Monday, August 29, 2005

Death by Asabiya

Apparently I've been scooped. No need to talk about the collapse of civilization anymore because Peter Turchin, an ecologist, has written a book, War and Peace and War, to prove it mathematically. He uses the same models that he has successfully applied to voles.

Needless to say, there will be some disagreement with his assumptions and methodology, but I think he has done a good thing. We need to discuss where we are going – not just economically, demographically and environmentally, but socially as well.

There is a short discussion of frontier effects, which he interestingly enough calls "asabiya", an Arabic word denoting "mutual affection and willingness to fight and die for each other". The obverse of this cooperation is the related willingness to demonize the adversary, much as westerners demonized the Plains Indians and used their own paranoia as an excuse to wipe out the American Bison. The best and the worst move to the frontiers.

The Sydney Morning Herald starts their article on Turchin with a reference to Isaac Asimov and the Foundation series. I loved those books, but I am inclined to discount the possibility that Turchin is the embodiment of Hari Seldon. First of all, we have to realize that predicting the future incorporates the possibility of changing it. Malthus leads naturally to Borlaug. I don’t accept predestination. In the real world, Cassandra is heeded. Even Churchill had some followers.

Peter Turchin has written previously, in 2003, about Historical Dynamics. I haven't written or seen either book yet, but I am very interested.

8/29/2005 1:59 AM

UPDATE: I don't know. Maybe I'm wrong about Cassandra. BoingBoing points out that NOLA vulnerability has been known for some time.

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At Monday, August 29, 2005 6:23:00 AM, Blogger mal said...

mmmmm, I will have to look at it, it does sound interesting. The thing we have to remember about animal behaviour studies as applied to people is that people are not the animals studied and while they may parallel results, they have this perverse habit not doing the predicted


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