Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

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UndercoverElephant
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Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by UndercoverElephant »

Collapse is threatening to go mainstream. And yet apart from certain places on the internet, nobody is really talking about it. And even in those online places, the quality of the debate is usually poor - people spend much of their time talking at past each other, or passionately defending claims that are based on emotion rather than reason. This is in no small part because very few books have been written on the topic recently, and there is very little high-quality discussion of the topic in the media.

Why are there no books?

Three reasons come to mind:

(1) The topic is exceptionally interdisciplinary so almost impossible to tackle academically. Academics specialise. As soon as you go beyond degree level then you have to specialise even within your own field. Nobody can get anywhere near the level of academic expertise required to write in a scholarly way about this subject, because it encompasses multiple branches of science and technology, politics, economics, history, anthropology, psychology, sociology and philosophy. So academically you are left wide open to the accusation of trying to be a jack of all trades and master of none. Which is very handy for the large number of people who want to shut down debate and avoid thinking about the issues. Don't bother engaging with the argument, just attack the speaker/writer because he doesn't have a PhD in 10 different subjects.

(2) You are immediately plunged into deeply controversial political discussion, leaving you vulnerable to vicious co-ordinated attacks from both the left and the right. Either you fly off with the fairies to fairyland, or you have to admit that we have a problem with overpopulation and that means serious future problems caused by mass migration. You have to advocate voluntary degrowth of both economic activity and human population. If you already have a career, then not only does writing about such things mean your book will be attacked - there is a good chance that some people will do everything in their power to destroy your existing career. They will try to "cancel" you, and they'll do it with a mindset of their own moral superiority even if what they are saying is malicious and dishonest, because in their mind you are an evil eco-fascist/eco-communist (delete as appropriate).

(3) It is impossible to talk about the future without crystal-ball-gazing, and as the peak oil theorists demonstrated, this doesn't usually work and can render your writings outdated very quickly.
The PO theorists underestimated the complexity of the system, and so ended up making laughably incorrect predictions about, for example, oil prices. Their basic premise was correct, and peak oil has actually happened, but trying to predict how collapse is going to play out is a mug's game. You will almost certainly get it wrong, and if you get it right then you were probably lucky.

Have I left out any more major reasons why there aren't any books?

Why can't we talk about it?

Without guidance from books and mainstream media discussion, what would already be an incredibly challenging topic to meaningful to discuss becomes almost impossible. So the only discussion is in private between individuals who are already "believers", and in online spaces dedicated to discussion of that topic. And even there it is difficult.

Is this going to change?

I don't know. Are we going to end up in a situation where collapse is obviously already happening (the population and economic activity are both declining involuntarily) and still nobody writes any books and discussion is suppressed? Or are we eventually going to be forced, by the deteriorating state of our society, economy and ecosystem, to face up to the truth?

I really want to try to write a book about this - about why we can't talk about collapse, and why there are no books. I am in the very fortunate position such that when my second book (on edible plants and seaweeds) comes out in 2022, I will have very little to do for half the year. I am unemployable, so I might as well write a third book, as a shot to nothing. If it flops commercially then so be it. But I am convinced there is a need for such a book.
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by Catweazle »

The situation you describe is similar to the problem investors have. Out of 100 hedge funds one or two will (randomly) perform well, investors then assume that the managers of these funds "get it", and start pouring their money into them. Random luck doesn't stick around though.

Predicting collapse is the same game as predicting growth, a few people will get something right, for a while.
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by clv101 »

I think there's more talk and books about collapse than you make up. Sure, not all have collapse in the title or mention it explicitly, but the material is there.

Just off the top of my head:

Collapse Jared Diamond
Upheaval Diamond
The Collapse of Complex Societies Tainter
Before the Collapse Ugo Bardi
Understanding Collapse Middleton
Why the West Rules — for Now Morris and others

There's are many more I haven't read.

Certainly very common in fiction as well.

Did you read Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell? I mentioned in on here a few months ago, it presents a pretty good discussion on collapse from several different angles. Not so much collapse itself, but it's a book about people who think about collapse.
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by Lurkalot2 »

I tend to think a lot is down to head in the sand mentality. It's unthinkable in real life , good for a movie sat on the sofa stuffing your face but in reality "they" and "technology" will find a way to save us all. I know plenty of people who won't even contemplate shortages at the supermarket and keep a cupboard full of beans and toilet roll just in case let alone anything approaching a real collapse.
A thread appeared on facebook recently dealing with energy usage. I didn't enter into the conversation but the comments made for interesting reading. Any suggestion that we are over populated or that our population has any impact on consumption was soon shouted down with statistics about how energy consumption per head is higher in western countries with low birth rates but lower in third world countries with higher birth rates. Again i have many friends who don't believe population is an issue even in our own country. I've seen one quote that as only 7% of the uk is urban we could easily double our population and still only have 14% urbanised .
On a slightly related note i was listening to an interview after the announcement of the third runway at heathrow. When asked about the environmental impacts the interviewee said that larger four engined planes such as the jumbo were being phased out and replaced by smaller two engined , less polluting aircraft which would allow the industry to maintain their green credentials and to grow as well. I may be quite simple here but wouldn't a couple of twin engined planes produce the same as one four engined plane more or less?
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by UndercoverElephant »

clv101 wrote: Sat Dec 19, 2020 6:11 pm I think there's more talk and books about collapse than you make up. Sure, not all have collapse in the title or mention it explicitly, but the material is there.

Just off the top of my head:

Collapse Jared Diamond
Upheaval Diamond
The Collapse of Complex Societies Tainter
Before the Collapse Ugo Bardi
Understanding Collapse Middleton
Why the West Rules — for Now Morris and others
But these are all old books. Nothing post-2008.
Certainly very common in fiction as well.
Yes, I wasn't including fiction (which I don't read).
Did you read Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell? I mentioned in on here a few months ago, it presents a pretty good discussion on collapse from several different angles. Not so much collapse itself, but it's a book about people who think about collapse.
Never heard of it. I will look into it.

EDIT: I just checked out the reviews. This looks like the sort of book I have often considered writing, but rejected for precisely the reason given in all the one and two star reviews on DODGY TAX AVOIDERS: it is accused of being self-indulgent and long-winded. It ends up being about the author and his journey, and that pisses people off. Also he is accused of being an SJW, which is a red flag to me. I think I can guess at the contents of this book.
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by emordnilap »

UE, have you read any of Rutger Bregman's books? They're pretty honest although a tad optimistic.

On your question, you should write the book. It's a central point that should be explored. Go for it!
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by UndercoverElephant »

emordnilap wrote: Tue Dec 22, 2020 3:22 pm UE, have you read any of Rutger Bregman's books? They're pretty honest although a tad optimistic.
No, I will look him up.

EDIT: OK, I looked him up.
Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World[13] promotes a more productive and equitable life based on three core ideas which include a universal and unconditional basic income paid to everybody, a short workweek of fifteen hours, and open borders worldwide with the free exchange of citizens between all nations.[14] It was originally written as articles in Dutch for the online journal De Correspondent.[15]
Open borders worldwide? Sorry, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with realism. It is pure idealism.

I believe that when we are talking about collapse, and what it will be "too late to save if we don't act now", we're really talking about global co-operation to find a way forwards. We're talking about something resembling global stability, rather than an ever-increasing level of chaos while nation states disappear off the map, one by one, taken over by anarchists/warlords/jihadists. Open borders at that point is just suicide.
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by clv101 »

UndercoverElephant wrote: Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:30 am
clv101 wrote: Sat Dec 19, 2020 6:11 pm I think there's more talk and books about collapse than you make up. Sure, not all have collapse in the title or mention it explicitly, but the material is there.

Just off the top of my head:

Collapse Jared Diamond
Upheaval Diamond
The Collapse of Complex Societies Tainter
Before the Collapse Ugo Bardi
Understanding Collapse Middleton
Why the West Rules — for Now Morris and others
But these are all old books. Nothing post-2008.
Hang on Bardi was this year, Diamond was last year, Middleton was 2017...
I think you need to do a bit more research before writing your collapse book! :)
Did you read Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell? I mentioned in on here a few months ago, it presents a pretty good discussion on collapse from several different angles. Not so much collapse itself, but it's a book about people who think about collapse.
Never heard of it. I will look into it.

EDIT: I just checked out the reviews. This looks like the sort of book I have often considered writing, but rejected for precisely the reason given in all the one and two star reviews on DODGY TAX AVOIDERS: it is accused of being self-indulgent and long-winded. It ends up being about the author and his journey, and that pisses people off. Also he is accused of being an SJW, which is a red flag to me. I think I can guess at the contents of this book.
Yes, it as about the author, it describes his engagement with collapse from being a prepper to coming out the other side. Some really interesting takes on the different communities taking collapse seriously. It's pretty short, I found it interesting.
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by UndercoverElephant »

I think you need to do a bit more research before writing your collapse book!
What I actually need to do is figure out which collapse book I am going to attempt to write (I will also have to read many more books after figuring that out). I think what I really want to do is try to improve the quality of the debate and debunk various collapse-related mythology/propaganda. For example, the widespread belief that humans are going to go extinct before 2100, the effect of which is to stop people from having to think very hard about what is actually going to happen. Or the belief that we could ever respond to a mass-migration crisis by opening all international borders, or a global food crisis by everybody going vegan. At some point, we need to talk about this like adults, without these mechanisms for shutting down thinking and discussion.
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by Potemkin Villager »

UndercoverElephant wrote: Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:30 am

Yes, I wasn't including fiction (which I don't read).
I find this absolutely astonishing! Apart from all the pleasure you are
denying yourself IMHO well written fiction can be a much superior and compelling medium
to so called "factual' books in addressing complex human problems.
UndercoverElephant wrote: Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:30 am Did you read Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell? I mentioned in on here a few months ago, it presents a pretty good discussion on collapse from several different angles. Not so much collapse itself, but it's a book about people who think about collapse.


Never heard of it. I will look into it.

EDIT: I just checked out the reviews. This looks like the sort of book I have often considered writing, but rejected for precisely the reason given in all the one and two star reviews on DODGY TAX AVOIDERS: it is accused of being self-indulgent and long-winded. It ends up being about the author and his journey, and that pisses people off. Also he is accused of being an SJW, which is a red flag to me. I think I can guess at the contents of this book.
I find this just as astonishing, this "research methodology" where you fully deploy confirmation bias and guessing to rubbish something that may not fit your obviously strongly held views and prejudices. It seems you have already decided what conclusion any research may lead to.
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by clv101 »

UndercoverElephant wrote: Tue Dec 22, 2020 9:08 pm
I think you need to do a bit more research before writing your collapse book!
What I actually need to do is figure out which collapse book I am going to attempt to write (I will also have to read many more books after figuring that out). I think what I really want to do is try to improve the quality of the debate and debunk various collapse-related mythology/propaganda. For example, the widespread belief that humans are going to go extinct before 2100, the effect of which is to stop people from having to think very hard about what is actually going to happen. Or the belief that we could ever respond to a mass-migration crisis by opening all international borders, or a global food crisis by everybody going vegan. At some point, we need to talk about this like adults, without these mechanisms for shutting down thinking and discussion.
That would be good. But hard to stop it just being your own polemic rant. The Near Term Human Extinction nonsense is so absurd it wouldn't warrant more than a couple of paragraphs - unless you want to look into the psychology of the (very few) people who subscribe to it. If you do want to write a book on collapse, I'd suggest you need to read lots - especially stuff you don't agree with. Too easy to get stuck in your own bubble.
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by UndercoverElephant »

clv101 wrote: Tue Dec 22, 2020 10:33 pm The Near Term Human Extinction nonsense is so absurd it wouldn't warrant more than a couple of paragraphs - unless you want to look into the psychology of the (very few) people who subscribe to it.
It is the majority view at https://www.reddit.com/r/collapse/, which is probably the biggest relevant social media platform. And yes I am interested in the psychology, and the reasoning, and the cultural context.
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Re: Why it is so hard to talk about collapse. And we desperately need to talk about it.

Post by emordnilap »

UndercoverElephant wrote: Tue Dec 22, 2020 4:26 pm
emordnilap wrote: Tue Dec 22, 2020 3:22 pm UE, have you read any of Rutger Bregman's books? They're pretty honest although a tad optimistic.
No, I will look him up.

EDIT: OK, I looked him up.
Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World[13] promotes a more productive and equitable life based on three core ideas which include a universal and unconditional basic income paid to everybody, a short workweek of fifteen hours, and open borders worldwide with the free exchange of citizens between all nations.[14] It was originally written as articles in Dutch for the online journal De Correspondent.[15]
Open borders worldwide? Sorry, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with realism. It is pure idealism.
Without reading his arguments, you cannot judge. You're probably looking for confirmation of your beliefs. A common problem.
I experience pleasure and pains, and pursue goals in service of them, so I cannot reasonably deny the right of other sentient agents to do the same - Steven Pinker
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