When will Western civilisation collapse

All great civilisations of the past have ended up collapsing, so the chances are that the current Western Civilisation will collapse eventually as well.

BBC: How Western civilisation could collapse

The political economist Benjamin Friedman once compared modern Western society to a stable bicycle whose wheels are kept spinning by economic growth. Should that forward-propelling motion slow or cease, the pillars that define our society – democracy, individual liberties, social tolerance and more – would begin to teeter.

Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group. Should we find no way to get the wheels back in motion, we’d eventually face total societal collapse.

Such collapses have occurred many times in human history, and no civilisation, no matter how seemingly great, is immune to the vulnerabilities that may lead a society to its end. Regardless of how well things are going in the present moment, the situation can always change.

Putting aside species-ending events like an asteroid strike, nuclear winter or deadly pandemic, history tells us that it’s usually a plethora of factors that contribute to collapse.

What are they, and which, if any, have already begun to surface? It should come as no surprise that humanity is currently on an unsustainable and uncertain path – but just how close are we to reaching the point of no return?

How wobbly are Western wheels? Are they going to fall off?

If so, is it possible to predict when? Or when it happens will it be too late to do anything about it?

Some say that we are close if not past the point of of no return on climate change, but that’s far from certain. For all we know we could be about to swing back into another ice age – which of course would create problems for an overpopulated world anyway.

Unfortunately, some experts believe such tough decisions exceed our political and psychological capabilities. “The world will not rise to the occasion of solving the climate problem during this century, simply because it is more expensive in the short term to solve the problem than it is to just keep acting as usual,” says Jorgen Randers, a professor emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, and author of 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years.

“The climate problem will get worse and worse and worse because we won’t be able to live up to what we’ve promised to do in the Paris Agreement and elsewhere.”

We are always at risk of economic collapse. The world has recovered from a couple of major depressions/crises, but we may not be so clever or lucky in the future.

According to Joseph Tainter, a professor of environment and society at Utah State University and author of The Collapse of Complex Societies, one of the most important lessons from Rome’s fall is that complexity has a cost. As stated in the laws of thermodynamics, it takes energy to maintain any system in a complex, ordered state – and human society is no exception.

By the 3rd Century, Rome was increasingly adding new things – an army double the size, a cavalry, subdivided provinces that each needed their own bureaucracies, courts and defences – just to maintain its status quo and keep from sliding backwards. Eventually, it could no longer afford to prop up those heightened complexities. It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in.

Sound familiar?

Also paralleling Rome, Homer-Dixon predicts that Western societies’ collapse will be preceded by a retraction of people and resources back to their core homelands. As poorer nations continue to disintegrate amid conflicts and natural disasters, enormous waves of migrants will stream out of failing regions, seeking refuge in more stable states.

Western societies will respond with restrictions and even bans on immigration; multi-billion dollar walls and border-patrolling drones and troops; heightened security on who and what gets in; and more authoritarian, populist styles of governing. “It’s almost an immunological attempt by countries to sustain a periphery and push pressure back,” Homer-Dixon says.

Sound familiar?

Western civilisation is not a lost cause, however. Using reason and science to guide decisions, paired with extraordinary leadership and exceptional goodwill, human society can progress to higher and higher levels of well-being and development, Homer-Dixon says.

Even as we weather the coming stresses of climate change, population growth and dropping energy returns, we can maintain our societies and better them. But that requires resisting the very natural urge, when confronted with such overwhelming pressures, to become less cooperative, less generous and less open to reason.

“The question is, how can we manage to preserve some kind of humane world as we make our way through these changes?” Homer-Dixon says.

Good question. There seems to be a tendency to become less humane.

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53 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  April 20, 2017

    I think you have answered your own question Pete, but don’t realise it.

    From my perspective, and I really hate saying this because it goes against all I stand for… but civilisations will stop collapsing only when man has a spiritual revolution of mind and soul.
    Whatever that would entail, I have no idea.

    Reply
  2. Blazer

     /  April 20, 2017

    inequality,needs addressing…..Tainter…’ It was fiscal weakness, not war, that did the Empire in.’…The U.S is obsessed with maintaining the U.S dollar as default international trade currency.Alternatives are increasingly presented,and have to be…crushed.

    Reply
  3. Gezza

     /  April 20, 2017

    When historians talk about “civilisations” rising and falling the past they generally mean particular areas of early organised societies, nations or empires. Western civilisation is not a single entity. It’s still made up of individual nations most of which broke away from former empires or rulers & established their own independent borders & polities based on common languages and / or ethnicity, and / or geographical borders. As long as we can manage to remain individual distinct nations with good relations with other countries of similar or shared values & freedoms , *Western civilisation* is in no danger of collapsing imo.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  April 20, 2017

      you wouldn’t know a U.S satellite,if it landed in…Wellington!Bol.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  April 20, 2017

        Probably not. There’d be stuff all left of it. I expect you could probably examine a charred lump of metal the size of a walnut & immediately determine it was a US satellite, probably launched from Houston.

        Reply
      • Gezza

         /  April 20, 2017

        Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  April 20, 2017

      Good point, Gezza. the Roman Empire was not the whole Western world. One of the reasons for its downfall was the spread of Christianity which left Rome weak. Fundies still claim that it was homosexuality, but they are wrong on that one as there was just as much of it when Rome became powerful-the emperors had to be gay.

      Reply
  4. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  April 20, 2017

    Western civilization will be soon be safely in the hands of the East Asians.

    Reply
  5. Kevin

     /  April 20, 2017

    It won’t collapse because capitalism is self-correcting. The danger is of being taken over.

    Reply
  6. Kitty Catkin

     /  April 20, 2017

    The West may be weakened, but it’s too large for anyone to predict its future, surely. There’s nothing that we can do about it, anyway..

    Reply
  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  April 20, 2017

    Good sense from a lot of the comments above. Western civilisation collapsing is just click bait journalism IMO.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  April 20, 2017

      I didn’t think one of Blazer’s was particularly sensible. 😳

      Reply
  8. Brown

     /  April 20, 2017

    “There seems to be a tendency to become less humane.”

    That’s the human condition – we tend to behave badly when we think no-one is watching and today seem to not be really bothered if someone is watching. Empires will come and go and many “go” pretty quickly. Western civilisation was built on some foundations that are being discarded today because they are seen as quaint or superstitious by many. When you don’t believe in anything you will fall for everything.

    And so on ….

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  April 20, 2017

      I think you have a valid point here. I’ve got few regrets about being raised as a Christian & those I have are mostly around how long it took me to learn from experience not to expect everyone, even some professed Christians, to have those. And there was always the stick of hell & the carrot of heaven, and magic (miracles) that underpin the Bible story that you had to get people to believe in to make them adhere to the religion. You are effectively asking people to believe many things that simply aren’t true or are at best highly improbable, & in an educated population that doesn’t work any more. That’s the hard part.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  April 20, 2017

        * soz … “to have those Christian values”, that should have said.

        Reply
        • patupaiarehe

           /  April 21, 2017

          It’s a real effort to ‘train yourself out of it’,G That said, the ‘christian perspective’ seems almost right….

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  April 21, 2017

            I certainly prefer the Christian perspective to the Jewish or Islamic ones.

            Reply
            • patupaiarehe

               /  April 21, 2017

              It’s the lesser of 3 evils. I prefer none of the above…

  9. Brown

     /  April 21, 2017

    “You are effectively asking people to believe many things that simply aren’t true or are at best highly improbable, & in an educated population that doesn’t work any more.”

    That’s a myth. There are plenty of scientists etc… who have no problem with Christianity and in history Christianity was a common feature in scientific circles.. People reject Christianity for emotional reasons and your problem is not the science and education – its you wanting to be unaccountable to anyone.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  April 21, 2017

      No, I would disagree there. People reject Christianity because of the unbelievable mythological bits. I live in a society & have a family and friends. I am accountable to many people, to the state, in some cases, and to myself, for my behaviour.

      There aren’t really that many scientists who believe the Bible is true – history and science have moved on since the early days when scientific experiments & observations were being conducted by monks and lay Christians.

      That’s not to say that believing in the Bible or Jesus as the third member of the Trinity which makes up the Christian god is completely incompatible with science, but it requires not accepting that a lot of the Old & New Testaments as true & reclassifying it as figurative or metaphorical.

      Do you believe in God as Yaweh & that he spoke directly to Moses & gave Moses The 10 Commandments on stone tablets, the first time, written in his own hand?

      Do you believe he then morphed into The Trinity when Jesus was conceived?

      Do you believe Jesus worked miracles?

      Reply
      • Brown

         /  April 22, 2017

        Your rejection of the Gospel is common enough but I disagree that scientists find answers in science to philosophical and theological questions – they are different fields looking at different things. The general slide in Christianity in the west (its always growing somewhere and is back on the plus side of the curve in the UK) is probably represented within scientific circles in the same proportion to the general public so possibly nothing much can be read into that. I wonder if the the poster boys of New Atheism have a higher profile than people like Lennox or Craig because they say what the shouting crowd like to hear.

        I think literalism is a dangerous error that is pretty widespread in the church today but I generally find lines easy to draw between the styles. That doesn’t mean I weight the cultural aspects around things such as numbers properly but that’s what commentaries by respected theologians are for. At the end of the day there are only a few key points that are foundational to Christianity and beyond them my mates debate over a beer (or scotch after 3).

        I wasn’t around to see Moses but it reads as an account of something real rather than purely symbolic so, if I have to believe or not, I’d say I accept something big went down. The mountain exists and is interesting to visit apparently but the Saudi’s have now fenced it off. Locals have always been perceived the place to have an association with Moses and the connection is seen as neither novel nor remarkable – its just tradition and accepted as fact.

        Jesus wasn’t conceived – he’s always been. His spell on earth as a man is just a re-packaging of something already in existence to fit people’s expectations. Some, like Simeon, saw Jesus for what he was because he understood the Old Testament. The Trinity is hard work because the concept is so alien to us but I guess I can’t expect a supreme being outside time and space to look like a benign Grandad because that’s all I can get my head around.

        I accept the miracles were seen as real and undeniable by sane and reliable people and therefore I accept they were real. Some accounts are very detailed to show how the locals reacted – like you would and how those objections were dealt with. The purpose was to prove who Christ was and there is generally a bunch of cultural and theological stuff around them that makes them more than tricks when you dig deeper and see what was going on.

        Reply
  10. Conspiratoor

     /  April 22, 2017

    All explained here folks. The Tet offensive all over again …and this one will be just as successful

    “Two great social forces are currently allied in a de facto coalition against the third. They have forged an unwritten agreement to jointly murder the weakest of the three forces while it is in their combined power to do so. One of these two social forces would be content to share totalitarian control over large swaths of the globe with the other remaining social force. One of these social forces will never be satisfied until it achieves complete domination of the entire planet. So what are these three great social forces? They are Islam, international socialism, and nationalism.”

    http://gatesofvienna.net/2015/11/tet-take-two-islams-2016-european-offensive/

    Reply
  11. Gezza

     /  April 22, 2017

    Thanks Brown. I might continue this discussion you sometime.

    Just one point. I don’t reject *The Gospel*. There are 4 of them, none written contempoaneously with the life of Jesus, or by any of his original 12 disciples. Although some scholars disagree, the vast majority of researchers believe that Mark was the first Gospel, written sometime around the year 70.

    This scholarly consensus is that the Gospels of Matthew & Luke were composed, independently of one another, sometime in the 80s or 90s, and that both used a written form of Mark as source material for their own narratives. These things, as well as conflicts in some of the reports of the same events, make them unreliable as summaries of purported witness accounts.

    Btw you seem to be correct that there is a higher proportion of scientists who are religious than I thought. A quick google search the other night brought up a couple of survey results including a Pew Survey which showed that the percentage of scientists who believe in God (I assume they mean the Christian God) is nearly as high as the General population, but it is still lower than the gen pop, And the field of science seems to make a difference too. I’ll dig deeper into that when I’m in the mood.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  April 22, 2017

      you could still be a candidate for…heaven…if you play your cards right…G.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  April 22, 2017

        Well, one can always hope I guess Blazer. ❤️ Trying to just be a good human being often has its own rewards, and when you’re stuck with innate senses of empathy and compassion, but a rational brain, and a sense of humour, one can only do one’s best to navigate the seas of the deeper meaning of life, and if there even is one, with thoughts & questions.

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  April 22, 2017

          nice thoughts…Maslows law prevails…but imo ..life,purpose is an individual thing,…if you are honest with yourself…life is..good.

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  April 22, 2017

            I guess that really depends on what your life is like at the time. Life is, fundamentally, your existence. I don’t believe in an afterlife. Religions fundamentally seem to try to explain the origins & existence of the universe & what we are supposed to do with our lives.

            Reply
            • Blazer

               /  April 22, 2017

              religions promise you …you will live forever..if only you…..!

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  April 22, 2017

      I’d be sceptical if the Pew survey is American, G. God botherers are still a huge social force there. Conforming is still a social imperative.

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  April 22, 2017

        Yes Alan, I know. It’s quite noticeable how godly all American Presidents become. That’s why I’d like to look more deeply into that issue. The main defect the Bible has is that if it’s the word of God he’s an extraordinarily muddled communicator, & had a really bad comms strategy.

        Reply
  12. “Our world would become an increasingly ugly place, one defined by a scramble over limited resources and a rejection of anyone outside of our immediate group.”

    That’s well underway …

    ” … we can maintain our societies and better them. But that requires resisting the very natural urge, when confronted with such overwhelming pressures, to become less cooperative, less generous and less open to reason.”

    Notionally there’s nothing preventing our ‘civilisation’ flourishing without economic growth, except perhaps our centuries old ‘dependence’ on economic growth to feel as though we’re flourishing …

    Ultimately Roman civilisation didn’t actually collapse, it adapted by incorporating Christianity to become The Holy Roman Empire.

    I doubt any single lifetime has spanned the complete collapse of a Greco-Roman civilisation, although indigenous peoples annihilated by colonising nations, particularly in South America, undoubtedly witnessed the extinction of their societies … their ways of life … their civilisations … along with their own lives …

    If a slow decline of Western civilisation could perhaps be defined by the frequency and scope of geopolitical ‘resource and markets’ wars, the 20th Century and early 21st Century ain’t lookin’ good for mankind …

    Reply
  13. Alan Wilkinson

     /  April 22, 2017

    The only limited resource is good governance with civilised behaviour and education.

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  April 22, 2017

      how is that limited ..Al…?

      Reply
    • Well Alan … No … but perhaps without education in civilised behaviour good governance is a limited resource … ?

      Yep … It is …

      Reply
  14. Brown

     /  April 23, 2017

    I answered Gezza’s question and you guys all start typing. Haven’t you got something better to do? And Blazer, have you always been a smug, childish prick or did you need to go on a course?

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  April 23, 2017

      Just ignore these heathens, Brown. I appreciated your reply.

      Reply
    • Gezza

       /  April 23, 2017

      Just as an aside, Brown, I did allow myself a wry grin when the Imam in Auckland got slammed for telling his deluded faithful congregation the Israelites were terrible believers in their own faith. By any reading of the Old Testament, including Kings, Chronicles & the various prophets, he was on the money. They were shockers. Total backsliders, any chance they got.

      Reply
      • Brown

         /  April 23, 2017

        I’m happy to respond to serious questions and thank you for the opportunity. The Iman is correct and the OT clearly supports him. His problem is that the ravings of a lunatic a couple of thousand years later are perceived as preferable so he’s no better off or further ahead than the Jews.

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  April 23, 2017

          I don’t think Muhammad was a lunatic. I think he was a clever lawmaker, then politician & then a dictator. He drew more heavily on Judaism’s Yaweh to create Allah than on Christianity’s Jesus & the apostles, although he did give Gabriel a starring role.

          Reply
          • Gezza

             /  April 23, 2017

            PS: Luke 1:31 disagrees with your statement that Jesus wasn’t conceived. It’s quite critical to Christianity that he is the son of man as well as the son of God.

            Reply
    • Blazer

       /  April 23, 2017

      can’t you just….turn the other….cheek!

      Reply
  15. To me the really interesting thing about this discussion is the general acceptance that Western civilisation is synonymous with either Christianity or some less-definite ‘spiritual’ and moral code of some sort …

    I’d go further, along the lines of Spinoza and Warner, and say that Life itself is ethical …

    We love to think of ourselves as animals – which serves political and economic ends admirably, bolstered by false interpretations of Darwinism – and we can certainly be behaviourally indoctrinated so we act like animals – but in ‘reality’ we are spirits in a material world …

    Reply
    • Brown

       /  April 23, 2017

      Good song and Sting approaching his best. If life was inherently ethical we wouldn’t be so good, through practice, at ending so much of it.

      Reply
      • By the same logic Brown, if human life was inherently unethical, surely it wouldn’t have endured? We’d be extinct … ?

        Life is ethical – as in Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative – but obviously freedom of choice or free will plays its part. We can choose to act unethically or, one might say, to ‘sin’?

        “Religions … have lost their magic power over man, because their symbolic value had not been rightly understood and adapted, with sacrifice of dogmas, to the changing aspect of the world. Yet they proved strong enough … by mere inertia … to prevent the formation of a new law of morals, free from religion, which would have been a mainstay to mankind.

        Thus there arose the man of the 20th century, free from mental and moral restraints, the lord of nature and slave to the machine.

        If the religious foundation, the moral foundation, is taken away, concern for the maintenance of earthly existence, worry about the job … becomes the one great care of life.

        Man has paid the price of his intellectual liberation by the surrender of his inner values, by the forfeiture of his soul. The dehumanised man has nothing further with which to oppose … the machine, and yields to it …” (Warner)

        Reply
    • Pickled Possum

       /  April 23, 2017

      Reply

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