Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh CXLIII

Steve Bull (https://olduvai.ca)
7 min readAug 3, 2023
Mexico (1988). Picture by author.

Ruling Caste Responses to Societal Breakdown/Decline

Today’s Contemplation is composed of my comments on two different FB posts I came across yesterday.

The first is a reply to a comment to a MSN article regarding a possible Covid-19-type lockdown scenario based upon the declaration of a climate emergency. The second to an observation regarding Big Tech narrative management.

EF:
Warning: Doomer Alert…. IMHO Carter is the only prez in my living memory that ‘got it’ and tried (very unsuccessfully) to push an agenda of reasonable austerity to curb consumption growth rates. Almost 50yrs later and while trending along predicted curves (a la Club of Rome), we’re deeper in the muck than the 1970s predictions. This rumoured ‘climate emergency’ response is suspiciously a thinly veiled cover for “oh crap, there really is no more cheap energy and we can’t get away with unjust resource wars anymore, the sheeple are on to us”. How would the White House propose moving forward? Are they going to demand all nations take action? Let’s see them try that with China, etc. (or a small town😉), or perhaps Biden’s handlers are just ignorant enough to think they can launch a political solution that only addresses national actions. It’s all likely irrelevant anyhow. The lag in climate response to radical step function changes its decades long, and we haven’t yet even experienced the fallout from GHG warming from the time of Carter’s presidency. People think this is a hot, dry, fiery summer? Pffft. Hold my beer. The only ‘solution’ in the pipeline is one that’s neither voluntary, nor negotiable and deferrable. Collapse (due to PO) is going provide the radical step function change needed for the climate to respond. But, those of us alive today will never see the warming reversal, we’ll just be the last generation to experience life awash with the fruits of petroleum’s positive effects and be the first to experience exponential declines in late life standards of living as supply chains dry up or rot from corruption among the elites pining for control and insulation to their own losses. Our offspring will ride an accelerating journey over the cliff, and maybe some of their offspring will experience some reversal in 50–60yrs. Doubtful they’ll take notice, life is likely to be days filled with foraging for nutrition and fending off would be pillagers.

Me:
Yes, we (the entire globe) needed to step down our expansion and frivolous habits decades ago (probably even longer, like with the first few complex societies millennia ago) but the narratives at the time of Carter’s attempt and the Club of Rome’s warning were increasingly influenced (and directed) by profit-seekers selling a Star Trek-type future full of technology and human ingenuity to counter the ‘doomers’[1].

It was difficult if not impossible to offset the ‘hopeful’ stories that were already circulating and those that arose in response to these warnings. Just as it still is today. The tales pushing ‘sustainability’ and/or further growth ‘powered’ by ‘renewables’ and those repeated ‘breakthroughs’ in fusion power and the like are ever present and everywhere — and they receive one hell of a lot more airtime than those that challenge the utopian future (to say little of most people’s propensity to be optimistic and/or hopeful, and defer to the tales weaved by the ‘experts/authority’ figures peddling them).

The various world governments, however, have known about this endgame of energy decline and eventual ‘collapse’ probably some time ago[2] but have (as sociopolitical ‘leaders’ tend to do with virtually every impending consequence of stupid decisions they have ‘led’, particularly economic) kicked-the-can-down-the-road while continuing to skim and scam what they can while they can, as has happened for millennia with every societal decline. They most certainly seem to be using the ‘climate emergency’ as ‘cover’ to continue their extractive schemes, dialling it down for the masses while attempting to sustain (possibly expand) their share of an ever-disappearing energy pie. And, I would argue that they have fastened upon carbon emissions as THE devil to trounce upon because they not only discovered a means of monetising this ever-present element but they have latched upon profit-gaining technologies that they have marketed as THE ‘solution’ to this particular aspect of human existence.

No surprise since pursing a ‘degrowth’ world (a powering down and simplification of pretty well everything in our complex societies) would put all their current wealth-generation/-extraction schemes in jeopardy — too say little about undercutting the foundation of the Ponzi-type scheme our financialised economic systems have become. Admitting that our overarching predicament is ecological overshoot and that in order to mitigate (or at least begin to reduce) the unavoidable fallout of this phenomena would require killing the goose laying the golden eggs for the ruling caste — as well as for all of us caught up in the scam.

Pre/history, however, shows pretty convincingly that we will experience the typical patterns that accompany all such declines. For example, living standards for the masses will deteriorate due to ever-increasing price inflation (mostly due to currency debasement as a result of money ‘printing’/credit creation) and because taxes will expand as the ruling caste attempts to sustain/expand their own standards. And, it is likely we will witness an increase/expansion of authoritarian/totalitarian sociopolitical systems as sociobehavioural control is attempted and expanded to deal with increasing unrest.

SH:
This is interesting… I posted a link to a Dr. John Campbell video in which he goes over some recent peer reviewed scientific research, from a noteworthy science journal… and Facebook warns that their “independent fact checkers have identified the research as being “false information”… Under the video in question, YouTube posts a notice that recommends consulting the CDC for the verity of the scientific research he’s reading from. Apparently Facebook and YouTube don’t know how science works… If the CDC and “independent fact checkers” are not getting their information from the latest peer reviewed science, then there’s something terribly wrong…

Me:
Unfortunately, and as like so much else in our world, science has become quite politicised. It has not only been ‘infiltrated’ (like media) by those seeking to ‘manage’ social narratives but has increasingly controlled ‘incentives’ (i.e., grants, tenure) to ensure supportive ‘evidence’ exists. Perhaps worst of all it has attacked one of the foundations of the scientific process: skepticism. Big tech and ‘science’ have become tools of the ruling caste to steer the beliefs and thus behaviours of the masses. I expect this trend to continue and worsen as our decline speeds up.

Both of my responses (as is much of my thinking around these and related topics) are guided by archaeologist Joseph Tainter’s text The Collapse of Complex societies. Most importantly, in the case of these posts, is what the archaeological record suggests are the responses to societal breakdown/decline by the ruling caste.

Some of what Tainter argues as far as sociopolitical ‘collapse’ is concerned include:
-increasing numbers of citizens detaching from the larger sociopolitical entities and pursuing their own goals as they perceive the costs of participation as outweighing significantly the perceived benefits
-greater legitimisation activities and/or control (especially sociobehavioural) in an attempt to decrease inefficiencies and thereby prolong/sustain complexities; although, this becomes increasingly difficult as rising marginal costs due to declining resources sap economic strength
-this economic decline sees a concomitant rise in peasant revolts or, more often, apathy towards the well-being of the polity increases resulting in local entities breaking away from the centre (perhaps even militarily toppled)
-societal reserves are used to counter unexpected stresses or even just to maintain ‘normal’ operations
-greater investment is made in education and research and development but inflation and increased taxes increase the likelihood of collapse due to ever-increasing diminishing returns

The cyclical ‘collapse’ of complex societies is a result of our ‘success’. In addressing the ‘problems’ that arise from living in large, complex societies we not only create greater complexity (and thus fragility and dependency) but we increasingly drawdown the various resources we depend upon for supporting our living and we contribute, through our waste production, to a polluting of our environment. All of this results in diminishing returns on our investments in this ‘problem solving’ approach to living. These diminishing returns increase over time leading to an eventual ‘pillaging’ of surpluses and reserves, resulting in decreased living standards — particularly for the masses. Unrest increases leading the elite to implement increasing draconian approaches to their ‘rule’. Eventually more and more citizens opt out of the system through either migration or withdrawal of support for their ‘rulers’. Inevitably, sociopolitical collapse ensues requiring just the passage of time or a stress surge that can no longer be offset as societal reserves have been exhausted.

Throw ecological overshoot onto this inevitable decline process and not only are the cards irreversibly stacked against global industrial society but the possibility of any further such complex society arising from our ashes is significantly depressed given the level of resource drawdown and environmental degradation.

Infinite growth. Finite planet. What could possibly go wrong?

If you’ve made it to the end of this contemplation and have got something out of my writing, please consider ordering the trilogy of my ‘fictional’ novel series, Olduvai (PDF files; only $9.99 Canadian), via my website — the ‘profits’ of which help me to keep my internet presence alive and first book available in print (and is available via various online retailers). Encouraging others to read my work is also much appreciated.

[1] See this and/or this.

[2] See this, this, this, and/or this.

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Steve Bull (https://olduvai.ca)

A guy trying to make sense of a complex and seemingly insane world. Spend my days pondering our various predicaments while practising local food production...