PUBLICATION Book chapter

Conservation of fragility and the collapse of social orders

John Anderies and Simon Levin discuss the importance of studying regulatory feedback mechanisms to understand collapse, writing that these mechanisms are “extraordinarily powerful,” critical for creating and maintaining a system’s structure and dynamics and that their regulation is “ubiquitous in biological and social systems.” With the criticality of these mechanisms in mind, the authors discuss the potential usefulness of the “Coupled Infrastructure Systems” (CIS) framework, which highlights how feedback structures within the biophysical world of natural resources and the built environment are linked to those within the political and economic realms of decision-makers. These linkages create a “feedback network” that can become complex and opaque and begin to hide fragilities within a system effectively. Seeing civilization through a biological lens, the authors discuss how these networks function in complex societies. They introduce the notion of “hard robustness limits,” show how regulatory feedbacks contribute to robustness-fragility tradeoffs, and pose the question: Is societal collapse inevitable?

Anderies, J.M. and S.A. Levin. 2023. Conservation of fragility and the collapse of social orders. In: Centeno, M., P. Callahan, P. Larcey, and T. Patterson (eds.). How Worlds Collapse: What History, Systems, and Complexity Can Teach Us About Our Modern World and Fragile Future. Routledge, New York, U.S.. Pp. 282-295.