Collapse Is Humanity Adapting To Its Own Presence
Alexander Aston

// Via +Chris Reid => Seb Paquet => Bruce Stewart

// This is a long read, but it's the clearest summation of my own perspective that I've encountered. Thanks, Chris!

We attribute to our ancient cultures our own cosmologies and create a linear relationship between our cultures. [...] We distort our ability to truly empathize and understand the humanity of those who preceded us and in doing so we distort our ability to understand our own position in history and relationship to those that will follow us.

The truth is that the ancients were radically different cultures than ours. The stories they told about themselves are not the same as the ones we tell about them. Though we can only reconstruct their worlds now using what facts we know, it is important that we work to empathize with their reality as best we can so that we might understand our own more fully. [...] If we do not demythologize our history we will be incapable of demythologizing ourselves, and if our understanding of our lineage is mythic then our relationship to our own times is equally so. That when we respond to our condition with pre-scripted narratives we are attempting to conform reality to our own thoughts, assumptions and biases. This reduces our adaptability because it reduces our ability to see possibilities and to embrace a diversity of perception and response.

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I believe the universe can be viewed as an entropic fractal. Energy and matter collect into differentials that work to more efficiently dissipate available energy. When a differential is formed that can contain a portion of available energy from a source and stabilize it in negative feedback loops, it will form a more complex and energy dense structure at a smaller scale than its source. [...] Given enough variables in structure, energy will continue to create denser and more complex structures at successively smaller scales.

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Our socio-economic structures create an ecology of consciousness in which humans operate.

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Agriculture and ultimately civilization began near simultaneously (on a evolutionary and historical scale) worldwide, on roughly the same latitudes. The epicenters of Civilization in the Fertile Crescent, Mesoamerica and the Yangtze and Indus valleys are, or once were, some of the most fertile areas on Earth, meaning that they would have already supported some of the densest populations of indigenous peoples in the world.

Since the members of a species fill the same ecological niche they are naturally in competition for the same resources, and the larger the population the greater the competition leading to an increasingly rapid depletion of resources. As tribal societies filled the Earth’s hunter-gatherer carrying capacity there would have been a steady intensification in competition for resources as the traditional geographic range of hunter gatherer peoples became increasingly limited.

However, tribal structures would have been in a state of competitive equilibrium, meaning that there were no major advantages in resource gathering among the competing populations. Due to the limits on range imposed by population densities, and the inability to out-compete neighbors for their resources, tribal societies adapted to these new environmental forces by intensifying the usage of their resource bases. It is at this point that the mutations from the hunter gather lifestyle into agricultural society began. In essence, the root cause of Civilization is the adaptation of humanity to its own presence.

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When the tribal interface began to overshoot the environment's carrying capacity for that specific socio-economic model, it was not a physiological interface that was in a state of competitive equilibrium but a behavioral one, therefore natural selection favored behavioral adaptations that broke the competitive equilibrium. [...] Like a star igniting, populations reorganized into ape hives around more localized energy production and denser thermodynamic flows. This in turn created the first major food surpluses which subsequently led to larger populations, which lead to greater levels of cultivation, surplus, and a rapid expansion of peoples carrying the new social mutation.

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Like its tribal predecessors, Civilization had reached a level of intense competitive equilibrium amongst itself and began adapting to its own presence by intensifying the usage of its resource base. Just as the human population verged on one billion and competition between Agrarian Civilizations reached its zenith, the Industrial Revolution began. Industrialization spread rapidly throughout the densest populations of humanity worldwide, creating another positive feedback loop and rapid growth rate similar to that of agriculture before it.

The past 300-odd years have shown the competitive success of the industrial society over its agricultural counterpart, to the point that it has become the dominant form of social structure for the vast majority of humans.

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The manor system created ecological pockets of humanity that were able to whether the collapse of the system.

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An ecological system reaches a high level of equilibrium and complexity in its relationships; then something causes the equilibrium to fracture, whether a meteorite or the plague, thus reducing the complexity of the system.

This acts to clear the more inefficient and fragile structures, opening up energy flows and new niches for more stable species (or ideas) to expand into. What is very fascinating on an thermodynamic level is that every phase of punctuated equilibrium ends with a severe reduction in available energy, whether energy available from the sun or from working populations. This collapses the structures dependent on formerly large energy flows, but it creates a selection mechanism for structures capable of organizing more efficiently and densely in relation to available energy. [...] With the collapse phase of punctuated equilibrium the most energy dense and efficient structures are selected for, meaning that all subsequent radiation will inherently be more complex due to its increased density and efficiency, further feeding into the positive feedback loop of entropic complexity by making more energy available on the local level.

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So here we are in 2012 and what we do know is that our systems demands far exceed the capacity of the planet to support it and it is increasingly becoming a thermodynamic impossibility. Our conception of society is at complete odds with the physical and biological parameters that gave rise to it. The collapse of our world order is coming down to simple maths, and while inconceivable to many, it is also irrefutable to anyone willing to look at the basic truths of physics and ecology.

We are caught in the unfolding of a titanic logic bomb between the demands of our economic system and the limitations of both our planet and humanity itself.

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The history of a species' population growth tends to follow a pattern known as M.I.G.O.D.S. or migration, innovation, growth, overexploitation, decline and stabilization. So far humanity has repeated the first steps with increasing intensity due to its cognitive capacities and ability to adapt behaviourally. Hunter Gatherers migrated and developed innovations to their new environments which continued the processes of population growth and migration.

However, when overexploitation started to confront human populations (at least in those areas that permitted the development of agriculture), humans developed new innovations in culture and production that allowed for the process of growth to continue. This did not nullify the rest of the M.I.G.O.D.S. pattern but delayed it allowing us to reach a level of global overexploitation. What is truly fascinating about us is that yet again Humanity's greatest ecological pressure is itself.

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How much population do we lose, how much information and technology? The extreme of a post industrial stone age puts that into perspective. Obviously the social structures and psychologies of those populations after such an event would be radically new, they would also be far more stable than our current system but the degree of loss in complexity would be astounding.

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The struggle we are headed into could lead to an unparalleled transformation of humanity. That it could lead to the birth of cultures that are healthier and happier than any before known by our species. Societies that will look back on our times with the same astonishment at our barbarity as we look on those societies that burned their people at the stake or cut out their hearts atop pyramids.

I often tell people in conversation that we are living in an age of dinosaurs. Massive beasts in the shape of nation states and corporations roam our planet, consuming resources, metabolizing them and excreting waste. The very logic of their organization will lead to the energy scarcity that will precipitate their extinction. It is my view in light of this metaphor that our job is to be mammals. As the ecological "equilibrium" of these systems starts to break down from energy/resource scarcity, those groups that are able to organize more efficiently, sustainably and ultimately with greater local energy density, will be the societies that are selected for.

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I do not want to make too many claims on what such societies would look like, for certainly sustainability in Montana will look different than that in Maine, or Russia or all the other myriad locations of human society. Some will be religious communities, others anarchist, others quasi feudal. What I will hazard is that the logical cultural hallmarks of these societies will be increased local resiliency with production and the vast majority of needs met locally.

These systems of production will manifest through incredibly sophisticated observations and interactions with their environments. I would also hazard that the most successful of these societies will exhibit high levels of compassion and individual freedom. There are two good reasons for this.

One is that compassionate societies that take care of their members have higher levels of trust and cohesiveness. They more efficiently distribute resources for the good of the larger community increasing their ability to operate and survive in difficult times.

The second is that societies that do not force individuals into monolithic, pre-scripted narratives of behaviour increase the adaptability of their individual members and thus the total community. By creating a society that embraces a diversity of ideas and behaviours in its population it algorithmically increases the possible responses of the society to various circumstances.

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Imagine communities surrounded by vast tracts of wilderness and between those vast and wild lands routes that connect communities for trade and communication. Perhaps they will ply the seas in sailing ships. Perhaps it is all just fantasy but I would rather spend my life working towards renaissance than fleeing apocalypse.

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The endeavour is monumental and far from assured. We would have to analyze all that we know of our world and humanity to see what has worked and what has failed in order to assemble a new vision from a collage of working parts. We would have to operate in our communities with radical creativity and criticality and we would have to embrace the possibility of failure with the dignity of having tried.
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