Are You Crazy To Continue Believing In Collapse?

It’s nerve-wracking to live in the historical moment of an epic turning point, especially when the great groaning garbage barge of late industrial civilization doesn’t turn quickly where you know it must, and you are left feeling naked and ashamed with your dark worldview, your careful preparations for a difficult future, and your scornful or tittering relatives reminding you each day what a ninny you are to worry about the tendings of events.

Persevere. There are worse things in this life than not being right exactly on schedule.

Two simple words explain why more robust signs of an economic collapse have hung fire since the tremors of 2008: inertia and fraud. Never in human history has there been such a matrix of complex systems so vast, dense, weighty, and powerful for running everyday life (nor a larger population engaged in it). That much stuff in motion takes a while to slow down. The embodied energy has kept enough of it running to give the appearance of continuity. For instance, agri-biz still sends its amber waves of grain and tankers of corn-syrup to the Pepsico snack-food factories, and the WalMart trucks still faithfully convey the pallets of Cheetos, Fritos, Funyons, and Tostitos from the Pepsico loading dock to the big box aisles of glory. The freeways still hum with traffic even though oil is pricey at $100 a barrel. The lights stay on. The gabble and blabber of Cable TV continues remorselessly in the background of life. All of that is due to inertia. It gives the superficial impression of the old normal carrying on. Things go on until they can’t, in the immortal words of Herb Stein

The fraud is present in the abuse and misrepresentation of official statistics used as metrics in government policy, in the pervasive accounting chicanery of that same government in its fiscal dealings, as well as in our leading financial institutions and corporations, including control fraud in banking, interest rate rigging, mortgage and title fraud, front-running, naked shorting, re-hypothecation, money laundering, pumping-and-dumping, channel stuffing, the endless innovation of swindles, and, most importantly, the fundamental mispricing of the cost of money, which reverberates through everything else, most particularly real estate, stocks, and bonds. Beyond that, in the shadows of the shadowland known as shadow banking, a liminal realm of secrets and intrigues, only a few are privileged to know what is going on, and you can be sure they only know their end of the trade — while immense sums of ever more abstract “money” slosh through the derivative sewers on their way to oblivion in the ocean of failed trust.

So, don’t feel bad if this colossal armature of folly still stands, and have faith that the blinding light of God’s judgment will eventually shine even unto the watery depths where failed trust has sunk. Sooner or later the relationship between reality and truth re-sets to the calculus of what is actually happening.

Meanwhile, the big questions worth reflecting upon are: What is the shape of the future? How might we conduct ourselves in it and on our way to it; and how will we think and feel about all that? It’s very likely that the journey to where we’re going will be rougher than the actual destination, once we get there. There is a hearty consensus outside the mainstream financial media and the thickets of academia that the models we have been using to understand the economy look more broken each month, and this surely adds to the difficulty of constructing our own mental models for how the everyday world of the years ahead will operate.

Some of the commentators in blogville and elsewhere like to blame capitalism. Capitalism is a phantom adversary. It isn’t an economic system. It isn’t an ideology, really, or a belief system. If the word means anything, it describes the behavior of accumulated surplus wealth in concert with the known laws of physics — the movement of energy through time and space — and the choices we make organizing society in relation to that.  The energy is embodied as capital, represented in money for convenience. Interest expresses the cost of money over time and the risks associated with lending it. By the way, interest rates work the same way under all political systems, despite attempts in some societies to criminalize it.

During the high tide of the industrial expansion, when fossil fuels were cheap and we accumulated the greatest wealth surplus ever in history, humanity made some very bad choices, squandering this possibly one-time bonanza. We fought two world wars, and lots of wasteful lesser ones. Russia and its imitators attempted to collectivize wealth under gangster government and only succeeded in impoverishing everyone but the gangsters. America built suburbia and Las Vegas. The one thing that no “modern” culture did was plan for a future when the fossil fuel orgy and the techno-industrial fiesta might wind down, which is exactly the case now. Instead, we opted for the Julian Simon folly of crossing our fingers and hoping that some unnamed band of genius wizard innovators would mitigate the problems of resource scarcity and population overshoot just in time.

The demonizers of capitalism propose to remedy our compound predicament by just getting rid of money. But the idea of a human society without money leaves you either up a baobab tree on the paleolithic savannah, or in some sort of Ray Kurzweil techno-narcissistic masturbation fantasy multiverse with no relation to the organic doings on planet earth. I suspect as long as there are human societies there will be things to exchange that have a quality we call “money,” and as long as that’s the case, some individuals will have more of it than others, and they will lend some of their surplus to others on terms. What most people call capitalism was a model of economy derived from a particular transitory moment in history. It seemed to describe reality, but after a while it didn’t because reality changed and it was, finally, just a model. Nothing lasts forever. Boo-hoo, Karl Marx, J.M Keynes, and Paul Krugman.

What’s cracking up first is the complexity and abstraction of our current money operations, sometimes loosely called the financialized economy. If we blame anything for our problems with money, blame our half-baked attempts to mitigate the wind-down of the techno-industrial cavalcade of progress by issuing ersatz surplus wealth in the form of debt — that is, promises to fork over hypothetical not- yet-accumulated wealth at some future date. There are too many promises now, and too few trustworthy promisors, and poor prospects for generating the volumes of wealth as we did in the recent past.

The hidden (or ignored) truth of this quandary expresses itself inevitably in the degenerate culture of the day, the freak show of pornified criminal avarice that the USA has become. It only shows how demoralizing our recent history has been that the collective national attention is focused on such vulgar stupidities as twerking, or the Kanye-Kardashian porno romance, the doings of the Duck Dynasty, and the partying wolves of Wall Street. By slow increments since about the time John F. Kennedy was shot in the head, we’ve become a land where anything goes and nothing matters. The political blame for that can be distributed equally between Boomer progressives (e.g., inventors of political correctness) and the knuckle-dragging “free-market” conservatives (e.g., money is free speech). The catch is, some things do matter, for instance whether the human race can continue to be civilized in some fashion when the techno-industrial orgy draws to a close.

In Part 2: How Life Will Change, we sort out the new operating principles that will matter more in the future than the trash heap of current cultural norms. The society that emerges from the post-growth economy will surely require a new moral compass, a set of values based on qualities of behavior and things worth caring about — as opposed to coolness, snobbery, menace, or power, the current lodestars of human aspiration. 

Click here to access Part 2 of this report (free executive summary; enrollment required for full access).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I'm definitely aware of the possibility of collapse, but think it necessary to recognize that there could be enough sloughs to mitigate the main avalanche; enough tremors to prevent a mega-thrust earthquake.  Figuratively, a few buildings collapse but these are cleaned up, the space re-purposed, and life continues until the next shakeup, rinse and repeat.  It could be "The Long Transition" for those with short attention spans, the average easily distracted inhabitant of the "fantasy multiverse."
If I were a power leader, I'm thinking "We don't want to stampede the herd with too much change, let's try to manage transition over time and allow a shift to the new normal."  I think that is the best case scenario to be hoped for; certainly pain is involved, but more of a need for a Advil than morphine.  Indeed the unsustainable will not last, but sustainability may have "momentum"…energy use is gradually limited to more and more vital purposes, and from more varied sources; flippant energy waste just becomes unaffordable and resources are used more carefully, then reused.  It is stressful waiting for "craziness" to arrive.  My thoughts of late are that one should prepare for ugly changes as much as possible while recognizing that change might come pretty slowly.

Thanks, Jim, I always enjoy your pondering your thoughts.

I've been following Chris for a long time, and appreciate all the work that goes into this website.

I was just wondering, given that Dow:Gold is still high, and we still haven't had any major crash in the markets or the dollar…


Isn't is possible that we're missing something and that we're JUST WRONG?



… and we're right in the thick of it.  Looking for a "grand crash" to put an exclamation point on matters is, I believe, born out of the desire to be vindicated for seeing things as less-than-rosy.  I also don't think that it's going to happen. 
More likely, we'll continue to see a steady erosion of standard-of-living for the vast majority of the population, with more people continuing to be slide from their previous status as "economically necessary" to "economically superfluous".  There will be events here and there that cause a sharper drop, followed by a period of rebuilding and reconsolidation that will be termed "recovery," except things will never get quite back to the level that they were before the drop.

This is a process that will play out over DECADES at the very least.  That's why it's so imperceptible to the majority of folks who aren't familiar with the likes of CM, JHK, JMG, Orlov, Tainter, etc.  They're still stuck in the realm of cognitive dissonance, aware that a box of cereal that used to be 16 oz. is now 13 oz. for the same price, but also absorbing the continuous stream of how the Dow is at record highs and shale oil is turning us back into an energy superpower.

Don't worry about being "vindicated".  Just get your own shit in order to make your own life more resilient, and then help your neighbors, friends, and family do the same if they're interested to do so by seeing your example.

i read How to prosper during the coming bad years by Howard Ruff in 1979, which prescribed storing water, food, seeds, tools and the typical prep for the collapse that some of you all are now just getting into…i'm still ready for it myself (always have had a years supply of food, 2 months of water) but i dont get excited about it any more…if it happens i'll be ready, but i aint holding my breath…

I would tend to agree, except that history has never known a period of such prosperity, and as a result so many human beings have never been so, well, pampered with stuff. (Granted, in the so-called 'first world' moreso than in the 'developing world') The average inhabitant of Homo-sapiens-dominated earth has either directly experienced the height of the cornucopia that cheap energy has brought us, or exposed to visualizations of the "lifestyle of prosperity" indirectly. To a certain extent we all have a sense of entitlement and a plainly unsustainable expectation of the future. You speak of the collapse as a long slide rather than a Great Implosion, and I tend to agree with you in theory, but this ignores what happens in the psychology of societies filled with humans who are used to having more, wanting more, and expecting more. Or at least more of the same. I believe that what we're seeing around the world right now is the beginning of expectations meeting reality, and people are pissed. Protesting. Picking up rocks, stones, and bottles aflame with petrol. How far can the standard of living drop here in America before people take to the streets, or begin taking what they can from their neighbors?
As a historian, I tend to see collapse as a long, slow decline, punctuated at the end by a sheer vertical drop into chaos of varying hellish-ness, depending on how the decline was managed. I just wonder how close to the vertical drop we're at, not whether there is one.
I like your vision more, though. It's less scary.

It's very challenging to maintain relationships when studying the collapse is a major part of your life. I can't maintain some of the relationships that I use to have because I went "ALL IN" regarding my passion for ecology and economic topics. 
I don't want kids for so many reasons. I think it's selfish to bring a child into this world today if you have any insight on these subjects. I have no desire to pursue a career because it feels like an empty shell. I worked in conservation for a while and I monitored private easements. I learned that conservation quality is only as good as its management. When SHTF, conservation easements, or at least most of them are meaningless. 

I was absolutely disgusted when I worked with the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and other government agencies because they spent so much time on small and meaningless research projects. They do so much meaningless busy work to allow themselves to have full time jobs. Public education and much of their work is great, but MOST of their work that they spend their time on made my stomach turn. Now I work my butt off hustling in a kitchen where I get to multi-task and come home exhausted. It feels like work, and I enjoy that. The pay is modest.

Anyways, I certainly don't look attractive to women because I clearly "have no future." I am constantly referred to as negative and a pessimist and those are not attractive qualities to have. I don't think telling somebody that they have cancer is pessimism, it's just reality and fact

Whenever I am with friends I engage them in these topics. Most don't want to hear it. The ones that I can discuss resiliency with are apathetic and think they will be okay because they understand that peak oil exists, but they don't recognize how hard and fast adopting a different lifestyle is going to be.

My civil engineer and medical field friends are doing okay, but the rest keep pursuing education and internships in the hope that it will pay off. They don't want to work in restaurants because it is very degrading work and they have college educations. The problem is there is not much beyond that for us young folks.

Anyways, I keep working, saving, and investing is resources in the hopes of finding happiness and meaning later in life. I feel crazy.

I want a slow slog, many more of these 50%, wash, rinse and repeat cycles that we've had since 2000's recession, and 2008 Recession. Why? I feel very confident that I can take what I have and turn these 50% down and 50% up Fed driven events, and turn them into a Resiliency that would last my family for generations. Right now, I feel pretty secure just having the basics of food, clothing and shelter (w/heat) and my investment scheme.Just before the 2008 crash, that NO ONE actually seen coming but a minority, I watched everything jump, just like it is today. I remember the shock of seeing oil hit $147 a barrel!, and I just began in this new interest of mine, and knew, absolutely knew that this wasn't right. I feel the same today. Must trust your gut sometimes.
I do know you speak the truth, today does resemble the 70's attitude that America was toast, just time now, any day, maybe tomorrow, it has to happen this month, soon then, this year for sure, sometime in my lifetime is absolutely the time. Thing is, a 50% decline is a remarkable gift and I want in on the next one, for sure. We've had two of these in 14 years or actually in 8 years and are over due for one now. Thing is, "do you feel lucky (?), punk". Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.

Except for all the evidence of history which is defined by massive collapses of all sorts.  Have you acquainted yourself with all the failed currencies over the last 100 years?  The only difference in our society is we were the winners of WW2 and inherited the reserve currency and yoked western Europe to it.  Politicians levered that system starting in the 1960's and then exponential money printing after 1971.   When all assets are mispriced due to money intervention how can we expect a "smooth" correction.   There is somewhat calm now only because the $ is incumbent and sticky.  When it unsticks, watch out.I look forward to after collapse as the opportunity for business will be great as incumbents are given less weight and owners reassess and consider new players.  Radio didn't go way in the Great Depression.  Always better to collapse sooner rather than later but politicians are blind to this fact.

I dont believe in the slow downside because of the ever exponentially growing demand factor. It took a long time to get to half, but it wont take nearly as long to head down the slope. Other forms of energy dont really help much because they only replace coal, not oil. You dont have to go all the way down either.  
Collapse has a number and that number is either $60 a barrel or $150 a barrel. At 60 they cant make a profit and at 150 they cant sell it.

Since they are completely stuck on this, and have showed their hand by admitting defeat in the exploration area, its not a collapse that were going to get. Its a war and then a reorganization.

There will be no energy to rebuild a planet of 7 billion, but there will be plenty of energy to rebuild a planet of ~1 billion.

why do you think they want everyone in the cities.

I think capitalism can and should take a large part of the blame for the collapse we're seeing, I'm not going to let it get off the hook that easily. The essence of capitalism is that you make profit by investing some embodied energy and resources ("capital") into some activity, then you offer the product of that activity into the market, and the money you receive in payment exceeds what you put in. The difference is "profit", which is commonly understood to be wealth creation. And the best explanation I've been able to come up with, after a few years of research into different economic schools of thought, of how specifically that wealth creation process actually works inside the black box, is that it comes from MAGIC! It sounds silly, but that's essentially the extent of the analysis I've seen, outside ecological economics circles. I would go so far as to suggest that our collective inability to understand where wealth "production" actually comes from is probably the greatest oversight in the history of humanity, because it leads so many down such dangerously misguided economic paths.
Capitalism is essentially just an organized way of consuming natural resources at a continually increasing rate, and doing so in a way that allows private parties to obtain their wealth from the market, absent major wealth redistribution from a centralized government. 
As Wikipedia says, "Capitalism is an economic system in which trade, industry and the means of production are controlled by private owners with the goal of making profits in a market economy."
Basically, profit means you get more out than what you put in. Now, for every person in a society to be profitable, to those of us on this site who understand that real wealth comes from the natural world and that there are physical limits to the amount of useful things you can do with that extracted wealth, that above "getting out more than what you put in" is more commonly called a perpetual motion machine. And as I hope almost all of us understand, there is no such thing.
Capitalism worked when there were enough resources enabling the economy to grow. But the problem with capitalism that won't go away, even long after the relevance of capitalism has, is that it maintained and enforced the widespread belief amongst the economics community that the private sector is "productive" and that left to its own devices it creates wealth by itself. Well no, it doesn't, it merely consumes resources. Capitalism didn't drive growth. Capitalism enabled growth, in consumption of natural resources.
I don't like analyses that portray the alternatives to conventional capitalism as the failed communist countries. That is polarized thinking; there are many alternatives. What about Sweden? I'm not claiming it's a utopia but it's one of the better examples. And as to the suggestion that no modern country used its oil wealth to plan for an oil-less future, what about Norway? It put a large portion of its oil revenue into its sovereign wealth fund. Now we could argue about how much of that will evaporate when the financial collapse happens, but it was at least an attempt to socialize and redistribute more fairly, a recognition of conventional capitalism's failings.
Now that capitalism is ending, I'm sorry folks but we are going to have to come up with some other way of distributing wealth. Obviously communism isn't going to work, and capitalism won't, so what else is there? The easiest and best way I think is to continue with some form of mild capitalism, with the addition of a wealth tax instead of income tax. This will still allow people to engage in "wealth creation" (snark snark) at a more modest and reasonable scale, thereby providing an incentive to innovate and go to work every day, but not to get so rich so that they gain ownership of a disproportionate amount of the assets out there at the expense of everyone else. Because now, wealth is a zero-sum (well, declining actually) game.

I thought the collapse started awhile ago?..Japan, Greece, Venezuela, italy, Portugal, Spain, [add your favorite here]. Stop looking at the markets, they are merely the old western facade hiding the desert behind.
See ya round pardnars!

Free NL wrote:why do you think they want everyone in the cities.
Could you elaborate on this? Your train of thought …I'm just curious.

you have to concentrate people if you want to "control" them… 

Energy: While M. King Hubbert thought that peak oil would be done with by now, due to other forms of energy taking the place of oil, we (the developed world) have mostly wasted the opportunity for change and continue with the status quo. I actually hope that we get the slow grind down that some, including John Michael Greer propose. The alternative now is Seneca's Cliff, instead of the almost reasonable down-slope of the logistics curve. I hope that we will get enough PV Solar, Wind, and other renewables on-line to make the down-slope prosperous. 
Environment: Green-house gasses and global warming will eventually make living in Las Vegas (where I currently am) un-tenable. We are losing farmland and topsoil faster than it can be replaced globally. Fish stocks are being depleted. Water is an issue. We have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet.

Economy: I just note that games are being played. Others here have already done a better job than I can on this topic.

If any of the 'shocks' that have been identified come to pass, then being prepared allows more options, and the allowance of possibly having thought through the possible responses. While I am only prepared for local or regional, short to medium length emergencies currently, I have thought about some of the issues that appear in the larger scale. A change in our behavior is required, and some of us are moving into those mind-sets.

J.M. Greer proposes that our catabolic collapse will take the remainder of this century. I hope that my preparations remain unused and that he is correct. Having some plans to mitigate the situation if he is not just seems prudent.

go back to sleep.C

A powerful piece. 

I have to admit, I waffle on this a good bit. I want to believe folks like Matt Ridley (Rational Optimist) will be "right" in that we will tech our way out of peak cheap oil and other ills. We staved off the Malthusian Population Bomb for…what, 50 years so far? But when I look at the Three "E's" I think this may be wishful thinking on my part. If we had "only" energy to worry about, if we'd managed our global economy in a reasonable manner,  it might make me think we had the wherewithal to get thorium going, decentralize food production and think about how to plan for some of these changes.

But, that's not our story. At least, not my sense of it. 

Whether it will be collapse or change, I think focusing on local food, politics and community will not only provide resiliency, but likely a better quality of life. That seems like a "win" no matter how this plays out. 

 understatement. I am blushing! Calling you "nillfilly" was simply me striking the adjoining keys on the key pad. My remark was so short I left without proof reading, and was a terrible happenstance. Please, forgive me.

The way I see it is that we now are drawing down our natural capital savings account (and have been for some time especially in the 2000s) and by doing so our status quo is perceived to be sustained. If you have zero income because you lost your job  and lets say $200.000 in savings + interest. and yearly expenses (food, car, mortgage etc) of $20.000. You can go on with the status quo for 11 years without your neighbors knowing that something is wrong. In year 12 you file for bankruptcy.   
We humans spend today 1.5 times the earths bio-capacity (yearly). We are effectively drawing down our natural savings account plus interest (the earths regenerating capacity) at an alarming rate. Our financial markets are still our clueless neighbors.

Now I believe that we can do something about our predicaments it if we choose to use our rational "collective" brains, and implement socially constructive alternative narratives (it has to be a positive alternative or else we will possibly increase consumption due to our steep discount rates). But I am also aware that we are biologically wired to deny the inconvenient truth and turn to mysticism (i.e technology etc.) because it has been a successful survival strategy. To quote Reg Morrison from "The spirit in the gene": " Our time bomb is mysticism. Its delivery system is language. And its hiding place? The unfathomable coils of our DNA." 

Was it nillfilly or fillnilly? Either way, I'm good.