We have fallen upon evil times and every man wants to write a book.
There is also Glubb's more amateur-based cycle, plus Parkinson's (of the Law's fame) modification of Aristotle.
Regardless of the mechanism or timing of the theory of collapse, all agree (usually tacitly) that even though many know a collapse is coming, nobody is able to stop it.
Excellent article, thanks!
Georgetown professor Carroll Quigley also had a theory of historical cycles, which he held were driven by the nature of institutions to switch their purpose from performing a role in society to perpetuating their own existence at the expense of the population, thus bringing about their own demise.
I suspect both progressive Whig history and cyclical reactionary history are half-truths. History is clearly not a monotonic improvement in the human condition. But at the same time, it certainly doesn't repeat itself perfectly, and when one takes the really long view there is good reason to infer that, overall, things do tend to advance over time.
So for example, while much Roman literature was lost, along with many of their engineering techniques, we certainly didn't lose literacy entirely, nor forget how to smelt iron or create steel.
Applying the same lens to the natural world, while there are many mass extinctions, the overall trend is towards increasing encephalization and rising metabolic energy density.
The most accurate picture may be a superposition of the two - a rising curve, with a sine function oscillating on top of it. Of course, the amplitude of the sine wave can be quite significant, to the point of dominating historical evolution over generational timescales.
So, while we may well be looking at an immanent collapse and dark age, I doubt we'll lose firearms, electricity, electronics, or telecommunications. Those capabilities will certainly be degraded, perhaps even falling out of general use and becoming the province of elites or isolated monastic communities, but the fundamentals will be retained and be built upon later when springtime returns.
Very insightful essay, thanks!
I found Jim Penman's Biohistory (book: https://amzn.to/40d74vH) an interesting epigenetics-based causal mechanism for the long cycles of Sima Qian as well as shorter term fluctuations. He also produced a series of four short videos explaining the concept here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b4-Od8cq5Gk). I haven't seen much more from him lately.
Sadly, even those who know the history are going to repeat it, just with better program notes.
We can go a step further and say that what is upon us is not "Civilizational Collapse" per se, but rather the first time in Human History where the tier above "Civilization" (i.e. Ecumene) is at stake.
Even the Bronze Age Collapse will pale in comparison to what comes next. Behaviours and Tendencies taken for granted will be shifted (sort of akin to how rivers and water bodies shift after massive earthquakes). The "Human Being" as such will come to an End.
Meat consumption and Standard of Living are definitely linked; but after the coming Dark Age in the hellholes of CONUS, Europa, etc. they will be ripped apart; since the bulk of "New Meat Consumption" will be Human (especially those who escaped the initial Radiation poisoning).
If anything, it's good that the housekeepers, futurists and whatnot are Optimistic. They will be easy pickings for the New Predatory Species prowling through the Urban Wastes all decked out in pre-Apocalypse Gear. Bone Density, Blood Cell count, etc will all rapidly increase once the initial "humps" (i.e. Protein poisoning and whatnot) are breached. And so in a roundabout way:
The Steven Pinkers of the world (always putting out "success porn" out there on how great everything is Standard of Living wise) will end up becoming correct. It's just that it will happen to "Post-Humans" after some 2 billion are slaughtered, hundreds of millions more Devoured AND many hundred million more get their Nervous System Stapled and become Genetic Slaves.
The ones who remain (i.e. the Post-Human Predatory Species) will NO DOUBT have a Standard of Living far greater than anything we peons/proles possess today; but it will come at aforementioned costs. As always, nothing really comes free: The PRICE is paid upfront.
I'd venture a compromise. I think in terms of economic opportunity, access to resources, and availability of information there has never been a better time to be alive. Unfortunately, there are also more ways than ever to squander these resources and opportunities and lose our humanity. It's a giant character test, and most people fail.
I think you're a bit rough on Peter Brown and the Late Antiquity paradigm. You mention his nameless epigones who may have oversimplified the theory, but overall his emphasis on cultural continuity was nuanced and based on evidence. It's clear that there was a late Roman world from Constantine to the coming of Islam that was neither "classical" nor a "dark age", notwithstanding precipitous economic decline, of which Brown was well aware.
What's missing here is globalization/immigration. When Europe collapsed post WWII, the US was able to build it back up. Europeans were able to immigrate to US.
No such thing existed during Roman Times.
The Circulation of the Elites is also a direct response/counter to this:
“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times.
Good times create weak men. Weak men create hard times.”
Interestingly, 80 years is also the average lifetime of a world reserve currency according to that one graph I see repeatedly in the reactionnary internets.
what's happening now transcends "civilizational collapse". A 3,000 year-old Tribe whose ultimate purpose is universal death is now in near-universal power.
To cite Strauss/Howe Generations Theory as one example, do they not apply it to one "civilization" or, more particularly, one nation at a time? I mention this because it is by no means clear to me that what the civilization of the west, if taken as a quasi-national entity, is facing for its Fourth Turning is the same thing that, say, China, the Global South, Eurasia, or however else you might designate these cultures/national entities is facing. I haven't even checked to see whether they might fit on the same S/H generational timeline that the West is. Are they in their own Fourth Turnings or not?
Great article as usual, Alex.
One nitpick I have on the endlessly parrotted life expectancy schtick, that perhaps you or someone else can shed light on, is that in the Psalms we read that "the life of a man is but 70 years, or 80 for those who are strong".
This tells us that the Psalmist, living sometime close to the Davidic Kingdom era in the Middle East, lived in a culture where at least male life expectancy was 70 years on average. 80 if you're healthy and strong. Even assuming calendar variations, we're looking at LE of 60 to 90 years roughly. A far cry from 25. So what gives? Shameless propaganda?
One minor edit: "research extraction" should clearly be "resource extraction".
'Barbarism' is severely under-rated by decadent over-educated civilised types.
Quoting InfoGalactic instead of Wiki***** immediately raised my level of respect.
Very interesting take. Small note: It's 'bollocks' not 'bullocks'.