Why Population Pressure and Militant Religion Are the Most Important Causes of the Developing Global Crisis

By Andregg, Michael | Comparative Civilizations Review, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Why Population Pressure and Militant Religion Are the Most Important Causes of the Developing Global Crisis


Andregg, Michael, Comparative Civilizations Review


"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within."

- W. Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 3

Abstract and Introduction

Population pressure and militant religion are the most important causes of the crisis before us today because we can do something about them, and if we don't we are doomed.

The history of the earth is vast and many civilizations have risen, fallen, transformed, and sometimes collapsed catastrophically. All of this is extremely complicated, so to boil it down to a couple of variables is ridiculously simplistic. That is, however, one role of theory for complex processes, reducing dozens or even hundreds of variables into a smaller number that minds can more easily manage. So this is a position paper, not empirical research. Controversies accompany definition of many key terms such as "civilization," "religion" (militant and otherwise), "genocide," "human nature," "population pressure" and so forth. These will be set aside so that the key thesis can be presented in the space available.

I encourage anyone to disprove or improve on these ideas, because however you describe it, our global civilization is entering a period of profound crisis. Practical answers matter more than words, and accuracy matters more than ideology. In the past, as cases here show, some civilizations facing similar challenges survived while others perished forever from this earth. So the question of why some fail and why others succeed is not a mere theoretical question.

There are many other variables important to the rise and fall of civilizations, but most will not destroy you if neglected. Population pressure and militant religion can. Plus, we can affect these factors, while goals such as changing human nature or eliminating sin are ephemeral.

This paper is built on foundations laid by such authors as Clive Ponting, Jared Diamond and Tatu Vanhanen (of Britain, the USA and Finland respectively). But almost every concept is disputable, from the definition of civilizations to the "evolutionary roots of politics" that Vanhanen discusses (and Azar Gat elaborates, 2006), which drive some of their political science colleagues into vehement denials that biology has anything at all to do with politics.

The critics are wrong, but rather than argue each of these and many other relevant items extensively here, I will just declare my opinion. Having considered these complex and sensitive topics as carefully as I can, these are my conclusions. Readers may critique and prove or disprove them as they like. My goal is human survival, which I think is at risk to these two factors specifically.

The "Developing Global Crisis," Civilizations and Genocide

Both Diamond and Ponting spend considerable time on the case of Easter Island, where Polynesian colonists created a culture sustaining about 20,000 people that developed writing, built dramatic monuments, then collapsed to barely a thousand, near-starving survivors when they were discovered by European explorers. Subsequent archaeology reveals that the collapse was accompanied by total deforestation and a bizarre religious period with cannibalism and chronic violence among clans. This case is special because the limits of islands are so obvious and the isolation of Easter Island from other common factors (such as invasion) was so complete.

Both authors attend to the mysteries of the Southern Mayan Empire, which suffered a 90% collapse of population over a single century (Diamond, 2005; Ponting, 2007). As usual, there are competing hypotheses - was it soil erosion, disease, invasions, climate change or something more mysterious? Another case can be found on the very ground I stand on, which in 1800 CE was inhabited by 99% Native Americans, who by 1900 CE had been replaced by 99% whites of European heritage (Andregg, 2008).

Many would dispute whether this case counts as a civilizational encounter (on the grounds that the native Dakota and Ojibwe were not sufficiently "civilized") or that any genocide occurred (on grounds of definition, or that driving people off to barren lands to die unseen is not equivalent to burning them in ovens). …

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