Disciples Of Collapse: A Thought Experiment

There is a school of thought which states that the age of easily accessible and widely available energy will soon be peaking. Perhaps it has already peaked. Perhaps the end is 25 years away. Perhaps 50 or 100. Perhaps Elon Musk will save the world, or perhaps he will fail. The timelines differ, but what unites this school of thought is that this will spark the disintegration of Modern Industrial Civilization – we’ll call this MIC. MIC is defined by widespread if not total participation by society in an industrial – now digitized – lifestyle. It is usually accompanied by more or less capitalist economies and often (though not necessarily, if Singapore and China win out) by some form of democratic government. This narrative differs from other predictions of peak oil because it does not believe that full scale transition to alternative energy is possible.

Like many other environmentalist talking points, this likely spells a doom scenario for MIC. Environmentalism is a useful attack dog of the Left because it is filled with such scenarios. Dead oceans, the normalization of extreme weather, the overheating of the globe. It’s hard to counter these scenarios because they’re so horrific that you need to be damn sure that they’re wrong. Data is hard to get hold of, which makes this difficult.

This opens the door to an interesting thought experiment.

First, let’s examine what’s in store for economic and political organization in the energy scenario above.

Economic incentive would lead capable and competent people to secure energy sources and preserve as much of the MIC lifestyle as possible. This would lead wealth to become more concentrated than ever before. As these individuals would have the ability to access resources and project power, the formalized link between power and property would likely return to historic norms. MIC forms of mass liberal democracy would not survive.

There is another possibility. Perhaps ideological movements would gain power which would use state power to break up private concentration of wealth. It would be redistributed to beneficiaries or else kept under “public” control. This would require said state to ideologically oppose itself to capitalism, market systems, private property, and the pretense of liberal rule of law. In the face of communism, MIC forms of formal democracy would also not survive – though we can expect it to appear in the rhetoric.

So to summarize our options:

1: Concentrating wealth -> end of mass participation in modern industrial capitalism except for economic elite -> democracy gives way to rule by those who retain capital.

2: Concentrating wealth -> ideological capture of state by those who want to expropriate said wealth -> expropriation and redistribution -> end of mass participation in modern industrial capitalism except for Inner Party and beneficiaries -> democracy gives way to full communism.

Question 1: Which ideological currents benefit from expected near-future energy collapse becoming widely excepted?

Notice: there is a difference between an idea becoming widely accepted and being true.

The benefiting ideologies would be those which want to accelerate the economic and political trends above. Accelerationist anti-capitalism is one of the main Leftist ideologies which explicitly advocates pushing MIC to a breaking point. In this analysis, capitalism will drive technological progress up until the point where market systems no longer become a viable way to control capital. This isn’t a new view, as Marx believed something similar about the role of capitalism. Other radical Leftist ideological strains use energy crisis and other Green politics in similar ways. The unifying purpose of these currents is the replacement of the capitalist system by a communistic one, and the destruction of Western civilization. Modern day communists often promote democratizing workplaces more than centralizing the means of production. But as we noted above, preventing capital centralization during an energy decline would require the state to adopt the same Stalinist techniques. There also exists a non-Marxist, primitivist strain which critiques MIC on a broader scale and opposes it in its non-Western forms as well. They are usually not as well organized and theoretically cohesive as the former group, so we won’t talk about them here.

Anti-MIC strains also exist on the Right. Southern Agrarians, various identitarians, and religious traditionalists have all furthered various criticisms of MIC. These movements could stand to benefit by drawing in sympathetic minds on the Right if energy collapse becomes widely expected. They could also appeal to groups and institutions which wish to prepare themselves and would be rejected by Leftist ideology: traditional churches, localists who cannot be coopted into the anti-Western coalition, and so on. They’re not always pro-capitalist in the mainstream conservative sense, but many of them would accept centralization of private capital ownership before communism. This means that they implicitly also accept the end of democracy, adapting their communities to the new reality.

There’s an important difference between the Leftist and Rightists interested in accelerating collapse. Rightists opposed to MIC have been in more or less permanent retreat, like the Right in general. The successful ones have managed to retain some form of memetic and institutional sovereignty, generally of the religious sort. However, they don’t manage to spread their influence very far. The only activist form of Rightist anti-MIC ideology is European Archeofuturism, and its explicit influence is still small, although growing among identitarians.

On the other hand, the Left practices highly successful ideological entryism. It’s rare to find a Green or environmentalist organization which does not espouse or at least assume Leftist ideology. Because of this, where environmentalists promote energy collapse narratives, they are often proposing Leftist political solutions. Because of drift, moderate Leftist narratives of energy collapse will turn into the hard Left one. The moderates also adhere to democratic values, and more often than not admire the “idealism” of their radical comrades. If collapse becomes widely expected and the rational response of capital centralization occurs, they will join said comrades in advocating Full Communism. Democracy will return to its regular form just as soon as the revolution is over, and then it turns out it’s a Permanent Revolution. Because the Leftist narrative appeals to a deadly combination of brahmins invoking the name of the Powerless, the anti-MIC Left would stand to gain quite a bit.

Question 2: What is the proper response if an energy collapse really is imminent?

This makes things extra tricky. In this scenario, the anti-capitalist Left not only has control of the institutions capable of ideologically responding, but their key data point has the added benefit of being right. This should terrify us, because their diagnosis is horribly wrong. Thus their near certain victory means that human civilization is probably doomed. Their successful Rightist counterparts can expect to be expropriated, even if they’re relatively small. They might start with the capitalists, but at some point they always get to the kulaks. The anti-MIC Rightist fantasy of particularism and retreat won’t save the communities in this situation.

So if the choices are capital accumulation by private individuals or expropriation by the current state and its progressive controlling factions, the former seems to be the sane response. If in fact it becomes the case that industrial capital will only be available to a few, it must be a competent few. This will probably be a self-selecting process, since the winners will be those who have already attained wealth and are far-seeing enough to prepare. Let the zeniths of human technological achievement continue to ascend to new heights of achievement. If it takes the existence of two technological worlds on earth to bring humans to the stars, then that should be the path that is chosen. Yes, the USSR managed to get to space, but it did so in the context of rivalry with the USA and as an incarnation of MIC. A communistic regime brought about by scarcity would be a different animal. Think Cambodia.

Therefore, the property owners would need to pre-empt expropriation by strengthening their own institutions and capturing or else destabilizing those which would-be expropriators can use against them. But how prepared would they be for this? As we saw, most environmentalist thought and institutions are indeed Leftist in their worldview. This means that things associated with environmentalism are associated with Leftism. Hence, those who hate Leftism will tend to have a bias against even true predictions made by Leftists. Presumably, those who manage to navigate a theoretical collapse will either be smart enough to check the bias, or else get their information elsewhere, like industry insiders. But beyond them, this means that the narrative of energy collapse is also controlled by the Left, because they are considered authorities on environmentalism. This makes the communist outcome ever more likely, because they will be the ones with legitimacy based on correct predictions and apparent solutions.

The final outcome of our thought experiment:

In a situation where a catastrophe is liable to end in a Left Singularity, it is essential that the Left doesn’t control the narrative of response to the crisis. Thus the predictions must be proven false beyond any reasonable doubt; if this is impossible, institutions hardened against entryism must take control of the narrative and prepare a response which can actually preserve civilization. This may be true even if the likelihood of the prediction being correct is low but not zero. Such a response requires recognizing that people with bad solutions can still be correct about a problem, and checking biases accordingly. A bad solution which gains legitimacy may leave us in a worse place than being completely unprepared.

The narrative demands a master. Prepare for all eventualities.

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  1. Anonymous Conservative writes on this from an evolutionary perspective. Leftism only works with almost unlimited resources. If resources are limited, everybody knows who the consumers are, and who the producers are, and there will be little patience for parasites.

    I think mass terror as a leftist organizing tactic had a short life. It worked for Lenin, but at the next major attempt, Spain, people knew what was coming and stopped it. Western leftism depends on soft power, and soft power depends on being able to keep people comfortable as long as they behave.

  2. You mentioned Cambodia above, but I think a more interesting comparison would be North Korea. I just got done reading Nothing to Envy, a collection of narratives by North Korean defectors, which has an extremely gripping (and horrifying) description of how the country descended into famine in the 90’s. What I hadn’t appreciated before reading the book was that through the mid 1980’s, North Korea was similar to the early Soviet Union: it industrialized very quickly from a very poor base state, and was economically more successful than the South through the 70’s. But once its sponsors collapsed, the whole economy gradually broke down and reduced to nothing. What happened is exactly what we should expect under the scenario described above: resources dried up, factories shut down, electric power plants turned off one by one, and food became scarce. Over the course of about a decade the country regressed from a functioning industrial economy (albeit one that was inferior to its western counterparts) to subsistence agriculture, with the only functioning economy being that which operated in illegal corner markets selling food and goods smuggled over the border from China. And so we reach the situation which holds today, in which 95% percent of the population skates on the edge of starvation, while Party elites expropriate whatever wealth can still be extracted and keep a ghost of the industrial economy in place for their own benefit.

  3. Stupendous article. I am a propagator of the ‘Prophetic Catastrophism’ theory of ascendancy, however I don’t necessarily think it will be due to the peaking of widely available energy. My predictions more skew in the direction of financial Armageddon with geopolitical opportunism and mass-hacking pushing things past their breaking point.

    Your division of two schools of thought, left and right, that may be preparing for such an eventuality seems like a sound assessment. Indeed, the more Traditionalist schools have always felt that some mass technological scale-back would be required to recapture Tradition, which is not to say the advances couldn’t be made again under a different guiding hand. On the other side, the eco wing of the Left, those true disciples of global warming theory and such, are sure to be making contingency plans, and they are indeed some of the most fringe Leftists in terms of political ideology that you are likely to find. In this kind of environment, your allusions to Pol Pot’s Cambodia are not far off.

    It is my sincere belief that they are destined for eventual destruction anyway as an ideological force, however preparing to counter the post-MIC planners on the Left could potentially save millions. A narrative coup at the appropriate hour is necessary to block them, and if this narratives finds them the victims of an unbridled wrath so be it. Anything to prevent their designs taking root. They cannot be allowed to sidestep all they have done and all they will do. This is why it will become essential in the coming years to create extradigital means of organization and information. We cannot count on the internet being here at the time when we might take for granted its usage.

    1. Mark Christensen July 29, 2015 at 5:35 pm

      Left singularities have a nasty habit of taking a lot of people with them throughout the process of destruction. The Left unfortunately has a handy sort of proto-patchwork system in that it has many factions on its side. Splinters occur all the time. That gives them a high degree of adaptability even when major predictions like communism starting in W. Europe end up being completely wrong. The Stalinists pass away, the New Left rises. The industrialist Left passes away, the Green Left rises. At the moment, the Left has hegemony over all issues related to ecology and global industrial fragility. Both of those are two vital for that hegemony to continue.

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