The five stages of collapse

March 23rd, 2008


For those of you who haven’t bookmarked Jonathan Larson’s site, Elegant Technology, here’s another reminder to do it now. Today, the inbasket had another choice piece that he’d found and forwarded:

The Five Stages of Collapse

Here’s a snippet to chill your innards:

Stages of Collapse

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost. The future is no longer assumed resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out, and access to capital is lost.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down, and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for “kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity” (Turnbull, The Mountain People). Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes “May you die today so that I die tomorrow” (Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago). There may even be some cannibalism.

Although many people imagine collapse to be a sort of elevator that goes to the sub-basement (our Stage 5) no matter which button you push, no such automatic mechanism can be discerned. Rather, driving us all to Stage 5 will require that a concerted effort be made at each of the intervening stages. That all the players seem poised to make just such an effort may give this collapse the form a classical tragedy – a conscious but inexorable march to perdition – rather than a farce (“Oops! Ah, here we are, Stage 5.” – “So, whom do we eat first?” – “Me! I am delicious!”) Let us sketch out this process.

Sooooo… now that your appetite is whetted, here’s the link again for the whole thing:

The Five Stages of Collapse

One Response to “The five stages of collapse”

  1. Michael LeBeau Says:

    This is very important. We continue to only place our efforts in the context of environmental impact, land use and other politically framed boxes. We act as if we are still only 3 million and have growing energy supplies. That situation ended quite awhile ago but few noticed. We are now 6.6+ billion and oil production is peaking, North American Nat. Gas production is past peak, coal will destroy us and we are stiil ramming on as if nothing has changed.

    We are facing huge and unprecedented dual challenges of 1.) The collapse of an untenable economic system based totally on unsustainable unlimited growth and 2.) Rapidly depleting resources (including but not limited to energy and relative to larger than ever population pressure). None of our politically driven efforts will ever be able to respond to this (let alone even say the words) and widespread denial will define the rest of the story. There is theoretically time to act but the powers that drive the conversation will insure that all efforts will not go where they would need to.

    Cabin pressure is falling and it is time to “Secure your own oxygen mask before attempting to assist others”.

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