Collapsitarians, Unite and Fall Down Together!
June 8, 2010 5:17 PM   Subscribe

A perfectly cromulent new word: Collapsitarianism. Apparently coined by social critic James Howard Kunstler when he declared "I've never been a complete collapsitarian,*" comparing himself to Dmitri Orlov, who uses the term Collapse in his writings - a lot. It failed to be popularized by blogger Kevin Kelly in early 2009 (during the fifteen minutes after Obama's inauguration when optimism came back; bad timing), who defined it as an umbrella term for a diverse collection of dystopian groups, but specifically the ones looking forward to whatever Collapse they expect. Analyzed by Mother Jones (and semi-rebutted by Dmitri Orlov hmself), the term has even been used by such semi-forward-looking entities as The Tomorrow Museum. The word appears to be due for a comeback (if it has anything to come back to) as the New York Times used it in an article about Peak Oil. Finally, premillenialism for the non-religious!

* not unlike the phenomenon where a phrase is not considered Oxymoronic until someone has written an article loudly declaring that it "is NOT an Oxymoron".
posted by oneswellfoop (53 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Is this like the Republicans who celebrate every time unemployment goes up under Obama?
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:19 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a Collapsitarian I can only eat partially-cooled soufflés.
posted by GuyZero at 5:21 PM on June 8, 2010 [9 favorites]

It failed to be popularized by blogger me too, largely because I never used it and nobody reads my blog.
posted by DU at 5:23 PM on June 8, 2010

Also, what ever happened to good old-fashioned Malthusianism?
posted by GuyZero at 5:25 PM on June 8, 2010

> specifically the ones looking forward to whatever Collapse they expect.

With all the various doom scenarios said (with passionate certainty) to be heading our way, it's quite hard not to sound as if you're looking forward to Dystopia if you are somehow able to look toward the future without despairing.

Though there isn't really all that much wisdom in LOTR, a paraphrase of something Gandalf said sustains me on a daily basis. "We are so fucked is for those who see the end beyond all doubt, we do not."
posted by jfuller at 5:28 PM on June 8, 2010

Truther, Birther, Collapser.
posted by benzenedream at 5:28 PM on June 8, 2010

Whatever, I've been a self-declared Antidissestablishmetacollapsitarian for all of 45 seconds.
posted by thecaddy at 5:31 PM on June 8, 2010

CollapseNet! just launched yesterday. I think it's supposed to be an online community for Collapseniks. They are charging much more than five bucks for a lifetime membership.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 5:34 PM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

From the second article: Supporters of the ideology refer to themselves as “doomers” and they believe that oil has reached its peak in the world economy, creating a downward trend toward economic collapse for which we all must be prepared.

This is a deeply unfair, smarmy characterization of people who are rightly concerned with the increasing difficulty of obtaining cheap energy.

That's not an "ideology" - it's common fucking sense.

Sure, there are some nutters who worry about implausible, unreasonable things, and some who fantasize about that kind of crap. But there needs to be a separation of people who are concerned about climate change, debt levels and endless war from those who are all "OMG!1 TERRORIST FISTBUMP PRESIDENT"

But what about the people who believe that everything is going to be wonderful, technology will swoop in and save us from all of our plights, there's morning in America, house prices will always go up, etc? I would make up a word, but those people already have a word to describe them: "assholes."
posted by Despondent_Monkey at 5:34 PM on June 8, 2010 [12 favorites]

thecaddy, I'd like to subscribe to your Antidissestablishmetacollapsitarian newsletter blog Twitter stream.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:35 PM on June 8, 2010

CollapseNet! is some grade-A stuff right there.
posted by GuyZero at 5:37 PM on June 8, 2010

Finally! I was getting tired of calling myself a peakoilgiantmeteornuclearmeltdownglobalfaminesuperbugairborneaidsgreygoowombatflurisingsealevelskillerbeesacidrainlargehadroncolliderwhythefuckwouldyouremakesexinthecitytwonorthkoreazombieapocalypsetarian.
posted by Panjandrum at 5:37 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have Skills (Other):
posted by cjorgensen at 5:37 PM on June 8, 2010

From CollapseNet!'s "Help Wanted" page: "CollapseNet expects to grow rapidly."

posted by GuyZero at 5:39 PM on June 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Every day, the world ends again.
posted by wobh at 5:44 PM on June 8, 2010

Perceived value is collapsing, leaving only real value."

This is telling. People see the current system as unnatural, with items values more than they "should". They see a correction, so that the reality more closely matches their moral values.

It's also lazy as shit. It reminds me of the worst song in the world.

Waiting on the World to Change

It's an abdication of one's ability, however futile, to try and make humanity better. Quote by John Mayer:

"It’s saying, ‘Well, I’ll just watch American Idol because I know that if I were engaged in changing anything for the better, or the better as I see it, it would go unnoticed or be completely ineffective.' A lot of people have that feeling."

The only thing worse than this is someone snickering "I told you so" at all the rubes in the Walmart, and looking to make a buck off the whole thing, as one of the smart ones who didn't go down in flames.
posted by zabuni at 5:46 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, you guys laugh. Half of MeFi believes in this shit. And we're the smart ones.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:47 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I blame the Aztecs. They started it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:53 PM on June 8, 2010

This is bound to drive those poor Apocalypticians right out of business.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:53 PM on June 8, 2010

I've fallencollapsitarianed and can't get up!
posted by never used baby shoes at 5:54 PM on June 8, 2010

As a resolute anti-collapsitarian, I think we have the better theme song.

Funny thing about the album name...
posted by kittyprecious at 6:00 PM on June 8, 2010

But seriously, don't you all think about what you would do if society collapsed and you became part of an everybody-pitches-in commune? Because I know it would be hard for me to get by with, like, "Okay, guys, you search for firewood and food, I'll go foraging for 16th-century literature and read what I can." This is why I'm also learning to be a troubadour. My grandfather always said you'll never go hungry as long as you can troub.
posted by No-sword at 7:10 PM on June 8, 2010 [6 favorites]

Well, civilizations have collapsed before -- many times.

The fact is that we are rather new at this civilization thing, and we tend to succeed in ways that hasten our own destruction. What are we going to do about that?
posted by clvrmnky at 7:41 PM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

So, is a collapseteria all-you-can-eat?
posted by mwhybark at 8:34 PM on June 8, 2010

A related newly coined phrase: Adams Complexity Threshold.
posted by scalefree at 8:38 PM on June 8, 2010

So it's all you can eat until you reach the Adams complexity threshold?
posted by mwhybark at 8:46 PM on June 8, 2010

I prefer the terms Grim Meathook Future (Warren Ellis) and Crapsack World (TVTropes). "Collapsitarian" sounds like someone who eats singularities, an interesting concept but not exactly germane to the topic at hand.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:02 PM on June 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wowsers. Like this has never happened before.

the trouble with the doomsters is they blow the call and then they go looking for scapegoats.
posted by warbaby at 9:19 PM on June 8, 2010

I too prefer the term Grim Meathook Future. More poetic if nothing else.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:31 PM on June 8, 2010

Collapse, the movie.
-"The first to die"
-"Las Vegas is Easter Island"
-"We're never leaving Iraq

I have no way of assuring you that the bleak version of the future outlined by Michael Ruppert in Chris Smith's "Collapse" is accurate. I can only tell you I have a pretty good built-in B.S. detector, and its needle never bounced off zero while I watched this film. There is controversy over Ruppert, and he has many critics. But one simple fact at the center of his argument is obviously true, and it terrifies me.
-Roger Ebert
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:45 PM on June 8, 2010 [5 favorites]

Also, what ever happened to good old-fashioned Malthusianism?

Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun,
Kiss the girls and make them One.
Boys at one with girls at peace;
Orgy-porgy gives release.

I loved Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere even when it was wrong. But Kunstler is one of a few random screaming nutjobs you dare not listen to too closely out of the fear they may actually be right.

In many cases he is right. We're incredibly narrow-minded and self-focused about the way we share resources, divide labor, how we blindly use the land without asking if it's good or smart and for whom it is good, about our public spaces and the endless need to acquire and consume worthless things to prop up our self worth.

As mentioned above - that's not hysterics, it's just incredibly observant. But people generally don't like having it pointed out to them that buying that big screen TV or shiny new car doesn't actually make them better people nor does it make them feel better about themselves for very long. It's just "patent medicine" - a spoonful of sugar with a straight whiskey chaser. All buzz and no sustenance.

How do we "fix" these things? I used to think I knew that answer. Now I'm not so sure any more.
posted by loquacious at 10:04 PM on June 8, 2010 [7 favorites]

Once again the media is going to try to pin an inaccurate word that describes a lot of things that I believe.

Collapse is not the right word, because it supposes that everything is just going to fall down. Our current society is stable enough that it won't happen like that. This is what I think the "collapse" is going to look like. Unemployment will rise, oil will become more and more expensive, industries and governments will go bankrupt and there will be armed conflicts over the resources as they become more scarce and the western world will start to find itself with growing populations of economically displaced people.

I look forward to this as well as being afraid of it. There is an opportunity to be had when the old orders are weakened enough that there is room for something new to compete. Things like barter economies, locally grown food, locally produced goods, alternative energies and resilient communities. I hope and expect that what comes next will be better than what we have now. I just hope the change doesn't hurt too much.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 12:20 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's a certain type that has always dreamed of collapse, any collapse, because they aren't happy with how things worked out for them in the real world but they're sure that crisis time is when they're Vikings. They're the little boy who hopes really hard that he gets a chance to rescue a certain girl from any dragon that happens along, not seeing that a dragon would just eat him and shit him out.
posted by pracowity at 1:43 AM on June 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

I read collapse lit, like Jared Diamond's book Collapse, not because I dream about it and look forward to it but because I care deeply about the continuation of our culture. As an engineer every day I see how frail all of our technological infrastructure is and how all the systems we take for granted are really at their core human systems, which would quickly fall into disrepair and their workings be lost in the murk of time should our society falter.

I have no doubt that the human species would continue, but much of what we have achieved at great effort would be lost.
posted by Joe Chip at 2:25 AM on June 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

I prefer the terms Grim Meathook Future (Warren Ellis) and Crapsack World (TVTropes).

I'm quite partial to the term "sadofuturism".
posted by acb at 2:36 AM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Doom went mainstream. It used to be sexy before Pitchfork became aware of it. Now I have to find a new obsession. And get rid of this stupid tattoo.
posted by eclectist at 2:39 AM on June 9, 2010

Neologisms! That's where I'm a viking!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:54 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with Despondent_Monkey - what's the neologism for people who agree with the assessment that peak oil and consumer culture are pretty much fucked and heading for a collapse, but who shudder at the thought of what a collapse might actually involve and want to prevent it? I hate these bastards, cheering for doom from the sidelines and hoping that somehow they'll be the special ones who'll escape being fucked over.

It just seems like such an insular, fate-driven attitude. It's like most of them just want to cut themselves off from the society we have today instead of trying to do what they can to change it to something less craptastic. A few of them seem to get the idea that actually building a community and learning some useful skills will be more help than stockpiling bottled water and weapons. Like the peak oil lady in the NYT - although note that her first instinct was to run to the country and become a survivalist.

I wish they'd put their energy into hassling their elected representatives about clean energy or corporate personhood instead of going to SXSW and running up a bar tab, or stockpiling propane in their houseboat.
posted by harriet vane at 3:41 AM on June 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

Anyway, if these people are so keen for society to collapse, there's no need to wait for it to happen in their home country, or wait for peak oil or climate change to have an effect. They can just look up the Failed States Index and decide if they'd prefer to move to Somalia, Haiti or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, just for a few options.
posted by harriet vane at 4:22 AM on June 9, 2010

I've heard assorted predictions about the impending end of the world from religious whackjobs my whole life. Now I'm hearing it from people concerned about the end of oil and consumer culture, which admittedly sounds a lot more rational. But I still wonder how much of Doomerism is another expression of whatever it is that motivates these guys.
posted by workerant at 7:04 AM on June 9, 2010

The problem, Harriet, is that if you truly believe human nature is incapable of sustaining, long-term, this level of complexity and organization, then you do not believe that hassling your elected representatives will do a whit of good. Aside from people awaiting the Rapture and a few retro-frontiers type who would welcome basic lawlessness and chaos, and maybe that guy who got a little too aroused over The Road Warrior, you've got people who simply do not have faith in government to forestall catastrophe — that of course means that they don't buy into bugging their local representatives. That's kind of a given.

Take a look at that Failed States Index — how many of those failed states came about because people didn't write their congresscritters enough? By the time election-rigging occurs, letters are laughable. Once you've got a little genocide action going, the phone call from the little old lady who would like different ethnicities respected means nothing.

You're essentially approaching this by assuming that someone thinks like you think. They don't.

You'll have a scattering of folks who will want to die before, oh, the cannibals come, and bully for them, but many people would like to hold onto the illusion that they could perhaps live a life not quite as long or as convenient, but still live. Most people have enough of a survival drive that they hope to eke out some kind of living in the event of everything going south, so I find it hard to blame anyone for "hoping that somehow they'll be the special ones who escape being fucked over."

I tend to think that they will probably be right in the long-term (BP oil spill, is anyone actually shocked at this happening?), but that's irrelevant. If you do not buy into the premise (government will eventually solve all problems), you can hardly expect them to believe the conclusion (receiving form replies from your senator's office will stave off societal collapse forever).

And, let's be honest — aren't the people who wish the survivalists (and there's such a tiny percentage of them) would "do something" a trifle insecure? If everything is going to work out, it's rather unlikely that this mere sliver of the population will somehow compose that last little bit of effort to make it all work. You'd have to be pretty nervous about the grand income that you're counting on that little handful of folks. You might as well complain that the people who build model ten square meter train sets aren't doing enough for our rail system.
posted by adipocere at 7:06 AM on June 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Personally I think a "collapse" scenario is a non-zero possibility, but I hardly think of myself as one of those "BRING IT ON" types (except in my more frustrated, rantier moments). They don't call it the "Bright, Happy Meathook Future".

My goal is to become part of the Transition movement. Been living the car-free/monkey-powered lifestyle for three years after the car died and Lexi & I couldn't afford to replace it. Best thing that ever happened to us.

Can't wait to get a place where we can have chickens.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:51 AM on June 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

A lot of those failed states came about because of extreme environmental pressure, leading to tension between different segments of the population due to competition for resources. When the clean water runs out, when the crops fail because the soil has been depleted to dust, then all it takes is a nudge and tensions escalate to genocidal levels.

Sure, if you wait until the genocide starts, then letter-writing won't help. But those failed states didn't collapse overnight. In each case, there were a series of decisions that led to depleted natural resources, with ethnic/religious issues merely providing a spark to ignite the final conflict.

As you say, doomers don't think there's anything they can do to fix things before it gets to that stage. I'm just annoyed that they came to that conclusion without even trying. If these people see collapse on the horizon in the form of oil spills and so on, and all they think is "woohoo viking time", then they're damn fools who are ignoring the evidence of history and current events.*

I do realise these people don't think the way I do - but people being wrong on the internet is always worth a paragraph or two, yeah? :)

The anti-government streak in the USA mystifies me, always has. I won't speculate on the reasons for it because I really don't have a clue. From the outside, it has the appearance of people not understanding how government actually works. I don't believe that government will *always* solve all problems, because democracy requires an engaged citizenry and ways of preventing plutocracy, and those things are under pressure right now (to put it mildly). Success isn't guaranteed. So what? At least if the shit hits the fan, I'll have a clean conscience.

Not sure I follow your last paragraph? It's late here, I'll have another read of it tomorrow.

*Especially the evidence of the richer Greenland vikings who holed themselves up in halls while the poorer folk starved to death. Eventually they all fought and starved to death too. If they'd looked at how the Inuit were surviving there, and been willing to make changes, they might have lived.
posted by harriet vane at 8:27 AM on June 9, 2010

what's the neologism for people who agree with the assessment that peak oil and consumer culture are pretty much fucked and heading for a collapse, but who shudder at the thought of what a collapse might actually involve and want to prevent it?

It's nowhere near as dramatic and headline-making and it's wonky as all hell, but the Resilience Alliance is a pretty decent prototype of what you're describing.

As for Kunstler, I've seen him speak a couple times and he's definitely having a lot of fun as the Prophet of Suburban Doom. Lots of Old Testament in his core worldview - he wants to see the vain and gluttonous masses punished for their short-sightedness. The Geography of Nowhere remains a brilliant, funny and insightful evisceration of the whole suburban project, but nowadays he's a bit of a Doom Hammer pounding wrath on everything he sees.

Compare and contrast, for example, his take on Atlanta's connection with New Urbanism with this fantastic little short film from the American Makeover project.

(All that said, Kunstler gets a free lifetime pass from me so long as he keeps doing "Eyesore of the Month." His relentless venom for "Danny" Libeskind, in particular, is a true service to humanity. Also Frank Gehry.)
posted by gompa at 8:42 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Resilience, and particularly Resilient Communities are the next big thing in Collapsitarianism. Is about rearranging lifestyles, economies, communities and so forth in a way that can adapt to change, rather than buckle or just collapse.

John Robb talks a lot about Resilience.
posted by MetaMonkey at 8:47 AM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Right, that's what I'm getting at. "But those failed states didn't collapse overnight. In each case, there were a series of decisions that led to depleted natural resources, with ethnic/religious issues merely providing a spark to ignite the final conflict."

Then you take a good look at, say, the United States and you think, hrm ... the era of Big Oil comes to a close, and it looks like we might be trying to transition to, of all things, Big Coal. We can lop off some mountaintops fast enough, for a while. And while that's going on, we're fighting over the Colorado River. "Sustainability" as a concept means almost nothing without factoring in lifestyle, but if you are looking for something resembling the Median American Lifestyle, world sustainability starts looking like a fraction of our current population.

I think the planet might take a billion people, on average, if we were fairly careful and didn't do a lot of flying and were stewards of the earth. Barring some amazing technical breakthroughs in waste stream recycling (disassemblers scavenging our landfills for precious cobalt, perhaps) and energy production (to power all of the disassemblers and purifiers and recyclers), seven billion comfortable people isn't going to happen. And seven billion comfortable people mostly want to hook up and have more people, anyway.

Each one of these little disasters is that guy from Cake asking in his bored monotone, "How can you afford your rock and roll lifestyle?" He's not expecting any good answers, either.

So when people are trying to figure out, "Hey, if I buy twenty acres and get a lot of solar panels and a solar water heater and some nickel-iron batteries to store my electrical energy and learn to raise chickens, can I make it?" they're the ones doing the math while the rest of us are thinking, "We can just talk our way into a solution." Politicians are always interested in maintaining the status quo; to people who genuinely believe that change has to happen, American politics looks a lot like wishing on rocks and throwing them down a well.
posted by adipocere at 9:46 AM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Harriet vane: I think the current theory is that the Greenland vikings moved away, over a few centuries, until the colony was completely abandoned. But I suppose if you think the whole world will go to shit, moving on to greener (heh) pastures isn't going to be much of an option.
posted by simen at 11:23 AM on June 9, 2010

This always reminds me of a monologue by Joe Rogan.

We're gonna eat the sammich.
posted by daq at 12:16 PM on June 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Bit disappointed by the comments here. I definitely think there's a need for some perspective here on the impacts of these events on people living in the developed world, in the short term.

Do people really think that high oil prices are going to put and end to industrial civilisation? There are many alternatives to oil using current technologies, gas, electric vehicles etc. Same with other resource crises (copper etc.): as prices go up, demand falls away and alternatives become viable.

Peak oil might require of a lifestyle change for a lot of people (less car oriented), and a global energy crunch will put a major dent in economic growth, but nobody is going to start picking up a plough anytime soon.

As for sovereign debt, it won't be the end of the world if a few developed countries default on their debt. It would be pretty massive, but we've all got too much invested in the system to let it fall over completely (which I don't think is going to happen). Again, you can put the shotgun down.

That said, I do think we are engaged in a long crisis (of energy, climate, resources, water, food etc) but in the short term (say until 2030) I think the impacts of these are going to be mostly felt by people living in the developing world.

So in summary, you're all worried about the wrong thing.
posted by greytape at 2:56 PM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm a Pootopian: I'm pretty sure everything's going to shit.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:34 PM on June 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Adipocere, I think the survivalists are being optimistic about their chances. If there really is a collapse, a few chickens and some ammo ain't gonna cut it. They seem to think that collapse won't actually be that bad.

I reject that particular type of optimism. You're assuming that people like me want the status quo to be maintained, to talk our way into keeping society as it is, business as usual.

But that's not really what I want, and I'm kind of lining myself up behind people like George Monbiot and Alex Steffen here. A world with a smaller population, restored ecosystems and a lifestyle well below Median American would be great, in my opinion. It's just that I'd prefer not to go through decades of the whole world looking like a giant version of Somalia before we even attempt the other option.

I think it's possible to change course rather than wait for everything to burn to the ground so we can rebuild. The more people who make an effort very soon, the more likely it is to come good.

In a way, the fatalistic stuff about how politicians are crap and there's no point doing anything is just a way of avoiding responsibility for the present. Cynicism is cheap and easy. Building a stockpile and learning to shear your own sheep is way more fun than figuring out electoral chances to get a slightly less corrupt politician in place, or protesting at a coal mine, or trying to make a legal case against a corporation.

I'll say this for the survivalists - as much as I disagree with their response, at least they're alert to current affairs. Which is more than can be said for the majority of people.

Simen - I was going by what I read in Jared Diamond's Collapse about the Greenland Vikings. Got any links for more up to date stuff? They're a fascinating group, I'd love to know more.
posted by harriet vane at 1:05 AM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

No, I am not assuming that you want the status quo maintained. However, politicians do want that, by their very nature. That was my actual statement. You are not a politician, as far as I know, but you have suggested that energies would be better spent petitioning politicos.

Politicians have always liked "right now" because they're in charge now — if things change, how will they maintain? About the closest they can get to change is gouging for more of the things they like and a little less of things they do not like. Fundamental changes in the way things are done are rare, very rare. "Oil has gotten us this far, hasn't it?"

Cynicism may be cheap and easy, but it may also not be wrong.

And, yeah, people with a box of ammo and three chickens are deluding themselves. Actual survivalists alternately laugh at them individually and fear them in droves.
posted by adipocere at 7:14 AM on June 10, 2010

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