We might be in for a bit of rough and tumble — the civilization-collapsing kind, according to Professor Peter Turchin from the University of Conneticut’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology. He believes sweeping political turmoil could lead to a complete social collapse in the West sometime in the following decade.
Professor Turchin is one of the leading proponents of cliodynamics, a field of science that mixes history, sociology, mathematics, with a bunch of other disciplines to understand the forces that have shaped humanity over the centuries — forces that still shape us today.
According to the tenets of cliodynamics, historical events such as crises or the rise of fall and empires follow clear patterns. Patterns that can be measured, quantified, and anticipated. Turchin started out by using mathematic models to predict human activity from 1500 B.C.E. to 1500 C.E. Three years ago, using similar models, he began to forecast what’s to come. The results have led Turchin to believe that America is in for a grim future — one that could lead to its downfall, similar to the empires of old. Should the United States collapse, western civilization will likely suffer a similar fate, he further cautions.
“We should expect many years of political turmoil, peaking in the 2020s,” he writes in an article published on Phys.
“But this is a science-based forecast, not a ‘prophecy’. It’s based on solid social science.”
Too many cooks spoil the broth
Turchin considers that a process called “elite overproduction” is at the root of the issue. As the rich elite of society grows in number, it becomes even more disconnected and distant from the poorer members. They’re all fighting over a slice of the pie — but there’s more of them now, and the pie isn’t getting any bigger. This leads to increased tensions and more rivalry in the political and ruling class, gradually undermining any co-operation efforts.
“This happens because the more contenders there are, the more of them end up on the losing side. A large class of disgruntled elite-wannabes, often well-educated and highly capable, has been denied access to elite positions.”
He also says that falling revenues and rising expenses will lead to the “stagnation and decline” of individual living standards and the fiscal health of the state. The economic hardships could become so severe that the state won’t be able to recover.
Turchin says that exactly what will happen when this ‘peak’ occurs is unknown. The theory does not predict events only trends.
But there is a difference between us and the civilizations that came before: we know it’s happening.
“Our society, like all previous complex societies, is on a rollercoaster,” Turchin said. “Impersonal social forces bring us to the top; then comes the inevitable plunge.”
“The descent is not inevitable,” he continued. “Ours is the first society that can perceive how those forces operate, even if dimly. This means that we can avoid the worst — perhaps by switching to a less harrowing track, perhaps by redesigning the rollercoaster altogether.”
And no, it’s not Trump’s fault. The results of the recent presidential campaign are likely a symptom, not a cause. Turchin says that the election “changes nothing in this equation”.
“It did not predict that Donald Trump would become the American President in 2016. But it did predict rising social and political instability.”
“And, unless something is done, instability will continue to rise.”
Which basically means that we’re in for it no matter who’s in power.
The full paper “Political instability may be a contributor in the coming decade” has been published in the journal Nature.
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