Au contraire, it’s the belief that our system can continue like it’s doing that is the real hyperbole. Collapse is just baseline reality of civilizations.
- HISTORY: Collapse is a property of every civilization we’ve studied. These people were as smart if not smarter than us, working with societies smaller and simpler than ours.
- ECONOMY: The way money is created and managed today is an ongoing experiment that almost ended in 2008, and we are still on uncharted ground. We can only continue paying for debt by increasing consumption in the following year, yet our debt keeps increasing, by the ever-devaluation of our currency, requiring more production and consumption. No one is planning on an end to this model of growth.
- TECH: Most of our infrastructure is built under the incentive of increased efficiency and profit, not long-term robustness since profit has to be sacrificed to plan for contingencies like price fluctuations in supply. Short term tech outcompetes the long term, easy. Strong but fragile. And then there’s the incentivized inefficiencies from economies of scale: one calorie of food now requires ten calories of energy from our system to produce.
- COMPLEXITY: “More is different.” As everything becomes interconnected, things become entrenched into dynamics that become increasingly difficult to control and even reason about. Rational decision-making must always be filtered by the interests of the current system, thus there is a loss in agency in what we can do (read: incentives), and we are stuck trying to find creative solutions that must accept the framework of what may be a harmful system, often just making that system more effectively harmful.
- ENVIRONMENT: Some call it the sixth mass extinction. Whatever it is, the biosphere is changing dramatically. Soil is in a weird zombie state kept alive by oil. The basic line is that the value of life is diminished through the lens of our economy, as dead resources. So our model will continue bringing the real world into consistency with that deadness.
- MYTHS: When we live in a civilization that sanctifies all forms of advancement and improvement and growth, there is no fertile soil for the acceptance of limitation. We only have the vocabulary to label it pessimist. Thus, optimism becomes co-opted for the aspirations of a mythical techno-utopia beyond all conceivable boundary.
How would you define "civilization?" Because sure, every civilization has an expiration date, but for current computing technology to be lost requires a worldwide civilizational collapse. Current global civilization is a decentralized collection of many civilizations which have all shared and replicated the knowledge of computing.
>our debt keeps increasing
Public and private debt are separate things. Public debt has generally seen a continuous march upwards. Private debt has been peaky, with no upward trend. Debts are fine when the debt is incurred for a purpose that has a sufficient return on investment. Public debts of sovereign currency issuers can always be repaid, and the yields on those bonds are whatever the currency issuer decides. And further debts shouldn't be judged as nonviable just because of the quantity of existing debt. Rather, the question at each point should be whether the investment is a good one.
> Soil is in a weird zombie state kept alive by oil
Soil is renewable, and can be made even with simple techniques. The terra preta soil of the Amazon rainforest was largely human-made, and thus the Amazon itself is largely a human construct. Creating it didn't require any oil.
>there is no fertile soil for the acceptance of limitation
Malthusian thinking has often been the default, and one of the most popular modes of thinking since the Enlightenment. The mid 20th century was full of best-selling Malthusian books by the Club of Rome, Paul Ehrlich, M. King Hubbert, and EF Schumacher. The entire fields of biology and ecology have been predicated on Malthusianism. Darwin was explicitly inspired by Malthus.
It has been to the great surprise of the intelligensia of each successive generation that there hasn't been mass starvation. We've been able to do more and more, with less and less. Any serious type of collapse hypothesis needs to factor in the history of losing bets on that side of the argument, and internalize why their predictions were wrong. It wasn't just luck every time.
This empirical optimism is also paradoxically irreverent toward the immutable attrition of complexity. Our creativity has limits, whatever they are just pick something. At the risk of sounding flippant, 200 years of “creative patching” is historically too small a window to say we can continue subverting this “law” with eternal vigilance (I’ve heard this described as “we are running out of tricks”). Maybe I’m oversimplifying when I say we would have to approach the limit of absolute foresight to achieve this, but I think there’s some truth to it. For example, I like these explanations of our rational limits, with regard to managing a complex society:
- CHOMSKY: We have in our heads a certain set of possible intellectual structures. In the lucky event that some aspect of reality happens to have the character of one of these structures in our mind, then we have a science. And that doesn’t mean everything is ultimately going to fall within the domain of science. Quite the contrary… personally I believe that the nature of a decent society might fall outside scope of possible human science.
- ZIZEK: Hegel says, the owl of Minerva only flies out in the dusk. [owl being the icon of wisdom] So philosophy can only grasp a social order when it’s already in its decay.
Particularly unsettling is our reaction to the blurriness of our creative boundaries—that we insist on walking blindly toward cliffs to find where they are. Optimism in uncertainty is great, but some projections cannot be certain until too late.
A final quote that might address your first points:
- OPHULS: Because our own civilization is global, its collapse will also be global, as well as uniquely devastating owing to the immensity of its population, complexity, and consumption. To avoid the common fate of all past civilizations will require a radical change in our ethos—to wit, the deliberate renunciation of greatness...
Anyway, this debate is covered in the book The Wizard and The Prophet. I think we can tell which schools we belong to.