Tag Archives: collapse

Colonization in Relation to Collapse

When Cortés landed on the Yucatan Peninsula in the Mayan territory, he strategically aligned himself with certain tribal chiefs and against others, and taking the spoils when intrastate warfare ensued.  One of the most memorable battles (“The Massacre in the Main Temple”) during the raids attacked and killed Aztec elite during a religious ceremony in Tenochtitlan. But it was not just homicide that day, it was deicide: the killing of gods.  In lecture we discussed how the Spanish conquest of the New World was the one of the main reason for collapse of the Aztec State.  But, I consider it the starting point for global cultural homogenization through colonization.

Religious and ceremonial process are usually the focal point of most ancient states.  And these are swiftly eroded with subjugation and colonization because they pose the most threat.  A higher consciousness is always alarming and eerie those foreigners.  It is also, in my opinion, the most personal identity one carries other than linguistic.  The Spaniards & Portuguese converted their new nationals to Christianity and mandated their Romance language be exclusively employed.  The Indus Valley civilization provides a perfect example of conquest.  When the Aryans (a lingo-ethnic group originating from Indo-Europa) displaced the Dravidian cultures, an early form of Hinduism was adopted and Sanskrit became the ruling language.  Material culture, elites, political/social organization comes and goes but language and religion are completely culturally absorbed because one is raised with it from infancy.

Cross-cultural trade, while usually a means to create wealth, sometimes works against the party that does not hold the comparative or absolute advantage.  Why?  Because trade creates peaks and troughs—winners and losers of capital (economic, resource, human, or infrastructure).  Fiscal merits amass with the conquistador.  Moreover, currency establishment is a rite of power for the conquers.  Establishing The Universal Monetary System ascertains the elite (and therefore bureaucratic) organization.  A modified social stratification (capitalistic in nature) emerges because dependence is created.  Economic dependence on a state with relatively larger fiscal merits is crippling, both in antiquity and modern day.  For example, the city of Teotihuacan, forced to reconstruct economic relations, led elites to seek fortunes elsewhere and collapsed trade routes between lowland Mesoamerica states.  A modern day example is the theocratic state of Iran, which has multiple trade sanctions and embargoes with the United States and European Union.  Now Iranian officials are left to barter natural resources (e.g. oil) for rice to feed a growing population.

It is a mixture of religious, linguistic, and economic reliance that creates divides between states.  Sadly, many begrudgingly accept this cavity can only be bridged though complete cultural submission.

Global Collapse?

As Professor Watrall has mentioned several times, the study of the rise of ancient states is incomplete without equal attention paid to the collapse of those states. As a class we agreed with social theorists who say collapse is inevitable. We also agreed that studying ancient states is important to us primarily because we are a “state”. What, I wonder, constitutes a state in the 21st century?

If archeologists of the future were to examine the remains of 21st century societies, what would they classify as complex societies? Nation states like the United States, India, or Japan? Or would the increasing interconnectedness of global governance, economies, and culture complicate matters? This phenomenon of globalization is sometimes debated, but I think its quite clearly a legitimate trend. Economist Thomas Friedman describes globalization as relations between people and states that are “farther, faster, cheaper, and deeper”.

Just watch the first minute for his definition:

Granted we have no concrete international body of governance and one of the factors anthropologists use to classify complex societies, or ancient states, is a high degree of centralized political power. “States are assumed to have centralized governments composed of political and religious elites who exercise economic and political control. . . . The state codifies and enforces laws, drafts soldiers, levies taxes, and exacts tribute.” (Wenke and Olszewski 289)

It is true, though, that most European nation-states are highly connected through the European Union; they share a currency and are quite dependent on one another’s stability – Greece, for example has received multiple bailouts from Germany. Germany’s willingness to help Greece shows their commitment to the system of European central governance. What suprastate governments might the future hold elsewhere in the world?

Even if all states aren’t all one giant complex society, if one falls, what is the likely hood that many others will fall too, at least other industrialized nations? Consider the impact the Great Depression had on international economies during a time when the world was much less interconnected than it is today.

If “states” ever merge to the extent that there is one government above all state governments and that all people become cosmopolitans and shed their nationalism, what will the collapse look like? (For those of you who are familiar with his work, this is the type of society that Immanuel Kant imagines could lead to perpetual peace. Such a society would begin with trade, lots of trade. Eventually people’s differences will appear less important in the setting of the marketplace and finally they will disappear altogether (not people’s differences, but their perception that those differences matter). Thomas Friedman would say that it is technology driving this process.)

Back to the question of collapse: Professor Watrall told us that collapse is not entirely apocalyptic. It’s maybe more like really crazy anarchy. It does not “involve collapse and mass extinction of people and adaptation, sometimes in the form of a process . . . of decentralization and localization, in which the political authorities lose their ability to control people and economies” (291.) Should states continue to become less differentiated, what impact might that have on their collapse? First of all, might we expect it speed up? That seems very likely even as far as carrying capacity goes. The amount of resources that the large society has as a whole though will increase and innovative solutions might therefore last longer. Again, though, the larger population that these resources must support may not offset the gains. Additionally, the collapse of a suprastate might simply result in a lot of little states (aka the nation-states of today). That means that all of the progress we pride ourselves on today will one day be characteristic of a collapsed state.

If globalization should result in global governess and total interconnectedness, and subsequently collapse, can it rebuild? Will we be stuck in a cycle of suprastate to nation-state to suprastate transformation? Or is there a chance that such a society will not recover after collapse, having used resources on a global level? Will there be anything left for them to rebuild?