“An epic of urban formation followed by dusty abandonment looks menacing next to millions of years of hunting and gathering, as though settled societies are inherently unstable.”
— Steven Stoll. “Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America”. pp. 19
Does this explain the rise and fall of civilizations? Agriculture is inherently unstable; civilizations which depend upon agriculture (i.e. all of them) are inherently unstable? Humans take up too much responsibility, perhaps. We cannot care for the land well, and so we destroy it–and along with it, the organisms, including ourselves, who depend upon it. That does seem like a flawed system. And yet, at the same time, this flawed system has sustained itself for almost nine thousand years. What has it destroyed in an effort to maintain itself? We don’t know the depths of that question yet.
Inherent instability is a component of chaotic systems. I don’t think a civilization dependent upon agriculture is inherently unstable, but I firmly believe in cyclic behavior of systems. And so civilizations can reach a point (or period) of instability and then cycle back the other direction, i.e., decline or destroy itself. Also, I think you have to always account for dislocations rather than destruction. Many dislocations resulting from how humans take care of the land, or natural but non-preventable natural phenomena, simply force people to move (herds) to more sustainable regions. And this also brings up whether you believe in a zero-sum game, that is, is something or someone’s growth dependent on someone or something else’s decline? And all systems are flawed because, I suppose, there is no such thing as perfection or an ideal system. Ideal systems are a convenient way to model physical and human behavior and phenomena using mathematical (and today, computer aided) tools. Ironically, many theorists and sustainability thinkers believe that urbanization is much preferred to suburbanization. It always comes back to population, too.