Jared Diamond is no doom-and-gloomer; he’s a Pulitzer Prize winning author of thoughtful, carefully researched books about the rise and fall of societies. Diamond is best known for Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, both of which are among my top-recommended books of all time.
When you read these books, you’ll quickly realize that Diamond is perhaps the world’s top expert on what might be called the “holistic, interdependent nature of complex societies.” Rather than limiting his perspective to immediate, short-term actions and consequences (as most national leaders and corporations do), Diamond intelligently examines the long-term, interdependent factors that lead to any society’s success or failure.
I’ve personally read both of Diamond’s books mentioned above, and they have strongly influenced my own views about the future (or lack thereof) of western civilization. What Diamond and I both agree on is that complex civilizations are quite fragile, and short-terming thinking can easily doom a society or civilization to irreversible collapse. (Another interesting book to read on this subject, although it’s quite technical and a bit older, is The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter.)
Collapse can come from many vectors. Many collapses are environmental, such as the collapse of the Anasazi Indians in North America or the collapse of the Tiwanaku in South America.
Other causes of collapse include man-made accelerations of environmental change; the classic example being the rampant deforestation of Easter Island by its inhabitants.
It is the Easter Island example that perhaps most closely resembles the short-sightedness of modern western civilization. At the expense of future generations, today’s CEOs, bankers and politicians are destroying our future in so many ways (financial, chemical, environmental, plundering of fossil fuels, etc.) that it is a challenge to imagine a scenario where western civilization even survives in its current form.
Jared Diamond, in fact, has publicly declared he sees only a 51 percent chance of western civilization surviving. You can hear this from his own mouth in this video interview: