Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush
I’m not sure how many people outside the writer’s trade realize how much of writing is a cooperative process. That’s as true of those of us who write late at night in the privacy of a silent room as it is of the more gregarious sort of writer, the kind you can expect to find in a crowded café, surrounded by voices and music and the clatter of street noises coming in the door: every writer is simply one voice in an ongoing conversation that includes many other voices, some living, some dead and some not yet born.
As I write this week’s post, for example, it’s difficult not to notice some of the other voices in this particular conversation. The bookshelf an easy reach to my left has a row of brightly colored trade paperbacks by some of my fellow peak oil authors—William Catton, Richard Heinberg, Jim Kunstler, Sharon Astyk, Dmitry Orlov, Carolyn Baker and more. Close by, the rolling brown landscape of Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History, all ten volumes, confronts the twin black monoliths of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West, while Giambattista Vico’s New Science offers an ironic Italian commentary from one side. Other shelves elsewhere in the room contribute other voices: biology and ecology textbooks from my college days; appropriate tech manuals from the Seventies brimfull of unfulfilled hopes; old texts on the magical philosophy that forms the usually unmentioned foundation from which all my thinking unfolds; and a great deal more. Poets, as often as not, these days: Robinson Jeffers, William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot. Without the contributions of all these other voices, the conversation and thus my contributions to it would not be what it is.
Still, there are times when the conversational nature of what I’m doing becomes more obvious and more direct than usual, and one of those happened the weekend before last, at the Age of Limits conference I discussed in last week’s post. One of my presentations to that conference was a talk entitled “How Civilizations Fall;” longtime readers of this blog will know from the title that what I was talking about that afternoon was the theory of catabolic collapse, which outlines the way that human societies on the way down cannibalize their own infrastructure, maintaining themselves for the present by denying themselves a future. I finished talking about catabolic collapse and started fielding questions, of which there were plenty, and somewhere in the conversation that followed one of the other participants made a comment. I don’t even remember the exact words, but it was something like, “So what you’re saying is that what we need to do, individually, is to go through collapse right away.”
“Exactly,” I said. “Collapse now, and avoid the rush.”