Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Self-Deluded Animal

“I am not an animal, I am a human being!” is a famous line from the critically acclaimed 1980 David Lynch film The Elephant Man which tells the story of Joseph Merrick, a severely deformed man afflicted with the Proteus syndrome in 19th century London. It was based in part on the anthropologist Ashley Montagu's The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity (1971). The famous line then gave rise to the title of Peter Baynham’s “I Am Not An Animal,” an animated black comedy, released in 2004, about animals who escaped from a vivisectionist laboratory and attempted to survive alongside humans in the big cruel world.

Whenever humans are reduced to animal status it is the stuff of tragedy. Whenever animals impersonate humans is the stuff of comedy. There are few exceptions. Pantomime horses are not particularly tragic. Fortune telling parrots and monkeys on the streets of Moscow are perceived as tragic by certain defenders of animals’ rights. But I get the feeling that comedic possibilities are present whenever humans and animals get mixed up. Even the film depicting the tragic circumstances of Joseph Merrick’s life were co-produced by Mel Brooks of Blazing Saddles and other epic comedies. His name was struck from the credits for fear of confusing the audience into thinking that the film was a comedy.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Barbarians Rampage through Europe's Cemetery

Around the world, very few people are capable of wrapping their heads around the European reaction to the migrant crisis. On the side of the migrants, we have avid displays of barbarism, fanaticism and aggression; on the side of the Europeans, we have abject fear of appearing… intolerant. In an out-of-control situation where we would expect people to organize, protest, put up road blocks and vote en masse for nationalist parties, we are instead subjected to the ridiculous spectacle of meek, effeminate Europeans dressed up in unisex outfits chalking “No to terrorism!” on sidewalks. Most people around the world see in this an orchidaceous display of anthropological nullity. “Is Europe dead?” they wonder aloud.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Three Blind Men and the Greatest Depression

There is no shortage of collapse prognosticators that never tire of prognosticating that a financial calamity is right around the corner. I am not one of them; what I try to do is not prognosticate but explain. I take collapse to be something real—something that my readers can observe for themselves, if they care to look—and what interests me is its inner workings.

That said, when three famous figures simultaneously announce that financial collapse is around the corner, I suppose we should start paying attention. To me, it doesn’t even matter if their opinions are right or wrong, if they have their facts straight, or whether they are good or bad people. That’s all quite irrelevant. What’s relevant is that if enough high-visibility individuals say that financial collapse is around the corner, then, given the reach and the force of their utterances, they no longer function as mere expressions of opinion but as speech acts that transform the state of the world—of the various mechanisms of international finance, in this case, from humming right along to getting ready to seize up.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Imperial Collapse Markers

In thinking through the (for now) gradually unfolding collapse of the American empire, the collapse of the USSR, which occurred close to three decades ago, continues to perform as a goldmine of useful examples and analogies. Certain events that occurred during the Soviet collapse can serve as useful signposts in the American one, allowing us to formulate better guesses about the timing of events that can suddenly turn a gradual collapse into a precipitous one.

When the Soviet collapse occurred, the universal reaction was “Who could have known?” Well, I knew. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a surgeon in the summer of 1990, right as I was going under the knife to get my appendix excised, waiting for the anesthesia to kick in. He asked me about what was going to happen to the Soviet republics, Armenia in particular. I told him that they would be independent in less than a year. He looked positively shocked. I was off by a couple of months. I hope to be able to call the American collapse with the same degree of precision.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

All Values are Relative

It is a bit disconcerting to discover, after studying a subject for quite a few years and writing extensively on it, that you have missed a big, vitally important piece of the picture. The subject was Communities that Abide. After studying collapse in all of its forms and phases, I decided to look into which particular types of communities are relatively immune to collapse and are able to persist (abide) over historically significant periods of time (half a dozen or so centuries) in spite of collapsing empires, wars, persecution, loss of homeland and other such vicissitudes of fortune. After a couple of months spent at a library, I came up with a short list of such communities and their features, and was able to distill these features into a set of precepts I semi-jokingly called “The XII Commandments.”

All of what I wrote still seems perfectly valid, but the message tended to bounce off people’s brains instead of sticking because of what I now see has been a major blindspot: I didn’t take care of the fact that these persistently successful communities make almost no effort at all to fit into the value systems of my readers. In fact, they go about their lives as if my readers, with their treasured values, which they often see as universal, don’t matter at all. Within the highly developed global consumer society, this is a major affront to individuals who, once their physical needs have been satisfied, if they set their sights above being amused, entertained and titillated, want to feel well-informed, well-intentioned and, in a word, superior.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

It Doesn’t Matter Who is President

Jim 'll
Let me say it again: “It doesn’t matter who is president of the United States.” I know that I’ve said it before (here, for instance) but I feel that it bears repeating. It’s a simple message, but I don’t think that it’s sinking in well enough. Although nobody seems to want to come out and argue that this message is wrong, plenty of people seem determined to ignore it. Some of them appear to take on board what I have to say but then go on talking as if it does matter who is president. It doesn’t.

It is possible to make the point that it doesn’t matter who is president by speaking in generalities: how the political system is rigged to ignore all inputs that lie outside of a narrow range of interests of a self-serving elite; how the level of political discourse within the US is far too low for a constructive discussion of any serious issue; how artificially generated partisan divisiveness is specifically designed to prevent people from finding common cause while skillfully hiding the fact that the US is not a democracy at all (as explained here). Lots of people have gone into considerably more detail than I wish to in explaining all of this, and yet if you ask “the man on the street” whether it matters who is president, it is highly likely that he will respond in the affirmative.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Keeping up with Putin

Yesterday I spent four hours watching television. This is not something I normally do because I find the entire television medium tedious, boring and a waste of time. All television programs are, in my case, a bad idea, because I dislike being programmed. In fact, I don’t even own a TV. When I need to watch something, I do so in a window on the screen of my laptop. But this was a special occasion.
What I watched was Putin’s nearly four-hour annual live Q&A marathon. People all over Russia submitted questions—over 2.3 million of them—by calling in, writing in, texting, recording videos, giving interviews to television crews. A very large team then organized the questions into general themes and prepared the most representative and best-expressed ones to be presented. A fair number of questions were asked live, on screen.

The main reason I watched the whole thing was because I had asked Putin a question, and I wanted to see if he was going to answer it. He did.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Death and Resurrection of a Blogger

Normally, we are happy when things go right and sad when things go wrong. Collapse seems to change that relationship. Within a collapse scenario, things going wrong is a given, the idea that something might go right is relegated to the realm of wishful thinking, and instead the focus shifts to things going wrong in a particularly profound, amusing or spellbinding fashion. Collapse causes the limits of constructive action to constrict to a tiny circle surrounded by a vast expanse of unintended consequences. Victory and defeat become redefined: we feel victorious when those most responsible for the collapse do something spectacular to thwart their own purpose while we do nothing; we feel defeated when the collapse process slows down and settles into a pattern of interminable, durable failure.

The modern-day Ukrainian state (or what’s left of it) provides us with numerous insights into the collapse process. It is a virtual laboratory of collapse. Every tier of the collapse stack is represented there, offering fertile ground for a collapse analysis of its own. Working from the bottom up: