Peasants v. Bureaucrats

This is the theoretical backdrop against which I’ve been advocating a publicly planned (“calm and rational”) contraction at Penn State – the feudal lord of our local community – as contrasted with a chaotic one.

Dark Age America: The End of the Old Order, by John Michael Greer

“…As I pointed out in a paper published online back in 2005 — a PDF is available here — the process that drives the collapse of civilizations has a surprisingly simple basis: the mismatch between the maintenance costs of capital and the resources that are available to meet those costs. Capital here is meant in the broadest sense of the word, and includes everything in which a civilization invests its wealth: buildings, roads, imperial expansion, urban infrastructure, information resources, trained personnel, or what have you. Capital of every kind has to be maintained, and as a civilization adds to its stock of capital, the costs of maintenance rise steadily, until the burden they place on the civilization’s available resources can’t be supported any longer.

The only way to resolve that conflict is to allow some of the capital to be converted to waste, so that its maintenance costs drop to zero and any useful resources locked up in the capital can be put to other uses. Human beings being what they are, the conversion of capital to waste generally isn’t carried out in a calm, rational manner; instead, kingdoms fall, cities get sacked, ruling elites are torn to pieces by howling mobs, and the like…That’s a thumbnail sketch of the theory of catabolic collapse

The point that needs to be grasped here is that social hierarchies are a form of capital, in the broad sense mentioned above. Like the other forms of capital included in the catabolic collapse model, social hierarchies facilitate the production and distribution of goods and services, and they have maintenance costs that have to be met. If the maintenance costs aren’t met, as with any other form of capital, social hierarchies are converted to waste; they stop fulfilling their economic function, and become available for salvage…

…Every society depends for its survival on the passive acquiescence of the majority of the population and the active support of a large minority. That minority — call them the overseer class — are the people who operate the mechanisms of social hierarchy: the bureaucrats, media personnel, police, soldiers, and other functionaries who are responsible for maintaining social order…

…A ruling elite [PSU Board of Trustees, President Barron, and OPP administrators] facing a crisis of this kind has at least three available options. The first, and by far the easiest, is to ignore the situation. In the short term, this is actually the most economical option; it requires the least investment of scarce resources and doesn’t require potentially dangerous tinkering with fragile social and political systems…

…Already, a large fraction of Americans — probably a majority — accept the continuation of the existing order of society in the United States only because a viable alternative has yet to emerge. As the United States moves closer to catabolic collapse, and the burden of propping up an increasingly dysfunctional status quo bears down ever more intolerably on more and more people outside the narrowing circle of wealth and privilege, the bar that any alternative has to leap will be set lower and lower. Sooner or later, something will make that leap and convince enough people that there’s a workable alternative to the status quo, and the passive acquiescence on which the system depends for its survival will no longer be something that can be taken for granted…

Well worth reading in its entirety.


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