Society treated here as a self-regulating group of people generally sharing the same territory, political authority, cultural expectations, and social institutions (= living organism).
The coordination of social activity, decisions about administration, is its governance (= brain) facilitated by the communication system (=nervous system) while the activity itself, the way of ‘getting things done’, is its social organization ( = the functioning of a whole organism). Social organization is maintained by social metabolism or economy (= biological metabolism), which is the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services with the creation and disposal of waste. Social metabolism is driven by the biological energy derived from food (agriculture) that drives bodies and minds, plus additional energy from sources such as fossil fuels, nuclear, wind, hydro, and solar. The rate of growth depends primarily on the supply of biological energy, but also the other resources (= blood) needed to maintain social organization, such as water, materials, and other organisms (ecosystem services), the quantity and extent of the distribution or transport system (= blood circulation system) of energy in the major sectors contributing to social metabolism.
Modern societies, then, are powered by the biological energy derived from plant-based agriculture and fossil fuels (currently with an increasing use of renewables) which feed into the growth that results from the synergistic interaction of communication systems, distribution by transport systems, resource extraction by mining, production by manufacturing and industry, and infrastructure developed by systems of engineering and construction. All these systems benefit from the increased energy efficiencies provided by technology.
When the available energy and other necessary resources are plentiful, there can be growth with a corresponding increase in complexity of social organization, social metabolism, technology, and population numbers.
Increase in social complexity can, with access to sufficient energy, cross thresholds of scale, with dramatic changes in the character of the society resulting from social diversification and the development of new technologies.
People and the materials of the economy are distributed through society by the transport system ( = blood), while the coordination of all this activity is facilitated by the communication system ( = nervous system) which is integrated by a system of governance ( = brain).
This is a crude representation of how society works, but it has generated a toolbox of categories that we can use to understand social organization – its evolution and its decline.
These categories can be arranged into an operational principle:
Sustainability Principle 1 –
Social organization is powered by the social energy that drives the transport and communication systems that bind social metabolism operating on key sustainability resources. Social metabolism is coordinated by social governance. When resources are plentiful and carefully managed, these factors are mutually reinforcing (synergistic) inducing an acceleration in growth and complexity of social organization, in social metabolism, technology, and population numbers.