This week I am busy preparing my three talks for the Age of Limits retreat at Four Quarters, which will, in due course, be posted here in full. In the meantime, please enjoy this podcast in which I discuss, among other things, the fact that collapse is the elephant in the room, and that the various specialists are the blind men debating whether it is like a snake or a tree or a wall or a stick or a rope...
Dmitry: Uh, this is really breaking up.
Announcer: Welcome From Alpha to Omega. (main title follows)
O'Brien: (1:15) Hello, and welcome to the fifth episode of From Alpha to Omega. Today is Saturday, the 18th of May, 2012, and I'm your host, Tom O'Brien. (1:29) After a brief sojourn into the world of mathematics, philosophy, and biology, this week we return to systemic risk and economic collapse.I am delighted to welcome to the show the high priest himself of the church of the collapsitarians, and blogger extraordinaire, Dmitry Orlov. (1:50) We will chat about the root causes of the current crisis, and what to expect and prepare for over the coming years and decades—(1:58) but first the boring stuff.
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So, to the interview: Dmitry Orlov (2:29) is a Russian-American engineer, blogger, and author, on the topics of ecological, economic, and political collapse. He runs the extremely popular and highly recommended blog, cluborlov dot-com, which has in its short four-year history, been visited by over two million people from all across the globe. (2:49) He is the author of the unrelenting and witty, Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects, and has just released the e-book, Absolutely Positive, a collection of thirty of his most popular essays. (3:04)
Unfortunately the interview was interrupted by the temperamental nature of my internet connection and its ongoing battle with the Skype application. Some of the conversation was unfortunately lost to the void, apologies in advance. We join the conversation as Dmitry is talking about his comparative theory of superpower collapse. (3:39)
Dmitry: “...Post-American Century”. That was over five years ago, and, basically, it compared the survivability of the United States, (4:00) when facing collapse, to the survivability of the Soviet Union, based on my observations and my projections of what I saw in the Soviet Union onto what I was seeing in the United States and its cultural, economic patterns. I discovered that, um, the Soviet living arrangement was paradoxically resilient in the face of a economic and political collapse, that society there did not collapse along with all of these things, whereas in the United States, society is already in a very advanced state of collapse (4:35) and everybody is completely dependent on finance and on commerce. So once finance and commerce shut down, people will be pretty much standing in the middle of the road, blinking in the sunlight, not knowing what to do.
Basically, the USSR and the USA are these two acronym states. Now the USA of course pre-dated the USSR (5:00) by quite a bit, but it was not a very significant player on the world scene until World War II. It was really World War II that propelled both the USSR and the USA into a lead position in the world where for quite a while they, they—they basically jockeyed for control of, of uh, the entire world.
They had a presence on every continent, just about, and so, basically, they were handed the remains of other empires to—to run, and uh, there are some differences of course. For instance, the Soviet Union failed to profit from its empire, whereas the United States became quite rich for a time because it could drain resources from the rest of the world, (5:44) basically slant the playing field in its favor. It was much better doing that, but there were other patterns that were very, very similar.
The pattern of militarism that destroyed the USSR (5:56) and is in the process of destroying the USA, where the military, with each passing year, soaks up more and more resources—greater and greater share of gross national product, but delivers nothing but a string of defeats; those patterns are identical between the USSR and the USA. So, the USSR couldn't win in Afghanistan, the USA can't prevail in Afghanistan either, and so it's just one defeat after another.
Another parallel that can be drawn is national bankruptcy. Basically, these empires, they drain resources that are available to them and then go bankrupt. They overrun their ability to finance their own existence.
So, the Soviet Union went bankrupt, and the United States is in the process of going bankrupt. It's faced with this prospective of runaway debt that cannot really be sustained, a rate at which the Federal government of the United States, and the states as well, by taking on debt, is completely unsustainable. In that way, I think, the USA will follow the USSR through national bankruptcy, and then political dissolution.
O'Brien: What was the role of (7:14) peak oil?—because you, quite famously, say that one of the key drivers of the collapse of the Soviet Union was a peaking in their oil production. What role has this played in the demise of America?
Dmitry: Well, both the USSR and the USA are predicated on the concept of constant growth. (7:30) When that failed, all sorts of things ceased to function. All sorts of plans go awry. All sorts of arrangements cannot be perpetuated.
Now, what happened with the USSR was a double hit. First of all, their oil production peaked, and there was an all-time peak. There was a resurgence of production in the Russian Federation and various other former Soviet republics, but the all-time peak of Soviet production will probably never be achieved. So their production started dwindling about three years before the USSR became a bunch of separate states and at the same time, that was the exact period of time when Prudhoe Bay and North Sea—Prudhoe Bay in Alaska—went on stream.
Because of that, the oil price on the world market plummeted to an all-time low, below ten dollars a barrel (as opposed to something like a hundred and twenty dollars to the barrel which is what it is now). So at that price the USSR could no longer sell oil to finance its imports and it became very dependent on all sorts of imports by that point because the Soviet economy was under-performing, was hollowing out, and very significantly, Soviet agriculture was never able to feed the entire population. So they depended on grain imports mostly for feeding livestock, for protein.
So when that became a problem, they started taking on debt, and, in the final stages, Gorbachoff was on the phone with Germany trying to get the Germans, Helmutt Kohl, to intercede with the Americans, trying to get some more credits to keep the game going a few more months. So basically, that's how; that's how the Soviet Union folded, is they couldn't continue to finance the imports that they needed to feed their own people.
With the United States the situation is quite different, because the Soviet Union, and now Russia, are oil exporters, whereas the United States is an oil importer as of 1970 or so, and so it's become very dependent on imports from countries that have nationalized the oil business and that are developing their own economies and using more and more of a dwindling resource, leaving less and less for exports. So in that sense, the United States is being driven into a corner where they have a very oil-dependent economy, a lot of driving. The landscape in the United States is not survivable without a private automobile, and at the same time the fuel for this is dwindling, and the price is continually going up.
That is a different path, but it all hinges on the availability of energy, and the fact that the supply of energy is such that it can no longer produce—continue to produce—economic growth. (10:25)
Interlude: The Carpenters, When It's Gone
(11:13) O'Brien: So getting towards your five stages of collapse theory, can you explain this and maybe give us an understanding for where you see this different parts of the globe within this?
(11:26) Dmitry: The first three stages, which are observable right now, is; financial collapse, where basically there's, the ability to manage risk goes away. It becomes far too compromised, and so there really is no way to plan financially for the future. All of that becomes wrapped up in political problems because governments can't afford to have their banks fail, so they start printing money, they start issuing public debt to paper over these gigantic, privately generated holes in the financial system, and then; commercial collapse really has to do with the failure of the financial system, and the fact that it can no longer provide credit on reasonable terms. There's a lack of credit and that slows commerce to a point where people start losing access to the products that they need in order to live, in order to continue functioning in society, and that feeds back into financial collapse because those people can't make debt payments anymore, so there's a spiral there, a feedback pattern, and also feeds into political instability where governments fail.
For instance, now there isn't really a government in Greece. There's probably going to be another election. The fringe parties are probably going to dominate. Those parties happen to be against the terms of the Eurozone bailout. So the bailout won't happen and then the financial system will dissolve as far as Greek participation in the Eurozone.
So all of these things are coupled, but the reason I separated them into separate stages or separate entities is because the financial system can really be cut away from the political system. The fact that this or that set of rules applies to money is a political decision. (13:10) It's not necessary to completely destroy your country because some banker says so, but that is, in fact, what's happening.
Similarly, commerce can be established in patterns that are not connected to financial centers. You can relocalize the economy and actually feed and clothe and house people with local resources without using credit. It is possible. It has been done. So these things are separable in some ways, but in what we're seeing around the world is there's such close coupling between them that a financial problem compromises the government and also compromises the ability of the people to conduct commerce in the normal way.
The last two are social collapse (13:57) where various types of public institutions fail. They could be churches, they could be charities, they could be other types of social organization. There could be very local types of political organization as well, but nothing on the level of the nation-state.
Such institutions are sometimes quite strong, and can hold together quite well. So, for instance, after the Soviet Union collapsed, the living arrangement of people living in the apartments that were assigned to them by the government, it persisted even after the government was gone. Compare that to the typical arrangement in the United States: where you live depends on the existence of some finance company that handles your mortgage payments. So that is a, you know, a social arrangement that persists.
Another example is, in the United States people need either money or health insurance in order to get medical care. There is some sort of free medical care provided, mostly through emergency rooms, but that is extremely expensive and not very good, whereas in Russia there was a system of public health that continued to function even after the government became completely dysfunctional and actually largely stopped working, stopped doing anything for a time.
So those are examples of social arrangements that are sufficiently well-organized to exist without political backing, and then cultural collapse is, well, another thing in Russia is that, you know, on a cultural level people had all these coping mechanisms. The families were relatively strong. Neighbors knew each other and people looked out for each other and cooperated in all sorts of ways.
So how they behaved towards each other changed in some dramatic ways, but in other ways remained the same and provided a lot of survival strategies for people, whereas in the United States society is very atomized. People don't know their neighbors. Their interactions are very scripted and really revolve around money and around status, not around really taking care of each other in any meaningful way, and these relationships generally, you know, they don't survive periods of extended stress. People do come together in emergencies, but if the emergency is permanent in nature, (15:58) then society in the United States is just atomized, except for a few immigrant communities, a few old neighborhoods here and there, people really don't know each other.
O'Brien: When I talk to people about collapse, people point out iPads and the large hadron collider. I find it very difficult to deal with my analytical side telling me these things are the apogee or the peak of our society, but then when I think about the Soviet Union, they were developing the most advanced technologies right up until the point when they collapsed.
Dmitry: Amazingly enough, they continued developing some of these technologies. Russia still has the only real viable space presence. The Russian space program, which inherited everything from the Soviet space program, is really a global achievement. It's the only project of this sort that still exists and is still successful.
There are quite a few other examples where the Soviet Union and now Russia are in the forefront. This is not commonly heard in the West because there is an imposed bias in the Western press to represent Russia as backward, as failed, but to give you one concrete example, for instance, in Russia, there's a type of surgery that you can get for having a deviated septum in the nose which does not involve cutting the cartilage, which is the way they do it in the West. (17:16) It involves softening the cartilage using a special laser and then putting in a splint. It's a non-invasive sort of surgery and the results are much better. So people who want to get that surgery done have to go to St. Petersburg or Moscow. They can't get it done in the United States or England.
O'Brien: When I came across peak oil a few years ago, it was a real shock. Once I got the understanding, the link between energy use and economic activity, you know, it was like a twenty-ton truck hit me in the face. Everything I see nowadays, like I see through peak oil eyes.
I've also found myself worrying about becoming a bit of a sucker for confirmation bias, like how a religious fundamentalist sees the hand of God in every action. Do you ever worry about this type of selective interpretation of facts, or how do you deal with it?
Dmitry: Well, I think that selective interpretation of facts...there's a huge bias, overall bias, that we have which is imposed by the economics profession, which feels at liberty to ignore physics, ignore nature. If you look at the economists explanations of what is happening, they all hinge on various statistical measurements that are not really physically measurable. Basically value is price and price is value and there's a lot of circular reasoning, and they construct these models that have nothing to do with anything physical.
So they will tell you that the economy runs on money or on credit, whereas really the economy runs on...sunlight in the final analysis, and in flows of energy in the form of preserved sunlight, in the form of fossil fuels, and it's these physical flows that determine everything. If you need to look at correlations, you—basically, you can look at very simple things, like: number of motor vehicle miles driven correlates very highly with GDP, and that tells you right away that what's really happening is not these flows of money, but really flows of energy.
You know, they say, you know, if you want to find out what's going on, follow the money. Well, beyond that, if you really want to know what's going on, follow the energy.
O'Brien: It's very interesting. We had Professor Charlie Hall on a couple of shows ago and he made this exact point, that the laws of thermodynamics can't be broken, but they're absent entirely from the standard economic theories.
Dmitry: Economics is generally very disappointing. It's some kind of very feeble philosophy. Its real theoretical underpinnings are basically, you know, based on this bizarre assumption that you can make an abstract system that is not tied to any hard science and endow it somehow with enough explanatory depth to actually explain what is happening in the world at large. So it's some kind of exercise, mental exercise, that is just completely divorced from reality, and it's a thing within itself. You know, it's sort of like an autistic savant that doesn't actually register what's going on in the world, but exists in some abstract realm that isn't, strictly speaking, relevant.
O'Brien: Peak oil currently is still somewhat of a fringe theory and whenever it sticks its head into mainstream media, it's not touted in any kind of serious way. When do you think that it might actually become mainstream opinion, given the power of the mainstream media?
Dmitry: It may never become part of mainstream opinion.
It's more or less a system that very much controls the center of public discourse using a manufactured message, and that manufactured message is crea—is crafted in order to suit the interests of those who own the media. It's not crafted to suit the interests of the consumers of that media. It is basically a sort of crowd control mechanism.
Now, to make it look legitimate, it does allow other messages to seep in around the edges, but very carefully limits their reach and their scope. So the fact that we can discuss this, you know, the fact that you have a podcast and nobody comes in, no censor comes in and shuts you down, really has to do with the fact that the reach of your podcast is very much circumscribed. If it became sufficiently popular then other mechanisms would be brought into play to make sure that your message is somehow compromised and that your word doesn't get out.
O'Brien: (22:36) So this is Noam Chomsky's basic “manufacturing consent theory of propaganda” model.
Dmitry: (22:39) Well, I think Chomsky more or less has it right. If you look at what happens with various bloggers who actually get enough of an audience in various places, like in Russia, for instance, suddenly a very highly organized, pseudo-grassroots movement rises up to distort and compromise their message. So, for instance, if I came up with something very popular and very disruptive, some anonymous group sponsored by the government (but nobody can prove that) would pop up and duplicate my message, corrupting it in the process and then other people would attack it.
So it's very easy to knock someone out of the running if you have all the resources at your command. If the only resource at your command is the truth, then that can be very easily corrupted.
O'Brien: So the use of disinformation from an information theory type of way, to basically corrupt the message so that people can't tell what is true from what is junk...
Dmitry: ...exactly. It has nothing to do with consent, it has to do with noise. It has to do with bombardment. It's information warfare. That's—so that's the environment in which we work.
O'Brien: The consumer of information is left with this job to try to pick the difference between what's right and the wrong, and once this effort becomes so large, the effect of the truth becomes essentially diluted.
Dmitry: Well, people who just look at information, who don't look beyond facts, don't stand a chance. They will be inundated with all sorts of highly distorted, slightly distorted, information—complete nonsense, and they will never find their way through it. The way people need to approach such subjects is by developing a philosophical perspective, a system of belief, a coherent system of belief.
It isn't really just ideology, or something simple like that, but it's a value system that they live by, and then they go through life accepting things that fit into their value system and reject things that don't, and once they start doing that, they're on a path of transformation that has nothing to do with being informed. It has to do with actively changing who they are. From that point of view, anybody has the power to make their own path, and a lot of people are doing it.
So, I think that that's the really hopeful thing and that's why I do what I do, is to allow people the space in their heads so that they can craft their own value system, not mine, their own, and follow their own path—again not my path, their own path.
O'Brien: Would you like to tell the audience a little bit about your current path?
Dmitry: It's really uncertain at this point. I'm trying to devote more effort to my writing and speaking career if I could call it that, because it's in such demand and events are unfolding so fast. So the things that I wrote about; financial and political and commercial collapse are actually happening in parts of the world. We can actually witness them in places like Greece, and Spain, and many other countries around the world, and the process is accelerating.
So I think that these next couple of years will be the years to watch and to observe and to write about these events, because a lot of people will be interested in them. After these things run their course, then, you know, what I do will be less useful, because people will look inward and will try to find ways to cope. They won't need the big picture as much. They won't be as interested in it. So that's what I'm concentrating on right now, and de-emphasizing other things, like software engineering, which is the way I've made money over the years.
O'Brien: You've released a new e-book called Absolutely Positive. Can you tell us about this new book and maybe why an e-book?
Dmitry: The reason it's an e-book is because releasing an e-book, if you know a little bit about computers and things like HTML formatting, it's technically quite trivial. It's a very easy to distribute a work. It really takes very little effort.
The book is made of essays that I've published over the years on-line, on my blog, that were particularly successful and that continue to be read. So I decided that after four years of this activity, that I should give these essays that I wrote a little bit more permanence.
One interesting thing about publishing a work of essays is that it's rather hopeless to try and do it through a publisher, that publishers seem to have this unwritten rule that the only people who can publish books of essays are dead people and Nobel prize-winners like Krugman. Nobody else is allowed to do that. So this is my escape hatch, if you will, to actually get these essays out into the world, and it's working moderately well.
O'Brien: Recently I watched a long two-part interview with Alexander Bulgazen [sic]. He's a professor of political economy at the Moscow State University, and he was asked why the USSR collapsed, and he gave this most confusing, waffly, nonsensical type of answer, no mention of oil or energy production whatsoever. It seems to me that we might go back through this transformational change in society and no one will really ever know why it happens.
Dmitry: It's like the story of the three blind men and the elephant...
Three blind men and the elephant interlude.
The people who have a lot of weight that's on their opinions are professionals. If they're professionals, then they're professionals in some specific discipline. It could be finance. It could be economics. It could be political science. It could be sociology. It could be history, cultural criticism. They view everything from a particular perspective.
Now, there is no such science as Collapsology, the study of collapses. It's not recognized. There are a few people actually, who have approached it successfully, like Joseph Tainter, for instance, who actually manage to put out scholarly works in this direction, are helpful, but overall the trend is to listen to experts who have never studied the subject in question. So they're just basically ad-libbing a little bit or giving their own perspective from the point of view of their specific, narrow specialization.
O'Brien: When I released my first episode of this podcast interviewing Professor Charlie Hall, a friend sent me an article, I think from the Daily Telegraph, saying everything's going to be fine; all we need is a few thorium nuclear reactors, and the last couple of weeks, I've read a couple of things on the internet about NASA and generating cold fusion. What do you think of all this stuff and how the people are reacting to these stories?
Dmitry: If you just keep economic growth going, even if you improve the energy efficiency of the economy, lower the energy intensity per unit growth GDP, you would still get a boiling hot planet in a matter of a couple of hundred years. So, it doesn't matter whether you get it from cold fusion or from thorium or from what-have-you, you just can't have ever-accelerating pace of economic activity, because it involves a flow of energy. You cannot improve the energy efficiency of any given process ad infinitum, because at some point the laws of thermodynamics come into play. Because you can't get something for nothing, as long as you are following this idea that, you know, there's this exponential curve that we're all traveling on, this exponential expansion of population, of money supply, of everything else, you still get a dead planet after a couple of hundred years.
So it's not really a technical problem. That's what I try to get people to understand, that a technical, utilitarian approach got us to this point, got us to this impasse. It's not going to get us out of it.
We have to do something completely different, approach it in from a completely different perspective in order to stand a chance. Basically, the thing to do with all of these technological systems that we've built up is to figure out how to shut them down, and that is difficult enough. We have all these nuclear reactors that will go Fukushima on us if we—if they're not supplied with electricity externally for many, many decades, and that is one of the biggest problems we face. There are also a lot of other issues where we can't just shut it down, we have to shut it down in stages and carefully. So that's where people should be devoting their energies, in how to shut down this industrial economy that we have.
O'Brien: So you've talked recently on your website about the increase of brown-outs in America. That's electricity basically going down. What is the current state of the American energy infrastructure?
Dmitry: Well, about half the electricity is generated with coal which has no upside potential at this point, no growth potential. Right now there is a glut of natural gas so a lot of power plants are using, are burning natural gas to generate base-load as opposed to peak-load. Natural gas-fired power plants can ramp up and down very quickly, unlike nuclear and coal, which take many hours to heat up and cool down. So usually gas was used for peak electricity production, but it, I guess it's also being used now, because gas is so cheap, for base-load, but the reason gas is so cheap is because of this silly financial game with shale gas.
A lot of money got spent drilling these wells that deplete very quickly and are not really a very good way to produce energy, but it's a really good way to produce—well, it was for a short period of time a very good way to produce financial results for exploration and production companies, uh, like Chesapeake Energy which is now probably going to go bankrupt along with quite a bit of the rest of the shale gas industry. So this is a temporary condition.
Now, as far as the black-outs and brown-outs, that is a legacy of under-investment in the electric grid in the United States. There's really just no money to upgrade it, and with each passing year the equipment gets older, the transformer farms get older, the transmission lines become more and more fragile, and more and more susceptible to failure, and the grid is structured in a way that there's very high chance of cascaded failure. So one point failure spreads throughout the system, causes a large black-out instead of a small one, and if you look at the frequency of black-outs, of power cuts in the United States, that frequency is increasing exponentially, and that is one of the most frightening curves because, you know, if the number of black-outs doubles every year then that means lights-out in about five years, permanently, and there's nothing really to indicate that this trend is broken. It might be, but there's nothing to indicate that. So, that really puts a time limit on the whole experiment. (35:30)
O'Brien: What role do you think privatization has played in the energy industry in America not getting the funds that it needs to upgrade all these infrastructures?
Dmitry: I think that they're related, but basically privatization in the US is yet another financial swindle. At some point in the US it was discovered that the only way to make money at the top is by cheating. That gave us things like Enron, but the problem has never gone away.
The tendency to game the system, to manipulate the markets, using all kinds of financial schemes, that hasn't gone away, because that has become the core competency of the United States as a country. That's what they do as a country now. They're financial manipulators. So, they can't stop doing that, because what else would there be for them to do?
So the privatization, you know, it was talked about as a way to save money for the consumers. I don't believe it has done that. I think instead it has driven up costs everywhere by extracting a lot of money into private profits. That was the reason it was being done and that is actually what happened, and of course, if the money is being siphoned off and sent offshore somewhere so to make the very rich people even richer, then that money isn't available to upgrade transformer farms and transmission lines.
There was a black-out in the middle of Boston where I live. A big part of the town where I was working at the time was shut down for almost a week. All the businesses closed. Nothing happens without electricity.
O'Brien: It must make for an interesting city when everything is shut down and people can't go to work.
Dmitry: It was interesting to see what happened during the shorter black-out that happened in the exactly same area, where basically everybody poured out into the street, and it was almost like a spontaneous demonstration, because people were talking to each other. Just basically standing around, but the feel of the place was, not that this was something surprising and strange and unusual, but basically people were treating it as some kind of, like, a new reality. This is the sort of thing that happens here now, was the feeling.
Van Morrison interlude, It's All Over Now Baby Blue
O'Brien: You've lived in (39:36) both the old Soviet Union and in America. Adam Smith talked of the market working as if moved by an invisible hand to create the best outcomes for a society. You have a somewhat different take on, on this.
Dmitry: I actually looked into it. There's this part of economic theory that deals with conditions for market equilibrium, which is behind the idea that markets are efficient and self-regulating, and provide the best possible outcome when left to their own devices. Well it turns out that that theory is based on ridiculous assumptions that do not exist in the real world.
Economic theory has these curves that are just postulated out of thin air, supply and demand curves as separate entities that cross and that's the equilibrium point. Well, it turns out that you cannot really observe those things in nature. They're not really directly measurable at all. They're strictly constructs in economic theory, and it turns out that the range of conditions under which there's such a thing as market equilibrium is extremely small and, for most purposes, irrelevant.
There's really no reason to think that there's some kind of an invisible hand that isn't actually somebody's hand that you're not seeing. It's just that you're not seeing it so you think it's invisible, but it's very visible. You just, it's not being shown to you.
In fact, markets are structured by various market participants at various levels. They can plan to make these markets work in the public interest, or they can make them work in the private interest, in their own interest, and it's just a question of who, politically, runs those markets. It's not an economic question, it's a political question.
O'Brien:...and currently the people who control the markets are in favor of extraction of wealth to the top.
Dmitry: Yes, right now most of the markets in the so-called free market economy in the world, those people are not actually people. They're gigantic bags of abstract financial wealth and they're becoming increasingly paranoid with each passing month, and the only thing they know how to do is make their giant bags of money even bigger, because they think that's going to be safer, whereas in fact it's the opposite. The bigger it is, the more likely it is to completely fail.
O'Brien: So what are you doing yourself to prepare? I know that you've bought a boat and fitted it out. What else are you interested in?
Dmitry: Well, I'm interested in all sorts of things, but I'm not really, you know, a kind of doomer, prepper person. I just live my life, and I have some amount of situational awareness that keeps me out of trouble, and it'll carry me through, I think. I don't think I'll have to do anything very highly specific.
You know, I don't really buy into this high burn-rate kind of consumerist living arrangement that most Americans are involved in. My needs are not very great, and that probably makes me more resilient than most.
O'Brien: I've watched a number of your videos on YouTube and the like, and what strikes me when you deliver a speech to an audience is that the audience reacts to your theme as if it's, like, all a big joke. What is the emotional impact, being of, seeing what happened in Russia, and now seeing very strong parallels in the West?
Dmitry: Well, you bring up an important point, which is, you know, humor is a defense mechanism in some ways. People think that I'm just joking in order to psychologically protect themselves. It's also a coping mechanism.
So if you can laugh about something, you're not going to cry about it, and I would say that having a healthy sense of humor is really very important. One of the most important survival strategies is to be able to joke about things. There's a lot of gallows humor that went on in Russia during the worst times, and, you know, that is helpful.
Now, one thing I notice in the audiences over the years is that, yeah, a lot of people are still laughing. You know, that's a typical thing. Especially young people, you know, they still have their organic, you know, animal optimism that allows them to laugh at just about anything.
I cater to that a little bit. I, you know, I try to throw in jokes, so that it's not that they have to figure out for themselves that, you know, that you can laugh about it, I actually try to get them to laugh a few times during each talk, but I also noticed that some people, especially older people, are in absolute shock. The process with them is different.
First of all they recognize that what I'm saying has something to it, that it's true, that I'm not just making things up. I'm saying things that make immediate sense to them, and secondly, they are not in a position where they can laugh about it, because they're really in pain, you know, psychologically, psychically, they are in pain over what they are seeing happen to them, to their world. That is a big change that I'm seeing.
I think that once nobody in the audience laughs at my jokes, I'll be in a lot of trouble, because, at that point, I'll be in a very, very serious business of actually trying to comfort people through a very difficult situation, and that is a much taller order than just coming out and being laughed at.
O'Brien: But what about your own personal emotional impact, the devastation of what happened for a number of years in the Soviet era, collapse, and now having to see this yourself, again? This is quite a double whammy.
Dmitry: Well, you know, morticians are not really emotionally affected by the sight of cadavers, and I think I've become something like, like that. I've become desensitized by watching these things. I approach these issues in almost a professional capacity.
So it doesn't actually affect me emotionally at all. In terms of my own life and the things that I enjoy, I derive a lot of pleasure from fairly simple things, from nature, from reading, things that have nothing to do with this subject, and interacting with people where, you know, it's not something that I bring up with them. I can lead a perfectly normal life, and yet devote quite a lot of my time to this particular field of study.
O'Brien: What do you make of the nationalization by certain South American countries of European assets?
Dmitry: Actually, could you repeat that again?
Tape loop and end sequence
O'Brien: I would like to thank Dmitry again for a typically enlightening interview, and I look forward to talking with him in the future about the progression in our lives through the likely coming of financial and commercial, and political collapse.