The fact that our civilization is doomed doesn’t make me a pessimist.
On a day-to-day basis I’m probably one of the most upbeat people you’ll meet, but in the big picture, I’ve been waiting for the end of the world since the 1980′s, when it seemed pretty obvious – at least based on the fashion of the era – that it was just around the corner. In fact, back then it was quite fashionable to be awaiting the apocalypse. Many of the best dystopian films (Blade Runner, Brazil, Mad Max, etc.) were made in that decade, and Reagan ended the cold war by bumping things up a notch with the Star Wars Defense Initiative and flippant sound check jokes about outlawing Russia and bombing them. Which is why I’m so excited that apocalyptic thinking is back in style, and that people like me even have a catchy new name: Collapsitarians. I have to admit that ever since the financial catastrophes of late 2008, I feel a gleeful giddiness every time the global markets wobble, excitedly anticipating their total collapse and ensuing mass financial panic and social disorder. My enthusiasm for this sort of cataclysm isn’t the same as the crowd yelling at the person on the ledge to jump, nor does it stem from some Gloomy Gus attitude. No, I just have an intuitive understanding that the industrial age is toast, and as Einstein said: “the significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them“. I’m not hoping for “the end of the world” like some kind of Rapture hopeful, I only welcome the demise of our current way of life as a means to expedite a new and better way of life. If you have a hard time embracing this idea because of your consumer culture driven cognitive dissonance, I highly recommend John Michael Greer’s The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age, which explores our impending demise in a kinder, gentler fashion. In it he does a great job of explaining concepts like peak oil, but in a less alarmist manner, and with a broader cultural context than the intellectual NPR liberal that typically rants about topics like this. He also points out that we’re not likely to see some abrupt cataclysmic collapse, but rather a slow “slide down statistical curves that will ease modern industrial civilization into history’s dumpster”. For a quick insight into his line of thought without reading the book, check out On Catabolic Collapse, in which he outlines the simple ideas that 1.) Historically, most civilizations’ expansions have exceeded the availability of the resources they were built on, and 2.) There are outcomes that are more likely than the polarized extremes of eternal progress or total collapse. I for one would welcome a more difficult future if it meant we’d all be too busy simply surviving to argue ignorantly about politics or prattle on all day about who’s going to win on American Idol.