Societal Collapse and the Fermi Paradox

Has the advent of mass communication combined with a raging pandemic brought upon us a very real Great Filter?

The Great Filter

The Fermi paradox, named for the physicist Enrico Fermi, describes the apparent contradiction between the vastness of the universe and the probability of their being detectable life in it versus our inability to detect any actual sign of it.

One of the possibilities as to why we (as a species) aren’t able to see anyone is that there’s actually no-one out there to see. Other than we are the first to evolve to this point, there is conjecture around the existence of a Great Filter that perhaps prevents evolving civilisations progressing beyond a certain point in their development.

For example, the development of nuclear weapons has been posited as the example of a filter whereby their development ultimately results in the complete destruction of the evolving species.

I want to consider, in this article, another more subtle Great Filter possibility.

Civilisations in Earth’s History

Over the course of our history on this planet the human race has gone through a long and complex history where societal constructs have established themselves, evolved, and eventually collapsed.

Many civilisations evolve up to a point and are destroyed by some ecological related disaster such as famine, perhaps brought about by subtle changes to farming methods — becoming too dependent on particular crops that are wiped out by disease or extracting more water than is available over time and subsequently leading to drought and crop failure.

Others evolved into an established and strong society which gradually falls in on itself when the quest for conquest falls away, corruption takes root at the core, and lazy overextended Empires are overrun due to lack of military capability and chaos ensues.

Civilisations and empires, however, do recover and rebuild though often not into the same entity that previously collapsed.

As long as some people remain civilisations can reemerge and become reestablished. I posit that this is inevitably a cyclical system and the lessons of the past were never learned fully enough for it to be avoided.

However, with the advent of modern technology we now as a species have the ability to learn from the past and not repeat the same mistakes.

Technology is both a Blessing and a Curse

With the advent of modern technology, by which I posit to be the means to beging to understand ourselves, establish our existence as part of a greater universe, and the ability to begin to answer questions about the deeper fabric of reality — cycles of emergence and destruction can be avoided. For a time.

Nation states are inevitable on a developing world, wars cannot easily be avoided, and weaponry develops right up until the nuclear age. It is at that point with the advent of advanced weaponry comes advanced communications — worldwide communications — at that point societies can overcome the smouldering temptation to destroy themselves through conflict by realising that the world is unique, precious, and brittle. That more is to be gained through survival than decimation and eventual rebuilding — something that has arguably maintained overall planetary peace for 70 or so years on the Earth.

Unfortunately, even with the best political and diplomatic intentions, worlds are prone to natural disasters akin to the one currently raging in 2020. In this specific case I’m considering — a pandemic.

The 2020 Pandemic

I argue that the current response to the ongoing pandemic isn’t a question of applying a scientific solution but one of applying both science and sociology in tandem.

We are currently seeing an increasing swathe of worldwide protests, continually highlighted by the mass media, showing how a minority of people believe either that the current viral threat isn’t real, that it isn’t a serious medical threat, or even that it’s artificially manufactured or caused by such innocuous technologies such as electromagnetic cellular communications.

We are also exposed to ideas that the whole scenario is one designed to subjugate whole swathes of the population, to cull billions of people to reduce world population, or even to enslave us all in some darker dystopia of aggressive planetwide capitalism.

Clearly, even when a vaccine is eventually isolated or when treatments become effective enough to radically lower the impact of the virus on the population there are those who will also eschew either vaccinations, therapies, or both because of their original beliefs or subsequent indoctrination.

I put forward that these beliefs and their proliferation are one of the consequences of the availability mass communication. We may develop the scientific technology to defeat the virus but we may not be able to overcome the rampant disinformation that our communications system allows, either intentionally or unintentionally, to proliferate.

Thus, even should we have a viable and working scientific solution, people may just not accept it in enough numbers for it to be effective for everyone.

The virus will then go on propagating through society, perhaps mutating into more harmful strains, and go on to kill people in sufficient quantity to trigger a societal collapse from which the world may not recover.

It’s not a question of the virus killing everyone on the planet, far from it, it’s a question of the virus killing or rendering enough people inactive such that society collapses through infrastructure collapse — communications, transport, farming and suchlike or educational collapse due to lack of schooling which deprives a society of the means to provide for itself.

There is no reason why societal collapse on a planetary scale should not be a cyclically event triggered by an inevitable planetwide catastrophe such as a pandemic.

A subtle, yet insidious, end to a previously promising world.

Overcoming our Great Filter

In order to overcome a great filter such as this, a developing world has to embrace both technological and societal advancement to the point that all people work together toward a common goal or eradicating or negating the threat.

As we’ve seen from the history of our own planet, nations tend to conflict unless diplomacy and agreement can prevail. Now is the time for nations to lay down their political and ideological differences, their military posturing, their histories of mutual adversity and come together to agree something for the common good of the whole world.

Perhaps the reason that we’re seemingly the only ones here right now is that every previous evolving civilisation fought amongst themselves and simply failed to work together to survive when the time came. We considered it to be technology, but it was society that made the ultimate difference.

Worries about the future. Way too involved with software. Likes coffee, maths, and . Would prefer to be in academia. SpaceX, Twitter, and Overwatch fan.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store