“Collapse”, the word that is on everyone’s lips in Lebanon. What does it mean, will Lebanon fall or survive, and what does the future have in store? “We can predict everything, except the future”, I hear someone say, but can we at least get some possibilities.
Primo, we have to define what is a societal collapse and how it’s related
to an economic collapse.
The definitions are broad, a societal collapse can be about a simple change in leadership or governance, a whole change in cultural dynamics like merging with another society and forming an inter-regional structure, the disappearance of traditions and ways of living (aka anomie, you learned a new word today), a population scattering and leaving a geographical area, or the annihilation of a population. Even though we imagine a collapse as being sudden, it can still happen very slowly.
Some scholars, enamored with population studies and social Darwinism,
posit that societal collapses are a normal response to population
crisis. Their case is that in any society resources will eventually get
depleted, be it due to overpopulation or other reasons. When it reaches
such state, according to their studies on mammals, the response from
the population will be to switch from a cooperation model and parental
behavior to a model of competition, dominance, and violence. All together,
leading to a societal collapse, which will balance the population and
stabilise it again. The cycle oscillating back and forth. Game theorists
would also endorse such ideas.
No wonder there’s so much aversion to social Darwinism and cold-hearted economists.
Therefore, an economic collapse is often correlated with a societal collapse, it could happen before or after.
Secondo, what can be the reasons for collapse.
According to Jared Diamond in his popular book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”, there are five key reasons:
- Environmental degradation (depletion of resources, including overpopulation)
- Changes in the climate
- Hostile neighbors
- Weakened trading partners
- Absence of cultural resource and attitude to tackle these issues
I can already sense the smirk on your face but before diving into those,
let’s mention another position by Joseph Tainter.
Tainter puts four axioms that he says are a must for understanding collapses.
- Human societies are problem-solving organizations;
- Sociopolitical systems require energy for their maintenance;
- Increased complexity carries with it increased costs per capita; and
- Investment in sociopolitical complexity as a problem-solving response reaches a point of declining marginal returns.
The smirk didn’t disappear, am I right?
Let’s see, do we have environmental degradation in Lebanon. Maybe we do:
Do we have a change in climate, maybe we do:
I don’t think I have to even quote articles about our hostile neighbors.
And what about our trading partners, did we loose any?
- The impact of the Syrian conflict on Lebanon
- UAE implementing a ban then lifting it, playing domino with Lebanon
- Tons of US economic sanctions
- Possibly soon creating tense relations with Japan
- Countries banning Hezbollah
Most importantly, what about our cultural attitude, what Jared Diamond
calls axiological flexibility: the ability of a society to change its
Indeed, our sectarian and political divisions implant in us an unprecedented cultural stiffness. The list of things we are banning keeps getting longer.
- Civil marriage still opposed
- Banning Mashrou’ Leila
- Banning grindr
- Banning wonder woman
- Obviously, The Taif agreement itself being the epitome of cultural rigidity.
So that was that, and I feel like I’ve skipped a lot of things.
Regarding Tainter’s view, what can we say, has Lebanese society become too complex for its own good?
How much energy in our system are we using just to maintain our
sociopolitical complexity, I’d say quite a lot. And isn’t this a
reiteration of our initial definition of collapse: resources getting
scarce. Things are getting circular.
While it’s easy to scapegoat a single factor like a certain political group, it’s more about the whole culture that is to blame.
Still, despite all this pessimism, Lebanese strive for better lives. We can’t stop, and we can’t let our hopes down because of some environmental determinism explanation. That would be inconsiderate of the humanity in people. A simple explanation can’t possibly explain events in the middle-east, right? What about Black Swan events, those unprovable major game changer events that are inappropriately rationalized later on, as the Lebanese author Nassim Taleb puts it.
Can we somehow grab some hope from somewhere, anything? What can we do to boost the economy and the society.
In my opinion, Lebanon, as a small country, has to take advantage of the intangible economy to thrive. So what is needed to create a boom in the intangible economy?
In the book “Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy”, three societal criteria are a must for a small country to take advantage of the intangible economy.
- Societal and external trust
- Small power-distance
- Societal openness to experience
Apart from this the country can create hubs by having:
- Low renting price
- High synergy places, places where it’s pleasant to meet others
- Unambiguous laws that attract international companies
Oh well, you got that smirk back on your face I presume!
Although it may sound gloomy, I’ll end this article on a note from the sociologist Charles Fritz in his 1961 paper. Surprisingly, he asks “Why do large-scale disasters produce such mentally healthy conditions?” Bizarrely, a catastrophe such as a societal and economic collapse doesn’t necessarily result in social breakdown and trauma but may lead to greater cooperation between groups.
Maybe this is what we’re the spectator of with this Lebanese revolution.
- ALBA-BALAMAND [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
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