A general crisis occurs when multiple interdependent, core systems are in critical states, creating accelerating feedback loops that can exponentially deepen instability across these systems and beyond.
Our present global predicament arises from complex systemic interactions across key dimensions of the human and physical spheres, encompassing:
- critically dangerous anthropogenic climate change
- massive destruction of what’s left of the natural environment
- sickeningly extreme levels of wealth and income inequality
- a chilling trend toward a global slide into the brutality of illiberal politics
Social, cultural, economic, environmental, and political systems are all being disrupted simultaneously.
Because all these sectors share a close-knit interdependence, significant trends and events in one or more can profoundly affect what happens in the others. And we are now seeing how instability and destructive phenomena can have serious negative effects on multiple aspects of the well-being and sustainability of our communities.
Instability across multiple systems will lead to more and more instability, increasing the likelihood of triggering further unpredictable impacts, and of reaching tipping points that accelerate the slide into a brave new world frequent hypercatastrophic events and increased securitisation of state policy responses is likely.
The idea of a general crisis developed in the historiography of early modern Europe and was globalised by Geoffrey Parker in a 2013 book, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press).
With chilling parallels to the current global situation in 2020, economic historian Jan de Vries encapsulates this conception of a ‘global crisis’:
A central premise of Global Crisis is that the synchronicity of the many disorders of mid-seventeenth century Eurasia was no accident. These events were provoked by material pressures caused by a shift of climate, which, in turn, led to violent responses that, through a “fatal synergy” intensifying the always-fearful effects of warfare, brought misery to multitudes and death to many millions. A demographic collapse bearing comparison with the Black Death… disordered economies, de-stabilized states, and transformed cultures.
 Jan de Vries, ‘The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century: The Little Ice Age and the Mystery of the “Great Divergence”’, review article, Journal of Interdisciplinary History 44(3) (Winter, 2014), 371
Global General Crisis
a critical framework for twentyfirst century politics and society
*Updated 7 July 2020