Collapse is Death by One Million Cuts

Many of us have become numb to the escalating collapse of everything that’s accelerating all around us. Extreme events have become so commonplace that they hardly get noticed by mainstream media. It’s Monday morning and I have to dig deep into my newsfeed to find any mention of ongoing heat waves, fires, droughts and storms.

On Sunday afternoons I get together with a group of friends to play Irish music in a local park. Yesterday, I asked one of my fiddler friends for some motivation, something to write about. She did not disappoint. She reminded me that these are not normal times. There is a singular reality to the depth of the shit we are going through at this particular moment that needs to be recognized and recorded. Right now, this particular moment, is the most totally f**ked up moment in modern human history on a global scale. But the sad and terrifying reality is that there will be so many more of these singular moments to come. The extreme events of today will forever become tomorrow’s baseline.

The collapse of everything is not an event. It is not a tick mark in time. We are not getting hit by a comet where normal life is possible one day and global extinction is inevitable the next. We can’t predict the day a particular catastrophe associated with collapse will happen. Collapse is not coming at us like some ball of ice in the sky. There is nothing special about February 21, 2022 or the year 2030, 2050 or 2100. I’ll say it here with absolute certainty: humanity will not be extinct by the year 2026. Want to make a bet?

Global industrial civilization is complex and widespread. A fire in Lytton, BC or drought in California has little impact on those devastated by a mudslide in Petropolis, Brazil or a wildfire in Corrientes, Argentina. And yet each of these events is part of the process of collapse.

We typically talk about collapse in excessively general terms, defined by sweeping statements like “overshoot and overpopulation” or “1.5C by 2030” or “aerosol masking.” Yet these generalities play out in specific events in our daily life. And each of these events hurts just a little bit more, draining the collective blood of civilization, legacy, humanity and life.

Collapse is death by one million cuts (or 8 billion, but who’s counting?), a long and painful process leading to the end of everything.

In case you need a reminder, like I did, here’s today’s short list:

  • Vladimir Putin and Russia are poised to invade independent Ukraine, destabilizing Europe.  1939 anyone?
  • COVID continues worldwide, with daily deaths averaging around 10k and record cases in South Korea and Indonesia.
  • Yet the political elite here in the U.S. are proclaiming: “masks, we don’t need no stinkin’ masks!”
  • Trucker strikes and the “Freedom Convoy” in Canada are still going on. What’s the issue? It’s changing every day.
  • “People are selling their organs. People are selling their children. They are desperate. They are hungry.” —Ramiz Alakbarov, on the current situation in Afghanistan.
  • The supply-chain crisis is not expected to ease anytime soon. No guacamole for you.
  • Inflation is spiking worldwide, the highest in decades. I just paid $6 for a cup of Starbucks coffee. That’s ordinary, everyday coffee, not some Franken-drink-ocino.
  • There are critical labor shortages across multiple industries. If you want to be a teacher, nurse, pilot, truck driver or fast food worker, this is your chance.
  • How many conspiracy theorists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Only “Q” knows.
  • Crop failures are ongoing, the latest are corn crop failures in Sudan and Brazil.
  • The ice shelf holding back the Thwaites glacier will break up in two to five years. Don’t be alarmed, they say.
  • Last week there was a new prediction for up to 1 foot of sea level rise by 2050. Time to sell your Florida swampland.
  • There was a new record minimum set for sea ice extent in Antarctica. Tell your climate denying uncle Fred he’s wrong.
  • Speaking of records, the greenhouse gas methane just hit a new all time high of 1907 parts per billion.
  • And CO2 is headed for a record, over 420 ppm, at its peak in May.
  • Fortunately, La Nina is keeping global temperatures from spiking. The next El Nino will not be fun.
  • Unfortunately, La Nina means little rain for the western U.S.
  • The current drought in California is now the driest period in the last 1200 years?
  • Did you even hear about the wildfires in Argentina or the heat wave in Perth? Neither did I.
  • Okay, we are nearing another northern hemisphere summer season and I’ll say it — Fire season ahead and I am scared.
  • Oh yeah, one last item.  The billionaires are getting richer.  F**k you Jeff Bezos & Elon Musk.

Surely if I looked a little deeper I could find dozens of other items to add to this list. Koalas being put on the endangered species list, a volcanic eruption in Tonga, the growing threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria and lead contamination of water supplies. There’s Siberian permafrost & Arctic clathrate methane, a looming “blue ocean event,” record Greenland ice melt, bleaching of coral reefs and an expanding ozone hole. My top 40 list is here. Maybe there is something happening where you live that is more directly impactful on your life than any of these. One million cuts means a lot of cuts.

There are simply not enough bandaids to keep up with the increasing frequency, duration and intensity of the cuts that the planet and civilization is experiencing. Rebuilding infrastructure, culture, political systems and ecosystems is a hopeless whack-a-mole enterprise. There is no transition to green energy, no cessation of fossil fuels, no electric car or wind farm, and no ecotopian ideal that is going to do a damn thing to stop what’s coming our way.

In the meantime, I’ll keep playing those Irish tunes on Sunday afternoons just as long as my aging fingers hold out against the rising storms to come. And maybe we can all dance a little jig together on our way out.

Eliot Jacobson, Ph.D.

Retired professor of mathematics and computer science, retired casino consultant, now a full time volunteer, husband and grandfather. Know-it-all doomer. Born in the year 316 ppm CO2.

12 thoughts on “Collapse is Death by One Million Cuts

  • February 21, 2022 at 8:16 am
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    I heard Jeremy Jackson in talking about the state of the oceans attribute the phrase ‘death by a thousand cuts’ to a student of his. I came across something close to it on p. 33 of ‘Death in Ancient Rome’ (2007) by Catharine Edwards. In his epic poem ‘Civil War’, Lucan describes the death of a soldier on Pompey’s side at the battle of Pharsalus:

    All the glory of our country fell there: the corpses of patricians lay in a great heap upon the field, with no plebians among them. Yet one death was most noticeable in that carnage of famous men – the death of that stubborn warrior Domitius. Fate led him from defeat to defeat; never was he absent when Pompey’s cause was worsted. Though conquered so often by Caesar, he died without losing his freedom. Now he fell gladly under a thousand wounds, and rejoiced not to be pardoned a second time (7.597-604).

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  • February 21, 2022 at 8:18 am
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    Yep. Keep playing those Irish tunes.

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  • February 21, 2022 at 5:59 pm
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    That’s weird… I put “antibiotic resistance” on the other side of the ledger. But then, I have been down here in this rabbit hole longer than you, so my guess is that you just haven’t gone deep enough yet. When the Coronapanic deaths that have so far killed 0.2 percent of the world’s population of old fat sick people start to balance out the 240,000 DAILY births of future breeders, then we can have something to celebrate. Did you drop the word “only” before the 10,000 while enumerating the eight billion reasons the planet is collapsing? In the meantime, as those “political elites” like the ones I run around with here in the U.S. say, and I heartily endorse: “We don’t need no stinking masks!”

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    • February 23, 2022 at 7:19 pm
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      Oh yeah, let’s definitely kill the old fat sick people. What use are they, anyway? You ghoul.

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  • February 26, 2022 at 12:31 pm
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    I was amused by this tweet, presumably a paean to the baby-boom generation, recently posted as a meme to the r/collapse subreddit:

    “Shout out to our parents for hitting an absolute timeline sweet-spot. Drop in right after a world war, have a bunch of weird sex before HIV, buy a house for, like, $20,000, start a family, retire young, and peace out right before the ocean kills us.”

    Replace “ocean” with the more comprehensive “global ecological overshoot and collapse” and.., yeah, absolutely ‘effing spot-on. Full disclosure, at the ripe old age of 60 I am one of the aforementioned boomers, only just. That said, I grew up on punk rock, so I prefer to think of myself as an older GenX.

    With nothing in my future to look forward to except being old, sick, broke, starving and homeless, well… Maybe it’s time to seriously consider that “peace out” part.

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  • February 27, 2022 at 5:11 pm
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    It’s Spring right now. I’ve been taking fiddle lessons from Richard and it makes me happy I can still learn something new. Sometimes I actually play my fiddle in tune and it sounds pretty decent. I went to Lake Cachuma to play old-time fiddle tunes with my friends all last weekend. While playing tunes in the key of C on Saturday afternoon it suddenly occurred to me that these are the best of times. Good tunes, good friends and cold beer. The simple things in life are what is important. There are so many kinds of wealth, one of them is the wealth of time and friends. I’ve been walking before dawn in the hills of the Riviera, trying to get in shape for my post-retirement hiking. The sunrises have been so beautiful. The air has been so clear, the city and the islands glow. It rained on my birthday and there were rainbows. Sometimes I walk by pink jasmine or pittosporum in bloom and the fragrance overwhelms me with the sweetest smells. I throw another liter of water in my backpack to weigh it down and make California Street hurt a little more and I feel good that my post-menopausal body can still get stronger. I’ve seen a lot of hawks being dive-bombed by crows and on my way out from the Session today I saw a crow collecting sticks for making a nest.

    Life is good, Eliot. The Earth may be dying, the billionaires and oligarchs are probably planning new ways to kill us all, our political system is completely corrupt and sclerotic, we all definitely deserve better, and our hearts all hurt at everything that dies a little more every day. But right now we are wealthy with wildflowers and sunrises and afternoons playing fiddle tunes. It is spring and life renews even on a dying planet. Ukraine so far is giving Putin hell. Don’t forget to notice. “They” want you not to notice. “They” want you do die along with the planet, the sooner the better. This isn’t 1500 words of doom (because I’m not really a doomer) but it’s what I’ve been thinking about lately.

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    • February 28, 2022 at 5:21 pm
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      Yep. A five mile city walk for me today, planting tomatoes and basil and walking around my yard looking for my dog’s lost stuffed bunny toy.

      I just hope this home makes it through Summer, we are close to the Jesusita trail and fire has burned within feet of our house before. I hope the drought doesn’t kill any more of my yard this year and that the rain is not done for this year. I hope the barn owl in my palm survives another year and I can continue to enjoy watching “owley” fly away at sunset for her evening meal.

      If this was far away or far into the future, I could have more of those moments. But everywhere I look it’s happening now and collapse is heartbreaking. I find it very hard to take out my fiddle and enjoy a tune, but tunes are always a good thing.

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  • May 11, 2022 at 3:36 pm
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    I’ve been listening to & playing Celtic tunes & songs for at least 40 years. It has been an emotional partnership, measured in uncountable moments of both joyful and tragic feeling as a song or instrumental has its way with me. Starting my morning with the Bothy Band is my go-to way to be lifted for the rest of the day! I named my son after the piper Liam O’Flynn to honor my son and the music.

    I grieve deeply for the coming loss of all of it, the richness of the music & stories, (& often humor) and I find myself hesitating to reconnect. I haven’t picked up my guitar but maybe once in six months. Not usual for me. A kind of unexpected fasting in protest perhaps. Now I think I can/must break the fast & give in to the healing balm of making and sharing the making of music again. Open D tuning is the place where I mostly hang out. Welcome back, Open D, I’ve missed you.

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    • May 11, 2022 at 4:20 pm
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      I play DADGAD guitar quite often (but also hack at fiddle at other times) — but yes, like you, I am not at all inspired at this moment. We have a “session” at Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens outside on Sunday afternoons if you’re ever in the area (Santa Barbara). 40 years sounds about right, though I might push my own infatuation with the music closer to 50 (if you call my teenage years listening to the Incredible String Band and Pentangle Celtic music). Here’s a taste of my playing:

      https://youtu.be/KAqigKgPiEw

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      • May 12, 2022 at 4:11 pm
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        You & friends are good! I have no recordings to share but do have a simple studio setup I will put together this summer. I grew up in central Indiana & fell in with folklorists & bluegrass people at Purdue Univ. in my early teens. Traveled to Bill Monroe’s barn in BeanBlossom Ind. ( no stage, wooden benches) to hear “The Bluegrass Boys & the Brown County Boys & Girls !”. As the Purdue Folk Club, we brought Doc Watson, Pete Seeger, Son House & a host of other folk & blues artists to campus. Brought the Blue Sky Boys out of retirement. Early ’60s. Then someone told me to check out Irish music… Anyway, I appreciate remembering how the interest evolved & the fun I had with music & people at a time when I wasn’t yet bothered with the woes of the world.

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        • May 14, 2022 at 6:11 am
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          There is a long history of great Irish folk music from Indiana. You have Grey Larsen there!

          Thanks for your kind comments and glad to meet you.

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