Floyd, J., 2012, Sense-making and acting for des(c)ent futures: Human and cultural pathways, Asia Pacific Foresight Conference 2012 closing keynote, Perth Australia.


In the most straightforward terms, descent is the outcome when a given level of social complexity becomes too costly to maintain. Amongst those who study the historical wax and wane of human societies closely, in the more nuanced accounts it’s the process by which this descent outcome unfolds that is typically described as collapse. Unfortunately, collapse gets a bad rap in the popular imagination. In one account, it’s a magnet for end-of-time doomer-porn fantasy projections. And in another, it’s the sworn enemy of civilisation’s ever onward march to futures inherently bigger, better and brighter than the present. My central contention here is that we’ll be better equipped to deal with descent futures if we rescue collapse both from its apocalyptic associations and from the idea that it’s necessarily inimical to human wellbeing. I’ll do this specifically by looking beyond the popular assumption that the processes of both biological and social evolution involve inherent progress towards futures that are better than the present. The essential idea guiding this is that collapse, far from being the cataclysmic phenomenon that it’s often portrayed as, is simply the mechanism by which descent unfolds under environmental conditions in which it’s an adaptive response.

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