Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Five Stages of Collapse, 2019 Update

Collapse, at each stage, is a historical process that takes time to run its course as the system adapts to changing circumstances, compensates for its weaknesses and finds ways to continue functioning at some level. But what changes rather suddenly is faith or, to put it in more businesslike terms, sentiment. A large segment of the population or an entire political class within a country or the entire world can function based on a certain set of assumptions for much longer than the situation warrants but then over a very short period of time switch to a different set of assumptions. All that sustains the status quo beyond that point is institutional inertia. It imposes limits on how fast systems can change without collapsing entirely. Beyond that point, people will tolerate the older practices only until replacements for them can be found.

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.

Internationally, the major change in sentiment in the world has to do with the role of the US dollar (and, to a lesser extent, the Euro and the Yen—the other two reserve currencies of the three-legged globalist central banker stool). The world is transitioning to the use of local currencies, currency swaps and commodities markets backed by gold. The catalyst for this change of sentiment was provided by the US administration itself which sawed through its own perch by its use of unilateral sanctions. By using its control over dollar-based transactions to block international transactions it doesn’t happen to like it forced other countries to start looking for alternatives. Now a growing list of countries sees throwing off the shackles of the US dollar as a strategic goal. Russia and China use the ruble and the yuan for their expanding trade; Iran sells oil to India for rupees. Saudi Arabia has started to accept the yuan for its oil.

This change has many knock-on effects. If the dollar is no longer needed to conduct international trade, other nations no longer have hold large quantities of it in reserve. Consequently, there is no longer a need to buy up large quantities of US Treasury notes. Therefore, it becomes unnecessary to run large trade surpluses with the US, essentially conducting trade at a loss. Further, the attractiveness of the US as an export market drops and the cost of imports to the US rises, thereby driving up cost inflation. A vicious spiral ensues in which the ability of the US government to borrow internationally to finance the gaping chasm of its various deficits becomes impaired. Sovereign default of the US government and national bankruptcy then follow.

The US may still look mighty, but its dire fiscal predicament coupled with its denial of the inevitability of bankruptcy, makes it into something of a Blanche DuBois from the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She was “always dependent on the kindness of strangers” but was tragically unable to tell the difference between kindness and desire. In this case, the desire is for national advantage and security, and to minimize risk by getting rid of an unreliable trading partner.

How quickly or slowly this comes to pass is difficult to guess at and impossible to calculate. It is possible to think of the financial system in terms of a physical analogue, with masses of funds traveling at some velocity having a certain inertia (p = mv) and with forces acting on that mass to accelerate it along a different trajectory (F = ma). It is also possible to think of it in terms of hordes of stampeding animals who can change course abruptly when panicked. The recent abrupt moves in the financial markets, where trillions of dollars of notional, purely speculative value have been wiped out within weeks, are more in line with the latter model.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.

Within the US there is really no other alternative than the market. There are a few rustic enclaves, mostly religious communities, that can feed themselves, but that’s a rarity. For everyone else there is no choice but to be a consumer. Consumers who are broke are called “bums,” but they are still consumers. To the extent that the US has a culture, it is a commercial culture in which the goodness of a person is based on the goodly sums of money in their possession. Such a culture can die by becoming irrelevant (when everyone is dead broke) but by then most of the carriers of this culture are likely to be dead too. Alternatively, it can be replaced by a more humane culture that isn’t entirely based on the cult of Mammon—perhaps, dare I think, through a return to a pre-Protestant, pre-Catholic Christian ethic that values people’s souls above objects of value?

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.

All is very murky at the moment, but I would venture to guess that most people in the US are too distracted, too stressed and too preoccupied with their own vices and obsessions to pay much attention to the political realm. Of the ones they do pay attention, a fair number of them seem clued in to the fact that the US is not a democracy at all but an elites-only sandbox in which transnational corporate and oligarchic interests build and knock down each others’ sandcastles.

The extreme political polarization, where two virtually identical pro-capitalist, pro-war parties pretend to wage battle by virtue-signaling may be a symptom of the extremely decrepit state of the entire political arrangement: people are made to watch the billowing smoke and to listen to the deafening noise in the hopes that they won’t notice that the wheels are no longer turning.

The fact that what amounts to palace intrigue—the fracas between the White House, the two houses of Congress and a ghoulish grand inquisitor named Mueller—has taken center stage is uncannily reminiscent of various earlier political collapses, such as the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire or of the fall and the consequent beheading of Louis XVI. The fact that Trump, like the Ottoman worthies, stocks his harem with East European women, lends an eerie touch. That said, most people in the US seem blind to the nature of their overlords in a way that the French, with their Gilets Jaunes movement (just as an example) are definitely not.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.

I have been saying for some years now that within the US social collapse has largely run its course, although whether people actually believe that is an entire matter entirely. Defining “your people” is rather difficult. The symbols are still there—the flag, the Statue of Liberty and a predilection for iced drinks and heaping plates of greasy fried foods—but the melting pot seems to have suffered a meltdown and melted all the way to China. At present half the households within the US speak a language other than English at home, and a fair share of the rest speak dialects of English that are not mutually intelligible with the standard North American English dialect of broadcast television and university lecturers.

Throughout its history as a British colony and as a nation the US has been dominated by the Anglo ethnos. The designation “ethnos” is not an ethnic label. It is not strictly based on genealogy, language, culture, habitat, form of government or any other single factor or group of factors. These may all be important to one extent or another, but the viability of an ethnos is based solely on its cohesion and the mutual inclusivity and common purpose of its members. The Anglo ethnos reached its zenith in the wake of World War II, during which many social groups were intermixed in the military and their more intelligent members were allowed to become educated and to advance socially by the GI Bill.

Fantastic potential was unleashed when privilege—the curse of the Anglo ethnos since its inception—was temporarily replaced with merit and the more talented demobilized men, of whatever extraction, were given a chance at education and social advancement by the GI Bill. Speaking a new sort of American English based on the Ohio dialect as a Lingua Franca, these Yanks—male, racist, sexist and chauvinistic and, at least in their own minds, victorious—were ready to remake the entire world in their own image.

They proceeded to flood the entire world with oil (US oil production was in full flush then) and with machines that burned it. Such passionate acts of ethnogenesis are rare but not unusual: the Romans who conquered the entire Mediterranean basin, the barbarians who then sacked Rome, the Mongols who later conquered most of Eurasia and the Germans who for a very brief moment possessed an outsized Lebensraum are other examples.

And now it is time to ask: what remains of this proud conquering Anglo ethnos today? We hear shrill feminist cries about “toxic masculinity” and minorities of every stripe railing against “whitesplaining” and in response we hear a few whimpers but mostly silence. Those proud, conquering, virile Yanks who met and fraternized with the Red Army at the River Elbe on April 25, 1945—where are they? Haven’t they devolved into a sad little subethnos of effeminate, porn-addicted overgrown boys who shave their pubic hair and need written permission to have sex without fear of being charged with rape?

Will the Anglo ethnos persist as a relict, similar to how the English have managed to hold onto their royals (who are technically no longer even aristocrats since they now practice exogamy with commoners)? Or will it get wiped out in a wave of depression, mental illness and opiate abuse, its glorious history of rapine, plunder and genocide erased and the statues of its war heroes/criminals knocked down? Only time will tell.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.

The term “culture” means many things to many people, but it is more productive to observe cultures than to argue about them. Cultures are expressed through people’s stereotypical behaviors that are readily observable in public. These are not the negative stereotypes often used to identify and reject outsiders but the positive stereotypes—cultural standards of behavior, really—that serve as requirements for social adequacy and inclusion. We can readily assess the viability of a culture by observing the stereotypical behaviors of its members.

• Do people exist as a single continuous, inclusive sovereign realm or as a set of exclusive, potentially warring enclaves segregated by income, ethnicity, education level, political affiliation and so on? Do you see a lot of walls, gates, checkpoints, security cameras and “no trespassing” signs? Is the law of the land enforced uniformly or are there good neighborhoods, bad neighborhoods and no-go zones where even the police fear to tread?

• Do random people thrown together in public spontaneously enter into conversation with each other and are comfortable with being crowded together, or are they aloof and fearful, and prefer to hide their face in the little glowing rectangle of their smartphone, jealously guarding their personal space and ready to regard any encroachment on it as an assault?

• Do people remain good-natured and tolerant toward each other even when hard-pressed or do they hide behind a façade of tense, superficial politeness and fly into a rage at the slightest provocation? Is conversation soft in tone, gracious and respectful or is it loud, shrill, rude and polluted with foul language? Do people dress well out of respect for each other, or to show off, or are they all just déclassé slobs—even the ones with money?

• Observe how their children behave: are they fearful of strangers and trapped in a tiny world of their own or are they open to the world and ready to treat any stranger as a surrogate brother or sister, aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather without requiring any special introduction? Do the adults studiously ignore each others’ children or do they spontaneously act as a single family?

• If there is a wreck on the road, do they spontaneously rush to each others’ rescue and pull people out before the wreck explodes, or do they, in the immortal words of Frank Zappa, “get on the phone and call up some flakes” who “rush on over and wreck it some more”?

• If there is a flood or a fire, do the neighbors take in the people who are rendered homeless, or do they allow them to wait for the authorities to show up and bus them to some makeshift government shelter?

It is possible to quote statistics or to provide anecdotal evidence to assess the state and the viability of a culture, but your own eyes and other senses can provide all the evidence you need to make that determination for yourself and to decide how much faith to put in “the goodness of humanity” that is evident in the people around you.

19 comments :

Unknown said...

Ah yes. You say "I would venture to guess that most people in the US are too distracted, too stressed and too preoccupied with their own vices and obsessions to pay much attention to the political realm." Where I live, in a transitional zone between liberal urban and conservative rural, I meet no one that gives it much thought beyond what they hear on Fox or CNN. I have only a few friends and no relatives that wouldn't be shocked if the price of gasoline makes it difficult to hit Starbucks more than once per week.

For those that do have disposable time to think, I've observed that the most optimistic folks are self-cloistered in their own real or virtual communities of the like-minded. They can be academics, entrepreneurs, economists, new-agers, etc. Different kinds of vices and obsessions I suppose.

Reg Scott said...

Wish your blog reached more people...............brilliant as usual.

Larry said...

Great post, Dmitri. Now, geopolitically speaking, I'd like to see you do a "Global Collapse Guide" where you'd graph the extent of the five stages of collapse for each major country. I live in Canada, and while your analysis is cogent for the USA, especially, I'd like to get some sense of where Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Japan, China, etc. were on the spectrum.

John Casey said...

Indeed. Brilliant and insightful analysis. I've looked a bit online to try to find citations for the contention that "Saudi Arabia has started to accept the yuan for its oil." But I can only find references that say the process may begin soon. Is this something that the so-called trade war has put on hold or is it, perhaps, the cause of it? Overall, i would agree with your look at where the US is on the spectrum. But I live in NYC, which is awash in money -- a handful of neighbors on my block in Manhattan are billionaires and multi-billionaires -- so it's a bit hard to get a sense of what life is actually like outside the bubble. But, even here, I never fail to be shocked at how desperately educated, wealthy people hold on to the notion that our "Coke or Pepsi" political parties, and their media "partners," are anything other than simple tools of exploitation.

bairdseymour said...

This post was not that funny!!

If anybody can find humor in our dire situation it is Mr Orlov and I personally have come to expect that. In fact, I look forward every Tuesday to being immensely amused by this column.

Therefore I humbly request that this depressing subject matter be rendered as hilarious as possible --- as it usually is.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Oh, come on! Didn't you chuckle when you read that the master race now needs written consent to have sex? Or that the Head Oligarch stocks his harem with East European women? Tough crowd! OK, I'll try better next time...

Shari Keller said...

The bit about shaved pubic hair was good too.

Chester McQueary said...

Chester McQueary said...

Dmitry, with climate catastrophe staring us in the face, do you need to add a sixth stage--ecological collapse?

Shari Keller said...

I can verify from my own experience about the differences in conversation from one community to another. I now live in an area designated as "semi rural" outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, having left a stereotypically uptight suburban area up north. Here, folks greet each other, gab easily, share a joke or commiserate in a very natural, humane manner. The casualness of things doesn't mean any lapse of manners, either. "Southerners," a friend of mine from the south told me once, "can't stand rudeness."

My son, who is a very brainy 17 year old, is learning welding and black smithing at the local community college. He is now very adapted to "red neck" culture, and even though he would like to have people around him to discuss lofty topics from time to time, he has noted that the "red necks" have more humanity, and actually more wit, than the academic and professional types he also has contact with.

It would hard for me to move back north and lose the human contact.

Lidia17 said...

I now live in a state which had been hit by a severe natural disaster a number of years ago. The volunteer response was both general and immediate: to aid those who needed it, and to repair what was damaged to the extent possible. No waiting on FEMA.

Now, every third person here seems to own an excavator, but another coincidence is that my state also happens to be almost completely racially homogeneous. I think people in general greatly underestimate this aspect, to their possible personal detriment.

"Diversity" is definitely "Our Strength" when it comes to the biome breaking down energy gradients in order to get us "Into the Cool" faster.

Diversity would not appear to be a strength when it comes to the survival chances of any particular individual. Species form colonies in order to enhance their chances (aspens, bees, fungi, milkweed). Only modern humans seem so perverse as to deny natural phenomena. **But then, modern humans' denial of natural phenomena does break down energy gradients even faster than would otherwise occur**, as certain cohorts destroy things more quickly than other cohorts are able to create or rebuild them.

If your "diverse" community includes John Bolton and Linda Sarsour, along with some Somalis and MS-13, while James Hansen and Elon Musk sell you nukes and exploding cars, good luck to you (us)!

edmund said...

The world is living through the sequel to Team America: World Police. In a good way.

toktomi said...

@ Lidia17

It would seem that there is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence to support your assertion that diversity is not a strength for individual survival. It seems to make some sense to me.

However...

You've never been in combat have you?

~toktomi~

Lidia17 said...

Toktomi, no, I have not, but I'm trying hard to think how that might affect my understanding. From what I have heard, those assembling armed forces usually try to break down individuality and eliminate creative thinking in order to create a cohesive and homogeneous functioning unit with swappable sub-units. Cults and fraternities will do similar things to reinforce group connections.

From what I can see of the most vocal of the diversity-mongers, they fall into a narrow range of uniformity in their appearance and thought patterns. They are banding together in an extremely boring and predictable way. They do this because it works for them (protects them as individuals to be part of a mob) and it's what humans like to do. They don't want really want actual diversity. See Candace Owens.

Kevin Frost said...


Excellent point: 'observe how their children behave .. are they ready to treat any stranger as surrogate brother or sister .. ? Really, this is one of the most significant theoretical observations I've read in a long time. To explain: there is a war going on between community and society. Community is constituted by kinship relations plus friendship and derived relationships, but relationships one and all. Society is constituted by rights bearing subjects assigned personhood status by something called the state. There are no relationships in society, strictly speaking, but rather mediated 'associations' between ontological substances. Relations have no constant essence or substance. Now you are a father, then a son, at times a husband, maybe a friend. This is theory, now let's talk war. Our modern society supposes that once there were communities here, there and everywhere, but then came History and socialisation. History with a capital H means exactly this transmutation from community to society. This entails liberation from patriarchal authority, mainly, to modern free personhood protected by the rights endowed under the rule of law. The relation between community and society is subsumption. Liberation holds kinship culture in the contempt of racism, patriarchy, authoritarianism, and barbarism. It is something to manage in an authoritative way, for your own good, of course. So then we are supposed to abandon the illiberal and racist culture of kinship proprieties for the liberating milieu of modern autonomous subjectivity. In this way we move from the particular to the general, from what is small and contemptible to what is universal and enlightened. But then along came Dmitry Orlov who messed things up when he said that kinship customs such as the culture of fraternity or sorority enabled a certain universality, the prospect of cloning kinship relations with anybody who came their way, and who we could be sure would understand the references. After all, brothers and sisters really are a universal experience, no? Well, you're not supposed to say that because you're messing with things that are absolutely fundamental. Just saying.

Freddie Mercury said...

If one applies the tests in part 5 to an underground tube journey in London during the rush hour.....

PatOrmsby said...

@Larry, I would similarly love to hear Dmitri's impression of the state of collapse internationally, but it is asking a lot. To get a grasp of where countries stand you have to spend some time in them to see beyond the facade they present. This is especially true in the Far East. So it is up to those of us living there to give our impression of where they stand. I've lived in Japan for the past 35 years, but I'm not quite the writer Dmitri is, especially in comments sections, so you'll have to bear with me a bit.
Japan underwent a financial collapse close to 30 years ago and papered it over so carefully, letting TBTF zombie institutions hang in there, that an acute commercial collapse was averted. The country stumbled on in what have become three lost decades and counting, and it seems to have become a model for America to follow since 2008, with the same general results, but without the schisms you see in America and less violence.
I don't know how Japan calculates its supposedly low unemployment, but I know lots and lots of young people living off their parents' retirement, hiding in their rooms and working only enough to pay their prodigious phone bills. Many are already too old to marry, those who manage to marry can only afford one or two children. The country tries to encourage people to have more children as it becomes top-heavy with seniors, but their efforts come across as chanting in the face of a hurricane.
Aging farmers are dying off, leaving abandoned houses that provide habitat for vermin and cannot be demolished because no one knows who the heirs are. Meanwhile the bureaucracy is so corrupt and dysfunctional that aspiring young farmers cannot get a foothold in the field. Older farmers disinherit their own children to prevent their crushing debts from being passed on, and more farmland goes into new housing for the declining population each year, because that is still at least profitable somehow.
Andre Vltchek just wrote an insightful article documenting Japan's physical, social and cultural decay, that you can read here: https://www.opednews.com/articles/Why-Is-Japan-So-Bitter-Abo-by-Andre-Vltchek-China_Japan_Japan-190117-778.html#comment722680 Interestingly, his impression of China is that it is undergoing the opposite of a collapse. It's on the rise, and he says Japan is jealous over that. I'd say maybe the leaders are, but the average person in Japan is completely misinformed about China and terrified that those rampaging barbarians might want to exact revenge for World War II. Otherwise, he's spot on about Japan.

Nathan said...

@PatOrmsby, nice summary. I've tended to think of Japan in terms of "probably going to revert to pre-Western subsistence soon". Japan has no natural resources to speak of, is culturally averse to volume immigration and demographically dying off faster than any other place on earth. They did ok before they opened their doors to the world, maintaining their steady-state island life via feudal overlords and serfs. James Howard Kunstler got me thinking along those lines years ago, so when Fukushima happened, I thought "here it comes".

Unknown said...

I now live in St. Paul Minnesota (about two years), I have a lot of Chineese and Russian neighborhs who Im getting to know and must say I quite like them.
They are not the scary beasts the media likes to portray them as except for those who believe competence is to feared.

Leonardo Guitton said...

Brazil is an express and objective phenomenon of collapse. The country practically lost its industry, once responsible for about 30% of GDP, today is less than 9%. The country returned to being a mere seller of minerals, as in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, sugar and meat, as in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, coffee, as in the nineteenth century, soy and alcohol, specialized as a Honduras - in bananas. Most large estates are irregular and the rural property tax collects less than 2 percent of GDP - as in the sixteenth century! Brazil's external and internal debt, only in the payment of interest, consumes 60% of GDP. The minister of the economy only speaks of cutting social security and ending the state, as it was said to exhaustion in 1990, in the Collor de Mello government! The Minister of Education speaks only of creationism, her religious, academic, political and personal faith. The president, on the other hand, speaks only of releasing the sale of weapons for defense against minor assailants; while the largest are in Congress and in the Judiciary - whose members (not all of them of course) own universities that account for more than 80 percent of university students who receive a government grant to study! From Manaus to Rio de Janeiro one only sees the apocalypse.