Civilizations collapse when rising maintenance costs exceed falling resources that would be used to pay those costs. Think global war, granting access to additional resources for the Empire, yet yielding ever-greater costs (like more than $1,000,000 per soldier per year in Afghanistan a few years back as we fought to protect the opium growers defeat the Taliban). War can confiscate resources initially; but always increased investment and maintenance grows faster than we can bring in new taxes or tithes. Always before, in civilizations without oil as the primary energy source, civilizations depended upon renewable resources, generally sunlight falling to ground and driving plants to grow for our use as food, building materials, and fuel. Thus the collapse of any particular civilization destroyed enough capital, enough investment, that the costs would fall back below the income of the society; and this would bring on a new civilization with new people in charge, but looking pretty similar to what had come before. With our Empire based on oil though, using up this nonrenewable energy resource by definition means that the reduction of investment requiring maintenance must be orders of magnitude greater than ever before. Whatever replaces the oil society must likewise be radically different, not to mention once again renewable. This process takes time; and in typical human fashion we must expect that it won’t be a calm or rational one. Cities will riot and be destroyed, and people will die. Many people; at least until we figure out what comes next.
And how is this playing out today? Do you sense that you are receiving less benefit from society and at the same time, bearing more of the cost? What do you think the view is like from the vantage point of someone in a class lower than yours? This system requires the acquiescence of the majority of its participants; yet a slim minority is all that is needed for a full-scale revolt that topples the paradigm. Then it really becomes a matter of how long the overseer class holds ranks in defense of the elites; and how many citizens die at the barricades before enough investment, or capital, has been destroyed. John Michael Greer posits three options, as gleaned from history: 1) Denial (or hope without action) – the usual elite response. Think French Revolution, and *let them eat cake*. 2) Repression, which is both expensive and ultimately ineffective; the methods of slavery, prison, and surveillance make too many enemies within the oppressed, and eventually you run out of goons willing to die to defend the castle. 3) The elites must give up some of their *entitlements*. This is uncommon, but think of FDR in the U.S. in the 1930s. Sadly for #3, the reforms are relatively modest usually, but the elites feel so entitled that they hate to give up even a morsel from their table. Of course FDR was helped along by circumstances that brought the looming collapse out of deniability; will climate change have the same effect today? Also, FDR had the largest industrial base in the world and access to bountiful domestic resources; neither condition exists in America now. All that was missing in the 1930s was capital to service investments; we had factories, laborers, and raw materials, all we lacked was money. We struggled along until the need to arm for war while destroying Europe and parts of Asia, and then the need to rebuild said destruction, lifted our own economy out of the doldrums. Today of course, both the industrial plant and the easily accessed domestic resources are gone. Witness the destruction in the Middle East of older American war materiel by more recently manufactured American war materiel; that at least remains consistent with the past. This also means that it will take much more *claw back* to right this ship, even as the easily available resources disappear around the globe.
It should be clear to you that America has chosen Option 2 this time; the real questions now are when will the goons abandon the castle gates, and what are you doing now to prepare for what comes after that? History also tells us that what comes next does not have to be more equal, just, truthful, or sane; it need only bear less cost than it has resources to sustain itself. In other words, less debt overhang. This points to what must replace modern America: a way of living that is much less materialistic, much less resource-dependent, with lots less debt. We don’t speak here only of the typical debts that come to mind: mortgage, credit cards, government, unfunded retirement plans. We also speak of the ones that are hidden, or externalized: the environmental debt of an iPhone, or an electric car, or the oil needed to produce all of the plastic you use one time and then claim to recycle, or the social or cultural debt of a bomb destined to bring and early end to a wedding in (fill in the blank) SyriaIraqAfghanistanPakistanSomaliaYemenIndonesiaGazaUkraine, just to name a few of our unacknowledged debts. It is a sign of our collective denial that you probably don’t understand the debt of an iPhone, or of a bomb. This ignorance will mean our death as a culture, and possibly as a species. As this empire slips away the rulers, although feeling some amount of stress and pressure, present a serene façade of normalcy that grows evermore disconnected from ground truth with each passing day. Sound familiar? It should; it’s happened many times before.

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