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Surplus, Complexity, and Simplification
The Great Simplification #27 with Dr. Joe Tainter
One of a handful of books I read in the late 1990s/early 2000s, which blasted my eyes open to the full enormity of our civilization’s plight, was Anthropologist Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies. Little did I know, that reading this tome would plant the seed of my podcast moniker 20 years later!
In this classic text, Dr. Tainter unpacks four central historical themes:
—> 1. human societies are problem-solving organizations;
—> 2. sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance;
—> 3. increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita;
—> 4. investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response typically reaches a point of declining marginal returns
Today, I welcome Joe Tainter onto The Great Simplification - aptly to discuss what happens after a society runs out of enough energy surplus to maintain built complexity. A central question is: if we can see the road ahead, is it possible for us to reduce complexity gradually and intentionally?
I hope you enjoy and learn from this week’s episode with Joe Tainter.
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