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5272Re: [ANE-2] Re: Depopulation of Northern Israel

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    Jun 1, 2007
      To: ANE-2
      In Response To: Bob Whiting
      On: Collapse of Complex Societies
      From: Bruce

      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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