The Five Stages of Collapse

Every collapse has a silver lining

I’ve been brooding about this article for weeks now. Dmitry Orlov, author of Closing the Collapse Gap and Reinventing Collapse, outlines how interrelated social and commercial failures lead to the fall of empires. Orlov notes that all empires eventually disintegrate, but in this case, he argues that total collapse is not inevitable and that cooler heads may avert a future Dark Age. Well, all right then.

Here’s a short excerpt, with links to the full story below.

Stages of Collapse

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost. The future is no longer assumed to resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out, and access to capital is lost.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down, and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for “kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity” (Turnbull, The Mountain People). Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes “May you die today so that I die tomorrow.” (Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago)

Orlov’s PowerPoint presentation is here.

The original article is here including a comparison with the five stages of grief.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross defined the five stages of coming to terms with grief and tragedy as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and applied it quite successfully to various forms of catastrophic personal loss, such as death of a loved one, sudden end to one’s career, and so forth. Several thinkers, notably James Howard Kunstler and, more recently John Michael Greer, have pointed out that the Kübler-Ross model is also quite terrifyingly accurate in reflecting the process by which society as a whole (or at least the informed and thinking parts of it) is reconciling itself to the inevitability of a discontinuous future, with our institutions and life support systems undermined by a combination of resource depletion, catastrophic climate change, and political impotence. But so far, little has been said specifically about the finer structure of these discontinuities. Instead, there is to be found a continuum of subjective judgments, ranging from “a severe and prolonged recession” (the prediction we most often read in the financial press), to Kunstler’s “Long Emergency,” to the ever-popular “Collapse of Western Civilization,” painted with an ever-wider brush-stroke.

Sally Erickson over at What a Way to Go says Orlov does a great job of laying out the economic and social factors, but the situation we’re facing will be even worse when the we begin to feel the impact of global climate fluctuations.

To me those forces, as well as global fossil fuel shortages, are likely to hasten the movement through the stages he describes, to accelerate the process. It’s rather sobering to consider crop failures, serious interruptions or losses of basic fuel imports, and likely power grid disruptions from weather events, in additon to the economic and financial failures already in motion.

Cheerful thoughts for a happy new year!

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