Civilization: how thy collapse?

Depending on the mechanism of the apocalypse, the end of civilization would occur in vastly different ways.

Here’s a recent video sponsored by the Royal Institution and conducted by Dr. Lewis Dartnell (of The Knowledge fame).



It’s of pretty standard apocalyptic fare, but there are a few standout notions posed by the panel and audience.

The first is asked by the astrophysicist: How would society change, today, if we discovered that in thirty years an unavoidable asteroid (of ELE size) was destined for Earth? That delay, thirty years, really made me think. Obviously, everybody 70 and older wouldn’t really care, personally. They would, though, work to save their descendants. But aside from who would care, and for what reason, what, if any change would occur in society — tomorrow? What would you change in your life, right now, knowing in thirty years the end of the world was guaranteed?

Another notion, proposed by the generalist, was that in a catastrophic event, like my favorite topic, a CME (coronal mass ejection – and the end of the electrical grid), that there are billions of food animals (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens and turkeys) that would be available for months after the “end of food.” His theory, which sounded silly, but he confessed it was considered by those who plan for such things, was that humans would be eating burgers for months, but that the lack of ketchup would be part of the critical path of survival. He quipped that there was a National Strategic Condiment Reserve created to store enough ketchup and mustard to ensure that people could continue to enjoy their quarter-pounders.

The third notion that I thought curious was the topic of what goes first? Do people die out quickly (a pandemic, or nuclear, volcanic or asteroid induced winter) or do people survive and their infrastructure fails them (a CME or a nano bot revolt or AI take over).

Generally speaking, civilizations don’t collapse quickly. Jared Diamond’s Collapse, explored the various failures over the last few millennia and, for the most part, things come apart slowly but determinedly. Politics, food, resources, strife, elitists vs plebes, all contribute, over tens if not hundreds of years, to destroy a civilization.

The apocalypse, however, would tend to speed things up.

Mentioned in the second half of the video, is the book Paradise built in Hell, which explores the altruistic fallout during specific calamitous occurrences. That — we are our brother’s keeper — that people, over all, tend to jump in to save each other in times of catastrophe.

This may be true for localized events; single areas, nations or even regions (Hurricane Katrina, the 2011 Sendai earthquake, or the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004). But where I think this fails us, and this is the base theory for this post, is the following:

When we feel secure in our own lives we feel empowered to help others. Even if we ourselves are inundated by chaos, if we know that the province, country or world remains stable — outside of our ongoing criticality — then extending ourselves to our neighbors can be substantiated; we know others will be there to pickup the slack. That, knowing we do not risk everything, we feel empowered to help those in need.

But what happens when, deep in our souls, we know no one else will be there to help us out of our own disastrous situation? When we know that the entire world is under siege? That we know that help IS-NOT-COMING. How will we react then?

Does civilization fail when the realization that THIS-IS-IT penetrates our thinking? Do we resort then to protecting our own, abandoning our neighbors, our jobs of assistance? What would you do if you knew your family, your loved ones were also under attack — but your job, your duty, was to stay here and fight for and protect these folks? Would you stay? Or would you admit that, “hey, I have to get back to my OWN family who needs me.”?

5 thoughts on “Civilization: how thy collapse?

  1. One of the best things I’ve read! Your analysis and thoughtful insight into the possibilities inherent in the demise of mankind – both on a macro and micro scale – are stupendous!

    Now, to answer a couple of the questions you’ve posed, from a personal perspective:

    I believe we would all seek to make it back to our own families, in the event they are under attack in the same manner as our neighbors or other parties. Protect our own is a strong inclination.

    For myself, in the event we found out the world would end in 30 years, that will take some thinking. Those wheels are already turning. Being almost 50, and knowing that the average life span is around 77 years, I imagine I would accept the notion of “death” in much the way that I already do: that it is certain, almost certainly in about three decades from now, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

    I would also adapt a “scientists might be wrong” approach, much as I do now. In 30 years time it might miss us, it might be late, or we might find a way, through science, to forestall the threat or end it entirely.

    So I’m guessing that tomorrow would be much the same for me as today. But a decade or two from now I would approach life very differently, knowing the end is imminent. Maybe 30 years is too far away for me? 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for playing the game, Tom. Hypotheticals are what I spend a fair amount of time exploring. In fact, much of my Fermi Paradox/Drakes Equation posts (and the comments) deal with such “what if”s.

      “Scientists might be wrong,” is a good assumption to take, I believe. Just noodling the theory here I’d probably first turn to my children and say, “how can I help you?” For theirs is the future that would be eliminated.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely. The perspective of one with children in this scenario would be vastly different than the perspective of one without (like myself). I wonder if I’m viewing the entirety of existence correctly, then, if my focus is such? I mean, shouldn’t it always matter what happens to our descendants, either way?

        Looking forward to exploring more hypotheticals with ya!

        Liked by 1 person

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