Today's America fails as a space-going society. But it seems large and rich enough, despite huge waste into military and political corruptions, that some people within America might organize, find money, and reach out beyond our local Terran gravity well. To build new human cultures there: more fresh and clean and human, Out There. I think for who would try that, that books about decay and collapse of earlier great cultures and institutions, will be useful.
About noon on 2009 Aug 24, NPR interviewed Jim Collins about his new book, How the Mighty Fall.[jcol] In his book, Collins writes about large businesses in the recent past that looked very good -- and then they collapsed. (Circuit City, which crashed in early 2009, might come to mind.) How does that happen?
(The treatment by Collins of this topic brings to mind Gibbons' The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which topic is revisited recently by Cullen Murphy.[cmur])In his interview, Collins outlined five stages:
1) Hubris. Arrogance that inflicts neglect upon those less fortunate.
2) Undisciplined pursuit and overreaching for More, and More....
3) Denial of risk and peril: see the up side; ignore the down side. There are serious flaws growing within, but those outside see none of that.
4) The facade begins to crack, a choice is made between a return to the style that brought greatness, or, intensified groping for satisfaction without basic change.
5) Collapse and demise.
Aha! A stages model, but it wants appropriately careful application. Collins studied several large companies, some not large enough to be seen as national institutions. He developed his model from this fact-based research. His model requires rational application: as an organization becomes large and thru whatever causes, enters Collins' failure pattern, not all parts of it are necessarily in the same collapse stage. So to move from Collins' companies out to all America calls for some stretch -- but in my view, the stretch does not reach beyond meaningful practical usefulness.
(Hubris as sand in the gears: today's Republican Party comes to mind. "My way or No way!" It breaks rational study; it breaks appropriate social and economic change.[otto])
Which above observations led me to find Collins' book.[jcol] It looked relevant to me to the future of any off-Terra settlements program; and once I had it in hand, observation supported my estimate of its worth.
In this book, Collins writes about his social and business research, and summarizes what he believes from it. The book is a mine of useful fact and inference. For present purposes, it bears upon the future of this America which I see as (potentially) one of Terra's best bets to accomplish new settlements and humans in space. (I mean, accomplishment by a relatively few Americans, not by America as a whole, which seems to have other objectives. Such as, another war?) And it complements our American history as a resource for space settlements planners who would try to avoid ...the like of today's American news.
This topic reaches much farther in real life than local industries and their cultures. Fiction, for example:
Hidden and lost cultures are popular fiction topics in recent centuries. Here is sense of wonder! These have led to a variety of very good writings,[fict] many of which seem not to age and date at all, if their universes are more remote now than at their original writing time. (Haggard; Merritt; Tolkein; etc.) If you like these, my minimal list here expands into a very large list. And there really are hidden and lost cultures out there.[gone] Large and robust cultures, now gone nearly without trace. How? Why? Each one vanished -- for some reason, it happened to real live people. We want to avoid that, as far as possible, in any space settlements and cultures to come. And that's a use for history.
Whose practical meaning is that by mentioning a book about a (relatively) small topic, I've touched on very large topics here. These include our America's future (where forces and antics of corruption and religious ideology, working in Washington, make this a depressing matter to think on). Bigger things go down than businesses and institutions. Further, this topic of endings bears even on things people haven't done yet, namely, settlements in space. "How do you do that?" is not the appropriate complete question. Better is, "How do you do that -- so it lasts?"
Be reminded, we see successes in history, in our own history. Recent social and governmental developments here in America are discouraging and serious; but I think good starting points in American history for thinking about a realizable future, are the American Constitution and the American Bill of Rights, seen without today's ideological and faith-based perversions.
Jim Collins, How The Mighty Fall (2009). A small book of great general usefulness to planners. Large organizations fail. Collins reviewed collected information on many large business failures to find out from what he saw, consistent patterns of how these failures begin, develop, and usually (but not necessarily) complete.
[otto] Fool me once....
Shawn Lawrence Otto, Fool Me Twice (2011). The title
derives from an old American folk wisdom: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool
me twice, shame on me." The book is a
litany outline of social and
institutional decay at deepest levels of American culture. (How does this
happen? ...But that's another topic.)
Cullen Murphy, Are We Rome? (2007). Comparing today's convulsions to Roman times and culture, Murphy builds a deeply thought provoking outline of parallels and differences between classical Rome and its failing; and today's ongoing political process in America. His book is a rich resource for both topics.
[fict] Fantasy and science fiction.
Writers and some readers know from their studies of the topic, that much to be said about people and their doings can only be expressed thru the imaginary realities of fiction. The writer expresses, "What if... ?" and produces reading that may prove powerfully interesting and stimulating. Here are some suggestions:
H. Rider Haggard, She.
Abraham Merritt, The People of the Mist.
Jack Vance, his Green Pearl trilogy.
For a mind-stretching experience looking at how people implement their individual ways and cultures, read Jack Vance. When Vance did not go into cultural anthropology as a thinker and researcher, that academic field lost a resource who would surely have stimulated and revolutionized it. Footnotes in his stories outline surprising and believable cultures, one of which would deserve a researcher's lifetime study. And for Vance, that's a footnote / throwaway detail. Why is this relevant to space settlements? Think about it.
[gone] Vanished cultures.
Richard Stone, Angkor -- Why an Ancient Civilization Collapsed. National Geographic Magazine 216 (July 2009), p.26.
The collapse left remarkable stonework remains which appear frequently in today's travel advertising. Why did that collapse happen? The reason seems to have been climate change -- drought.
Norman Yoffee and George L. Cowgill, eds, The Collapse of Ancient States And Civilizations.
The vanished civilizations that seemed so mysterious during recent centuries are yielding much of their character to scholarly research. How did those collapses happen? Climatological and materials science researches; computer simulations of society/environment interactions, are converging to definite results. This very rich book is not quick reading, and it is well worth the work for whoever wants to think about a human future out in space.
(To be added some time later: reference to ongoing researches into the Central and South American cultures such as the Mayas. Which cultures were only in part killed by the encroaching Spaniards: climate change seems to have played a large part in their endings.)