The Coming Collapse*:
- civilization on the brink -
by Joel A. Wendt
This is something we know instinctively is happening. We can't help but notice the odd kinds of decay everywhere. Somehow things keep getting worse instead of getting better. If we have some understanding of complex systems, we know that when certain kinds of basic changes in the totality are about to occur, the whole system begins to oscillate in a rather wild fashion. This goes on until some kind of crisis point, after which the whole finds a new equilibrium. In a sense, the principles of order that previously gave our civilization its cohesion have become exhuasted. They can no longer provide stability. Something new must now be called forth. Will it be based in the darkness of our lower impulses, or arise in light of our highest hopes. In such circumstances we approach a great battle. What will happen is not fixed, although one can say that we do live in interesting times.
*This was written originally around the year 2000. As people know today, the Collapse has come, and it was the economic relationships which proved to be the most fragile of the various complex systems in which Civilization is manifested. At the time I write this (March, 2009) the unfolding of the Collapse is hardly begun - much more will "fall apart". We just need to keep in mind (as stated elsewhere in my writing), that "falling apart" or chaos, is a necessary first stage for something new to begin. The Phoenix burns to ash in the fire of its passions, before it rises again.
It might seem like this is predicting the future. It is not. It might seem like this is about paranoid conspiracies, or efforts by elite groups to control the future. It is not. It even might seem to be about some kind of religious fantasy. But again, it is not.
It is about rather predictable things though. About systems failures. About structures that reach the end of their life. About people not understanding what they are doing, and the inevitable consequences of arrogance and stupidity. It is about very natural and expectable happenings in the life cycle of a civilization, and about how people react, or don't, in a crisis.
Let's consider a very concrete example.
For a long time now, human beings have been trying to discover the secrets of living organisms. Whole departments of universities are devoted to these studies - zoology, botany, micro-biology to name but a few. With the discovery of DNA in the middle of the 20th Century, it was assumed that a giant stride forward had been made. In fact, many think that we have found, in DNA (and related work) the fundamentals of all life.
Based upon this work, human beings have begun to attempt to engineer living organisms. DNA has been altered in plants and animals, sometimes for pure research, but most often in the search for profit. Huge corporations have spent billions trying to find profitable ways of applying this kind of understanding of life processes. Patents have been applied for and received, and the new (altered DNA) organisms have been sold widely as products, especially in agriculture.
We now have out in Nature organisms that have been lifted out of the web of life, altered in a laboratory, and then returned and set free in the womb of these very complicated and delicate ecologies. Does anyone really think we have a mature enough understanding to act in this way?
Clearly we have not. For the fact is that already we have had altered plant organisms acting in the environment in unpredicted ways. In spite of the assurances of leading scientists, working for these corporations, our knowledge is clearly limited, and unwanted consequences are already occuring. Here is a link to the best website on these questions: The Nature Institute. And, here is a link to Barry Commoner's Harper's Article: Unravelling the DNA Myth - The Spurious Foundation of Genetic Engineering.
This is a situation which will only get worse.
Basically we have profit driven organizations seeking to apply deep alterations of the natural environment at the same time as they believe in an illusion. They think they understand the natural world, but do not. What is worse is that they have every reason for appreciating the limits of their knowledge, but greed exceeds caution (witness the recent acts of British Petroleum in the Gulf). Here is the testimony of a leading scientist on the scientific background for the situation with corn:
STATEMENT FOR THE FIFRA SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY PANEL OPEN MEETING ON STARLINK CORN
Arlington, Virginia November 28, 2000 JOHN HAGELIN, Ph.D. Director, Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy
"I speak to you as a scientist who is striving to ensure that our best scientific knowledge be applied for the solution--and prevention--of society's problems. I am a nuclear physicist who has published extensively in superstring theory and, during the last three elections, I have been the Presidential candidate of the Natural Law Party.
I want to address an issue much deeper than whether the CRY9C protein in StarLink corn is likely to be allergenic. I want to address the assumptions that underlie the entire agricultural bioengineering enterprise. I am deeply concerned that life scientists are implementing bioengineering technologies without adequately understanding the lessons we have learned from the physical sciences. One of the key revelations of modern physics is that phenomena unfold in a far less linear and predictable fashion than eighteenth and nineteenth century thinkers assumed. Today we know that there are inherent limitations on our ability to make precise predictions about the behavior of a system, especially for microscopic systems and nonlinear systems of great complexity.
Numerous eminent molecular biologists recognize that DNA is a complex nonlinear system and that splicing foreign genes into the DNA of a food-yielding organism can cause unpredictable side effects that could harm the health of the human consumer. Yet, the genetic engineering of our food--and the widespread presence of genetically altered foods in American supermarkets--is based on the premise that the effects of gene-splicing are so predictable that all bioengineered foods can be presumed safe unless proven otherwise. This refusal to recognize the risks of unintended and essentially unpredictable negative side effects is just plain bad science. It is astounding that so many biologists are attempting to impose a paradigm of precise, linear, billiard-ball predictably onto the behavior of DNA, when physics has long since dislodged such a paradigm from the microscopic realm and molecular biological research increasingly confirms its inapplicability to the dynamics of genomes.
Moreover, the premise of predictability is not just scientifically unsound; it is morally irresponsible. The safety of our food is being put at risk in a cavalier, if not callous, fashion, not only in disregard of scientific knowledge, but in disregard of recent technological history.
Here, too, lessons should have been learned from the physical sciences. Time and again, the overhasty application of nuclear technologies led to numerous health and environmental disasters. For example, in the early days of nuclear technology, the rush to commercialize led to the sale of radium tipped wands designed to remove facial hair. Nine months later the cancers came. Similarly, the failure to comprehend the full range of risks and to proceed with prudence has led to many disasters in the nuclear power industry.
In the case of genetic engineering, even greater caution is called for: a nuclear disaster only lasts 10,000 years, whereas gene pollution is forever--self-perpetuating and irreversible.
The irresponsible behavior that permitted the marketing of bioengineered foods has not been limited to the scientific community, but includes the executive branch of the federal government. The FDA's internal records reveal that its own experts clearly recognized the potential for gene-splicing to induce production of unpredicted toxins and carcinogens in the resultant food. These same records reveal that these warnings were covered up by FDA political appointees operating under a White House directive to promote the biotech industry. It is unconscionable that the FDA claimed itself unaware of any information showing that bioengineered foods differ from others, when its own files are filled with such information from its scientific staff. And it is unconscionable that it permits such novel foods to be marketed based on the claim they are recognized as safe by an overwhelming consensus within the scientific community, when it knows such a consensus does not exist.
The StarLink fiasco further demonstrates the shoddiness of the government's regulation, since the system failed to keep even an unapproved bioengineered crop out of our food. Indeed, the contamination was discovered not by the government, but by public interest groups. The FDA had no clue and had taken no measures to monitor. This incident also demonstrates how difficult it will be to remove a bioengineered product from our food supply if it is eventually found to be harmful and, therefore, how important it is to prevent the introduction of new ones and to phase out those currently in use.
It is high time that science and the truth be respected, and that the false pretenses enabling the commercialization of bioengineered foods be acknowledged and abolished. I call upon the members of this panel to uphold sound science so that you can hold your own heads up as the facts about the hazards of bioengineered food become increasingly well known. I call upon you not only to resist the pressures to approve the pesticidal protein in StarLink Corn; I call upon you to honestly acknowledge the inherent risks of genetic engineering and to affirm that, due to these risks, neither StarLink nor any other bioengineered food can be presumed safe at the present stage of our knowledge."
For a deeper understanding of these issues go to: http://www.southerncrossreview.org/19/gmcrops.htm
Let us return to the initial question, which concerns the collapse of our present civilization.
In the above example, we have looked at a situation where those who understand our limits of knowledge are being ignored by those who prefer their own profits and powers over the risks to the rest of us. This is essentially a moral failure, or better yet a moral weakness in the fundamental structures of our society. This problem of moral weakness in the social order has been discussed in detail in the essay Basic Conceptions: fundamentals of a new social view .
In this case we have not just a simple moral failure, of the kind that happens all the time in the relations of individuals to each other, but rather a fundamental structural dissonance at macro levels of the social organism. The food supply of our civilization has become dominated by agribusiness, which continues to demonstrate that it is incapable of acting for the benefit of the whole. While Civil Society (in its present configuration) opposes this, it currently lacks the capacity to heal the dissonance.
Now it is not the thesis of this essay to suggest that this macro dissonance is going to be the cause of a fall of our civilization. The point is otherwise.
This particular dissonance is an example of a certain type of flaw or disharmony in the social organism. These kinds flaws involve a gap between our knowledge and the nature of reality. We believe we know something, but the reality is different. Our ignorance means we will error in our acts. In a civilization, this type of gap occurs at multiple levels, and the more fundamental the funtional level at which the gap exists, the worse the consequence when reality refuses to conform to our ignorance.
If one looks around at the current phenomena of our civilization, a number of such fundamental functional dissonances can be seen to exist. Moreover, they frequently interact and often are interdependent. A collapse of one system, may weaken, or even bring about the collapse of others.
Before taking this any further, let's take a look at some other forms of dissonance in our current civilization.
While this next is also connected to science, it does not take the form of a gap between knowledge and reality. It does concern something we all know about, which we recognize as the creation and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Now there is a level where this involves a gap between knowledge and reality, namely in that we created these weapons telling ourselves that it would be possible to contain or control their use. This is a kind of psychological illusion - this belief that we can somehow keep these weapons from being used. History certainly does not support such a view, and the fact that their use is to many "unthinkable", we know that they will be used. The atomic bomb has been used in Japan, and bacteriological weapons were used in Iraq and Iran. The real foolishness is to not expect them to be used. In fact, if there is a serious environmental collapse, or an economic collapse, the likelihood of the use of weapons of mass destruction (now that so many nations - and even some individuals or small groups - have them) increases.
Of course, there are efforts (at the time of this writing, March 7th, 2003, the potential war of the USA against Iraq over its weapons of mass distruction looms, and North Korea threatens nuclear attack against the USA), by various governments to solve these problems, the fact remains that their use is much more likely then their not being used.
Weapons are really made to be used, and why anyone is surprise when they are used is certainly beyond reason. Genetic research has weapons implications, as does the emerging research into nanotechnology. Cyber-warfare is certainly being planned, if not covertly active in the present. Everywhere there are belligerents, and those seeking to dominate. We can expect that these weapons will be used.
Especially delicate our are economic relations. We are all aware now that the dot.com revolution turned out to be just another stock bubble (a lot of hot air and no real wealth being generated). It also has come to the fore that Corporate managers have taken to all manner of interesting ways to falsify their balance sheets in order to inflate the value of stock (and thus line their own pockets selling inflated stock before the truth catches up to them). Everywhere in the finacial world, choices are being made on the basis of short term gains, with little thought to the long range consequences.
As it says in the index page of this website: "Civilization burns". In almost every field of endeavor, where there has arise large institutional social forms, basic flaws are emerging, and in what we have depended upon for social coherence is now showing all manner of "cracks".
It is not a question of if the collapse comes, but only of when and how bad does it get.
Civilizations fall for reasons, and ours includes as a basic element of its collapse, the excesses of individuals in pursuit of their own pleasures and vices. In a sense we suffer from too much individuality, and not enough community. This is probably why cancer is a disease common to this time, for cancer involves a part of the whole taking a course of growth all on its own. In our civilization, all manner of individuals and groups want something for themselves, and the rest be damned. Their selfishness is like a cancerous growth in the body of the community.
Elsewhere (The Future), it is discussed how the slow collapse of social form within Western Civilization has led to a change of consciousness, in particular the possibility of a new level of individual moral freedom. The point here is to recognize that, while the coming collapse is clearly a tragedy of the first order, it is also a necessary step in those organic and spiritual/moral processes by which one form of civilization passes away so that another, new and more developed, form may arise.
There is within the essence of the human being that which is eternal. It is from this source that morality and Civil Society arise. It is from this source that Art enters the world. The world's various religions are patterns woven in the texture of history revealing the spirit hidden within. Even in our own consciousness, in the very act of thinking, our own eternal spirit engages in a dialog with the Eternal Spirit of the Universe.
The Burning Fire of the Day of Purification, which is the name the Hopi Prophecy gives to this time of ending and beginnings, shows in all its details that the coming collapse has purpose and meaning, and that we are being invited to cross through this Rite of Passage, hand in hand, on the threshold of a dream. The age which gave birth to all manner of excesses of individualism is dying, and we now stand together at the Dawn of a New Age, where cooperation and community hold the true and only keys to survival.
home page -o- e-mail