Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too. – Marcus Aurelius
In the history of the world, nations and even empires have risen, then declined and were lost to time, leaving only artifacts behind for archaeologists to piece together what happened. From our vantage point, it’s easier to see what happened, the slow decline in so many areas that finally led to a collapse. Fortunately, we understand today many of the factors that have to be in place. Unfortunately, even knowing these signs of decline may not be enough to slow or stop the momentum of your nation’s collapse. In this blog, we will lay out the eight signs of imminent collapse. You may recognize one or all eight in your country’s recent history. Having them all doesn’t guarantee that a collapse is inevitable, but it makes it more probable, especially if you have them all to a high degree. Here are the eight signs of imminent societal collapse.
- Financial Decay
One of the most visible outward expressions of a collapse is the bottom falling out of the financial system. From double, triple, or higher-digit inflation pricing people out of basic necessities to dramatic market declines evaporating a lifetime’s accumulated wealth instantly, economic collapse can aggravate other conditions that can domino into a full-on failure. Many market collapses actually have a long build-up. The housing bubble, the commercial real estate bubble, trade wars, and the loss of faith over time in a single fiat currency all happen slowly over the years and then reach a tipping point. In some cases, the ultra-wealthy cheer on the decline in some ways as they profit off selling short and feel that they can maintain profits by shifting their money to other assets or more stable countries. However, that doesn’t always work as assets are often frozen, withdrawal limits are established, or the currency becomes so devalued that it doesn’t retain any fluidity. Nobody wants it nor transacts in it anymore.
The financial decay is often preceded by a growing income gap, enormous corporate profits at the same time everyday consumer goods become luxury items for the masses, and wages that fail to keep pace with the nation’s prior growth. Economic inequities breed resentment in the citizens, resulting in high crime, fraud, and eventually protests, looting, rioting, and even revolutions like the French Revolution. You may recognize several of these indicators of financial decay in your nation. While it’s not a guarantee of a coming collapse, you must continue to monitor. Your insulation from it starts with recession-proofing your life. Still, it continues with increasing your skills and abilities to sustain yourself independent of the commerce system, like growing your food instead of expecting to purchase it at the grocery store after having traveled 5,000 miles from where it was grown.
- Agricultural Decline
The rise of agriculture also gave rise to cities, states, and nations. Without harnessing nature in agricultural practices, thereby increasing yield and concentration of food sources, nations would have never formed out of nomadic, hunter-gatherer groups. While weather patterns may be perfect for agriculture in a particular area for several centuries, they can change. The lack of floods in the Nile contributed to a dramatic decline in food production in the 13th century. Excessive rain in 14th-century Britain caused massive crop failures that resulted in massive food shortages. The Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, began in 1845 when a mold caused a destructive plant disease that spread rapidly throughout Ireland. While the Egyptians, British, and Irish survived the downturn, they all suffered through what can only be described as a period of collapse.
We often point out that while some plants have thousands of varieties, societies tend to gravitate to the most prolific single cultivar. They then also open themselves up to large-scale crop failure when disease or blight strikes that monoculture. There are 1,000 different types of bananas worldwide, but we only mass-produce one variety- the Cavendish. What happens when the Cavendish succumbs to a plant fungus that the Blue Java banana has resilience against?
Sometimes agricultural decline isn’t a result of weather or blight but merely a result of economics. As the Great Depression took hold in the United States in the late 1920s, many farmers saw their milk prices drop, and by 1933, prices were less than half what they had been just three years prior. Farmers reacted with milk strikes, and the protests often turned violent. Raiding parties stopped trains laden with milk and dumped it into the ground. A cheese factory was attacked, and the angry mob poured kerosene on 600 pounds of cheese. An even more extreme impact on agriculture can be war. From scorched earth to land left fallow as wars rage to starvation of the masses and even cannibalism, a more significant societal collapse could be imminent when agricultural output is threatened or in decline.
- Health Decline
The health of a nation can also be measured by the health of its people. There are obvious factors like plague, disease, wars, and pandemics, but more subtle indicators like lifestyle and environmentally induced illnesses exist. From lead pipes used in Rome to cancer-causing pesticides to industrial, even nuclear waste, there are several environmental factors that lead to medical issues that sap a nation’s resources and workforce. There are also lifestyle choices that can contribute to a more significant decline in overall health. Refined sugars, preservatives, highly processed foods, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and all those other things we now know have to be taken in moderation or not at all lead to health issues like obesity, diabetes, fatty liver, cancer, high blood pressure, and the list goes on from there.
Increased health issues overburden the established medical care system. Diseases, famines, and wars can completely obliterate any national healthcare system. As people turn to blame the established government for their problems, they can sometimes riot against the established order and plunge their nation deeper into a spiraling decline.
- Decline in Birth Rate
A decline in the birth rate indicates a nation’s decline. While environmental and social factors can impact fertility and fertilization rates, it is more indicative of a general lack of faith in the future. The future may appear too uncertain, chaotic, or rife with conflict that raising a child is just too difficult. Or, the future’s financial prospects are so dismal, and the current economic situation would only result in poverty for anyone trying to raise a family. Birth rate and fertility rate are helpful in analyzing and understanding a nation’s replacement rate. Populations that increase can put a strain on economies and infrastructure. Populations that don’t replenish themselves can experience slowed services, a decline in transactions and commerce, or even be left unable to defend themselves from foreign adversaries.
Birth rates are falling in the U.S. after experiencing a high with the Baby Boom in the mid-20th century and a low from the Baby Bust in the 1970s, birth rates were relatively stable for nearly 50 years. That all changed with the Great Recession, from 2007-2009. Birth rates have declined sharply since then. Russia’s birth rate has declined since 1994, just after the official fall of the Soviet Union. Obviously, there is a correlation between societal collapse and birthrate in Russia’s history. China reported in January that its population had fallen for the first time in 60 years. In 2022, there were just 6.77 births per 1,000 people in China. India’s General Fertility Rate has declined by 20% over the past decade. Japan’s birthrate is so dire that the Prime Minister warned, “Japan is on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society.” With all these superpowers and super economies experiencing declining birth rates, they cannot replenish their aging populations and maintain their traditional systems. This can contribute to a more significant societal collapse.
- Misinformation & Rumor As Fact
There are signs of decline that are less obvious than a financial collapse, unhealthy people, and declining birthrates. Sometimes it’s what you know, don’t know, or think you know that can destroy a population. During the First Inquisition, created by religious courts to combat heresy and witchcraft, Pope Gregory IX ordered the witch’s familial animal, the cat, especially black cats, to be burned and killed with the witch. Hundreds of thousands of cats were killed, leading to the rapid proliferation of rodents, particularly a bacterium carried by rats. That bacterium was ultimately the source of the Black Plague. From prescribing opiates for crying babies to sanitized tapeworms to lose weight, it’s often the misinformation informing medical practices that can cause death rates to go up in society.
Rumors that lack substantiating facts can also erode accepted norms that cement stability in culture. When one class or group of people labels another an enemy or dehumanizes the other, and rumors and stories, and a whole narrative spring up to support that contempt, a society loses its unified sense of forward progress and erodes from within. Misinformation and assumptions about race, ethnicity, religion, politics, caste systems, and even governing philosophies between rural and urban areas can all foment contempt among people. When people act upon or react to this misinformation, false narratives, and pseudo-facts, societies move from a desire for unity to a culture of discord.
While these society-altering flare-ups have led from the extremes of concentration camps to minor confrontations in communities, we collectively live now in a time where complete false narratives can be established and erroneously supported through word-of-mouth, the internet, doctored images and photos, deep fakes, and even Artificial Intelligence. Often, you can see governance based on misinformation or an assumed interpretation of data and information. Often you see a dismissal of data and facts because it conflicts with the more extreme narrative. Even state-sponsored propagandists, internet trolls, and sensationalist pundit entertainers profit from spreading controversial misinformation. All of it signifies a lack of cohesive unity in a society, which is a sign of a possible more significant collapse in the future.
By extension of the misinformation and rumors, the next sign of imminent collapse is uncontrolled infighting. Scapegoats are sought for failures ranging from the response to natural or industrial disasters to inflation and financial market collapses. One group elevates itself and blames the other. Looking even casually at parliaments and congresses worldwide, you can see this play out in real time. If you look at the struggles of the oppressed or have-nots and the ruling classes and wealthy elite, history is littered with examples of infighting. That fierce infighting, inflamed rhetoric, and scapegoating often translate to the neighborhood level. Eventually, people don’t trust their own neighbors, family, or friends. Distrust is the first stage of infighting.
Typically, both parties claim and play the role of victim and aggressor. There is a rise in conflicts and expressive exchanges. The opposing side is seen as the enemy. Often dehumanization labels are ascribed to the opposition. Eventually, neither the government nor neighbors can work together for the greater good of society. With no forward progress or planning and absent the feeling that we are all in this together, society erodes from within and is one step closer to collapse.
- Enemies Foreign & Domestic
Even as the enemies within are formed anew, the enemies of other nations continue. Right now, there is a rising and outward expression of disdain for heavy-handed Western diplomacy. Europe and America are seen as imperialistic forces that have for too long reigned over and dictated the policies of other countries. Russia, China, Iran, and many others condemn the tactics of the US even as they deploy autocratic, harsh, and heavy-handed tactics of their own, dominate and invade smaller nations, and commit human rights violations. In the big picture, neither side is right. They simply try to bend the world to support them while profiting from the resources. These differing philosophies label each other enemies. They seek to dismantle and deconstruct the other. Wars are fought from nation to nation, and civil wars are fought within nations.
This gives rise to proxy wars, wars, invasions, cyberattacks, state-sponsored terrorism, sabotage, and conflicts that range from the battlefield to the boardroom. When a country erodes from the other warning signs mentioned, it is more vulnerable to foreign and domestic enemies. Russia and its predecessor culture by geography have been involved in 185 wars and armed conflicts that range from the Mongol Invasion to the War in Ukraine. America has been engaged in conflicts ranging from the Bay of Pigs to the Contras to World Wars, a Civil War, and even a Revolutionary War that created the country. Every society and nation has a history of armed conflict fighting enemies from within and without. For each overt and extreme conflict we can see, there are thousands of more minor and unnoticed wars being waged. All combined, they erode the structure and peaceful state of a unified society, and as they pick up momentum and intensity, they may also indicate an imminent future collapse.
This final push of foreign and domestic enemies facilitates all collapses. Foreign influences have always been there, but in a global market with instantaneous communications, enemies can attack from computer screens thousands of miles away from computer screens. Domestic vigilantes and those emboldened by a “cause” or purpose-driven philosophy, dogma, or idealogy like accelerationism or anarchy actually seek to hasten the downfall of order by attacking others or infrastructure. Foreign and domestic enemies come in many forms and are always lurking in the wings to give that final push into societal collapse.
- Resource Depletion
One of the most significant indicators of an imminent collapse is resource depletion. When a river changes course or runs dry, when wells and aquifers are depleted, and when energy can’t be produced to control the extremes of hot and cold weather, life in some areas becomes untenable. Forced migrations, immigration, and emigration create imbalances and competition for resources that may not have existed before.
We collectively live in an agrarian society like we are still nomads, often using the last of every bit of local resources without considering replenishing those resources. When we run out, instead of moving on like our nomadic ancestors, we take from some other region where we care even less about replenishment or conservation, or reduced consumption. Any resource imbalances from water to food to raw materials can only be compensated for for just so long. Eventually, society is so far removed from something like growing its own food that when the delivery system fails for long enough, the people starve, and society fails. Watch for signs of resource depletion from drought restrictions to poisoned water from crop failures to fossil fuel prices rising. All of these are indicators of resource mismanagement, if not also a sign of a future possible collapse.
You likely see one or all of those signs of an imminent collapse in the country you live in right now. That doesn’t mean collapse will happen overnight. Based upon the intensity and frequency of these eight signs, you may just see a gradual decline from your nation’s pinnacle of perceived greatness. Societies change, and the past is often longed for as “the good old days,” though it was a different time with different thinking, problems, solutions, and resources. There is still a city called Rome, though the Roman Empire has long ago receded to the pages of history books. It could be that your nation has seen its pinnacles, and the eight signs of imminent collapse are picking up overwhelming speed. You can still weather that coming storm.
When you endeavor to prep, learn skills, grow your food, source food and water locally, learn to become more self-sufficient, and lessen your dependence upon national and global supply chains and governance, you take back control of your world. Be sure to check out our playlist on gardening and water harvesting which we’ll post at the end of the blog. Don’t look to others for help or to assign blame when you control how much you will feel the rise or fall of your society. That’s not to say these conflicts won’t appear at your doorstep. They might. Your ability to survive them, however, is greatly enhanced. When you lessen your dependence on external systems that are genuinely beyond your control and focus on the things you can control in your own environment and life, the rise and fall of nations are less impactful on your day-to-day. You will still feel the effects but will be better equipped to survive them.
As always, stay safe out there.