There are some historical and factual reasons that societies collapse, a question (and the answers) which should concern everyone. Regrettably, the United States is exhibiting all of these characteristics, thus making its future survival in serious doubt:
a) failing to anticipate a problem before it arrives;
b) reasoning by false analogy that there either is no problem, or it’s not serious;
c) failing to remember historical events;
d) distant management;
e) failing to perceive the problem(s) when they actually arrive;
f) failing to understand the “creeping normalcy”;
g) failing to understand the common interest;
h) conflict of interest;
i) self absorption;
j) advanced technology;
k) religous values.
Failing to anticipate a problem before it arrives is characterized by gross mismanagement, poor judgement, lack of foresight and even, hidden issues that are impossible to perceive adequately in advance, such as the loss of soil fertility or the introduction of alien (non-native) species, deliberately or otherwise. In first example, the lush growth on the surface of the land indicates (wrongly) that the soil is fertile, when in fact, most of the nutrients are found not in the soil anymore, but in the plants themselves, which took a very long time to develop. When the plant growth is removed, nothing or next to nothing can grow back. This has been the cause of desertification all over the world. In the second example, introduction of alien species has often caused devastating effects on native plants and animals, wiping out entire species and ecosystems as a result.
Reasoning by false analogy gives a sense of false comfort and security to its proponents and advocates. A classic (and current) example of this is how technology is “going to fix our problems”, simply because technology has managed to fix some problems in the past (the many side effects of technology are also ignored by these same people). Therefore, a “techno-fix” is going to save us. This analogy is false on many fronts, in particular (and often overlooked) because technology cannot and does not replace the natural biological cycle of anything. Technology interrupts it (and usually destroys it). There are many other false analogies, but this is a primary one found today among those that believe in a techno-fix.
Failing to remember historical events denies facts, logic and reasoning. Societal collapse has happened many time before for many reasons, the likes of which we are witnessing today. Some of these collapses are too far back in our collective memories to seem important (and they’re not taught as being important either). Yet the same factors that cause previous societies and civilization to collapse are still in existent today – indeed, they are in many case, much, must worse then before, with globalization, massive overpopulation and widespread environmental destruction. The lack of remembrance gives a false sense of security that “it’s always been this way” when in fact, the opposite is much more true with widespread death, devastation and destruction existing for hundreds or even thousands of years. Our civilization is quite young in reality, past civilizations have ceased to exist primarily because of environmental factors (self-destruction).
Distant managers are ineffective in dealing with problems or even perceiving that the problems exist, or the extent of their severity. Their also slow, inefficient and oftentimes uninterested (unless paid). Managers are also often replaced, as in the case of politicians, and are subject to special interest groups and lobbyist, thus making their management highly ineffective and inefficient. The lack of vested interest almost guarantees an outcome that is not in the best interest of the local populace and species living in the region at stake and year by year, the situation continues to deteriorate due to management oversight, disinterest or lobbyist pressures.
Many societies simply fail to perceive the problem(s) even when they arrive. Even though the evidence is staring them in the face, they deny they are either responsible or even affected by the facts. A simple example would be the destruction caused by recreational off-road vehicles. Aficionados deny the damage being done, even though the deeply rutted soils, destroyed plant life, soil erosion and muddied streams give strong proof that they were responsible. A larger example is clear cutting, with the resulting forest fires, soil erosion, stream sediments and destroyed spawning. An even larger example is over fishing of the oceans, which once yielded bountiful harvest from the choicest fish, which now depleted, has forced the fishing fleets to harvest lower quality fish and crustaceans, ultimately trolling the very bottom of the ocean for the remaining proteins. Denial of overfishing is rampant, yet the proof is clearly evident in the declining standard of the catch.
Irrational behavior is characterized by these conditions (among humans) who believe that if “they” don’t do these things, then someone else will, so why shouldn’t they just keep on doing it? This of course, leads to even more destruction, even though the perpetrators are fully aware of what they are doing. They’re reasoning is “better them” then someone else. This selfish behavior is widespread throughout all of society.
Creeping normalcy refers to slow trends that aren’t easily detectable year by year, but accumulate over decades into extremely serious problems. Perception is altered because the gradual decline is constantly adjusted as being “normal”, when the situation is actually serious decline. “Landscape amnesia” is also a sign of creeping normalcy, forgetting how the landscape looked 50 years ago. Soil salinity is a problem that affects huge portions of the world, but has taken generations to manifest itself. Lower and lower crop yeild are the result until nothing can be grown there at all.
Other signs of creeping normalcy is the slow trends on which society is degenerating with cultural values, attitudes and beliefs. And of course, there’s global warming, spanning hundreds and thousands of years, difficult to detect because of yearly fluctuations and changes, but there all the same.
Many individuals, groups and even nations, fail to understand the common interest in land (and ocean) stewardship, deeming the earth their “private resource” for pillage and profits. An example would be Japanese fishing fleets, or American domination of other nations for exploit and extraction of resources. They deem their actions justifiable since they are seeking to meet their own internal needs, while failing to recognize the larger issue of common usage. They can do this because of lack of international law, military superiority or simply, flagrant violations of laws and treaties. The rhinoceros poacher and the mega-corporation share the same attitude (and disinterest) in this regard.
Serious conflicts of interest arise from land owners, governments and corporations (and all stages in between) when the principle parties disagree on the land (or ocean) usage. Insulated elite “owners” have far more leverage and power then individuals, groups and even governments, and can dictate the continued destruction and depletion of natural resources far beyond their sustainable capacities. Such organizations exhibit little care or concern for the resources or the people affected and can quickly deplete entire ecosystems in a matter of months. Rainforest logging, ocean fishing, mineral extraction and many other examples exist where the “untouchables” do whatever they want, seeking higher profits and bigger margins despite clear proof of severe damage. The motivations between the opposing groups is immaterial – society often sides with money and power, thus ensuring the ongoing destruction even in the face of extinction.
Self absorption is the result of society being disconnected with reality and engaged in trivial interest and temporal pleasures and entertainment. The existing sports culture in America is a good example, as is the entire entertainment industry, both of which are extremely resource intensive and give little in return for the damage that they do. Auto racing, football, baseball (spectators sports) Hollywood, movies, arts and film, most forms of media programming (entertainment), and in particular, fast food (a form of entertainment).
Societies that have highly evolved forms of such temporary and trivial pursuits are characterized by a disinterested and distracted population with a high level of resource destruction and depletion. Efforts to gain the public attention and participation and gain the support of the leadership of such countries, who pander to the voting public are ineffective and result in little change or action, thus the society at stake edges ever close to its own destruction while being entertained.
Societies with advanced technology have the capability to destroy (or potentially, restore) the environment faster and faster with giant machines, huge factories and global distribution networks. For all of the reasons already outlined above, the motivation for the use of such technology isn’t restoration, but exploitation, resulting in global destruction on an unprecedented scale, even though the society responsible may actually exist many thousands of miles away. The other issue with advanced technology is how such technology requires increasing levels of complexity, productivity, manufacturing and distribution, all of which results in even faster and faster extraction and depletion rates, far exceeding the natural levels of sustainability.
Many such technologies are used to “mine the resources” (remove the resources faster then they can be replenished). This of course, applies to non-renewable resources, such as oil and minerals, but many renewable resources are now being mined far beyond their capacity and resilience to be replenished. This is a very long list if I were to itemize it, but the categories include water, fishes, trees, plants, soils, species and even air. The inability to restore these renewable resources without gigantic (and perhaps impossible) spans of time (thousands of years), or in some case, to never be able to renew these renewable resources because of pollution or erosion.
Religious values oftentimes have resulted in widespread destruction and devastation because of deeply seated and widespread beliefs from king to commoner. These beliefs are based upon exploitation and “ownership” (versus stewardship) of the land, plants and animals and a “kingdom complex” that teaches that the establishment of a “earthly” kingdom must be undertaken as part of their religious beliefs. Such beliefs are oftentimes very closely knitted with their cultural identity and society. Religious disagreements have led to thousands of conflicts and wars and widespread ecological damage of every living thing, including both global wars. It’s deemed perfectly acceptable in such conflicts to destroy the very land itself (poisoning the air, water and soil) in the effort to eradicate one’s “enemies”. The conflict in Iraq is a prime example, with depleted uranium now poisoning the land and the people and all all other life forms for thousands of years. The cancerous effects of such actions are well documented, with thousands and thousands of deformed human births, but are being stonewalled as being “serious” for civilians and soldiers alike on both sides of the conflict.
Making the land intentionally “uninhabitable” is an ancient practice, which would include chopping down all of the forest, salting the ground, poisoning the wells and exterminating every living thing. Such practices are found in the Bible and other ancient records of religious texts and were repeated around the world.
The United States is not alone of course, in all of these factors or excesses, such are found throughout the world in all societies, thus making the future survival of mankind somewhat in doubt. A great deal of evidence exist that while these reasons may be well known and understood, that does not prevent societies from continuing on their pathways to self-annihilation. In fact, as shown, “proof” isn’t what is required, as there is ample proof and a preponderance of evidence. Deeply held cultural beliefs, identity, practices, religion and attitudes are the root causes for societal collapses in almost all cases, and such are cherished even “to the end” as the last tree is cut down and starvation sets in. History reveals that no society is immune to these very human flaws of character, affecting entire nations. With globalization now fully embrace and all of it’s resulting and devastating side effects, the world is now at serious risk of failing to understand the reasons for its own decline and probably destruction.
The extreme danger the world now finds itself has a very human cause which cannot be solved by simply embracing a new program or “going green”. Much more then that is needed if we hope to survive (at all) into the next millennium. My estimate is that we have less then 200 years left of human life on this planet because the extent of the damage now done is far worse then we realize. The evidence we are now seeing and measuring with our instruments took decades or even hundreds of years to reveal itself, reversing this downward trend is simply not possible with any technology or program that we might devise. We are now living on the last vestiges of the earth abundance, when this is depleted and destroyed, we will have nothing left for us to live on, except each other.
Immediate crisis management should be begun, the likes of which, the world has never seen. If we fail to understand our common predicament, then anything we could have done would of course be far too late, as the evidence of our common failure as a species rises above us like a crashing tide of destruction, unstoppable, immutable and indifferent to our fate.
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