How Close Are We, Really, to Societal Collapse? (Part Two)

  1. How Collapse Actually Happens
  2. An Injustice!
Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

In my original article “How Close Are We, Really, to Societal Collapse?” I discussed how our outdated and erroneous ideas and belief systems are leading us toward catastrophe and societal collapse. In this follow-up article, I’ll explore in greater depth the now-suicidal, specific ideas and belief systems that are leading to a spiraling disaster.

As I see it, there are three (at least!) major, deeply damaging errors that Western civilization keeps making, over and over again, that keep perpetuating and reinforcing each other. The devastating result is that Western — and increasingly, our global — civilization is effectively out of touch with reality.

Put differently: Most of our ideas and attitudes are utterly unrealistic and/or delusional, and as our species has grown more powerful, the ignorant, irresponsible ways we wield our power have all grown exponentially more destructive.

Persistent error #1: Human “separateness” and ecological destructiveness

Whether out of arrogance or ignorance, or both, our civilization(s) keeps perpetuating the absurd idea that human beings and human society are somehow “above” and separate from the natural world. This idea is ridiculous on its face, yet it is extremely common and forms the mental “backdrop,” so to speak, for our science, our economics, and our entire way of life.

Or maybe, in a way, it’s NOT totally ridiculous. Consider this: Since the dawn of human civilization, many (not all) human societies have tried hard to create “separate,” safe bastions that protect us from the vagaries and predatory/dangerous aspects of the natural world. We’ve frequently tried our best to create or bolster this protective shield of “separateness,”… and this made a certain amount of sense until fairly recently.

So what happened more recently? Over the past century, the rapid, explosive growth of the worldwide human population and our exploitative industries and technologies together began to overwhelm the natural systems and ecological balance of our planet Home. Our highly aggressive approach to dealing with the natural world resulted, over several centuries, in our escalating attempts to control and “conquer” nature — and the natural world was initially able to handle and absorb our increasing aggression/manipulation.

But this time is now over. Our world just can’t handle our aggressive, self-serving attitudes and destructive actions anymore (i.e., constantly dumping vast amounts of CO2 into our atmosphere). Collectively, our sheer numbers and the rise of unbridled capitalism and wasteful, addiction-promoting consumerism have turned our imagined “separateness” into a massive problem for both the planet and humanity.

Clearly, if we can’t learn to work with nature instead of against her, our planet’s ecological systems will continue to destabilize, which in turn will utterly destabilize our societies and lead to accelerating social and economic problems and gradual, intensifying collapse.

Persistent error #2: Our dysfunctional, antisocial economic beliefs and systems

Next, there are our economic belief systems and their practical results: our teetering, grossly unfair national economies. All over the world, our separation-based, nature-exploiting industrial and technological systems have led to the aggressive growth of capitalism and the spread of the absurd, ridiculously inequitable “trickle-down” economic theory. Together, these two economic trends have devastated many economies as they shunt more and more of the wealth produced by the working classes into the greedy hands of a tiny group of ultra-rich wealth hoarders.

The underlying problem here is also linked to our persistent notions of “separateness” — except, in this case, it’s the notion that the upper class is separate from, and far above, the lower or working classes. The resulting, widespread societal belief seems to be that the energy and ongoing efforts of the working class should mainly benefit the owners, CEOs, or “captains of industry” who oversee each business or industry. Thus, an unbridgeable social schism/chasm has been created.

Also, instead of creating a humane “social contract” that assures every person a livable income and honors basic human needs, our capitalist systems usually do the opposite: They prevent many, many people from meeting their basic needs; they encourage extreme, damagingly competitive, and antisocial (“I’ll get mine — and no one’s going to stop me!”) attitudes; and they blatantly encourage and support truly grotesque levels of wealth-hoarding.

The bottom line here, it seems to me, is this: Our economic systems are grossly inequitable and ultimately unworkable and dangerous. They’re dangerous because they systematically relegate most people to resentful, stressful lives of indebtedness and “quiet desperation” while simultaneously flaunting the vast “success” of the mega-wealthy and constantly shoving it in everyone’s face via TV, advertising, the Internet, social media, etc. This is a sure recipe for massive social discontent, rising anger and resentment… and eventual social explosions and uprisings.

In other words: Our economic systems are producing — quite intentionally — the extreme, massively unfair economic conditions that will inevitably lead to social uprisings, overt class warfare, and the accelerating collapse of the heartless systems underlying “modern society.”

Persistent error #3: Our continued immersion in a wildly imbalanced and unjust Patriarchy

The above examples are also intertwined with a fundamental imbalance at the very core of our civilization: Our continued, sick enmeshment in the system known as patriarchy.

All over the world, male-dominant systems still prevail, with very few exceptions — and it’s no accident that these same male-dominated systems have produced the wildly unfair and destructive industrial and economic systems that are wrecking the planet, as well as our societies. And, of course, these overly “masculine” systems inherently reject or deny much that is labeled “feminine,” including empathy, caring, compassion, sharing, interdependence, and community.

The scariest thing, to me, is that most of these despised or de-emphasized “feminine” qualities are the exact qualities that are truly indispensable in forming livable, enjoyable human societies. Not only this, but when we reject or ignore our more sensitive, empathic, or relational impulses, we are, in effect, restricting and limiting ourselves to only half of our own being and potential. The truly disastrous impact of this “halving effect” becomes clear if we connect it to that old American/British saying “playing with half a deck” or “not playing with a full deck.”

This colorful saying indicates that someone is not “all there,” is mentally deficient, or is significantly incapacitated mentally or emotionally. So when our entire civilization is “playing with half a deck,” of course, the resulting ideas and belief systems are inadequate and totally flawed since they’re based on partial, incomplete information and overt denial of much of our human experience.

To be very blunt: Our continued immersion in our horribly imbalanced patriarchal system is actively suicidal. It’s suicidally insane because we need to access and honor ALL aspects of ourselves and our humanness if we are to understand and respond to our lives (both individually and socially) in a sane, balanced manner. When we resist or oppress the female half of humanity and resist or deny half of ourselves as well, the inevitable result is extreme mental and emotional imbalance and pain, as well as extremely dysfunctional social and economic systems (as detailed above).

There is no easier, “nicer” way to express this: Our immersion in patriarchy makes us bat-shit crazy! And our mass craziness and imbalance are leading to vast, accelerating social and economic problems and gradual (but accelerating) collapse.

How Collapse Actually Happens

But I want to emphasize again: Social collapse happens g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y. It may not always be obvious, and it can even “sneak up” on us. For example: After the defeat and collapse of Nazi Germany, many Germans sheepishly confessed that the Nazis came to power quite gradually, via an almost-imperceptible accumulation of “minor” legal and political changes and small social adjustments. They admitted that for a long time, it all seemed “normal”, even desirable — until the Nazis had accumulated enough power and influence that suddenly — Wham! — their caring, socially-responsible masks came off, and their depraved, genocidal plans were publicly declared and quickly enacted.

The point here is not that we are bound to collapse into a horrific neo-Nazi social system — though that remains a clear possibility, given the fascist impulses and direction supported by Trump and now many Republicans. The main point is that the process of collapse can be almost invisible, especially in its early stages, as seemingly minor, “innocent” changes happen or are enacted very gradually.

But suppose we are to have any chance of staving off complete collapse. In that case, we have to learn to see these small, “patriotic” changes and “temporary” restrictions (i.e., with voting, labor laws, human rights, rolling back environmental regulations, etc.) as the grave dangers that they are.

The problem with spiraling collapse is that by the time it becomes totally obvious and is clearly dangerous to our society or even our survival — it’s already firmly entrenched, has strong downward momentum “built-in,”… and is very hard to stop or slow down. During the early stages, it’s still quite possible to deflect or redirect some of those destructive energies and lunatic plans — but as collapse intensifies and becomes publicly obvious, it’s also much harder (if not impossible) to corral or control.

Right now, we’re still in the early stages of collapse. We still have some time (though not much) to respond effectively to a whole series of very damaging, spiraling social and political trends. But our window of opportunity is closing — FAST.

This time period we’re now living through is very probably a “make-or-break” decade for humanity as a whole. This is it: Our very last chance to turn things around.

It’s time that we act like it.