This Post is a pretty heavily redacted interview taken from Transition Voice
I have picked out [and edited for readability] the bits that I have also been thinking and writing about – and a few new ideas as well.
It refers to the American experience, but I think there is a lot in it for all of us.
I have highlighted the points that I think are particularly noteworthy.
(If you want to read the whole article, click on the link below).
August 16, 2011
Russian-American peak oil and economic analyst Dmitry Orlov, whose popular website, Club Orlov, offers both his own thoughts, and a vigorous community of like-minded readers.
Orlov takes a more skeptical, less forgiving look at collapse, his book Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects is awesome. If you can call reading about peak oil and collapse “awesome”.
Orlov’s direct experience with Soviet collapse translates into an excellent historical perspective. Yes, he’s pretty blunt, and doesn’t candy-coat things, but at the same time he’s a quick yet informative read and I highly recommend it. I’d describe his approach as “moving with, rather than against, collapse.” ~ Lindsay Curren
Dmitry: Americans are quite a bit more delusional than the Soviets were, by the end. I think by the end of the Soviet Union the delusion of grandeur kind of wore thin in the Soviet Union. Everybody knew that the problems weren’t just cosmetic. It wasn’t just a rough patch, it wasn’t something that, “Oh, we’ll just get over by trying the same thing a little bit harder”. People realized that what they had been trying for the past 70 years basically didn’t work.
But in the United States, people are, most people are very far from realizing that what they’ve been doing basically doesn’t work and will probably end up killing a lot them. So there isn’t really that realization at all.
I was looking at Mike Ruppert’s site today, and in one of his little comments that he intersperses with various news stories he said, “We’re herdling towards collapse.” It’s a really wonderful kind of mishmash of hurtling as a herd.
Lindsay: And do you feel that there’s any real sense among the elected leaders that collapse is coming down the pike? Or are they as oblivious as the average schmoe?
Dmitry: Oh, they’re not oblivious at all… One of the games that they’re playing, and it’s a very interesting, very dangerous game, sort of like juggling knives, is if the economy, if the real physical economy is collapsing, unemployment keeps going up, more and more people are excluded from the economy all the time, then that gives you the ability to print money because the two things balance out.
So you have this deflationary trend, of the economy collapsing, of property values and various asset prices falling, and at the same time you can re-inflate the economy by printing money. And that money ends up in the pockets of very few people who then use it to buy up physical goods. So that’s really the trend, we see this concentration of paper capital. Collapse is for the lowly masses, not the elite
Well they want to perpetuate the fiction of control. That this is still making sense.
Now the point is that the economies of the world have stopped growing. They will never resume growth. And the preconditions for their continued existence of the financial schemes, they’re gone, they don’t exist anymore.
So now there’s this strange paper shuffling game where they’re trying to pretend that everything is still under control, and normal, and to parley that into some sort of physical advantage… the countries don’t matter anymore. The nation-state and sovereignty and things like that, it doesn’t matter any more… there are these transnational industrial and banking mafias that run the world and they don’t owe their allegiance to any one country.
And the leaders of the various countries get together and their job is to appease the people who actually make the decisions, not to make the decisions themselves.
Revolt in this situation amounts to turning down your lunch… So people are in no position to revolt. They’re completely dependent on this financial totalitarian scheme. There’s no opting out of it so there’s very little that people can do. Everywhere you go, there you are… No matter [where] I pick I’m staying on this planet…
The other point is that the Soviet Union has collapsed already, so [if I returned] I’d be moving to a post-collapse place.
Russia right now is a fairly strange country in a stable sort of way. By stable I mean it’ll hold together for a few more decades at least, because it’s so energy-rich and resource-rich. Not for any other reason.
I see that Soviet society had certain advantages in terms of surviving collapse, but it disintegrated in the course of that collapse… What we have now in Russia is this gonzo capitalism where oil and natural gas revenues filter in and through the economy through various kinds of kickbacks and graft and corruption and inflate this very urban, middle class, prosperous society which only comprises a small percentage of the overall population.
The rest of the country is going extinct. Russians as a people are going extinct. There will be fewer and fewer large cities. The countryside is largely devastated and empty. And on top of that there are lots of environmental disasters coming down that may make growing food in Russia as dicey a proposition as elsewhere. So Russia is slowly shriveling away as a country.
[also,] going to the United States is a one-way ticket for most people.
When you come to the United States you stop being whoever you started out as, and you become this amorphous “American” that doesn’t fit anywhere else in the world. A lot of what becoming American means is kind of leaving behind the obligatory cultural baggage, which is considered unnecessary in the United States. Oh, it’s still necessary wherever you came from. So you can’t go back there and say, “Well, you know, I left you behind, but here I am, take me back”. No, nobody’s going to take you back. And so it’s a one-way trip for everybody who comes here. Myself probably included.
Part of my preparation [for the future], is understanding that the political situation in the world at large and in the United States too, eventually, is going to devolve into something pretty nasty. To where people are getting held up at check points and the undesirables are herded away and I don’t want to be one of them.
So I’m not going to be a rebel and get shot. I don’t really want that to happen to me. So I’m not going to take part in any sort of futile organized rebellion or anything of that sort.
I know a lot of people who are starting little mini plantations and mini farms and growing their own foods. And yet they drive around like mad. If they were cut off from the gasoline supply, or if there were check points on the road where produce was confiscated, then they wouldn’t stand a chance. They just wouldn’t be able to survive, so the preparations are sort of status quo preparations. They’re sort of in this magic la-la land where, “We’re sort of preparing for something but once it occurs, how is it going to work?” I have no idea.
Lindsay: I feel that a lot. I feel a very palpable sense that something is happening, or is going to happen. That it’s inevitable. And yet everything is exactly as it ever was. So it’s kind of, there’s a quality of insanity to it. I’m aware that it’s all just a deluded thing around me, but I still get in my car to go to the gigantic supermarket to get some food. I’m writing again, and again, and again about issues that concern me, and it seems that the things I’m pointing to are untenable, they can’t possibly last. And yet they last and they last and they last. And I start to feel like, “Is this real?” And then I conclude, “Yes it is real, but why am I writing about it because nothing’s really happening”.
And it’s a really tough position I think, for people to be in, whether they’re actively working in the peak oil community, or whether they’re just a person who is kind of sensing that things aren’t all together right. But then the sun rises tomorrow and things look the same…
..I can also feel a sense of futility about certain preparations… I’ve got about four feet by about six feet in my front yard in two beds in which I can grow something and the sage and the chives and the basil that are out there aren’t going to feed me very much.
I’m enraged by the falseness of our government as well as the culture in so many ways that I can’t help but feel like it all needs to be ripped to shreds. And maybe that’s just my own thing. That’s just an aside. I’m not asking you a question there. I’m just rambling about my desire to have a revolution.
Dmitry: I think you’re too hard on American politicians because look at the people they’re governing. If you tried to rule these people you would probably end up just like them. It’s a completely thankless task unless you find some benefit in it for yourself. So the politicians are hard pressed to make it worth their while to be politicians.
I can commiserate with them about the quality of the populace because democracy is really for people who are capable of self-governance. Now Americans at large are not capable of self-governance. They expect to be protected from each other. They expect to be provided for. They expect for things to remain the same even when this doesn’t make any more sense. And those are their expectations. So they expect to be lied to. If you stop lying to Americans they would kill you. That is the bind that our national politicians are in and we should feel sorry for them.
Lindsay: I go back and forth. Is it the politicians? Is it the media? Is it the interface? Is it the people? And you know, it’s hard to unravel the cat’s cradle of insanity that the entire ball of yarn is. But I have to remain true to myself and for whatever reason I want to “overthrow” it.
Anyway, so what do you think of the Transition movement as a possible solution for communities or individuals?
Dmitry: Well it presupposes the idea that you can get there from here.
Part of what they try to do is this sort of incrementalist approach where you change one thing at a time. You do what’s doable. You open it up to society at large, and see what little thing can be done. What little token of activity is possible. Maybe grow a little corn, maybe open a bike lane, maybe put up a little wind generator somewhere. Whatever. Do a little carpooling.
But what if you can’t get there from here? What if post-collapse society doesn’t resemble this society in any way, shape or form?
What if you basically have to start out from the point of view of, “Well, most of you won’t make it?” There are situations like that that I’ve been in… attrition rate is 75%.”
Why is collapse supposed to be softer on people?
Now if you look at what’s happening to the young people now, not just in this country but around the world, two thirds of college graduates can’t find a job that they were supposedly training for. They can’t pay back their student loans. They’re dropping out of the system. It changes their world view. The idea that you’re going to work for worldly goods is out the window. There is basically a different value system that’s taking shape in little pockets of younger people around the world. Where what they’re interested in, what makes them interested in each other, is something that ideally we don’t know about. They’re creating their little hermetic societies and sects and cliques from which the older generation is going to be completely excluded.
You see this in American society, where older people can not talk to younger people. They’re afraid of them. There’s this incredible fear of youth that permeates American society. There’s this incredible urge to control young people, to structure their activities. To make sure they’re supervised at all times. Because there’s a split going on.
The older generations think they can live out their years the way they’ve been used to it. The younger generation wont have it. And that’s the truth about that. We’re going to be old and helpless surrounded by people who can’t relate to us.
Lindsay: But I sometimes look at those kids and wonder if this is the most ill-equipped generation to inherit this freaking chaos? Because they’re so used to sitting with their thumbs twiddling a mile a minute on texting and their computer communications and a sort of a disconnect from the world of real inputs. What do you think of youth inheriting this freaking chaos?
Dmitry: I think they’re perfectly well adjusted. Because there’s nothing to be done. There’s nothing to work towards. You know it’s a shrinking, a negative sum game. It’s going to be less and less from now on, poorer and poorer quality on a still very crowded planet. So the best you can do is distract yourself.
Which part of economy is doing well? Facebook, Twitter. Things that isolate you from physical reality as much as possible. Why? Because physical reality isn’t worth looking at anymore. We’re just going to escape into this artificial, electronic realm and that’ll be the endgame.
You can probably have three or four or five more Googles, maybe ten or a hundred more Googles, if you get rid of various bloated corporations with their useless servers. If you get rid of the US government with all of their spinning capacity.
Basically you can have economic growth in the promising areas by having economic collapse in the non-promising ones.
Imagine just how much capacity you suddenly create if you do away with the global automobile industry? Or if you suddenly make it impossible to have people fly to a vacation? Now, that is a very easy thing to do. So there’s a lot [that can] be sacrificed..
I think it’s fairly optimistic. I think it’s going to be a technological future that will include some people …the people who are extra smart and extra capable..will make it no matter what. Because there will always be those. You know it’s a very tenacious race that we have. And people are this invasive, weedy species that adapts to any circumstance. So I’m not worried about the survival of the human race.
Back in the U.S.S.R: around ’96 or so I really wanted to know why the Soviet Union collapsed. Because all of the rationales that were given, like… Americans for some reason thought that it had something to do with them. That’s untenable. So I tried to figure out why that happened. And I came upon research done by Campbell and Laherrère and Deffeyes and Jay Hanson and a few other people that totally made sense.
Now a few years before the collapse their oil production crashed because they exceeded the limits of their technology. At the same time they became very dependent on imports of consumer items and food from around the world, and so that needed foreign revenue which they got from natural gas and oil. During that time, as a coincidence, North Sea and Prudhoe Bay in Alaska came on stream and so the oil price went down to an all time historical low of about $10 a barrel. That bankrupted them.
So the combination of a shrinking industrial base because there was less and less oil, and less and less foreign revenue because the oil was selling at these rock bottom prices, basically doomed them. And they realized that pretty early on. The rest of it was just this sort of attempt to survive on the part of the Soviet elite, scrambling for position and resources. They weren’t trying to save the system at that point.
And basically the leading indicator was the fall in oil production, then the GDP fell, then coal and natural gas production fell as well. And then there was a run on effect where there was a secondary stage of destruction.
Now, transferring that to the United States, well, it’s sort of a treadmill where things get worse and worse and worse over time, and what dooms it eventually is when global oil peaks. Because you can import your way out of a local peak, but you can not import your way out of a global peak. It hits everyone at the same time.
Essentially that is the end game for the United States as well. Less oil means a smaller economy. But the financial requirements are still the same and some of the physical requirements are still the same. That is the undoing that we’re witnessing right now.
Lindsay: We sort of covered this a bit, but it certainly sounds like you don’t think most people in America even have a clue. The thought being that Americans think this only happens to people in other countries. For most Americans it’s not even on the radar. What do you foresee if things converge in such a way that there’s a harsh comedown, how ugly do you think things could get in the US, citizen to citizen?
Dmitry: As ugly as it is [right now].
If you want to see ugly go to Flint, Michigan. Go to Detroit. There’s lots of places in the rust belt that they’re really post-collapse already. And there’s more and more of them every year. We’re losing entire cities. It’s an ongoing process. And it’s very, very ugly. People get killed. A lot of people don’t survive. A lot of people’s lives get ruined. So that’s happening. It’s not something we look forward to in the future. It’s happening today. So we’re not talking about some fictional realm that only exits in the future. We’re talking about this country today.
You can sort of separate Americans into polite society and not-so-polite society.
But in polite society there’s a definite limit to what people will deal with. They have this basic idea that “everything is going to be alright.” You have no right to tell them otherwise. They won’t listen to you if you do. If you don’t believe that “everything is going to be alright” there’s something wrong with you. You need to be medicated or something. You need therapy. You’re not optimistic enough to join polite society.
And then there are the people who never stood a chance in that realm at all. They’re just living their lives however they can. They’re deeply flawed. Their lives are in some sense ruined already by this environment that they’ve been in. And nothing is ever going to be alright for them.
So there’s this internal shunning process that goes in this country, where we have the normal people and then we have the people who have “problems”.
Well a lot of people just don’t put up with that at all. I realize that that’s going on and so there’s a built-in filter for the “How are you? – Fine” sort of people. So it’s like they’re not real. They’re fake.
But you know I could walk down the street and find somebody who’s probably going to be black or Latino, who’s NOT like that. AT ALL! And never has been.
I just know that certain types of interactions are very standard and at the same time not very useful. It’s sort of like dealing with livestock—
Dmitry: Well, I like sheep too much [to say that].
There’s this thing called, some people call it “Weird Old America.” It’s the stuff that doesn’t fit in. It’s the stuff that never stood a chance. But it’s still around, because it works. And so if you’re a part of that anywhere, then you might stand a chance with it.
It’s the United States of Generica that’s really doomed.
I’ve lived on a boat for a couple of years, on the water you don’t pay rent per-se. You rent a marina slip but that’s not very expensive. So it’s kind of an interesting way to escape the whole real estate and rental racket in this country where people have this deluded notion that housing is an asset. Housing is a cost. It’s just warehousing people. You’re paying to store people – how’s that an asset?
Lindsay: Just making rent is back-breaking in this country. So it takes up a good part of that energy in terms of how we can engage with our society and culture. So what’s your take on how that’s affecting us as things are getting more dicey?
Dmitry: I think that there’s the standard pattern of inhabiting the landscape, which is the detached ticky-tacky house with a driveway. So that’s the thing to get rid of. There’s this iron triangle of House-Car-Job, and the entire landscape is structured so you have to have all three or your life falls apart. People have to be creative in escaping from there.
One promising direction [for the dispossessed poor] is indoor camping. You wouldn’t want to live in an abandoned commercial building(of which millions dot the landscape in the United States), right? But if you bribe the right people and gain access, officially, semi officially, or whatever, you might be able to pitch a tent inside. You might even get that tent heated during the winter, a little propane heater. You might put in a water collection and filtration system. A composting toilet. Outfit it. Start a whole village. You know, protected from the elements until the roof caves in. But that’s how people will have to deal with it once the whole Real-Estate racket really degenerates.
Because this housing stock that has been built up in this country is really unmaintainable. It’ll cave in on itself anyway. It’s just like little puff balls of vinyl siding and drywall and what have you, and it’s just not going to last. But there will be fairly substantial commercial buildings, because commercial real estate is so overbuilt, that people will be able to squat in and will be able to call home for periods of time. So people have to open up their minds and realize that, you know, different landscape, different country.
But it’s a very substantial percentage of the population that’s jobless, long term unemployed, no place to live, living in cars or shelters or camping-grounds. New York state has recently even introduced a program where they’ll be increasing the number of campgrounds because there’s such a huge homeless population. I’ve visited some campgrounds that really have the feel of long term kind of unofficial communities. So more and more of that is happening.
Lindsay: What do you think is going to come down the pike with the US? How do you think the US government will respond as oil supplies tighten, prices rise and the economy weakens further? Pointing guns at us? Herding us up? Business as usual?
Dmitry: They’ll probably do some inane sorts of Homeland Defense initiative type things. Because that is sort of on autopilot. Until that runs out of money it will continue doing incredibly stupid things. Just becoming basically more and more invasive in people’s lives for no good reason. For this myth of safety. So they’ll continue to pursue that. A lot of the system is just this sort of automaton, running amok, executing a program that no longer makes any sense.
But in terms of the politicians themselves, you know, they know that they have to lie, right? So the only real competition is in how well you lie and what new lies you come up with when the old lies stop working. They’ll continue doing that until somebody turns the lights off and the cameras off. Basically while there’s a camera pointed at them they’ll continue doing it.
So I think that collapse has its own momentum and its own requirements and it will take shape… [although] the faster this pustule is pierced, the more hope for the patient. It is like lancing a boil. It may be an unsightly process but the sooner it happens the better for everyone.
I tried something and it works and I advocate other middle aged men do it as well. Retire immediately. Just drop it. Go to work: Resign.
And then make whatever adjustments are needed considering that you’re not going to have much of an income. Have a little bit of an income. But get rid of the mortgage, obviously. Get rid of the car. If the family can’t deal with it, that’s their problem.
Just shirk off. See where that takes you. How that changes your life. Wait a couple of years and then go back to work. But a reset like that will just completely change your perspective. [funnily enough – that is exactly what I have just done, by accident rather than design, but still… ~R ]
Most of the people who are in the danger zone as far as I’m concerned are ready to just basically work until retirement and then die shortly thereafter. And chances are their career won’t even hold together that long. That is becoming a rarity, too. But the thing that gets them most depressed is just the complete thanklessness of being plugged into something that they don’t believe in.
The only word of caution there is you do actually have to drop your burn rate. Some people… they’re just burning through their reserve. So that’s pretty important. [yeah, that was me too ~R ]
[ Extra reading ]
The solution is simple: we tell the truth.
The Orwellian bumper sticker tells us: “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
Whenever we encounter a lie, we respond with the truth. From local neighborhoods to the White House, in the coffee shop or city council chambers, we never let a lie pass unchallenged. This accomplishes two goals: we raise the consciousness of all within reach, and we challenge those who lie to us and expect to get away with it.
Thus the revolution begins.
~ Michael A. Lewis, Transition Voice
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