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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry OrlovReinventing Collapse -- My wife doesn't like to hear about the forthcoming end of the world, and I have a couple of otherwise intelligent friends at work who don't like to think about the fact that the American way of life is barreling over a cliff at 90 miles an hour, either. Most of the discussions I've had with them are based on my readings of James Howard Kunstler's work. Kunstler recommended Dmitry Orlov's Reinventing Collapse on his blog recently, and now having read it, I know I probably shouldn't discuss it with my wife or my friends at work, because Orlov's detailed comparisons of the collapse of the Soviet Union with the impending collapse of the United States (the SU and the US, as he symmetrically notes) are far, far scarier than the pictures Kunstler has painted to date.

Orlov was born in the Soviet Union and witnessed its dissolution first hand. He sees both the similarities and differences in the two cultures, and in the way the SU disintegrated and the US is disintegrating. Most impressively, he details how the citizens of the former Soviet Union coped with collapse, and how Americans are likely to respond to similar exigencies: "We should definitely not expect any grand rescue plans, innovative technology programs or miracles of social cohesion," he notes, bluntly.

Orlov speaks in very plain English, with sometimes biting humour, about how the soft, entitled people of the US are unlikely to be able to adjust to a quickly-changing lifestyle. Russians were used to the privations of the Soviet regime, he notes, but most Americans will not know what to do when consumer goods are no longer available, when gasoline is largely or entirely unavailable, or when justice is something that you and your family and community will have to decide for yourselves.

Orlov's book is not meant merely to frighten readers, capture media attention and drive up sales, however. It is essentially a guide that anyone can use to figure out the best way to survive the forthcoming changes the world is facing. Orlov's advice is customizable in the sense that he urges the reader to prioritize for themselves what they need to continue to live when society has broken down and irrevocably changed. It's not a workbook and there are no forms for you to fill out, but you'll be far better prepared for The Long Emergency once you've read Reinventing Collapse. As he points out, the only true necessities in life are air, water and food. Clothing, shelter, companionship, work and other non-necessities are likely to be difficult-to-impossible to come by in the areas hit worst by the collapse of the US society and infrastructure.

And if you're a victim of, as Kunstler calls it, "the psychology of previous investment" -- that is to say, you somehow still believe that gas prices will go back down, we'll always have centrally air-conditioned shopping malls, we're winning the war against Iraq (or at least, might not lose it) and a dollar will always be worth a dollar -- well, Orlov's prose is highly readable and wildly entertaining, so there's no reason not to give Reinventing Collapse a read. If you like to read before bedtime, though, do it now, while you still have lights by which to read.

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Blogger Comics007 said...

After reading occassional postings suggesting The End of America, it got me thinking. I think you're correct, but not for the reasons you might expect. I think you're correct because you air an attitude that many Americans seem to have: an air of defeatism.
Call me an idealist, but it's perfectly reasonable to believe that Obama will help plug the hole in this sinking ship once he's inevitably sworn into office. Consider that Europeans have been paying $7 for a gallon of gas for years now and they are surviving. Every week I keep reading about new fleets of fuel cell cars that are being tested and often with success. We also have several locations to drill within our own country that have yet to be even close to fully utilized. If hybrids and fuel cell vehicles become the new standard in the next 20 years, which is realistic based on our speed of technological advancement, then we should narrowly squeeze through this one with minimal damage.
Then of course there's the promise of universal health care which I hope, being a recent college grad struggling to survive in downtown Albany as a goddamn office temp, will happen. The state of the country, among some personal matters, have led me to drink and I'm pretty sure I have some mild liver damage setting in. But I can't know for sure because I need insurance for doctors to press a button on a machine to check out my insides. There are millions in need of health insurance and I'm confident that this will be dealt with asap. Obama said it was a top 3 priority, and it's his lack of political experience that leads me to believe he's not bullshitting us. He hasn't been swimming through Washington long enough to drown in the corruption.
As far as Iran... it's not going to happen. It just won't. Bush has just over 200 days left in office and he will not get the stamps of approval he needs to declare war. The only concern is if McCain is somehow elected, but being that he's now losing by 15 points to Obama and they haven't even gone into head-to-head (aka old madman vs. young intellect) yet, this is unlikely. The presidential debates should definitely affirm this. Toss on Gore's endorsement which has and will continue to be a major boost toward bringing Hillary-voters to Barrack. The election is locked up in my eyes. The one trump card the Republicans could pull is the fear card, but it'll take another terrorist attack to work up that kind of gullible frenzy.
So is this country going down the shitter? For the past eight years it inarguably has. But I'm not ready to flush America down just yet. The moment we take on the mindset that it's all over, that is when we truly will fail as a country.

24 June, 2008 21:54  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...


I wish I could share your optimism, but the available facts do not point to technology bailing us out of the end of cheap oil, and while I don't believe Obama's election is inevitable, even if it is, the Democratic Party candidate won in 2000 and we still ended up with a Republican in the White House. The fix is in. As the late George Carlin said, "It's all bullshit, and it's bad for ya."

Universal Health Care won't happen, and if it does, it will be in name only with the people of the United States still being held hostage by the government and pharmaceutical companies. The fix is in, and it has been for a long, long time. Try to see beyond the false hope handed out by corporate-controlled "news" companies (I can't imagine why else you'd pin your hopes on Obama, hybrid cars and universal health care) and maybe read books like Orlov's new one that I reviewed here. We're way past the tipping point from any angle I look at it.

So, like I say, I wish I could share your optimism. But I don't believe fuel prices will ever come down, meaning the price of everything else will continue to rise, and within the next few I expect any sort of transportation not involving walking (or possibly trains, but the government deliberately crippled that option) will be extremely limited and available only to the wealthy, I expect hyperinflation that will wipe out most people's life savings (that's assuming the banks aren't nationalized by the government first, you know, "for your own good"), and I expect most "service economy" jobs to disappear.

In short, the end of the oil age will mean the end of most of the "progress" that came about directly as a result of cheap, readily-available oil. I not only admit I could be wrong, but I hope I am. Unfortunately, I pay pretty close attention to the news, both the government-sanctioned CNN/Fox/NBC variety and other, more trustworthy outlets. And no matter how you slice it, events are speeding up these past few years (probably because of the massive bleed-out of money due to the disastrous Iraq misadventure), and it's all going pretty much according to my expectations.

But, if you're right and we're still here and free and using the internet and living in Barack Obama's Hybrid Fuel Cell Health Care for All Utopia, Dave, get in touch with me in a year and I'll buy you lunch. That's a promise I'd be more than happy to keep.

25 June, 2008 05:51  
Blogger comicsgn said...

Nice touch with the Carlin quote... his last special was top-notch and I'm glad HBO got it out there before he passed.

But yeah, I am optimistic and feel its necessary, but I'm trying my best not to slip into idealism. It's true that all these problems CAN be fixed, that much we can agree on. It IS possible. Whether or not the powers that be step up and make it happen is another story. I don't think Obama will swoop down and save the day, but I get the feeling he'll at least slow this downward spiral America's been riding and bide us some time. That much I think is realistic. Actually improving the situation is where hope comes in to play. Anyone that has no hope for a turnaround should, I would think, be planning to move out of this country. If not, there must be some hope left after all.

I mentioned hybrid cars and universal health care because I'm presently making a measly $17,000 salary and I'm able to comfortably pay for a 2-bed apartment (I use the 2nd room as my art studio) along with hefty college loans. I can survive just fine, unless I need major medical care or if gas prices continue to rise (which it will). A solid hybrid would cut my monthly gas expenses in half and universal health care would provide some security. With these in play, I could ride things out pretty well all while living technically in poverty. What I describe is by no means a Utopia... it's something that could happen with the flick of a pen. It's all there.

My point is that America's been through worse times (tho not much worse) and bounced back. Why can't it happen again?

BTW, none of this is meant to lighten criticisms of the Bush Administration. Every member of that group of crooks should be shot dead for treason.

25 June, 2008 12:05  
Blogger kollapsnik said...

Thanks for an excellent review. Can you please post it to Amazon?

25 June, 2008 12:10  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

I'd certainly like to see them put on trial for treason, yes. One step at a time, though.

As to why America won't get through this time, as it has worse times in the past, the reason is that there is no mechanism in place whatsoever to stop the diminishing amount of oil left to be extracted from the planet, and no workable alternative energy solution currently exists that would allow the US to continue on as it has.

If programs are put in place to rehabilitate former hydroelectric generators and build wind farms, on a small scale some communities may be able to maintain some semblance of life as we used to know it. I think that's about the best we realistically can hope for.

25 June, 2008 12:12  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

I've posted the review to Amazon, although it says it will be up to 48 hours before they decide to post it. I hope they do. Thanks for an excellent book.

25 June, 2008 15:06  
Blogger David Wynne said...

Oh, man.

You know I'm not as pessimistic as you about the future Alan, although, I think you're right that America's pretty much fucked. Thankfully, for me, I live in the UK, which is still (just about) part of europe...

Our civilisation (such as it is) isn't completely dependent on oil for it's continued existence... plenty of alternative technologies exist.

If things get really bad in the coming years... well, I have a feeling Norway (to pick a (not really) random left leaning european country out of the air) is probably going to do okay, so maybe I'll fuck off over there...

25 June, 2008 21:29  

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