Hardships: The Secret Ingredient to Building a Resilient Society

What Makes a Society More Resilient? Frequent Hardship.

Historical Analysis of Societal Resilience

Historically, societies have risen and fallen, with instances like the fall of the Roman Empire or the collapse of the Maya civilization. Academics traditionally studied these downturns qualitatively, examining the unique aspects of individual societies. However, in a recent study, scientists such as Dr. Philip Riris have adopted a larger-scale approach, attempting to uncover enduring patterns of human behavior across time and space. This research aims to answer why certain societies are more resilient than others.

Uncovering Patterns of Resilience

The study, published in the scientific journal Nature, compared 16 societies from around the globe, including areas such as the Yukon and the Australian Outback. The researchers utilized powerful statistical models to analyze 30,000 years of archaeological records, evaluating the impact of wars, famines, and climate change. The results indicated that societies that regularly faced downturns became more resilient, recovering from future shocks quicker. According to Dr. Riris, an archaeologist at Bournemouth University in England, more frequent hardships lead to less suffering over time, and societies tend not to face wholesale collapse.

Dating Societal Shifts Through Archaeology

The researchers utilized archaeologists’ timekeeping methods to track societal histories. By measuring the amount of radioactive carbon-14 left at an archaeological site, researchers can estimate its age. This approach also allows for tracking population changes, as increased human activity leaves behind more evidence. The team gathered information from over 40,000 carbon-14 measurements, looking for signs of sudden crashes and major rebounds in each of the 16 populations.

The Impact of Climate on Societal Resilience

Historian John Haldon, who was not involved in the study, noted the significant overlap of societal downturns with periods of climate change, suggesting that climate is a major vulnerability for societies. In addition, the study’s findings indicate that societies which endured frequent downturns became more resilient, experiencing less severe declines and quicker recoveries. In particular, societies in the Korean Peninsula, the central plains of China, and the Caribbean showed an enhanced ability to rebound.

Leveraging Historical Lessons for Future Resilience

Dr. Riris suggests that societies learn survival techniques during downturns and pass this knowledge down to future generations. As the world faces a climate emergency, researchers are looking to history for lessons. However, applying these historical insights to current policies is challenging, as they tend to focus on the near term. As Dr. Haldon noted, long-term planning could place us in a much better position, but such foresight is rarely applied in the present.

While these historical findings may not provide immediate solutions, they offer valuable insights into societal resilience. By understanding the patterns of the past, we may gain a clearer perspective on how to navigate the challenges of the future.