Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – Forward Observer Shop

Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Jared Diamond wrote the books Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, among others (and they’re all great).

Jared explains that a number of societies haven’t experienced a slow, steady decrease; but instead rise to prominence only to fall very rapidly – years at minimum; decades at max – and collapse.  He likens that to a growth of bacteria in a petri dish, where the bacteria grows, the availability of food diminishes and disappears, and the bacterial growth collapses on relatively short order.

Those societies that collapsed failed to perceive their problems, failed to solve their problems, or both; some for lack of realization, some for lack of effort, or others for lack of ability.

“One blueprint for trouble, making collapse likely” is the rift between the “short term interests of the decision making elites and the long term interests of the society as a whole; especially if the elites are able to insulate themselves from the consequences of their actions.”  We see this today in America.  Our decision makers – Congress, who passes laws regarding healthcare and social security that don’t pertain to them – are adept at insulating themselves from the consequences of their actions and this makes me very concerned with the nation’s survivability over the long term.

Finally, Jared says that societies must solve all their problems; that it does no good for a society to solve eleven threats but not solve the twelfth.  Regarding issues threatening collapse, we have to get it right 100% of the time.

Here are five factors that Diamond says affect the collapse of societies.  I’ll take notes and relate these effects to the American Redoubt region.  Think of these as thinking points as opposed to talking points.

Human Impacts on the Environment

There are massive human impacts on the environment in parts of the American Redoubt, although much of the Redoubt states are a majority of Federally-owned lands.  Because Redoubt states are so richly engulfed with natural resources (hydrocarbons, metals, minerals, and lumber); there’s going to be an equal amount of focus on getting those substances out of the ground.  That can create pollution and a degradation of the environment, which Jared says causes societies to collapse.  There will have to be a happy-medium solution to resource extraction and protection of the environment because we’re economically dependent on these resources in order to function.  Will the American Redoubt be held hostage by international oil cartels (along with the rest of America) or will we make strides to become energy independent?  My bet is on the latter.

Diamond sites a few different examples of how the environment ultimately did-in societies; from the collapse of the Mayan civilization to the Norse in Greenland.  For the Norse, overgrazing and deforestation contributed to the entire Norse population in Greenland dying off.

There are environmental factors that are “too subtle” to realize until it’s too late; as in the case of the Norse.  One of the subtle factors we might include is the population growth over the next decade.  If we do see a financial collapse, followed by a domino effect of other collapses, we’ll likely see an influx of patriots to the American Redoubt.  The slower the process of collapse – if Americans do have time to get out of Dodge in an orderly fashion – the faster we’ll see immigration into the Redoubt.

We should consider how we’ll harvest and extract natural resources in order to support the populace and the defense of the region.  In any number of scenarios, the American Redoubt states would likely have to provide for their own defense; export resources for cash; and manage an influx of immigrants.  That can induce stress on resource production, especially if demand outpaces available supply.  Could our treatment of the environment to make life better in the short term actually end up harming us in the long term?

I’m by no means an “environmentalist” but we have a long term interest in being good stewards of the environment.  That’s not just for the environment but also for us.  When our society literally depends on the environment by which we’re surrounded, we have a vested interest in strategically consuming or harvesting those resources.

Climate Change

I don’t believe in anthropomorphic (man made) climate change but I can easily see how the climates of geographical regions have changed and can change over time.  We’ve had ice ages and we’ve had warming periods; that’s just the history of the globe as a whole.  If we are indeed experiencing climate change in the Redoubt states, then our survivability in this region could be at stake.

Let’s just assume that climate change is indeed occurring in Redoubt states (purely hypothetical).  Because most of the Redoubt region consists of semi-arid valleys and high deserts, how would warming affect precipitation, the environmental ability to accumulate and retain moisture over the winter (snowfall and snowpack), and run-off which constitutes a large portion of irrigation that makes farming these regions possible?

How would climate change increase the stress on our water tables and aquifers and on crops within the climate threshold?

Relations with Friendly Societies

We have to define “Friendly Societies” as the states (or societies) immediately surrounding the Redoubt; and also include most states in the Union as well as the regions of Canada to the north (British Colombia, Alberta, Saskatchewan).  (States, regions, or societies we don’t include here will fall under Hostile Societies.)

Because the Redoubt is landlocked, we’ll be heavily dependent upon neighboring friendly societies for products and resources not indigenous to the region.  If we want a fresh tomato in January, we’d better figure out how trade is going to work under conditions where resources are scare (if we can even figure it out).  I believe the Redoubt can be energy independent and so our ability to export much needed resources will be an incentive for those friendly societies to remain friendly.

But at what point could we see conflict, coercion, and punishment from hostile societies?

Relations with Hostile Societies

The American Redoubt, with its vast resources and above average infrastructure, will still be under threat of systems disruption (def: the slowing or stopping of critical networks) to include interruptions of petrol, finance, energy, and economic networks (along with the rest of America).  The same nefarious actors that threaten America as a whole will pose a threat to the Redoubt as well.  We’ll likely be limited in our ability (as Redoubters) to effect change on international adversaries and non-state entities and be wholly dependent on the response of America at large.

For the purpose of the American Redoubt, I’ll include regional self-government as being under threat of hostile societies. Domestic hostile societies include large pockets of the Federal and military establishment; societies within the American Redoubt itself who won’t want to live in a “free state”; and potentially large swaths of the population on both coasts.  In a true collapse scenario, there will likely be more immediate problems than the independent mountain states; but to overlook any segment of the American population would be foolish.

Political, Economic, Social, and Cultural Factors of Society

The political foundations in the American Redoubt states are what I’d call “pretty solid.”  Liberty is still heralded as a major political issue although it becomes somewhat diminished in certain parts of each state.  The American Redoubt, by the numbers, has a strong economy; the region as a whole is in the top 25% of the nation when it comes to unemployment and at about the national average in other categories such as median household income.  Societal and cultural factors include a tolerance for logging, mining, and drilling (willing to accept risk for the reward); and very supportive of both hunting and gun laws.  Independence outweighs dependency and most believe that when the government gives to one what is not earned, another must work for without receiving.  Over-regulation and government interference are shunned in most places, which makes the American Redoubt states pretty great places to live.

Redoubters, I believe, when push comes to shove are responsive to intrusive government and laws of soft tyranny; although a few do manage to pass from time to time.  Compared to the rest of the nation, liberties in the Redoubt are either being upheld or eroding at a much slower rate.


These are five factors that every Redoubter should consider and we need to work on solving these problems before they threaten our society.

If you’re interested in learning more, FO highly recommends reading Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, both by Jared Diamond.

Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.


  1. I think Jared Diamond is a dickhead. He is pandering to a progressive audience, attempting to explain human behavior in ways that are politically acceptable. For example, his first book attempts to explain why Africa is perennially f’d up, because it is arrayed north to south, with shorter growing seasons, versus North America, which is situated east to west, and therefore has the geographic advantage of longer growing seasons, which allowed societies to develop. MAYBE that was true thousands of years ago, but today? I think that’s a convenient excuse to rationalize f’d-up behavior. But hey, it fits the progressive world-view and gets you a Pulitzer prize, so rock on.

    Book number deux is more of the same fuzzy thinking. Now instead of geographic determinism, he believes civilizations rise and fall because of choices made by the body politic. Now he defines pure human nature as bad choices made, like deciding whether you want Mexican or Chinese for dinner. This is equally disingenuous because human nature is what it is. You can’t Monday morning quarter-back civilizations and say, well, they shoulda done this, or that. If history has shown us anything at all, it’s people are just gonna be people. No amount of insight, or logic, or in this case goofy thinking, is going to change the outcome. Based on this thesis, if a visitor from the future came back and laid it all out for us, showing us exactly what mistakes we made, and what we needed to do to change them for a better outcome, we’d change our evil ways. I would argue it wouldn’t make any difference at all. We’d still find a way to F up. It’ s just our nature. Logic, hard work, and good are always counter-balanced by emotion , laziness, and bad. Two sides of the same coin.

    Great civilizations rise, then they fall. That’s just the natural order of things. No amount of analysis is going to change that, IMHO. The US has had it’s day in the sun. We are now in a state of decline. How historians choose to treat us a thousand years from now is a good question. Perhaps their own Jared Diamond will attempt to explain us, framed in their own ways of thinking, just as we pronounce sentence on the Norseman, or Mayan.

    1. Haha. Hey, I get it. Diamond is a progressive, however, these books are not only extremely interesting, but they offer some insight into societies and civilizations. If we’re to defend and extend the life of Western Civilization, then there are certainly some quality takeaways from these two books.

  2. Moral decline is a massively overlooked issue here. Read the book of Isaiah (first 39 chapters) and you see the ebb and flow of nations. The Bible clearly demonstrates that a nation who forgets God is destined for destruction. We are a case in point here. Europe is farther along the curve than the US, but we’re not far behind.

    Having lived in Africa, the Caribbean and Canada, you can see moral collapse as the single most important factor (not that the others are inconsequential).

  3. Well, yeah morality is one label if you want to frame it in religious terms. Nothing against Christianity, or any other religion for that matter, BUT, it can be both a blessing and a curse. Again, human nature. People have done great things in the name of religion, as well as committed many atrocities. The Germans marched into battle with “Gott mit uns” (God is with us) on their belt buckles. I don’t think all the millions of people who suffered and died in concentration and/or slave labor camps would agree.

    But yeah, to your point, when people stop following a moral code, such as seen in Christianity, things do generally slide down hill fast. I believe the progressives war on religion and any belief in a higher power or being has rapidly accelerated our demise. When people lose faith, in their God, in their country, in each other, chaos isn’t far behind. The center cannot hold, as the man said. In our case, what rough beast slouches on it’s way to WASHINGTON to be born.

  4. As for Diamond he is a clown whose conclusions should be suspect to say the least. Seriously if the Papuan-New Guineans were the world’s smartest people I think all the Ivy League should slit their own throats and make way.

    I know of serious conservatives who think Diamond a great intellectual, that is how bad the situation is these days. Yes he gets some facts right but his conclusions are a joke.

  5. Yeah, I mean, I’m not trying to call Sam out here; lots of folks seem to think this guy brings up valid points to consider. It’s just his conclusions are total bravo sierra in my book.

    I mean I get it, a Pacific Islander may lead a damn-near idyllic life, without the complexity of our modern world. And there’s a lesson to be learned there. But come on- these cats aren’t angels either, regardless of Diamond’s apparent fascination with them. You put these dudes in three-piece suits and turn them loose on Wall St and I would wager you’d get the same results (as any other ethnic group).

    Bottom line, it’s dangerous to judge folks though the lens of current thinking, especially with what passes for serious scholarship these days. My political science professors would have given me a C- for this crap. And mailed my diploma to me so no one would actually see them give it to me.

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