studies the dynamics of ecosystems, and, more recently, the dynamics of human history. His new book,
War and Peace and War
, models the rise and fall of empires.
In a welcome move, the
Amazon listing for
War and Peace and War
includes the entire introduction, which is both readable and fascinating.
Is a science of history possible? Can we design a theory for the collapse of mighty empires that would be no worse than, say, our understanding of why earthquakes happen? Seismologists have made great strides in understanding earthquakes. They can even make some limited predictions as to which areas of the earth are likely to be hit next by an earthquake. However, forecasting the precise timing and magnitude of an earthquake eludes them. Can a science of history, similarly, explain why states crumble, and perhaps predict which societies are in the danger of collapse?
Turchin is quite aware that people have speculated on quantitative models of history before; what seems the innovation in his research is he actually builds mathematical models of empires. He describes three grand cycles of history as relevant to this work: a cycle of the initial formation of empires (named an
cycle after the work of
), a cycle of the economic expense to the state of maintaining elites, and a father-and-son cycle of susceptibility to civil war. He also readily acknowledges those are not the only historical forces at work, and has a lucid discussion of the scientific method as it applies to building useful models.
War and Peace and War
is only just leaking onto Australian bookshelves, so if you can't wait, an example of his model-building technique, as applied to the modern House of Saud, is in
this paper (PDF)
on his website. Niall at
Whom Gods Destroy
originally pointed this out a month ago; what can I say, I'm a slow reader.
The Stainless Steel Elephant
Science fiction is often a cultural inspiration and background for scientists and techies, and I was amused to see that so far as modelling history goes, Peter Turchin's thoughts turned immediately, as mine did, to Isaac Asimov's scientist character Hari Seldon, the psychohistorian. Turchin's inspiration by Ibn Khaldun reminded me how good SF can be at keeping a mind aware of cultural variation. I already knew of Khaldun, but only because of
Years of Rice and Salt
, another SF novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. The same holds for the theory of the humours, Chinese maritime exploration, survival skills of early nomads,
... now that we no longer have a literary canon, the anti-fashionable eclecticism of SF is not such a bad jumping-off point for a broader education.
There is a joke here about the expansion of SF cliches across other fields of study, but I can't quite find it.
Tasmanian Bill Mollison, of Permaculture fame, saw vitality and vigour in edge effects. He designed his agricultural system around it. Peter Turchin sees similar effects occurring at the edge of Empires, where the constant danger and turgidity under the shadow of a powerful state induces social cohesion in those confronting it.
Turchin develops his theory with the Mongols and Russians before applying it to the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire. When the Roman Empire was waning in 300 AD, there were several larger cohesive socio-military groups opposing it. The groups, such as the Franks, Visigoths, Burgundians and Bavarians; were all within a 100 mile stretch of the edge of the Roman Empire.
Two hundred years later the dominant states in Europe were the Frankish Empire (modern day Belgium and France), the kingdom of the Visigoths (modern Spain, Portugal and southern France). Another two hundred years and the Frankish Empire of the Carolingians dominated all of Europe.
Further in the south, the constant interaction of the Roman and Byzantium Empires led to the social cohesion of the Bedouins and other Arab tribes. They were bound by a mono-theistic religion which arose out of the homebase of Mecca, and in 800 AD the Abbasid Califate stretched from the Middle East to modern day Turkey and Algiers and up to Russia.
Turchin is amazed that tribes in a seven percent area of Europe ended up being the only ones creating their own large states. The areas of the world that were not frontiered with Empires, such as Norway, Finland, etc remained small tribes, not large centralised states.
Turchin argues that this form of collective responsibility and cohesion is enough to challenge the social science theory of "rational-choice" in the area of ultrasociality. One which looked to reductivism to explain human behaviour. Reductionism was shown its limits at the turn of the 20thC with the rise of Quantum mechanics.
Turchin writes quite simply;
Machiavelli was wrong.
Scrymarch raised my attention to this book by Peter Turchin
. It is definitely an interesting book, and I think the idea of multi-ethnic frontiers being the point that other imperial nations develop the cohesion to establish themselves is one very worthy of merit. Turchin also explores some other aspects of the development of imperial nations such as Asabiya
and the study of cliodynamics
. I also try to determine how Turchin's theories relate to Australia.
I covered this in some detail in the article; Edge Effects: Frontier Induced Cohesion
Ibn Khaldun was a Tunisian from the 1300s who developed the philosophy of collective solidarity or Asabiya
. This capability in a group enables it to co-operate for the benefit of the group which include defence and domination over others. In North Africa the towns would establish themselves and due to greater numbers were unified against the Bedouin raiders from the desert.
But if the state fell into disarray or degeneration it quickly became easy prey despite having fortifications and large numbers of defenders. Those conquering Bedouins then establish themselves and over several generations also lose their Asabiya
until the next strong raiding band takes over their city.
Turchin chooses Asabiya
over the term social capital
. I think this is a good thing. Capitalism has its limits, and with the complete commodification of information transferral we are moving from scarcity to abundance; or post-capitalism. Social capital is a clunky and clumsy term to try and describe social wealth in economic terms.
For Turchin's thesis Asabiya
is forged in the multi-ethnic frontier regions due to the constant pressure from other ethnic groups, and from the permanent presence of an expansive empire. For instance the Gauls and Germanic tribes spent several centuries on the Roman frontier under the threat of Rome's legions and expansionism. This created a strong Asabiya
amongst the Gauls which led to the Carolingian Empire dominating western Europe for nearly five hundred years.
is not just co-operation, but often the sacrifice of the individual to the collective goal. Turchin writes;
The capacity to sacrifice self-interest for the sake of the common good is the necessary condition for co-operation. Without it, concerted collective action is impossible ...
An extreme example of this is Palestinian suicide bombers. Another example is Roman troops cursing their foe and preparing to have themselves accepted into the underworld. It is the Roman equivalent of suicide bombing. Turchin notes the role of religion in the ethnic divide and the willingness of individuals to sacrifice themselves.
While this sort of sacrifice suggests the immense strength of Asabiya
, Turchin argues that it is quickly under-cut by inequality, and in particular economic inequality. The Romans in the expansive cycles had strong equality, not only did Senators not earn much more than the yeomanry, but they fought at the head of the Roman legions. In one battle with Hannibal, one third of the Senate was killed.
Ironically when great inequality appeared it was often quickly rectified as the empire went through a down cycle. An example of this was the Frankish Empire. When the nobles got rich and began fighting over the same production of their peasants the rich went through a cycle of violence which was mainly amongst the elite and aristocracy. Duels between nobles and conflicts between city-states with the nobles doing the fighting occurred with rapid frequency. This cut the numbers of the nobles down drastically, helping to reduce the large numbers of the elite.
Another measure was the monarchs themselves who did not like challengers to their power. Queen Victoria used a type of progressive consumption tax on the rich English nobles, and would appear in their court with her retinue of several hundred. The Queen's retinue would then stay under the noble's hospitality until the noble was effectively bankrupt.
Turchin creates a new science of historical dynamics which he calls cliodynamics
. This is an appended word from "clio" which is the muse of history and "dynamics" which is a study of processes which change over time. This is basically a study of "crowd history", as opposed to great individuals being the rate determining steps in decided the path of history. Instead the interdependencies and interactions of last numbers of individuals acting collectively are the determinants of history.
I can recall ten years ago being in a philosophy lecture on the subject of human rationality. The lecturer said that we know we are going through a rationality change, but no-one is quite sure what it is yet. The deterministic universe which could be known through reductionism was blown out of the water with relativity and quantum mechanics.
We are starting to see in the last ten years the recognition of complex systems as being the rate determining steps in change. From opensource software, tail economics
, crowd wisdom in markets, permaculture, cliodynamics, asymmetric warfare
, etc etc etc. This recognition of complex systems and collective action will have political ramifications as well. I have argued this in the past in relation to sortition
, wisdom of the people
and many-to-many economic systems
Cliodynamics is another study of abundance (as opposed to scarcity by focusing on individuals in history). Information has moved to abundance, business models through many-to-many systems and the long tail are moving to abundance, social interaction has always been about abundance as well. It is inevitable that the scarcity structure of representative government and mass media will be replaced by abundance structures which funnel collective wisdom and action.
Peter Turchin calls an empire a large multi-ethnic territorial state with a complex power structure. In the modern world he points on the finger at the US, at the EU, and China. He also looks at Russia, and its Chechen faultline as potentially guiding Russia back to Empire. In terms of the complex power structure Turchin explains it from the point of view of the US;
Although the internal arrangements of the US are reasonably simple - it directly controls the 50 states, the District of Columbia and dependent territories (such as Puerto Rico and a number of Pacific islands), its external influence reaches across the globe. It militarily occupies Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. It has a strong degree of indirect control via heavy military presence (for example South Korea) or economic subsidies (Israel). Given the economic and diplomatic help that Israel gets from the US, it is essentially an American client state.
Turchin also mentions NATO, as well as its program of installing friendly governments in Latin America, and even former-communist Russia, such as Georgia and Ukraine. I would prefer to think Georgia, Ukraine and Indonesia were from internal demands for responsive government and that the US is no longer interfering directly in Latin America as it did in the 1970s. However Turchin didn't mention the IMF or World Bank which are both heavily bankrolled and influenced by the US.
According to Turchin the imperial nation-state relies on "us and them" to solidify its internal support for the nation. The most extreme examples of this are Ann Coulter's trolling in the mass media that all the Arab nations should be invaded and converted to christianity. Despite the often shrill nature of the media and intellectuals this does not mirror the day to day feeling of the American people. They are far more compassionate, tolerant and good willed than would appear if someone was building an impression of the US from the mass media alone.
The modern multi-ethnic frontier is the Middle East. In World War I there was no Palestine as we know it today, but due to spending fifty years with Israel on their border, it has created a strong feeling of being Palestinian. Strong enough that people will blow themselves up in suicide attacks for Palestine. It also appears that Palestine will become a full blown nation-state with the backing of the US.
The difference between the Roman-Gaul border and the Middle East today is communications. Now a muslim in Britain, through the media both broadcast and narrow cast, may feel a strong enough affinity for the muslims in the multi-ethnic faultline to give themselves to the cause in a similar manner to those in the faultline. We saw this recently with the train bombings in London.
Australia and Turchin's Theory
The smaller multi-ethnic faultline near Australia is not the Australian-Indonesia border, but instead Bali. According to Turchin's theory this should be where many ethnic cultures meet. This is true, western culture (predominantly Australians) come to Bali for holidays; the Balinese are largely Hindu (having been established as a Hindu colony in the 1300s); Indonesia is predominantly a muslim nation, while Buddhism also exists on Bali.
Indonesia is also a strongly multi-ethnic nation, party because of the remnants of the Dutch East Indies, but also because of the expansionist policies and military campaigns of Sukarno and Suharto. These are the correct conditions for a group like Jemaah Islamiah to arise and focus on Bali.
But what of Australia itself? For many years Australia defined itself as a nation apart and denied its geographic reality of being amongst Asian nations. Australia sought to establish itself as British, and held on to that identity far longer than any other dominion nation other than New Zealand. Today, both Australia and New Zealand fly defaced Blue Ensigns with Union Jacks on them.
Australia also maintained a White Australia policy which was established to discriminate against the Chinese and Kanakas. The Aboriginal people were less of a concern as the frontier tensions had been dominated by the sense that the Aboriginal people were dying out as a race. The lack of a Bill of Rights in the Australian Constitution was explicitly so the Chinese could be discriminated against. It is hard not to look through Australian history and seeing the xenophobic fear of the "yellow peril" as an "us and them" value which led to strong abisaya and a national policy of discrimination.
Australia did maintain aspirations of being the British Empire in the Pacific. In the 1880s Queensland prepared militia to invade German New Guinea. Britain was horrified, concerned that it would precipitate war in Europe between Britain and Germany. Australia got its chance in 1914 and invaded New Guinea once war was declared, it was not until the 1970s that Australia gave it up as a territory.
It is hard to see Australia as being positioned as an Imperial nation any longer, its foreign policy has made it pretty much a client state of the US in that respect. We are uncritical supporters of the US in defence and foreign policy. American global objectives are Australian global objectives because Australia makes it so. By that definition Australia is part of the US Empire; possibly as a protectorate.
I do not think I would like to see an Imperial Australia, but feedback mechanisms invert on themselves and leave an actor no choice sometimes. I think a Greater Australia
is a noble goal, but I would prefer, rather than pursuit of empire, Australia instead went the path of Europe's 16thC most impoverished state; Scotland
. They gave the world the Enlightenment. This served as the basis for western rational thought through to the information revolution. Creating a twenty first rationality should be the goal of Australians.
The Matthew Principle is;
the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer
of trading sugar and spice leads actors in the game to distribute the wealth unequally. As a pure model it shows how weaker entities in a trading system can be disadvantaged. Yet economic systems through history have not ended up with extreme inequality and then remained in stasis once achieving that point. Obviously society, culture and even violence contribute to cycles of equality. Peter Turchin argues that equality is necessary for cohesive group action. He also argues that social instability in agrarian society acts as a dampening effect against increasing inequality.
Turchin argues inequality has ramification not only between economic strata, but within those strata; and ultimately these lead to a reduction in the ability for the group to act in the larger interest - or asabiya.
... the corrosive effect that glaring inequality has on the willingness of people to cooperate, which in turn underlies the capacity of societies for collective action. The effect of growing inequality is not limited to the escalation of "class warfare" between the poor and rich. Increasing inequality within classes also leads to intense conflict of commoner versus commoner and aristocrat versus aristocrat.
Turchin limits his analysis to agrarian societies. But a recent example of an outbreak of violence that was related to inequality was in Rwanda. While the western media chose to portray the killings as genocide, many of the killings were by Hutu of Hutu. The regions were non-genocidal killings occurred
were largely agrarian and had traditions of passing down land to the sons in the family. Due to high population pressures and limited land for dispersal the land that could be given to the sons was not sustainable in size. Older members of farming communities owned up to four times the size of farm than younger members. Much of the violence and killing was against members of the same economic strata who had more land than others.
We may scoff at an inequality ratio of four. But those on the lower end of the scale did not have enough money or land to feed themselves or their families. Because we have chosen the organisational methods of democracy and capitalism, even our poor have the capability for calorific surplus. While Rwanda fell into violence that redistributed power as well as property, Australia is far more socially stable.
Turchin also argues that extreme inequality breeds revolutionary ideologues through the moralistic perception of social injustice and illegitimacy. He uses the example of the thirty years of warfare between the de Guise and Hugenot factions in France during the 14th century.
It is as applicable today with the Middle East. That region has nearly fifty percent of its population under 25. There is soaring unemployment -
as high as 60% in Iraq
, and there is massive inequality. Not only in the region between the monarchies and autocrats which control the oil wealth, but also with the West who enjoys a higher standard of living than the Middle East.
While the West assumes it is the recipient of the Middle East's rage, Iraq is showing that it is becoming internally focused. Whereas in the Medieval times when land became scarce and nobles too many - violence between nobles and landed gentry usually culled their number sufficiently that land distribution was sustainable once again - oil in the Middle East is not so easily redistributable. It will probably either have to run out, or be routed around with new energy technologies.
Where violence or pestilence in agrarian societies was a form of redistributing wealth by increasing the supply of land and the demand for labor; modern society does not have the same dynamics. The violence coming out of the Middle East will not change the fact that there remain a lot of unemployed youth, wishing for the western lifestyle and repressed by wealthy elites propped up by oil wealth and the West's insatiable demand for their centrally controlled energy crop.
Jared Diamond argues that the Australian continent was incapable of progressing humanity to agrarianism or the iron age because it lacked three things; a domesticatable animal, domesticatable plants; and finally, because of its isolation as a landmass there was little to no osmosis of technology between societies and cultures.
Jared Diamond is the author of Guns, Germs and Steel
, as well as Collapse
. Both of which focus on why societies succeed, and, or fail. There is a transcript of a speech he made in 1997
which discusses the geographical differences in why Eurasia came to dominate the globe, while Africa, the Americas and Australia did not. In particular he describes why the Aboriginal people did not develop agriculture and were unable to advance as a society beyond the stone age.
The most obvious answers are that Australian animals and plants have proved impossible to domesticate. Even with 21stC technology we have not managed to domesticate and farm Kangaroos in the same way we do beef or sheep cattle.
Though there is 'the cull' each year in which a million or so Kangaroos are hunted and sent to local abattoirs. But that method of farming Kangaroos is exactly the same as how the Aboriginal people did it, though with the increased productivity of rifles and spotlights, rather than spears.
Diamond notes that the only Australian plant which has proved suitable for domestication is the macadamia nut. Some of our trees are grown overseas, but to get from stone age to iron age there needs to be a food surplus so labor specialisation can occur in towns and cities. Hunter-gatherer societies just don't have that dynamic.
The Aboriginal people did practice land management, and there were also attempts to modify the environment in order to increase the yield of local food; such as placing logs in creeks and rivers so grubs could be harvested each year - but that wasn't sufficient food density to enable the Eurasian agricultural growth in productivity.
The Aboriginal people also managed to domesticate dingos in certain instances, but the dingo isn't suitable for growing as cattle, and the dingoes were used as aids in hunting.
Diamond also argues that Australia's continental isolation was brutally dominant in ensuring that no cultural and technological osmosis happened between the Aboriginals and other cultures or societies - even amongst each other. He uses the Tasmanian Aboriginals as an example:
Astonishingly, the archaeological record demonstrates something further: Tasmanians actually abandoned some technologies that they brought with them from Australia and that persisted on the Australian mainland.
For example, bone tools and the practice of fishing were both present in Tasmania at the time that the land bridge was severed, and both disappeared from Tasmania by around 1500 B.C.
That represents the loss of valuable technologies: fish could have been smoked to provide a winter food supply, and bone needles could have been used to sew warm clothes.
By comparison, Eurasia was connected by one landmass which shared a similar climate. So when sheep were domesticated in the middle east, they quickly ended up in European and Asian flocks. When horses were domesticated on the Russian steppes they quickly spread to China, and when citrus fruits were domesticated in Asia, these soon ended up in European agriculture.
It is interesting to note that when the English and Eora met at Sydney Cove the stealing that went on between them was usually over a prized technology. For instance the Eora quickly realised the productivity enhancements that iron tools offered, while the English valued the Eoran fizgigs (fishing nets) for the same reasons. So immediately upon contact there was technological osmosis.
All other things being equal, the rate of human invention is faster, and the rate of cultural loss is slower, in areas occupied by many competing societies with many individuals and in contact with societies elsewhere.
If this interpretation is correct, then it's likely to be of much broader significance. It probably provides part of the explanation why native Australians, on the world's smallest and most isolated continent, remained Stone Age hunter/ gatherers, while people of other continents were adopting agriculture and metal.
I think there is value in that interpretation. We see constantly in other areas of technology and endeavour that the edges are the most dynamic part of a system and that monocultures approximate stagnancy.
It is interesting to note that Bill Mollison designed his Permaculture system around maximising edge effects rather than sterile industrial agricultural practices of thousand upon thousands of acres of monoculture.
Peter Turchin's analysis of political empires, or cliodynamics, identifies the edges as the area of the greatest dynamicism and the nucleation points for future empires.
Modern economics argues the same thing. Protectionism or central planning makes a big national economy with minimal edges. It is sterile, inefficient and unable to progress. The edges in such a system where transfer does occur - unfortunately - is usually through the black market. Witness North Korea.
Free trade effectively makes the edge effects occur everywhere and the borders become self-determining through comparative advantage which stops the sterility that occurs in the mono-economic centre of a protected economy.
To summarise; this pattern of edge effects being absolutely important for innovation and progress is not a new one. I think it, along with the restrictions of the animals and plants on the Australian continent, makes a reasonable explanation why the Aboriginal people did not advance to an agrarian or iron age society.
Most Popular on South Sea Republic
The articles that have been viewed the most:
Most Popular Restaurants in Phoenix
Phoenix Eats Out
is the restaurant review site for Phoenix
and Old Town Scottsdale
which lists the modernist and contemporary restaurants, taverns and bars in the greater Phoenix area.
This is the list of the most popular restaurants pages from phoenixeatsout.com that have been viewed the most;
My personal favourite restaurants in Phoenix are AZ88
, Humble Pie
, Orange Table
, The Vig
and others coming close behind. View the complete list with the photo-journalistic style images on phoenixeatsout.com
Most Popular Hikes in Arizona
Arizona is an outdoor state and has lots of hiking in the city and around the state. Phoenix is unusual for most cities in having several large mountains in the center of the city with great hiking. Anyone who comes to Phoenix has to do the Echo Canyon trail on Camelback
and the Summit Hike on Squaw Peak
or Piesta Peak. The views of the city, suburbs and surrounding mountains are wonderful from Camelback and Piesta Peak.
For more experienced hikers there is the McDowell Mountains in North Scottsdale that has several difficult and strenuous hikes in Tom's Thumb
and Bell Pass
. Alternatively, you can hike the highest mountain in Arizona. At 12,600 feet Humphrey's Peak
is a long and difficult hike.
Alternate Australian Constitutions
Between 2004 and 2009 this site, southsearepublic.org
, was a constitutional blog based on scoop which focused on Australian and global constitutional issues.
One of the strongest aspects of it was the development of constitutions by those involved in the blog. These constitutions are the outcome:
The constitutions were built using principles from Montesquieu's separation of powers, the enlightnment's universal political rights and the ancient Athenian technology of sortition and choice by lot.
Archives For South Sea Republic
South Sea Republic started in 2004 as an Australian constitutional blog in 2004 based on scoop software. It was an immigrative outgrowth of Kuro5hin. The archives for each year since then;
The articles are ordered by views.
Who Is Cam Riley
I am an Australian living in the United States as a permanent resident.
I am a software developer by trade and mostly work in Java and jump between middleware and front end.
I originally worked in the New York area of the United States in telecommunications before moving to Washington DC and
working in a mix of telecommunications, energy and ITS. I started my own software company before heading out to
Arizona and working with Shutterfly. Since then I have joined a startup in the Phoenix area and am thoroughly enjoying myself.
I do a lot of photography which I post on this website, but also on flickr. I have a photo-journalistic website which lists
the modernist and contemporary restaurants in phoenix. I have a site on the Australian Flying Corps [AFC]
which has been around since the 1990s and which I unfortunately
lost the .org URL to during a life event; however, it is under the www.australianflyingcorps.com
The AFC website has gone through several iterations since the 90s and the two most recent are Australian Flying Corps Archives(2004-2002)
Australian Flying Corps Archives(2002-1999)
which are good places to start.
Websites Worth Reading
Websites of friends, colleagues and of interest;