I'm just finishing Collapse by Jared Diamond, the author of Guns, Germs and Steel, the Pulitzer prize winning book about why the Europeans conquered the world. In (very) short, Europeans had developed better immunity from bacteria and viruses by domesticating pigs and fowl, had access to better food sources (higher energy density, lower energy cost ratio to produce, etc.) and were generally more technically advanced because of social systems that favored innovation (in some areas, i.e., military technology).
In Collapse, Dr. Diamond takes on the reasons why societies fail. He documents the fall of disparate societies such as Easter Island, the Maya and the Greenland Norse. In general, societies fail (he concludes) principally because the society is not in tune with its environment, and because no corrective action occurs until it's too late. Beginning to sound familiar? We are building infrastructure that is inherently unsustainable, and with the end of cheap fossil fuel, we will get to see how correct Dr. Diamond can be. There is absolutely no hope of corrective action in the current media and political environment, with a major political party willfully blinding the nation to science, from basic biology to climatology.
Oh well, life is a tragedy to a feeling person and a comedy to a thinking person. Too bad it's a Kurt Vonnegut comedy.