Coping With Collapse: Updated Poster

2023 update to this 2019 poster; right click and open in a separate tab to view or print full-size
Dire warnings about imminent or ongoing economic or ecological collapse always used to be followed by obligatory “It might not be too late; here’s what we need to do” conclusions. But recently, many of the leading writers about collapse have ceased proffering ‘solutions’ or even ‘preparations’ for it, because we can’t possibly know precisely how collapse will unfold, or its timeline.

Instead, writers about collapse are acknowledging it as a natural and inevitable consequence of large-scale systems that fall out of sustainable equilibrium. But this is cold comfort to those of us who, naturally, want to “do something” about it.

Collapse is not a new phenomenon, and it occurs at many levels and to many different types of unsustainable systems. So I’ve begun to think about how people have coped in the past with the collapse of other systems — ecosystems, businesses, military campaigns, nations, and even systems of thought. If it’s all going sideways and you can’t fix it, mitigate its effects, or prepare for it, what can you do?

If your army is facing certain defeat, how do you deal with that reality? An orderly retreat makes sense, rather than denial or panic. Same thing if your business is insolvent and facing bankruptcy, or if your product is becoming obsolete because of competitor innovations.

If you’re a gatherer or hunter, and epidemics or floods or fires or other ecological changes have suddenly depleted available resources, what do you do? Yell at the gods, or move on to another area? Pray for salvation, or adapt in place? If your country is being balkanized because it no longer meets the needs of its diverse citizens, do you embark on a civil war, or renegotiate a confederation of nations that makes more sense for all? If your Theory of Everything suddenly comes apart because of new scientific evidence that totally undermines it, do you try to kill the messengers, or do you start over, with a new theory that the evidence supports?

The answers to these questions depend, of course, on the context. But generally, denial, rage, panic, blaming others, and doubling down are pretty bad strategies.

I wrote about collapse preparation a couple of years ago, before CoVid-19, suggesting we might be better off learning to be more adaptable so that we’re ready for anything, rather than trying to prepare for a specific scenario that might never arise.

In the intervening period, we have seen enormous fragility and vulnerability of many of the collapsing systems of our culture, political, economic, ecological and social. There’s also a growing consensus that dealing with collapse is going to require strong communities, and in much of the world people now live in huge cities, or in isolated or polarized areas, where there is often little or no sense of community at all.

So I’ve updated my “Being Adaptable: Reminders to Myself” poster to include more on community-building, autonomy, creativity, and dealing with loss, since it may be time to start devoting some more attention and energy to these important aspects of adaptability.

Here are a few notes on the changes:

  • I’ve reworded the “reminders” so they’re in the first person instead of the second
  • I’ve added cooperation and acceptance to the 3rd reminder; I’ve found it helps to keep reminding myself, again and again: We’re all doing our best; no one is ‘to blame’ for the mess we find ourselves in.
  • I’ve added the suggestion that I rationalize all the disparate ‘communities’ I am a part of, and home in on trying to move them from virtual to face-to-face physical communities, as the timeline for the end of air travel looms closer. I know who I’d love to have on my ‘team’ helping my local community fend with widespread system collapse, and right now they’re all over the place, in more senses than one.
  • I’ve also acknowledged that the community I am in when all hell breaks loose is going to have to consist of people who have skills and passions I lack, and vice versa, and that’s a good thing, though it will take some adjustment to learn to “love people [in my community] I don’t particularly like”.
  • I’ve added a clause on helping to build sustainable, truly collaborative, cooperative local enterprises that care about meeting real needs, so that my community will be a little better able to deal with the collapse of large corporations, large systems (health care, energy, education, food, infrastructure), and the disappearance of most global trade.
  • I’ve added a clause on creativity and imagination, because unless we encourage and enable more of this (the trend is in the opposite direction), we will be unable to come up with necessary innovations to deal with what are now likely unimaginable and novel new challenges.
  • And I’ve added a clause on letting go, which I am currently very incompetent at. I hate admitting I was wrong, I hate losing things and ways of living I’m attached to. I am going to have to be more agile in changing my beliefs, and changing my ways of doing things, than I have been in past, and not take such losses so personally.

I hope you find the updated poster useful, or at least interesting, as the challenges of coping with collapse deepen. These “reminders” remain mostly about how to be (when TSHTF), rather than what to do, because it’s still too early to know with any certainty what we will have to do.

If there are other “reminders” that are helping you deal with the accelerating crises of our time, I’d be interested in hearing them.

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2 Responses to Coping With Collapse: Updated Poster

  1. Joe Clarkson says:

    I find it helpful to remind myself of the components of the physiological foundation layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and always be thinking about how to prepare to satisfy those needs should industrial civilization collapse. It’s always easier if one’s village or community is working to that same end, but if you can’t meet these needs, you die (and survival is the precursor to everything else).

    From Wikipedia:

    Physiological needs
    Physiological needs are the base of the hierarchy. These needs are the biological component for human survival. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, physiological needs are factored into internal motivation. According to Maslow’s theory, humans are compelled to satisfy physiological needs first to pursue higher levels of intrinsic satisfaction.[1] To advance higher-level needs in Maslow’s hierarchy, physiological needs must be met first. This means that if a person is struggling to meet their physiological needs, they are unwilling to seek safety, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization on their own.

    Physiological needs include:


  2. hilary says:

    Thank you, Dave. I shall be repeating to myself ‘a thousand small sanities’, since this is true even when we aren’t seeing them in the moment.

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