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Do Civilizations Collapse?

By Guy Middleton

In The Travels of Persiles and Sigismund (1617), Miguel de Cervantes wrote: ‘Prudent men should judge of future events by what has taken place in the past and what is taking place in the present …’ Looking around us, we can see the trouble we are in, we can see the threats to our overpopulated world, to our overly complex and thus increasingly vulnerable society and way of life. We do not need to make other peoples’ histories into lessons for ourselves. When the evidence for environmentally driven collapses in the past is so weak, and the evidence for contact-era atrocities so strong, it is a wonder that the former is the focus and the lesson, rather than the latter. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves what exactly we should be learning from history.

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