Archive for June, 2013

Ugo Bardi: Dr. Orlov\'s Report

Sometimes, when you read a book, something rings in your head; something that requires a little work to identify but that, in the end, comes out loud and clear. This was the case for me with the latest book by Dmitry Orlov. It reminded me of something and, eventually, I found out what it was. It was one of the many stories by Jorge Luis Borges, “Dr. Brodie\’s report” (El relato de Brodie); the description of the barbarous customs and the cruel culture of the African tribe of the Hrn; as observed by Dr. Brodie. The Five Stages of Collapse describes instead the barbarous customs and the cruel culture of the tribe of the Middle Class Westerners” as observed by Dr. Orlov.

It must be said that Orlov and Borges write in very different styles: sometimes Orlov\’s brilliance hides his depth while, at times, Borges\’ depth hides his brilliance. And while Borges remains in the allegoric tradition that goes back to Johnathan Swift and his “Yahoos,” Orlov goes direct to his real subject: modern society. But there are points in common. Orlov, like Borges, doesn\’t hide any of the grim details of what he describes and both Borges and Orlov show a certain sympathy and kindness toward their subject. There are many ways of being human and the great virtue of people such as Orlov and Borges is the capability of appreciating all of them.


The Tapernanke has spoken

Kevin Best

If you\’ve noticed, the financial markets have been in a bit of a state lately. The latest crisis has been triggered by the Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke publicly mouthing the opinion that there shall be a “tapering off” of the frenzied free money printing and US government debt-buying scheme that he has been running for quite some time now.

Before proposing the alcoholic “tapering off” metaphor as a viable therapy for what ails the financial realm, Bernanke should have consulted some medical web sites around the internet, to see if it even works. If you are a serious drunk and suddenly go “cold turkey,” then you run the risk of developing Delirium Tremens. Same thing happens if you attempt to “taper off”: withdrawal symptoms are withdrawal symptoms, no matter whether the withdrawal is fast or slow. They include nervousness, depression, not being able to think clearly, fatigue, irritability, jumpiness, nightmares, clammy skin, dilated pupils, insomnia, loss of appetite, sweating, rapid heart rate, pallor, tremors, agitation, severe confusion, hallucinations, fever, seizures and death. Successful detox therapies substitute some other, less addictive drug for alcohol, and then taper the patient off that drug. Unfortunately, Dr. Bernanke has just one drug in his bag—free money—leaving just two equally non-therapeutic options: “cold turkey” or “tapering off.” And the latter only sounds better if you don\’t happen to know much.

And now that he has said it, there is nothing he can do to un-say it. The denizens of Last Chance Saloon now know that their friendly proprietor will no longer let them continuously run up a tab to keep their habits going, and, once they get miserable enough, they are going to completely lose it and smash the place up. And once that happens there will be no more drinks for anyone, free or otherwise.

Looking at the first three stages of collapse—financial, commercial, political—it is clear why financial collapse should, and to some extent already has, come first. Commercial collapse results from the disruption of the physical flows of products and services; political collapse occurs when governments are no longer able to fulfill their obligations to their citizens in the wake of commercial collapse; but all that is required for financial collapse is for certain assumptions about the future to be invalidated, for finance is not a physical system but a mental construct, one resembling a house of cards that, to stretch this metaphor just a little, can remain stable only while continuously adding more cards, in the sense of continuous credit expansion supported by economic growth. But we are entering a time when a wide variety of physical constraints are making themselves felt around the world, from the depletion of fossil fuel resources, metal ores, phosphate, fresh water and arable land, to massive disruptions because of droughts, floods and heat waves brought by accelerating climate change, to the political instability and upheaval which sweep the world in the wake of each food price spike. All of these elements combine to make a rosy projection for global economic growth untenable. In turn, an extended period of economic stagnation followed by a sustained, perhaps terminal contraction is fatal to a financial system that constantly requires more debt, and more growth.

 The system is no longer self-stabilizing. Its sustained existence requires a continuous, concerted intervention: bailouts, “quantitative easing,” “liquidity injections” and so on—all euphemisms for printing money and handing it out to insolvent financial institutions to allow them to continue functioning. Left to its own devices, the financial system would collapse instantly. Nor are these interventions sustainable: the position of the governments that are continually backstopping and papering over the losses in the financial system becomes more and more untenable every time they step in. Although at present the United States is still able to borrow at record low rates, this is not because its debt is any more repayable than Greek or Spanish debt; it is because the markets think that it will be last to default; the United States has been described as“the best-looking horse at the glue factory.” It is the place where big money goes to die. With the US Federal Reserve now committed to endless money-printing and financial asset-buying, the prospects for the US dollar grow dim, and since it is still the reserve currency throughout much of the world, with it grow dim the prospects of other paper currencies around the world. A case in point: Bank of Russia has more than enough foreign currency reserves to buy up every single ruble in circulation, but such a defense in depth against a run on the ruble becomes ineffective if the foreign currency reserves themselves plummet in value, causing the ruble and the dollar to plummet together, like star-crossed lovers jumping off a cliff, embracing each other all the way down. This is why Russia (along with other countries) is now busy accumulating gold.

These quotes are from my Five Stages of Collapse, which is available from all the usual places, pulled from the beginning of the long chapter on Financial Collapse, which goes on to describe ways of cashing out of the system before cash (along with all other financial contrivances) becomes worthless, how to trade in absence of banks or other financial institutions (you can trust) and what life without (access to) money tends to look like.

Life Outside the Mental Comfort Zone


P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }A:link { }While procrastinating on the topic of Communities that Abide (will it be a series of blog posts, a book, or both?) I\’d like to take a step back. I\’ve been running this blog for over five years now, and it\’s time to take stock.

The subjects I like to explore on this blog lie far outside the mental comfort zone for most people, making it a sort of proving ground of mental fortitude—mine and the readers\’. Some topics have become safe for discussion since I started this blog some years ago, others are yet to do so.
Financial collapse is now a perfectly acceptable topic: the financial collapse of 2008 has been postponed by money-printing, runaway sovereign debt and various other kick-the-can-down-the-road schemes, which will all stop working today or tomorrow or the day after. Peak Oil (the fact that conventional oil production peaked in 2005 and that unconventional oil is too expensive to produce to keep industrial economies from collapsing) emerged into the mainstream and then went for a sort of continuous mental loop-the-loop of centrally choreographed delusion. I expect the loop-the-loop to turn into a tailspin once the reality of rapid depletion rates and high costs of the unconventional resources catches up with the delusional script. The end of the American Empire is also quite acceptable as a topic of conversation now, and university faculty can now expound on it without facing any negative repercussions. But that\’s a boring topic; as I witnessed in Russia, there is nothing quite as boring as an empire right before its collapse.
But there are some other topics that are still considered beyond the pale. One of these is the idea that the industrial nation-state is a doomed institution throughout much of the world, and that we are headed toward a world of slums run by criminal warlords. Another is that agriculture is a method of growing food that dates to the now bygone period of Earth\’s history—the ten thousand-or-so-year period of unusually stable climate during which all of human civilizations will have emerged, risen and fallen.
To comply with the Principle of Least Astonishment (a very useful principle if you want to keep people listening), let us explore in some detail the mental discomfort these topics tend to cause. This will allow you, as you read along, to classify your own reactions, and if you find that you fall into one of the nonproductive categories I will provide, then you can either work at developing a different, more productive reaction, or you can go play fetch with the dog instead, because your participation in this project is entirely optional.
There are various lines in the sand which most people are loathe to cross. To help you gauge your own level of mental discomfort, let us try grouping the expected reactions in accordance with common, (though meaningless) political labels. I expect the first two categories to balk at what follows to be the so-called “conservatives” (what it is they are conserving is anyone\’s guess—certainly not their land\’s once-abundant natural resources) and the so called “liberals” or “progressives” (what it is they are progressing toward is anyone\’s guess too—I think they are progressing toward collapse).
The conservatives tend to be more tolerant of separatist and isolationist groups found within their midst, generally disliking government meddling in people\’s lives, but on the other hand they are also more likely to eagerly swallow the propaganda spewed forth by their corporate government media, and any criticism “their country right or wrong” is likely to produce an angry reaction, especially if such criticism is coming from a “foreigner.” They also tend to take a dim view of those who do not resemble them ethnically, attempting to preserve Anglo cultural dominance the fiction of the US as an ethnically Anglo country even though the Anglos have already lost their majority status. Some of them even go as far as advocating the use of subjective (person on person) violence to remedy what they perceive as the source of the country\’s problems—“immigrants” and such—with the assistance of lightly armed militias and vigilante groups. No self-respecting American-equipped cannibalistic Syrian “freedom fighter” would ever sally forth with such a puny armory, and yet some Americans feel that they can use their pea-shooters to face down the US military. That is pathetic.
The liberals/progressives tend to be more tolerant of criticism (producing some of their own—up to a point) and, being constrained by the requirements of political correctness, they would never (in public) disqualify a criticism simply because it is coming from a “foreigner” or attack groups simply because they are “immigrants” but on the other hand they tend to be all too eager to condemn separatist and isolationist groups on the grounds that they do not share their set of social values, which they deem to be the only right ones. Separatist and isolationist groups tend to come in for harsh treatment for their supposed ill treatment of women, or children, or animals, for their “substandard” educations, for their “substandard” living arrangements and so forth. They tend to couch their rhetoric in the language of universalism: universal human rights, universal rights of women and so forth; the educationalists among them strive for universal literacy (and fall ridiculously far short). They often advocate the use of objective (system on person) violence to remedy what they perceive as the source of the country\’s problems—substandard practices of this or that group—by the imposition of government mandates, the dismantlement of the communities in question through regulation, law enforcement, imprisonment and the imposition of large government programs.
Having listened to the rhetoric and the propaganda from both sides, I have found them to be equally obnoxious. I have come to see them as part of a sickness: the brain of the body politic seems to have had its corpus callosum severed (that\’s the crossbar switch between the two hemispheres of the brain that allows them to act as a unit). Each side thinks that it represents the whole even as the two sides have all but lost the ability to communicate with each other. This arrangement has evolved as a convenience for the corporate government media whose job is to manipulate them into submission: it is classic “divide and conquer.” But the rhetoric of both groups serves the same purpose: to gain their consent for suppressing, dismantling and destroying all that which does not serve the system. Both groups embrace the use of violence: subjective, “shoot \’em up” sort of person-on-person violence in the case of conservative groups and objective, system-on-person violence in the case of liberals/progressives. Of these, it is the objective violence—which works its destruction through the use of regulations and mandates, educational standards, paperwork requirements, ever-present law enforcement and a hypertrophied surveillance system that is supposed to provide “security”—that produces the wide assortment of bad personal outcomes we see all around us.
What\’s worse, both hemispheres of this particular split-brain patient\’s brain also suffer from bipolar affective disorder. During the manic phase each hemisphere believes in infinite technological progress toward some sort of space-based, highly automated nirvana; during the depressive phase it believes in some version of the apocalypse, which presupposes more or less instantaneous destruction by forces beyond anyone\’s control, which, obviously, it is useless to try to resist. Neither side wants to believe in its steady degeneration into irrelevance and extinction. But perhaps this is not an illness at all, but simply the way we tend to remember things: we remember pleasure and forget pain, and thus we remember being in the state of nirvana as a process, but we remember being in a persistent state of pain as the event that signaled its onset.
John Michael Greer has done a wonderfully thorough job of explaining the tendency to jump to extremes (endless progress or instant destruction) when facing the future, along with the true shape of things, which is that cultures and civilizations germinate, grow, ripen, mellow and rot according to a timeless pattern, and the fact that this particular global technological civilization is following the same script to perfection in spite of it being global and technological. He even trotted out well-forgotten intellectual mighties such as Oswald Spengler to show that there is a science behind his claims. As with all methods, this method has its limits, however: characterize the growth and decay of cultures all you like, but it all becomes moot if a large rock comes around and smashes your Petri dish. And there are two such rocks flying for it right now: one is rapid nonlinear climate change; the other is natural resource depletion. A new narrative is emerging, called NTE, which stands for “near-term (human) extinction”—the idea that we humans won\’t be around for more than a couple more generations. I am an optimist, and so I believe that some of us will persist as small bands and tribes of semi-aquatic, nomadic humanoids. What\’s more, I find this perspective quite inspiring—far more so than the perspective of breeding many more generations of office plankton whose job is to convert natural resources into smoke and garbage while popping pills to try to stay sane.
Here\’s where I was with these ideas five years ago, and that is where I am with them today. The only difference is that now a few more people might pay attention to them, not as a work of whimsy but as something that will affect them and their children. What follows is an excerpt from The New Age of Sail, which I published in August of 2006.

A few decades from now, just off the coast…

It is nearing sunset when the vegan ship sights land. There are two vegans on deck; two more are roused from their hammocks below the deck to help with the landing. They lower and furl the sails, take down and secure the masts, then row and scull the boat through the surf. When she finally noses up onto the beach, they jump down into the water and wade ashore hauling lines, then labor mightily to get her up onto level ground, panting in the stuffy air. They thrust pieces of driftwood under the bow, tie lines around trees and rocks, and roll the boat out of the water and well away from it. To lighten the load, they drain the ballast tanks that kept the boat upright and stable while it was underway. Once the boat is high and dry, and sitting upright on level ground like a giant piece of furniture, they unload their cargo of dried sea squirrel. Finally, they post a watch, and the other three retreat below, stretch out in their hammocks, and rock themselves to sleep, for once without any assistance from the sea.

Sea squirrels are pale, sickly-looking, and, above all, sad. Dried ones doubly so. They are endowed with flabby bags for a body, some ineffectual spiny tendrils, and dangling dark bits of uncertain purpose. One might conjecture that they are mutant shellfish that survived having their shells dissolved by the carbonic acid in the seawater. Being vegans, the vegans would never think of eating one; nor anything else that washes up on the shores of that brownish, carbonated ocean, almost lifeless after that final, desperate binge of coal-burning that occurred just as oil and gas were running out. Picking dead sea squirrels off the beach with a pointed stick is an unpleasant chore, making it useful for teaching children the subtle difference between work and play. Sea squirrels have but two charms: they are at times plentiful, and, dried into flat chips, they burn with a clean, yellow flame – not bad for illumination, and convenient for cooking the food which the vegans both plant and harvest all along the shore.

The Vegans\’ passion is for spreading seeds and gathering and consuming the proceeds. They are on an indefinite mission to boldly grow food where no one grew it before. They are carried forth by their ship, which looks like a long box sharpened into a wedge on one end, but is capable of a full warp four knots to windward, and double that in anything more favorable. Their mission is of an indefinite duration because their home port is under several feet of water, and although that water came from pristine, ancient glaciers and icecaps, it is now briny and laced with toxins. And although their grandparents never tire of telling them how at one time their home port had not one, but several excellent vegan restaurants, now there is hardly anything there that a vegan would want to eat, and hardly anyone to eat it with.

The vegans abstain from eating animal flesh not because of their tastes or their sense of ethics, but because most animal flesh has become toxic. The increased mining and burning of coal, tar sands, shale, and other dirty fuels, dust storms blowing in from desertified continental interiors, and the burning and degradation of plastic trash, have released into the biosphere so much arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, dioxins, and numerous other toxins, that the vast majority of predatory species, non-vegan humans among them, have become extinct. Since toxin concentrations increase as they travel up the food chain, certain top predators, such as belugas and orcas, went first, followed by most non-vegetarian animals. Along with chemical toxins, the biosphere became inundated with long-lived radionucleotides from derelict nuclear installations left over from the hasty attempts to ramp up nuclear power generation. Those built near the coasts are still bubbling away underwater due to rising ocean levels. And so the only surviving humans are those clever enough to realize that only the plants remain edible.

Although the vegans rarely want for food, this is only because of their Permaculture skills, because growing food has become an uncertain proposition. Droughts and wildfires alternate with torrential rains that wash away the topsoil, the ocean keeps spreading further and further inland, and in better years insects sometimes stage a revival and devastate much of what the vegans have planted. Were they to settle in any one place, they would certainly starve before too long. But because they have boats, and because climate upheaval is constant but uneven, they can be sure that something of what they have planted is growing and bearing fruit somewhere. It is solely by virtue of being migratory, and, over the years, nomadic, that they are able to persist from one generation to the next. They carry what they gather with them, and, carefully conserving the seed stock and constantly experimenting with it, manage to renew it. When a period of devastation runs its course, they step in and plant a new forest garden ecosystem. When they revisit it, after a few weeks or a few years, it may be dead, or overgrown with weeds, or it may be thriving, and yield a harvest of wood, nuts, berries, fruits, tubers, and herbs. And, of course, seeds.
The shore is for gathering food, for hauling out, making repairs, and for congregating. For everything else, there are the boats. They provide shelter, transportation, and a place to store food and other supplies. They carry all the tools needed to repair them, and even to reproduce them. They provide fresh water for drinking and washing, by capturing the rainwater that falls on their decks: one good torrential downpour is enough to fill their freshwater tanks, which hold several months\’ supply. They provide escape from wild weather, being sturdy enough to ride it out safely. In open ocean, away from flying and floating debris, they dutifully pound their way up and down towering waves, rattling the bones of the crew hiding in the enclosed cockpit and below the deck, but remaining impervious to either wind or water. It is little wonder, then, that boatbuilding and seafaring skills are at the top of the vegan home schooling curriculum: they are what keeps them afloat.


It\’s all about how we use language… This isn\’t quite funny enough yet, but it\’s a start. (If there\’s one thing to which dictators are allergic, it\’s ridicule. Enough ridicule may even induce anaphylactic shock.)

On a recent visit to the United States, signs of an oppressive security apparatus could be found everywhere. At all national airports, passengers are now forced to undergo humiliating “naked” full-body scans before being allowed to board flights. Surveillance cameras gaze down from just about every corner, recording the movements and actions of the entire public. Incessant warnings on public transportation systems encourage citizens to report any “suspicious activity” to authorities.

Several American villagers interviewed for this story said the ubiquitous government marketing campaign called “If you see something, say something” does little to make them feel safer and, in fact, only contributes to a growing mistrust among the general population.

“I’ve deleted my Facebook account, stopped using email, or visiting websites that might be considered anti-regime,” a resident of the northern city of Boston, a tough-as-nails town synonymous with rebellion, told GlobalPost. (It was in Boston that a local militia first rose up against the British empire.) “But my phone? How can I stop using my phone? This has gone too far!”

American dissidents interviewed by GlobalPost inside the United States say surveillance by domestic intelligence agencies is just one part of a larger effort by the Obama regime to centralize power.

Read more…

A Healthy Sense of Shame

Parra, Il Senso di Colpa
P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }[In italiano]

Last week\’s post gave rise to a fantastic wellspring of negative emotions in the many people who commented. This week, rather than ignore or repress negative emotions, we are going to do the exact opposite: we are going to celebrate them. Sometimes it\’s the healthy thing to do.

There is a tendency to regard negative emotions as, well, negative: few of us particularly want to spend time wallowing in guilt, shame, embarrassment, feelings of insecurity or inadequacy, confusion and incomprehension. Cognitive dissonance, which is caused by having to simultaneously accept two contradictory notions, is painful, and even fewer of us like pain (and for those who do, it is not the sort of pain that we tend to like). And yet all of these negative emotions exist for a reason: they provide essential negative feedbacks to our behavior, allowing us to avoid, recognize, and atone for our mistakes. Without them we spin out of control, crash and burn.

Most people go through life trying to avoid negative emotions. We work and play well with others, we don\’t rock the boat or cause problems, we ask permission and apologize for trivial things. We do what others expect of us, and we hide parts of ourselves that might meet with disapproval. We avoid subjects that might trigger negative emotions, and when we can\’t, we avoid thinking things through and drawing conclusions. But most importantly we take license: society gives us license to think badly of those who differ or deviate from its accepted norms without experiencing guilt or shame even if we know full well that we are far worse than they are. No matter how negative our view of ourselves may be, we can always ignore it by hiding behind xenophobia. And no matter how vanishingly small is the likelihood of anyone else wanting to join you, you can always say “If you are not with us, then you are against us.” Our sick society provides us with a sick trick by which to take our guilt and shame and convert it into anger and pride.

Here is a specific example: I recently told an audience a few things about their own country (the United States). I pointed out that their country is number one among developed countries in quite a few categories, such obesity (Mexico is number two), divorce rate, one-person households, children being raised fatherless, child abuse death, sexually transmitted disease infection rate, teenage pregnancy rate, incarceration rate, depression and stress-related ailments. I pointed out that one-third of the children in the US are fatherless, that one-quarter of teenage girls in the US have at least one sexually transmitted disease, that a quarter of the women in the US are prescribed antidepressants at one point or another, that a third of all the employees suffer chronic debilitating stress and one-half experience stress that causes insomnia, anxiety and depression. I told them that they are killing themselves in record numbers, suicide being the leading cause of injury death, ahead of the also plentiful car accidents and gunshot wounds. I told them that the extent of their social inequality and societal neglect is worthy of a third-world banana republic. And I told that audience what they, according to numerous opinion polls, think of their government: their Congress is less popular than cockroaches, lice, root canals, colonoscopies, traffic jams, used car salesmen and Genghis Khan. And they took all that on board and even chuckled. Yes, it\’s all true.

Then I told this audience about a number of different social groups living in isolation in their midst, right here in the US, who have vastly better outcomes. According to every conceivable metric: alcoholism, spousal and child abuse, substance abuse, mental illness, crime rate, suicide rate—you name it—they do not just a little bit better, but hugely, massively better. Their trick is to throw up a firewall between themselves and the surrounding society and to live by their own rules without consulting those around them even if it means periodically facing persecution. In fact, it is that persecution that gives them the strength to persevere. I explained that these groups are disparate: some are religious, others atheist; some settled, others nomadic; some are scrupulously law-abiding, others scoff-laws; some drive their children to earn advanced degrees, others deny them basic literacy; some embrace equal rights for women, others don\’t. I explained that each of these groups has its own ideology and code of behavior, and that the differences are such that there are barely any grounds for comparing them. On the other hand they have significant areas of commonality which look like the set of essential ingredients for their very different recipes for success. Finally, I said that the only things worth looking at are the commonalities, and explained what these are, because, you see, if we want to achieve significantly better outcomes for ourselves, we would ignore these traits, which are candidates for cultural universals among successful communities, at our own peril. And people generally took this on board as well.

But then there were a few in the group that went on a xenophobic attack. They started attacking some of the groups I described (they singled out the Amish for ill treatment) on the grounds that the way they treat women, or children, or animals, is not in accordance with the standards of progressive society. Which progressive society? The one I described above, the sick society, ruled by lice and cockroaches, presided over by Genghis Khan, where something like half of the population is taking mind-altering substances of one sort or another which allow them to not notice their miserable conditions and surroundings, their lack of security, loyal companionship, or hope for the future. That society. It\’s progressive, you see, and the Amish (who have none of these problems) apparently are not.

Now why on earth would someone who just heard that he doesn\’t have a leg to stand on try to kick someone who stands firmly on two feet? There you are, lying on the ground legless, and there he is, standing a few paces away smiling at you. He might even consider coming closer and helping you up, but you are cursing at him, plus your breath smells just a little too awful from holding in farts all your life. And, my goodness, did you just piss yourself in anger? Oh for crying out loud!

I can think of one reason why someone would behave so disgracefully:

Lack of Shame
Now, you might think that once the common principles that underpin all successful communities are abstracted away from their various potentially offensive specifics, these commonalities could be successfully implemented even by utterly shameless people. But I seriously doubt that this is the case. The ability to judge others more harshly than you are willing to judge yourself, or, on the other hand, the inability to limit your own behavior by remembering who you are and what your place should be—these are not the least bit helpful in forming close-knit, harmonious, cooperative, self-organizing and self-governing groups.

In fact, it seems like lack of shame is a good candidate for a litmus test. Those who fail to abide by the dictum “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) should be judged right out of the group. But what would be even better is if there could be designed a certain number of specific poisoned pills, if you will, which do no harm to the community itself, but are poisonous to judgmental outsiders. This would force them to self-select themselves right out of the community under their own power, saving everyone the trouble of kicking them out. And it might result in a healthy dose of persecution, which, as I have found out, is one of the key ingredients in keeping a community cohesive and healthy.

Taking a step back from this tempest in a teacup, What was my talk about? It was about “communities that abide”: separatist groups that have stood the test of time—five centuries in the case of the Anabaptist groups, ten or so in the case of the Roma (plus some more recent experiments). These groups are old-fashioned in their social order by virtue of the very criteria by which I selected them: their ability to abide. Their ability to persevere in an alien and sometimes hostile social environment and ignore to the winds of change that blow through that social environment are aspects of the same phenomenon. They are conservative, and they haven\’t found a sufficiently powerful reason to update their ancient customs, be it arranged marriage or gender segregation at the community mess hall or extending voting privileges to women, as well as many other things of this sort that progressives find offensive. But nobody ever suggested joining or emulating these groups! The discussion centered on the commonalities that make them successful, and there is nothing about these commonalities that is offensive to anyone. But to understand these commonalities we have to look at the communities that exhibit them, and to do so successfully we have to evaluate them in accordance with their standards, not ours. But among us there are found some heirs to the legacy of cultural, economic and military imperialism, and these people are apparently used to judging the entire universe as if it were created to suit their fancy and please their sensibilities. They may find it very difficult to suspend their judgment and to learn to see the world through the eyes of those who are purposefully and unapologetically different from them, and who have no place for them in their universe. But these are the only terms under which their participation in the discussion that will follow would be anything other than a waste of everybody\’s time.

As this dead horse hasn\’t been sufficiently tenderized yet, let me reiterate one last time: if you are one of the few people who is a member of a tight-knit, long-lasting community that provides everything its bretheren need from cradle to grave, everybody should want to hear from you and to learn from you anything that they can, no matter how “unacceptably” cult-like, old-fashioned or generally weird your people happen to be. Fear not that you will be judged, for the rest of us are in no position to judge you. If, on the other hand, you are one of the many, many people—far too many people, really—who are still thinking that maybe the US government or Wall Street or Fortune 500 corporations or the Department of Homeland Security will provide for all of their needs, then you are little more than a figment of your own imagination, and there\’s a new acronym with which you need to become comfortable: STFU. And to earn bonus points, hang your head in shame.

J.H. Kunstler: Dmitry Orlov’s Excellent New Book

This essay is a review of Dmitry Orlov’s excellent new book, The Five Stages of Collapse. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. Orlov is one of the great literary stylists of his generation as well as one of the leading intellectuals. Read more…

Trespassing Allowed


We (I and my friend Will Kilburn) have just launched a wunnerful new web site: It\’s a search engine that serves up free, downloadable, printable maps of hiking, biking and walking trails, including state parks, rail-trails, town conservation lands and private land trusts—all the places in Massachusetts where you can trespass with impunity. There are over 2000 entries, making it by far the most complete and up-to-date database of this sort around. Will invested a great deal of time in compiling the database, while I just slammed out some Python and Javascript and CSS to make the whole thing operate. (I wasn\’t really keeping track but I think the ratio of time spent slamming out code and fixing bugs to time spent  drinking beer with Will was probably near one-to-one.) In case you are curious about the techie details, the database is a JSON document and the search engine is a Javascript function that runs inside the browser, so the whole thing is ridiculously fast and insensitive to server loads. We plan to eventually extend it to cover all of New England. If you want to steal our code and do a similar thing somewhere else in the world, we\’d be flattered and give you all the code and maybe even some free advice (if you want it).

C-Realm Podcast 365: Communities that Abide


KMO welcomes Dmitry Orlov back to the C-Realm Podcast to  to discuss his new book, The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors’ Toolkit. Dmitry developed the 5-staged model of collapse several years ago, and this conversation is a follow-up to C-Realm Podcast episode 96: Kollapsnik and the Ripping Yarn. In the book, Dmitry presents case studies of people who responded adaptively to collapses of various sorts, and the conversation focuses on organized crime syndicates in post-Soviet Russia as well as the Roma (Gypsies) who have mastered the art of hiding in plain sight, staying flexible, and maintaining a clear boundary between themselves and the larger societies in which they operate.
Music by Mornin’, Old Sport.
Related C-Realm blog post: Descent into Anarchy?

Communities that Abide Q&A


Communities that Abide (Preamble)


[Update: there are a lot of comments, some interesting, but it seems like a lot of commenters think that I am advocating becoming like the communities I described or holding them up as models. No-no-no! I simply pointed out that they are uniquely successful in terms of their longevity and outcomes, and described the commonalities that make them successful. Please draw your own conclusions. You can run off and join them or damn them all to hell. But please leave me out of it.]

One of my two talks at The Age of Limits 2013 was on Communities that Abide. It was a review of best practices, based on the experience of historical communities that are stable or growing, comprise multiple generations, manage to hold on to their young people, and have a distinctive way of life that is in many cases more sustainable and resilient than that of the surrounding population.
In many cases they also have far better outcomes, in terms of much lower rates of crime, depression, substance abuse, spousal/child abuse, murder/suicide and so on. Interestingly, while there are numerous profound differences between them, there are also vast areas of similarity. These similarities may turn out to comprise a set of cultural universals exhibited by all or most communities that stand the test of time. While I am too early in my research to reach such a sweeping conclusion, the possibility has me intrigued. I will be exploring this subject in detail over the following weeks. But first I must take out some garbage.

The talk went well while I powered through my (pared down) stack of index cards on the subject—pared down from the three-hour seminar I taught at the North House Folk School in Minnesota a few weeks back, which also went well. But at the conference, after I started taking questions, there erupted a bit of a shitstorm. One woman in the audience asked me why all the communities I brought up are patriarchal (they are not), and couldn\’t I find an example that was a matriarchy. I dug deep, drew a complete and total blank, and answered: “Because there are none.” After that, feminist rhetoric was flying fast and furious for a while. I tried to extricate myself by saying that on such matters I follow the women I am close to, who are Russian. Russian women have participated in a 70-year experiment in gender egalitarianism, and concluded that it was a failure. Modern Russian women have no use for American old style “radical feminism.” That made things even worse. One agent provocateur (Gail) decided to raise the temperature some more by asking me what I thought of Pussy Riot. I answered that they are idiots. (They desecrated a place of public worship for the sake of a futile political gesture, and are now rotting in jail instead of bringing up their children.) This made several women physically jump to their feet. Eventually one woman pointed out that, after all, I was just presenting information from my research, not taking any sort of ideological stance, but she went on looking upset anyway. After the talk ended, a bunch of women were skulking around hissing at me. The follow-up was characterized by Orren, the organizer, as a \”circular firing squad.\” He came up to me after the talk ended and congratulated me on still having both my legs, having walked into a minefield. Later he wrote to me:

A worthy subject would be the degree to which [such] corrosive tactics… have destroyed progressive groups and communities over the years. I call it the technology of victimhood and it is used by many groups and individuals to politicize their agendas. I have seen it over and over, and folks I know who actually organize real humans (as opposed to histrionic chattering on the pixel box) have shared similar experiences… It has been my experience in over 30 years of progressive organizing that some people can only participate by instead organizing “The Circular Firing Squad” that seems to afflict progressive groups. All part of the puzzle.

Orren contributed many other thoughts, which will take me time to process. I will pick up these themes in subsequent posts.

Later, that same Gail came up with a blog post which contains a number of ad hominem attacks riddled with *cough* inaccuracies. Here is a partial list of them:

  • Four Quarters Board of Directors is dominated by women and LGBT. To imply that these people are dominated by a man is to practice the darkest of misogyny.
  • Carolyn Baker\’s work around emotional processing is highly praised in event questionnaires. Expressing one\’s personal ambivalence to this work is valid, ad hominem snark is not.
  • My presentation is grossly mischaracterized and used as the launching point for the meat of the post which contains much intentional, hurtful ridicule of people not backed by any understanding of their ideas.
  • The photograph of me leaving the group portrait in haste was not because I was eager to flee but because Orren could not figure out how to turn on my fancy digital camera. It was very funny moment, which is why everyone is laughing. Gail misuses it for a bit of Stalinesque agitprop.
  • Gail insinuates that Albert Bates is an environmentalist hypocrite because he flies a lot. Albert does travel a lot but goes to great personal effort to physically mitigate carbon from his travel footprint, and this is obvious from even a cursory glance at his website. Overall, he is very much carbon-negative, while Gail goes on aimless drives through the countryside in her gigantic, gas-guzzling Toyota Landcruiser to look at dead leaves.
  • “Orlov\’s homebrew vodka” does not exist. Someone who works at the distillery was handing out samples. It is a bit of anti-Russian bigotry: “Well, you know the Russians and their vodka!” (Throw in a mouth full of gold teeth, a big fur hat and a bear on a chain.)

Her blog\’s comments section is a sort of Land of the Lost: people who inhabit the comments sections of unmoderated blogs, and who are perpetually miffed that no half-decent blog will post their comments.

But why all this noise? Should we take it as a “demand to be heard” by some women (who apparently see themselves as a separate political constituency from the men)? If so, they don\’t seem to have asked correctly. But it could be something else entirely. Here is some more hard-won wisdom from Orren:

Communities are often seen as threats, by many actors, for many reasons. Socially radical communities are perceived as threatening simply because their ideas can shatter an individual\’s existing paradigms. Knowing that a community is all about defining the boundary between the internal and the external, compromising a community is about manipulating that boundary. To speak in terms of the well understood techniques of state action against activist communities, one can pierce the boundary by inserting actors intended to disrupt the internal workings of the community. An easier means is to disrupt the ability of the community to interact with the external by framing the community in such a way as to prevent the free flow of energy/resources through its boundary; in this case, by alienating people who might otherwise be supportive.

The classic means of attacking a community\’s external relations is through the use of a social taboo or sacred cow that it is alleged to have violated. As Goebbels pointed out, the trick is to frame the attack in such a way as to use a social assumption that cannot or will not be examined, to isolate the community from external social commerce. Better yet if the attack can employ words and labels whose meanings also cannot or will not be examined. Finally, Goebbels\’ central insight: appeal to the intellectual prejudice of your audience, relying upon the fact that people will prefer to believe the mistruth that plays to their baseline assumptions. The famous Big Lie.

This is why every successful community I\’ve looked at knows how to exclude (shun, expel) people. Every successful community jealously safeguards its separateness from the surrounding society. This is critical to their survival and for achieving much better outcomes for their members than the surrounding society. In my understanding, these practices must also extend to the family, the extended family being a microcosm of community. In particular, I believe that women must be given the option of being sheltered from the surrounding sick society, so that they may stay healthy and give birth to and raise healthy children. It is less critical to shelter men, although having them serve in the military or other organizations specializing in brutality and murder is certainly not a good idea, and even too much involvement with the corporate realm is often quite damaging to the human spirit. This is probably why almost all the successful communities I have looked at are pacifist and refuse to be proletarianized, rejecting the concept of wage labor. As far as the labels of “patriarchy” and “matriarchy” are concerned, the winning label for me is, of course, anarchy—a well-organized, copacetic one. And, sure enough, most of the successful communities I have looked at are, in fact, anarchic in the structure of their self-governance. But most important is their separatism. Their value systems are their own—not yours. Do you wish to “improve” these communities, bringing them more in line with your own value system? Well, there is a word for that sort of activity: persecution.

The women who took offense and spoke up after my talk zeroed in on some specific areas, indicating that the communities I chose as examples of success are in fact intolerable by their standards. Some of these communities do not offer birth control to women, and/or resort to corporal punishment to discipline children, and/or do not give women equal rights, and so on. It\’s a good thing I didn\’t include any communities that practice polygamy or infanticide, or I would have probably caused a riot (there probably are some polygamous communities that I would consider successful; not sure about infanticide). I did include one group (the Roma) who practice arranged marriage. All of these deviations from the current American politically correct norm are problematic for those who allow themselves to regard others through the lens of their own value system (a common failing). But is that even a valid approach? My approach is to study these communities as if they were a different (sub-)species of hominid. After all, none of you will ever be allowed to interbreed with any of them. Do lions practice polygamy? Yes. Do males kill cubs sired by other males. Yes they do. Does this make them worth emulating? Probably not, but they are still worthy of study, because they are what evolution wrought, and were it not for poaching and habitat destruction (a.k.a. persecution), they\’d probably still be a success story. Similarly with human communities that achieve significantly better results than the rest: you may not like them, but then who do you think you are anyway?

I must admit that I haven\’t thought about the subject of the future of American feminism before this flared up, being happy enough just ignoring it. It\’s not my culture and I\’ve always assumed that it\’s none of my business. But perhaps I should have given it a bit of thought. Before I married a Russian woman, I had some American girlfriends who had been radicalized by their women\’s studies classes and had certain hot button issues that consistently made them blow their cool. When these issues came up, they triggered a psychotic break: in her imagination, I was suddenly transformed from a somewhat ambivalent boyfriend trying to keep the “relationship” together to a patriarchal proto-rapist oppressing not just her but an entire made-up political class (women). I do not want to neglect the interests of American women among my readers. But there is another group whose interests I do not wish to neglect: a sizable chunk of my readership consists of American men who either left the country or married foreign women, in no small part to escape from the ravages caused by the toxic state of gender relations within the US. One tried going the other way, marrying an American woman, then divorcing and promptly moving back to Russia, with new-found respect for the Motherland. I doubt that any of these people are particularly thrilled to see me take up this topic. So, in reading this, I hope you appreciate just what a brave person I am for walking in this particular valley of the shadow of death.

There is a big unintended consequence that results from treating women (or men) as a (fake) political class: it cuts across the real class lines, to the great disadvantage of the lower classes. America\’s class war against its lower classes is a permanent, full-spectrum, total war, and it is by this point quite close to total victory. Among its foot-soldiers there are numerous higher-class, educated women ensconced in various official positions who, while supposedly championing the rights of women and children, end up oppressing lower-class, uneducated men. To do so, they rely on the services of America\’s oversize criminal-industrial complex, which imprisons a larger share of the population than Stalin did during the height of his purges, with the majority of the inmates male, non-white, uneducated and poor. Add to this the fact that in the US, as women joined the “workforce” (a term full of inane puffery), family incomes stagnated (women\’s wages have been subtracted from the men\’s) while family costs went up (because domestic services such as child care and food preparation now had to be paid for). The results of all this are plain to see: the US leads the world in the percentage of children brought up fatherless, many of them on public assistance that is becoming precarious. Eventually “men\’s liberation” will come and all these inmates will be freed—once the system runs out of money and can no longer spend the $60-80k or so a year it costs to keep someone in jail. Since jail is a deeply dehumanizing experience, the role these freed inmates will play in society upon release is unlikely to be positive. This seems to be the unintended but hardly unexpected consequence of politicizing gender: all fall down.

To be able to criticize, one must first rise above that which you wish to criticize. As I outlined at the beginning of my talk, part of the rationale for looking into communities that work is that America, regarded as a community writ large, does not work. Of all the developed nations, it has highest rates of spousal abuse, child fatalities from parental and other abuse and violence, highest divorce rate, highest teen pregnancy rate, highest rate of STD inflection among teenage girls, highest rates of depression among women, children who have to be medicated into submission to force them to cram for meaningless standardized tests… the list is very long. It is a case study in societal failure. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother\’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3) Before you criticize others, you should first reflect on what your own people are like, and, if they are that bad, then perhaps you should just zip it.

One potential comeback is along the following lines: Of course we have the right to criticize; we are not like those other trashy/dark-skinned Americans! We are white, upper-middle-class, Ivy League-educated, we send our children to private schools and our outcomes are as perfect as our pearly-white teeth! (The infamous Gail shared that she has a daughter who owns five horses and rides them every day and a son-in-law who keeps a 50-foot yacht on the Hudson. She lives surrounded by a private 2000-acre estate owned by one of the wealthiest families in America. Sorry to have to bring this up, but I think it\’s highly relevant. For 99% of you, you need to know that Gail is not “your people.”) Sure, the 1%ers are a successful community of sorts, but will they abide, given the sour mood of the people and all the guns and ammo they\’ve stockpiled? More importantly, their main community-building principles seem to be “pay to join” and “pay as you go,” both of which would take too much money—which they won\’t give to us—so it seems like a waste of time to listen to them tell us how wonderful they are and how bad everyone else is.

But the reason I wish to look at communities that abide is not to criticize or to attempt to improve American society at large. That would be futile. My goal is to give individuals, families and small groups of people (of modest means) viable options for the future that they otherwise wouldn\’t know existed—options which they will be able to exercise separately from what remains of American society. And the nature of these options will be dictated in large measure by the nature of the conditions that will prevail in as little as a couple of decades. Let us put the question in the context of the Age of Limits conference. The chart below should be familiar by now to all who attended. It is a plot based on Meadows et al. Limits to Growth Report baseline scenario. 

The original “Limits to Growth Report” (1972 Meadows et al) did not include a time line for the global growth scenarios it examined. With the addition of statistical data for the following 40 years it is now possible “to fit to the curve” and make rough predictions based on observed resource production and consumption patterns, overlaid upon continued population growth.

Look at the deaths AND BIRTHS curves zooming up into the stratosphere starting in around 2050: births have to rise to make up for much lower life expectancy, even as population dwindles. Those groups that wish to survive will be giving birth early and often, hoping that a few survive. Once cesareans are no longer available, we should expect a lot of those deaths will be in childbirth. Giving birth to and raising a continuous pipeline of children from puberty to menopause (or death, whichever comes first) is very much a biologically-determined, gender-specific role. It should be given plenty of attention, recognition and support. But it seems exceedingly likely to me (and this is just an opinion) that strident feminist rhetoric will go the way of building safety codes, zoning regulations, occupational safety laws, child labor laws, the regulated workweek and all the other inflated standards and unachievable mandates of industrial society. It will be a thorough regression to baseline, which will be hard on people who are used to the idea of endless progress (or, once it fails, instant Apocalypse). Many of them will no doubt insist on making a stand for their hard-won social victories, and this, in turn, will make them a poor choice as crew to take along on this journey.

I have no ideological bone to pick here. I am just interpreting a computer-generated chart based on a mathematical model that is over 30 years old but is turning out to be correct in spades. Also, observe that groups hell-bent on survival (such as the ones I mentioned during my talk) have already jettisoned (or have never taken on board) much of the baggage of progressive society. Of course, communities that don\’t wish to abide can ignore all this, at their own peril. It\’s an equal-opportunity planet as far as near-term extinction is concerned.

I know that this won\’t make a lot of people feel warm and fuzzy all over, but then what did you expect? A trip to Disneyland? So that\’s where I\’ll leave it for now, and leave it up to you to fill the comment section with whatever substances you wish to fill it with. Get it out of your system, and then we\’ll move on to the subject at hand: Communities that Abide.