...Slowly, at first, then all at once.
-- Dmitry Orlov
How Systems Collapse: The Human Body Analogy
I would say that most persons who entertain the notion of Collapse picture some version of Slow Collapse. Aka Catabolic Collapse aka the Long Descent.
Those of us who foresee Fast Collapse appear to be a distinct minority.
I read on-line that many cannot imagine the complete failure of a system as vast and complex as the Global Industrial Economy, along with its embedded Global Civilization. It seems too big to fail. They will not let it collapse!
Here to help you imagine is the example of the Human Body, a vast (trillions of cells), highly evolved, Complex Adaptive System.
Our human body is as familiar to us as... well... as the back of our own hand. That it ages, suffers illness and trauma, wears out important parts... none of this surprises us. That the body is mortal is dead certain.
Bodily systems typically decline over years in a process one might think of as Slow Collapse. Arteries harden. Muscle mass is lost. Bones weaken. The mind's reach shortens. Whether one is a Yogic Master or couch potato, age takes its toll. Decline may be faster or slower, but it is relentless. We may suffer deficits or enjoy partial recoveries, but from conception, entropy holds us in its dissipating grip.
Illness or trauma can degrade or damage particular limbs, organs or systems. Our immune, digestive, cardio-pulmonary, neurological systems – to name a few – can slow and stutter.
We are borne in stages toward our final crisis.
The eventual mechanism of our demise is uncertain, but the prognosis is not. Sooner or later, some break-down – large or small – will abruptly escalate to total system failure. Whether from a state of good health or struggling with diminished function, when the crisis comes, our system is tipped from being a massively intricate, integrated, living body, to a collection of dis-integrated cells dying in isolation.
For example, cardiac collapse begins with a small system failure (blood supply, electrical signal, valve failure, etc.). Once the 'pump' stops, blood is neither oxygenated nor distributed throughout the body. Cellular waste products are neither transported nor processed. Even with CPR, the system is going downhill fast. Organs, dependent on the heart's function, degrade or fail. Bodily elements, dependent on those organs degrade and fail.
Without prompt, correct, decisive intervention (and most often even with that advantage), the patient undergoes Fast Collapse.
There are many ways to come to terms with mortality. Seize the day. Eat, drink and be merry. Reach out in love to those around us. Far from paralyzing us, the prospect of our personal finitude can be a catalyst to live. And so might it be with global Collapse of Civilization. The fact of mortality itself needn't lead us to throw in the towel.
Point is, we're all too familiar with Fast Collapse in highly evolved, complex adaptive systems.
In terms of the human body, we understand the mechanisms of collapse far better than its workings. In terms of the industrial economy, we understand neither, for all our economic theory. What we do understand of systems is that they can be driven out of their range of stability, and become vulnerable to catastrophic collapse.
Fast Collapse is not simply some pessimistic, Doomerish nay say, per se, to be dismissed with the lifting of a skeptical brow. It's not Schadenfreude, delighting in Goetterdeamerung. It's not even a narrative, competing with others for prime time. Instead, it is an argument based on the doings and undoings of complex adaptive systems.
The prime mission of this blog is to lay out that systems theoretic argument in an accessible manner. To that end, I'll be presenting Systems Theory for Doomies in following posts, along with renditions of the major, systems based arguments supporting Fast Collapse.
Fast Collapse calls for very different preparation measures than does Slow Collapse. While no preparation guarantees success; no preparation might very well guarantee failure.
Go not gently into that good night!