Archive for June, 2022

Does the five-stage collapse model still make sense?


It’s been 14 years since I wrote the article “The Five Stages of Collapse” which I subsequently turned into a book, which, in turn, was published in a dozen languages. The idea was generally well received. It was a way of systematizing what to most minds was and is an unpredictable and chaotic process. It was also an idealization (which is engineering-speak for a gross oversimplification made for the sake of explaining a concept or making a quick, although inaccurate, calculation).

I based my five stages of collapse (financial, commercial, political, social and cultural) on Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of the grieving process (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) but the similarity is superficial: yes, there are five of them and yes, they are sad things; count them and weep. But then it is also like the now outdated waterfall model of software development (gather requirements, write design, code, test/debug, launch)—and, again, weep, because by the time you are done the requirements most definitely will have changed.

While weeping profusely and cursing their fate, software project managers came up with some palliative measures: phased development, beta versions, soft launches, etc. But in the end the fashion shifted to agile development, where development teams implement a limited set of features by a certain deadline, then repeat. As requirements change and new features are grafted on top of old, the software accumulates cruft, or scar tissue, in the form of dead code, huge bloated libraries of functions that are barely used, other gross inefficiencies and generally stupid ways of doing things. All of these have to be removed through a painstaking process called refactoring, which grows ever more complex and error-prone over time.

Eventually the software system forms a big ball of mud where subtle bugs are lurking everywhere and everything is connected to everything else in inexplicable ways. It is then time to rewrite the whole system from scratch, but since by then nobody fully knows what this software is supposed to do any more, this cannot be done either. And then it’s time for the project managers to go back to weeping profusely while cursing their fate.

I would like to develop a more agile model of collapse than the rather rigid framework of the five stages, based on examining synergies of decay and ecosystems of collapse. In the meantime, the staged model of collapse still seems to have merit:

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The Morbidity and Mortality of Western Civilization


Can we seriously entertain the thought that the collective West—its politics, economics, culture and society—are all inexorably and single-mindedly heading toward their death? What a crazy, outlandish idea that is! But what if, after carefully considering all of the available evidence, that conclusion becomes inevitable?

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How blaming Putin is helping Putin


The systemic crisis which we are currently witnessing in the West (and in other parts of the world that are too tightly interconnected with the West to avoid experiencing it as well) is objectively being caused by the West itself. But Westerners, being unaccustomed to acknowledging their mistakes (being all superior, indispensable and infallible-like in their own addled minds), are forced to resort to explaining away their epic failures in virtually every sphere by blaming it all on Putin. That is, they don’t even blame Russia in general, but blame Putin personally; after all, Russia can be good and agreeable at times (as it was under Gorbachev and Yeltsin) but Putin makes it misbehave. That’s why it’s all got to be Putin’s fault.

Here’s what it’s come to: an entire President of the United States (or whoever runs his teleprompter), who, in the course of his election campaign, swore up and down that he will take responsibility for whatever happens under his command, now blames “Putin’s Price Hike” so regularly and monotonously that the phrase has become a meme.

By now the narrative of “it’s all Putin’s fault” has spread to encompass all of the more sensitive problems: inflation, fuel prices, food price hikes and even… shortages of baby formula! It turns out that the shortages aren’t caused by the discovery of dangerous bacteria in the products of a monopoly producer but by shortages of imported sunflower oil from… the Ukraine. That’s according to the Wall Street Journal, no less! The logical steps needed to make it all Putin’s fault are then obvious: the shortages are because of the war and the war is Putin’s fault.

This wonderful strategy works just fine for the short term, but it has a major vulnerability in the longer term because of a certain mechanism of mass psychology. Superficially, it is simple and seemingly bulletproof: Putin is irrational; he has imperial ambitions, suffers from paranoia, delusions of grandeur, is obsessed with restoring the USSR… Since his motives are irrational, they cannot be dealt with through rational means such as negotiation, diplomacy, compromise and so on. Putin is a crazy dictator with lots of nuclear missiles and so all we can do is suffer. This construct seems good enough for most purposes, such as explaining away social problems, economic issues and failures of leadership. But only in the short term.

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Beyond Mere Stupidity


In one of my previous articles, I asked, only half-jokingly, what might explain the rationale behind the steadfast American effort, spanning over three decades, to Make Russia Great Again. Is it mere stupidity? Are there Putin’s “little green men” infesting the inner sanctum of the American deep state, perhaps? Or does the problem have to do with an inner mechanism of the American political psyche? Or perhaps it’s just a matter of there existing certain axioms which must be accepted unquestioningly, or a fixed algorithm that must be followed, no matter how repetitively bad the results may be?

The theory of mere stupidity does not satisfy; even very stupid people eventually learn not to step on the same rake again. The theory of there being Russia’s “little green men” toiling tirelessly within the bowels of Deep State does not appear amenable to either verification or falsification, so we’ll set it aside as well. The basic axiom is that America is the greatest and most powerful nation on earth and therefore always victorious. If it is not victorious (as in Korea, Vietnam, Syria, Afghanistan or any number of smaller conflicts) then the algorithm is to have a stiff drink and re-read the basic axiom.

The deep dark mystery of the American political psyche is that the world outside the United States—even Canada and Mexico, not to mention fabled mangled lands such as Iranq or Afghanturkmentajikipakistan—does not really exist. These are all but flickering images, visible today (while the story of America being victorious there is still plausible) and gone tomorrow (when it’s time to consign that story to oblivion). This is all pretty obvious and we have all seen it many times. But when it comes to Russia, this axiom and this algorithm don’t work.

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