Tuesday, October 30, 2007
the collapse gap
the longer rumination, in three parts, follows: part one, part two, and part three. the article is put forward by one dmitry orlov, a survivor of the collapse of soviet russia.
there's a tremendous risk here of a sort of depressive hubris -- that the problems of our times must be the grandest problems, the collapses the most spectacular collapses, the failures the most gutwrenching failures. many more thoughtful people died awaiting tragedies that never came than lived to see their worst fears realized.
all the same, the lessons are not to be ignored -- particularly when it is becoming clear that the civilizational problem of peak oil is not far off, when the epicenter of the global banking system is caught in a homegrown debt disaster that could easily catapult the imperial construct down a very dark road.
this is a society where less than 1% work on a farm and are capable of and skilled in sustaining themselves with food. this is a society that is completely dependent on cheap individuated private transport -- virtually its entire layout and infrastructure, less than 80 years old, revolves around the concept. it isn't impertinent to ask: when the end does come, how would highly-civilized (or, much more correctly, highly specialized) americans survive it?
evolution is often thought of by those who understand it little as a constant march of progress toward ever-higher forms. but this is not so. forms evolve to take advantage of their conditions -- and when the conditions are static for long periods, forms become highly specialized and therefore highly efficient -- but also inflexible and fragile.
orlov here is diagnosing anglophone western civilization as just such a highly-attenuated form -- one more susceptible than other, rougher forms to change. i would be hard pressed to say he was wrong. as was noted by spengler and toynbee the better part of a century ago, the technical responses our civilization is now producing in an effort to mitigate its problems have the unintended effect of multiplying them even as they place ever greater burdens of inflexibility upon the society. even if technical responses are concocted to alleviate problems like peak oil and global warming, they will almost certainly be breeding grounds of unintended consequences -- just as fossil fuels were once seen as the salvation of western man. and they will do so as the west comes under ever greater assault from beyond the limes.