Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lost Leaders

[Update June 14: It is becoming apparent to all good and knowledgeable people that the well bore structure is compromised "down-hole" (or, as I put it here earlier, "there is no oil well—just a large, untidy hole in the sea bottom with hydrocarbons spewing out of it."]

It is embarrassing to be lost. It is even more embarrassing for a leader to be lost. And what's really really embarrassing to all concerned is when national and transnational corporate leaders attempt to tackle a major disaster and are found out to have been issuing marching orders based on the wrong map. Everyone then executes a routine of turning toward each other in shock, frowning while shaking their heads slowly from side to side and looking away in disgust. After that, these leaders might as well limit their public pronouncements to the traditional "Milk, milk, lemonade, round the corner fudge is made." Whatever they say, the universal reaction becomes: "What leaders? We don't have any."

Getting lost can be traumatic for the rest of us too. When we suddenly realize that we don't know where we are, urgent neural messages are exchanged between our prefrontal cortex, which struggles to form a coherent picture of what's happening, our amygdala, whose job is to hold on to a sense of where we are, and our hippocampus, which motivates us to get back to a place we know as quickly as we possibly can. This strange bit of internal wiring explains why humans who are only slightly lost tend to trot off in a random direction and promptly become profoundly lost. After these immediate biochemical reactions have run their course, we go through the usual stages of:
  1. denial—"We are not lost! The ski lodge is just over the next ridge, or the next, or the next..."
  2. anger—"We are wasting time! Shut up and keep trotting!"
  3. bargaining—"The map must be wrong; either that or someone has dynamited the giant boulder that should be right there..."
  4. depression—"We'll never get there! We're all going to die out here!" and 
  5. acceptance—"We are not lost; we are right here, wherever it is. We better find some shelter and start a campfire before it gets dark and cold."
Some people don't survive, some do; the difference in outcome turns out to have precious little to do with skill or training, and everything to do with motivation—the desire to survive no matter how much pain and discomfort that involves—and the mental flexibility to adjust one's mental map on the fly to fit the new reality, and to reach stage 5 quickly. Those who go on attempting to operate based on an outdated mental map tend to die in utter bewilderment.

Working with an outdated mental map is a big problem for anyone; for a leader, it may very well spell the end of the position of leadership. After the catastrophe at Chernobyl, the Soviet leaders attempted to operate, for as long as possible, with a mental map that included a relatively intact and generally serviceable nuclear reactor called "Chernobyl Energy Block No. 4". "The reactor has been shut down and is being cooled," went the official pronouncements from the Kremlin, "we are pumping in water to cool it." After a while it became known that there is no reactor—just a smoldering, molten hole spewing radioactive smoke—and the coolant water, prodigious quantities of which were indeed pumped in and spilled in its general vicinity. It instantly boiled away into radioactive steam (which drifted downwind and eventually rained out, poisoning even more of the land). The rest of it leaked out, forming radioactive settling ponds and threatening to further leak into and poison the river that flows through Kiev. As you might imagine, that little episode turned out to be just a little bit embarrassing. Anyone who could think started to think: "Following these leaders is not conducive to survival. Let's make our own plans." Gorbachev went on with his usual long-winded blah-blahs, but the milk-milk-lemonade routine would have served him just as well.

More recently, we have been exposed to the spectacle of corporate leaders and public officials attempting to operate, for as long as possible, with a mental map that includes a blown-out but otherwise serviceable deep-water oil well in the Gulf of Mexico variously called "Deepwater Horizon" or "Macondo" or "MC252". A number of unsuccessful attempts have been made to capture the oil and gas that have been escaping from it using at least three different techniques. BP—the well's owner—is an oil company, and so their first reaction was to get and sell that oil no matter what. They tried to fit the well with a "top hat" to get all of the oil, but when their contraption didn't work because it got clogged by methane hydrate crystals they stuck a smaller pipe into the leak, just to get and sell some of the oil, and when that worked it made them happy. But, coming under pressure to do something about all the oil leaking out and poisoning the environment, they finally decided to try shutting down the well by squiring various substances into it. The procedures they've tried, going by idiotic Top Gun names like "junk shot" and "top kill"—have all been to no avail. At some point it becomes clear that there is no oil well—just a large, untidy hole in the sea bottom with hydrocarbons spewing out of it, forming huge surface slicks and underwater plumes of oil that kill all they encounter and eventually wash up on land to continue the damage there, turning the Gulf Coast into a disaster area. Starting in another month or so the toxic soup composed of oily tropical seawater and decomposing coastal vegetation and sea life will be stirred up and driven inland by tropical storms and hurricanes. Gulf Coast oil-grunge will become the de facto new national style: oil-streaked skin and clothing and perhaps a dead pelican for a sunhat.

 When things go horribly wrong, it is natural for us mere mortals to try to obtain a bit of psychological comfort by holding on to familiar images. A person who has totaled his car tends to continue to refer to the twisted wreckage as "my car" instead of "the wreckage of my car." In the case someone's wrecked car, this may be accepted as mere shorthand, but in many other cases this tendency results in people working with an outdated mental map which leads them astray, because the properties of a wreck are quite different from those of an intact object. For example, our lost leaders are continuing to refer to "the financial system" instead of "the wreck of the financial system." If they had the flexibility to make that mental switch, perhaps they wouldn't insist on continuing to pump in more and more public debt, only to watch it spew out again through a tangle of broken pipes so horrific that it defies all understanding, with quite a lot of it mysteriously dribbling into the vaults and pockets of bankers and billionaire investors. It will be interesting to watch their attempts at a financial "top kill" or "junk shot" to plug the ensuing geyser of toxic debt.

It is natural for us to naïvely expect our leaders—be they corporate executives or their increasingly decorative and superfluous adjuncts in government—to be our betters, having been picked for leadership positions by their ability to lead us through difficult and unfamiliar terrain. We expect them to have the mental agility and flexibility to be able to revise their mental maps as the circumstances dictate. We don't expect them to be stupid, and are surprised to find that indeed they are. How is that possible? Mental enfeeblement of the ruling class of a collapsing empire is not without precedent: the British imperial experiment was clearly doomed as early as the end of World War I, but it took until well into World War II for this fact to register in the enfeebled brains of the British ruling class. In his 1941 essay England your England, George Orwell offers the following explanation:
...[T]he British ruling class obviously could not admit that their usefulness of was at an end. Had they done that they would have had to abdicate...  Clearly there was only one escape for them—into stupidity. They could keep society in its existing shape only by being unable to grasp that any improvement was possible. Difficult though it was, they achieved it, largely by fixing their eyes on the past and refusing to notice the changes that were going on [a]round them."
And so it is now: as the American empire has been crumbling, its leaders, both corporate and corporatist, were being specially selected for being unable to draw their own conclusions based on their own independent reasoning or on the evidence of their own senses, relying instead on "intelligence" that is second-hand and obsolete. These leaders are now attempting to lead us all on a dream-walk to oblivion.

Back in 2008 I published the prediction that while Chernobyl was rather decisive in putting paid to the Soviet scientific/technological program and in dispelling all remaining trust in the Soviet political establishment, the US program of scientific/technological progress and ruthless exploitation of nature is more likely to suffer a death by a thousand cuts. But if one of these cuts hits an artery early on, a thousand cuts would be overkill. Just as with any wreck, the properties of a radically phlebotomized body politic are rather different from those of a healthy one, or even a sick one—not that our lost leaders could notice something like that! They will no doubt go on going on about money and oil (and the predictable lack thereof), but they might as well be telling us about their milk and lemonade, and please hold the drilling mud. How embarrassing!


Kevin said...

A brilliant column, particularly in its analysis of the requirement for stupidity as a political job qualification under current conditions. You've put our situation in excellent historical context, though the results are not exactly comforting. Thanks for casting such a clear light on the topic.

Zeke said...

As a child, I was deeply indoctrinated with the concept of those higher social class were smarter, more gifted, etc, etc. The first dent in that indoctrination came during Vietnam.

I'm getting old now and it still amazes me how many Americans have a child like (and obedient) concept of "higher powers". I rarely encounter a person who doesn't blindly believe everything Fox news or some other "authority" figure spouts off about.

I figure we will press on down this dead end road until it ends. Then just like a child, we'll be enraged because some "higher power" didn't save us from ourselves. If it wasn't so damn scary, it would be entertaining. Actually it is anyway.

vera said...

Has anyone seen a map yet of the parts of the U.S. that will be most affected by blown oil from hurricanes/weather patterns?

Kevin said...

I wonder about that too, vera. I also wonder where prevailing currents will take it over the long run. Will much of it get into the Gulf Stream and travel up the Atlantic seaboard and perhaps beyond? Will this goo still be killing fish and turning up in odd places decades from now?

As of this moment (10:07 PM PDT 29 May 2010) the "top kill" plug has failed, so the entire contents of the natural deposit may well wind up gushing into the ocean. How long will that sucker continue to blow, and what volume will it ultimately discharge? It looks pretty damn scary to me.

Robin Datta said...

The post shows politeness and kindness by presuming ignorance. That may indeed be the case, but a mere sinister scenario emerges from the suggestion that it is not ignorance but understanding that accompanies the actions.

dave said...

well, the maps they use, at least up to this point, have worked pretty well for them, thier fathers, and even thier fathers' fathers. not so much stupidity, per se, as that sometimes it takes time to figure out that, shit oh shit, unbelievable, but the landscape has acctually changed. this is true for members of all various social classes.

Eeyores Enigma said...

Having been connected to high politics by marriage, ex-wifes father a senator, brother a congressman, while we the peeps are blaming the politicians, the politicians blame the stupid, lazy, uneducated, greedy, child like civilian population for all of the ills of the world.

They see their job as mostly mop-up and some bit of herding and they deserve to be well compensated for having to do such a dirty job. Many if not all eventually believe it's a hopeless case and just focus on the well compensated part..

If you could hear the deep degree of contempt that these people have for the common man expressed when relaxed after a martini or 6, it would turn your stomach.

Mark E. Smith said...

"There's a hole in the bottom of the sea..."

There's no accounting for "leaders" who cannot be held accountable.

They're not lost, they're following the money. The money comes from drugs, weapons, and oil. And they're not stupid either--they've got the most money which is why they are called oligarchs. No matter how much oil is lost and how much environmental destruction is done, BP is still profitable, the oligarchy's investments in BP are still profitable, and the rich are getting richer.

Just go for a little ride in your car-car and try not to think about it.

We are the ones who are stupid and lost, caring more about material goods and a bloated lifestyle than about our only habitat, and voting in elections where the outcome is predetermined because only agents of the empire, those who support deregulation, globalization, and imperialism, can win.

quantumfields said...

Excellent commentary as always. BP is the UK's largest company and the 4th largest company in the world. I think given the current financial turmoil and the “extraordinary special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K., the costs of this catastrophe will never be paid. We can rest assured that only the most superficial of band-aids will be applied... but the headlines will be an amusing dog and pony show for months to come.

Condemn them? As BPGlobalPR says, we should thank BP for filling the ocean with miles and miles of the most gorgeous rainbows!

gsanford said...

The oil spill is an example of how we look upon TPTB as at least (potentially) omnipotent. The expectation that Obama and the federal government could swoop down and singlehandedly save the day, for instance.

Not that there wasn't incompetence which led to the blowout, but we as a species are not as infallible as we'd like to believe. We should resist the temptation to engage in the usual finger-pointing and scapegoatism. A dose of humility is in order.

This quote says it all:

"We are the ones who are stupid and lost, caring more about material goods and a bloated lifestyle than about our only habitat"

This quote does not:

"voting in elections where the outcome is predetermined because only agents of the empire, those who support deregulation, globalization, and imperialism, can win."

The reason being is that our elected leaders represent who we are. If they serve "empire" then this is in accordance with our collective wishes, either subliminally or otherwise.

This is the backdrop in which Bush was elected twice or Palin "drill baby drill" has become the figurehead of the Tea Party movement.

You want change? LIVE the change. Don't keep waiting to be rescued by some magical white knight in Washington.

Mark E. Smith said...

Of course, Eeyores. Working in the complaint department of a large corporate bureaucracy is indeed a dirty job and deserves to be well compensated.

Remember that the President and Members of Congress don't make policy. Policy is made by the Rockefeller/Rothschild policy-making bodies, to which all the big multinationals belong, and where all major party candidates must be approved or disapproved.

The policy-makers use the breaucracy to shield themselves from the public. We see only the complaint department, i.e., Congress and the White House, and they usually try to be polite, thank us for bringing things to their attention, and promise to pass along our complaints to the proper authorities. Since they're just the complaint department, they have no actual policy-making powers.

The Republican Party is the party of business. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is a lone Independent. And the Democratic Party always has one shill who accurately mimics public sentiment. That job has gone to Alan Grayson this election cycle, who is doing a great job, as did Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean before him. But the shill always throws his support to his party's nominee, who always disagrees with the shill on everything important. The job of the shill is to lure voters in, get them hooked, and then persuade them to vote for everything they oppose.

The half of us who don't vote aren't apathetic. We're the ones who don't see any need to delegate our power to guardians to make our fiscal decisions for us because we're competent adults. Voters are as child-like as the bureaucrats, you, and Zeke believe. They're also insane in the sense that Einstein defined insanity as making the same mistake over and over again and believing that the results might be different next time. But since the power they so blythely delegate is the power to wage war, loot the treasury, and destroy the planet, and they knowingly put this power in the hands of "representatives" they cannot hold accountable DURING THEIR TERMS OF OFFICE (which is the ONLY time they're supposed to represent us), voters would be better described as criminally insane.

It is precisely because our Constitution ensured that the popular vote was only symbolic and would not be the final say, that only an election boycott is capable of ousting our oligarchy nonviolently. Half of all voters surveyed in a recent Rasmussen Reports poll said that they believed that people randomly selected from the phone book could do as good a job as Congress, yet they continue to vote. How dumb is that?

Unknown said...

I think you are right. Like Chernobyl, the Deepwater Horizon gusher pulls back the curtain on the Wizards of our Oz. They are quite clearly grasping at straws. This problem far exceeds their imagination as well as our human technology. They might as well be trying to plug the vents of Icelandic volcanoes.

How well we solve problems depends on how accurate our assumptions are. As long as we cling to notions of unlimited human technology and ever-expanding economies, we can expect these sorts of tragedies. Maybe it is time for a little humility. ... You're right. I'm dreaming.

Bukko Boomeranger said...

Bravo! One of your best effort since the original "Collapse Gap" theorization. We are so doomed. I am saddened, but determined to survive as well as I can, for as long as I can. I am trying to think like a kollapsnik, moving to distant lands where I can dodge the slings and arrows, find soil to grow food and water that falls from the sky in adequate quantities, and making friends with people who have farms. You, and other non-gun nut survivalists, are an inspiration.

Kevin said...

Does anyone here present happen to know what is the source of the pressure driving the oil out of the deposit in which it has lain for so many eons? At that depth is there enough heat or geothermal pressure under the crust beneath to push it up? Is the weight of the ocean above squeezing it out like a giant toothpaste tube? Is it lighter than water and hence rising in it? Is the natural gas which I gather is mixed with the oil expanding and pushing the whole process? Why, once released, does this material so want to blow? What are the physics involved? And are they of such a nature that the entire deposit or most of it will eventually empty out, polluting the ocean with who knows how many cubic meters of oil?

Mark, it's true that we the people have been and are being very dumb, but it does not therefore follow that politicians and their puppetmasters are behaving intelligently. The former do what their owners tell them to, and the latter seem to me to consistently behave according to the ideology of money with its imperative of infinite growth, in contradistinction to rational policies that have a future. They may be very clever in a devious sort of way, but at bottom they're just power-hungry fat cats whom no amount of satiety can ever satisfy. I suspect that once things really start coming apart at the seams, as a ruling class their days are numbered.

Anonymous said...

straker, I'm sad to say that when Bush 2 was elected the second time, that realization hit me as well. As I drove around the suburbs, looked around at the lives people choose, willingly, to live, I saw the same as you. We are voting for ourselves. That's why Nader only pulled in a few percent at most, I think that was just about how many Americans were really willing to question the corporatism most feel is a necessary part of their lives, and the source of their livelihoods. Or at least they used to think that, now I'd guess more and more people are just confused, but still watching tv willingly, still drinking the cool-aid..

That's when I stopped blaming the people in power and started thinking about just what was going on. I don't know many people who will stop driving, and that's only one small part of the mess we recreate every single day by our actions.

Kolapsnik, the stages of denial, a perfect list, well worth keeping in mind, thanks for repeating it.

If there's one thing I've learned from westtexas at the oildrum, repeat the core message ad nauseum, then repeat it some more, we're incredibly dense, especially when it comes to simple truths such as, no, sorry, in fact, you can't drive away this problem.

By the way, there's some good, positive signs out here: it's hip for 20-somethings to ride bikes again, very hip. As in, not owning a car riding a bike. Since this is the age group that is actually going to be doing the adapting to new realities, it's well worth watching them and what they like and do. One thing's for sure, most people won't give up either their cars or the lifestyles car ownership enables willingly, although they will happily stick 'no blood for oil' and soon, 'stop deep water drilling' bumper stickers on those cars...

Joshua said...

When was the last time a modern leader showed knowledge even of freshman chemistry, let alone petroleum engineering? Our leaders are the boys and girls who were best at intimidating and charming their similarly overly competitive, socially manipulative cohorts. Comprehension of physical and biological reality would have been a distraction to their rise, and our leaders do not really believe they exist, although they occasionally allude to them rhetorically. As Greer has pointed out, this is a level of reality, beneath finance and production, that does not register.

Shooting "junk" into a hole to plug it? I guesss the oil hole did not register their Harvard and Oxford contempt. Perhaps a covert operation. . .

Dmitry Orlov said...

I am going to reject all the comments to the effect that "The leaders are not lost because they've stolen all of our monopoly money." I hope that, the next time you decide to get lost in the woods, you take plenty of your monopoly money with you, to burn, or to plug holes with. Or not. Because it won't matter either way. But if you think that monopoly money is what's important, you probably won't survive.

vera said...

Kollapsnik, as much as I adore your stuff, and with all due respect, in this one point you are naive: the whole "lost clueless leaders" meme is part of the mythology out there, obfuscating the real situation. And it has nothing to do with “money” as such. They are following the logic of the system, IMO. As they must, if they wish to stay in power.

Mark, I am with you on "no more voting." I was determined to quit several years ago, then got badgered by friends because I was from a wobble state. So I voted for O. Yuck. Thanks to him, I will in the future get severe nausea just thinking about voting again.

Here's an idea. What if they gave an election, and nobody came? The regime would topple overnight. And it's far far easier than a general strike. All you have to do is... nothing. :-)

Here is a question for y’all: people are talking about pitching a nuke into the hole where the well used to be. What kind of idiocy is this??!! You get a small hole that’s gushing, so you pitch in a bomb and create an enormous hole… HUH?

DeVaul said...

"The leaders are not lost because they've stolen all of our monopoly money."

This is just so true. It's just pieces of paper with fancy drawings on it, or even bland ones. That productive people continue to accept the monopoly money (made by guess who) in exchange for real goods is the oligarch's greatest wet dream, but it is still a dream and not reality.

BP executives hoped to collect more pieces of paper or computer digits, exchange them for yachts and mansions (built and outfitted by peasants), and quite a few trophy wives and mistresses (can't have too many) and generally just get rip roaring drunk and party down while the consequences of their actions exterminated an entire inland sea, and quite possibly more.

When President O'Puppet said the bucks stops with him, what he really meant was: BP will not be held accountable, and since we know that politicians are never held accountable for anything, no one will be held accountable for this disaster. Period.

The pressure of one mile of ocean above the cavern of oil will force out over half the oil at least, if not all of it along with help from the trapped natural gas that will now escape through the gaping wound under tremendous pressure.

Suburban Pioneer Woman said...

As usual, very thought provoking. A couple of responses:

1) Read Anthony Sampson's The Seven Sisters. It gives the playbook for what we're seeing in the Gulf. Basically, the oil industry defined US foreign policy in overseas regions it occupied. What goes around comes around. This means that certain US regions are essentially oil-ocracies. We are not necessarily seeing US government incompetance but rather the US government taking orders from oil as it always has in this particular region, the Gulf.

2) I am pretty sure it was Gore Vidal who wrote that women and people of color would only be allowed to govern the US after the rich white male ruling class had looted everything. Gore Vidal is never wrong. He wrote about all of this decades ago. He is a true American hero.

3) The Obama administration was handed an impossible (but inevitable) series of events and circumstances - not the least of which is a country that has been looted. Everything points to local government being the only solution for us "folks" from here on. That's good news -- it means we can run for office locally and make a difference. Why not? Could we do worse?

Paraquat said...

Kevin, you had a couple of questions. I'm not a geologist, but I've been following the discussion (by several geologists) on Learned a lot there, and you ought to take a look.

Anyway, the oil deposit is at a depth of about 18,000 feet, the first 5000 of this is water, followed by several 1000 more feet of mud that has a toothpaste-like consistency, and then finally rock. The great weight of all that water, mud and rock pushes down on the oil, creating a pressure that is about 10,000 psi. Compare that to our normal sea level air pressure of 14 psi.

Here is a link that explains it better than I could:

My understanding is that the pressure inside the oil formation will eventually equalize with the pressure at the sea bottom (at 5000 feet depth), and then the oil will stop flowing. But this will take months, maybe years.

Jan Lundberg said...

I was hoping this article was a road map to loss leaders, the bargains at corporate chain stores. Getting some new plastic crap made from petroleum is how I define my well-being and superiority to primitive peoples. And, purchasing anything new tends to support the good folks extracting and refining petroleum -- the same stuff spewing out of the Gulf ocean floor; hmmm...
At any rate, now that I have read Lost Leaders, who probably came from Lost Angeles, I will be sure to remind myself that the irrelevant, illegitimate power structure has nominal heads (albeit empty).
Bravo, Dmitry, this is required reading -- except that the people who really need to read it are bozos. Therein lies the conundrum. Maybe you can tackle that some day, if only for our amusement. You are a leader who ain't lost, even though Dylan advised us, "Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters."
p.s. - The Only Answer for Counteracting the Gulf Oil Gusher:

fritz said...

had you heard of Montara before? Any pertinent similarities? Differences?

Mark Smith,
The sharp take on current US hokeypokey politics is appreciated. Kucinich, Franken, Conyers, Sanders and now Grayson all in their turn have kept me interested and stupidly hopeful for help from that direction.

Regarding moeny,
Intriguing logic going back and forth on deciding if it's eneptitude or sinister intent behind the oligarchs' decisions. Playing for monopoly money doesn't excuse them of anything. It's not monopoly money to them, yet. And it still determines alot about how prepared each of us can be. One of the highlights of my week is gettin here to read and write you all. When work at home and outside go right I can get online here. So this is a good week. Thank you all for making it worth the effort. Most of the folk I work with can't say the same. The few who do well enough to read this still can't comment here. The questions they don't get to ask here are interesting.

Regarding the vote,
Has anyone seen an oligarch, dictator or dishonest politician who has suffered because of voters who refused to vote? Isn't vote suppression what Diebold, Sequoia, ES&S, ChoicePoint and DataBase Technologies are all about? These companies have openly screwed our vote in the name of their oligarchs and hokeypokeyites. Wouldn't the rockafellers and rothschilds prefer a voter protest? It costs more to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt than it does to be open, honest and productive.

The following list cleans up our corrupted democratic republic so cheap and easy, the corruption becomes glaringly obvious when we don't see these reforms. (kinda like health care reform and soon to be financial reform)

- hand counted paper ballots.
- annual federal ballot on a 4 day holiday on all pertinent local and federal issues and candidates held every fourth of july weekend.
- voter registration mandatory at all government ID issuance facilities - drivers' license, social security, local banks, tax payment centers,...
- instant runoff voting.
- publicly financed campaigns restricted to 4 weeks, with equal access to all media.
- media costs paid by all media companies in exchange for their continued licensure to broadcast and publish.

these fixes are easier, cheaper and obviously better than what we currently tolerate from our puppetry. Can it be more obvious that our vote is not wanted? Currently the oligarchs gotta be ecstatic with how well their puppets are keeping the complaint department contained. Even if voters refused and a puppet administration did fall, what would fill the void? How would it be any better?

The clearer resolution imparted is appreciated. Did Putin or any of the other oligarchs make life for the non-uber-rich better or less bad than gorbachev's and yeltsin's milk and lemonade bunch?

Unknown said...


I feel cowardly or or lazy or at least just bad about giving up on altering anything meaningful from within our system. Under different circumstances gradualism would be an acceptable approach. However, my concerns are for the planet and what will be left by the time we get democracy right and can adopt planet-friendly paradigms. So collapse seems to be the most realistic alternative.

I really do like your list of changes. They would go a long way towards restoring more than a nominal democracy. But, frankly, none have a snowballs chance of happening any time soon. And in spite of the wonderful qualities of the Kucinich's of the world, they are but a handful and are dismissed by their colleagues -- the so-called realists and pragmatists. Of course, those "realists" and "pragmatists" are anything but. They assume the future of declining energy and a warming planet will be like the past.

Mark E. Smith said...


Election boycotts were effective in Cuba and South Africa.

Even if all the electoral reforms you list were accomplished, it would not change the fact that the Supreme Court can still stop the vote count and decide an election any time it wants to. The problem is in our Constitution which did not give us a voice in government but only the right to vote for representatives, did not give us any way to exercise our will through those representatives or any way to force them to represent us during their terms of office, which is the only time they are supposed to represent us, did not guarantee us the right to have our votes counted, and did not allow us to have any voice in amending our Constitution, which can only be done by representatives we cannot hold accountable--just like the "representatives" who met in secret to write the Constitution in the first place and who then lied about it, claiming it gave us a republic when it did not.

Because we cannot vote directly on issues and budgets, and because we have no way to hold the officials we elect accountable during their terms of office, we have only two choices. We can vote to grant them our consent to do as they wish, or we can withhold our consent.

See my essay Consensual Political Intercourse to understand my lack of patience and sympathy for those who knowingly and willingly consent to tyranny.

As for what would replace tyranny, it would be replaced with the lack of tyranny. That's called democracy and it is something that the framers feared and many Americans also fear. They have no problem admitting that our elected leaders are incompetent, but they cannot accept the simple truth that ordinary everyday people are much more competent--we have to be because we do all the work that the oligarchy exploits. So the oligarchs continue to rule by divide and conquer--making us fear each other when we should be fearing them.

A recent local poll here in San Diego where there is a strong right wing, showed that the issue all voters cared about most, left, right, and center, wasn't war or peace, reproductive rights or prohibition, health care, the environment, or any other hot button issue. They all wanted the potholes fixed. All of them. So if there was a revolution and we could decide what to do for ourselves, rather than having to elect oligarchs to make our decisions for us, instead of chaos and anarchy here, we'd have the whole community out fixing potholes. How scary is that?

Dmitry Orlov said...

Mark -

Thanks for pointing out that this is not a democracy. But it wouldn't help matters if it were: even a functioning democracy is worse than useless in a crisis. This is why the Romans, in a crisis, elected a dictator.

I really hope that people don't use the comments on this blog to waste time — theirs and everyone else's. Talking about tinkering with the US electoral system, trying to make it useful? Please, do that sort of thing in the privacy of your own bedroom!

Kevin said...

Thanks for that information Paraquat. The link answers my questions quite clearly. From it I understand that the gusher is caused by the pressure of great oceanic and geologic weight from above the oil deposit - in a word, by gravity - and that geothermal energy from beneath the crust fuels the process which produces petroleum in the first place. I'll assume I've got that right unless someone more knowledgeable corrects me on it. I feel that even a little factual information makes one that much less prone to being bamboozled or confused.

Alchemyguy said...

This blowout is reminiscent of an event in my childhood, about 30 years ago. In 1982, a sour gas well being drilled by Amoco near the hamlet of Lodgepole, Alberta lost its mud and blew-out, spewing H2S and SO2 into the air at a prodigious rate for 67 days before it was capped. My father ranches about 20km downwind of the site.

The agriculturalists in the area were devastated; spontaneous abortions in cattle were orders of magnitudes higher, paint peeled from the houses and barbed wire rusted. One of the neighbours miscarried late in her pregnancy.

At the time, there was no monitoring of any nature and so no way for anybody to prove that this torrent from the depths was to blame for the sudden changes. The provincial government (from the energy department through environment and agriculture), beholden to the oil and gas industry then as much as (and probably less than, if we're being honest) now, stood beside Amoco and did nothing to aid those affected. Farmers and ranchers were forced to take settlements of pennies on the dollar of their losses. Shortly after the settlements were finalized, Alberta Agriculture released a report saying (in effect) that H2S could indeed cause the effects seen by the people living there.

So in the current story, my father and I see shades of 1982 only much, much worse. A well with insufficient safety measures fails catastrophically and will likely destroy the livelihoods of relatively little people. They'll soon get the delightful task of standing up in front of BP's cadre of very well paid lawyers to try and claw back a small fraction of what they're losing. At least they have science available to them that wasn't available 30 years ago.

It just illustrates that even though governments talk big, they're nothing without the support of big businesses, no matter how dirty. Little people and the environment carry the burden, as they always have.

fritz said...

Mark and Kollapsnik,

Word. Yeh. I came off like an evangelical for democracy. The aim was to show what relatively small changes would have to come before we even start moving toward a democracy. The reminder that this isn't one is appreciated.

Potholes. Yeh.

Jared Diamond pointed out in Collapse that the only societies to successfully return from the brink did so with iron fisted tyrants. Japan especially comes to mind. The part where every tree on the entire island was measured inventoried and accounted for.

Ok so I'm much more amenable to saving the wasted time voting. Seems like boycotting the vote is only one step.

vera said...

Fritz, boycotting the vote is not a step. It's simply unplugging from the political spectacle. Though seeing them scramble in response might be amusing, and might open some new cracks in the pavement of the totality.

It's time to stop looking toward them for help and solutions. We gotta start looking toward one another. A whole different orientation. We gotta take the energy we used to funnel into the system, and give it each other instead. ?

DeVaul said...

I only voted only once in my life -- for Clinton, I believe. I believed that voting was wrong because it legitimized the rule of a criminal syndicate, not much different than the soviet commissars (A, B, or C -- your choice!).

However, I was married at the time and my then wife would not shut the hell up about voting, so under great duress, I cast a usless ballot for an all too familiar outcome.

Hence, my one vote was a direct result of problems occuring in the privacy of my bedroom. For that reason, I claim exemption from having ever supported the American Imperial Party. Torture can never be used to extract a vote.

Unknown said...


I have some sympathy for "unplugging" or withdrawing from the system. But for me either implies plugging into something else. Perhaps that is what you mean by sharing that diverted energy among the unplugged.

I think we can be more specific about what that sharing is. To me it means establishing an alternative economy not wedded to our national or global economy. Several alternatives come to mind:

1. the slow money movement,

2. the transitions towns movement, and

3. steady state economies.

All are aimed at, or require, localizing economies and minimizing dependence on the global economy that doesn't work for us.

vera said...

John, yes, that's what I meant. We unplug from the spectacle and connect with one another.

As for the alternatives you mention, you are quite right. However, it will avail us little unless we solve the problem of power.

All those alternatives are fairly easy to sabotage by those who are ruled by power and greed...

Unknown said...

Pretty good read: Behold our dark, magnificent horror, by
Mark Morford, SF Chron. Chernobyl gets a mention.

(found posted on CFN)


vera said...

The article Aleš linked to says: "As someone recently noted, the BP spill isn't Obama's Katrina, it's actually Big Oil's Chernobyl. Meaning: a disaster so appalling and devastating it might very well alter the industry and change the course of our energy policy forever."

Kollapsnik, did Chernobyl really change Russian/Ukrainian energy policy in deeply radical ways?

Kevin said...

It appears that BP's response to the catastrophe is even more disgusting than I had supposed. Here's a page on the website of a photographer local to the region exposing the farce of a photo-op "clean-up" that BP has orchestrated for the benefit of the press on an (as yet) unaffected beach:

It's well worth clicking through the photos and their captions.

vera said...

Fuc, the problem is not with the Jews. The powers that be always want us to scramble to pick on one group or another.

The problem is with people of *all* colors and ethnicities who behave like assholes. It seems there is more Jews in that group nowadays... because Jews are overrepresented in the financier/financier-helper class. But let's not lose focus. Taking back the earth from the mega-dicks is what we need to do, where ever they are found...

TerrymcG said...

In Europe, the leaders gave all the funny money to Banks and Corporations as well, but those institutions are still broke. But now, so are the governments and the people. As a result the monopoly money is quickly losing it's value and it's rumored that the entire EU might fall apart as well, thanks to our leaders schemes and plans. If that were to happen, our dear leaders would lose their high paying jobs and benefits.

So their latest scheme is to push as many people in to poverty as they can, because they think that that should "restore confidence and get growth going again." I mean, that is their actual plan that they came up with. You'd have to be an idiot to think that their plan is actually going to work, but they are still going to implement it never the less.

Unknown said...

The leaders are truly lost, but some commenters here are pretty lost as well. I object to the post that cites Shahaks utterly "lost" "work".

Anonymous said...

Mr. Orlov,

I recently re-read your book and have been reading your blog history and I have a few questions for you.


From Your “Five Stages of Collapse” Slide Presentation

“It is sometimes hard to discern political collapse, because politicians tend to be quite good at maintaining the pretense of power and authority even as it dwindles. But there are some telltale signs of political collapse. One is when politicians start moonlighting because their day job is no longer sufficiently gainful. Another is when regional politicians start to openly defy orders from the political center.”

California possibly legalizing marijuana this November, even though Feds say it’s illegal.
Arizona passing its own anti-illegal-immigration laws.
Do you think these two are signs of that political collapse? Or is it something else? And how does political collapse jibe with people spending tens of millions of their own money to GET a politician job (like those CEOs in California)?

And Second:

Although I am becoming more and more convinced that the Collapse is coming (and ther parallels to the former Soviet Union are amazing), I’m still not completely sold on it, so I want to ask you this: What if you’re wrong? What if the USA *doesn’t* collapse (or, at least, doesn’t collapse for maybe another hundred years, since we know that *eventually* all societies collapse)? Is there any way to hedge your bets both ways ... to prepare in case collapse happens, without cutting yourself off from the current and possible future benefits of a high tech society?

Thank you for all of your writings. I do enjoy reading your opinions on what is happening.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Mendur -

Having it both ways would be very nice, if it were possible. But you'll have to make up your mind at some point. What if you guess wrong?

TheTruthDoesHurt -

And sometimes it even kills. Let's be careful.

fritz said...

truthdoeshurt and fucthefed,

If 50% of the leaders who are trying to crush 99% of us were green we might be wise to express a desire to de-power green folk - under two conditions.

Firstly, the green folk comprising that 50% of our leaders would need to comprise more than 1% of all the green folk on the planet.

Secondly, that green 50% of our leaders would have to be disproportionately screwing non-green folk.

In fact what we've seen these last 100+ years is a very few very powerful individual families repeatedly screwing every other family on the planet. Whatever color that family is, one major tactic of how they screw all other families is by inciting violent hatred of all other colors by all the colors.

De-powering? Come on. No race has any kind of power that can be removed. Ethnic cleansing doesn't de-power anyone. And that is what we're discussing. It's just raging blind warfare that sends profits and control to the already too wealthy and too powerful.

If de-powering is going to achieve any good goal, then individuals will need to be understood for what they are and de-powered individually. By all of us. I don't know of examples in history for that happening.

We, all of us, would need to be smart enough to recognize when the crazy extremists in each culture, government, corporate oligarchy, tribe, club, whatever are playing us for fools by insisting that we need to go to war economically or physically against one of "them" to protect our own.

Examples of the crazies loving each other one minute and sending commoners to protect their honor against each other the next minute are rife. The Bush family supported Saddam just before he became their monster. Putin and W got along just great right before Russia dealt with US military advisers (aka troops) in Osetia. Noriega in Panama. The Ford family and countless other American robber barrons financially supported Hitler up to and even during WWII.

Seriously, is there one tyrant anywhere who wasn't propped up into power for years just before being torn down and prosecuted by the same imperialist who put him in power? And didn't the Rothschilds finance all sides of WWII with guarantees from all sides that the winner would pay the loser's debts?

One sure sign we're jumping exactly as the puppeteers want us to jump is that we characterize entire groups of people as being guilty of what we know we can only prove of a few individuals.

Guess that's as close as I come to ranting away from Kollapsnik's main point here.

Vera, you're more on the mark than we all know. You too John. Thank you much.

Ales, thank you for the link to Morford. He rocked the point. Anyone seen "the corporation" again lately?

Vera did put a question out there that's got me hangin too:
"Kollapsnik, did Chernobyl really change Russian/Ukrainian energy policy in deeply radical ways?"

Thank you all. Hope to see you next week.

Unknown said...

I see that the "work" of Shahak is being used here as the theoretical foundation for dangerous thinking. I guess it was to be expected. Shahak has much to answer for. However, that is no excuse for thinking people.

TheTruthDoesHurt praises fuctthefed, who praises Vidal and Shahak. Vidal praises Shahak and finds it "a joy to read on the great Gentile-hating Dr
Maimonides." Maimonides did not hate any Gentiles. He identified non-thinking peoples living in his time. It is of course fine to disagree with Maimonides, taking into account that we did not live the reality of his time, but there is no basis for calling him a hater of Gentiles.

whatbox? said...

I lov orlov.

Wish had the scathingly disguised sense of humor to go with my writing.
But as a companion piece, if you enjoy this work, please visit my blog, a slightly harsher, blinder ripping look at the post-modern world we are entering.

Hope to see some of you there. Dig around, there is something for everyone there.

Mr. O, you are really funny, in such a tragic way, perhaps apropos for these crazy times we live in.

wampum said...


I have read Orlov's Reinventing book twice now.

I of course can't speak for Orlov. But I do get the sense that he doesn't find much in the status quo that is edifying or life-enhancing in anyway.

Whether or not I characterize that correctly, that is how I feel about the status quo.

It seems that you like the "benefits of a high tech society".

While I agree with embracing the benefits of science for the betterment of life for all creatures - not just humans - I don't see anything attractive at all about "high tech society".

In fact, I despise it.

Even if there wasn't such thing as Peak Oil I wish we would extremely limit car usage because of the damage they do to social interaction and health. I wish cell phones and text messaging were never invented and we just sat around in bars and cafes and just talked to each other face to face.

The irony is that for most of my life I have made my living from cars and computers.

I think similar parallels exist in other domains. Will we descend into a totalitarian slavery? Well, are we really that free right now in this so-called democracy?

I'm not a complete luddite. But we've made useful tools into fetishes which dominate our every waking minute. How many times are you out in public when someone doesn't utter the word "facebook"? Or where less than 50% of people aren't poking at mobile gadgets? Or where almost every driver doesn't have a cell phone sandwiched between their ear and one hand, while the other hand is attached to the steering wheel?

Even if we could go on like this forever - and thank God that is impossible - it would be an impoverished existence.

Here is another view, called the "Theory of Anyway", which may help you resolve your dilemma:

Theory of Anyway

Unknown said...

a crosspost

BTW, a Chernobyl (and its surrounds) tour.

Sugg.: fasten your seatbelts.

Unknown said...


Thanks for posting you photo essay. It has added immensely to our understanding of the comparisons with Chernobyl in particular and collapse in general -- not to mention it was mesmerizing.

Mark E. Smith said...

Yes, it has been some time since I visited Elena Filatova's website, but it is a glimpse into our future.

Just before the BP catastrophe, Obama announced his plan to open up more offshore oil drilling. During the catastrophe he announced his plan to build more nuclear power plants.

When Obama said that he was "furious" with "somebody" for not thinking through the consequences of their actions, he should have been looking in a mirror. Nuclear power plants are no safer than offshore oil wells. Both are designed and run by humans no more intelligent and competent than the rest of us.

Oh, we do occasionally get a genius among us, like the Jewish woman, Dr. Prof. Lise Meitner, who discovered nuclear fission, but she died in obscurity. She was denied her Nobel Prize due to the need of the fascists to deNazify her assistant, Otto Hahn, who had never studied either math or physics, while Meitner had doctorates in both, and when she sought funding for ways to safely dispose of nuclear wastes it was denied because TPTB wanted only to build more weapons. Surely somebody would think of ways to store radiactive wastes safely in a few years, or decades, or perhaps centuries--most likely well after there is no human life left on earth to make such a discovery.

Occasionally there does arise a genuine genius among us dumb bipeds. If one was born in the last couple of decades, I'm quite sure that she was denied an education and died of AIDS in some fourth world brothel.

But Meitner's genius wasn't just in discovering nuclear fission. It was in finding the Achilles heel of the oligarchs who rule the world. Their weakness is their uncontrollable lust for power, so great that they cannot possibly think through the consequences of their actions.

It isn't just Chernobyl. The long-lived radioactive carcinogens spewed all over the planet by above-ground nuclear testing, inadequate storage facilities, and most recently the use of "depleted" uranium weapons, can never be cleaned up. The oil spill is a much easier problem to solve, since the oil is visible, easily separable, not as widely scattered, and not in the form of microscopic particles. Beyond our capabilities, of course, but magnitudes easier.

I've had a theory for many years that it is intellectuals who are the most discriminated against people on earth. Last week on the bus I was discussing the oil debacle with the guy in the seat next to mine, who happened to be a retired cop. He said he thought the problem would be solved because the best minds in the country are working on it. I asked him if he, or if he ever knew of anyone who, would hire somebody who was smarter than they were. He laughed and said no, of course not, because then they might try to take your job. So that's the problem.

Even if we had honest elections, people would probably vote for the guy they'd want to have a beer with, instead of for the nerd who would ensure that the hops that went into the beer weren't radioactive.

Oh yeah, I was on the bus heading for the Co-Op to buy some organic vegetables in hopes that the "organic" soil and fertilizer they were grown in didn't contain excessive amounts of toxic sludge. Sheer foolishness on my part, as everything around me is as full of carcinogenic toxins from petroleum products as my own body is and those of everyone else in the developed world. The bus runs on "natural" gas, but the seats are made of plastic and its computer systems contain coltan from the Congo.

Having lived in primitive conditions in fourth world countries for much of my life, at least I don't think of luxuries as being necessities, and I know that my happiness and survival don't depend on them. I've even found some websites where I can say things like that without being called clinically insane. ;)

Bilbo said...

Here is post today that says "The Government is Dealing with the Oil Spill Like the Soviets Dealt with Chernobyl"

Yet again Orlov is ahead of the pack.