Is the Covid-19 crisis the marker of an imminent collapse of our civilization? The crisis linked to the pandemic has brought a wind of collapse that would have convinced new followers. What if the story of the future collapse of our civilisations was the new avatar of French pessimism? « Some believe that civilization as we know it will collapse in the coming years "Based on this theme, an international Ifop study carried out in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the United States by Jean-Laurent Cassely and Jérôme Fourquet for the Jean Jaurès Foundation shows why and how collapsology has become very popular in France and reveals the profile and political affinities of its followers.
France is the second country that believes most in a collapsological prophecy, behind Italy (71 %) but ahead of the United Kingdom (56 %) and the United States (52 %), according to data from a study by the Jean Jaurès Foundation. Popularised in particular by the book by the American Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005) ("Collapse: how societies decide whether they will disappear or survive"), this theory "is based on the assumption that climate change, resource depletion and species extinction are leading the world to destruction at an alarming rate".
Published works, films and series on the subject often make climate change and the depletion of natural resources play a central role in the collapse. And the erosion of biodiversity, nuclear proliferation, and global warming, which are becoming more and more prevalent, are reminiscent of a headlong rush that researcher Luc Semal denounces in his book " Face to Collapse - Militating in the Shadow of Disasters ".".
When asked about the likelihood of such an outcome, the climate and ecological scenario is indeed often invoked, but with varying intensity depending on the country.
The collapsing narrative: a new avatar of French pessimism
According to this international study released in November 2019, if the collapsological prophecy has gained much ground in the Western imagination in recent years, it is in France and Italy that it has clearly had the greatest impact. 71 % of the Italians and 65 % of the French agree with the assertion that "civilization as we know it today will collapse in the years to come". This apocalyptic vision is shared "only" by 56 %s of the British and 52 %s of the Americans. Finally, in Germany, this thesis is much less popular with a score of 39 %.
Two remarks can be made at this point. The first is that the wording of the question is very general and does not focus specifically on the climatic or ecological causes of such a collapse. This precision is important because the environmental meaning of collapse is, as we will see later, more present in countries such as Great Britain (where the Extinction Rebellion movement appeared for example) or Germany. The fact that the causes of collapse are not, at this stage of the questionnaire process, specified thus makes it possible to capture a set of declinist representations and perceptions.
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Furthermore, the term "collapsology", still unknown to some people and potentially divisive, was not used in the wording of the question, for which only a theme was introduced, stating that "some people think that civilization as we know it will collapse in the coming years", and then asking respondents their degree of agreement or disagreement with this diagnosis.
The second point follows from this observation. It can be hypothesized that the degree of adherence to the thesis of a foreseeable collapse of civilization is a good indicator of the prevalence of declineism and pessimism in a given society. In support of this hypothesis, it should be noted that Germany, a country with a very solid economic and institutional base, is the country with the least prognosis of civilizational collapse, followed by the two Anglo-Saxon countries and finally by France and Italy, nations with less satisfactory economic performance and where social and political tensions are high.
Adherence to the theory of a collapse of civilization
65 % of the French agree with the collapse theory
Another French specificity is that, whereas in the different countries adherence to a collapsological vision is more widespread among the younger generations when the older generations seem more resistant to it, this generational cleavage does not work in France. In our country, all the generations, sixty-five years old and over included, share the same grim diagnosis.
While the survey found an average of 65 % of French people agree with the collapse theory, the proportion of those who think civilization will collapse increases as the standard of living declines : 50 % among members of the well-off categories agree with the theory, 61 % among members of the upper middle classes, 64 % among those of the lower middle classes, and the percentage peaks at 75 % among the modest categories, before dropping slightly among the poorest French in our five-income bracket typology (64 % agree with this thesis).
In terms of education, adherence is highest among those without a diploma (73 %). We shall see later how these figures vary greatly according to political affiliations but, for the moment, it is important to note that the statistical portrait that emerges from these results from a representative sample hardly coincides with the surveys carried out so far among "collapsed" circles, the term is used to refer to individuals who are not only convinced of the threat, but have begun to reorient their lifestyles to be better prepared for it (as opposed to "collapsosophists", who are more concerned with inner and spiritual change, and "collapsologists", who are the theorists and inventors of collapsology).
In the magazine Yggdrasil co-founded by Pablo Servigne, a study conducted by three teachers who are members of Obveco, the Observatory of Experiences of Collapse, among participants in Facebook collapso forums, leads to the following portrait: men (60 %), urban (65 %), "very highly educated compared to the French population and rather young (between thirty-four and thirty-eight years of average age depending on the studies)", since "85 % of the collapsos have higher education, or even very long studies" and "they handle scientific information well and know how to exercise their critical mind. "The authors write: "This committed collapso is a 'geek' because his knowledge is very specialized for a non-specialist".
There is a discrepancy between the portrait of a (over-)educated, (hyper-)informed and proactive colleague on the one hand, and the socio-cultural level of the adherents to the collapse thesis in this survey, which can be explained as follows. The committed collaborators, who frequent the platforms and places of debate and have even begun a transition, represent an enlightened minority that is highly exposed to the media and scrutinized by journalists and researchers. The survey shows a more underground and massive movement of adherence to the collapse thesis on the part of a population that lives this risk from the angle of a threat and which it associates with a social and economic situation that is globally "dominated", or suffered without much room for manoeuvre to extricate itself from it. Its adherence points to powerlessness rather than collapsing voluntarism and its scouting accents, which are characteristic of this minority of dropouts or voluntary decliners. Moreover, it is unlikely that this economically weakened public would define itself as sympathetic to "collapsology", a term that was not used in the survey questions.
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Collapse deadline: tomorrow!
Another symptom of this report, which is particularly worried about the future in France, is that among those who support the idea of a collapse, the proportion of those who anticipate this in ten or twenty years' time (i.e. tomorrow if we look at the time scale of a civilisation) is particularly high: 54 % compared with 41 % in Italy and 32 % in Great Britain, for example.
In terms of the total population of each country, the proportion of people sharing the view of a future collapse and diagnosing it at most within 20 years is no less than 35 % of the population in France, compared with 29 % in Italy, 22 % in Germany and less than 20 % in the United States (19 %) and Great Britain (18 %).A third of our fellow citizens anticipate or consider it very likely that our model of society will collapse within the next twenty years.One third of our fellow citizens, a high proportion, anticipate or consider it very likely that our model of society will collapse within the next twenty years. In view of this figure, it is easier to understand why books and treatises on collapsology are so successful in bookstores, whether they are, for example, about How everything can fall apart. Small manual of collapsology for the use of the present generations of Pablo Servigne and Raphael Stevens, from the The greatest challenge in the history of mankind. In the face of ecological and social disaster of Aurélien Barrau or of In front of the collapse. Collapsology test of Yves Cochet.
A rise in power characterized
As analyzed by researcher Olivier Gadeau,the topic of collapsing has emerged in the mid-2010s in the French media debate, with the increasing popularity of the term "collapsology" from 2015 and especially 2018 in the media - these are years marked by many geopolitical upheavals: the human refugee crisis, European political crisis, ecological crisis.
Initially presented with a critical distance mixed with amusement for this science-fiction-like theory, collapsology will nevertheless impose itself as a credible narrative in this anxiety-provoking decade, and the question raised in many debates seems no longer to be the plausibility of the thesis, but its degree of imminence as well as the concrete solutions to survive and adapt to it - insofar as, to quote the title of a work by the trio Pablo Servigne, Raphaël Stevens and Gauthier Chapelle published in 2018, Another end of the world is possible.
It is certainly during these pivotal years that the hypothesis of a collapse will leave the Hollywood register of disaster movies (2012, The Day After, Deep Impact...) to become the backdrop for increasingly realistic fictions.
As a result of the visibility of the collapse's thinkers, analysts and influencers, a collapso pop culture has developed, as recently illustrated by the mini-series produced by Canal Plus, The Collapse. The series makes the scenaristic choice of a sudden but realistic collapse and presents in eight episodes, some of which are broadcast on YouTube by the channel, several tableaux that give a foretaste of the conflicts that French society would face during the great economic, social and political collapse of the country. The first episode takes place in a supermarket that is out of stock. In the second one, we witness the rationing of petrol in a petrol station, etc.
What collapsing scenarios?
Proponents of the collapse thesis actually diverge as to the causes identified. Two major narratives compete with each other and have about the same number of votes.
Those who think that the most likely cause would be "the consequences of global warming and over-consumption (disappearance of species, climatic disasters, depletion of resources)" are about as numerous (27 % in France, for example) as those (32 % in our country) who think rather "that there will be no sudden collapse but rather a gradual degradation of current living conditions".
Alongside these two collapsing mainstream visions, there are two other scenarios that are more minoritarian and refer to another, much more violent imaginary. Probably under the effect of the 2015-2017 migration crisis and the extremely strong images it has conveyed, the hypothesis of a collapse under the "effect of totally uncontrollable migration waves" receives a significant score in continental Europe (12 % in Italy, 15 % in France and 17 % in Germany) and is ranked third. This scenario is less popular in Great Britain and the United States (7 %).
The hypothesis of a collapse caused by "civil war or increasing tensions in society" also has a significant number of supporters: 15 % in the United States, 14 % in France and Germany, and 9 % in Italy and Great Britain. The questionnaire also proposes other options but relating to the occurrence of an accidental fact or a particular event.
These scenarios, whether it is an industrial or nuclear accident, a wave of attacks or a natural disaster, are hardly convincing to those who adhere to a diagnosis of collapse. It is as if, in order to function properly, the collapse narrative must be based on systemic reasoning. Clearly, these individuals credit our society with some form of resilience that would protect it from a chain reaction caused by a single event. On the other hand, they believe that the collapse will begin under the pressure of much more massive phenomena, either environmental and climatic (as described in films such as Home of Yann Arthus-Bertrand where The 11th hour by Nadia Conners), or of thrombosis and degeneration of our society, or finally under the blows of major migratory or social crises.
Survivalists and collaborators: two collapsing narratives for two political imaginaries
If a whole part of French society is united in the projection of a disastrous future, the imaginations that are developing and being mobilized are reappearing lines of generational and political cleavages. As the following graph shows, the further one progresses in the age pyramid, the greater the propensity to adhere to the scenario of progressive decadence and dislocation.It is in the younger generations that the thesis of environmental and climatic collapse is most present.And, conversely, it is among the younger generations that the thesis of environmental and climatic collapse is most prevalent. In view of these figures, it appears that in the older generations, who grew up during the Glorious Thirties, the impact of our lifestyles and consumption patterns is not spontaneously seen as likely to cause the eventual collapse of our civilization. Rather, they adhere much more to the nostalgic idea of a progressive decadence, the collapsing vision in this generation no doubt being partly based on the classic theme of "Everything's gone and it was better before." ".
The most probable cause of the collapse of civilization by age group in France
The younger generations adhere much less to this vision of gradual disintegration and long-term decline but are much more sensitive to the impact of climate change and over-consumption of resources on the theme "There is no planet B" . This major difference in generational approach, which is also observed in Germany, refers to a highly variable recognition, depending on the age group, of the impact o the Western way of life on the balance of the planet.The collapsing narrative shows a great diversity and plasticity to stick to the cultures of the different political families.Parallel to this marked generational cleavage, the collapsing narrative shows a great diversity and plasticity in order to stick to the cultures of the different political families. Thus, quite logically, the vision of a depletion of resources and climate disruption is widely accepted among environmentalist sympathizers (56 % of quotes) and to a lesser extent, although also leading, among supporters of the Unsubmissives (37 %) and the Socialist Party (31 %). Macro supporters who believe that collapse is possible tend to share a right-wing imaginary, as the preferred option for 45% of them is a gradual decline.
It is undoubtedly to ward off this fatal prospect of French decline that they have made Emmanuel Macron's transforming and reforming ambition their own. We find this state of mind among the sympathizers Les Républicains (LR) who quote 33 % of this scenario of decadence or degeneration. The supporters of the National Rally (RN), for their part, are the only ones to place among the causes of a foreseeable collapse the effect of uncontrollable migratory waves, of which they are 30% to retain (i. e. double the average). They are also clearly more numerous than the average French collapsologist to fear "a civil war or increasingly strong tensions within society" (21 % compared to 14 % on average).
We can bet that, for this electorate, these tensions within society would be directly related to the phenomenon of migration and that the imaginary of civil war that they share brings different ethno-cultural communities into conflict.
The collapse perspective is, in other countries as well, very strongly indexed to the political cultures of the interviewees. It functions as a kind of projective surface for reading the vision of the world and society that structures each electorate. Thus in the United States, Democratic supporters place far ahead of the scenario of the consequences of global warming and over-consumption with 49 % of quotes, whereas this score is only 16 % in the Republican electorate, apparently massively in line with Donald Trump's climate-sceptic discourse. Republican supporters, on the other hand, mention much more than Democrats the prospect of a civil war (24 % vs. 10 %), the totally uncontrolled migratory waves (14 % vs. 4 %) but also the prospect of decadence and progressive collapse (27 % vs. 19 % among Democrats).
Their conservative German counterparts also find themselves primarily on this theme (33 %), when SPD supporters (36 %), and even more so those of the Grünen, speak of the climate collapse and the scarcity of natural resources. And, following the example of the lepenist voters, the supporters of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) take a majority position on the hypothesis of migratory submersion (40 % of quotations against 17 % on average) but also on the risks of civil war (23 % against 14 %).
It should be noted that in most of the countries studied, support for the scenario of a collapse of civilisation is much more prevalent among the electorates of radical or protestant right-wing and left-wing parties. Conversely, supporters of governing parties, who are more comfortable with the way society works and generally the most socially integrated, tend to be less inclined to share such a vision.
Thus, in Germany, 57 % of AfD supporters and 47 % of Die Linke supporters agree with this thesis of a foreseeable collapse of society, compared to only 23 % of their SPD counterparts and 31 % of those close to the CDU/CSU.
We will find the same partisan configuration in Italy and France, except that, on the one hand, in all political components, the prevalence of a collapsing belief is much higher and that, on the other hand, the gaps between government parties and protest parties are smaller.
In Italy, adherence to the theory of a collapse of civilisation stands at 74 % among League supporters and 71 % for those of the 5-Star Movement, a low point identical to that observed in the ranks of Forza Italia (73 %). Only supporters of the Parti Democratico are a little less pessimistic (59 %).
In France, the configuration is quite similar: 76 % of the Unsubmissives, 74 % of the RN sympathizers but also 71 % of the Republicans make this diagnosis which is also shared by 61 % of the Socialist sympathizers. In this declining climate, La République en marche (LREM) sympathisers stand out with a higher degree of optimism: only 39 % of them diagnose a collapse of our civilisation.
We have here an additional illustration of the polarization of the electoral landscape according to emotional dimensions or more precisely according to "subjective variables" emphasized by researchers Yann Algan, Elizabeth Beasley, Daniel Cohen and Martial Foucault in their book The Origins of Populism - An Investigation into a Political and Social Schism. In the context of their investigation of the last presidential election, the researchers reveal in particular the role played in partisan proximity by two subjective variables, namely the degree of well-being (measured by questions such as "Are you happy these days? "and "Are you satisfied with your life in general? ") and the degree of interpersonal trust (the trust that one grants a priori to others: relatives, friends, neighbours, fellow citizens, strangers). This approach makes it possible to distribute voters along two axes according to their answers to these two questions: A welfare axis: are they satisfied or dissatisfied with their own economic and social situation? And a confidence level axis: do they feel they live in a society in which everyone must be wary of their fellow man, or are they, on the contrary, rather confident in others?
Here is a simplified version of the matrix that summarizes this positioning:
The crossing of the two axes results in the voters being placed on four dials. In the two dials on the right, the voters of Emmanuel Macron, but also of Benoît Hamon and François Fillon all have a high level of well-being: they are rather satisfied with their lives. What differentiates them is the degree of confidence they project into the social body: Macronists and Hamonists are confident, while Fillonists are defiant.
Conversely, the electorates of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen converge on the point of their dissatisfaction: the two electorates of the radical left and the populist right are recruited from among the economic losers declaring a low level of well-being.The left/right cleavage reappears when the confidence axis is taken into account.But, and this is the crucial point, far from fading away, the left/right divide reappears with the consideration of the axis of trust. As one can sense, voters of the radical left tend to trust their fellow citizens, while those of Marine Le Pen tend to have the impression that they live in a society of mistrust. According to the researchers, while "post-industrial society promised the emancipation of old hierarchies, it has above all increased social loneliness and feelings of insecurity. And, far from preparing a society of autonomy and freedom, it reinforced the need for protection. »
Yet it is among the "post-industrial world of services", that of workers and employees in small craft enterprises, who are not very unionized, who are precarious and who evolve in configurations that do not favour the collective, "that feelings of loneliness and social malaise are most strongly expressed". This mistrust is obviously expressed about immigration among these voters, but it is more global and also concerns, to a lesser extent, neighbours, friends and even family.
The combination of uneasiness and mistrust is therefore peculiar to voters of right-wing populist parties, who are, according to the authors of the Origins of populism, not only " the losers of the new economy, but also the losers of the 'society of individuals ".
Conversely, interpersonal trust is the hallmark of a political culture with strong left-wing roots, especially among the public service electorate. In a society in which class membership is receding, trust has become " the filter that allows individuals to give themselves a desirable social project ", which explains why " despite a shared detestation of the elites, the two sides of the anti-system protest are based on fundamentally opposed values" "In the world after the collapse of civilization, one can only rely on oneselfOn the strength of this theoretical detour, we can go back to our end of the world and see that, when a question very similar to that of interpersonal trust surveys in a collapsological framework is asked, partisan and political preferences reveal all their weight. With such a head-on formulation as "in the world after de collapse of civilization, you can only count on yourself," membership increases linearly from the voters of Benoît Hamon (40% think so) to those of Marine Le Pen (72% think so) to those of Jean-Luc Mélenchon (45%), François Fillon (48%) and Emmanuel Macron (49%), all three at fairly similar levels. The French average (based on only those respondents who agree with the thesis of imminent or distant collapse, whether sudden and monocausal or gradual) is 52% on this item.
Percentage of voters of these first-round candidates who agree with the proposal: "In the world after the collapse of civilization, you can only rely on yourself".
Base: 65 % of the French for whom "civilization as we know it today will collapse in the years to come".
Mutual aid and solidarity against resentment and threats from others
These results suggest that the two major narratives of collapse, collapsology and survivalism, should be linked to clearly identified political trends. On the side of the former and their leader Pablo Servigne, the emphasis is on mutual aid and solidarity.
Publications or Facebook groups close to collapsology are largely devoted to the socio-cultural aspects of the post-collapse world and, when it comes to practical knowledge, they are oriented towards ecology, putting forward techniques of permaculture, autonomous, participative and alternative habitat in "eco-village", "eco-hamlet" or other "eco-place", whose promoters often "recruit" new inhabitants through these forums.
Without being absent from the pages and forums frequented by survivalists, the socio-cultural dimension is sometimes put in the background in favor of more technical approaches to survival, whether it be the management of an autonomous base to be defended (the ADB) or the list of equipment in the survival bag (Bug out Bag),a list which is the subject of many publications and photographs of equipment by members of these networks. Survivors are also green in their own way, approaching a primitivist branch: they are, for example, adepts of "bushcraft"or "art of living in the woods", a discipline inspired by the ways of living and interacting with nature of traditional civilizations.
Survivalists approach their preparation for collapse from three pillars: "the garden, autonomy, and self-defense", as sociologist Bertrand Vidal puts it, a specialist in these movements. In terms of values and political vision, according to the sociologist, survivalism is the sign for its followers of a "way out of the society of trust built on the myth of progress created in the sixteenth century, which said that tomorrow will be better than todaye ... ".
Collapsonauts and survivalists diverge not only in certain approaches to survival, but above all in their purposes: " In contrast to these environmental movements,", further explains Bertrand Vidal, "neosurvivalists are not driven by the same imagination. When an ecologist leaves the city to cultivate his garden, he does so to make the world a better place. For the survivalists, it's not to make the world a better place, it's because there's a disaster looming and it's the only way out." "
While the influencers of the collapsed galaxy are generally from the ranks of the environmental movement, the survivalist pantheon is rather composed of personalities who display their physical resistance and their ability to survive, like the American Flight West. For all these reasons, it is therefore not surprising that a congruence between survivalist imaginations and resentment fed by the certainty that others are threats rather than resources appears.
The post-collapse scenarios tested, directly inspired by these collapse subcultures - but without ever using the terms "collapsology" or "survivalism" - again show a fairly clear division of imaginations. A "stressful and dangerous society in which the bulk of human activity will be devoted to survival" is the most likely scenario for voters of right-wing and extreme right-wing parties, with a maximum score among the voters of Marine Le Pen, whereas the scenario of a "sober society based on a return to traditional agriculture, with consumption limited to basic needs" is favored by the voters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon - this does not necessarily mean that they want it, only that they consider it more likely.
The combination of the level of adherence to the collapse thesis as a function of partisan proximity, discussed above, and the results of the study on post-collapse scenarios leads to this schematic representation of the relationship to collapse: on the one hand, a common core of voters convinced by the collapse thesis, and who are then subdivided along the axis of confidence and the model of society to be reconstructed, which corresponds fairly well to the classic opposition between imaginary collapsers and survivalists; on the other hand, a part of the population less directly concerned by the fall in their standard of living, and therefore their level of well-being, less likely to believe in a forthcoming collapse.
This schematic division between imaginary people in no way implies that the survivalists are voting Marine Le Pen and the collapsed Colonauts for an environmentalist candidate, but rather that certain groups of adherents to the collapse thesis and certain segments of the electorate may share a common world view. Finally, let us bear in mind that this opposition between collaborators and survivalists needs to be nuanced and that, in fact, there are intersections between the two universes (1).
Pablo Servigne explained in a interview with France Inter last April, " In collapsology, there are two pitfalls to be avoided: the first is to say that "everything is ruined". The second is to say that "everything will be all right". We need active optimists and pessimists, who are preparing for the many shocks to come, and not passive optimists and pessimists in denial."
Indeed, despite a growing number of French city dwellers who are now seeking to move to the country and the significant increase in demand to learn how to become a collapsologist, by equipping oneself with a rooftop wind turbine, a water recuperator, a solar oven, ... the economist Loïc Steffan, author of Don't be afraid of the Collapse! (2), told France Info that "Many people were in denial. Denial is a classic first phase in a process that collapsologists call "metanoia", or "finally believing in what you already knew".. With Covid, the awareness that our societies are brutally fragile is being felt. A tiny virus is capable of bringing the world to its knees, the hyper-connectivity of the world is a problem... mental protection strategies are beginning to crumble ".
" The Covid-19 does not herald the total collapse of the state and the rule of law, but rather a "dress rehearsal, a kind of stress test that allowed us to see what worked and what didn't work. "he also said. For him, " Unlike survivors, who want to run for the hills, collapsologists believe in helping each other to improve group resilience. It's the same starting point but not the same answer. The collapsologist wants to save society. The survivor is an individualist..
So, is the coronavirus the beginning of an imminent collapse? Not everyone agrees with this idea. For Laurent Joffrin, editor of Libération, " The coronavirus crisis, tragic as it was, may have highlighted not the fragility of modern societies, but their capacity for resilience« . According to him, " Although under heavy strain, health systems and economies have not imploded and the crisis could accelerate the need for a faster ecological transition. ".
(1) Certain personalities evolve between the two poles, such as the survival instructor and author. David ManiseHe was interviewed in Pablo Servigne's magazine, which moves away from the clichés of paramilitary survivalism.
(2) Don't be afraid of Collapse! by Loïc Steffan and Pierre-Eric Sutter - Edition Desclée de Brouwer, 3 June 2020