After a four-week period which I mostly spent heads-down on getting this book into print I looked up and noticed that the world has changed. The trick of looking away, then looking back is often a good one if you are interested in how situations evolve. And here I looked back at what has been happening in the US, specifically, over the past few weeks, and thought, Which interesting new stage of collapse is this?
And then I thought, I really ought to try to answer this question. After all, I’ve already described the five stages of collapse in a book-length treatment, and apparently people are still finding it useful. For example, the Japanese edition of the book found its readers because my treatment of financial and political collapse dovetailed so neatly with Japan’s headlong rush into infinite debt and its desperate, last-minute fling with militarism. And now that Paris is turning into a tent city bum squat infested with roving gangs of troglodyte migrant youths and the banks of the Seine are becoming encrusted with human feces—ah, that sweet smell of social and cultural collapse!—the French edition is flying off the shelves almost frighteningly quickly for such a specialty subject. (As I’ve warned my readers before, when you notice that my message has gone mainstream, it’s time to grab the duffel bag of spam, gold bullion and shotgun shells, gas up the pickup truck and head for the hills.)
It is heartening to find out that there are still people in the world—descendants of the autochthonous inhabitants of Roman Gaul among them—who possess the intellectual aptitude to understand that their country is heading in the direction of social and cultural collapse and venture to do a bit of research to see what that might look like. But as to what seems to be happening across the Pond in the US, or across la Manche in the UK, there the people seem to be in a stage of collapse all of their own. Now, what is it?
Let’s explore this question through an extended metaphor. In making a medical diagnosis, it is conventional to see how the patient responds to various stimuli, to see whether they fall in the normal range. Pupillary light reflex—produced by shining a light into one eye—assesses brain stem function (or lack thereof). Patellar reflex—produced by lightly tapping the kneecap with a hammer—assesses spinal cord function.
Now, suppose you have a patient who, no matter the stimulus, always responds the same way; for instance, by shouting “The Russians did it!” What if asking questions such as “Why makes you think that the Russians did it?” or “What is it that you think the Russians did?” produces loud but incoherent babbling? What if being accidentally jostled or startled by a loud noise or a flash of light causes her to start ranting about “patriarchy” or “white privilege” or “illegal immigrants” or “sound money and the Federal Reserve”?
Another diagnostic technique involves passively observing the patient’s behavior and drawing conclusions from it. Does the patient seem engaged with the outside world, or does she seem trapped in a world of her own, rocking back and forth, waving fingers at her eyeballs or sucking her thumb? Is she able to maintain normal, healthy sexual relationships or does she avoid personal involvement, masturbate compulsively or act out perverse fantasies? Are her fear responses rational or based on phobias and paranoid delusions?
Now, suppose you are confronted with a group of patients who refuse to make eye contact with those around them but continuously fondle small rectangular electronic devices, constantly taking photographs of themselves, their brain chemistry apparently controlled by the flow of “likes” from others who are similarly stricken, and exhibit extreme distress whenever network connectivity is lost or whenever the battery runs down?
And suppose that among this group normal heterosexual relationships of the sort that have been known to spontaneously produce viable offspring are becoming something of a rarity while every type of perverse and abnormal sexual behavior is being celebrated, with everyone being coerced to acknowledge it as normal? Suppose that among this group normal sexuality is actually given a negative label (“cis-gender”) while behavior that, whenever it is found among other, nonhuman forms of livestock, results in the animal being culled from the herd, is instead prioritized and incentivized? What, do you suppose, does that do for the viability of the herd? Keep in mind that in the normal scheme of things bulls that self-identify as cows are sent straight to the freezer.
And suppose that this group feels compelled to disregard an entire swarm of problems—financial problems, substance abuse problems, environmental problems, crime, mass shootings, a steady worsening of international relations and an increasing risk of nuclear war, etc.—and instead choose to focus on just one phantom threat: that of sexual harassment. The increase in morbidity or mortality that can be attributed to the unethical procurement of sexual favors within the workplace is quite negligible, but this point is ignored. Instead, there is an orgy of celebrating victimhood and demonizing the perpetrators. In turn, groping a coworker comes to be regarded as a worse crime than having an actual war crime committed in one’s name.
This is definitely some sort of collapse, but what kind is it? Let us give it the provisional name of mental collapse. Unlike the other five stages, which incapacitate some specific set of social functions, this one results in a generalized incapacity to process and respond to reality. What were formerly focal points of social adequacy become breeding grounds for social inadequacy: sober and prudent financial risk assessment is replaced with an unstoppable diarrhea of unrepayable debt; the political process is replaced by blind, powerless rage in the face of brazen corruption; commerce is replaced by addictive consumption and compulsive gambling; society plunges into a self-destructive war of the sexes; culture is replaced by a succession of short-lived, juvenile fads.
There is one more diagnostic method: of observing the behavior of other, supposedly normal people and seeing how they react to the patient’s presence and behavior. Is the patient accepted as one of the group and treated with recognition or respect, or is the patient ignored, actively excluded or laughed at? So, how is the patient—in this case, the entirety of the United States—coming to be regarded around the world? (Here, it is helpful to be in a position to observe—by residing outside the US.)
To gauge the international response to America’s mental collapse, it is useful to run through the five stages of collapse.
• Financially, most of the largest trading partners in the world are working diligently to free themselves from their dependence on the US dollar and immunize themselves against American extraterritorial legal claims.
• Politically, many countries, including former allies such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have realized that the US is no longer a reliable partner who can act as a guarantor of their security and are striking out on their own.
• Commercially, the US no longer makes much of anything. The rest of the world is happy to let Walmart and Amazon suck the remaining financial blood out of the American consumer while American attempts to hold the world at ransom by making it pay for US “intellectual property” have largely failed.
• Socially, the US is no longer a melting pot; the American Dream is now commonly seen as a nightmare of degeneracy, dependency and decay. Few people who have a choice choose to integrate into what remains of American society, which is increasingly divided against itself along political, regional, racial, ethnic and religious lines.
• Culturally, the US still manages to export quite a lot of pop culture by relentlessly appealing to the lowest common denominator. But in many parts of the world the influence of international pop culture on actual local culture, observable in how people relate to each other, is increasingly insignificant. Adults are not particularly easy to corrupt by various American freak shows. Their effect on children, especially through cartoons and movies (and especially the violent ones), pop music and video games, is somewhat more worrisome, but is commonly viewed as more of a distraction than an actual danger.
Understanding the five stages of collapse and their interactions can be quite useful to those who are in a position to arrest the downward slide toward social and cultural collapse at some earlier stage. But doing so is impossible without some reasonable baseline level of mental competence. If what we are witnessing in the US is the early stages of mental collapse, then this robs such efforts of any impetus.
To effect positive change one must be able to become better informed and to alter one’s behavior accordingly. But if a person is fed a steady diet of propaganda pooped out by a semiautomated corporate confabulatron, and if that person’s behavior is determined by a combination of delusions, addictions, compulsions, blind rage and chance, then what opportunities remain to effect positive change? And if there are none, then how should we respond? We certainly should not blame the victims of mental collapse. There is a legal principle that should perhaps see much wider use: the principle of nonimputability. Here is a handy definition:
For a person’s criminal nonimputability to be recognized, it must be established that the person was not aware of the consequences of his or her actions or was unable to control such actions, and that chronic mental illness, temporary disruption of mental activity, feeblemindedness, or some other pathological condition was present. Where at least one of these pathological conditions prevails in combination with the facts of the case, as established by forensic psychiatric testimony, the court recognizes the accused to be not criminally liable. Mandatory medical measures, which do not constitute criminal punishment, may be applied to the accused by court order; such measures include placement in a general or special psychiatric hospital. Similar measures are applied in cases where the accused is criminally imputable at the time of commission of the crime but becomes mentally ill prior to sentencing. [The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition. 1970-1979.]It seems to me that by now much of the population of the US is in a state of mental collapse, rendering it nonimputable. Leaving aside the question of whether they would be even theoretically capable of effecting positive change (most aren’t), the majority of Americans cannot be persuaded of simple facts.
• The majority of Americans is unable to process the idea that owning a gun is a prelude to homicide. The majority of gun deaths result from negligence, accident, anger or mistake, not from crime prevention efforts or self-defense, while the presence of guns increases the lethality of crimes. But no matter the evidence, most Americans will tell you that owning a gun makes them “safer.” Quite a few of them can't even be disabused of the erroneous notion that they can use small arms to stand up against the tyranny of a government that's armed with Predator drones, tanks, mortars, rockets and attack helicopters.
• The majority of Americans is unable to accept the idea that the US is not a democracy and that it doesn’t matter who is president. You can spell it out for them in any number of ways, showing how public preferences have zero correlation with public policy, and yet they will persist in the delusion that they can change something for the better… by voting.
• The majority of Americans is unable to accept the idea that their national defense establishment actually poses a very large threat to national security, from many standpoints. It hastens the approach of national bankruptcy; it emboldens its opponents through its fecklessness in all of the recent conflicts; it creates a class of brutalized, psychologically damaged individuals that go on to terrorize the domestic population; and it may accidentally trigger a nuclear holocaust. But the vast majority of Americans will not listen to such arguments and insist that their bloated yet ineffectual military-industrial complex is “defending” them… from what? From the Canadians?
Numerous similar examples can be found. Given that such people are nonimputable, we can only feel sorry for them and try to treat them humanely. Luckily, a country populated with nonimputable people is mostly a threat only to itself. Still, there is the danger that a nonimputable president surrounded by nonimputable generals might do something ghastly to the world. Here, we can only hope for the best. Not that the best promises to be all that good; in the new subnormal, possibly the best we can hope for is that the situation will remain sublethal.