Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Five Stages of Collapse: what they are

Dmitry Orlov was an 'eyewitness to the collapse of the Soviet Union over several extended visits to his Russian homeland between the late 1980s and mid-1990s.'  He writes regularly on his blog on matters related to collapse, in which state he feels (as do many) the US is currently on the road to.

Orlov writes:  "Elizabeth Kübler-Ross defined the five stages of coming to terms with grief and tragedy as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and applied it quite successfully to various forms of catastrophic personal loss, such as death of a loved one, sudden end to one's career, and so forth. Several thinkers, notably James Howard Kunstler and, more recently John Michael Greer, have pointed out that the Kübler-Ross model is also quite terrifyingly accurate in reflecting the process by which society as a whole (or at least the informed and thinking parts of it) is reconciling itself to the inevitability of a discontinuous future, with our institutions and life support systems undermined by a combination of resource depletion, catastrophic climate change, and political impotence."

Orlov catagorizes the five stages of collapse thus: 
  • "Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in "business as usual" is lost. The future is no longer assumed resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out, and access to capital is lost.
  • Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that "the market shall provide" is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down, and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.
  • Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that "the government will take care of you" is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.
  • Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that "your people will take care of you" is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.
  • Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for "kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity" (Turnbull, The Mountain People). Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes "May you die today so that I die tomorrow" (Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago). There may even be some cannibalism."
Just as the emotional stages of grief are not linear, neither are the stages of collapse. No one stage runs its entire course in a neat, tidy manner.  We've already seen that Katrina illustrated stage 3:  political collapse, well before stages 1 and 2:  financial and commercial collapse (recent extreme market upheavals, housing bubble, changes in food packaging to gouge the consumer, etc.). Plus, the 'faith-based' office of the White House preceded Katrina...and it represents stage 4:  social collapse, when religious organizations rushed in to take advantage of what everyone was told was greater opportunity instead of what it really was, a handing-off of the common social safety net to private interests.