The Inevitability of Collapse

I write a lot about the coming collapse for a variety of reasons. One has been the desire to somehow avoid it. But as I’ve studied the mechanisms of collapse and the disintegrating world around us, I see no clear path at all on preventing it. And I’ve made an interesting discovery which I’ve now been saying. The coming collapse isn’t preventable, no more then defying gravity. Perhaps more importantly, and to understand the true context of collapse and how it relates to human civilizations, collapse is a very natural event that has occurred in predictable cycles since time immemorial.

Collapse predictions are the natural outcome of studying the patterns found in history, with the presumption that these patterns are as relevant to the future as they were to the past. That is, human behavior and responses have remained the same throughout history to internal and external events. This is quite probably true, because we have been able to document prior collapse events fairly well.

For the most part, civilizations collapse is caused by humans. Internal and external relationships break down over time. Contractural agreements, written and unwritten become violated and social pressures build up. Sometimes collapse is caused by external, non-human events, such as a volcanic eruption, but this is more rare by far then the human-caused variety of collapse.

Social pressures and broken agreements can foster long standing feuds and disharmony between groups. These can escalate into substantial conflicts (war) with their resulting consequences. These consequences are not limited to only humans, but to the environment too. Human-inflicted environmental damage by civilization, war and conflict, and the simple presence of humans living on the earth have caused severe environmental damage. This damage also contributes to the social pressures and conflicts among the human population as competition for scarce resources grows.

There are predictable and alarming characteristics that accurately describe the “descent” into collapse. That all of these exist today is what is so alarming. Once confidence goes out of the system it can unravel very quickly. Some experts predict that this can happen in less the one year. “When perceptions return to reality, they do so abruptly.” Consider the seemingly “sudden” awareness of global climate change, or the 9/11 truth movement or the anti-war movement. Awareness dawns widely very quickly when it is based in reality.

There are “eternally recurrent themes” that signal the descent, collapse and eventual recover, the “new dawn”. It is very much unknown if humankind will manage to rise once again to this latter stage, climate change could be the “kill shot” that eradicates mankind forever off the face of the earth. There are a number of factors that could contribute to this outcome, such as a global temperature rise suddenly releasing billions of tons of methane gas into the atmosphere, creating a runaway greenhouse effect. It is very doubtful mankind could survive this.

Descent Into Collapse

The descent is already occurring. The following characteristics describe the present and past descents of civilizations. Using these as a predictive measure, we can be fairly certain then of their accuracy and our own predicament.

People will opt out of productive activity, and turn to selfish interests; Challenges to the legitimacy of social institutions will intensify; Self-sacrifice and suppression of individual desire will be further disparaged and discarded; The emphasis will shift further in favour of the individual’s entitlement to a comfortable life without personal effort; Dissatisfaction will increase, since it will be impossible to meet expectations; This will be widespread as the impoverished witness the wealth and lifestyle of the affluent; Impatient and selfish people will produce more crime and corrupt behavior; Political authorities will find it harder to impose their will and will expend greater sums in an effort to do so; Abuse of the public trust and welfare will become commonplace;

Wealth differentials will grow between the classes of society; The world will become increasingly conflictual, with a growing tempo of military activity in conjunction with trade disputes and protectionism; Resource wars will spark across the globe as stronger nations bully smaller nations for their valuable minerals and resources; Smaller, weaker nations will challenge the authority of the larger more powerful nations; International forums, such as the United Nations, will be riven by bitter argument and will become incapable of collective action; High technology will continue to flood the markets, but will offer only superficial improvements; Material goods will continue to be readily available accompanied by higher and higher prices; Inflation will exceed the buying power of many people; Extensive health care and welfare system will make societies appear to be gentle and responsible; Optimistic commentators will point to the future as being bright with new technologies and possibilities; Growing wealth and welfare combined with increased selfishness, decreased entrepreneurship and de-legitimisation of traditional institutions; Retirement benefits and pensions will be dismantled and raided in an effort to sustain economic funding; A crisis of confidence, leading to catastrophic unraveling of existing political, economic and social structures, on the national and international level will occur;

Authority will be increasingly defied and ineffectual; The militarization of the domestic police forces will be used as an excuse to “manage” and increasingly dissatisfied population; A surveillance society will arise, watching over every aspect of modern life by micromanaging government overlords; Government will grow increasingly distrustful of the populations they were elected to serve, accompanied by high levels of dissatisfaction and distrust (disgust) with government behavior, services and support by the people; Over-taxation is likely to precipitate a crisis; The West’s authority will be challenged, and it will stop policing the world; Mercenaries will be used increasingly more instead of the regular military; Warfare will increase worldwide and affect western countries more and more; Japan, Germany and China may spark wars through their resurgent geopolitical ambitions;

There will be nuclear war and it will be seen to be survivable; A series of booms and busts will obscure the growing impasses in world economies; There will be struggles to do with protectionism, economic leadership and control of foreign-owned assets; Gaps between rich and poor will grow on the international and domestic fronts; Governments will fail to curtail dependency and will make cut-backs; Innovation will dry up, in part due to public opposition; Economic failure will creep inward from the periphery; Education will be discredited and downgraded; People will squat within the existing infrastructure as it becomes older and less reliable, and finally falls apart; The criminal economy will grow; People may work hard in the informal economy in order to survive; People will adopt a kind of individualized and selfish sociality, interacting through brokering services and electronic chat rooms, rather than through existing networks of friends, relations, and work colleagues; Fewer people will share any particular set of values; Fragmentation of society will be rampant; Art, philosophy and general culture will all become more diverse, less appealing and hostile to traditional values;

Nations will co-operate less; intergovernmental institutions will break up, including eventually the UN; Women’s horizons will expand, but there will be no golden age of feminine values-just an ever more selfish world; Cults will proliferate to meet spiritual craving, but their very fragmentation will leave people dissatisfied; The markets will drop and bounce back several times, before a precipitous fall and collapse.

History is a ferment, and progress towards the dark age will not be a monotonic decline of steadily worsening conditions. The descent will be characterized by frequent reversals, with rallies within slides and slides within rallies. There will be times, even extended periods, when things seem to be getting better rather than worse even while the darkness looms closer and closer. The major media will utterly fail to recognize the signs of collapse and will be faulted for failing to warn the people. Government will continue it’s widespread denial and will avoid all responsibility, while secretly making contingency plans themselves.

Also see The Top Reasons Societies Collapse which are also all human-induced reasons for collapse.

In essence, collapse occurs because of a loss of faith in the over system and mechanisms of society. This is exacerbated by other factors, such as resource depletion and environmental degradation (which can lead to job loss, economic hardship, displacement, industry and trade collapse, resource wars and more).

Human populations achieve an unmanageable level of “success”, which contradicts the foundational principle of finite resources and manageable society. When these limits are reached, the collapse characteristics described above occur. According to history, they are utterly unavoidable, primarily because humankind invariably runs up against these limits sooner or later. Even a “forced” society that restrained itself somehow from reaching limits of population or resource consumption may implode due to societal disintegration.

Collapse – The Darkness

Collapse will come quite suddenly, unlike the forthcoming (potentially) new dawn, which will take a very long time to arrive. The darkness can be expected to last 50 – 200 years, or even longer.

The darkness of collapse will be a time of private selfishness without public generosity; There will be no welfare system, or pensions; People will be thrown back on their own devices and life will suddenly become much simpler and much harder; On the bright side, this will be a time of extreme personal freedom, given that freedom ‘is just another word for nothing left to lose’. Many will opt for this route with extreme violence; It will also be a time of rapid change with no constraints on creativity; There will be a far-reaching failure to transmit the knowledge, attitudes and certainties of the pre-dark age society, providing fertile ground for new ideas; People will be too busy struggling for survival to record what is happening to them; The burst of creativity that will take place behind a thick screen, its details never to be revealed; To future historians looking back on the dark age, these 50 – 200 years will be another chapter missing from the human story;

Internal borders will emerge, as local communities or individual households defend themselves; The dark age will see a war of all against all, though, without military specialists, warfare will be intermittent; Cities will be abandoned and people will spread out evenly; Much of today’s infrastructure will be destroyed, either by dark age vandals or by people of the dawn who have no interest in preserving ancient monuments. Plunderers will invade from the Neo-barbarian lands; Total disorganization means an impoverished world; today’s luxuries and many of today’s necessities will not be available; Times will be tough, making people sober, responsible, hard-working and self-reliant; they will adopt a simpler lifestyle;

There will be a population crash; those needing technology to survive will suffer; the main medical problem of the dark age will be infectious disease; Today’s knowledge will be largely lost and will need to be re-discovered; many records will be undecipherable or simply gone forever; People will look at the world in new ways, losing their fears and inhibitions concerning new technology; All forms of association will become defunct and aspirations will be uniformly petty; the dark age will leave no history; Cohesion will be intense but localized; moral restraint will be strong but people will be able to escape by moving away; Religion will become strong again in everyday life; an Islam derivative may emerge and gradually replace myriad local cults; There will be ethnic bloodbaths behind a cloak of forgetting; ancient conflicts may be resolved or renewed; Women may have strong roles in society, but they will not necessarily be well off since this will be an uncomfortable time for all; Asceticism will replace flamboyance; sentimentality will be lost and the qualities needed for greatness will re-emerge; Massive population die-off will occur because of disease, famine, warfare, sickness and injury; Shortages of luxuries, essentials and consumable goods will be widespread, essentials of life, water, food, clothing and shelter will the main concerns; Collapse can occur quite suddenly to the unawares; in the course of a single year; The collapse will be characterized by massive suffering, death and human misery, all of which will be largely unrecorded.

A New Dawn

I’ve included a section on the new dawn because the outcome of the coming collapse is by no means written in stone. Nobody on earth knows what the years of darkness will bring and whether or not humankind can survive it this time. There are strong indications on both side of the fence that we will not survive it; and just as many that we will survive it. History tell us we can, but future environmental conditions may have the final say.

The new dawn will see the world as if re-born and made innocent again. The sufferings of the past will be put behind as the opportunities of the future will be embraced. The transition from darkness to dawn will be gradual. Typically, the period of utter obscurity and turmoil of the darkness lasts between fifty and two hundred years. A duration nearer the upper limit of this range is probably more likely, since the most severe dark ages tend to follow from the first time that humans achieve a particular level of social complexity. The present era is the first time that humanity has achieved so thoroughly connected a global civilization, and some extreme contradictions have been accumulated. It seems that it will take not one but several human lifetimes to erase from memory the hatreds and conceits and ill conceived practices that ultimately pitch the present world order into the abyss.

It will be a far more moral world, in which individual desire is subordinated to higher things and to the will of the community; Political authority will be jealous and ruthless; There will be few dependents, and almost everyone will be engaged in productive activity; The world will be at first highly fragmented but political, economic and social units will steadily grow by accretion; Although the world will be beginning again, some things will survive from before the dark age; New technologies, including ones that contemporary societies have failed to exploit, will soon create material possibilities in excess of anything known today; Things that people now take for granted, such as coal mining, will come to seem unbelievably uncivilized, like slavery.

In the long term, one can expect a far more enlightened civilization – a civilization perhaps that does not allow millions of people to starve in full view of the world’s television cameras. However, one should not be too utopian. Human frailties will never be eliminated, at least not in the time scales one is dealing with here, and the world of a thousand years from now will have deficiencies of its own. These are likely to be deficiencies not so different from those that are apparent today, though they will certainly be transformed and re-interpreted.

Re-emergence of highly moral, productive and disciplined societies; There will be a slow recovery, with the gradual extension of integration, organization and cohesion, eventually, there will emerge a more civilised and enlightened world order, though this will become corrupt in its turn; An urbanized lifestyle will return, with the revival of industry, technology and organized warfare; The new political entities will not be free or democratic, but their vigorous expansion will provide many opportunities.

Today’s world order is unjust; after the dark age, some completely different order is inevitable. A long dark age will give the best chance to today’s worst off regions. Africa is a prime candidate to lead; China and Russia have a chance; Europe is unlikely; America could well re-emerge close to the front but in a quite different form. There is a logic in favour of world integration; this will not be consensual like the UN but may borrow UN legitimacy.

A new economic order will allow today’s backward regions to take their proper place in it; this will benefit all; The dawn will see a torrent of innovation, including nuclear power and genetic engineering; Radical discoveries will be made in science, giving people a degree of control over natural phenomena and a level of insight into them such as would today be considered in the realm of magic; In the oceans, in space, and deep inside the earth, people will tap reserves of raw materials that are now largely neglected; The world economy will move to a higher gear, reaching other celestial bodies, and possibly achieving full mastery over planetary dynamic systems; New ethnicities and civilizations will emerge; There will be multicolored but not multicultural societies; Perception of their shared interest in the earth’s viability may embed local groups in a broadly cohesive global culture; Religion will be widely practised and will strengthen the resolve of space pioneers; Art will celebrate society’s values; People’s roles will become circumscribed again; New technologies may make possible an unprecedented array of communities and culture, and perhaps a fairer, more harmonious world; Overall, humanity’s triumphant progress will resume and will eventually transcend everything that has been achieved to this point.

Sounds promising doesn’t it? But only to our children’s children’s children, maybe. Navigating on how to get from here to there will be our main task for the remaining years of our of our lives. And then instilling this hope and promise into our progeny. Our world may be disintegrating, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all hope is forever lost. While we don’t know the outcome of such things as climate change, nuclear war, famine and the destruction of our civilization, we do know that humankind has endured cataclysmic changes before. Just never on the this scale. Yet hope springs eternal, otherwise, what would be the point of even trying? And we must try, for therein lies the fate of the human race.

[the above is largely taken from The Coming Dark Age, with additions made by Admin]


admin at survivalacres dot com

6 thoughts on “The Inevitability of Collapse

  • April 13, 2007 at 11:19 pm
    There’s much I disagree with in the above, mostly under the New Dawn section. I don’t believe future civilizations will surpass or even approach the level of technological complexity of ours.

    If you watch the documentary “A Crude Awakening,” there’s some old footage of people pulling oil out of the ground with buckets and hand pumps. Nowadays we need incredibly complex equipment and and drills to find and access our oil. We needed that easily accessible oil to basically bootstrap everything our technology depends on. If anything should happen to our oil infrastructure there’s no way we’re getting to it again.

    I’m completely disillusioned with our culture’s myth of progress. The guy who wrote this article seems to understand what’s coming, yet still clings to that myth for whatever reason.

  • April 14, 2007 at 8:38 am

    You’d probably need to read the book. It’s also called “The Phoenix Principle” for a reason. The rise of civilization from the ashes has happened many times.

    Subsequent civilizations build upon the ashes and the technology of former civilizations (but not in every case). And we must remember – they ALL did this without oil. Ours is the only civilization that did. Future civilizations (if we survive this collapse and climate change) could use something else.

    It’s certainly within the real of possibility that future technological discoveries or future resources could be utilized to lift civilization up again (oil from algae or something), but it doesn’t mean it will be a globally overpopulated world either, it could a single country or nation / state. All the Phoenix Principle really means is civilization will rise again, following predicatable patterns.

    A future civilization, even a far smaller one, could rise in the Artic using geothermal power, methane hydrates or something. We simply don’t know. All we know for certain is the predictable path of rise and fall.

    Oil isn’t the only source of energy available to humans. It happens to be what this civilization built it’s infrastructure on, but a future civilization could use something else entirely.  The collapse of this world will leave vast resources quite literally “lying around” – who knows if they’ll be recycled into a much smaller, more efficient civilization?

    I’m not too concerned about the age of the new dawn.  I hope mankind survives, but I don’t know if he will.

  • April 15, 2007 at 8:32 pm
    It is clear that we are part of an evolutionary process. Looking back all the way to the beginning we can follow a path of meandering evolution starting from basic elements which combined to form more complex elements and molecules, which combined to form newly emergent forms as planet(s) gave birth to life which led to more complex life and humans emerged. Early humans were hunter/gatherers, eventually they learned to cultivate crops, and on through to new stages of collective and individual development, i.e. evolution.
    Chaos, breakdown and conflict has been an essential factor in this process. For instance, it was not until the black plague, which killed a large portion of the population that the age of Reason emerged on a large scale. It took that many people to die for people to realize that it was not some “God up there” who decided who died, but rather it was contagion which spread the disease. Thus it became obvious that rational thought was a superior mode to faith for understanding the world.
    On an experiential level the actualities of bodily existence may be more difficult to bear than an intellectual excercise, but for me it all makes much greater sense when I can put all that is happening within a greater context. That is, the fourteen-plus-billion-year-old, evolutionary process of which we are part and parcel.
    Predicting the future is obviously not an exact science. However, I think the logical deductions that can be made from the information we have from the past are our best bet. And what the best interpretation of that information says is that generally humanity, that is LIFE, reaches a new peak every so often and hits certain limits, which results in a new set of challenges to be overcome. And what has almost always happened is newly emergent possibilities that did not exist before arise out of it.
    Seen from afar this is a Glorious and Miraculous process, always headed ultimately towards greater things. However my or your reality in the grinder of existance isn’t always so nice.
    For a good map of reality try Ken Wilber’s books such as “A brief history of everything,” Or the more thorough “Sex, ecology, and spirituality.” These books are the best for getting the broadest, most accurate map of this grand process.
  • April 16, 2007 at 10:39 am
    I agree with Locke (and Sir Fred Hoyle, and Carl Sagan), in that we had just one chance on this planet to reach this level of ‘advancement’ and ‘technological sophistication’ we do today, and that in the event of a catastrophic collapse of civilization, no future civilization will ever be able to pick up the pieces from what little we leave behind for them.

    First, as locke points out that we’ve already used up all the easy to get to and readily available low-technology-of-exploitation energy sources. And I do not just mean oil.

    Consider the planet as a closed system, an ark of life all alone in the void of space. On this ark there are but 4 sources of energy –
    1) fossil fuels, coal, oil, and methanes (natural gas and methane hydrates)
    2) biofuels (plants and plant products, such as wood)
    3) ‘renewables’ (wind, wave, and solar)
    4) nuclear (fission and possibly fusion) That’s it. Period.
    The fossil fuels, coal, oil, and gas, are all but gone now (or soon will be) even with our sophisticated methods of extraction. Methane hydrates are not exploitable even with out level of technology. Oil replaced coal because it had advantages over coal. Coal replaced biofuels because they were already in short supply throughout Europe (part of what drove the colonization of the new world). Although marginally renewable, biofuels will never support more than a small population, and use up arable land.
    Solar, wind, and wave power are all intermittent sources highly dependent on localized conditions, and require massive expenditures of coal and oil to harness. For example, collectors, converters, and power transmission infrastructure. PV cells do not occur naturally anywhere on earth.
    How would, for example, the Romans been able to exploit any of these?
    Finally, nuclear….the easily accessible uranium is already gone. Without fission, forget fusion.

    In fact, this leads me to my second point, and that of Hoyle:
    All the easily accessed raw materials essential to modern civilization and the layered, interdependent developments associated with them have been used up.
    Imagine a bronze age….only without bronze (copper gone).
    An industrial age….only without steel (iron and coal gone).
    An information age….without semiconductors (gallium and selenium gone).
    All impossible.

    Finally, there is the longterm loss of knowledge underlying any such advanced civilization. Recent discoveries credit the Greeks with inventing Calculus, 2000 years before Newton. Talk about a knowledge gap. 2000 years wasted.
    The Minoan civilization on Crete invented concrete, a simple formula of 4 ingredients, but this knowledge was lost for nearly a thousand years, until the Romans figured out how to do it again. With the fall of Rome, once again the secret of concrete was lost to the ages, until it was once again stumbled upon in the 1800’s. Only, there is a catch….many Roman concrete structures still survive even today (aqueducts, artificial harbors and breakwaters, etc), yet concrete structures built by OUR civilization mere decades ago are already crumbling away. Roman concrete was superior, but no one has yet been able to reproduce it.
    Even when knowledge is reproducible, it is often not fully reproducible, and sometimes millennia will be wasted in the process. Does earth have millenia to waste waiting?

  • April 16, 2007 at 1:03 pm
    Is it Earth that will be in trouble or is it it humans? Is it the biosphere at large or is it the beings with the greatest depth; humans, who are at risk of cataclysm?
    I think it is humans that are in trouble here. This is just a blip for the biosphere. Major climate change and shifts in the carbon cycle will herald a new era of evolution/mutation for the biosphere. It is humans and some other species’ who are at risk. Earth, Gaia, is going to be fine.

    Also, what about the possibility of actually finding some sort of zero-point energy? This is not an impossibility. It has always been the case that the future holds possibilities which here-to-fore have not existed.
    I agree with you about most of what you write here. But I also think that our case is different, particularly because of our level of information sharing made possibe by technology and globalisation.

  • April 17, 2007 at 5:59 am
    In the words of one of my college physics professor: “There isn’t enough zero point energy in the universe to heat a cup of coffee” (which is, of course, the flip side to the often heard mantra about there being enough ZPE in a cup of coffee to power the universe).
    Remember fusion?
    “The power source of the future…and it always will be” (another quote, this from a man who helped develop US fusion bomb technology at Los Alamos back in the 1950’s).
    I’m sorry if I do not share your optimism flombula, but I have both a physics degree and mechanical engineering degree, and have very little faith (for that is what you are expressing here, by definition) that the laws of physics or thermodynamics will be overcome by technology in a meaningful time frame. Technology itself is a house of cards, built one atop another interdependently, and knock out any one of a myriad of critical previous developments and it all comes crashing down. This is the basis for why the pace of actual innovation has slowed tremendously over the last century….all the meaningful, baseline inventions, concepts, and have already been discovered. Ever more minor tweaks and refinements, requiring ever greater resources, is all that remains.
    No one person now knows enough to reproduce many of our present innovations. Diminishing returns on ever greater complexity and resource usage. Read Diamond’s award-winning “Collapse” for what this means in the near term.

    On the flip side, I agree with you completely with regards to what this all implies for both humanity, and for the plant. As Dr. James Lovelock has pointed out exquisitely, it is probably too late for humanity, but for the planet as a whole, little will actually change, at least in the big picture. Species will be eradicated in the collapse, but that is already occurring now, and longterm the loss of humanities truly massive footprint on this planet will no doubt be a blessing to its other life forms. None the less, as history has shown, we have a tendency to destroy much in the going (i.e. Easter Island).

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