Truth Against the World

Monday, January 14, 2013

Collapse Fatigue

It has always been the case that we live in an uncertain world. Our world is uncertain because the nature of reality is transience. One thing to be certain about is that things change, have changed, and will always change and this can be explained by understanding what entropy is. This rule of physical law is the great driver of decomposition and an explanation for why things change. Entropy applies to everything and there is no escaping it. The more complex a system becomes, the more energy that system uses, the more energy that is lost to nothingness. Eventually everything will be equalized into one great equilibrium where nothing is different from anything else. This almost sounds like a definition for spiritual enlightenment!

Humans are a pretty complex assortment of variables both on a physical level and on a psychological one. Collapse applies to both of these levels. It is a very physical phenomenon that gets transformed into a psychological one when filtered through human awareness (or lack of awareness as it were). Collapse fatigue is a psychological problem that's due to the process of collapse that is currently underway. It's widely understood to be a fatigue that is caused by waiting for this collapse to occur, but I submit that this is an unfounded because collapse is occurring all around us. Entropy ensures that this collapse is always the case, but sometimes when conditions are right things will increase their decomposition. We want these conditions to be right so that we can avoid collapse fatigue. What exactly does this idea look like?

Let's take the example of a compost pile with our civilization being said pile. There are as many ways to composts as there are to skin a chupacabra, but in the end the results are eventually the same. The process itself creates life. The final act of dying offers up those substances that are required to facilitate life. On one side of this gradient we have a pile that is simply left to decompose at it's own rate anaerobically. It's a loose pile with no particular shape, nobody tends to it, it's not kept at the perfect moisture, the carbon to nitrogen ratio is never taken into consideration, it's just left to rot...eventually. On the other end you have the compost pile that is tended to as a loving parent tends to a newborn. The point is to facilitate the aerobic breakdown of the organic materials in order to arrive at the end product, compost, as quickly as possible. We want collapse to be an aerobic situation when it's anything but. We want there to be some type of order , but there is no order to be found. It would be nice if the whole process didn't stink so badly. If only someone or something would come along and take the terrible stink away. The thing with an aerobic compost pile is that the keeper of the pile knows what they are doing. They know that the end result is compost. The keepers of our pile have no idea that we are decomposing (albeit some of them do, but overall they are clueless IMO).

We're all in this decomposing pile of a civilization together. Those of us suffering from collapse fatigue have realized that we are decomposing. We are composting anaerobically which just adds insult to injury. Why are we the only ones that smell this horrible smell? There's billions of organisms in this pile, and yet we are the small few that realize the overall picture. Let's get the oxygen, n/c ratio, and moisture right and get on with it already! But alas, the keepers of this pile could care less. They aren't keeping this pile to make soil. They're keeping this pile because it's the cheapest option for profit. The antidote to collapse fatigue is to realize that we are dealing with an anaerobic pile. The pile is massive and nobodies going to expend the energy to turn it.

Probably the greatest debate within the peak oil community is the one of fast collapse versus slow collapse. Those who are suffering from collapse fatigue advocate for a fast collapse. They do that because they secretly want to see the collapse. They want their prognostications to be vindicated before their peers. After all, we've spent all of this time, money, and energy prepping and we're going to go to our graves having never needed any of that preparation? I believe this is the case. There may be a natural disaster or a "cliff event" on the stair step collapse that will give us reason to enjoy our preparations, but there will never come a time when we can stick our fingers in the faces of all of those sheep and say to them "see, I told you so." When those cliff events happen there will be countless excuses emanating from the idiot screen explaining it all away. "Don't panic, there is a solution, the government and scientists are on, now back to the regularly scheduled show." Those who can't go back to enjoying the show no longer matter. They get pushed down the memory hole where they no longer count as statistics. The become proles and economic non-persons.

The reason why this is going to continue being a slow collapse is because of the nature of the interplay between fossil fuels and our civilization. Fossil fuels represent the entirety of the keepers of this compost pile. Fossil fuels (more precisely humans burning of) explain everything from our shifting and changing climates, droughts and super storms, to the global economic crises, to the poisons that permeate everything, to the shrinking water tables, to those whom are starving. This is true because our current civilization was built on a foundation of fossil fuels. Currently those in the PO community who are arguing for a fast collapse scenario are doing so because of the nature of economics. They say that there has be be a breaking point in our global economic system because we can't keep creating more money ad infinitum. I say they can, and will keep creating money. They can do this so long as there are fossil fuels to burn.

Money is nothing accept a token that represents a share of the Earths fossil fuel supply. Money used to be a representation of precious metals, but all of that stopped when man figured out about exploitation of fossil fuels. Now money is directly proportional to the amount of fossil fuel energy that is available for our exploitation. We didn't arrive at the top of Hubbert's curve overnight, and we're not going to find ourselves at the bottom overnight. There is going to be a long and invisible process of people using less and less energy. Western civilization wastes gargantuan quantities of fossil fuel energy. We can easily use half of the energy we do and still have a life that doesn't vastly depart from our current lifestyles. In fact, we are going to be forced into accepting this new reality. Every year we are going to use just a little bit less energy than the year before. We are going to have just a little bit less money than the year before. We are going to have less of everything directly proportional to the amount of energy that is available.

We haven't seen much austerity the past seven years because we've been making up the difference with unconventional energy. Austerity is the closest thing you're gonna get for proof of collapse. As petroleum becomes more scarce so will money. What we're going to see is the economic crises. Just as we saw it in 2008 with the too big to fail fiasco. A couple of banks caused the U.S. government to print a couple trillion dollars? No, peak oil caused the government to print that money. Simply put, peak oil defines the process of collapse. The telescreen won't be talking about peak oil. It will be talking about the economic crises.

Collapse fatigue is a psychological process that need not be endured. Lamenting over the process of collapse, sure, but suffering because it has not happened yet is not recommended. Collapse fatigue can be avoided by simply understanding that there is not going to be a fast collapse. There will be war, disease epidemics, famine, natural disasters worse and more frequent than years before, financial austerity, and marshal law. There will be explanations for all of these things broadcasts via the telescreen. There will be as many explanations as their are idiots to believe them. What there won't be is our civilization talking about how we built our house on a foundation of sand right on the beach just before sea level rise caused by burning fossil fuels. Your neighbor and work associate is not ever going to talk about the ramifications of peak oil. Waiting for these things to happen is no different than waiting for Godot. S/he's there, but s/he's not going to appear and shake your hand.

It's completely understandable that we want collapse. It's no different from the terminal cancer patient wanting euthanasia. Our way of life is without redeeming characteristics. If you are reading this I don't need to go into all of the reasons why. If you are aware of collapse fatigue than you are aware of how insane our civilization is. Is it any wonder that our children go to school and randomly massacre their peers? Is it really a mystery as to why? Who are we to lash out at to voice our discontent? This system is a faceless and nameless process that can't be pinned down. There isn't a king who's head we can collectively cut off. There is nowhere to escape this calamity. Nowhere to run and hide. The entire planet has been usurped by petroleum and petroleum governance. The patient has already died and we don't have the decency to pull the technological plug that animates the corpse. That's what our civilization has animated corpse. Everybody agrees that it's not a corpse. This is what we have erroneously labeled collapse fatigue, and this is what we should be lamenting.

We just want society to call a spade a spade, but it's not going to happen. The best we can do is prepare for the worse. It beats doing nothing. But in those preparations don't be operating under any delusion that one day your going to be proven correct before your peers. The best you're every going to get is labeled a kook and given a television show on the topic of prepping for the sheeple's anesthetizing entertainment. If you can make yourself believe that there is not going to be a fast collapse than you have the cure for collapse fatigue. It is a product of the fast collapse scenario and nothing more. Our civilization is too big to fail just like those banks were. As long as they've got fossil fuel energy they will be able to hide our civilizations process of entropy. Fossil fuels are simply too energy dense to notice all of that energy that we are pissing away. Collapse depression is a real thing that can't and shouldn't be avoided, but collapse fatigue need not be a problem. It's a product of unfounded prognostications about how our energy future is going to play out.


John D. Wheeler said...

I think the compost analogy is excellent in describing the pro-collapse point-of-view. The problem is that the other side does not see the future garden. They are actively trying to delay decomposition as long as possible. In that sense, to continue the analogy, what we have is not so much an anaerobic pile as a methane digester. The people at the top are trying to extract as much as they can from the process of decomposition.

The fact that they are prolonging the process as long as possible also means that a sudden collapse is basically inevitable. It does not, however, have to come anytime soon. In fact, I would be willing to bet that it won't occur until basically everyone agrees that it will never occur. The slow part of the collapse will grind all the preppers down.

Luciddreams said...

thanks John, I thought I should have taken more time with the compost analogy cause I figured there were more angles I could have tied in. You're right about the methane digester. I think?

So you're a proponent of fast collapse? Just got a while to go. I disagree, obviously, but I still have an open mind on the subject. I really do think JMG is correct on this one. I haven't seen anything to contradict a slow collapse. I mean it's stair step no doubt. They're going to be events we can point to and say "see...collapse," like 2008, the Macundo blow out, and Hurricane Sandy, but all in all BAU is going to continue getting worse by the day.

John D. Wheeler said...

Excellent!! You just gave me a mini-epiphany! The slow collapse scenario does not need to be contradicted. A slow collapse would be natural for the depletion of a critical resource, just like a car doesn't suddenly run out of gas. It is precisely what you don't see that is evidence for a fast collapse.

One of the first principles of engineering is that entropy can not accumulate. As an engine runs through its cycle exactly 100% of the entropy generated must leave. The alternative is the what auto enthusiasts call redlining, where the engine blows up. The fact that you aren't seeing complete recoveries means that entropy is accumulating in the system, and to my knowledge systems that accumulate entropy always fail abruptly eventually, whether they are mechanical, biological, social, or financial.

Don't get me wrong, I think the stair-step model isn't bad. I don't think we will go to 0 all at once, but I think the steps will be very significant in size, more like the collapse of the Soviet Union than 2008.

Jason Heppenstall said...

I think the compost analogy is a bit limited in that compost produces something useful at the end of its cycle. All our civilization is producing is millions of square miles of concrete, acid rain and nuclear waste. Still, if a concrete-and-nuclear-waste-eating microbe evolves ...

I'm also of the 'slow collapse' school. However, and it's a big however, I think that on an individual level there are many snares that can entrap us as entropy increases.

After all, we are looking at a system as a whole (the world) and there are many many places booming economically right now. Even here in Denmark life is exactly the same as it was 5 years ago - in fact it is probably materially better.

Great post, btw.

William Hunter Duncan said...

If much of what we know as Industrial Civ comes down, by say, 2035, will that be a fast collapse? I'd be more inclined to the idea of a 300 year collapse, if the culture weren't so high flying and the lies about imminent cornucopia weren't so thick. BTW - I've never seen a graph of the breakdown of a compost pile, under normalized conditions. But I submit, it would be more like a fast collapse scenario than a bell curve.

That said, ultimately, the speed of collapse will likely depend on how well it is managed, the resulting chaos contained. Hence, the MSM, and the expanding surveillance/police state. It is entirely possible that they could play it out slowly for the next ten generations, until we are living another hundred generations of Darkness.

John D. Wheeler said...

You pose an excellent question, William, how fast is fast? I consider the collapse of the Soviet Union to be a fast collapse. We might not be able to put an hour, a day, or a month on when it happens, but I think by the start of the 22nd century people will say "collapse occured around year" X. I am willing to be betting my life on it. By that I mean I'm prepared if it doesn't happen for people to say, "he wasted his entire life on that". What I am not willing to bet on is what specific year that will be, or that I will even live long enough to see it. But I don't think the elites are smart enough to draw this out over two centuries. And from the way they are acting I think they know it too.

Luciddreams said...

John, I think you got your response mixed up with WHD's blog. If you want to call me by my name, it's Aaron :0)

The collapse has been happening. We agree on that. It's anybodies guess. I'm sayin' 100 years before Mad Max, on the periphery. I'm sayin' 1984 is real now, just not complete. Brave New World was indeed the goal. Huxely was not down with PO I'm sure. Didn't know the energy would be gone. There is enough energy to make 1984 real for a hundred years once it's completely 1984 imo.

Tor Hershman said...

Fox lové da lill' peep