Archive for January, 2013

Please Place Your Order for The Five Stages of Collapse


This book has been five years in the making, and now I am finally in a position to finish the job and put a copy directly in your hands. I will even sign it. I have contracted with a fulfillment center to promptly ship out copies of The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors\’ Toolkit as soon as they come off the press in early May. By popular demand, I have also added an option to let you order an autographed, numbered copy, for a little extra. The book will eventually filter out to various online bookstores and maybe even a few actual real ones, but it will take a few months for that to happen, and half a year or so until a few of your dollars trickle down to me. But if you pre-order the book directly from me, then I get paid first, and in return I will personally see to it that your copy is included in the very first print run and that you get it in May. Your direct support is very important: it is what will allow me to continue blogging and writing books. Thank you.

Regular price $18.00 USD Autographed, numbered copy $28.00 USD

Please note: Although the order is placed through PayPal, you don\’t need to have a PayPal account; just click \”Don\’t have a PayPal Account?\” during check-out and enter a credit or debit card number. Also, please make extra-double-sure that the shipping address associated with your PayPal account is up-to-date and correct, and will remain that way through May. If you do submit an order with an incorrect address, write to me and I will issue a refund so you that can resubmit it.

Book Announcement: The Five Stages of Collapse

Starting next Tuesday and for the next three months this book will be available for pre-order right on this blog. (It will also be available elsewhere, but on terms that don\’t come close to making book-writing a sustainable proposition, so if you want me to keep writing you should get the book directly from me.) As the publication date nears, I will also be publishing some excerpts. [Minor note: there has been some confusion regarding the book\’s subtitle; please ignore it.]
This book is based on the identically titled article I published on this blog in February of 2008, just as financial collapse was starting to gather steam. Since then, this article has been read nearly 100,000 times on this blog alone (it has been reposted on many other web sites) and it is its enduring popularity that has convinced me to write a book-length treatment.
In this article, I proposed a taxonomy of collapse, splitting it out into five stages—financial, commercial, political, social and cultural—and tied each of the five collapse stages to the breaching of a specific level of trust, or faith, in the status quo. Although each stage causes physical, observable changes in the environment, these can be gradual, while the mental flip is generally quite swift, because it is something of a cultural universal that nobody (but a real fool) wants to be the last fool to believe in a lie.
Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.

A casual perusal of history books will show that these various stages of collapse occur with great regularity. Unlike other animals, humans have a marked tendency to form complex social hierarchies which never endure because collapse is programmed into the very nature of complex social hierarchies. In fact, the first three stages can often be viewed as healthy developments.
For instance, a prompt collapse of the current financial/commercial/political scheme, which is wedded to the fatally flawed concept of infinite economic growth on a finite planet, would be most welcome, for it would give humanity a new lease on life—by leaving to the future generations a planet that is less than 100% despoiled and poisoned by industry. There are countless books that describe the predicament of industrial civilization in accurate and compelling detail, but they ruin the effect by containing certain telltale turns of phrase: “Unless we…” and “We must…” This book is not one of them. Here, the reader is being asked to take it as read that collapse will occur, and, instead of wasting time on what “we” must “do” about it, describes what each stage of collapse entails and what adaptations and coping mechanisms have proven effective in attempting to survive its consequences.
The description of each stage of collapse is accompanied by a case study that details what a successful adaptation to that stage of collapse looks like:
  • In the case of financial collapse, the example is Iceland—the only country so far that has successfully fought off international efforts to saddle its people with the debts incurred by its defunct private banks, allowing it to recover economically even as the US and the EU, which bailed out their failed banks, continue to sink deeper and deeper.
  • Commercial collapse is shown as seen through the eyes of the Russian mafia and criminal syndicates, explaining how “the free market,” in order to be able to operate, requires, at the very least, a protection racket, be it the mafia or the government. For those weaned on the pablum of nonviolence, this case study offers a useful lesson on the constructive uses of violence.
  • Political collapse as a steady state condition is explored through the example of the Pashtuns—one of the world\’s largest ethnic groups inhabiting parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan—whose code of honor (Pashtunwali, or the Pashtun Way) has allowed them to fight off (and, in some cases, help destroy) every empire that had ever blundered into their habitat. (They are known to the consumers of Western propaganda primarily as the Taleban.) The Pashtuns allow us to clearly see the dividing line between a hierarchical, imperialist, collapse-bound society and a steady-state, entrenched, well-organized anarchy.
  • Social collapse—or, rather, a very stable lack thereof—is studied with reference to the Roma, or Gypsies, who have survived intact over many centuries and who now number in the millions both in Europe and the US in spite of being shut out financially, commercially and politically in every country they inhabit. This case study allows us to ponder what it means to be marginalized, for to be marginalized by a collapse-bound society can be a blessing in disguise.
  • Cultural collapse is explored with the help of the Ik, an African tribe of hunter-gatherers who, once they were prevented from hunting and gathering, survived by mutating into a cultural form that we may not wish to recognize as human—yet they persist. The Ik allow us to explore an important question: Is survival at all cost really worth it?
In the interest of avoiding misunderstandings, it bears repeating that this is not a “Unless we…” book or a “We must…” book. If you are looking for a book that will tell you how to keep nine plus billion people alive in a carbon-neutral way, you are bound to be disappointed. Also, this book is likely to test the limits of your mental comfort zone, because you will, in the course of reading it, discover that the people who stand the greatest chance of surviving collapse do not resemble you socially or culturally. You might find it difficult to find common ground with them, or to respect them, initially. But looking back upon yourself, it may occur to you that you don\’t stand much of a chance if you remain who you are, and that you yourself would do well to try to change your outlook, your habits and the company you keep. You might even find yourself taking a small yet significant first step in that direction; and if you do that, then this book will have achieved its purpose.

The Ecology of Hell

The End of Fun

A few days ago I went to the St. Petersburg State Hermitage, again, this time to see a rather extraordinary exhibit. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a work by Jake and Dinos Chapman, two English artists. Titled The End of Fun, it is an elaborate tableau of hell, carved up into nine rectangular sub-tableaux, each piece placed in a glass case. (It is a recreation of a previous work, titled Hell, which was lost in a warehouse fire.) The glass cases are, in turn, arranged in the shape of a swastika. The effect of viewing each one is like that of peering into a terrarium in some sort of menagerie where the animals—at the time the clock stopped—were busy torturing and killing each other in maximally cruel and unusual, highly ritualized and choreographed ways.

The animals in question are all miniatures: all are somewhere in the neighborhood of 2-3cm tall. There are Nazi soldiers, some in uniform and wearing helmets, some in various stages of deshabillé, sans trousers especially. There are also animated blackened skeletons wearing Nazi helmets and armed with spears. The skeletons play the role of prison wardens, herding the Nazi soldiers along and doing a wide variety of unspeakably cruel things to them (which the soldiers seem to tolerate with reasonably good cheer). There are also mutants. These are naked human forms with extra heads, torsos, legs and limbs. One mutant in particular stands bent over and has an arm protruding from its anus which is tensed in a snappy military salute (and it occurred to me that this is a most proper way give a military salute, although a bit challenging for us non-mutants). There are also pigs, goats, cows, rats, dogs and vultures.
In spite of the diminutive size of the actors, the work is monumental in scope. There is a cast of thousands, all of it very actively disporting itself in an orgy of violence. Some of the action is grotesque, some comic, but all of it is quite bloody and gory. The sight is, at first, overwhelming, but after becoming acculturated to the phenomenon of Chapmans\’ work it begins to seem almost quaint. I hope they don\’t hate me for saying this, but after a while I began to see their work as conventional, representational and a bit old-fashioned. It reminded me of Hieronymus Bosch and of medieval German wooden statues and crucifixes: gaunt Jesuses twisting in pain, with festering stigmata and rivulets of blood dripping down their faces from the crowns of thorns puncturing their skin.
But I think the Chapmans go far beyond such older portrayals of hell, because their work is devoid of simplistic moral content: there is no identifiable sin and there is no identifiable punishment—just the curious and multifaceted ebb and flow of hellish existence. The motivations of the various actors remain inscrutable, beyond being able to state the obvious: they are what they do. This is not an unreasonable view of humanity. After all, we can see that popes roll around in popemobiles and bless things, that politicians lie and shake hands, that basketball players dribble while boxers try to punch each other in the head. Why they do these things is obvious: they are defined by their behaviors, just as Chapmans\’ skeletons, Nazi soldiers and mutants.
To point this out, as Chapmans have done, is far more significant, and accurate, than any moralistic statement or commentary could be. It could be said that our world resembles hell because people are defined by what they do: financiers create more debt even though we are already drowning in it; Western militaries pursue self-defeating campaigns to bomb and occupy foreign lands; industry burns more coal, oil and natural gas and produces ever more plastics and toxic chemicals even though we already know that these actions are killing us. To make this point, the Chapmans specifically chose to make use of worn-out concepts: Nazism, Christianity (their landscape is studded with crucifixes; nailed to them are Nazis, some naked from the waste down, and pigs) and… the clown Ronald McDonald, the unfunny, litigious, corporate champion of bad food who can\’t understand why he is evil.
The exhibit at the State Hermitage got off to a rocky start. Christians were scandalized and insulted, thinking that crucified Nazis and pigs insulted their religion. Others were up in arms over the use of Nazi symbolism. I am not sure how the Chapmans fought off the lawyers of McDonalds corporation, but apparently they did. Stephen Hawking, whose mostly disembodied brain contemplates the mysteries of the universe in a shack on an island on the outskirts of hell probably wasn\’t pleased either. Lawsuits were filed, and dismissed, the prerogatives of art were defended, and the show went on. What the Chapmans in effect did (inadvertently, I would think) was create their own sideshow of miscreants who have no capacity for art and are insulted by it, to serve as a free publicity machine for their work. There is never any shortage of people wanting to be insulted. The use of insult in advertising and marketing art seems to have a bright future.
The Chapmans venture into new territory by synthesizing a detailed vision of how hell functions as a system, complete with structure and function. Taking a pass through the various reviews of Chapmans\’ work, I have not found a single instance of anyone attempting a structural analysis of it. That is, while the Chapmans have created a detailed, synthetic model of hell and how it might function, nobody seems to be particularly interested in the details of that functioning. My time was too limited to undertake a full analysis of it, but here are some patterns that stood out.
The currency and feedstock of the entire operation seems to consist of severed human heads. These are exhibited on spikes which stud the landscape in wild profusion, some wearing Nazi helmets, some not. They are also arranged into piles and packed into oil drums. They are used as a feedstock to manufacture Hitlers: there is an underground factory of sorts which transforms severed heads into Hitlers, which emerge completely formed with beige uniforms and swastika armbands like Aphrodite out of sea-foam or like the orcs in the Lord of the Rings. The Hitlers serve a ritual function: there is a procession of Volkswagen Beetles (which are pushed; very little of the industrial machinery littering the landscape of hell appears operational) and each one has a Hitler in the passenger seat delivering a Hitlergruß. Human heads are also eaten by cows, which give birth to the skeletons, which, armed with spears, herd the Nazis around. The skeletons are birthed into existence by the cows, then proceed into a church where some sort of initiation ritual is performed involving a cauldron of blood. They then proceed to their various tasks, such as crucifying Nazis.
These patterns make it easy to see and explain (in a rather unusual sense of that word) what goes on in the Chapmans\’ hell. But at the center of hell stands a mystery: a volcanic or nuclear explosion of some sort, where a drama of death and rebirth is enacted. In and out of the caldera stream masses of humanity (if it can be called that). In stream processions of Nazis; out stream processions of mutants and skeletons. I did not have a chance to contemplate this mystery in detail, but it appeared to me that while the skeletons and the Nazis continuously stream into hell from its outer margins—the Nazis in procession, the skeletons as an amphibious assault force floating in on oil barrels—the mutants issue forth from the caldera.
One of the nine cases contains a scene that is, more so than the rest them, a scene of truly unspeakable carnage. It contains all of the usual elements—the heads on spikes, the skeletons, the Nazis, the mutants, various animals and bits of wreckage, but these are arranged rather homogeneously. The scene is reminiscent of how a half-eaten plate of loaded nachos might look near the end of a drunken frat party. All and sundry are still actively at it, torturing, molesting and slaughtering each other, but unlike the highly organized patterns of the other scenes, the action in this one is one of undifferentiated mayhem. Even hell, it would appear, is not immune from the laws of thermodynamics and, as it runs its course, it reaches a high level of entropy.
One of the largest failures we face as we peer uncertainly into the future is a failure of imagination. People still keep talking about whether the future is Mad Max or Waterworld. Artists like the Chapmans are there to help us. Let us internalize their message as we move forward, machine-like, with our meaningless, self-destructive, environmentally harmful lives. Sartre pointed out that hell is other people; the Chapmans, I think, took it one step further and pointed out that hell is me and you.

Interview on Business Matters


In this interview, recorded late last year, I discuss the differences in orientation between Russia, which is changing perhaps too swiftly, and the US, which remains stuck in the past. I also talk about community, and about lack of it, and what it means to live among people who insist on their right to remain strangers and who expect nothing from each other or their public officials. I also mention the force behind American political and social stasis: the desperate wish for a future that resembles the past—the American equivalent of Soviet nostalgia.

The Image of the Enemy

During my brief winter sojourn in Russia a tiny cold war has erupted between Russia and the USA. First, Mitt Romney calls Russia “our number one enemy” during the presidential election campaign. Then, after the election, the US passes the “Magnitsky Act” which promises to arrest funds and deny visas to certain Russian officials based on a secret list. The Russian legislature then responds with the “Dima Yakovlev Bill,” named after a Russian boy who died of heat stroke after his American adoptive parents left him locked in a car for nine hours. In addition to vaguely symmetric retaliatory measures, this bill bans Americans from adopting Russian orphans. This last little add-on may initially seem rather daft as state policy, but it has some interesting properties as Russian propaganda, of which you may not be aware. Although from the US perspective this move has an inane “…or I will shoot my dog” element to it, spun around the other way it makes it look as if valiant Russian politicians are trying to stop American fiends from torturing and killing innocent Russian orphans.

Because, as you probably already know, that\’s what Americans are generally known to do: they torture (Abu Ghraib) and kill (60 thousand dead Syrians in that American-inspired régime change operation so far). They allow massacres of children (Sandy Hook Elementary School) and then, in a show of solidarity with the murderer, they run out and buy up the weapon (Bushmaster assault rifle) owned by the maniac who massacred the children. They invade and destabilize countries and overthrow governments (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya). They also hold the dubious distinction of being the only country to ever drop nuclear bombs on civilians (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) and did that not even as a matter of national survival but more as a matter of convenience. And then they have the gall to lecture other countries about human rights! Obnoxious, are they not?
It should be easy to see why the anti-American button is an easy one for a Russian politician to push. Interestingly, though, pushing this button doesn\’t seem to achieve much of anything, and this is something that requires an explanation. To get one relatively obvious reason out of the way: the Soviets painted the Americans as the “imperialist aggressor,” and this rhetorical device wore out along with the rest of the Soviet system. A slightly less obvious reason is that many Russians are still plagued with self-loathing, as a hold-over from the national humiliation of the Soviet collapse, and, seeing their own country in an overwhelmingly negative light, automatically entertain entirely unfounded rosy notions about the United States.
But an even more subtle and more powerful reason is this: Russia is busy becoming rather US-like in lifestyle and in social organization, and foreign relations are a hindrance to the smooth running of this process. Russians now watch American TV shows (dubbed into Russian), they lap up American-style marketing and advertising, they have bought into the SUV craze, they like to shop at the new malls and big box stores, to eat out almost every night, and some (those who can afford it) are even embracing the concept of suburban sprawl by erecting mansions in places that are a long drive from city centers. Many of them want to travel to the US, or even to move there, to better soak up even more of the profligate US lifestyle (which fewer and fewer Americans can still afford). What made the Magnitsky Act effective to the point of stirring Russian politicians to action is that they really like the idea of being able to travel to the US, invest in Miami real estate, send their children to overpriced US colleges and universities and so on. It is an effective way to put pressure on them—not to stop mistreating people in detention, like Magnitsky, mind you, but to capitulate to American/transnational corporate interests. But in this the Russian politicians are conflicted: they like having access to the US, but having it would mean nothing if they weren\’t rich. In turn, the reason they are rich is because, under Putin, Russia has stood up to foreign interests and curbed the power of foreign companies in the crucial oil and gas business. And for this the US officialdom will never forgive them. Post-Soviet Russia was supposed to become an impoverished banana republic ruled by a pliant Western-controlled élite and serve as a playground for Western corporations, its mineral wealth there for the taking. The fact that this has failed to happen (largely thanks to Vladimir Putin) is an affront to everything the US stands for and holds sacred.
This, by the way, explains the nature of the US campaign to vilify Putin. He has been singled out for painting with the archvillain brush not because he is a ruthless dictator (the world is full of ruthless dictators that the US likes very much and actively supports, provided they play ball). The reason is that Putin, of all the national leaders out there, actually gave a reasoned, principled response to attempts at foreign political and corporate domination of Russia: something he has called “sovereign democracy.” Now, the word “democracy” gets thrown around a lot but means ever so little (more on that in a moment) but the word “sovereign” actually does carry a meaning: there is a rather short list of nation-states that one can still call fully sovereign, and all of them are, in the eyes of the Washington régime, pariah states: Iran, North Korea, Libya and Syria (formerly). They are all on the Washington\’s target list for régime change. Russia is actually big and powerful enough to be able to walk a fine line between being Washington\’s indispensable partner and guarantor of regional stability and a pariah state, and American vacillation between treating Russia as a friend or an enemy is reflective of its ambiguous position.
Now, on the question of democracy, Western media have tried their best to paint the recent Russian presidential election as riddled with fraud and therefore illegitimate. Like having the Supreme Court effectively annul election results and appoint the president by court order… oh wait, wrong country. In fact, in the elections last autumn, Putin was elected president by a landslide (he\’s popular, you see) for a third term, after sitting out a term as prime minister, per Russian constitution. As Putin himself pointed out, if he were a tyrant, he could have just changed the constitution. Sure, there was plenty of ballot-stuffing and other irregularities, but the more important point is that none of the other candidates posed a viable alternative to Putin, making the question of whether one likes him or not rather moot. Reminds me of another election that took place last autumn: Obama got reelected because Romney turned out to be a bit too much of a scoundrel. He is a corporate hostile takeover artist by trade, and apparently the US isn\’t quite ready yet for a corporate hostile takeover. (But let\’s check back in four years.) The other non-option was the third-party candidate Ron Paul. Now, there is an eerie similarity between these alternatives to Obama: apparently, they are all Ayn Randians.
Ayn Rand was a mediocre Russian-born novelist whose quest in life was to propagandize free market capitalism (as if that were something that one ever needs to do) and to denigrate all other forms of social organization. She stood firm against all forms of mutual aid and social support that could not be effected via the unfettered free market. The avowed free marketeers Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan definitely had Ayn Randian leanings, and it is hardly an accident that “Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan” is an anagram for “My Ultimate Ayn Rand Porn.” And what about that other non-option, Ron Paul? What did he choose to name his son? That\’s right, “Rand.” Now, for me, fervent passion for the works of Ayn Rand has served as an accurate litmus test for a mediocre mind. The best that Ayn Rand\’s thinking can offer is a way of getting in touch with one\’s “inner asshole”: if you are the sort of person who is driven to distraction by the idea that somebody somewhere might be getting a free lunch at public expense, Ayn Rand is there to help you nurture such feelings. Ayn Rand is beloved of America\’s self-styled “libertarians.” The real Libertarians were socialists, but Americans have a way of borrowing words they don\’t know and then using them to mean things they don\’t understand, like saying “football” instead of “hand-egg” and then having to say “soccer” instead of “football,” never mind that the entire world finds this unintelligent and impolite. As the character Inigo Montoya put it in the film The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
So here we have a country in severe crisis (the United States) holding an important election, which should, theoretically, be over whether it should stay on course of runaway debt and government spending, or to reinvent itself and so to avoid national bankruptcy and collapse. And it turns out that all the opposition candidates it can field happen to be followers of a mediocre methamphetamine-addled Russian novelist. Now, let me ask you this: does this pathetic excuse for a democracy still have the right to lecture others about democratic governance? Perhaps the wounded beast of American democracy would be better off finding a dark place to go and lick its wounds for a couple of years.
* * *
In case you are somewhat gullible and still think that the Magnitsky Act has something to do with defending human rights, let\’s see if I can disabuse you of this spurious notion. Magnitsky died in pretrial detention, where he was placed on charges of tax fraud. He didn\’t get the medical treatment he needed. He was an accountant doing jail-time in Russia, some say, in place of his Western clients. It is therefore beneficial, from a Western perspective, to make him look like a victim of human rights abuse, because otherwise it may turn out that he was shielding crooked Western financial manipulators (who, you may have observed, are legion), and then those crooks would be brought to light, and so on. It is very important to American politicians that the financial crooks (like Jon Corzine, formerly of MF Global) remain at large and continue stuffing the politicians\’ campaign finance coffers with their ill-gotten gains. Any attempt to prosecute them, anywhere in the world, sets off alarms in Washington.
Let me bring up another high-profile case of an individual who died in detention after being denied medical treatment: the former president of Serbia Slobodan Milošević. He died while waiting for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to reach a verdict in his case. Now, Magnitsky was a crooked accountant doing the bidding of law-breaking Western clients, while Milošević was the leader of a once-proud nation that NATO decided to humiliate and bomb into submission as a proxy for Russia (Russia and Serbia are historical allies, but, at the time, Russia was at its weakest and could do little to help). Now, I didn\’t notice any laws being enacted to specifically bar those responsible for Milošević\’s death from entering the US or to freeze their bank accounts; why do you think that is? Is it perhaps because Americans have different standards when it comes to human rights—one for those they like, the other for those they don\’t? If you believe that, then you probably also believe that bears defecate in the woods and that popes have balconies. Perhaps the “Magnitsky Act” should have been called “No Crooked Accountant Left Behind”?
* * *
Back to the Russian orphans: there are certainly a lot of them. Their numbers surged in the wake of the the collapse of the USSR, which caused a great deal of social disruption, especially in the outlying regions and single-factory industrial cities. The orphan population is not as large as it was after World War II, but it is an unfortunate situation nevertheless, especially since the orphanages could be a lot better funded. If wealthy Americans wanted to help Russian orphans, the could certainly do so without adopting them—unless, of course, they are Ayn Randians who turn livid at the idea that somewhere in the world there might be an orphan enjoying a free lunch at government expense. In fact, squandering resources on repeated travel to Russia, local legal representation, immigration filings and (since many of the orphans are in need of medical care) the ridiculously overpriced American medics is far from efficient. It would be far more efficient to help those orphans right where they are.
Better yet, why not adopt an American orphan instead? There is no shortage of these either. The majority of American children is born into poverty, and a fair number of these end up as wards of the state, stuck in long-term foster care. Rather than adopt a child from across the world, why not adopt one from one town over? The reason is simple: the children that are available for adoption are mostly Black or Latino while the Russian children are as white as can be. Racism in America has a storied history, but over the past hundred-some years one of its main forms of expression has been the so-called war on drugs. The initial enactment of the drug laws was accompanied by racist rhetoric: opium was first banned in 1875, to keep the Chinese from luring white women into opium dens and having sex with them (while opiates used by the whites remained legal). Cocaine was banned to keep “Negro cocaine fiends” from attacking white women in the South. Marijuana was seen as a peculiarly Mexican predilection, and the cause of Mexican lawlessness. This was many decades ago, but even today the majority of drug users are white (the US has the world\’s largest illegal drug market) but because drug laws are enforced in a peculiarly race-sensitive way, the majority of those in jail for drug offenses are Black or Latino. (Here is a write up on the subject from a retired American judge.) Thus it is that Americans are eager to fly across the world and adopt a foreign child, no expense spared, rather than adopt an American child from down the road who has been orphaned by their very own “war on drugs.” And this brings us to a rather pointed question: why should Russian state policy condone, aid and abet such blatant racism—with regard to orphans, no less? Is it not better to take this opportunity to shine a light on the gaping chasm between what Americans say and what Americans do?
* * *
The American tendency to see Russia as the enemy is largely an overhang from the Cold War era. Most Americans don\’t even have a passport and have little firsthand knowledge of the outside world, but have been heavily propagandized to hate the evil Russian Commies. The USSR has been gone for over two decades, but the propaganda is still being recycled, with what was once an ideologically motivated economic and military standoff between two of the world\’s superpowers slowly degenerating into plain old ethnic bigotry. The US badly needs an enemy, but with the disappearance of the USSR the American propaganda machine has been reduced to barking at its own shadow. You see, Russia just doesn\’t make a good nemesis. It may still be big, and it is becoming quite rich and prosperous, but it has no interest at all in destroying America. It just wants to buy a piece of it. As an image of the enemy, Russia simply doesn\’t fit.
According to Sigmund Freud\’s doctrine of small differences, in order to create an effective image of the enemy one has to start with something quite similar to oneself. The mechanism is simple: if the Other is sufficiently similar to you, then you can successfully project all the things you don\’t like about yourself onto the Other while denying that you are like that at all. But if there are hardly any grounds for comparison, then this self-delusional tactic doesn\’t work. Red Sox fans can hate the Yankees, but they can\’t hate the Zimbabwean Cricket Team, don\’t know who to cheer when they play Bangladesh, and can\’t understand what happened when told that one of them won by 130 runs on day five of the test. And so the damn Yankees make a good enemy while the Zim cricketers do not. The problem is, with the collapse of the USSR, Americans have been left alone on planet Earth with nobody to square off against, so they\’ve been trying to get a rise out of Russia ever since, and failing.
The problem is that at this point Russia is about as opaque to Americans as Zim cricket is to Red Sox fans. If you want evidence of this fact, take a look at this recent report from the National Intelligence Council. Titled “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds” it lists some two dozen countries at risk of collapse—and not a single former Soviet republic among them. It shows trendlines for various countries; for Russia—it\’s a flatline. There are lots of qualitative statements about Russia (Russians drink a lot, etc.) but as far as an actual forecast of any sort at all—not a bloody sausage! You\’d think that they had tried to come up with something—anything at all—on Russia, but the best they were able to deliver is a resounding “dunno.”
Since the National Intelligence Council happens to be so unintelligent on the question of Russia, let me try to plug the gap. The major similarity between the USA and Russia comes down to just one thing: the corrupting influence of free money. For the US, the free money comes from the ability to borrow abroad in their own currency, the US dollar, because it remains (for now) the world\’s reserve currency, although this particular joyride has been slowing down of late and could stop rather suddenly. For Russia, the free money comes from the ability to export natural gas to a captive market in Europe—a quirk of geology rather than a creature of finance, and since I don\’t buy into the hype about fracking, it is one that is unlikely to go away any time soon. As I tell my Russian friends, they won\’t have America to kick around for much longer. (And they look at me in amazement; I suppose the ignorance is mutual.)
As far as America\’s missing image of the enemy, the lesson is a hard one: you are on your own. Nobody wants to destroy you (especially since you are doing such a bang-up job of it yourself). Nobody wants to play with you and nobody wants to play against you. To figure out why that is, go lock yourself in the bathroom and spend a long while looking at yourself in the mirror, because at this point your image of the enemy is nothing but a reflection of you.

Out of Ideas

It\’s the first of the year, which is a traditional time for prognosticators to do some prognosticating. Since I have already explained at length why it is quite possible to accurately predict that something will eventually happen, but near-impossible to predict when it will happen (due to total lack of relevant data on which to base such predictions) I won\’t repeat myself here. Nor will I offer any predictions as to the timing of various stages of collapse. (I know that the USA will collapse politically, financially and commercially, but I don\’t know when; nor does anyone else.) Instead, I would like to point out what I think is unlikely to happen in 2013: I find it unlikely that this will be the year when the various elites running the show here (elected and unelected officials, academic authorities, corporations, think-tanks, mass media, etc.) will admit defeat: “The financial collapse of 2008 was the end of an era. What came before cannot be brought back. We have been pretending that it can be brought back for half a decade, but now we give up. Let\’s let the whole house of cards fall down, so that we can start over.” Do you see any of them rising up and saying something like that? I don\’t.
There are a few of reasons why everyone wants to maintain the pretense. The first is that they are out of ideas: a state of affairs that one writer characterized as turbo-paralysis. The second is that doing so would mean admitting defeat—a career-ending move that nobody wants to take until circumstances force their hand, which they haven\’t yet. A third, even simpler reason is that they want to continue spending their loot, and to do that they have to keep up the pretense that this loot, consisting as it does of nothing more than paper, is worth something. A somewhat more complex motivation has to do with the sorts of thoughts they are capable of entertaining. They are all highly trained and specialized in pursuing certain agendas: protecting a certain constituency, or sticking to well-defined set of talking points that elicit the intended set of reactions within an electorate that\’s been conditioned like so many Pavlov\’s dogs.
The cost of maintaining the pretense is straightforward: continued deterioration in the moribund status quo; more and more people, young and old, left behind; entire communities in distress; places destroyed by natural disasters abandoned rather than rebuilt; more and more people going after fewer and fewer resources that are still being made available to those in need. It is a rolling collapse affecting one person, one family, one community at a time. It\’s what we have been seeing since 2008, and there is no reason to think that this will not continue for a while yet. Still, how much do you think is “a while”? When I arrived in Russia in the summer of 1990, I asked my uncle a simple question: “So, how much longer before the Bolsheviks give up?” He responded with a vulgar but very funny joke, which I translate as follows: “Do you know what\’s with the Soviet Dildo? Well, it still buzzes, but it doesn\’t vibrate any more.” (Here\’s the ruder, and funnier, Russian original version: “Что такое советская жужжалка для жопы?—Жужжит, а в жопу не лезет.”) And, sure enough, less than two years later the Soviet Dildo stopped buzzing too. Perhaps you\’ve realized this already on your own, but in case you haven\’t: I do believe that the American Dildo has stopped vibrating some time ago. The remaining question is, When will it also stop buzzing? What do you think?
While it\’s still buzzing, don\’t expect official recognition of the problems we all face. Don\’t expect American society as a whole to mount a meaningful response to its challenges. Do expect it to continue to deteriorate. But I hope that you can do better than wait for the rich and the powerful to finish eating what\’s left of the country and the planet out from under you. That is why I wrote a book, which is being edited and is due off the press on May 1st, with the title “The Five Stages of Collapse: A Do-It-Yourself Guide.” Make a note of the subtitle. This book is meant as an antidote to life in the age of turbo-paralysis. I hope that it will give you some options. Maintaining the pretense isn\’t one of them.

[For those who are wondering: the book will be available for pre-order right on this blog. I will make an announcement when this happens. Of course, you will also be able to get it through Amazon (or the publisher), so that other people get your money instead of me. But if enough of that happens then I won\’t be writing any more books, since I don\’t see why I should work for free.]