What Causes Civilization to Collapse?

collapse

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive

Jared Diamond

Penguin Books (2005)

Book Review

This book was very different from what I expected. I anticipated an account of the environmental mismanagement that caused the collapse of prehistoric civilizations such as Easter Island. Collapse is actually a detailed historical analysis of a wide spectrum of both failed and successful societies. In addition to Easter Island, Diamond also covers the vanished Anazazi civilization in New Mexico, the Mayan civilization, the Viking settlements of Iceland (which persists to the present day), Greenland and Vineland (present day Newfoundland and New Brunswick), pre-1853 Japan, the New Guinea highlands and modern day Rwanda and Australia (the modern society he describes at highest risk for collapse).

Diamond’s thesis is that the ability of any society to meet the survival needs of its members depends on certain basic preconditions. He maintains historical forest management is the most critical – deforestation features in every historical collapse he mentions. Forests are not only essential to provide fuel for cooking, heating and refining metal, but loss of forest cover leads to soil erosion and destruction of topsoil, as well as decreased rainfall and fresh water shortages.

In some societies Diamond analyzes, collapse was the direct result of environmental mismanagement. In others, the odds of survival were extremely low to begin with, due to low rainfall, a cold or windy latitude or poor soils. In many cases, a political factor such as war, lack of external supports (eg trade), overpopulation and/or a greedy ruling elite diverting resources to luxuries were important contributing factors.

The section I found most interesting concerns the New Guinea highlanders, who (prior to the arrival of Europeans) maintained an environmentally sustainable civilization via bottom up direct democracy for over 46,000 years.

How Rigged Voting Machines Are Stealing Our Elections

 

Hacking Democracy

Directed by Simon Ardizzone and Russell Michaels (2006)

Film Review

Hacking Democracy is about Bev Harris, founder of Black Box Voting, and her efforts to end the systematic use of voting machines to alter American election results. At the time the documentary was made (2006), computers counted 80% of the votes cast in US elections. However because the software programs that run voting machines are considered “trade secrets,” neither candidates nor election officials have any way of auditing whether voting machines are accurately recording and tabulating votes.

A visit to the group’s website (http://blackboxvoting.org/) indicates the vote tampering Harris uncovered continues to be widespread. Big discrepancies between exit polls and “official” (machine tabulated) results suggest that vote rigging is even more widespread today than it was ten years ago. If anything these discrepancies are worse than ever in 2016. See What is #Exitpollgate?

The film mainly focuses on Diebold corporation, owing to a fluke in which Harris obtained copies of software code one of their employees (a whistleblower?) mistakenly uploaded to an old Diebold website. With the help of various software engineers, Harris successfully elucidated exactly how vote tampering occurred in various counties in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

She first became interested in the role of voting machines in vote rigging after finding a voting machine in Volusia County Florida that awarded Al Gore a grand total of minus 16,022 votes. Programming computers to record negative votes is essential to ensure that vote totals don’t exceed the total number of voters.

The film poses a number of unresolved mysteries, such as why John Kerry didn’t challenge the vote rigging in New Mexico and Ohio in 2004 – despite promises he made his supporters to fight voting machine tampering. Shortly after his concession speech Kerry, whose victory was assured by exit polls, acknowledged that vote counting in New Mexico (where every single Hispanic district voted for Bush) had been rigged.