Hypothesis: the Roman Empire just became too complex to afford sustaining itself anymore.

According to Tainter, societies become more complex as they try to solve problems. Social complexity can include differentiated social and economic roles, reliance on symbolic and abstract communication, and the existence of a class of information producers and analysts who are not involved in primary resource production. Such complexity requires a substantial “energy” subsidy (meaning resources, or other forms of wealth). When a society confronts a “problem,” such as a shortage of or difficulty in gaining access to energy, it tends to create new layers of bureaucracy, infrastructure, or social class to address the challenge. Eventually, this cost grows so great that any new challenges such as invasions and crop failures cannot be solved by the acquisition of more territory. At that point, the empire fragments into smaller units.

Joseph Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies

I asked jokingly, “if Heidegger can say that the human being is not the lord of beings, but the shepherd of Being, then is all thinking milking and shearing?” But then, in fact, what do we ever do, in thought, as thinkers, but knead and extract? Any effort at knowing scrapes off the surface of Being, to card and to spin, to knit a garment that warms us from unknowing cold. And any conclusion we draw, an attempt to curdle, so that we have something to hold on to, a way to handle and store the ungraspable of our raw experience.

Then, finally, the ethical, because I speak on the side of shepherds who have no need to kill or eat from their flocks, no desire to kill or devour as I make my way; at depth, our responsibility is to care for Being, not to harvest it.

I desire to speak somewhere without bounds; like a man in a waking moment, to men in their waking moments; for I am convinced that I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of a true expression…. In view of the future or possible, we should live quite laxly and undefined in front, our outlines dim and misty on that side; as our shadows reveal an insensible perspiration toward the sun. The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement.

Thoreau, Walden

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.

Thoreau, Walden

Be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought. Every man is the lord of a realm beside which the earthly empire of the Czar is but a petty state, a hummock left by the ice. Yet some can be patriotic who have no self-respect, and sacrifice the greater to the less. They love the soil which makes their graves, but have no sympathy with the spirit which may still animate their clay. Patriotism is a maggot in their heads.

Thoreau, Walden