Monday, April 21, 2008

Amanda Kovattana reviews Reinventing Collapose

An excellent summary, plus an original perspective. Here are some highlights.

I had already had my world rocked by the implications of the PowerPoint that Dmitry Orlov first created on the topic of collapse here in the US, so was excited to learn that he had expanded his insights to book length in Reinventing Collapse.

What I imagine we will get is a whole lot of denial about how collapse won't happen here. Joseph Tainter, in his 1988 classic, The Collapse of Complex Societies, after first describing how collapse is inevitable (because of diminishing returns on investment of energy and labor), goes on to give three reasons why collapse is not likely in modern times. 1) Absorption by a larger state or neighbor. 2) Economic support by a dominant power or by an international financing agency. 3) Payment by the support population of overhead costs to keep the society going. He added a telling little aside. Complex societies, he claimed are excellent at solving complex problems and if they fail to, then it is not because they are incapable of it, but because of some psychological underpinning in the society itself. He did not delve further into these underpinnings. The mirror that Orlov holds up shows us that this very psychosis is built into the society that attempts to play the game of empire. Why else would a people believe such delusions about themselves? P.S. Nobody bothered to save Russia, preferring, instead, to loot it.


In the end the picture that emerges is that of a simplified America based on complex interrelationships between people one can trust, hand skills to make things work, an ability to relate up and down the social classes and left and right to different social groups, being able to grow food, being able to downgrade living standards dramatically and manage expectations, being self-sufficient, flexible and adaptable sounds like a big improvement to the hollow, consumer driven, meaningless, success culture we do live in.

In his conclusion, Orlov neither tries to sell cheerful optimism, Al Gore style, or grind you to a pulp Kunstler, Long Emergency style. For that I am grateful, as well as for the experience of having my mind opened to the view while drifting silently to earth wondering what crocodiles will be lurking in the swamps of post-collapse America.

Read the whole review here.

Amanda Kovattana is the author of Diamonds In My Pocket: Tales of a Childhood in Asia, coming out in June.


Ricardo Parker said...

While I have zero trust in the US leadership, I'm not so sure the American economy will collapse. I can see the US empire declining, but without a collapse.

Orlov's writings fascinate me, however, and I think he should keep writing. He has inspired me because his underlying message is something like "be good to your neighbors, share what you have, etc"... the same values espoused by the Peak Oil community.

Anyway, I already have a lot of Russian friends, and Orlov is helping me understand why: we have a lot in common! We lived through similar times, and more importantly, our parents lived through similar difficult times. So now I'm getting closer to my Russian friends to inquire about these issues. Here's what's interesting:

All of these Russians do not believe the American economy will collapse! As a matter of fact, they think the American economy is built on concrete, just like we Brazilians always thought. I realize that's not the case, but all these immigrants and Americans that I ask about this topic do not believe in a collapse of the American economy. Perhaps they are "too invested" - these immigrants left their country to move here for a better life after all. Anyway, I'm still after a Russian that thinks like Orlov and can say "yes, I lived through the Soviet collapse and I can see the signs of a collapse here in America". I figure if I keep looking I'll find one, and then something interesting may happen. In the meantime, my Russian friends either do not believe it or are in denial (or both).

D said...

There's your Russian that lived it and sees it in America.

Anonymous said...

Empires always collapse. Fiat money always turns into worthless paper. Yeast always outgrow the petri dish. There are no differences today that will make any difference to these historical facts. People are still people. We will adapt, or die trying. Hopefully we will cease playing with the empire and fiat money ideas....

Anonymous said...

My wife is Russian and lived in St. Petersburg during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 1998 crisis. She and her Russian friends in the DC area are all in denial about the US collapsing despite many similarities with the Soviet Collapse.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Orlov,

I have great respect for you and your writings. Your thought process is impressive. However, I think you may (and I stress MAY) be dramatically underestimating capitalism. As we speak, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, are beginning to take action to profit from what is occurring in the energy market. The smartest man I have ever met in my life just became the CEO of an electric car company in California. T Boone Pickens is investing 10's of billions in wind farms and natural gas for transport. Geothermal energy salesmen are active and beginning to install in residences in my locale (I am going to be a customer). Men in suburbs are starting businesses to farm the backyards of friends and provide local produce through close-in farmers markets and retail sites. Americans own 50% of the wealth in the world. Even if this declines to 25%, the US will still be incredibly wealthy.

The profit motive is powerful. The men and women who solve these crises will become the Buffett and Gates of their generation. Trillions will be spent on this endeavor.

This in my opinion is what you are missing. I would love to hear your thoughts on this post.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Interesting comments, all!

About the Russians in the US seemingly refusing to "get it: Russians, like most other immigrant groups, have a deep-seated psychological need to look down on their home country and to look up to their adoptive country, to legitimize their choice to emigrate, which is often a poor and conflicted one. To abandon one's homeland is a terrible, soul-destroying thing to do. All I have to say to Russians who are in Russia is: Be rich and prosperous, now is your chance. All I have to say to Russians in the US is: You have made your choice, now live with it. Anyway, I am not too worried about their survival skills, because most Russians can navigate economic collapse like sailors on a boat ride.

As to my misunderestimation of the magical American profit motive and its transformative abilities, yes, I concede that there is a certain quality that Americans have in abundance. It takes a very special mind to look at a people who are increasingly destitute, homeless, hungry, lacking medical care, and preyed upon by an out of control criminal justice system, and to say: "I can still make a buck off you!"

The prime exemplars of this mindset can be found on Wall Street, and, thanks to the revolving door, at the Federal Reserve: these are the people now robbing us of our savings in the name of saving the economy. This will no longer be a rich country by any measure once they are done.

But their likes are to be found everywhere. I am sure that there is a budding entrepreneur somewhere who has heard of the bats dying out from some mysterious epidemic, and wants to squeeze some biodiesel out of their still warm carcases.

Mind you, I am all in favor of growing vegetables on the back or the front lawn, if that's what you have. But I call that "helping feed yourself and your neighbors," not "the triumphant march of American capitalism." A subtle matter of semantics to some, perhaps.

If you are interested in hearing my thoughts on the profit motive, read my book: there, I talk about it in 4 separate places.

Anonymous said...

I wrote the post on the profit motive.

Well, I share your skepticism. But I can't help this nagging feeling that the U.S. is going to come through this far better than we all think. Many of my friends are talking about public transport. They are planning on lobbying government to build out more aggressively. They are all unloading gas guzzlers. People are regretting living in the exurbs (I don't but friends do) and are talking about moving closer to work. Trucking companies are losing customers and going out of business while rail haulers are booming. I am already seeing more bikes on the road. Home and garden centers are doing very well. When gas gets to $7 you will see change accelerate, IMHO.

"You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after all other options have been exhausted"

I think Americans are waking up to the fact that all other options have been exhausted. This country can mobilize fast when the collective consciousness changes. The lemming syndrome can work in reverse and be a good thing if put on the proper path. Massive change is afoot.