, quality time spent with family – on and on.

    The concluding solutions given in this podcast are good in developing individual resiliency and growing sets of skills, but require individuals to tare themselves away from the duality of the intentionally planned distractions of the “either or” distractions, as Jack would say, Republican/Democrat, etc.; mainstream media; iPhone (my 6Plus is mostly used for really important or emergency things).

    In other words “Go Back to the Future,” Mark Shephard’s farm in Viola, WI is virtually self-sustaining, including being virtually off-grid (including liquid vehicular fuel); restorative in virtually all aspects; and highly profitable (even Warren Buffett has said he “would take owning farms over gold” ).

    And technology is NOT going to save us, while, at the moment, with through the internet, we have an unprecedented access to virtually all the knowledge in the world, many, including previous previous multiple-appearance TSP guest Chris Martenson, and those mentioned in the other comments, John Michael Greer and James Howard Kunstler are NOT “Doomers,” but are REALISTS who can do the real world math (not Common Core BS), see that we simply do not have enough basic resources (oil, minerals, etc.) to create these “high tech” solutions.

    The best bet to avoid collapse in your world, regardless of what happens outside your “Sphere of Influence,” people like Geoff Lawton as well as Mark Shepard and Joel Salatin say is to get involved in Restoration Agriculture, focusing on perenials which can be done WITHOUT buying land, but only leasing it long term and teaming up with other like-minded people who, together will not only weather any collapse, but be healthier, wealthier (in the true sense) and happier.

  12. Was surprised that I had heard of caning of Sumner before – heard of it a couple years ago on Glenn Beck. Glad when I can remember some of the things I hear as I listen to so many podcasts. Great show.