I’ve noticed that primitivists use a trick in their definition of “civilization” (and also “city”). They define the word by looking at the past, and then project that definition onto the future.
I hadn’t noticed this before, but that’s true. This is also what economists do when they predict economic performance for the next quarter, year or whatever, even in the face of things like peak oil. Whatever happened in the past is certain to continue into the future in exactly the same way, right?
Also, Jason commented over at G+:
[C]omplexity is all of a piece. Joseph Tainter has a good explanation for why this is. With the interconnectedness of all the various forms of complexity (James Burke has illustrated this in a lovely fashion with his Connections series), limiting any one form of complexity (like, military complexity) necessarily limits the growth of complexity in all other areas.
This is a really good point and something I’m not too familiar with. My first thought on this is that limiting some form of complexity in the beginning might limit the growth of complexity as the society moves along; however, what happens when one form of complexity — say, military complexity — gets removed when everything dependent upon it has already developed? I think that’s what Western empire/civilization will have to face. I’m inclined to think that in this case, the existing complexities will respond in the way computer and biological networks do: the missing piece is either considered a error and alternate paths are constructed, or the missing piece is treated as an empty space and something else moves in to fill up that niche.
Interestingly, Western mythology in Revelation describes that exact process. In Christianese it’s referred to as “the judgment,” after which a (comparatively) utopian civilization emerges. Fascinating stuff.
And on a total and complete aside — if you’re on G+ come find me! I’ve started a Mythodrome circle to which I’d love to add you. If you follow me there send me a note to let me know, I’ll add you to the Mythodrome circle and then ‘share’ it with you.