Jared Diamond in his 2006 Penguin Books publication " Collapse" has inspired me to outline several key factors as to why and how some several societies thrive, others decline and yet another group only manages a slow pace of growth.
1. Having a mindset of continuing to practice things only applicable from the Motherland - and not sufficiently recognising changed and more pertinent requirements of newly settled lands, like its unique topography and prevalent climate.
The European colonists in their grand age of territorial expansion, trading passion and military adventure, from the 16th to the 20th centuries, displayed many examples of this attitude and behaviour.
The significant exception was when they cultivated relevant cash crops in demand that fuelled their profits and embedded their socio-political power. Otherwise, illustrious examples of sentimentally missing what they knew from the home nations can be seen in irrelevant codes of dressing, expensively importing food at their dining tables but positively introducing and implementing legislative and constitutional templates of law in the so called new lands.
Negative impacts included introducing flora and fauna from other lands that caused deforestation, thinning of soils and changing the ecological environment. The lifestyles of the colonists also often alienated their knowledge and learning from the cultures of the peoples they colonised. This mental isolation had caused grief in their management of their newly occupied lands, when they could have done better in learning from prior age old civilisations.
2. Possessing an obsessive compulsion to achieve one predominant requirement, at the expense of other socio-political factors and thereby possibly missing out on available opportunities.
Religion, cultural superiority and over riding economic needs can have a almost blinding blanket and drive in such considerations.
The historical British practice of declaring newly occupied lands as devoid of any previous civilisation or precedent culture has caused much historical grief and injury to many native groups. This has caused huge psyche and inner soul damage in the descendants of former great communities, empires and groups.
Often it may possibly boil down to gut tribal warfare and conflict - and may the fittest survive and prosper. The Spanish conquistadors had priority in shipping off the gold to the Mother Country - and did everything and anything to achieve that. One version of history has the Imperialist Japanese leadership wanting to create an east Asian Co-Prosperity sphere in their military rampaging in the 1930s and 1940s. Catholic persecution of non-Catholics in Europe drove Protestants to migrate and settle in new lands. Sunnis and Shiates continue to battle it out this century in the Middle East.
3. Facing critical choices in population size, environmental change, transport means plus interaction and communication with other nations.
Nations which lack the foresight, will and means to connect with other countries can make erroneous options in the competitive race to progress.
Countries whose leadership looked inwards in history, like Qing Dynasty China and pre- Tokugawa Japan, were forced by others with better technology to open some of their ports in the 19th century. In contrast, 21st century China, with investments in the high speed trains and spending in infrastructure in Africa and beyond, have had its economy and soft power influence spear headed to first world rankings.
Europe and the USA suffered massive pollution levels in the era of industrialisation, which is now replicated in Asia. Are environmental damage, human health tainting and inattention to work safety the necessary price to pay in the path to raising economic wealth and the standard of living? Can things be done better without sacrificing commercial incentive, profits and purpose? Is the model inflexible, with each wannabe country having to go through the several stages of the traditional economic growth framework inter playing with labour costs, technology and capital? Must nations incur massive debts or be huge creditors? Must countries play the role of subservient middle class, struggling poor and rich monopoly controllers? Does having huge populations logically imply a benefit or handicap?
Scandinavian countries have rather small populations and yet always are at the forefront of standard and quality of living. Countries with a huge land mass and population like Indonesia and Brazil are good case studies in how they shape their utilisation of resources, people and technology to stay ahead. Social and government policies on population growth, composition and education levels can determine critical future scenarios for nations.
There is a striking sad footnote in having sizable contact with other nations - the real risk and reality of disease, especially on populations that were quarantined from them prior to such contact. The experience of natives in all of the Americas in the Western Hemisphere is a huge tragic testament to this.
The governments of some nations do deny the impact of climate change, but it is enough we remember those previously prosperous sites of cities and countries that went in to massive decline after huge volcanic explosions, tsunamis and change in tolerable temperatures.
4. Managing a healthy attitude towards accepting change, foreign influence, immigration and external values.
Several societies emphasise on racial divide rather than unity and harmony - and miss out much on the benefits of talent and skills from diverse demographics. Yet some other countries remain strongly homogeneous and prosper on this basis. In contemporary times, Western nations tend to become more of melting pots of races and cultures - are they on the right track?
In a world of greater mobility, integration and exchange, it is the degree of flexibility of change and responsiveness that is important. Whether you drag boats of illegal refugees out to sea, or open your borders to war torn refugees without any viable means of security identity checks, begs a huge question of fine tuning your national reaction to hard and yet significant issues.
The world in history has always witnessed multi-cultural models - this is nothing new. It is the nation or empire that has absorbed the best of all ideas or influences, whether foreign or local grown, that seems to have had successful runs - whether they be Rome, Ottoman, Moghul, Han or Alexander's.
5. Having a mindset and practice of utilising strategic advantages and how a nation over comes inherent disadvantages.
Many nations over rely on one to three primary things that dominate their nation's future. Has your country strongly identified these and worked to ensure its future?
Strategic advantage can be categorised in to three categories - natural, organised and technological. OPEC nations literally have wealth beneath their feet. Nations which make an effort to apply rewarding technology in medicine, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, telecommunications and virtual reality plan and act wisely. So are countries which wean off manufacturing when their costs rise compared with new comers - but also successfully commence alternative sectors with retraining of their populations.
Both New Zealand and Singapore make extra efforts to have a one stop process to do business. It is an important example of a factor that a country can manage and control.
Never mind if you are just a small city state or are located at the far corners of the globe.
India has increasingly used its English language empowerment, a highly educated but relatively affordable labour force and its information technology knowledge base to play a critical role in international commerce.
Not doing anything - and being continually embroiled in political chatter and no efficient action - is not the option for growth and survival. Being co called laid back and allowing foreigners to exploit natural resources in your own country is not adding value.
6. Not optimising the proportion of wild food sources versus man cultivated supplies.
This affects the basic needs of any human being and so must be seen in the perspective of population size and projected growth. Any territory can only optimally support a certain quantity in demand - there are limits.
One can think of Easter Island as an obvious case, the place being an isolated piece of land in a vast ocean that somehow had attracted human settlement. When the native trees on Easter were depleted, and society then somehow passionately was caught in sculpting larger and larger stone statues, agriculture was de-emphasised. Natural food sources were already constrained due to the location and the nearest island community outside Easter was far away.
Pollution, over exploitation of the Earth's resources and damaging practices add to a landscape where so called wild food sources are not nurtured. In the pursuit of commercial greed, expansion and interests, is your home country ensuring the validity of renewal of wild food resources? Why do we elect politicians and leaders who have no qualms in excessively destroying natural forests, in a process which sets off a chain reaction in making animal types and plant breeds extinct?
Farmed supplies can be laden with artificialities like antibiotics, genetically modified ingredients and insecticides. In modern history, mankind has been blessed with abundant food supply, although its uneven distribution due to war and political conflict has caused many to starve or be under nourished.
7. Not learning from the past - taking an approach of living for the short term and not making any long term preparations for a society or country.
One may reckon that this may be the easiest thing to avoid, but history does repeat itself.
Blaming other parties external to a selfish financial or political interest, a society is blind to resolving the root and real causes of its possible deterioration and decline. Leaders who arouse the rabble for extreme causes, however seemingly plausible then, plant the seeds of economic downfall and military misadventure before a society is rotted to the core. The masses pay in loss of lives and quality of life for the ambitions of a charismatic individual or group who do not have an iota of humanity in their approach.
Control of the financial system, military and public imagination can be an effective troika of navigating any society for potential selfish needs of individuals or organised groups. Greater danger arises when these powers are hidden behind veiled curtains or manipulated puppets.
Any political system envisaged or implemented by mankind does not last. The clue is recognise the common threads - absolute political and financial power whether outwards or hidden, sharing little power in exchange for retaining real control and the top layers of society offering the masses a framework of effective psychological enslavement.
So how does your nation fare in managing the above seven factors?
In Australia, I find it disturbing that the fate and course of its economic journey seems to depend on two factors - what other countries buy from us, and the economic health of those nations. Australia does not seem to viably develop its own growth sectors and various governments preoccupy themselves in balancing the national or state budgets without ever raising new sources of viable revenue, apart from taxes.
Although Australia has a massive land size, I am reminded by Jared Diamond that its soil layers are rather thin and that the core of this continent is mainly dry and poor for farming. Distances, whether internally, or from the world power centres, can be rather long. Depending on its population growth, its dependency on imported food can grow. Australia's natural and farmed food supplies are relatively untainted, but perhaps this is not appreciated as much as it should be.
A casual visitor to any Australian post has "lifestyle" suggested every where. Has the Aussie psyche also learnt to focus on strategy, long term planning and over coming its inherent disadvantages? I am afraid not, much to its disadvantage. The age of political correctness has its impact on current Aussie society, which has shaped itself to absorb immigration from over two hundred different cultures and races - and yet has an elected Federal Government that has tightened its border security controls, not done enough to preventing drug addictions and given more purpose to its young citizens.
A strategic matter that has not been attended sufficiently to is the shaping of a shared purpose of nation and "Aussieness" for all these rather different communities.