Looming crisis: a winter of discontent or the collapse of civilisation?

Can our society and way of life survive the triple threat of Brexit, Johnson’s government, and climate change?

I do not want to sound melodramatic but are we about to see the collapse of our civilisation? It has been established beyond doubt that climate change is both occurring and has been exacerbated by human behaviour. This alone may lead to huge damage to our way of life, much of which will be irreversible unless governments act urgently now.

Sea levels will rise and claim land; extreme weather events will become more common and increasingly devastating. What agriculture can still be grown – and where – will change, meaning access to familiar and essential goods and services will be affected. The prompt actions of the world’s governments may still limit the changes to our planet, and mitigate how much we need to adapt, but it seems that some effects are already unstoppable, making crises for society an inevitability, whatever we humans do globally.

UK faces “maelstrom”of damage – mostly caused by our own government

On top of all this, those of us living in the UK also face a maelstrom of self-inflicted damage. Johnson’s government, elected by our own failing system, is riding roughshod over democratic and ethical norms, and likely to compound these already alarming threats. Our country’s energy prices are spiralling beyond affordability for most people and, despite the denials from Johnson and other Conservatives during their party’s conference this week, queues and shortage of fuel at petrol stations continue, along with empty supermarket shelves.

On the day the government withdraws the £20 Universal Credit Covid uplift (an amount that barely covers increased post-Brexit costs of food and fuel anyway) millions are being fed by charity, where available. Trade has sunk: crops rot in the fields, fishing boats stand idle, distraught pig farmers are having to face culling their perfectly healthy animals, shops and petrol stations lack supply, and hundreds of thousands of essential jobs remain unfilled.

Despite clear evidence that the minimum income available to citizens with disabilities, pensions or unemployment is inadequate, this same governing party chooses to cut this paltry amount further, whilst simultaneously making unnecessary spending commitments that help only the already wealthy.

Corrupt Conservative clique causing chaos and hastening “collapse”

It appears that, whether through incompetence, negligence, or malice, this same privileged, right-wing clique has been willing to hang the general population out to dry in the face of the ongoing pandemic, ignoring public health advice on protection and continuing to act late on known threats. Tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths must constitute at least a partial collapse in civilisation, surely?

Each of these examples of decline in governance standards is egregious enough, but viewed together, and combined with the climate crisis that is threatening our entire planet’s survival, they may achieve all that any enemy could wish for: chaos, unrest and societal collapse.

What would “societal collapse” actually mean? If pivotal institutions like banks or flood defences fail, it would normally fall to governments to step in and use their economic and military resources to keep things going. If, though, it is government itself failing the people, history would suggest that revolution, violence and/or mass migration might follow.

Have we Brits forgotten how to protest?

Above: Over a million pro-EU, anti-Brexit people marching peacefully in London in October 2019
Photo credit: “File:Anti-Brexit, People’s Vote march, London, October 19, 2019 15.jpg” by Ilovetheeu is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

However, although the people of some countries experiencing unacceptable events would take to the streets, this is Britain, where we apparently do not do such things. At least, not lately. These days, we Brits gather our information from media in thrall to the mendacious authors of the chaos. We are deferential and complacent, even too lazy for such alien behaviour. So our society, with possible exceptions in devolved regions, will acquiesce in its own collapse, watching as those responsible, but unaffected, find yet more ways to cream off yet more riches for themselves.

More by Tom Serpell on Sussex Bylines:

What would “collapse” look like for the rest of us? Queues, for sure, and lots of them. Whatever the shortages, there will be queues, whether this concerns: cash (remember the collapse of Northern Rock?); essential goods (remember the great toilet roll shortage way back in early 2020?); fuel (as in the 1970s, 2000 and currently); foods; jobs; medicines; affordable housing; burials; people will be queuing to obtain their needs. Public services may disappear as resources dry up. Enough injustice could mean riots and looting, even in chin-up, stiff-upper-lip, don’t-make-a-fuss Britain. Many people in this country have little concept of what drives people to become refugees, but may yet find out the hard way.

Democracy matters: lessons from history

We already have partial civil collapse through erosion of our democratic rights.  It seems highly probable that opposition, objection or direct action will be met with force in a yet more “hostile environment”. Look no further for an example of what may happen to our society than Spain in the Franco era, or post-war East Germany, where neighbour snitched on neighbour, brother on sister, to hugely expanded security services. [The government already demands that landlords “police” the tenants’ immigration status]. Spain’s republicans fled in their hundreds of thousands to exile in 1939 to avoid the summary execution, penal servitude, or torture which all too many others experienced.

Meanwhile, the corruption and lying already practised, largely unchallenged, in the higher echelons of power will become yet more prevalent, leaving those less privileged – the 99% of us comprising today’s workers, taxpayers, citizens – to face destitution, hunger, homelessness, flight. Does this constitute collapse or is it just the (un)natural evolution from where we are today? And is there any difference?

Surely it is not too late to call a halt to incompetence, corruption, and the drift towards chaos? If only we knew how…

Follow @SussexBylines on social media