Here are the second two stages that can form stumbling blocks to action and crucially, averting threats, that I have summarised from Jared Diamond’s book Collapse.  Bear in mind these points are looking at decisions from a civilisation perspective and whether they choose to succeed or fail. They are timely considerations.

MOST IMPORTANT: Thoughts on how to overcome these failures are welcome!

3) Failure to Attempt to Solve

  • Lack of incentive. Those gaining from a threatening exploitation are often few and stand to make big gains in the process, while the majority lose out, but only a little, often imperceptibly so they are not motivated to change – unlike the few who stand to gain apparently enormous reward. Again, this is a question of scale if we are talking civilisations where the costs of exploitation are not felt until after the exploiters have made the gain and left the scene.

  • Tragedy of the Commons – “Someone else will just eat it, so why don’t I?” Again, the problem here is of motivation, what gain is there to be had from acting in a way that serves the long term good? Jared posts a number of solutions to this:

  1. Top-down regulation (usually by force.)

  2. Privatisation – allocation of resources to individuals

  3. Upholding of individual responsibility that supports the commons. This in turn requires a number of things to be in place:

    1. Consumers identify as one group which leads them to;

    2. Trust and communicate with each other

    3. There is an expectation of future rewards

    4. They are capable of policing themselves

    5. The boundaries around the resource and the community are clear.

Unfortunately, Diamond does not offer a clear example of when this has successfully worked.

I am also interested in whether its true that having consumers identify as one group actually leads to greater communication? Sure there maybe more trust, but its communication that I believe would be the essential ingredients to support this optimistic strategy.  Anyway lets continue…


  • People with short term gain have no other sustainable relationship. Jared points out that those who get rights to exploit resources, societies, landscapes and/or communities often do not have to suffer the consequences because there is no recognisable or maintainable relationship. The example of mining companies and pit mines across the world is an example of this.

  • Lust for power. “The most flagrant of passions” which is left unchecked when there is competition for prestige and status.

  • Insulation from the negative consequences. Decision-makers are geographically, culturally or by time, kept at a safe distance from the negative outcomes of their choices.

  • Prior Investment. People are reluctant to abandon a policy or lifestyle that they have invested heavily in. Relationships are often maintained for this reason also.

While some problems are not attempted to be solved because they are “good” for some (logical), others remain unsolved even when they are “bad” for everybody (illogical).

  • Examples from Collapse include the clinging to unsustainable values such as Christian/European farming practices in Ancient Greenland or modern day Australia.

  • This immediately requires an assessment of “good/bad” and how we make judgements about that – surely these values feel “good” to some people?

  • Dislike of the messenger. At times, people/society may have a dislike for the people who raised the alarm. The settlers of Ancient Greenland were not going to do live the way the rivals they were fleeing from lived and therefore made damaging choices. This will be exacerbated because people don’t like to be unsettled, they don’t like alarms, so chances are they are going to hate the messenger anyway! Particularly if they have tried to raise the alarm before.

  • Economic Rationalism. Destructive policies are maintained with the view that the profit gained now will enable investment for supporting people later. Moreover, when future changes are on the horizon that will possibly affect profits, like carbon taxes, profiteers will seek to maximise their investment while they still can. That is foreseeable changes will reduce the profits if the stock is kept for later because alternatives will compete for market share.

  • Crowd Psychology. “Individuals who find themselves members of a huge coherent group or crowd, especially one that is emotionally excited, may become swept along to support the group’s decisions, even when the individuals might reject the decision of allowed to reflect on it alone and at leisure. (In Praise of Idleness) As Schiller says “Anyone taken as an individual is tolerably sensible and reasonable – as a member of a crowd he becomes a blockhead” (Diamond, p435)


  • Group Think (Irving James). “When a small group is trying to reach a decision under stressful circumstances, the stress and need for emotional support and approval may lead to the suppression of doubts and critical thinking, sharing of illusions, a premature consensus and ultimately a disastrous decision.” (Diamond, p436) The desire to be cohesive leads to a minimisation of disagreement and conflict and thus to an absence of “constructive controversy.” (Johnson, Johnson & Tjosvold)

  • Denial. A well known psychological phenomena that occurs when something is emotionally painful, evoking thoughts and feelings that lead to terror, anxiety or grief.

4) Failure to Succeed.

When all of the above obstacles to dealing with a threat are overcome, there is still a chance of failure of an attempt. This is often seen in attempts to curtail introduced species that threaten local ecologies, such as Mimosa, rabbits in Australia etc.


Feel free to offer your suggestions…