Aug 19, 2010

Integrative and Disintegrative Tendencies in Society

I have been listening to an interesting audiobook in Russian called Istoriya Otmorozhennykh v Kontekste Globalnogo Potepleniya about how climate changes have impacted past civilizations and determined cultural development. The main thesis of the book (written by a journalist, Aleksandr Nikonov, with a strong background in climatology and ancient history) is that comparatively difficult climatological conditions breed integrative tendencies, whereas periods of more favorable climate correspond to disintegrative tendencies.

Do integrative and disintegrative processes correspond to quadra dominance? I tend to think so. Looking at the psychology of individual types, it seems like the most integrative types are in the Beta Quadra while the most disintegrative are in the Delta Quadra. By "integration" I am referring to the centralization of power, decision making, and social life. Disintegration would be the decentralization (or individualization) of all of the above.

The types of Alpha and Gamma quadras seem to have a mixture of integrative and disintegrative tendencies and are harder to put in either of those boxes.

Could it be that a worsening of natural living conditions pushes a society towards integrative processes and that an improvement in conditions promotes a growth in local prosperity and autonomy, and hence a decline in unity?

A secondary thesis of the book is that historically conflicts have been won by the side with the less favorable climate conditions relative to the norm for the location. Numerous examples are cited using the global and regional climate records as a guide. No society is able to maintain a linear integrative or disintegrative trend; there are always major fluctuations on the order of 20 to 100 years.

Assuming the first hypothesis is mostly true, the second might also make sense. Locations with the greatest worsening of conditions receive the greatest integrative stimulus. They also have nowhere to go; for them victory may be a matter of life or death. People defending prosperous, decentralized areas may be poorly organized and psychologically unprepared for the privations of war.

Assuming these hypotheses have some truth to them, what types of processes might we expect in the next 50 years or so, considering climate and geographical factors (which are a hobby of mine, for those that haven't noticed)?

At first, global warming initially probably made conditions more favorable for many or most areas of the globe. This would theoretically stimulate a weakening of central contral and integration. As warming continues and begins to create worse conditions for living and agriculture, we might expect centralization to increase. Places where conditions have worsened the most rapidly will be prone to unite more quickly and enjoy a military advantage over others.

As an example, imagine that Lake Mead goes dry (not hard to imagine, since it's already well on its way) and Las Vegas is left without water. In order to survive, people must band together and strictly observe pragmatic rules to make due with limited shared resources. But still there is not enough for everyone. So Las Vegasites start moving out in organized groups to the nearest more favorable sites, which are probably in southwest Utah. There they raid the local farms and bring the region under their personal control, duplicating whichever structural organization they had developed during their tough days in Las Vegas and en route. Utah, meanwhile, is also suffering from mild drought, but not nearly severe enough to make them band together in a social-military unit capable of withstanding the desperate Nevadans.

This is just an example. When I finish the book, I'll probably add some global scenarios and modify what I've written so far.

[added later: nope, nothing to add]


Expat said...

"historically conflicts have been won by the side with the less favorable climate conditions relative to the norm for the location"

I think this is true only in very specific situations. As a counter-example, the Romans kept the upper hand over their neighbours for several centuries - and surely the mild Mediterranean climate they enjoyed was more favorable than that of most of their neighbours. In point of fact, their more favorable conditions provided them with economic, and hence military, superiority.

If you look specifically at the final decades of the western Empire (leaving aside the Eastern half, which always tends to contradict sweeping theories), then yes, a case can be made that increasingly disfavorable climatic conditions following the end of the Roman Warm Period were hitting the so-called barbarian nations harder then the still-mild Mediterranean, and so giving them the "nowhere to go" motivation you mentioned. But that is only one of many factors.

Rick said...

Thanks, Expat. I'm still unconvinced about the premise of the book, but I will note that it's not talking about absolute climate differences from place to place, but rather changes relative to the established climate of a specific location. If the first were true, the Earth would be run by Eskimos and Kalahari Bushmen. What the book is saying is that, say, between Land A and Land B the upper hand in military conquest is usually gained by the place with the less favorable conditions relative to their norm.

A related hypothesis is that periods of great civilization building have tended to occur during periods of less favorable climate.

According to the author, we are currently in a period of favorable climate for most of the planet, which is contributing to the rapid rise in the number of countries and a decrease in their average size. Big countries like Russia, the U.S., Canada, etc. are at risk of disintegration because the economies of good climate conditions favor localization rather than centralization.