So far outside the box you can't even see the box from here.
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Thursday, October 2, 2014
Plague and breaking points
The world has seen some horrific plagues in the past. Most of us are familiar with the Black Death of 14 Century Europe. It was also in Asia and parts of Africa, but western history is Eurocentric. Records of the plague are pretty good, including a lot of first person sources. It's estimated that between 30 – 50 percent of the population died.
There were a number of chaotic years when everything pretty much fell apart: government, religion, and society in general. Amazingly, after the plague had passed the survivors got back on their feet quickly. There were a lot of changes in society. How could there not be? However, in short order there was a functioning society. People did not revert to a hunter/gatherer existence.
Contrast that to the situation in the New World. There are estimates that up to 90 percent of the population of North and South American was decimated by disease. Complex societies did not survive intact. There weren't enough people left to keep them running. Life got a whole lot simpler.
So we know that civilization can probably sustain 50 percent losses without totally falling apart. 90 percent is too much. Somewhere between 50 and 90 percent is the breaking point. It's probably not a hard and fast number as there are a lot of variables. I'm just guessing, but I bet it's a fairly narrow range.
The plague years in the Old World were well documented. In the Americas the record is sparse and mostly from the viewpoint of the invaders. Whole civilizations vanished with barely a trace.
One can't but help wonder how resilient our own civilization would be to dramatic population loss.
I live in an area of NH known as the Great North Woods. I'm in my dome-i-cile out in the county with my lovely wife and a varying number of family and friends
-part red neck, part hippie but all country. Experimenting and enjoying the adventure of life.