It has come to my attention that there are those of you out there that do not believe that Western Civilization will eventually collapse. How you justify this hubris is a mystery to me.
Henry Kissinger once said "Every civilization that has ever existed has ultimately collapsed." This seems so obvious that I'm always surprised that others found Dr. Kissinger's quote to be controversial. But for me, to assume otherwise would be to assume that anything wrought by man could be immortal. This is contrary to both physics and history. Thanks to the laws of thermodynamics, nothing is immortal.
Even corporations have a natural life span. Sure, General Electric has been around for as long as anyone can remember. But I bet at one time everyone thought the Dutch East India Company would be a permanent fixture, too (and would always pay an 18% dividend). To its credit, it lasted nearly two hundred years, before finally going bankrupt.
If nothing else, you know that in a few billion years or so our sun will run out of fuel. That's just part of the cosmological circle of life. Unless Western Civilization has escaped the grip of the Earth and our Solar System by then, it (and every other civilization on it at the time) is toast. It's not a matter of if, but when.
So it seems a safe bet that Western Civilization will eventually collapse, like every other civilization before it, permanently and irrevocably. It might collapse sooner than that, depending on various other catastrophic scenarios that are fun to ponder, like major asteroid or comet impacts, pandemics, or the super volcano under Yellowstone National Park erupting. On a purely statistical basis, it seems likely that one of those will happen (maybe more than once) long before our sun goes nova.
I think what people are actually saying, though, when they disagree with me, is that Western Civilization will not permanently collapse in their lifetime. This, I might agree with. But I would counter with that it seems almost a sure thing that your little corner of Western Civilization can collapse temporarily, given the right circumstances. This is the lesson of Hurricane Katrina. It was a hard lesson to all involved, but entropy means it is a lot easier to move from order to disorder (like, say, in Baghdad) than from disorder to order (as in New Orleans).
I used to spend my summers as a kid living in a farm house without running water, telephone, or the Internet, only a fireplace for heat, one iffy channel of broadcast television on a good day, and electricity most of the time. (I read a lot, drew water out of a well, and routinely walked around with a firearm.) As a professional, I've stayed in hotels many time zones away, where the tap water was not potable, and where I endured regularly scheduled rolling blackouts that put an end temporarily to elevators and air conditioning. (I also ate a lot of food which I had no idea what it really was, but I sort of liked that part.) These experiences really drove home the fact that the conveniences of modern day life are not evenly distributed, even in these United States.
I'm a fan of author Steven Pressfield. He's probably best known for his golf book The Legend of Bagger Vance because Robert Redford made it into a movie starring Will Smith, Matt Damon, and Charlize Theron. (Yes, I know it's not really about golf.) But if you've read more than one book by Pressfield, you probably already know that he is better known among his fans as an author of well researched historical fiction taking place in ancient Greece.
His book Last of the Amazons is about the siege of the city of Athens by the Amazons and their allies circa fifth century B.C. Greek scholars are still uncertain whether the Amazons, a tribe dominated by fierce woman warriors centered around what is now Eastern Europe, were real or myth. But if they were myth, the ancient Greeks devoted a great deal of time and effort to making bas-reliefs depicting the mythical war between them.
In Pressfield's book, we see Athens right at the early stages of its experimentation with democracy. The fictional Greeks in his book were aware of how fragile this beginning of Western Civilization was, and how easily it could all come tumbling down. Losing the war meant more than just death or enslavement. It meant an end to democracy, the end of the city state, and a return to being a nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers living in animal skin huts.
I thought about this a lot while reading Pressfield's book.
When I say that Western Civilization is a house of cards, what I'm saying, in part, is that we shouldn't take civilization, Western or otherwise, for granted. It is fragile and all too easily lost. And once lost, difficult to regain.