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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCII–Ecological Overshoot and Collapse: Rearranging the Deck Chairs On the Titanic

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh XCII

January 22, 2023 (original posting date)

Monte Alban, Mexico. (1988) Photo by author.

Ecological Overshoot and Collapse: Rearranging the Deck Chairs On the Titanic

My comments prompted by two recent articles by The Honest Sorcerer (whose writing I highly recommend).

January 13 post:

I believe you’ve hit the nail on the head about the underlying motives behind the geopolitical morass our globe’s ruling elite are creating (and consequential fallout for the hoi polloi): a rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Ecological overshoot and peak resources (especially energy) have the socio/psychopathic ruling caste fighting amongst themselves for the vestiges of an ever-shrinking economic pie.

Emboldened and blinded by their ‘successes’ in the past (when there existed much in the way of surplus net energy), they are proceeding full steam ahead with a final blow-off top of resource extraction/exploitation, all-in attempt to consolidate and expand their ‘winnings’; first with the far-off ‘other’, then their domestic political ‘enemies’, and finally with their out-group citizens before they begin to cannibalise their own.

As I have been arguing for some time, the primary motivation of our ruling caste (as has been evidenced throughout pre/history of complex societies) is the control/expansion of the wealth-generating/-extracting systems that provide their revenue streams and thus positions of power and prestige. None of us are safe from the machinations of these people; nor is our environment and the very important ecological systems that serve to support the essentials of life.

Everything will be sacrificed to serve the ends of the ruling caste…bet on it. And things are likely to get much, much worse before the impact of significant diminishing returns — to say little about ecological overshoot — puts a final nail in the coffin of such misguided and insane behaviour.

January 18 post:

It’s most interesting how cyclical human pre/history is. Perhaps that’s because of the truism that those who don’t study history are destined to repeat it; either that, or humans simply don’t learn from their mistakes. We are after all a very intelligent species, just not too wise — despite our self-proclaimed taxonomic nomenclature.

Complex societies, empires, civilisations all come and go. They reach a peak of complexity then invariably ‘collapse’. It may take centuries or it may only take a handful or less of generations for this decline, but it always occurs. As Joseph Tainter points out, a population can actually ‘put up with’ significantly diminishing returns on their ‘investments’ in supporting the-powers-that-be for a long time.

The other point Tainter makes, that I believe is relevant to your narrative here, is the aspect of competing polities in this ‘Grand Chessboard’ of geopolitics.

As he argues, such polities tend to get caught up in spiralling competitive investments as they seek to outmaneuver others and evolve greater complexity together. The polities caught up in this competition increasingly experience declining marginal returns and must invest ever-increasing amounts leading to greater economic weakness.

Withdrawing from this spiral or collapsing is not an option without risking being subsumed by a competitor. It is this trap of competition that will continue to drive the pursuit of complexity regardless of human/environmental costs.

Incentives and economic reserves can support this situation for a lengthy period as witnessed by the Roman and Mayan experiences where centuries of diminishing returns were endured.

Ever-increasing costs and ever-decreasing marginal returns typify peer polities in competition. This ends in either domination by one state and a new energy subsidy or collapse of all.

As he concludes: “Collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global. No longer can any individual nation collapse. World civilization will disintegrate as a whole. Competitors who evolve as peers collapse in like manner.”

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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