Monday, October 19, 2009

The Nature Of The Collapse

The ArchDruid (John Michael Greer) has written another fine post, "The Twilight of Money"

Most of it I agree with completely. All of it I agree with in principle.

I've posted a concise and polite question, concerning this on his site. But my comments don't seem to appear there anymore. I've posted counter arguments to some of his theories that he hasn't countered with logic or facts, to my satisfaction anyway. I also posted an argument that he disproved, and I accepted. If he's locked me out, I can't be sure for which it might be.

Now in his current argument, what I'm not so sure about, is his point that our current bubble, and the collapse following it, is essentially the same as prior collapses. That all we're seeing is a difference in scale. This argument is an old one. On many levels, it holds true. Especially on the upswing and for the short term the downswing. Further out, there is some serious room for argumentation.

Now the trend has been...,
After every prior collapse, on the following upswing, technology became more sophisticated, and populations swelled to new highs. This was possible, because with each fall, there were still regions of the world with untapped bounties in resources. A bit of improved technology opened those up, and a civilization rose again, to reach new highs.

Of course, not every civilization that rose from the ashes of older ones, exceeded the previous one. But the historical trend has been upwards.

And here we are, at what appears to be, an apex. And it's an apex looking over a cliff.

If we look at the meaningful resources available to us, every single one of them is decline. And still we are working to harvest them faster and faster, while our population and hunger grows. With the peak of conventional oil in the rear view mirror, our civilization is in the opening stages of it's collapse. As predicted, we're trying to move to a purely economic system that attempts to replace industry and jobs, with nothing but the free flow of freshly minted monies.

The ArchDruid covers this in his post. And rightly argues that other civilizations did a similar thing.

In closing, he makes this comment, "A similar trajectory almost certainly waits in the future of our own economic system, though what use the shepherds who pasture their flocks on the Mall in the ruins of a future Washington DC will find for vast stacks of Treasury bills is not exactly clear."

And in this statement, he and I may be seeing our divergence. In the past, John has argued that after our civilization has ended, we will evolve into an enlightened society. Our technology will grow beyond the bounds we enjoy today. And this civilization will live in peace and harmony with the Earth.

I assume he still believes this. This was a point of disagreement between him and I. I don't see how this enlightenment will occur, without an enlightened power, forcing our evolution to this state. I don't believe that we can do it, and I don't think the odds of alien intervention is high. Absent an evolutionary force to drive us to enlightenment, I think the traditional evolutionary forces will dominate our development.

But even so, isn't such an argument, a divergence from the historical model? If our fall, leads to us evolving into a more enlightened species, then isn't that a strong divergence from the trend, making this cycle a dramatic departure from the previous ones?

As my readers are aware, I don't put much stock into the idea that we'll become an enlightened species, some time after the fall. John suggests that it may take a thousand years or more. In my view it might as well be millions or billions, this is not a direction that evolution naturally takes a species. Evolution pushes species to change, to fill empty niches in the ecology. And after the fall, with homo sapiens being the dominant species on the planet, we're likely to begin filling those niches and diverging. In this view, we are likely to fill predator and prey roles. Enlightenment will take a back seat to survival and the steady ecological pressure to restore balance between the species and populations.

Our descendants won't have an abundant endowment of fossil fuels to drive a new era of scientific advancement. They'll have to go back to making things by hand. As we're eliminating old growth forests, even a civilization powered by charcoal is out of the question, until the planet heals itself, assuming we let it.

This fall, will be hard and dramatic. If it does resemble a historical precedent, than Easter Island is likely the best one. But we never saw Easter Island play out. We interrupted it before the descendants could show us what may happen next.

In this fall, there will be no resource rich civilization to break our decline and lift the world to new highs again. There will be no place to escape to. There will be no gradual decline, spanning many generations.

This decline is missing many of the safety values, that prevented us from coming even close to extinction. This decline may cause our extinction, and at best will drive our numbers so low, that our descendants will evolve into new species, and so homo sapiens will become extinct. This is what evolution does to species that undergo a bottleneck event in a changing environment.

So I think that the differences are large enough to confidently say, this time is different. But this is not a very happy message of hope.

I know I've promised more garden pictures and upbeat posts. Folks have pointed out that I'd get more readers if my posts were not so depressing. JMG publishes such upbeat posts. He gives folks hope and tries to put events into a nicer perspective. I truly believe that he believes what he writes. I enjoy much of what he writes, and I respect him for his views.

However, I don't believe that the evidence leads us onto the garden path. So I can't in good conscience write as if it does. We will have good days and bad days. All through the decline, there will be sunny days and gloomy days. This is what life is. This is our place on the Great Mandela. Make the most of it. We still have time to live full lives, if we only learn to embrace the good things that we have in the here and now.

If there is one thing that I have learned, as I've lived through the apex and the opening days of the decline, is that each day is a blessing and the misery comes from yearning for what we can't have. We live in a society that teaches us that we have a right and a duty, to take more than we need, and to hunger for what we don't have. If we can't do this, then we are diminished as human beings. This is perhaps our biggest failure as a society. Our failure to recognize when enough of something, is plenty.

JMG and I don't diverge in my view, much on anything that matters to the here and now. We preach much of the same things. From that perspective, it doesn't matter which of us is more correct, about what happens in the coming decades. We both argue that folks should be preparing to for harder times now, so that when they come, they won't seem so hard.

"Better eat it up now, you don't know if you're going to eat tomorrow." - My Late Grandpa Albert


At 12:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I share your concern above. Great job writing it out with integrity. I personally believe we all gotta say what we need to say and not what we think folks want to hear.

As to gardens, well they are really just an assortment of wild things we chose to nurture. Footsteps become paths as more people head that way also.


At 1:20 PM, Blogger Publius said...

Hey, good post.
I have some of the same issues with JMG the Archdruid. What is infuriating is that he is so well-read and insightful, that he almost never seems to consider the idea that he might be wrong.
One of his main refrains is that decline and fall have all happened before, therefore the real doomsayers are just rehashing religious apocalyptic visions.

I agree with you here: Peak Oil (after the age of oil) is, from a qualitative perspective, a unique event. So unique collapses do occur. The one that results from the closing off of the most concentrated and cheap liquid fuel in history is a unique event.
It will be a crash unlike any other. The future is unknown. The bottleneck is real. Our current path is to run into the wall harder.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Weaseldog said...

It's folks like JMG and Mark Denninger that have made me do a bit of soul searching on occasion.

So far, none of my loyal readers have really tested me, with any serious disagreement. Sometimes I wonder what I'm doing wrong, I surely can't be right about everything! :)

My policy has been for sometime, to never delete a comment, just on the basis of disagreement.

I have deleted comments. A few were a string of vulgarities and insults ending with a speech about how I was infringing on that person's right to free speech. One was an ad for a timeshare.

I'm always looking for a chance to be proven wrong. I seem to learn something every time that happens. :)

I think perhaps that I just enjoy arguing more than those folks do.

At 4:37 PM, Blogger an average patriot said...

Looks like JMG doesn't want to hear the truth!

We need health care reform to mend the average Americans economy.

That said I firmly believe and I believe Obama agrees, that new technology and improvements will get us out of this one too.

Particularly as we talked about before, whoever discovers the next new energy source will own the future if we don't destroy it first!

At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So far, none of my loyal readers have really tested me, with any serious disagreement.

It could be that you are preaching to the choir, huh?

While I think the idea of becoming an enlightened and somehow evolved species can spur social movement - indeed, such thoughts have accompanied revolutions, I suspicion that ultimately humans follow the same behavioral patterns in the macro.

No offense to the average patriot above, but expecting Technology to save us is not the same as taking responsibility for our situation, it's implications and thus, the consequences of our actions... i.e., over consumpsion, depletion of resources, poisoning of environment. Until we do that, we are doooooooooooomed to keep doing it and then, weasledog is correct.


At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The path to enlightenment will only come through pain, lots of it. Humans will not change voluntarily, our temporal nature and biological drive to life preclude a true cooperative on a grand scale. I expect nuclear, biological, and conventional war. A general environmental trashing, a huge dieoff, reverse evolution, a loss of technology, and finally genetic permutations will reduce us back to toxic slugs.

At 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yup; the Archdruid has a history of these kinds of shenanigans. He booted Jason Godesky (of on a spurious invocation of the irritating "Godwin's Law" (So-called).

The man does not tolerate challenges to his worldview - which only makes him come across as brittle.

It's a common character flaw on the doom end of the spectrum, it seems. Agree with my version of the Apocalypse, or else.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Weaseldog said...

Well, my comment did appear on his post. So he approved it.

He hasn't answered it yet.

At 5:08 AM, Blogger Bukko_in_Australia said...

You get banned by a lot of people, doncha? Except I guess the Druid didn't actually do it. But I think that people who have well-reasoned positions that challenge the mindset of the blogowner are less tolerated than the ranting crazies. They can be ignored and laughed at, but someone who's sensible... Now THAT'S a threat!

As for why you don't get countered here, I say "confirmation bias." People tend to read stuff they agree with. I sure do. Not to the exclusion of everything else, but I've formulated a worldview through lots of reading and thinking. I don't need to read about Muslim communist apocalyptic world takeovers and that tripe. If I wanted that, I'd go to Edgar's conspiracy blog.

As for where it all ends, my bet is on "peak population" and a rollback. You've seen commentary on how each Great Depression ends when the basis of civilisation changes to meet the new circumstances. I reckon the new paradigm will be lessening numbers of humans. That could be a good thing if it leads to fewer people sharing slices of a fair-sized pie. Every remaining human gets more!

The question is whether it will be a violent, nasty collapse like Edgar always forecasts, or if it will be a controlled descent. They're not mutually exclusive. You could have catastrophic contraction in much of Africa and lots of undeveloped Asia -- probably even China. But there might still be places that do like Chesley Sullenberger did with the Airbus into the Hudson. New Zealand, maybe Oz, hopefully Europe -- I hope those places are smart enough to have a good crash landing.

Not sure which way the U.S. will go. But I'm sure not moving back THERE, just in case.

At 6:58 AM, Blogger Weaseldog said...

I think my getting kicked from sites, has a lot to do with the fact that I enjoy reading commentaries that differ from my own. At least from people that appear to have an outlook I can learn from.

So I'm much more likely to be reading Karl Denninger that Rush Limbaugh.

At 10:46 PM, Blogger Bukko_in_Australia said...

Yeah, I'm also aware of my preference for confirmation bias. The difficulty is to find "conservative" sites that have something rational to say; that aren't Glenn Beck "Obama is appointing secret Maoists to his administration!" bullshit. At least by reading sites like TAE and Mish, and to a certain extent, Keith's "Soot and Ashes" blog, I can get a squizz at the mindset of people who aren't lefties like myself.

I got started on that Archdruid piece you linked to, and he made an interesting point about how so much of life has moved into "abstraction." A fascinating "meta" viewpoint on life. As one would expect from an Arch Druid...


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