Not so long ago, societal collapse was a big topic of conversation among critics of the current world order. Usually it was centered on economics, as the financial system has become so complex that no one can explain it. The run-up to the mortgage crisis had lots of people promoting economic collapse theories. A decade earlier, the Y2K panic ushered in theories of technological collapse. Of course, the zombie apocalypse movies and TV shows are a regular part of the pop media rotation.
Societal collapse, however, is probably not in the cards. The best known treatment of the issue is by Joseph Tainter. In Collapse of Complex Societies, Tainter makes the point that collapse in the modern age is unlikely, as all complex societies are dependent on one another. Therefore, when one society begins to fail, the rest will provide support to prevent the rapid disintegration of the failing society. In other words, the modern age is a network of reciprocal relationships between complex societies.
In the case of America, the rest of the world needs America in order to remain intact, so a crisis in America will be met with a response from Europe, Asia and even South America. The internal response to crisis will include global support for repairing the internal problems of America. This network of relationships may not arrest the decline, but it will prevent collapse. The rest of the complex societies will ease America into the autumn of its existence, thus buying themselves time to adjust.
An alternative to this analysis comes from John Michael Greer. He wrote a paper on what he termed catabolic collapse. The general theory is that all human societies create complex institutions and social structures that require maintenance. Over time, the cost of maintaining them begins to exceed capacity. The solution is a deliberate downsizing where these complex systems are abandoned in order to focus resources on the core functions of society. Complex societies don’t collapse. They downsize.
Greer’s idea is a variation of the Tainter theory, in that it focuses on the material aspects of society. In the Tainter view, collapse is like bankruptcy that ends in a liquidation of the society. Greer’s view is a bankruptcy that leads to a reorganization of society going through bankruptcy, so it can reemerge simpler and more viable. In reality, both ideas are working from the same assumption. That is, human societies grow inefficient over time and that inefficiency eventually reaches a tipping point.
One issue that is a problem when discussing these theories of societal collapse is we tend to think of collapse as something that happens relatively quickly. That is, it happens not just in our lifetime, but overnight. One day things are going along just fine and the next day the wheels are coming off the cart. It is the image of Rome at its peak compared to the image of hairy barbarians scaling the walls. We naturally want to think of collapse as the sudden, unexpected death of society.
Collapse is most likely experienced in fits and starts, with those fits and starts spanning lifetimes. For example, the men who founded the American empire in the early 20th century passed out of this world seeing their creation in the throes of the cultural revolution of the 60’s and 70’s. The so-called greatest generation that inherited the empire from the founders, were re-engineering American society so their rotten kids would stop rioting in the street and burning the college campus.
The generation that founded the empire probably thought it was headed for collapse, but by that point they were too old to care. It did not collapse. American society stabilized, regained its footing and started to recover in the 1980’s and 1990’s, with the great economic and technological boom. Ironically, the baby boomers are experiencing what their grandparents experienced as they head for the void. They are seeing what appears to be the collapse of American society in a spasm of multicultural rage.
A half century ago, California was the epicenter of the cultural revolution that threatened to collapse society. It is the test bed for the multicultural favela the rage heads in the ruling class have planned for the nation. Today, they have rolling blackouts in a third world effort to keep from setting the state on fire. Their efforts to manage air pollution, a great crusade in the 1860’s and 1970’s, is beginning to fail. Their pension system is effectively bankrupt, just waiting to collapse in the next decade.
In other words, the spasm of decline and near collapse of a half century ago was part of a cycle of decline. This crisis will probably be followed by some correction, where things settle for a while, but never return to the prior normal. Just as the 1980’s never reached the level of social accomplishment of the post-war years, the next period of tranquility will fall far short of the 1980’s and 1990’s. It will simply be an interregnum between one period of crisis and the next, another step down the ladder of collapse.
At some point, the old social capital of the prior greatness is exhausted. The Romans were a spent people for over century before the collapse. In fact, they were arguably done in the third century. The real question about the late Roman Empire is how it managed to stagger on for so long. That may be where we are now in present day America. The next step down the ladder of decline may be so unstable that the weight of past error crashed society through to the bottom.
The case for this theory of collapse is the rapidly shrinking white middle-class. It’s not just shrinking as an economic institution, but as a cultural one. The dominant culture today is one that celebrates degeneracy and barbarism. Bourgeois culture remains, but unlike the 1980’s, it is not front and center, offering a stabilizing point to arrest the cultural turmoil of the day. The antidote to what’s happening today is not a man in a sundress demanding the rest of us pretend he is a girl.
In addition to the shrinking influence of bourgeois white culture, there is the growing sense that what’s left of America is not worth saving. Everyday, more and more white people come to the conclusion that the people they see in politics, the media and popular culture are incompatible with the world they want for themselves and their decedents. That old bourgeois white culture is looking at America like the family exhausted by an alcoholic relative. It’s time to cut our losses.
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