Monday, November 07, 2011

The Russian Soul and the Collapse of the West

[Guest post by Sandy, ClubOrlov's Siberia correspondent. A version of this article was run in late October in the newspaper Business Biysk, in the Altai Region of Russia.]

The earliest stirrings of modern industrial society can be traced back to some 6,000 years ago, to the emergence of the first cities, the emergence of agriculture and storage of food surpluses in the Near East. A bit later, analytic and linguistic keys to the forward march of civilization found critical refinement in Aristotle’s syllogistic logic and the founding of the sciences. The current trajectory of the West burst into full self-consciousness during the period of European Enlightenment, with the birth of rationalism and the elaboration of the modern scientific method. These, in turn, eventually gave rise to the industrialization, hyper-specialization, technological innovation and increasing commodification of just about everything that we are witnessing today.

With Europe and, more recently, America leading the way, the path charted and engineered by Western civilization spawned a mindset that is rapidly overtaking the globe, socially, economically, and culturally. This ascendancy has unleashed a domination of values, which, unlike political hegemonies of the past, are spreading with lightning speed, virtually unchallenged, and artfully enabled by the very technologies it has spawned.

Many Americans are convinced that their culture represents the apex of this historical legacy, the best in scientific and technological advancement, as well as political and economic leadership. What America has achieved, so they believe, is a dream come true. It was this “American Dream” that has been held out to (or thrust upon) the rest of the world as the ultimate expression of the “good life”—the proper locus of human happiness. However, it was cheap energy, in the form of fossil fuels, that has enabled this cultural and industrial progress, and the recent recognition that world oil extraction has peaked surely signals the prospective collapse of industrial economy, and, with it, the dissolution of its core institutions. The trajectory of Western civilization, now characterized by accelerating energy decline and global climate change—a trajectory that Homo sapiens had set in motion upon excavating the first coal pit—is nearing its end.

There are yet some dreamers and wishful thinkers who tell us of oil extraction technologies and spectacular discoveries of new supplies that will power our future. Overlooking the insidious exaggeration of these claims, the unintended consequences of technologies needed to deliver on them will surely bring substantial ecological fallout, further limiting our access to survival necessities such as clean air, fresh water, and healthy flora and fauna. Likewise, alternate sources of energy will never replace industrial civilization’s continuous and ever-growing need for transportation fuels. We are living within an unsustainable bubble that is already deflating, slowly for now, more quickly in the near future. Sustainable human existence will require smaller-scale and more local approaches to just about everything.

With the globe facing epic crises—ecological, financial, economic, political, psychological—at whose feet do we lay the blame? Where do we look to better understand the roots of these crises, or to learn how to outrun their dire consequences? While many have identified pursuit of the American Dream as a proximate cause of this global unraveling, the USA was not alone in its reliance upon certain fundamental assumptions about subjugation and exploitation of nature, ineluctably leading to devastating outcomes. All civilized regimes—from the first empires of ancient Mesopotamia to modern nations such as Russia and China—share the responsibility for the current planetary devastation. Industrial progress, economic growth, technological innovation, political expansion and environmental devastation have been the hallmarks of civilization since the beginning of history.

Not surprisingly, there is now growing disaffection in the West (of all places) with the way things are going. Given a global financial meltdown, high unemployment, austerity, endless war, insurrections popping up everywhere, unparalleled greed, irrational terrorism, the American Dream is fading like like the trace of warm breath on a mirror. Mother nature herself seems to be speaking to us loudly, with more frequent and more brutal natural disasters than at any other time in recorded history. Barely two decades into America’s uncontested ascendancy to unipolar imperial power—with the entire planet supposedly globalizing around its neoliberal capitalist dogma—and the whole thing is starting to come apart. If you think this makes the institutional fabric of Western civilization vulnerable, you are right; it does.

Yet do not think for a moment that it is going to come down without a struggle. There are centripetal forces holding this spectacle together as much as there are centrifugal forces pulling it apart. Aside from the greedy and controlling hands of plutocrats, there is too much raw desire out there in the hinterlands, too many people who have been living on the fringes of this “Dream” just waiting for their turn, for a piece of the pie. The entire Soviet Bloc, systematically excluded from all the fun for almost a century, now holds the forbidden fruit firmly within its grasp. These now independent nations are busy chasing the dream as quickly as they can muster the energy and the capital. China has also awakened from its slumber, focused on making up for lost time in securing a position of global prominence. The Indians have decided that they too want to play: Mumbai has made a good beginning in this respect, taking over nearly all customer service functions for major US corporations, siphoning off consumer purchasing power that once went to Americans.

A new generation of Russians is racing to be first at the finish line. The Russian Federation, in concert with its regional administrations, is aggressively stripping forestland, building new roads and expanding old ones, and refurbishing and building-out regional and the international airports. They are doing so with great abandon, as if there is no tomorrow—and perhaps there won't be. Yet no one in Siberia younger than fifty years old seems to want to discuss this possibility. They are having too much fun with their newfound wealth, and are enjoying the spectacle. This is most evident when you look at the younger generation of Siberians and the nouveau riche in Barnaul, Biysk, Belokurikha, and across Altai Krai. They cannot live without their cell phones, their iPods and their credit cards; without their health club memberships, pricey coffee houses and their air conditioners; without their recently financed foreign automobiles and their newly minted driver's licenses. In short, they have tasted the promise of this “society of the spectacle.” They are mesmerized by its allure and hooked on its fascinating appeal. It is not just blue jeans they want. They want it all! Short of an abrupt exhaustion of basic vital resources like fossil fuel, clean water, or fresh air, the only way we could see a quick collapse of this “curriculum of the West” as it moves east, is by prying it from the clutching hands of all those who previously had little, but now choose to have hope for more.

But there is also something ancient and primitive pulling at the emotional core of Siberians, something that once spoke clearly to a more archaic need, and perhaps still speaks to the older generations of Siberians even today. I am referring to the thoroughly mythologized Russian soul: a soul that in the mother tongue is feminine in gender—душа [dushá]—and, as such, is intimately connected with the mystery of Mother Earth. Recall Dostoevsky’s many references to the Russian soul as a reflection of the people’s unfailing and non-negotiable connection to the land from which life springs. There is a well-articulated and indestructible sentiment among our people that does not allow complete separation, physically or emotionally, from the land in which they were born and where they naturally survive and flourish. The Russian people have the greatest appreciation for, love of and attachment to their homeland and families, as well as to the broader ties of kinship these entail. They understand all of this to be intimately connected, as their language makes abundantly clear:

род [rod]: family, kind, sort, genus
родина [ródina]: homeland, motherland
родители [rodíteli]: parents
родить [rodít']: to give birth
роднить [rodnít']: to unite, bring together
родовой [rodovói]: ancestral, tribal
родство [rodstvó]: kinship

Over their historically, Russians have had to endure the hardships and struggles of political turmoil and repeated invasion, and Siberians understand struggle as a given, as part of the cycle of life, death and nature. The normal conditions of existence here, whether in the city or the village, are not what we Americans would consider easy, convenient, or comfortable (although they are improving). Those who live here have preserved some age-old instincts in order to survive, and even to celebrate life in the midst of recurrent hardships and strife. The personal and cultural resolve that personifies this soul has been forged over generations of people facing down aggression, natural and political, then calmly and courageously returning to their roots and rebuilding their lives upon an archaic foundation in which they never lost faith. It is impossible to understand the depth and mystery of this soul separately from its rootedness in the simplicity of the Russian peasantry and the inviolability of the Russian soil. There is an earthly sensuousness that infuses the Russian experience; this culture remains drenched in the primacy of the body and the natural world that nourishes it. This autochthonous connection to the land—the Siberian’s more elemental experience of life in wilder, mysterious nature—may still be capable of influencing the future trajectory of both the new Russia and Western civilization.

Perhaps Russia’s long-suffering messianic mission still stands firm in the Siberian wilderness, albeit less vociferously than before, quietly recalling humanity from the abyss of alienated spirit that haunts the self-absorbed West with its scientific rationalism, its consumerism and its otherworldly transcendence—a self-misunderstanding that seems to be marching all of us mindlessly toward global collapse. Perhaps the more primal Siberian awareness can summon us back to a feral memory trace, helping us recall our essential rootedness in Mother Earth and the earthly sensuousness of our flesh, the flesh of the world. But the delusion of ‘manifest destiny’ that drives Western hegemony and its commodity culture is chipping away relentlessly and callously at that archaic Russian soul, perhaps more rapidly than she is able to redirect and dissipate the self-destructive energy of Western imperialism and its global appetite. Siberians, and those of us living here in Altai Krai, must rethink their commitment to this Western curriculum as it continues to lead us relentlessly, mindlessly, toward a precipice.


Journal Actif said...

I'm originally from Morocco. Although totally different culturally, Siberian and Moroccan share a common trait of personnality, their deep love and connection to the land.

For example, in Morocco, traditional, secular objects never really took second place behind western mass-produced "stuff" and attachment to wholesome, traditional agriculture products are considered much more desirable than the industrial counterfeits.

I'm not very optimistic at any one of these rich, secular cultures to prevail over what D. Orlov calls appropriately "the despotism of the image" and see it quickly enoug for what it is. I can see ow this can lead to terrible frustration and deep ressentments of those who are salivating over the american dream for so long, and now that they can touch it, there's almost nothing left of all the ressources that made the ephemeral and exterior signs of wealth for westerners and americans in the last decades.

Funny thing, the word I must type below so to prove I'm not a robot but a real person is "bling". It was expensive, very expensive bling we paraded here in western countries. The price to pay for that bling is overwhelming.

joonsae said...

Excellent post. I really have nothing to add, except to share this video about traditional ways of living in Altai:

Stan Bleszynski said...

Re: "Many Americans are convinced that their culture represents the apex of this historical legacy, the best in scientific and technological advancement, ...
However, it was cheap energy, in the form of fossil fuels, that has enabled this cultural and industrial progress,... "

I enjoy your articles but I have to disagree with the above!

Americans are right - it was the culture that enabled it! I think it was the Western spirit of self-reliance, work-centered set of values, individualism and the legal system that protected the above mentioned values. Including the right to be an individualist, and the ownership rights protecting the said individual against abuses of state and other organized criminals.

All those values have always been sorely lacking in Russia thus the unsurprising outcome. All those values are being now rapidly eroded in the Western world, replaced by a collectivism. Especially in the UK and USA. No wonder that your new adopted country is, as you noticed rapidly beginning to look like your old one. 8-:)

Stan (Heretic)

kleymo said...

Хотелось бы читать русский вариант. Вы не могли бы дать сылку?

Anonymous said...

kleymo - Here is a Russian variant of the article. Enjoy. sandy

x said...

To those who do not come from a long established culture; a culture that springs from the intimate contact between the people and the land on some fundamental subsistence level, the idea of soul and connection may seem odd. The outward dress, language or music of such cultures only convey the connections superficially. They are merely manifestations of a deeper, inner connection. Such things as custom, law and the such are base abstractions obscuring the significance of human relationship to that particular place on earth.

Alas, I can confirm that the connections can quickly and irrevocably be servered. It took very little time (10-15 years) for the vast majority of Irish to lose the connections as every relationship becomes commodified - often through law and statute. The wealth of local lore and knowledge is brushed aside; considered to be barbaric. As the old people, now isolated by lack of money wealth and considered obsolete, die off, the web of connections die with them. The young only know commodity as the baseline of relationships.

Surely there are many who still connect with the culture and the land, but we know we are relics. What cannot be parcelled, documented, bought, sold or securitised has no value for those in the modern and progressive society. What cannot be rationalised cannot be transacted. Transaction trumps all.

Yet, I suspect when the madness dies off and little gadgets fail to amuse anymore many people will begin to reconnect. It will take generations. Culture cannot be bought nor sold, nor does it root itself in transience. I suspect it takes hard work, and many will fail at it.

Unknown said...

Thank you for the interesting article. Somewhat relative the Siberian life, and having heard a bit about the nascent 'Anastasia' movement, wonder if that is actually happening in Russia or is just part of a marketing ploy for the Ringing Cedars product line.

RowanF said...

Love the article, but at risk of sounding small-minded, centrifugal force isn't actually a force it's just the effect that we "see" when there is a centripetal force around. From this, we can see that actually, the stronger the centripetal force, the stronger the centrifugal effect. The more "they" try the worse the collapse will be. But you already know this!

Anonymous said...

Stan's take notwithstanding, I agree with Sandy when he writes:

Re: "Many Americans are convinced that their culture represents the apex of this historical legacy, the best in scientific and technological advancement, ...
However, it was cheap energy, in the form of fossil fuels, that has enabled this cultural and industrial progress,... "

I'm pretty baffled at how anyone can observe the progress of energy sources of tool- or machine-work and not conclude that oil was the foundation of these things that Americans in their jingoistic pride believed they did, or their country did, independent of oil.

I'd even suggest that the desperate measures the US Govt is employing domestically and abroad right now, those measures suggest just how seriously American business-govt-opinion leaders will value and have valued the ability to use oil.

One could limit one's focus merely to the financial chicanery in the USA and suggest that oil wasn't required for that... but it was. The post-Vietnam "services economy" couldn't have happened without the in-the-moment cheapness of oil-based energy used to drive all aspects of manufacture and all machine-based advances in technical theory, knowledge and practice.

I don't see how one can conclude otherwise regarding the role of oil.

Anonymous said...

To Stan:

Stan the Heretic believes that Americans achieved dominance via "culture, self-reliance, individualism, law" etc.

I believe those all did contribute.

But I would ask Stan and others to consider a few other contributing factors, such as:

1) several hundred years of slave labor,

2) free natural resources and land due to the complete extermination (genocide) of the native peoples,

3) a lucky bounty of almost unlimited supply of energy in the form of wood, oil, coal, natural gas ... even uranium.

Don't you think those factors also contributed to the growing US empire?

And what will happen to this empire of self-reliant, law-abiding, property owning individuals when the energy (oil) is GONE. Heh heh, I think the global dominance will fade as well, so maybe it wasn't about those things after all.


Pavel said...

I have lived and traveled extensively in Russia (though not in Siberia), and my impression is that most Russians are completely oblivious to the environmental impacts of their economic growth.

I've met very few people in Russia who were concerned with, or even aware of, peak oil and climate change. Even the killer heat wave of 2010 did not change that. This is probably not surprising, given that most people outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg are too preoccupied with day-to-day survival to pay attention to the bigger picture.

The romantic notions of the mysterious Russian soul and its spiritual connection to nature seem to be lost in the rush to profit from the higher oil prices (which mostly seem to benefit the ruling elite anyway).


If you really think about it, individualism as in US got reinforced through cheap oil. Without cheap energy there cannot be individualism for we do not survive as humans alone and in a vacuum. We need one another. Post Peak OIL Humanoid will know that there is value in collective spirit and individual development. It all goes hand in hand. Individual development also is a spiritual development and not just the ability to trash up the planet as a mere materialistic consumer, creating violence as our garbage lingers on long after our demise.

Individualism could only flourish due to cheap energy supplies. We see that even during the great depression, even then people had to help one another to make it. There was more community then than now.

The lack of caring and community will surely bite not only Americans in their ass when the economic contractions will lead all kinds of unwanted shortages as ever more people will quietly vanish from this planet earth, often unnoticed and totally uncared for.

Excellent article indeed. I want to read part about the ancestors relation to Mother Earth again.

May we care for one another when the times get rough and maywe not wage war.

"War is a perversion of the human mind and should be abolished." P.R. Sarkar, founder of Progressive Utilization Theory:

The five Samskrta aphorisms translate into English as follows from Progressive Utilization Theory.

1. There should be no accumulation of wealth without the permission of society (we know why)
2. There should be maximum utilization and rational distribution of the crude, subtle, and causal resources.
3. There should be maximum utilization of the physical, mental, and spiritual potentialities of the individual and collective beings.
4. There should be a well-balanced adjustment among the crude, subtle, and causal utilizations.
5. Utilizations vary in accordance with time, space, and form; the utilizations should be progressive (progressive means that the utilization of anything must be for the good and benefit of all beings on this planet earth and not just for humans or a mentally sick individual guided by greed and uncaring ways to treat people and the planet).

aaa said...

Good article. I think something similar is happening everywhere in the world- It is in "developing" societies who just recently graduated to the american-style orgy of consumption, here you can most easily see the thinness and cheapness of the shiny glamour that is the ambition of modern city life, contrasted with something older that you know is going away. But the orgy of consumption and shiny objects is exactly what most people want, so you can't just discount that.

Perhaps the author of the article, like me, will become an urban refugee, move out to the country and enjoy being free of the race to accumulate shiny objects. What feeling could go better with the pleasure of direct contact with the land? But probably like me the author will still resort to technologies and regular but limited contact with the city and the rat-race sector of society to make life comfortable.

Maybe it is natural, that there should be a separation between the two sectors? Those who want more shiny stuff vs those who want space and peace? Anyway for me the escape to the space/peace state is the *new* american dream, and I believe its quite achievable.

So what's the frustration we all experience from? I'd say it is from the fact that the power lies in the rat-race sector, which grows like a cancer, and threatens to destroy the space/peace/land from which it came. Hopefully it will be ok though, trees can grow and wild animals can run free in places that were once cities. Maybe as energy becomes scarce, cities will have to become more compact, leading there to be more nature-space? Hmm...

Anonymous said...


Here is a translation of a piece I found in Russian on internet.

"The movement of Anastasia. Part 1.


The largest domestic sectarian community that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, represented by the followers of Anastasia, a mythical woman, about which Russian businessman Vladimir Nikolaevich Megre was written by a series of books "The Ringing Cedars of Russia". Strictly speaking, the followers should be called Anastasia is not a sect, but a sectarian movement, consisting of various sects and cults, the combined works of Megre. This is a fundamentally important difference, because sects and sectarian movements vary greatly in the degree and nature of its impact on society around them, peculiarities of its organization, internal and external factors affecting their development. The sects appear much more frequently than sectarian movements. The origin, evolution and decay of most of the sects is not noticed by the general public and is known only to specialists. The activities of sectarian movements always has great resonance in the society. Thus, the movement of the Roerich movement Porfiry Ivanov and theosophical movement are well known and had a much greater influence on the formation of non-traditional religiosity in our society than the giants of the domestic sectarianism, as the Great White Brotherhood, Church of the Last Testament and the Marian Center. The movement of Anastasia, as will be shown below, does not represent a fundamentally new type of non-traditional religious organizations. It is fairly mediocre and predictable. Nevertheless, some elements of novelty and originality, it still exist, and they are of greatest interest to sektovedeniya.'

hawlkeye said...

Yes indeed, very curious what Gary thinks of the Anastasia movement of ecovillages, which is presented as a revitalization of the Russian Soul in practice. Is this a Blip or a Force?

souperman2 said...

I love the image of ...centripetal/centrifugal forces wrt collapse. Gravity works to hold us in place unless and until we pile on too much or speed up too fast. Then everything goes flying. TSHTF...LOL!

Beautifully written Sandy. Touches my 3rd generation Russian heart strings.

IMO the internet has exported the fallacy or false promises of the American Dream and you are correct in pointing out that it is unfair to now yank that dream away from so many.

I believe that the onus is on us Americans to expose the dream for the nightmare that it truly is and to revere the traditions of other cultures as perhaps a better path to happiness and contentment.

Anyway that is what I try and do with my story telling.

Keep up the good work.

Na sdorovie!

Anonymous said...

As a USer living in one of the power centers of the American Dream, Park Slope, Brooklyn, Ive come to realize that I have a very interesting vantage point to watch the dream fully morph into a nightmare. This is one of those rare spots on the planet where humans enjoy the fruits of the modern economy regularly, as a matter of course. 2500$ baby buggys, ivy league logo sweaters all over the place, every electronic gadget in the known universe in use, not for display but to actually run ones small businesses while home rearing your children while managing your stocks while planning Dads dinner party in honor of his retirement from Prestigous Law Firm X. This is not the home if the idle wealthy, thats more uptown. These are the "can do" wealthy, the ones who really believe that one "positive thinking" person can change the world, who are well traveled( but never really changed by their adventures), who start foundations and charities not as tax dodges or grant siphons but because they actually think they are going to help fix the world. These people still firmly believe in Obama and the hope he will bring someday. They have to believe, they gave too much money to him and Juniors working for his campaign..

People here know there are big problems facing humanity, they aren't fools. Ive bumped into a few who seem aware of the consequences of all these problems hitting at once. These folks are a tiny fraction, in my experience.

At a more general level the public bends towards "social responsibility": Recycling is taken very seriously, luxury cars are outnumbered by green vehicles, involvement in popular issues abounds. From cleaning up the park to the dalai lama, its all here.

The flip side is this: these folks arent caught up in the system. They >are< the system, one of it's more self reflective subsets of elites. How will they take the changes that are coming? I assume the worst case societal transformation for the sake of this discussion.

My best guesses: Some will know enough to try preparing their homes and gardens for a kind of self sufficiency, others will flee to the countryside or abroad. Like most New Yorkers, they will pray that Rome will stand against all threats and stay put.

Their easy going social liberalism will harden and ossify into a variant of semi enlightened conservatism, with plenty of retarded individualism and Protestant moralizing in it's train. Racism will still be a sign of ignorance but hating the impoverished will abound. The police will be held close, first with distaste then with fearful desire. The political pull of the area will help lurch the city towards the right, lashing out left and right as it falls into itself.

I really have to start thinking about a plan...

Anonymous said...

RowanF - great point; we agree!

Karl Franz - It is truly unbelievable that some would ignore the role the natural resources, and oil specifically, played. Or furthermore ignore the fact that our wars are all about oil, markets, and cheap labor.

Robert2010 - It seems that the Heretic may also be willfully ignoring the fact that it was precisely those qualities (self-reliance and individualism) that are our culture's root cause of the current global malady, the basis of alienation, community destruction, financial chicanery, uncontrollable acquisitiveness, rape of the earth, greed, war, terror... should I go on?

Pavel - the connection with the earth is, of course, much more vibrant in Siberia, especially among the over 50 crowd. But you are correct, market economics is driving the urban, younger generation to distraction very quickly.

= - great point about cheap oil fueling the radical individualism of modern Western (American) culture

a - "societies who just recently graduated to the american-style orgy of consumption, here you can most easily see the thinness and cheapness of the glamour that is the ambition of modern city life" - what a great image. And, it is precisely what i see in Barnaul, here in Siberia. And I think your vision of a future with vastly truncated cities is most likely. Finally, I do walk with me feet in both worlds now... it is so hard to completely escape; it is like an addiction, hard as hell to kick altogether.

Souperman2 - thanks; and I will keep it up. Also, I am not sure if Americans have any sense of their responsibility (as a society); but I know that I do personally feel obligated to point out the defects and severe problems with the system... and I do, daily.

parkslopegigilo - wow!!! What a clear picture you paint of that corner of the Empire. I have been there and know of those you speak. I can add nothing to your spectacular description. It will certainly be interesting; and you should get your garden ready!! my best, sandy

Ryan said...

I'm just tired of running around in cirles. Call me crazy, but - even as an American - I do not see the collapse of the current American economy and the rebirth of something different bad. I enjoy more freedom (time) to do what I feel like doing, which is next to impossible for most of us here. Money is a burden - an addiction in a sense - that the prosperity of a human life is better off without,or with much less.

manray said...

a said:
Anyway for me the escape to the space/peace state is the *new* american dream, and I believe its quite achievable.

Not only is this the "new" American Dream it is the "true" American Dream. As critical as I am of this country and it's superficial culture, corrupt corporate/government and gluttonous resource consumption I recognize that the true greatness of this land lies in opportunity and the ability to truly do whatever it is that you want to do. I earn a meager living but I have been frugal and I have dumped most of my earnings into home equity in a city where property values haven't tanked (sheer luck). I could, at this very moment, cash out and go buy a couple acres of land, park an Airstream on it and live out the rest of my life growing food and never having to work for "the man" again.

I have friends who have chosen to rent cheap living space that would be deemed "3rd world" by the status quo who spend their days free of the stresses of modern life, who own very little in terms of modern "shiny" assets (cars, electronics). They seem quite happy.

Dmitry and the commenters here help me to realize that there is an America out there that has much to offer us if we are willing to live a life that emphasizes reverence and intimacy over the material.

aaa said...

parkslopegigilo - wow, great post. I grew up in NYC as a teenager and my folks still live there so I know what youre talking about...

Actually your description sounds like a pretty wholesome life, exactly the side of the city/urban-american-dream I wanted until I found another way, while at the same time being disillusioned by the 'uptown' crowd, wall street values, and the evil stuff the US did in the last decade.

And thinking about it, the park slope personality you describe are good people- I would want them to succeed, and they couldn't if they were cynical and didn't believe in the system. So it's kind-of sad to have this innocence ruined, or to be the one to ruin it in another person who is an optimistic well-meaning believer.

Another thing this reminded me of was recently when the hurricane passed thru new york this fall. Typical of new yorkers, who are surprised and disturbed by nothing, everyone had such faith in the system that essentially NO preparations were made by the general public and everything stayed open until maybe 6-12 hours before it was due to hit- And as it happened the city was spared.

manray- right on! I actually think this is the best perspective from which to ensure the continuation of our civilization, including even its urban inner/upper elements that I don't really want to be a part of. We will somehow someway find a path to sustainable use of the earth (which doesn't have to be primitive low-tech, by the way- technology is a good thing.).

escapefromwisconsin said...

Hi Sandy. great post as always. It stirred in me a memory of some beautiful vintage photos I had seen of Russia some time ago. thanks to the Google machine, I managed to find them. To me, they are quite stirring:

Also, contrast them with the crass commercialism arrayed around the border of the images on this page. Then weep.

For more nostalgia, see:

Incidentally, much of what you've written is true of other cultures as well, and more are beginning to take note. Witness this article from the BBC Web site: Timeless Values help villagers.

@x "What cannot be parcelled, documented, bought, sold or securitised has no value for those in the modern and progressive society. What cannot be rationalised cannot be transacted." - beautifully said! I would not have said progressive, but I understand what you mean - addicted to progress at all costs, or what is commonly defined as progress.

@ Heretic:
You lack historical knowledge. In fact, nineteenth century America tended to be highly cooperative. If you actually research pioneer culture (which Americans still see themselves as) aside from John Wayne movies, pioneers banded together to survive, otherwise they would not have made it. That's why they had wagon trains, not indivdual vehicles. They did not have machines or fossil fuels, lived off the land, and had to make everything with their own hands. They had to rely on their neighbors. All sorts of cooperative organizations flourished back then, as detailed by Robert Putnam, et. al. There is a good post about them here. The myth of the lone "rugged individual" is a myth created by the movies after the fact. The lone individual would have died or starved in the pre-fossil fuel environment of the ninteenth century, especially in the Old West. Only the temporary material abundance of our time nurtures that illusion. The "lone individual" myth serves the interests of the elites quite well, who have no qualms about banding together collectively to enforce their will.

As I write those words, I ponder if there is a difference between collectivism and cooperation. One forced, the other not? In any case, there is a grain of truth in what you're saying. John Robb has pointed out that modern globalized corporate capitalism has become a centrally planned system, controlled by a small group of financial and corporate elites (rather than party members),leading to a similar massive misallocation of resources.See

Has not heard of the Anastasia movement. Spiritual movements flourish in times of material deprivation and political upheaval - witness the stylites and anchorites in the waning days of Rome and the Taoists in the Warring States period in China. Any thoughts on the Vissarion movement in Siberia?

A convenient soundtrack for this post:

Anonymous said...

escapefromwisconsin - thanks got your thoughts. The Vissarian movement is like another new Jesus-cult, as far as I can make it out. Good links, and a cool soundtrack for the post. LOL - sandy

Anonymous said...

Thanks all for your interest in my points.

@ a

Thanks for your comments. I wouldn't disagree with you that many of the people in Park Slope are good, nice folks. But honestly, I'm more interested in looking at them as a social formation rather than a group of individuals. It >is< a nice place to live, it's rational, clean, safe, and accepting of diversity. Multi colored groups of children play in the school yards, women walk about with relatively safety compared to other NYC neighborhoods, homophobia, racism, and bigotry are harshly frowned upon.

But all of that is premised on grotesque social inequalities, on privilege to long assumed to question it is considered nutty, on extracting the value from the many to benefit the few. These people aren't here because they have all clambered up from the heap due to their wits and entrepreneurial vigor. They are here because wealth and privilege begets wealth and privilege by and large. They have the luxury of worrying over the ethical considerations of a gas vehicle versus an electric, they are desperate to get to their shit-pay job 8 days a week. They have the time to hand craft their offspring, they aren't working three jobs to try and feed the little buggers.

One thing I have learned about the wealthy: they live in a bubble for the most part. Their lives are sheltered, people jump when they speak, no one rushes them out of a store or tells them to move along because they are taking up too much of a clerks time. When that bubble breaks, you will see the harsh metal underneath the glove of velvet....

Anonymous said...

parkslopegigilo - I think you are dead right about the velvet gloves, and the rage underneath. But, I think that rage is manufactured, crafted, if you will, as a result of generations of indoctrination within a culture of greed and entitlement (which the wealthy have much in excess of the rest of us:I know,I WAS ONE OF THEM!!) Our society has bottled up (Freud was not completely wrong)our more basic inclinations to participate in the world; instead we have created an artificial maze through which people need to run (or we have been made fat and lazy by our parents having run through that maze); and this repression can lead to many socio- and psychopathic behaviors once the thing begins to collapse or explode.

I referred directly to this feral core when, in the essay, I said:

"But there is also something ancient and primitive pulling at the emotional core of Siberians, something that once spoke clearly to a more archaic need... I am referring to the thoroughly mythologized Russian soul: a soul intimately connected with the mystery of Mother Earth.

Perhaps Russia’s long-suffering messianic mission still stands firm in the Siberian wilderness... quietly recalling humanity from the abyss of alienated spirit that haunts the self-absorbed West... Perhaps the more primal Siberian awareness can summon us back to a feral memory trace, helping us recall our essential rootedness in Mother Earth and the earthly sensuousness of our flesh, the flesh of the world."

This is what was lost or covered over through the accretive developments of the West and its obsessive behaviors, spinning endlessly, searching for that foundation, the secure ground, which it lost (forgot) millennia ago.

Anonymous said...

The sense of rage I was referring to was more about a reaction of fear to the changes that are coming; I agree with you that Western, esp. U.S. culture, breeds anti social and sociopathic behaviour as well as a sense of rage. It's all over the place here, unless you are hiding out in La La land like me...and here it's conspicuous by it's absence.

xbornstubbornx said...

I don't know, Sandy. You described Russians almost as demigods who have deep understanding and knowledge of some ancestral mumbo-jumbo. I wish we did, really. Unfortunately, that unity with mother nature is for the most part a history. During my life in Russia I've seen way too many ugly things and had enough bad experience, enough to write a hate mongering article describing today's dwellers of mother Russia as immoral, ignorant, cruel and heartless animals, a collapsed society and culture. Of course, there's a vast wilderness and enclaves of indigenous and rural population here and there, but they do not (I cannot stress this enough), they DO NOT represent anything anymore but their own enclaves and villages. We are barely functioning as an ethnic culture. The article is good, don't get me wrong, but most of the things described in it are just not there anymore, except for the appetite for consumption. The bottom line is - a lot of us young Russians just don't buy the whole notion the official propaganda has been feeding us with about mysterious Russian soul as opposed to the immoral and shallow Western culture of consumption. We're not an alternative to the latter anymore, we're it's lousy resemblance now.

Anonymous said...


I cannot disagree with your assessment of the current state of affairs and its trajectory here in Russia. As you noted, I said so much in the article. But, we need to look past the current occupiers of this landscape, and recall that not so many centuries ago, the demography of this land was different. We also cannot ignore the fact the the Altai Region, and much of Siberia, is home to places like Denisova Cave that contains archeological evidence of Homo Neanderthalens from 125,000 years ago. And the character of those cave dwellers, as well as their consciousness of self and world, was substantially different than what passes for culture here today. And we must also recognize that the earliest Neolithic villages to emerge at the close of the Pleistocene epoch maintained much of that character - tribal kinship, egalitarian relations, closeness to nature, lack of strict hierarchy, and an integration within an animate surround that we can no longer feel today. However, some of the indigenous peoples, as well as the older generation Russian inhabitants here still retain some of that sense of community and integration within the landscape. Much more so than in Amerika!

nz eggman said...

Park Slope Dude (i'll let you change your passion at will) Your writing attracted me to view your blog, which has laid vacant since August. Your communication is treasure! Will there be no more?

TH in SoC said...

Sandy, Здравствуите! I am not Russian but I live in an American neighborhood with a large concentration of Russians, as well as immigrants from other backgrounds. I agree 100 percent with the commenter who said that American culture breeds antisocial and sociopathic behavior. However, I have also come to believe that immigrant communities in the United States - especially communities of first-generation immigrants - might serve as a the seeds of a revival of civil culture after the dysfunctional mainstream American culture collapses. (I see this especially with immigrant churches.) The trick for them will be to resist "Americanization" in the meantime. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

TH in SoC

I think it is a tough road to go down. I think anyone living in the midst, will be swallowed by the currents of that culture. And, I am not certain that a simple Christian perspective, or church-based congregation, is an answer. There is a real sense in which religion is fully complicit in our historical abuse of the earth and of one another. The entire proclamation of Dominion (over the earth and its creatures) lies at the root of this abusive culture. Sorry for my view; but that's how I see it. best, sandy

Anonymous said...

@nzeggman (and begging D.O.'s pardon) Thank you for your kind words, there is a new post up now if you care to see.