Last year I read How Everything can Collapse, a book by two French ‘collapsologists’ who wanted to have a grown up conversation about the possibility of social collapse. Hollywood cliches and visions of apocalypse have made the idea into something either terrifying or implausible, and it doesn’t get enough attention. As far as they are concerned, a slow decline of industrial civilisation is practically inevitable. It could be accelerated by things like – you know, a global pandemic.
Recognising the possibility of collapse is one thing. Living with it is another, and that’s why there’s a sequel to the book, and this time Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stephens are joined by the biomimicry expert Gauthier Chapelle. Called Another End of the World is Possible, this one deals specifically with the question of “how we live through our lives with this constant flow of bad news and disasters.”
Where the first book was about ‘collapsology’, the possibility of collapse itself, this one is about living with it. They give this the slightly clunkier name ‘collapsosophy’, which I’m not convinced will catch on. It’s an important idea though. If you spend any time watching trends on climate change, inequality, social divisions and concentrations of power, it can be exhausting. “It is important not to crazy” say the authors. How do we react honestly to what is happening, without giving in to depair or delusion? How do we cultivate new beginnings in the midst of endings?
The book looks for inspiration from a wide variety of sources. Doctors know about giving people bad news – what can we learn from them? They look at support groups for those living with chronic illness, or the pyschology of trauma recovery and rebuilding after a disaster. They investigate grieving processes. The work of Joanna Macy is a major touchstone, and the work of Schumacher College. So is Bruno Latour and his ideas about ‘coming back to earth‘, which resonates with my own language around being earthbound, and arriving in the place we find ourselves.
The book also looks into ecopsychology and ecofeminism, rewilding, parenting, spirituality, healthier forms of masculinity. It talks about reconnection, ways of practicing deeper empathy with non human life. There’s an intellectual boldness to it, a willingness to keep an open mind and try things. The authors can discuss ‘ontological pluralism’, or the difference between multi-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary approaches to science. They can also write about ‘cross-species dialogue’ with plants, or neopagan rituals of initiation.
If that sounds like a right mix of mainstream insights and oddments from the wacky fringe, that’s entirely correct. The authors invite their readers to treat the book like a big wild vegetable garden. “Feel free to walk around and pick up what you like.”
Fill two bags, they say: one with “what speaks to you and suits you”, and the other with “what you disapprove of or what seems irrelevant today, so that you can come back to it later.” I definitely have two bags.
There’s a generous and curious spirit to the book that I really appreciated, and there’s a growing need for books that address the mental health side of our era of overlapping crises. We all have to live with the realities of global catastrophe, raise our children in the midst of it, and keep working on building community and keeping imagination alive. We need voices that remind us that “it is possible to understand, to speak and to live the catastrophes and the sufferings that they generate without giving up joy or the possibility of a future.”