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The collapse of western civilization

Cathyyy's picture

Living in the peaceful and resourceful twentieth century, we learned history of how dinosaurs went into extinction, how Maya Civilization came to an end and all the other civilization that no longer exist, but we never think of the way and the time of the collapse of our own civilization, and how the later civilization would view us. In the book “The collapse of western civilization”, the authors picture the world that is devastated by climate change and how people keep holding their traditional “empirical” ideology and accelerate the coming of catastrophe. 

The book is horrifying because it’s written based on the facts we knew, follows the trail of history and predicts the future with such great amount of datas and details which make it not surrealistic but real than ever. But the most scary part of the book is that it presents the fact “ the civilization knew what was happening to them but were unable to stop it.”(2) No matter how intellectual we are compared to the past civilizations, and how advanced is our technology, we are still too little to battle with the power of nature and all of our efforts may eventually turn out to be futile.  Penumbral Period, defined as 1988~2009 in the book, is the only era that any act would still be effective, but human’s“recognize the crisis at hand, and was talking steps to negotiate and implement a solution.”(5) was restrained because of the political and economic benefits.As a result, “Human did not respond appropriately in the early Penumbral Period, when preventive measures were still possible.”(13) warnings were driven by the book that people need to be always keep full awareness of dangers going on around the earth instead of just focusing short-term benefits, and always jump out of our current ideology to embrace other possibilities.

The sarcastic examples in the book challenge lots of belief that we firmly hold nowadays and give the allusion that those beliefs are the foot stone that build our graves. The most interesting one is the switching power of China and America. America became the most dangerous and deplorable country that is continuously condemned because of its rigorous capitalism and damage to the environment, while China, which political ideology always perceived as out-dated and “incorrect”, is the only one that survived most through disastrous climate change and became the structural model for other countries like what western which might view as “a final irony of our story”(52). The one-child policy that China once had and was perceived as “ridiculous” or “inhumane”, now have to be widely implemented in 2040 when heat waves and droughts became prevalent and the world can afford a great population no more. The Ishikawa’s case also criticize the fact that people who make positive change to the world sometimes condemned and suppress by the government because they challenge the authority. Although it happened around 2090, but the author presents the point that history is a circle. “The loss of pet cats and dogs garnered particular attention among wealthy westerners.”(8) and the example of “think tank” presents that people are driven by self-interest instead of public concerns.

There’s discussion about balance between science power and political or economic power in the book. It presents the fact that scientists failed to persuade the rest of the world of the severity of the problem, and let government implement coordinate changes—knowledge cannot transfer into power. Reasons are multiple, but the most eminent one is that “scientists were preventing the economic development essential for coping with climate change.”(12) and “The carbon-combustion complex began to treat science as an enemy to be fought by whatever means necessary. “(43) Obviously, people who receiving benefits from the free market economy are reluctant to give away their profits to save the earth from environmental danger.  But the result of keep doing so could be disastrous, like what the authors pictured in the book, “Scientists understood that it was only a matter of time before the Arctic summer would be ice-free, and that this was a matter of grave concern. But in business and economic circles it was viewed as creating opportunities for further oil and gas exploitation. (22) Terrifying but so real. “The Great Collapse” , as predicted in the book, would eventually become real if we keep unaware of the unbalance power of scientists and politics. Also the standards we set for the world and social convention rooted in our minds, combined with empiricism, restrict scientists from voicing out. As a result, “scientist’s missed the most important opportunity in human history, and the costs that ensued were indeed nearly “all costs””.(18)

Finally, the book makes me realize that the ideology we believe now may be detrimental to the world in the long-term. “western society was rejecting that knowledge in favor of an empirically inadequate yet powerful ideological system. “(37) As suggested, “the powerful ideological system” is neoliberalism—The authors introduces how it born and defeated communism, then became the monopoly and irresistible power of the world, which emphasize on individual needs and profits maximization.But written in the book, couple of years later, the neoliberalism will be the one that drive the world to an end, which is ironic than ever. “The ultimate paradox was that neoliberalism, meant to ensure individual freedom above all, led eventually to a situation that necesistated large-scale government intervention. “(48) 

In the book, compare to a sudden catastrophe, what’s happening to us is more like observing a chronic disease becoming fatal gradually but our optimism and reluctant to act turns it into a cancer, and then there’s no way back. As suggested in the book, the problem “had long been discussed but rarely fully assimilated as a realistic threat”. (29) Hope we would not become, looking from the retrospect, the civilization under the “shadow of ignorance and denial” that build the grave for ourselves when pursuing our own benefits.


Anne Dalke's picture

let’s talk about the difference between a book review and an analytic paper (which is this? How to make your re-write the latter?)

also to discuss: sarcasm, irony, and the progress of a chronic disease…