A fascinating late-February think-piece by Cambridge University researcher Luke Kemp for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) “Future” series concluded we may be on the brink of civilization collapse, very likely of our own making. Citing a host of historical and anthropological sources in “Are we on the road to civilization collapse?”, Kemp suggests unless we reverse global warming and environmental degradation, lower income inequalities, raise innovation and economic diversity, the post-industrial civilization risks sliding into chaos. His piece makes a lot of good points but appears prejudiced by his interpretation of what makes us tick as humans. In fact, it is telling he uses the Roman Empire-the wellspring of modern Western civilization and its excesses-as the primary case study.To me, this makes Kemp’s piece a neo-orientalist specimen of the Western worldview. For one, his definition of “civilization” assumes all modern societies align with the occidental milieu. It focuses on coding history through hard data processes and shuns any philosophical component. Though that may not be the writer’s intent, the implication is highly exclusionary.Furthermore, it assumes the “collapse” of a status quo is something to grieve over and not merely a pit-stop on humankind’s evolutionary road. And that Western control of media, major economic institutions and military might leave no room for competing worldviews. Anyone outside these boundaries thus cannot be “civilized.”This hypothetical homogeneity of ideas, values and aspirations is pure fantasy. In fact, civilizational markers have blurred exponentially in the age of social media where subcultures and cults often blend originally incompatible values to create a new identity.While statistics don’t lie, they present an incomplete picture. Socioeconomic indicators tell us about the health of states in an inflexibly structured way that leaves little room for the fluidity of social attitudes and group-thinkWe can argue, for instance, that organized racism in America has radically evolved from the narrow specificity of socioeconomic fears that spawned the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), to the collective stress projection that is Donald Trump-inspired Make America Great Again (MAGA) violence against minorities. They have little in common but the skin color of the antagonists.Moreover, the newsworthiness of Kemp’s writeup is predicated on the universal sense of dread we should feel at the impending collapse of civilization.And this would be true if everyone around the world had the same share of suffering, but that is not the case. Today, even in the urban heartlands of America and Europe, there are deep pockets of poverty where millions do not have access to running water, electricity or adequate sanitation. They are hence divorced from Kemp’s construct of civilization.Next, Kemp explains how inequalities born of capitalism and mercantilism may trigger the collapse but fails to clarify why societies keep falling back into old habits.The idea of profit is as old as the species itself. Harsh winters and famine preceded both the French and Bolshevik Revolutions, yet the governments that followed those flashes of egalitarianism reverted to the same flawed system. Look at France and Russia today.Why do we never learn that systemic social inequality is bad? Why did Marxism never take root? Why did Soviet Russia collapse despite its promise of a worker’s utopia? Is it an evolutionary quirk that we desire wealth as individuals or groups to clearly separate the winners from the losers? While statistics don’t lie, they present an incomplete picture. Socioeconomic indicators tell us about the health of states in an inflexibly structured way that leaves little room for the fluidity of social attitudes and group-think.Consider this: any reasonable person can see the end of Venezuela’s socialist experiment from many miles up the road, yet North Korea’s far more oppressive regime continues to survive under similarly harsh conditions despite many pundits predicting its demise on an annual basis.Consequently, in addition to hard data, a philosophical model is necessary to understand the life-cycle of civilizations. Using the Hegelian approach to logic, we reach the underlying, volatile trifecta that roils, places and replaces the status quo in any given society: ideology (tribal or political), religion and economic integration.While Kemp addresses in detail the existentialist threat to the global economic paradigm from our present trajectory, he merely skirts by ideology and religion without highlighting their importance to the longevity or collapse of civilizations.Let’s use the relatively recent British Empire as a test-case. The sun never set on the empire, so claimed proud Britons when the 20th century dawned. Yet within the next 50 years, Great Britain shrunk back to an island state limping from the bruising of World War II.The empire’s speedy demise was in the sharp contrast to Soviet Russia that emerged as a superpower from the great war despite suffering the most casualties. Why? A titanic ideological shift within and without.Empires thrive when there is an overarching narrative-a transnational pride if you will-that ties together the ethnically diverse citizenry. And such a narrative invariably pivots on invincibility. While Great Britain emerged from World War II a victor, the victory was Pyrrhic and much of the perception of invincibility was lost forever.This coincided with the rise of Indian and Arab nationalism in the shape of Mohandas Gandhi and Michel Aflaq. The forces of religion and ideology ganged up to usurp the economic integrationists who warned to deaf ears that independence would bring about great uncertainty and hardships.A surge in democratic and civil rights discourse in Great Britain also hastened the end of empire as it sensitized the monarchy to the nationalistic desires of its far-flung subjects. Yet one scenario could not exist without the other.Religion, we must remember, does not always side with ideology. In communist Afghanistan in the late-1970s, for instance, clerics vehemently opposed land reforms that would equalize wealth in the country. Why? God had not meant all men to have equal amounts of money. This belief spurred the “mujahidin” and the rest is history.Kemp in his piece admits there is no conclusive way to predict the collapse of civilizations. Reducing complex organic entities like societies, civilizations and empires to mere variables in a data-set is certainly not it. For without a philosophical component, such attempts are doomed to fail every time.The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance journalistPublished in Daily Times, February 27th 2019.