Between our power outage on the Outer Banks and Hurricane Harvey I’ve been thinking: How is civilization going to end? I don’t mean, “How is the world going to end?” A pandemic or asteroid will answer that question. My query is more along the line of Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. How is American Civilization (and Western civilization for that matter) going to collapse?
We saw some civilizational collapse during Hurricane Katrina and we’re seeing it on larger scale with Hurricane Harvey (simply due to the size of the storm). A window to the future has opened and we’ve received a snapshot of what has yet to be. This is what it will look like. Perhaps, this is what it is. Maybe it’s not a dystopian glimmer of what’s coming. Is it what it appears to be, the present?
I believe we’ve reached a point of no return. And from this precipice, no single factor is going to push us over the edge. The uneven distribution of wealth in society, the environment, and competition for natural resources (just to name a few) are all working together to do us in. Like ancient Rome, our empire is stretched too thin while fighting unwinnable guerrilla wars in places Alexander the Great couldn’t hold.
The economic stratification in America and throughout Western Europe is unsustainable. Concentrated wealth in a small percentage of individuals and corporations will eventually lead to more of the present: unaffordable lives. Rents will be too high to pay, illnesses unable to be treated, food to expensive to be bought, and children to expensive to be raised. Work will not be done because no one will be able to afford the basic necessities of life to do any work.
The resources allocated to the poor are not enough to maintain the basic underpinnings of the economy. Given the impact of a massive economic and environmental disaster, civilization could collapse quickly; especially when the military we depend on to maintain law and order is fighting terrorists in Pakistan, not filtering water or flying missions in Houston. At some point the legions of volunteers will return to work in their own communities, for their own economic well-being. In a nation drowning in debt, addicted to a sixteen year war in Afghanistan, and afraid to address health care reform; how are we not on the verge of societal collapse? The answer to that question is usually, “because neighbors still help neighbors”. When the food runs low and the guns are drawn, the line between looting and scavenging disappears. It’s good to see people helping people. It’s also hard to argue with the math when you can’t pay the bills.
As recovery efforts begins, we are about to witness competition for limited environmental and economic resources. Land will be inhabitable. Jobs will be scarce. Some people will never go back to the homes they once knew. Refugee populations will be resettled across America. Germany knows what this is like. Bosnia’s experienced this. America’s new to the internally displaced people game.
Nothing will ever be the same again. More hundred year storms will come next year and the following year. The military guarding our streets will become a permanent fixture in American society. Let’s pray there’s not another housing crisis akin to the one in 2008.
The death spiral which ended with Rome’s collapse at the hands of the Visigoths didn’t begin in 410 AD. It was a long, slow ride. The questions for me are this: Where are we on our ride? How much longer? Is it me, or is it getting faster?
Richard Lowell Bryant