Dr Luke Kemp has written a fascinating piece on societal collapse for Aeon:
"Is the collapse of a civilisation necessarily calamitous? The failure of the Egyptian Old Kingdom towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE was accompanied by riots, tomb-raids and even cannibalism. ‘The whole of Upper Egypt died of hunger and each individual had reached such a state of hunger that he ate his own children,’ runs an account from 2120 BCE about the life of Ankhtifi, a southern provincial governor of Ancient Egypt.
Many of us are familiar with this historical narrative of how cultures can rapidly – and violently – decline and fall. Recent history appears to bear it out, too. Post-invasion Iraq witnessed 100,000 deaths in the first year and a half, followed by the emergence of ISIS. And the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011 produced a power vacuum, leading to the re-emergence of the slave trade.
However, there’s a more complicated reality behind this view of collapse. In fact, the end of civilisations rarely involved a sudden cataclysm or apocalypse. Often the process is protracted, mild, and leaves people and culture continuing for many years."
"Collapse, then, is a double-edged sword. Sometimes it’s a boon for subjects and a chance to restart decaying institutions. Yet it can also lead to the loss of population, culture and hardwon political structures. What comes from collapse depends, in part, on how people navigate the ensuing tumult, and how easily and safely citizens can return to alternative forms of society. Unfortunately, these features suggest that while collapse has a mixed track record, in the modern world it might have only a dark future."