Does the five-stage collapse model still make sense? by Dmitry Orlov

It’s been 14 years since I wrote the article “The Five Stages of Collapse” which I subsequently turned into a book, which, in turn, was published in a dozen languages. The idea was generally well received. It was a way of systematizing what to most minds was and is an unpredictable and chaotic process. It was also an idealization (which is engineering-speak for a gross oversimplification made for the sake of explaining a concept or making a quick, although inaccurate, calculation).
I based my five stages of collapse (financial, commercial, political, social and cultural) on Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of the grieving process (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) but the similarity is superficial: yes, there are five of them and yes, they are sad things; count them and weep. But then it is also like the now outdated waterfall model of software development (gather requirements, write design, code, test/debug, launch)—and, again, weep, because by the time you are done the requirements most definitely will have changed.
While weeping profusely and cursing their fate, software project managers came up with some palliative measures: phased development, beta versions, soft launches, etc. But in the end the fashion shifted to agile development, where development teams implement a limited set of features by a certain deadline, then repeat. As requirements change and new features are grafted on top of old, the software accumulates cruft, or scar tissue, in the form of dead code, huge bloated libraries of functions that are barely used, other gross inefficiencies and generally stupid ways of doing things. All of these have to be removed through a painstaking process called refactoring, which grows ever more complex and error-prone over time.
Eventually the software system forms a big ball of mud where subtle bugs are lurking everywhere and everything is connected to everything else in inexplicable ways. It is then time to rewrite the whole system from scratch, but since by then nobody fully knows what this software is supposed to do any more, this cannot be done either. And then it’s time for the project managers to go back to weeping profusely while cursing their fate.
I would like to develop a more agile model of collapse than the rather rigid framework of the five stages, based on examining synergies of decay and ecosystems of collapse. In the meantime, the staged model of collapse still seems to have merit:
1. Financial. At this very moment, the entire US financial establishment is on the verge of system failure. Printing huge quantities of dollars, half of which are held outside the US, while keeping interest rates at below zero (adjusted for inflation) has steered the Federal Reserve into a cul de sac of its own creation. It is now attempting to raise interest rates by tiny amounts (less than by 1% at a go) while producer price inflation is already raging at 20% and is ready to burst through to the consumer market.
2. Commercial. Meanwhile, corporations have loaded up on zero-interest debt, which they have used to buy up their own shares to keep their valuations high (in turn, allowing them to load up on even more debt) and now every tiny uptick in interest rates sends a giant wave of pain throughout the commercial realm as debt service costs swallow up revenues and drive companies into bankruptcy. As more and more corporations find it impossible to continue functioning given high producer inflation and high debt service costs, people begin to experience shortages of many essential products such as baby food and feminine hygiene items while surging gasoline prices cause waves of pain and anger to surge through the population.
3. Political. This anger shows up in opinion polls and, in due course, at the polls, making it necessary to continue making a complete mockery of democratic processes in order to keep in power the self-elected, deeply unpopular and systemically corrupt political elite. Large infusions of totalitarian ideology, in the form of cancel culture and political imprisonment, and of political misdirection (blaming it all on Putin) round out the ghastly tableau of political dysfunction
4. Social. Since it has become traditional to divide and conquer the populace using hot button issues such as abortion and gun control (with pedophilia and child castration recently added to spice up the mix), the populace is increasingly finding itself at war with itself, self-segregating along ideological lines. Speaking of ideology, the entire populace, political and corporate elites included, have been heavily brainwashed by free market fundamentalist ideology, making it impossible for them to understand and to come to terms with their predicament. Having absorbed Milton Friedman’s idiotic dictum that “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon…” they are incapable of understanding the meaning of the term “structural inflation,” which is what they are facing now. They listen with numb incomprehension to news that inflation in Russia is now at 0% (in spite of a minor running skirmish in the Ukraine and sanctions-shmanctions from hell) and, as you may have guessed, blame Putin. None of them is capable of understanding a simple fact: the only force able to rein in structural inflation is… the government, by subsidizing or nationalizing key industries. “Well, certainly not this government!” many people would explain, and they would be correct; the Russian, the Chinese or the Indian government—certainly; the US government—not so much, you know. So, what choice is there? Why, to reenact the Civil War, of course! This time, it would be not so much to preserve the Union as to break it up.
5. Cultural. As I wrote back in 2018, in the USA and, to various extents, in different parts of the European Union: an attempt to undermine and destroy cohesive society and common culture ahead of the coming financial, commercial and political collapse. It may seem like an odd thing to strive for, but consider this: if society and culture are destroyed ahead of time, then when collapse comes there is no intact community of humans left to observe it and understand what is happening. With everyone’s reasoning abilities sufficiently hampered, it will be trivial to diffuse blame when the rest of the collapse sequence occurs, to get the people to blame themselves or to scapegoat each other, or to simply ignore it because most of the people have bigger problems than collapse, be it their dysfunctional families, their various addictions, their religious zealotry or their extremist politics.
The approaches taken to destroying society and culture may seem disparate and lack a unity of purpose… until you understand that their purpose is to destroy society and culture. In education, the emphasis of training to take standardized tests squeezing out any real learning, supposedly motivated by the desire to be inclusive of disadvantaged, intellectually challenged minorities, creates cohort after cohort of young people no longer capable of independent, rational thought.
• In politics, real concerns are replaced with fake ones, centered on bogeymen like “Russian aggression” or “Russian meddling,” reinforced endlessly through repetition without any actual evidence ever being shown, until taking reasoned, motivated political positions becomes impossible.
• In social policy, the substitution of gender for sex, supposedly to fight discrimination but in fact denying biological imperatives, denatures human nature to the point where people become minimally useful to each other.
• In immigration policy, the inclusion of a large population of migrants from incompatible cultures creates a sort of ethnic strife that cannot speak its name: pointing out that migrants from Islamic countries are responsible for a very large proportion of crime is considered politically incorrect and in Sweden has even been made illegal.
• In international relations, we have witnessed a concerted effort to destroy national sovereignty and to render national boundaries meaningless, rendering once proud nations into groups of migrants who speak broken English.
• In economics, every effort is being made to dismantle and suppress the power of organized labor, to open up the labor market to economic migrants, and to suppress local businesses in favor of transnational corporations.
To sum up, the waterfall model of collapse may still make sense, and more so in 2022 than in any of the previous years. The Federal Reserve will continue slow-walking its way to higher interest rates in an effort to rein in inflation, which, being structural rather than monetary, will only grow worse. But even slightly higher interest rates will empty the US Treasury and bankrupt scores of US corporations, further aggravating shortages of essential products. All of this will cause approval ratings of politicians to go from very low to negative. And then it will be time for society to self-destruct. Culture has already self-destructed, so let’s not even worry about it any more.
So, are there any good news? Sure there are! Representatives of 69 countries are currently in attendance at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, many of them eager to sign deals for economic cooperation and development. There is a new, post-capitalist economic development model under development, in which the goal is not capital accumulation but societal well-being. Meanwhile, World War III is ending not with a bang but a whimper, being fought down to the last (Nazi) Ukrainian while the non-Nazis are waiting to run over and join the Russian side. The Ukraine is swiftly denazifying itself by sending all of its Nazis to places where they are being slaughtered using Russian artillery fire. As an added bonus, Russia set out to demilitarize just the Ukraine, but it is now demilitarizing all of NATO by destroying the weapons NATO is sending in to the Ukraine using its new rockets. Russia’s grain harvest is set to be the largest ever, and this should help alleviate looming hunger in parts of the world that are friendly toward Russia. Yes, the good news all seem to be in Russia, while it’s all looking pretty bad for the US, but please don’t say you haven’t been warned, because you have been warned, by me.
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