The Watchman's Rattle Book Review
October 6, 2010
The Watchman’s Rattle is a stunning look at how complex the world’s problems have gotten, especially the developing water shortage, and how less and less capable humans seem to be able to solve the more complex and difficult issues. Rebecca D. Costa wrote The Watchman’s Rattle A Radical New Theory of Collapse (Vanguard Press, 2010, ISBN: 978-1-59315-605-3) using evidence and research from extinct civilizations including the Mayans, Khmers, and the Roman empires.
She uses the research to show that today’s modern, high-tech, solve anything civilization can also become extinct. One of the common threads between today and centuries ago is solving the water shortage.
Costa goes through early history to build a case for her point of view. She covers much ground in a short few pages and finds the following:
Successful civilizations thrive when vigorously pursuing beliefs and knowledge together, side by side.
Civilizations are hampered by the cognitive threshold whereby complexity grows faster than the human brain can evolve. Every civilization has encountered cognitive threshold which signaled the start of their decline.
As supermemes (“any belief, thought, or behavior that becomes so pervasive, so stubbornly embedded, that it contaminates or suppresses all other beliefs and behaviors”) grow stronger, people resort to thinking in a singular manner and behaving in unison.
The final act comes in the form of a pandemic virus, global warming, or a nuclear war.
Costa found evidence of five supermemes that prevent accurate problem-solving and slow or prevent progress including:
Costa also believes that today’s society needs to take another long and hard look at evolution which according to the author is, “the process and rate at which biological change occurs between one generation and the next.” In simpler terms, “the principles governing the speed at which the human organism can biologically adapt offer us the single greatest insight into why civilizations succeed and fail as well as the most reliable preview of our own destiny.”
Supermemes’ Case Studies
The book has a very sophisticated title and the author presents a deep thought theory that many may find too detailed to read. Costs does use plenty of relevant and current case studies to represent each of the five supermemes.
One example, for the irrational opposition she looks at how President Barak Obama used a vague and nonspecific idea of change to win the primary over Hilary Clinton who was pointing at very specific ideas for change. Obama’s campaign people knew all he had to do was ride the oppositional wave against Bush and to oppose four more years of Bill and Hilary.
As Obama gained ground, any opposition towards him got repackaged as opposition to the nation’s first black president. According to Costa, “In this way, Obama’s offensive and defensive campaign strategy boiled down to a simple matter of understanding and manipulating an oppositional culture better than his opponents.”
The Watchman’s Rattle
The title is explained in the introduction section. In earlier times, citizens volunteered to patrol neighborhoods, lighthouses, and important institutions keeping watch for signs of danger. When they perceived danger, they would bang wooden rattles that made loud noises. The watchman’s rattle was an alarm – a call for citizens to wake up and join forces against danger.
The book is a really good read. Readers will quickly find many frightening similarities between society today and those that have long been extinct.