As a star (of sufficient size) burns its nuclear fuel, it fights against contraction from gravity without, by pressure from the nuclear reactions within. But when the hydrogen in the core runs out, the star contracts until it is hot enough to burn helium. Once the helium is gone, it contracts more, until it can burn the next available element.
I have been doing some thinking about what makes a nation, or society of nations, fragile. I posted recently about the collapse that destroyed the very powerful nations of the Bronze Age, and left them with Dark Ages. And I have been wondering why we are headed in the same direction. Why is it that Americans have lost their mojo? 1
I think the problem is productivity. I can see a few of you have (Vulcan-like) raised an eyebrow in abject shock, but let me explain.
It is not, of course, productivity by itself that is the problem, but an excessive focus on it, compelled by the need to raise stock price. At first, it is a good thing, as we make businesses run better. But what can we do once that particular fuel runs out?
Then we can start getting people to work more hours.
Then we can get both spouses working.
Then we can get them to spend more, and leave them in debt.
At every step, productivity is increasing, which increases stock price. But while the productivity rises, the stress on individuals and families increase also. We are effectively burning our social capital, to create productivity. This lost social capital is in the form of family, church and community ties.
When people started working more hours, that was ok, because there was a spouse there to help.
When both spouses started working, that was ok, because we had enough money for daycare.
When debts went up, it was ok, because credit was cheap.
At every step, we fall back on what remaining forms of social capital we have left. And if you don’t, well, you better scramble until you find something. The Elites don’t mind increasing the productivity, because they are disconnected from the accompanying stress. Some stars have convective bodies where material is shared through the star. In that case, you might really need to use up all the hydrogen in the entire star. But if a star is not convective, it is sufficient to just burn up the available elements in the core. Think of convection as social mobility, which we have been rapidly losing. It is worth noting that the declines in family, church and community have been most drastic among the poor, and least among the Elites. There is some evidence that the increase of depression goes back to those reduced family and community ties. (See Amy Alkon’s blog, 13 April 2017 article “Paglia: Women Have To Stop Blaming Men For Their Malaise. Alkon: And Here’s What Evolutionary Science Suggests Is The Answer”)
Now, things that can’t go on forever, don’t. In the case of star, when it runs out of nuclear fuel, or there is not enough pressure to keep it from it collapsing, then it will rapidly collapse, reaching insane temperatures and then rebounds in what we call a core-collapse supernova. Stars do not, in general, recover from a core-collapse supernova. Many end up as either neutron stars, or black holes.
Politicians like to talk about infrastructure of cities and states. But I think it is the hidden infrastructure, of social capital. That social capital would help us when things went wrong. When things go wrong is a lot like car accidents. It is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when. Because problems will come.
If the poor start to collapse, then the Elites will start to collapse, and they will lean on the poor (because they can), which will only hasten the collapse. And short of a total reorganization of society, this situation will not change. Which means the system will force itself to continue collapsing until there is nothing left.
We are reaching this point. It is all the more essential that we rebuild as much of this social capital as possible. When things get really bad, we are going to need it. Church ties and family structure will be as necessary for survival, perhaps, as it was for Noah to board the Ark.