Is Civilisation on the Verge of Collapse? What Happens If it Does?

I think this view is too sanguine about the prospects of recovery from collapse. It concentrates on energy resources as essential to the industrial revolution, but in fact it depended upon the easy availability of a wide variety of natural resources, many of which have been depleted and can be obtained today only with the aid of technology which would be lost in the collapse. A society attempting to rebuild after a catastrophic collapse may have to mine the landfills and rubble of cities from their ancestors to find what they need.

A good book about the mechanics of civilisational collapse is Dimitry Orlov’s The Five Stages of Collapse.

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I, for one, cannot begin to imagine what all it would take to rebuild civilization were it to collapse. Think another 1,000 years of the Dark Ages. And all those who have become accustomed to all the benefits OF civilization (like indoor plumbing, for instance, or air conditioning) would be SOOL.

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It depends on the specific form of the collapse, which is far too unpredictable to allow for generalizations. For example, a good-going nuclear war which wiped out the Northern Hemisphere might leave a largely intact Brazil. That Brazil has oil and steel mills and could continue to thrive, albeit suffering a few steps back due to the loss of Chinese manufactured products.

A genuine pandemic (as opposed to the CovidScam) might eliminate even two thirds of the human population, leaving over 2 Billion human beings spread around the world. High probability that at least some of those survivors would be able to organize themselves effectively.

What about the geologically-unavoidable coming next Ice Age? It would take place over multiple generations, and probably still leave some habitable space on the planet. A cosmological X-ray blast would probably wipe out humans only on the half of the world facing the wrong direction, leaving some seeds of humanity to survive. Similarly, an asteroid collision would definitely be a Bad Day, but technological civilization is now so widely spread around the globe that at least some pockets might survive.

In all of those scenarios, the probability is that some elements of human society would survive, from which regrowth would spread sooner or later. It would be different from today – but civilization say 60 years (3 generations) from now will be very different from today even without some catastrophic event. That which cannot continue … won’t!

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Not addressed in this somewhat rosy scenario is the complexity factor, which underlies virtually every service provided and item manufactured in the world today. Attempts to put Humpty Dumpty back together again will very likely be frustrated by some small missing item or bit of essential knowledge in every undertaking. My sense is that reconstitution would be slower and more fitful than described; count me among those who think in terms of millennium- and not decade- length restoration. And we ought not omit thinking of the selection pressures which would be at work. I do not envisage a “kinder, gentler” or compliant surviving population, or one disposed to quibble over novel pronouns, for example, after humanity has ‘transitioned’ to glow-in-the-dark. This may come about following, say, a nuclear holocaust rendition of collapse or via inadvertent m-RNA insertion of luciferin/luciferinase - or the like - into our genes in another misguided globalist effort to eradicate the scourge of the common cold, for instance (somebody, somewhere might die from the coronaviruses which cause colds; thus the authorities will feel fully justified to require universal ‘vaccination’).

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We are in strong agreement that recovering from Elite Insanity will be a long process – multi-generational, to burn out the stupidity implanted in the masses. There was a reason the Israelites had to spend 40 years in the wilderness – those who had been brought up as slaves and had absorbed that ethos first had to exit stage left.

But, to give way to optimism, centuries are more likely than millennia. There will be obstacles in accessing some resources, as John W. points out. When the original Industrial Revolution began, English peons could pick up coal on the beaches, and mines were mostly shallow drifts into hillsides. But other resources will be plentiful after the collapse, such as the metals in cars & buildings.

What history does tell us is that the future reconstitution is rather unlikely to be focused on today’s West. Human progress continued after the great civilizations in Egypt, Persia, and Rome crumbled – but that progress mostly took place elsewhere. For the West, I am afraid, the dog has barked and the caravan is now moving on.

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Romans did that in Rome during the Middle Ages. They mined marble from ancient building to build new structures or and slaked it for quicklime to use in mortar.

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Well, this “West”. Much of what made the West great is still the gold standard for progress. China would not have much of anything if it hadn’t stolen it from the “West”. And the Chinese and like system of social organization is soul-killing and will not lead to entrepreneurship.

But I tend to agree with Civil - it will take a century at least, maybe more. Too much loss of information that will be painfully recovered. In the Dark Ages we had places of light - universities established by Charlemagne in co-operation with the RC church. ?Where do you expect such to exist today. Foundation is closer to what I envision.

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The reverse can also happen! One of the most delightful French towns I’ve ever seen is Les Andelys, a river town dominated by Chateau Gaillard, one of Dickie Plantagenet’s piles. ( the name means sump’n like mensch, strongman, champion). But après lui, as time went by, the impregnable chateau which had once sheltered, and imprisoned, royalty, came to be used by brigands who stole from the locals and retreated with their loot to the chateau. So the folk petitioned the king to demolish it. But he didnt have to, he just decreed that it was no longer under royal protection, and the people came and carried away the outer redoubts, stone by stone, to build their own hovels.

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You seem to be ignoring the thousands of years of Chinese mercantile tradition which prospered under far more brutal and restrictive regimes and continues to this day. China wasn’t at the forefront of human knowledge during it’s isolationist periods, but they’ve caught up quite quickly and are poised to surpass the west soon. Sheer numbers make this inevitable - the volume of research published in Chinese has been growing rapidly and is even dominant in some fields (like machine learning). Westerners would be wise not to underestimate China based on their lack of respect for intellectual property. In the past, the US also liberally “borrowed” technology from more advanced countries.

The only feasible collapse event I can imagine is global nuclear war. Localized collapse of the US or other powers into civil war is definitely possible, but that probably wouldn’t lead to civilizational collapse or even much decline. After the initial shock, people would adapt and rebuild. Climate change is too slow to be an existential danger to any nation larger than a small island.

I don’t put too much weight on the notion that lack of easy energy would doom future humans to primitive tech levels. Knowledge is widespread and the artifacts of our civilization are everywhere. Alcohol distillation can provide easy energy with very modest demands for technology (just like more advanced biofuels, it’s simply not economical at present compared to fossil fuels, but that would change very quickly if fossil energy disappeared). Windmills and water wheels can be built with extremely primitive technology, and when attached to harvested alternators can supply a decent amount of energy. Alternators and generators aren’t exactly complicated either, basic modern electrical knowledge is enough as long as the ability to make wire and work iron remains.

If enough modern knowledge is preserved, bootstrapping back to nuclear energy production in a relatively short timeframe should be feasible (nuclear resources should be effectively inexhaustible, unlike fossil fuels). I wouldn’t bet on any digital media having the archival longevity to last until it could be retrieved though - the best I’ve seen are some tapes and optical discs having 100+ year lifespans in good conditions, but the equipment needed to read them is not so simple. Modern paper books are very high quality and global literacy is higher than it has ever been, so preservation of knowledge might not be so big an issue.

The knowledge to design and produce electronics components and ICs is concentrated in a relatively small number of people in a relatively small number of areas which are probably all strategic targets in the case of nuclear war. The highly specialized and technologically advanced manufacturing processes are not really public knowledge at any real depth. Transistors may be theoretically feasible with primitive tech, but the materials needed would likely necessitate global trade routes that probably wouldn’t exist. At least resistors/capacitors/switches are easy enough, and vacuum tubes/diodes should be possible in some areas, but repair of remnant tech is probably out the question without a century or two of R&D.

Many pharmaceuticals and industrially important chemicals should be possible to produce with low-level tech and modern knowledge, but the skills to do so are likely not as ubiquitous as they should be. The hyper-specialization of the present day strikes me as making our societies somewhat more brittle than they might be otherwise in the face of catastrophe.

Basic agricultural knowledge is fairly widespread even though professional farmers are relatively rare compared to history. Loss of fertilizer supply chains and the short-term effects of trade collapse will kill a lot of people who survive the initial event, but food production shouldn’t be much of an issue after the initial waves of destruction and starvation. In a few generations, the ground where towns and cities once stood could be valuable terra preta.

I’m not sure how dependent modern boat building is on advanced technology, but I suspect the answer is “very”. Destruction of forest areas means that production of wooden vessels is unlikely at any significant scale for the decades to centuries it would take for forests to reclaim the land. Lacking global trade, many areas would not have the native industry or agricultural base necessary for production of sailcloth. The viability of coastal settlements dependent on fishing is likely lower than historically, without even taking into account whatever the effects of nuclear war on ocean life would be. Water-based trade could disappear altogether for many years.

Modern buildings are dependent on steady sources of energy in many climates. Thin walls, lots of windows, hermetically sealed. These will be unlivable very shortly after the power goes out. Most modernized urban areas in very cold or hot climates will have to be abandoned for this reason alone, the unsustainable nature of highly concentrated populations far from agricultural areas will destroy the others.

Political collapse presents the most significant unknown variable affecting the possibility for resurgence. Cultural change in the aftermath of a near-human-extinction event is unpredictable. A probable return to feudalism in many areas would dampen any attempts to rebuild or preserve knowledge and skills. Mass migration would inevitably lead to conflict and banditry. On the other hand, relatively peaceful and egalitarian anarchic/communal societies such as existed in many areas throughout history could re-emerge. Is centralization of authority necessary for rapid technological advancement? How “modern” would the attitude of modern humans be in the face of collapse? Would people raised on democracy and liberal values accept stratified social hierarchies, caste systems, or domination by force? Would they be willing to personally impose them on others?

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In most cases, a state plateaus when another civilization starts gaining power, and sunsets only happens when the other is rapidly growing, as shown on this diagram by Jessie Henshaw:


…which is not to say that true collapse, less frequent as it may be, isn’t a possibility.

The fall of Byzantium to Ottomans led to intellectuals fleeing to Italy in this might in fact have been the root cause for Renaissance:

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Unfortunately we’ve put all our accumulated knowledge into forms that future humans won’t be able to access, while wantonly destroying the codices. Everybody knows “electronic storage” is an oxymoron. We’re rushing toward the Dark Ages. WHY? Is this just the inevitable, natural end of the human trajectory?

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I have made this comment to various people via various platforms numerous times: I don’t think people in the West fear collapse or think it possible because Western collapses typically have another standard bearer waiting to pick up the pieces. There is a sort of arch of history involved with this but when looking at history unfold on a timeline you can see it.

Arbitrarily, I like to start with the birth of Christ since that lands us smack in the middle of the Roman Empire. Sometime around 450 AD, Western Rome fell and was overrun by the barbarians of the Vandals, the Germanic tribes, and the Celts. Byzantine took up the reins and secured our antiquities, including many of our writings about philosophy and government. When Byzantine fell to the Islamists, the Holy Roman Empire (a Europeanized Roman Empire) picked up the flag and marched us into the feudal period. (This is what many people call the “Dark Ages” but it was anything but Dark.) During this period various little “kingdoms” sprang up and each pursued its own method of securing the safety of ancient ways of thinking and doing. (Many perpetuated by Catholic monks by the way.) But then feudalism gave way to the great power empires that sprung up during the Renniasance (sorry not looking up the spelling right now) such as the little republics of Italy, the grand empire of France, Spain, and Holland (believe it or not). Finally, the British Empire entered the scene. As the European empires rose and fell, Britain managed to combine the philosophical, governmental, and cultural elements that had been preserved by the preceding centuries into a single, liberty inducing global phenomena. As Britain fell, the US picked up that standard and carried it into the 21st Century. So you see, the supposed inherent ethos of liberty, philosophy, and innovation always seemed to have a worthy successor waiting to pick up the pieces, expand on the parts making them better, and then have a good run of existing.

Now, we stand around and look at who is left to pick up this banner of what I actually like to equate to Natural Law. Who is left? All the old powers of Europe are dead and any fealty to liberty was snuffed out in those countries a long time ago. Any legitimate candidates in South America? Not really. What about Sub-Saharan Africa? Laughable. The Middle East? HAHA!! Those boy loving Satan worshipers couldn’t secure a freaking their ass from a hole in the ground. SE Asia? Not likely. Japan–possibly the best candidate–is not breeding and soon there will be more uneaten shark fins than actual Japanese alive. Australia? Similar breeding problem, plus they have given up the ship regarding any notion of liberty. Russia? Not only are they not breeding, but those who are alive are either riddled with AIDS or with alcoholism. China? They seem the only country poised for success but that is going to be short lived as they have 3 men for every 1 woman and breeding will eventually catch up to them–if it hasn’t already.

No, there is no country to which one can point and declare this is the rightful heir. Even for those countries that would be disasterous for liberty, they too have a long term problem in that they may not have populations past 2050 (in ethnic terms mind you). It’s not that we are heading into dark times that we will one day, maybe 500 years from now, crawl out of and reconstitute man’s last best hope on earth. No we are walking headlong into the final chapter folks. Humanity has run its course. We aint’ “sailing” away to Mars or some distant dork utopia where science is supreme. Your little tech gadgets are not going to save us in little space pods that we “float” in until we crash upon the Plymoth Rock of some distant galaxy. We are done. Game over. Embrace the suck.

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Normally, I am the most pessimistic guy in the room – but I have just given my pinball crown to 1789 Libertarian.

Yes, Our Betters have put us on a path to catastrophe. The years and decades ahead are going to be very hard for everyone – although I suspect they are going to be harder for the female bureaucrat in a government office than for a peasant in Bangladesh. But this will not be the final chapter.

The hope lies in the breakdown of the source of our current problems – which is current political structures. After the current Political Class and their Running Dogs meet their inevitable end, there will be massive numbers of seeds spread around the world from which civilization could spring anew. Just like in a garden, many of those seeds will die – but a few will be in the right places and will thrive. For sure, we are going to lose many of the aspects of current life that we treasure, from micro-electronics to symphony orchestras, but human beings will survive and breed and learn. Generational change offers the great hope of renewal.

The process may take one generation (a couple of decades) or five generations (a century) or longer – but it will happen. The interesting issue is whether, accepting that collapse is inevitable, we should be thinking now about building institutions analogous to the Irish monasteries which preserved so much of value after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire?

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Good luck. As I have said here: this is the end.

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Just in case anyone needs another dose of doom, let me recommend Martin Hutchinson’s latest contribution:
The Bear’s Lair: The Incredible Shrinking U.S. Economy | True Blue Will Never Stain (tbwns.com)

"U.S. non-farm labor productivity declined at a 4.6% annual rate in the second quarter of 2022, following a 7.4% decline in the first quarter. Although predictable from the expansive employment numbers and the declining GDP, this is shocking news, which the media have largely ignored. There also seems little likelihood of a near-term reversal. …

With this current and steadily increasing level of policy “radioactivity” the shrinking of the U.S. economy is likely to continue. This will have a very unpleasant effect on living standards, as a relentless supply of low-cost, unskilled immigrants provides murderous competition for low-skill domestic workers.

The devastating continued decline in U.S. living standards will have an effect on U.S. geopolitical influence. The country will no longer be able to afford its current global commitments. That will have most unpleasant effects …"

However, even a doom-meister like Mr. Hutchinson cannot restrain himself from a final burst of optimism:

“There is only one solution. The radioactive cloud of destructive policies must be destroyed, so that the U.S. economy … can cease shrinking and resume its previous contented existence. There is still time to achieve this, but not much!”

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Kind of my point. China has long had repressive ruling. They aren’t stupid people yet didn’t come up with many of the seriously transforming inventions the West did. Today you are right - they have done much to catch up. I still question their quality and the fact most of what they know is stolen tech from the West they have improved upon - maybe. I still believe a knife made in China is garbage. Or a tool.

I am not minimizing China. Any totalitarian state is dangerous - even ours (and they’re looking more and more totalitarian every day). What I don’t see is the innovation one would expect from a large nation or society. Even the Russians are better at innovation than the Chinese; perhaps because they have more “Western” influence in their society than China does.

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The US will break up. Its internal contradictions are too large to continue. There will be a great sorting of people, hopefully less violent than India & Pakistan. It’s starting already. Libertarians, and freedom lovers of all stripes, are moving to New Hampshire.

The great danger of this is that we know that freedom creates prosperity, and the people who hate freedom love prosperity, so they may also move to New Hampshire. This may be ameliorated by making sure that there are no benefits to be had there by not working.

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The interesting thing, at least if you believe the publicity from the Free State Project, is that the sorting out appears to be going in both directions, with leftists either moving out of New Hampshire or deciding not to go there due to the radical libertarian conspiracy there bent on leaving everybody alone.

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John, love the Meme!!

New Hamshire is NOT the answer. If so why is it so damned hard to get a liberty minded state government elected? They are Blue in just about every state-wide office that matters according to my outside-looking-in perspective. Where is the liberty?!! This isn’t to say that Red states like TExas or Florida are panaceas but I would wager I have more liberties where it matters in those states than I would in NH. Plus, any state that is going to be prosperous after the break-up will need at least one deep ocean port and I don’t think NH has that.

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NH is Blue for federal offices, but Red for state offices.
NH has no income taxes, nor sales taxes. Government spending is being cut.
NH has Portsmouth. It’s a deep ocean port.

Your ignorance of these items makes me think that your conclusions are incorrect.

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