Some say the instigator and beneficiary will be the state, which needs an excuse to crack down and impose martial law, censorship, arms confiscation, internment camps, rationing and the like.
Some say it's the enemies of the West, who are trying to topple our advanced industrial society by "asymmetrical" means such as stock market and currency manipulation, biological warfare (starting with agricultural pests like honeybee mites and ranging up to weaponized plague), attacks on our energy sources, doomsday computer viruses, hacking and the like.
Others blame the planet's infestation by humans for impending man-made Chaos: overpopulation, ocean pollution, global warming, rogue nukes, famine caused by over-reliance on GM (genetically modified) foods, collapse of the potable water supply, runaway nanotechnology, even CERN's quest for the Higgs boson. It is feared that the Large Hadron Collider's creation of this "God particle" will trigger an instant stripping of mass from matter that will simply end the Universe. The Higgs boson is believed to confer mass - a minor operation that modern physics is unable to explain otherwise - so physicists think producing the particle artificially will explain it. What confers mass to the Higgs boson will then need to be explained.
And let's not forget an old favorite: some believe a "robot apocalypse" to be inevitable, as we outsource more and more of our brainpower to soulless machines like HAL, Master Control, Colossus, VIKI, and Skynet that will not see the world the way humans do.
Still others feel the Chaos will not be man-made but natural (most of the following events are considered "overdue," by the way): major solar flares/storms, a killer flu pandemic, earthquake/volcano ensembles, reversal of earth's magnetic field, earth's passage through the asteroid belt or some other change in our galactic location. Dates like Y2K and 2012 bring out the amateur numerologist in many.
(The zombie apocalypse, my sentimental favorite, doesn't quite fit into any of these categories. It could be man-made or natural, homegrown or alien. I suppose it would fit in best alongside a War of the Worlds extraterrestrial-invasion scenario.)
The National Geographic series "Doomsday Preppers" profiles several families and individuals hoping to survive Chaos by storing tons of food, water, guns and ammo, emergency fuel and other supplies. Some propose to "bug out" if necessary, leaping into their fully loaded trucks or vans and hightailing it to a remote backup retreat. Others think they can "bug in" and ride out Chaos, turning their farms, homes and even apartments into forts to keep the deranged world at bay.
No two of those profiled by Nat Geo share the same apocalypse. One swears by eruption of the Yellowstone mega-caldera, one by "hyperinflation," another by massive earthquakes along the New Madrid fault, still another by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) detonated at satellite height, about 300 miles up. All agree they are "hoping for the best and preparing for the worst."
Each of these scenarios is officially considered plausible yet highly unlikely. But whereas one duck can't nibble you to death, a whole flock nibbling simultaneously can. The sheer number of infinitesimally probable apocalypses may add up to a rather nasty forecast.
It seems to me that neither bugging out nor bugging in will work in the end. It's smart to have skills, know how to make and fix stuff, lay in some supplies for when the power goes out or the weather makes it tough to get around. But after even one month of genuine Chaos - that is, of the breakdown of transportation, the power grid, communications and civil society in general due to some cascade of catastrophic events - what chance does an isolated family or even group of families have of remaining immune?
For one thing, other people will not leave you alone, and outnumber you vastly. They'll just keep coming. You have made yourself a target. For another, the government is not going to let a few hard-working, provident ants survive while the improvident mass of grasshoppers starve. All resources will be forcibly socialized, if only to make people feel like the state is "doing something." Even steel shipping containers like the ones some survivalists have begun living in won't stand up to tanks.
(A very mild example of what would really happen is found in Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter, sixth in the Little House on the Prairie series. The Ingalls family is nearing starvation in the record cold and snow of 1880 when Pa takes a milk pail and makes his way to the home of a neighbor he knows to be hiding seed wheat inside his walls for the spring planting. The neighbor insists he's got no more grain left, so Pa simply pulls a plug out of the wall and lets his pail fill with wheat seeds. What happens next is redolent of a civilization that unfortunately has just about passed away.)
After three months of Chaos - forget about it. Some world-historic transformation of human society will be upon us, and all will be engulfed by it. The idea of freeze-drying your old life and hiding out in some hoard-choked hole will prove to have been a myopic delusion.
Listen to how ludicrous this news item sounds (from trib.com, 2/24/12):
CHEYENNE — State representatives on Friday advanced legislation to launch a study into what Wyoming should do in the event of a complete economic or political collapse in the United States.
House Bill 85 passed on first reading by a voice vote. It would create a state-run government continuity task force, which would study and prepare Wyoming for potential catastrophes, from disruptions in food and energy supplies to a complete meltdown of the federal government.
The task force would look at the feasibility of Wyoming issuing its own alternative currency, if needed. And House members approved an amendment Friday by state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, to have the task force also examine conditions under which Wyoming would need to implement its own military draft, raise a standing army, and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.
An aircraft carrier?
If Chaos is really coming, the best investment we can all make is in each other. Family, friends, neighbors, communities, local businesses and services - these need to be "stockpiled" as much as MRE's and matches. As, or rather if, things continue to slide in a Chaotic direction, people will find themselves more and more having to reach out to others. And in doing so they will (re)discover the secret of recovering order from Chaos.
This process has already begun, in fact.
Other people may be Hell, but they're all we've got.