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June 01, 2020


Great informative and entertaining lecture.

Great lecture!

I said that it got scary at the end, but I just opened it again and at the beginning he points out that the globalized economy of that time collapes and civilization has to 'reboot'. Yikes...

Really fascinating lecture, lj, thanks!

I enjoyed the lecture.

From a review of the book:

"Wars and skirmishes among Bronze Age kings did not affect the vast majority of people, who were busy in the fields. The biggest battles and sieges of cities were one-time events involving tens of thousands of people. This is out of a population of millions, or perhaps tens of millions. These rare catastrophes dominate the written sources, hence why historians focus on them so heavily. But proportionally, they were often unimportant for the region’s standard of living. Written records can only be made by people who know how to write, and in the Bronze Age that was only a select few people, mostly state functionaries and merchants. This availability bias in the sources means that historians who single out war or invasion as a primary culprit for the 1177 B.C. collapse are likely overselling their case.

Cline’s wider system collapse argument has merit. But his argument that interconnectedness was a source of weakness is almost certainly in error."
Eric H. Cline – 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

From an article related to the subject and the present:

"Much of human history consequently has a cyclical quality. A society will start off relatively simple ("undeveloped," we might say) and gradually become more complex, sophisticated, and wealthy. Eventually, it reaches the limits of that process and a crisis ensues. It may adapt or surmount it, but more often it does not; the society returns to a simpler, less complex form. There are several well-known examples of this, such as the collapse of the classical Mayan civilization in the eighth and ninth centuries, the breakdown of the ancient civilizations of the Middle East and the lands around the Mediterranean in the sixth century, and the disintegration of the civilizations of the late Bronze Age in the 12th century B.C. It has happened several times in Chinese history.
A major pandemic is one of the classic markers of a civilizational crisis. All of our systems are being put through a stress test. We will discover which are resilient and robust, which are fragile and brittle, and which are actually antifragile—thriving on the breakdown of structures. Fortunately, by looking at the signs of systemic stress, we can observe that human ingenuity is producing technologies and ways of doing things that will very likely enable us to overcome this time of troubles. We may be facing challenges, perhaps lasting many years. But we should be confident that global civilization will overcome this, as it has before."

COVID-19 and the Collapse of Complex Societies

Um, you did notice, in the lecture, that he specifically addresses the question of possible plague in 1173 BC. Apparently not, based on the evidence available.

1. Climate Change
2. Twitter
3. Global Pandemic
4. Riots and civil uprisings
5. Economic collapse.

We're fucked.
I recommend nuking #2, as a good start.

Um, you did notice,

I usually get stroppy when people make replies without reading, but I usually don't extend that to youtube lectures cause I don't expect people to spend at hour plus. But this time, yeah, you really ought to watch the lecture before citing arguments against it.

I did watch the whole lecture.

As a perhaps related topic:

The migration period, concurrent with and following the decline of the Roman Empire. Look at the map, and then consider that most of those people probably walked.

If you routinely take a car to go to the store a mile or two away from homr, walking those distances is awe inspiring. But if you routinely start the day walking 4-5 miles to your fields** (and the same walked commute back, of course), in addition to spending the day on your feet? It's still a long hike, but really just a matter of spending the time. You're probably far more concerned with logistics (specifically where you get food every day) than about the walking per se.

I can say that, growing up, we routinely walked 5 miles to town when we wanted to go to the library in the summer. It wasn't that big a deal. Then. (And we did cage a ride home with Dad at the end of the day.) If we could do it with 12 year old leg lengths, adults wouldn't be intimidated.

** That's a 1 hour commute. Which, from the earliest civilizations we know of until the present was the maximum time people would commute. Until today and Silicon Valley -- but that's pretty clearly an anomaly.

This article is a long walk.

"In 1994, Cesare Marchetti, an Italian physicist, described an idea that has come to be known as the Marchetti Constant. In general, he declared, people have always been willing to commute for about a half-hour, one way, from their homes each day.

This principle has profound implications for urban life. The value of land is governed by its accessibility—which is to say, by the reasonable speed of transport to reach it."
The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History: From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

That 30 minutes Marchetti posits is the average commute time. There is data on the maximum as well. See

Unsurprisingly, the ongoing maximum is roughly twice the average.

Some disturbing expert opinions on our current situation. From people trained to evaluate exactly this:

In interviews and posts on social media in recent days, current and former U.S. intelligence officials have expressed dismay at the similarity between events at home and the signs of decline or democratic regression they were trained to detect in other nations.

I did watch the whole lecture.

So you missed when he answered the question about plagues or not>

He indicated that there might have been plagues. But, so far, no evidence had been found that there were any plagues. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence...

That's the problem with just tossing up links without providing your own commentary: Makes you look like you just reacting, not actually thinking.

It has been calculated that Charlemagne rode about 3 times around the world (figuratively) in his career. That has been used in the (rather silly) argument that he never existed and that the whole Carolingian period was a later invention.

The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence...

There is no evidence that a silver teapot is orbiting Jupiter, that Santa's sleigh is pulled by flying reindeer, or that Hogwarts Castle has moving staircases.

This is not a comment about the lj-CharlesWT exchange or the role of plagues in the Bronze Age collapse. I don't even mean to belittle the general principle about absence of evidence. I only want to suggest that general principles can sometimes support absurd hypotheses.

Another general principle that I subscribe to but am slightly wary of: "Correlation does not imply causation". Of course. But as some wag once observed, they often go together.

BTW, watching lectures on YouTube has been a passtime of mine for a couple of years, and I watched that Eric Cline lecture some months ago, and loved it.

For hsh, Janie, and other statistics lovers: this Hans Rosling TED talk is wonderful.


Since the missus and I finished Fleabag last night, I'm going to see if she'd be interested in watching the lecture lj linked and the TED talk Tony P. linked over the next few evenings. An abrupt shifting of gears viewing-wise, but I think we can get through it. Pray for us, anyway.

you can always watch the one-woman-show version of Fleabag. it's like a lecture, but it's also Fleabag. so, maybe that'd be a good transition.

I loved Fleabag, the series. And I watched the one-woman show version with pleasure, but that was mainly because it showcased what a talent she is a) as an actress, and b) in taking the (original) one-woman stage show, and transforming it so brilliantly. I never watch James Bond movies on release, and only occasionally on TV, but it will be interesting to see what kind of impact Phoebe Waller-Bridge's involvement in writing the next one has on it.

It's still a long hike, but really just a matter of spending the time.

I guess what I was getting at with the "they walked" thing was less the feasibility of a person walking hundreds or even thousands of miles over some period of time, and more the idea that entire communities of people picked up sticks and relocated, even if they had to walk to do it.

Because they had to do it, for one reason or another.

And whatever resources the Romans, or the Byzantines, or the Sassanids, or whoever, could bring to bear to prevent that, could not actually prevent it.

People do what they need to do, is kind of what I'm saying.

Sophisticated societies, that depend on extended supply chains and complex interdependent networks of actors, are vulnerable, by virtue of depending on those things.

Well, lots of peoples did it for a living. Nomads is the term, I believe. And, given how important German cavalry became for the Romans, one should not underestimate the use of horses by people we tend to imagine as pedestrians.

ok, I'll try this one more time.

Never mind about the walking. That appears to be a distraction from the basic point.

Entire populations relocated, hundreds or thousands of miles, from where they had been, to where they ended up. The migrations involved lots of different groups of people, not all of them traditionally nomadic, and they were kind of all on the move for a fairly focused period of time. Unclear what prompted it, exactly, probably a lot of reasons for it. For whatever reason, they needed to move, and they did.

Like the Sea Peoples in the lecture.

That contributed to upending what had been a relatively stable geopolitical context of some long standing. Lots of other reasons for that, but the massive migration of people was part of it.

It was disruptive. From point of view of human history, epochally so. It was quite a large inflection point in human history, for a really large chunk of the world.

These aren't the only examples of this. This kind of thing, often with the decline of existing established civilizations and cultures, has happened repeatedly in history.

What I take away from it all, FWIW, is that we may be looking at a similar moment. Mostly because of the effects of climate change, but also because inequality at global scale is going to create pressure for people to move from where their lives are perilous, to where they might perhaps be less so.

How we choose to respond to that is going to have an impact on all of our lives.

Climate change is inevitably going to result in huge migrations. Initially involving places particularly ill-equipped to deal with them. To take just the most obvious example, India is looking at receiving pretty much the entire population of Bengladesh. That won't be pretty.

Europe and the US will doubtless be horrified at the big numbers (although microscopic compared to India) they will see. Probably various attempts at closing their borders, which will be effective only at the margins. Although a lot of people smugglers will get very rich.

That horror is likely to translate into more rising "populist" (read xenophobic) politicians. Whether they rise to actual power is another matter. If we are really lucky, our experience with Trump may just provide us with antibodies to ward that off. Maybe.

One of the things I keep going back to in all of these discussions of globalism and networks is a fuzzy epiphany I had during grad school. I was reading a lot of stuff about the debate between "the world is flat" and "the world is spiky" and also was just starting to work my way through Manuel Castells' ideas about the "space of spaces" (physical geography, measured in miles) and the "space of flows" (network geography, measured in density of fiber optics connecting two locations in the "space of spaces"). Someone in one of these readings asked the question of whether the L.A. Financial District was closer to the Tokyo Stock Exchange or to Skid Row?

Negotiating that question really gets to the heart of all manner of things.

Thirteen years on, with a lot of reading under the bridge, and I'm still no closer to a clear answer, but I am closer to understanding the question.

It's pretty clearly a matter of defining (or, better, explaining) what you mean by "close". Physically? Travel time? Culturally? Socially? Economically? Financially (which isn't quite the same thing)? Genetically?

Once the definition is settled, the answer is obvious. But without the definition, the question isn't really meaningful.

Really fascinating lecture, thanks!

[edit: see below]

Great information and entertaining as well

[edit: Why thank you! I deleted your url out of this, but I do appreciate the sentiment!]

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