Is collapse anxiety becoming collapse excitement? And will it become collapse fatigue?

March 10, 2009

“The Great Restructing”, “The Great Disruption”, “The Great Compression”, “The Long Emergency”, “Metacrisis”, are all terms floating around the global conversation these days in an effort to describe the magnitude and severity of the crisis we may be facing.

After years of “preaching to the choir” about the general riskiness and collapse-prone nature of our global geo-political infrastructure, it is amazing to see how rapidly terms previously confined to fringe nutcases and global collapse scholars have become part of the mainstream dialogue.

For example, see Thomas Friedman’s long, considered post in the New York Times:

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

Not the kind of thing one is used to hearing discussed on the evening news, is it?  

Others are using similar terms.  Umar Haque has called it the “Great Compression”, arguing that most of today’s economy doesn’t create true value and therefore won’t stand the test of the trying times we’re now entering.  He referred to our situation as a “metacrisis” in the “zombieconomy”.  Jeff Jarvis calls it the “The Great Restructuring”, then making a series of fairly extreme statements suggesting, “entire swaths and even sectors of the economy will disappear or will change so much they might as well disappear…”

These are bracing sentiments, even for humanitarian and development organisations used to dealing with so called “normal disasters”.  Why the sudden change in tone?  Alex Steffan reflected on this question over at and suggests that,

…the crisis we face is more than a merely ecological or economic crisis. It’s also a geo-political crisis, one which is demanding that older concepts of national sovereignty and international law stretch in new directions to accommodate the need for global responses our truly global problems; it is a social crisis, which itself demands new understandings of our interconnectedness, and of the stake each of us has in the lives of one another’s children; it is, as well, a cultural crisis, where we are being forced to confront the emptiness that is so often found at the core of our new prosperity.

Kevin Kelly suggest that the popularization of concepts of collapse has deeper, psychological resonance with Alex Steffan’s “core emptiness”.  Calling us all “Collapsitarians” (a term popularised by James Howard Kunstler in a New Yorker article here), he writes,

The idea of progress has been slowly dying. I think progress lost its allure at the ignition of the first atom bomb at the end of WWII. It has been losing luster since. Even more recently the future has become boring and unfashionable. No one wants to live in the future. 

The jet packs don’t work, and the Daily Me is full of spam.  Nobody finds the Future attractive any longer. 

The only thing left to believe in is collapse. That’s not boring! 

The end of civilization would be terribly exciting, and unlike any future we could imagine, probably more likely. Dystopias are a favorite science fiction destination now. We all are collapsitarians these days.

All of this is sparking blogs and blogs worth of urgent excitement from all over the Internet.  Quotes such as “WE URGENTLY NEED TO RE-ADJUST OUR FEEDBACK LOOPS!”  seem commonplace these days, as even the Great and the Good at Davos begin to admit that we’re in the midst of radical systemic change and no one quite knows where it will end up.

So the question is, is collapse anxiety transforming into collapse excitement?  And will it soon become collapse fatigue as the media cycles onward?