Benefits of Collapse

SUBHEAD: The powers-that-be have propped up a morally corrupt, venal, destructive and impossible system.

By Charles Hugh Smith on 15 March 2010 in Of Two Minds -
Image above: In 1962 subterranean mine fire in Centralia, PA spread out of control and by 1992 the town had to be abandoned. From (

 [IB Publisher's note: We have removed the capitalization of "When Things Fall Apart" from this article so as not to confuse it with the book of the same name.]

The saying "never waste a crisis" was bandied about the body politic last year as if it actually had meaning; alas, the crises were all squandered to prop up a doomed status quo. I am not being cavalier when I say that things falling apart is the first necessary step for renewal, growth and wisdom. The collapse of a business, career, marriage, government, project or dream offers a unique opportunity to free oneself of an impossible status quo or an impossible double-bind.

Up until the moment of acceptance of complete and utter bankruptcy (the insolvency of the enterprise, home purchase, project, marriage, etc.), the participants flay themselves to keep trying to save what cannot be saved and propping up what has become an impossible burden.

The acceptance of bankruptcy/insolvency is a moment of loss and liberation. We mourn the loss of all that work, all that hope and all those dreams, and then we look on the world with fresh eyes, sadder, wiser yet also more realistically hopeful.

If we have any stomach for self-reflection, then we can in hindsight see the critical errors of judgment, the flawed assumptions, the mission creep, the fatal over-reach, the unresolved conflicts, the inherent inadequacies of talent, experience and capital, the tight, desperate clinging of those with the most to lose to the status quo even as it collapses under its own weight.

Those who contributed little but gained the most complain most bitterly, chastizing those who carried the burdens for falling down; those who carried most of the burden find a freedom they had forgotten existed.

All that seemed essential has been lost - the marriage, the corner office, the fancy vehicle, the identity as a go-getter entrepreneur, the comaraderie of the office, the home of one's own, the sense of mission and purpose, the small affections one feels for the familiar be it factory, desk, colleagues, tools and even the pathway to the front door.

And yet there is one gift left in the ruin and rubble--a new understanding of oneself and of one's limitations, weaknesses and strengths. Yes, strengths. The flaws and weaknesses are always painfully visible, but in a fair appraisal of when things fall apart , we come to see the strengths which were present but overwhelmed or misapplied to an impossible situation.

"Hope springs eternal" has two meanings when things fall apart. Those struggling to save what cannot be saved keep trying, even as they know deep inside that the battle is lost and it is futile to continue; they are spurred on by guilt, obligation, duty, and a keenly desperate hope that miracles will arise and save the status quo from a collapse which was ontological (inherent) to its nature and structure.

The real miracle is the collapse. After the status quo has finally given way to the fiscal and political realities, then real hope begins. Not the false impossible hope for miracles, but the real miracles of self-knowledge, an integrated understanding of the inherent unsustainability of the status quo, and the learning which only springs from failure.

Failure is how we learn. What did you learn when every jump shot dropped (basketball analogy) and you won effortlessly? What did you learn when everyone seemed to want to gather round you while you basked in the limelight? What did you learn when your business took off from the very start? Very little.

Conversely, what did you learn when something fell apart? Isn't that when you really learned about over-reach, mission creep, internally unresolvable conflicts, dependence, self-delusion, convenient fantasies, the limits of experience, fighting the last war, lies, greed, avarice, and a hundred other insights and understandings?

We as a nation have completely and utterly squandered the inherently inevitable collapse of our failed, rotten-to-the-core financial system. At great expense to ourselves and future generations, the Powers That Be, of both parties, have propped up a morally corrupt, venal, destructive and impossible-to-sustain financial system.

Nothing has been learned, and those bearing the burden (we the taxpayers) have not been freed of our burdens--we have been enslaved with even greater burdens.

What should have been done - close the insolvent institutions of whatever size, repudiate their bad debts and liquidate their assets - was not done. Excuses were made, failure was hastily covered up and the public shouldered the fatal losses engineered by private greed, corruption and fraud.

As a result, nothing has been learned and all the heavily-hyped hope is false. We as a nation remain delusional and unenlightened. The status quo has been propped up at great cost in treasure and wisdom, and an honest hope for renewal and real progress has been lost.

The collapse of the status quo has just been pushed forward, and the speed and ferocity of that coming collapse have been dialed up to maximum. When things really fall apart it will not just be the financial status quo which implodes, but the status quo of housing, commercial real estate, healthcare and Defense.

We as a society have squandered a miraculous opportunity to learn, and our "leaders" have squandered the opportunity to lead in their craven surrender to the power elites and protected fiefdoms which have the most to lose from the inevitable collapse.

The Powers-That-Be have tacked a few years onto the life of the status quo, at the cost of a greater collapse to come. Because of their lies, pervarications, propaganda, embezzlement, fraud and corruption, the chickens will come home to roost in the 2011-2016 timeframe. The bag of accounting tricks, cover-ups and bail-outs is almost empty, but there may be enough "hope" and delusion left to sustain one more election cycle.

We as a nation will learn one thing: our "leadership" has failed, completely and utterly, and we will have to lead ourselves.

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