Since then, as I’ve watched various collapses unfold, I have been noticing, to my dismay, that the canonical collapse sequence is not always being followed. Yes, there are cases where financial collapse still leads, commercial collapse follows it and political collapse comes next. But there are other cases where social and cultural collapse are definitely in the lead while the financial realm remains intact. It is kept afloat using desperate measures, by playing ever more brazen confidence games or through outright fraud. But commerce continues to serve the needs of those who still have some money even as the political realm steadily degenerates into an unfunny farce. Did I get my collapse sequence wrong?
For quite a while I marveled at this turn of events, not sure what to make of it, but eventually it dawned on me that two types of collapse are possible: one is, let’s say, organic; the other, engineered. And shortly thereafter it became clear to me who would want to engineer collapses in just such a manner—by collapsing society and culture first.
While the first three stages of collapse—financial, commercial and political—separate out quite cleanly, dissecting politics, society and culture can be tricky. Finance presupposes commerce, and commerce presupposes law and political control, but the inverse relationships are not strictly required. For the longest time commerce was based mainly on barter and on exchange of precious commodities (gold and silver, cockle shells, gems, etc.) periodically as needed to correct any imbalances that developed. There were, for the longest time, no commercial loans, investment schemes or other financial instruments. One of the most stable political arrangements throughout most of the world since the advent of agriculture has been feudalism, where a monopoly on violence is established specifically through the disruption of existing financial and trade relationships through murder, looting and pillage, and protection is initially provided in exchange for slave labor rather than products.
I saw the first three stages of collapse as entirely unavoidable, given the completely unsustainable nature of economic and population growth in most of the (over)developed and (formerly) developing world, while the next three stages—social and cultural collapse—could be avoided, in certain places and by certain groups, given a concerted effort. Cultures and the social structures and norms they sustain are indeed sustainable because in spite of the great diversity of cultures, languages, intellectual abilities and temperaments, as a whole culture is a permanent, evolved feature of the human species rather than some temporary, incidental artifact of development or progress. Cultures are by far the most durable manifestations of life, second only to DNA, and many of the existing ones have survived numerous political, commercial and financial collapses, and even some (incomplete) social collapses.
Some cultures and societies have survived for extended periods in absence of a viable political, commercial or financial realm. Chinese culture is anywhere between 4000 and 5000 years old and has survived at least eight known major collapses (plus plenty of minor ones): Warring States (475 BC–221 BC), Han (189–280 AD), Tang (874–960 AD), the Mongol invasion (1205–1279), Ming (1618–1683), Taiping (1850–1864), Qing (1911–1949) and the Japanese invasion (1937–1945). For some cultures and societies collapse is their normal state; for instance, the hinterlands of Afghanistan remain to this day as “ungoverned spaces” (in official parlance). In reality they are anarchically governed tribal areas, where any attempts at external governance, or at political representation, are likely to draw fire from an AK-47 or an RPG, longtime NATO occupation notwithstanding.
The dividing line between social and cultural realms is by no means sharp. The social realm can expand and contract, depending on conditions, provided the culture on which it is based remains intact. Societies can contract to the size of a single family—the smallest viable social unit—but then that family can expand into a society and an empire that conquers a considerable chunk of the world. A good example is Genghis Khan and his clan: his descendants, the Genghisites, went on to rule large portions of Eurasia, from Korea to Crimea, across seven time zones. The westernmost part of the Mongol Empire, the Golden Horde, subjugated Russia, to one extent or another, from 1223 to 1502. Western scholars have marveled at their conquest but have been loathe to admit the ultimate reason for it: cultural superiority.
One key element of their superior culture was a nomadic technology suite vastly superior to what the settled tribes had to play with. It was built on top of a profound symbiosis between the man and the horse, and the superior mobility and military effectiveness it provided. Another was the simplicity of their approach, which was based on an orally transmitted tradition, a strong tribal identity and a streamlined approach to imperial governance based on personal allegiance and familial ties, unquestioning obedience and respect and the unfailing payment of tribute.
Beyond these strict requirements, they practiced religious tolerance and noninterference in the affairs of other peoples, and the Golden Horde’s sprawling, makeshift capital, Sarai, sported mosques, both Orthodox and Catholic cathedrals and a synagogue. After the collapse of the Golden Horde much of this cultural legacy was absorbed into what eventually grew into the Russian Empire, either directly or via the Tatars, who had been allied with the Mongols. Many members of the Tatar aristocracy joined the ranks of Russian nobility. The thriving Republic of Tatarstan, directly east of Moscow, where a cathedral and a mosque stand peacefully side by side in the center of its capital Kazan, is a testament to the durable legacy of the hardy and resourceful nomadic culture that sprang into existence when a climatic shift resulted in an overabundance of grass on the Eurasian steppe.
This historical aside was intended to illustrate that culture (and the societies it engenders) is everything while finance, commerce and politics are nothing. Without these last three we remain whoever we are—perhaps much less numerous and much poorer, but, on the plus side, rid of a bunch of greedy, power-hungry bastards. As long as a culture is kept alive, a society can always be regenerated from it after a collapse once conditions improve, as dough can be made to rise with a bit of starter culture kept in a jar on a shelf. But without culture we are just some naked apes wondering about in the wilderness, fighting each other with sticks and stones, waiting for someone more cultured to come along and put us out of our misery, or succumbing to cold, hunger and ennui.
If culture is all that is ultimately precious while finance, commerce, politics and even society are disposable, then what sane person would want to destroy culture yet strive to maintain, first of all, finance? Cui bono? The simple and direct answer is, the oligarchy, of course—the wealthiest 0.01% whose average income is around $30 million per year and whose average net worth is over $100 million. If you own much more than you can physically carry, financial, commercial and political collapse are not your friends at all. As most people who end up living on the street quickly discover, ownership is a tricky concept. All you can really own is what you can carry on your back. Having a shopping cart in which to wheel your possessions around is helpful, but it limits your mobility and can be hard to defend from the police during a sweep. Most of the wealth amassed by the top 0.01% is paper wealth—various financial instruments such as stocks, bonds, trusts, annuities, life insurance policies, real estate deeds and so on. Financial collapse wipes these out. Even the small fraction of their wealth that is in the form of actual earthly possessions that someone might be able to directly use post-collapse are likely to be taken away by force once there is no police or private security to protect them.
The goal of the 0.01%, therefore, is to keep the financial-commercial scheme functioning at a sufficient level to adequately serve their own needs, never mind anyone else, and to keep the politicians in their pockets to make this possible. As to the rest of humanity… well, they are problematic. If culture and society remain intact, then, once they realize that the whole system is rigged against them and in favor of the 0.01%, they might organize and start a revolution. If, on the other hand, society and culture have been undermined and destroyed beforehand, then they will lack the social cohesion and the public spirit needed for such an endeavor, and will simply wander around pushing a shopping cart filled with their meager possessions, digging around in the garbage and sleeping rough.
The goal of the oligarchy is to decimate and neutralize the population at large by any number of means. One of them is physical destruction: sending their youth to die or be maimed in wars that are pointless from the point of view of national defense, make some sense as a means of personal self-enrichment for some, but are perfectly suitable as decimation mechanisms for the American lower class.
There is a synergy to be explored between pointless war and another form of social destruction—through drugs. Afghanistan—a country that has never posed any sort of threat to anyone—has been invaded and turned into a very large opium poppy plantation and heroin factory. To create a market for the heroin, doctors were induced to prescribe large quantities of opiate painkillers, often unnecessarily, in order to create a large pool of addicts who would then shift to Afghani heroin once their prescriptions ran out. This policy has been a success, and opiate overdoses in the US now account for more deaths than cancer.
Another method is cultural destruction by forcibly mixing in incompatible ethnic and racial groups using a policy of forced multiculturalism. Here, there is an actual, high-profile oligarch whose fingerprints are all over this policy: George Soros. The strategy of destroying countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, generating flows of millions of refugees, then directing this flow toward Western Europe, may seem bewilderingly nonsensical at first—until you realize that the purpose here is to create yet another destructive synergy. It is to destroy Western societies and their social support systems by flooding them with hostile, often belligerent freeloaders from incompatible cultures.
Yet another method of social destruction has to do with the destruction of the education system. Another oligarch—Bill Gates of Microsoft—has been quite active in this area, replacing tried and true teaching methods with nonsensical, if not idiotic, methods of teaching various subjects, including reading and math. Having had five semesters of university and graduate-level mathematics, I look at the way math is taught in US schools today, and I want to wring the necks of those responsible: it is definitely not any sort of math at all. Other new teaching methods are equally deplorable. The supposed goal is to “level the playing field” for disadvantaged groups: girls (who are on average less gifted in math and spacial reasoning than boys) and minorities from populations produced by selective pressures for stamina and disease resistance, not high IQ. This is achieved by teaching to the lowest level. Another method for destroying the value of education is by emphasizing standardized testing. Students are now not taught anything useful but simply to do well on standardized tests. The result is a population that is inured to being force-fed useless facts but isn’t able to think independently or to find out things for itself—eager lambs to be led to the slaughter when the time comes.
There are other methods being used to weaken and destroy the general population. One is forcing them to eat food-that-isn’t-food, laced with glyphosphate, high-fructose corn syrup and other chemical wonders, that renders them anemic, obese and diseased. Another is to suppress their tendency to reproduce by convincing them that biological sex doesn’t exist and replacing it with a rainbow of genders, elevating sexual perversion to a position of high social status and persecuting anyone who dares question the wisdom of sacrificing the interests of the sexually normal majority for the sake of a tiny minority (generally under 1%) who are, through some genetic anomaly, born gay.
Recently, a gay pride parade was held in Kiev, the Ukraine, which has been one of the most active testbeds for societal and cultural destruction. The US has plowed $5 billion (by its own admission) in order to corrupt Ukrainian politics. The result is a country that has gone from 52 million in 1990 to 42 million in 2018—a loss of 10 million—and that according to the official statistics which do not include millions more who left in order to make money abroad because there are no jobs in the collapsing Ukrainian economy.
The political experimentation in the Ukraine has included producing a state cult that celebrates as heros Ukrainian Nazi collaborators of World War II vintage who were responsible for acts of genocide against Jews and Poles. It has produced an actual shooting war that has killed some ten thousand people in two Ukrainian regions whose residents have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Kiev government (which was installed by the US through a bloody coup in violation of the Ukrainian constitution). During the past month, repressive measures were introduced against the use of the Russian language (spoken at home by over 90% of the Ukrainian population). And, most recently, there has been an effort to start a religious war by forcibly producing a schism within the Orthodox church.
The next country to serve as a testbed for an oligarch-managed social and cultural collapse appears to be Brazil. It runs a major risk of being turned over to a fascist thug who has great disdain for Brazil’s diverse population but likes to salute the American flag. If this comes to pass, it will happen against the will of the majority of the people but with squeals of approval from Washington and from Brazil’s own unbelievably corrupt and rotten oligarchy.
As these developments unfold, echos of World War II are growing louder. The neofascist experiment in the Ukraine is a test run for the rest of Europe: if all goes well (as far as the oligarchs are concerned) Western Europe, sorely tested by the influx of migrants, will vote in nationalist, populist parties which, as conditions deteriorate further, will turn fascist. The overall goal is to use fascism to once again weaponize Western Europe for a war against Russia, whose natural resources Western oligarchs will need to claim as their own if they are to have any hope of keeping their game going. Weaponizing Hitler didn’t work, but maybe, they must be thinking, it will work this time. Well, no, it won’t work this time either. Sorry, oligarchs!
As cultural collapse continues to unfold, darkness will descend on the populations of the oligarch-ridden countries. But what can we do? If all we are still good for is to stand by and witness the dying of the light, then that’s all we still have to be grateful for. And once all the light is gone, we’ll still be able to be grateful for the darkness, for it will hide the unspeakable horrors that will then unfold. And once these horrors run their course, we’ll still be able to be grateful—for merciful oblivion, for that is what happens to populations that undergo cultural collapse. They are gratefully forgotten by all.