In the audio book Dark Age America, John Michael Greer argues that decades of missed opportunities have effectively closed the door on a sustainable future. We now face the unraveling of industrial civilization in the wake of uncontrolled climate change and resource depletion.
So, what will the post-industrial world look like? Historian Arnold Toynbee noted that on the way up, civilizations may diverge not only from their neighbors, but also from all other civilizations throughout history. Political and religious institutions, art and architecture, customs, rituals, and social conventions, tend to develop into distinctive and easily identifiable forms as a civilization matures.
Civilizations collapsing, on the other hand…
“Once the peak is past and the long road down begins, though, that pattern of divergence shifts into reverse, slowly at first, and then with increasing speed. A curious sort of homogenization takes place: distinctive features are lost, and common patterns emerge in their place. That doesn’t happen all at once, and different cultural forms lose their distinctive outlines at different rates, but the further down the trajectory of decline and fall a civilization proceeds, the more it resembles every other civilization in decline. By the time that trajectory bottoms out, the resemblance is all but total; compare one post-collapse society to another — the societies of post-Roman Europe, let’s say, with those of post-Mycenean Greece — and it can be hard to believe that dark age societies so similar could have emerged out of the wreckage of civilizations so different.”
Greer, an author and historian, uses his understanding of past collapses to map out what the next 500 years or so might look like as globalization ends and North American civilization reaches the end of its lifecycle and enters the stages of decline and fall. Indeed, some of what he writes reads like current events. This is John Michael Greer’s most uncompromising work, but it is by no means without hope. Understanding where we’re heading collectively is a crucial step in responding constructively and effectively to the challenges ahead.
John Michael Greer, historian of ideas and one of the most influential authors exploring the future of industrial society, writes the widely cited weekly blog the Archdruid Report and has published more than thirty books including The Long Descent, The Ecotechnic Future, The Wealth of Nature, and After Progress. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old mill town in the Appalachians, with his wife Sara.