Why We Cannot Prevent Collapse

my own graphic; right click on image to open in a new tab and enlarge or download

Yes, I know — every box in the ‘vicious cycle’ graphic above is hugely debatable. But you know, I’m just tired of debating it. I think it describes what’s going on in the world both at an individual and at a collective level, for just about all 8 billion of us mildly deranged apes, reflected in our public behaviours, our public discourse, and in the heads of people I’ve met of every political persuasion and position of authority.

Derrick Jensen famously said that if we pay attention to the natural world and ‘listen to the land’ we will know just what to do. That’s the ‘know’ in quotation marks in this chart, which attempts to explain why, for very human reasons, although we ‘know’, we don’t, with few exceptions, and can’t collectively at any scale, do anything about it.

I’ve used “mass coherent collective action” (aka “the Great Turning”) as the example of salvationist thinking in the chart; it’s the “humanist” style of salvation myth of most people I know. I could have easily used any of the other classical or current salvation myths — the rapture, nuclear fusion, carbon capture, geoengineering, “great transition”, neosurvivalism, posthumanism etc — they all serve the same useless (in practical terms) comforting function. Nothing wrong with them as long as they’re seen for what they are, and are not.

Thanks for the inspiration to a number of collapsnik writers who have been musing helpfully on this subject, particularly about personal and collective human agency, about our human propensity to obfuscate and put out of mind truths we don’t want to deal with, and about our inclination for disingenuous wishful thinking — including Erik Michaels, Indrajit Samarajiva, and Tim Morgan.

It’s great to be reading the work of others who appreciate that there are no answers to such predicaments, nothing to feel ashamed about, and no one to blame, and that it’s enough to just try to understand and explain what is happening. I think we owe that much to ourselves, all of us doing our weary best, and I think we owe it, too, to the future inhabitants of this planet, human and/or more-than-human, that will live with the mostly unintended consequences of our efforts and our presence here.

This entry was posted in Collapse Watch, How the World Really Works, Illusion of the Separate Self and Free Will, Our Culture / Ourselves. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Why We Cannot Prevent Collapse

  1. Joe Clarkson says:

    “Collapse” is just the resolution of overshoot, the decline of a population to a level below carrying capacity. Carrying capacity can be exceeded for a short time when a non-renewable resource becomes available, but once carrying capacity is exceeded, collapse is inevitable, regardless of species.

    My estimate is that the human population has exceeded carrying capacity by at least 7.5 billion. The dieoff of that many people will be horrific to be sure, but there is nothing we can do about it.

  2. foglight says:

    Love this graphic & I think it’s right on (also love the musings of Indrajit & Erik!). Regarding the salvation myth, aka “we can fix this! we just need to….”: every time I come across this, which is daily, it reminds me how so many of those who do understand science don’t understand humans. “We” 8 billion humans need to “listen to the land”? “We” 8 billion humans just need to coordinate our actions to transform our way of life? I can’t even get my 4 family members to agree on a time to clean out the garage. I wonder if those who speak so glibly of what “we” need to do have ever immersed themselves in different countries, cultures, languages, where the vantage point is completely different from their own.

    Nope, we cannot prevent collapse. It’s happening now, in a neighborhood near you & me.

  3. Steve Bull says:

    Interesting points, and I love the graphic. One of the areas I’ve explored a bit would be those psychological mechanisms that impact our thinking in the realm of inevitable ‘collapse’ (e.g., cognitive dissonance reduction, deference to authority, justification hypothesis, groupthink, etc.) and gets back towards the idea that we deny reality to reduce the significant anxiety it causes (i.e., Ajit Varki’s thesis of the mind over reality transition). Because not only is ‘collapse’ a recurrent theme in complex society ‘evolution’ (i.e., Tainter’s thesis in The Collapse of Complex Societies) but we have compounded this cycle of expansion/contraction with global ecological overshoot…talk about anxiety provoking.

  4. Ruben (Butch) Nelson says:

    Thanks for the graphic. It stimulates me to see and think through why it is a good first draft, but no more than that and what a better 2nd draft would change.

  5. Rick Lizio says:

    We are caught in the self reinforcing feedback loop of highly focused self interest. Hierarchical systems are not sustainable by their very structure. The tree of life is not a hierarchy. It is a wholarchy. There is a kind of honor system to not take too much. Feedback loops of life and death. Humans are chasing immortality at a personal level, like an individual cancer cell. No reverence for the miracle of the wholarchy we are part of. Hell bent on a short term domination fantasy. We suffer from amnesia of who and what we are. A mutated primate out of context. The blind leading the blind. Our collective immaturity is on the path of collective suicide. Side effects and warnings everywhere. Blindly disregarded. If we were really awake we would power down to life support only and reduce our numbers as empathically as possible to a realistic level. Overshoot is a bitch. We lack the collective intelligence, social coherence and wisdom to do so. Love Rick

  6. Paul Reid-Bowen says:

    You might enjoy Andrew Boyd’s flow chart from his ‘I want a Better Catastrophe’ (my book of the year so far). Available here: https://bettercatastrophe.com/flowchart

  7. Paul Reid-Bowen says:

    The mechanisms by which humanity is able not to think about, perceive or take action with regard to collapse are always impressive – but not too surprising as an evolved species with far more parochial and narrow concerns. We are a fascinating composite of homo faber (‘good at building shit’), homo fictus (‘good at making shit up’), homo religiosus (‘good at believing the shit we do is exceptional, special or transcendent’) and homo ludens (‘good at playing with our shit’). No doubt we’ll keep working, story-telling, believing and amusing ourselves to death through collapse and beyond …

Comments are closed.