5272Re: [ANE-2] Re: Depopulation of Northern Israel
- Jun 1, 2007To: ANE-2
In Response To: Bob Whiting
On: Collapse of Complex Societies
I had doubted whether collapse of the urban center would necessarily entail
literal depopulation of its hinterland. I had called for a counterexample.
The only one so far offered is:
BOB: Ever read William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" Speech? "I tell you
that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down
your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if
by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of
every city in the country." Not what you'd call scholarship . . .
BRUCE: No, not what I would call scholarship.
It's night here, and I thus haven't been able to access a Tainter since
Tainter was last mentioned. But from what can be gleaned from the six
reviews of it which JSTOR includes, Tainter may have problems too (none of
the reviews is wholly positive). For one thing, I get the impression that he
prefers internal explanations (this is still the Age of Renfrew, isn't it)
to external ones. But precisely in the case of Rome, one of his three main
examples, a case can be made, and by one reviewer *is* made, that external
factors were decisive.
Tainter is also said to take up, though at less length, the "collapse" of
early China. I get the impression that this means the loss of power by the
hegemonic Jou state in the year 0771. Almost needless to say, no reviewer of
the six dares touch on China material. China is agreed by all civilized
persons to be somewhere off the planet. That I understand. And little
enough, in all conscience, is known about the event in question. But if that
is indeed the example, it may, I think, be said with reasonable confidence
that the sudden vanishing of Jou overlordship left the former tributary
states themselves in perfectly viable shape, as newly independent states.
Over the next century, beyond merely surviving, which they did handsomely
and without recorded or rumored difficulty, they gradually associated
themselves into a lateral multi-state system, with indeed a more dispersed
sovereignty than before, but not no sovereignty at all. The general
expectation in such cases might be that the units become smaller, once the
coordinating power is removed, but they don't themselves vanish. On the
contrary, they may well become stronger.
Loss of complexity (Tainter's term) may not mean loss of everything. It may
simply mean, and some reviewers seem to imply that Tainter may sometimes
mean by it, a reversion to a less complex situation.
Is this such a strange notion? Did the "collapse" of Rome depopulate the
shores of the Mediterranean?
If your town's Wal-Mart were suddenly removed (as, by a bomb), the effect on
the merely local retail sector would probably be beneficial rather than
harmful, no? Ask your local bookseller, next time you drop in, and if you
haven't dropped in for a while, maybe you should make it a point to do so,
while the bookseller is still there. Do it today.
The advent of the national chain Staples some years ago, in my area, drove
at least three local stationers out of business, or into business in more
remote locations. The notion that the more nationally integrated sector of
the economy is necessary to the health of the more locally based sector(s)
of the economy is not one that is going to survive many lunches with small
business owners. Or so my personal data files seem to suggest.
Then farmers whose source of John Deere tractors were suddenly removed might
go back to horses, but that they would abandon farming altogether seems a
drastic assumption. It is at least worth considering that, without the
expropriative tax on their yield, which is what The City might represent to
some of them, they would have enough to eat in the first place. Having
enough to eat might be thought to be a supportive, rather than a
disintegrative, factor in the future of the rural sector.
Is the city parasitic on its hinterland, or constitutive for its hinterland?
The answer may be situationally dependent, or culture dependent, or even
technology dependent, but the most general answer still seems to me to be,
in all probability, other than Tainter is reputed to think it is.
But soon comes the dawn, and I will have my shot at seeing what Tainter
thinks he thinks. More perhaps then.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
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