Archive for April, 2015

The Limits of Propaganda

John Breed

[En français]

As Paul Craig Roberts has recently reported, the US government is in the process of launching an all-out war on truth. Those who express views contrary to the party line out of Washington will be labeled a threat. Eventually they may find themselves carted to one of the concentration camps which Halliberton (Dick Cheney\’s old company) has constructed for $385 million. But that may take a while. In the meantime, we can expect lots of other, less dramatic developments. Indeed, some of these are already happening. Here they are, listed in order of severity.

1. Self-censorship. Those who have previously tried to get the truth out no matter what become more reticent and prone to equivocation when reporting on “hot” issues.

2. Topic-avoidance. They start avoiding certain “hot” issues that they feel are most likely to get them into trouble.

3. Response to harassment. A few incidents of mild official harassment cause certain blogs to start watering down their content, or pulling down content in response to harassment.

4. Blacklisting. The officials start censoring content on a case-by-case basis, blocking or shutting down certain internet sites that they consider seditious.

5. Blocking communications. The officials start dealing with the “hard cases” of uncooperative individuals who remain, shutting down their communications by disabling their cell phones, shutting down internet access, and by imposing travel restrictions so that the “hard cases” are forced to remain in places where they can be watched.

6. Detention. Those found to be truly uncooperative, who try to circumvent the restrictions, are rounded up and shipped off to the above-mentioned camps.

This may seem like a dire prognosis, but actually I just want to present a relatively complete list of public measures for your consideration. Yes, there will be a few “hard cases” who will insist on getting right in the face of Washington officialdom in futile hopes of somehow affecting the political process or winning over a few of their compatriots. But at some point such individuals become indistinguishable from people with mental problems. That is because if you live in the US, actually know how the political system there operates, and still think that the US is a democracy, then you DO have a mental problem. You can\’t have it both ways: either you buy into the official propaganda, or you don\’t.

Also, it bears pointing out that the vast majority of people in the US are quite happy listening to Washington\’s propaganda, be it from Fox or NPR, don\’t consider it propaganda, and have been conditioned to consider anyone who attempts to tell them the truth to be tin hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nut case. And that means that tin hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nut cases have a role to play. They are important to have, in the same way that a village idiot is important to have, so that children can learn what idiocy looks and sounds like. So, why bother sending them to a concentration camp?

And so it seems likely that the village idiots… ahem, truth-tellers will remain free-range for the time being, unless they really lose it and start tilting at windmills. But then that becomes a bona fide mental health issue.

Unless, of course, full-on war hysteria breaks out. In that case, while the external goons are busy pretending to be “not winning, not losing” but somehow “keeping America safe” in yet another wretched part of the world, the internal goons have to be kept busy. Rounding up undesirables would give them something to do.

That\’s the state of affairs in the United States and its subservient territories: Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and a few others. But Washington\’s propaganda isn\’t working at all well in the rest of the world, be it Russia or China or Latin America. In all of these places, Washington\’s message control has more or less failed. This is why the people in Washington are in a bit of a panic, and labeling internal dissidents as a “threat” is just them flailing in search of an answer. They can\’t stop lying, and they can\’t even pretend to rule the world if everyone knows that they are lying, so their only option is to try to squelch every voice except their own. They may succeed at this within the US (some would say they already have) but as far as the rest of the world—good luck!

* * *

An interesting development took place two days ago in my tiny patch of the world: an article I produced together with Club Orlov\’s special Kiev correspondent Yu Shan which I ran a while ago, then translated into Russian, was published as an editorial by a major Russian online daily, In itself this is not a surprise; my stuff does get published in Russian once in a while, and this is an excellent article, which is why I ran it and translated it. But what surprised me was the response it received. Below is a sampling from the over 100 comments it received in just two days. It is here to afford you a peak behind the one-way mirror through which the world views the US. I hope that you enjoy it.

Ай да Ю, ай да сукин ты сын! Читал с наслаждением с первой до последней буквы! Yu sonofabitch! I read it with delight from the first to the last word!

Браво, желтолицый брат! Получил настоящие удовольствие от прочитанной статьи! Bravo, yellow-skinned brother! I got real pleasure from reading this article!

Автору—огромный респект! Написано умно, с большим чувством, искренностью и тревогой за судьбу мира. Без излишнего умничанья и скороспелых выводов. Читала с удовольствием. Жду новых статей. С успешным дебютом!! This author deserves huge respect! This is written intelligently, with great feeling, sincerity and worry over the fate of the world. Without excessive sophistry or quick answers. I read it with pleasure. I wait for new articles. Congratulations on a successful debut!

Огромное спасибо автору! Определение очень верное. Неврозы и прочие личные психотические явления, игры разума и продукты разыгравшейся больной фантазии… Голоса в голове. А больше ничего. A huge thank-you to the author! His diagnosis is very accurate. It\’s all neuroses and other psychotic phenomena, mind games and products of an inflamed imagination… Voices in their heads. And nothing else.

Ну что, Взгляд можно поздравить с новым талантливым автором. Well, Vzglyad should be congratulated with a new, talented author.

Давненько не читал на ВЗ таких статей. Отлично! Лично меня \”пробило\”. It\’s been a while since I read such an article in VZ. Excellent! Personally, it just bowled me over.

Потрясающая эмоциональная статья! Несколько сумбурной мне показалась, но суть отражает на все 100. Браво! A stunning, emptional article! It struck me as a bit mussy, but its portrayal of reality is 100% spot on. Bravo!

На удивление глубокая и проницательная статья. Автор молодец. Каждый отдельный параграф—жемчужина мудрости приобретенной на личном опыте. Кто пришел за правдой—услышит и увидит. A surprisingly deep, incisive article. This author is one clever cookie. Each paragraph is a gem of wisdom based on hard-won personal experience. Let him who came for the truth hear and see it.

Умная статья. Особенно точно подмечена и описана интеллектуальная и нравственная деградация США за последние 30 лет. А если Хиллари Клинтон станет очередным президентом США. то процесс деградации придет в заключительную стадию. A smart article. It\’s especially accurate in noting and depicting the intellectual and moral degradation of the USA over the past 30 years. And if Hillary Clinton becomes the next president of USA, the process of degradation will enter its terminal phase.

Шедеврально! A masterpiece!

Замечательная статья. Отличный слог, и главное, все верно… An amazing article. Beautiful prose and, most importantly, all true…

Однозначно, это перл журналистики. This is a singular journalistic gem.

Блестящий журналист. И мысли, и слог, и опыт. Большинство наших журналистов на такой уровень не тянут. A brilliant journalist. The thoughts, the prose, the experience. Most of our journalists can\’t operate at such a level

Великолепно! Magnificent!

Не надо недооценивать этих набитых костями американских чучел—они скупили многие медиаресурсы и политическую элиту! Нужно развивать свою культуру, чтоб наша молодежь сама отвергла их гниющие западные ценности! Let\’s not underestimate these bone-stuffed American scarecrows—they\’ve bought up lots of media resources and the political elite! We must develop our culture, so that our young people naturally reject their rotten Western values.

Блеск! Brilliant!

Давно не читал таких честных эмоций! It\’s been a long time since I read such honest emotions!

Хорошая статья! Браво! A good article! Bravo!

Написано от души… Чувствуется—выстрадано… Written from the soul… You can feel it—it\’s based on suffering…

Страшные они феминистки. Потому что злые. С такими страшными женщинами не победишь. Победа за теми чьи женщины счастливие и красивее. Those feminists are frightening. Because they are malicious. You can\’t win with such frightening women. Victory will belong to those whose women are happier and more beautiful.

Жжёт мужик. Про клоны нуланд очень хорошо заметил. В любом голивудском произведении вы увидите этих тёток в пиджачках на кофточку с большим вырезом, с наглым взглядом и папочкой (а теперь планшетиком) в руках и что то там быстро говорящих на ходу. This guy burns it up! Well noted about the Nuland clones. In any piece of Hollywood output, you can spot these biddies wearing a jacket over a low-cut blouse, with an insolent look, holding a folder (now a tablet) and babbling on about something on the go.

Спасибо, Ю Шан… даже не за аналитику происходящего, а просто за то, что понимаешь, что только Россия и Китай вместе могут убить эту заразу Америку—раковую опухоль планеты. Thank you, Yu Shan… not even for the analysis of what\’s happening, but just for your understanding that only Russia and China together can kill this American pest—the cancerous tumor of the planet.

Автор правильно отметил пагубность феминизации американского общества и истоки ее \”исключительности\”. Американскими женщинами, захватившими власть в американской семье, во главу угла ставится культ \”моего бэби\”, которому все принадлежит по праву рождения. Отсюда их проблемы. The author accurately pointed out the malignancy of the feminization of American society and the origins of its “exceptionality.” American women, who have seized power in the American family, place their cult of “my baby,” who owns everything as a birthright, ahead of everything and everyone.

Очень интересная статья. Чувствуется, что это идет у него изнутри, выстраданное, а не по верхушкам. Возможно, немножко сумбурно, но от этого кажется еще искреннее. A very interesting article. You can feel, that this is coming from within, from hard-won experience, not from skimming the surface. Perhaps a bit mussy, but because of this it seems even more sincere.

Having worked with Yu on revising his first rough draft, and on translating the result into Russian, I feel some amount of ownership, and pride, in this piece. How much pride? Well, much more than I could have felt had it only been published in English, where the response it received was undeservedly muted. Did a major English-language periodical pick it up? Ha-ha-ha you\’ve got to be kidding! Oh, and in light of what Paul Craig Roberts said, and that list of measures… Draw your own conclusions, but for Yu\’s next piece I am contemplating skipping the step of producing the intermediate, English-language result, and have it go straight into Russian.

Notes from a Funeral


Today I received the following report from Club Orlov\’s special Kiev correspondent, Yu Shan:

Yesterday I was at a funeral. The crowd was well over 500, much more than I originally thought would be possible. It was a deeply emotional event. The man to whom everyone bid farewell was Oles\’ Buzina, a writer, historian, free thinker, wacky conversationalist, warm friend, a man who identified deeply with both the complex yet incomplete Ukrainian culture and with the multifaceted entity of eastern Slavic Orthodox Russian civilization, a man who would not take sides easily, and would adhere to his lone stand even when death threats started to arrive at his doorstep on a weekly basis.

The event was all over the Russian language news. But there was precisely zero coverage of it in the English-language news. He was murdered at 1:25, Thursday, April 16. There were two masked men waiting for him in front of his house. Five shots were fired, and that was that. It was the third such hit in a span of four days.

At the funeral there were a few reporters from Russia who came specifically for this event. They were polite and talkative. But I noticed something which to me seemed off: yesterday was a profoundly emotional time for all the Kiev residents who made the decision to attend the funeral, and many people were crying openly in the cold wind, for several hours, and not just old women. However, some of the questions asked by the Russian reporters, and some of the things they said, had a mild undertone of Schadenfreude: “Oh, look at you poor Ukrainians, what have you all brought upon yourselves? Now do you see how wrong you were? Do you see where you end up without Russia?”

But of those present—every decrepit old man or woman, every young, unfashionably dressed girl or threadbare-looking young man—all were the kind of Ukrainians who throughout this year of madness have kept in their hearts an earnest, warm feeling towards Russia! They have clung to the idea of seeing themselves as a part of a great singular civilization, as citizens of the once-proud Soviet Union. They don\’t need Russian condescension!

After this one year, it has become plain that there can be no Ukraine without support from Russia. But it is also true that there can never be a genuine resurrection of Russian Civilization without a resurrection of the Ukraine. It is not a matter of territory; the ties are psychological, emotional and historical. How many among the contemporary Russian public actually appreciate this point? A regular Russian guy sympathizes with Donbass, supports Putin, and despises the USA. But does he consider the Ukrainians to be good-for-nothing losers—possibly including his own brothers who happen to live there?

* * *

And that isn\’t at all helpful. The combination of clueless American warmongering and disingenuous offers of “integration” from the EU have turned the Ukraine into a disaster area and its population of 40 million into paupers. The nightmarish regime in Kiev, whose brainwashed adherents go around defacing World War II monuments while idolizing and deifying Nazi war criminals, will be finished soon enough, but once it is gone there will be more bloodshed in this deeply self-conflicted society.

The Ukrainian identity and national brand are tarnished beyond all hope. After a prolonged and painful process of de-westernization and de-Nazification, all that will be left of it will be a memory of failure which few will recall willingly or pass on to their children. But to make healing possible, to allow this year (or two or three) of Ukrainian madness to be consigned to oblivion, something else must take its place. And that something can be just one thing: a compassionate, inclusive, supportive, pluralistic Russian identity.

Club Orlov Press: Editing and Review Process


For the many of you who have submitted proposals already, thank you! We are reviewing your work and will let you know of our decision once we make it. In the meantime, here is what you can expect as your manuscript sails in the general direction of turning into a published book.

When you agree to work with Club Orlov Press, and to use the site and the name as a platform for your book, you\’re also agreeing to follow our editing and review process. As stated in the initial announcement, \”…it\’s in my interests—and yours—that your ideas find their way to the printed page as clearly, concisely and unassailably as possible.\” How does this happen?

Briefly, we:

1. Read, and check, every line and every word, making sure that all is being communicated as well as it can be.
2. Note where things might better be explained, or could be expressed in fewer words, and, sometimes, suggest a solution.
3. Check your facts. You need to understand why and how we do this, and why it\’s good for you.

These steps happen concurrently; the actual process works something like this:

In first-pass editing, we focus on spelling, grammar, usage, and the like. Please run spell-check before you submit your manuscript, making sure not to just accept every suggestion. (Please turn off the grammar checker; it\’s generally useless, sometimes worse than useless.)

When we find an error that\’s fairly clear-cut—minor typo, misplaced comma, spacing issue, etc.— we\’ll make that change, and you will see it using the \”Track Changes\” function in Microsoft Word or the “Changes->Accept of Reject” function in Libre Office (which is excellent and free).

If it\’s more ambiguous or more serious—improper word usage, odd grammar, or any fix beyond something purely mechanical—we\’ll flag it with a comment in the document. Depending on the issue, we may or may not suggest a fix; if the meaning is unclear, or if a passage might be interpreted in two different ways, we\’ll leave it to you as to what you\’re trying to convey.

If a section gets a bit wordy (unneeded repetition, taking too long to set up a point), we\’ll tell you, and may suggest a fix. Alternatively, if something isn\’t explained quite well enough (that is, an important thread is picked up but abandoned too quickly), we\’ll add a comment asking for a longer rewrite.

What we won\’t do is rewrite your work to make it sound like one of us wrote it. This means that when we make suggestions, that\’s all we are dong—but we\’ll work with you to resolve the issue. You may find that your work is marked up more than you expect, even if you\’ve worked with professional editors before. If this sounds like it might be damaging to your fragile ego, or if you feel that your words were revealed unto you by the spirits and thus shouldn\’t be changed by mere mortals, well… this may not be the place for you to publish your book. We respect your work; in return, you must respect our process. If you don\’t feel like this would work for you, then best of luck in finding a publisher.

After first-pass review we send the manuscript back to you, at which point you should read through it again using \”Final Show Markup,\” accept or reject (with comments) the changes we\’ve made, address the comments or changes that we\’ve suggested, and then send it back to us. Key point regarding changes: they aren\’t optional, and you don\’t get to pick and choose the changes you want. If you feel that an edit we made or suggested was wrong, you must tell us. Should a word or a passage remain as is? Was a change we made, or a suggestion, just bad? Fine; tell us how you think it should be, and we\’ll work it out. A book is by necessity a collaborative endeavor, and we\’re far from infallible. On the other hand, once the manuscript has been submitted to us and accepted for publication, you can no longer revise it or expand it unless specifically asked to do so by us; nor can you throw up your hands and walk away. The commitment is two-way.

Next is second-pass review. Typically there are enough changes from the first round that, after you\’ve taken a look and sent the document back to us, we\’ll take another full pass through the manuscript, making sure that all corrections have been made, that any new or substantially changed passages work in terms of both content and context, and that the whole thing still hangs together properly. If there are still more corrections to be made—something we missed in the first round, or new questions raised by an author\’s rewrite—then we\’ll take yet another look, but with any luck the third pass is fairly quick.

When is it done? When we all sign off on it and declare it done; neither the editors nor you gets to make a change that the other doesn\’t see and sign off on. It\’s not unusual for a manuscript to get to the “final” stage, then move right along to the “final-final” stage, and then eventually make it to the “final-final-final” stage before being declared fit to print.

Fact Checking

For any fact you cite—a statistic, a date, a quote, even something which is “common knowledge”—please be ready to explain where you got it. You can do this inline by inserting a comment, or at the end in a footnote—it doesn\’t matter, as long as you do it. Saw it on a blog? Overheard it in a public restroom? Know someone who swears by it? Great! Tell us who said it where, and what\’s their basis of knowledge? Does any other reliable, verifiable source say the same thing?

We have to be rather strict with facts in order to not look stupid and incompetent, because that would reflect badly on other authors we publish. If we publish a book that references Humphrey Bogart saying “Play it again, Sam!” or mass suicide by lemmings, or Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong—all “common knowledge”, right?—we\’ll all end up looking dumb, because they\’re all inaccurate. If you\’re prone to quibbling about any of the above, or feel that they\’re “truthy” enough to print, please tell us—it might save us all some time, because we won\’t print anything that makes us look dumb, even if you\’re not concerned about that for your own sake.

So, be prepared to back up your facts. This doesn\’t just mean finding the one blog where you read it. This means finding more than one reliably unbiased source that says the same thing—not just two Web sites that cite the same study. With some things, statistics in particular, the arguments that can be plausibly made may be somewhat different depending on one\’s point of view; sometimes, smart, reasonable people can come to diametrically opposed and yet equally valid conclusions using the same information. Is this the case with something you cite? Do smart, reasonable people debate about it? If they do, make yourself aware of what they say. Most likely you can still make the point you originally wanted to make, but, armed with additional knowledge, you may find that you need to write something a little differently. If, on the other hand, it\’s a matter that\’s greatly in dispute, then you may need to rethink the genre of your work. We do not dismiss proposals to publish works of fiction out of hand, but the bar is set very high for them.


Q: How long does this all take?
A: Depends on how long the book is, how much work it needs, and what\’s going on in all of our respective lives. If it needs minimal work and all of our schedules are clicking, it could take as little as a few weeks.

Q: My work has already been edited (by me, or by someone else) and I don\’t want anyone changing it. Won\’t you just take the manuscript and publish it? Isn\’t that easier for everyone?
A: No. Sure, lots of people self-publish books that way—and you\’re free to do so, but anyone who is handed the microphone at Club Orlov needs to meet our editorial standards. If the editing was done professionally, that should save us some time. Editors who are professional in their attitude and not just their job title understand that different publishers have different styles and different standards—not necessarily higher or lower, just different.

By the way, no one really edits their own work; like plastic surgery or embalming, it\’s best and most typically done for you, not by you.

Q: This sounds like a lot of work. Is all this really necessary?
A: It is, and it is. The wonders of electronic communication have lulled us into thinking that getting your ideas out can be a solo project—and it definitely can be. But, based on our experience, if the goal is to make something with a bit more permanence, the path is a bit longer, and involves the skills and opinions of other people. We don’t see this is a negative; quite the opposite, we find that it makes the work better, and the authors read by more people, and happier.

Announcing Club Orlov Press


People who like to read books have a number of options these days: from dedicated e-readers to phones to whatever other electronic device you have handy, books can be enjoyed in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with paper.
The problem is that all of these shiny new alternatives have screens, and screens bring on problems that you just don’t experience with good old bound-paper books, which:

• Don\’t temporarily go blank when the batteries run down.
• Don\’t permanently go blank as soon as some little doodad inside them fails.
• Never need new operating systems.
• Don’t need to be connected to an electronic network.
• Can be read in just about any kind of light.
• Don’t break when you drop them, even from a considerable height.

Nothing against electronic information delivery: you can’t beat it for speed, especially when it comes to getting timely weather reports, finding out the status of the latest catastrophe (unless it\’s the network that happens to be down), or breaking news of the never-ending celebrity tragedies/travesties. But for written words that are meant to last, and be read over and over by many people over many years, paper books are still a much better choice.

If you look over in the right column, you will notice that I have published quite a few bound paper books—fifteen to be exact. Of these, only three were published by an actual publisher; the rest were self-published. Along the way, I have tried many different things.

As I mentioned, I have tried putting books out through a publisher a total of 3 times. It takes a long time (a year at least) to get a book out this way. The royalties are a paltry 10%. Usually you have to relinquish the copyright, including foreign translation rights. Sometimes the publisher does a good job with cover design, editing/proofreading, and marketing the book; sometimes not. The only two things publishing houses seem to do reliably is set type (which is dead easy anyway) and keep most of the revenue for themselves.

The other dozen books were self-published. I have tried working directly with a printer, ordering a print run of books and having them shipped to me for distribution. With both self-published and non-self-published books, I have tried selling them directly, buying copies in bulk and manually shipping them out. This can work well for small runs (500 copies) of slim books that weigh less than 13 oz., qualifying them for first class mail using regular postage. Larger books, and larger print runs, can be distributed using printed postage. But if the book is heavier, or if the audience is international (as mine is), the direct shipping model turns into a money-losing boondoggle.

But more recently I have shifted to a print-on-demand publishing model for my self-published books, utilizing an Amazon subsidiary. It involves filling out some online forms, uploading a couple of specially-crafted PDF files, going through a soft proofing process, and clicking the button that says “publish.” The title then appears on and its foreign affiliates, ready for ordering. Royalties are in the neighborhood of 70% of gross. Amazon takes care of pretty much everything: printing, ordering, shipping, handling returns, and paying royalties.

And so, based on my excellent experience with this new publishing method, I have decided to start offering a service to other authors, which will provide a way for them to see their words become books, get a better return on their labor than if they went through a publisher (if they could even find one), and avoid the long, steep, and expensive learning curve that I went through. (Why expensive? Because I essentially gave away most of the proceeds from my first two books; as with three-card Monte, it takes a chump a while to figure out that no winning strategy exists.)

Having gone through this process many times, I have refined my techniques and choice of technology, and have established happy working relationships with designers, editors and proofreaders. My streamlined process allows me to offer a split royalty model: I and my associates receive 20% of the royalties for all books sold through Amazon and its affiliates; the author receives the rest, which is around 50% of gross sales (not including income and self-employment taxes)—a bit more or a bit less depending on how the book is priced and how high the sales taxes are where it gets sold.

There are no other payments or fees of any kind; except for royalty sharing, the service—which includes manuscript review, consulting, cover design, editing, proofreading and typesetting—is completely free. In addition, the author retains the copyright, foreign translation rights, and the ability to order any number of copies of the book at cost, which tends to be around $4 per copy, and sell them directly for quite a bit more, depending on what the market will bear. The only two stipulations are that the author commits to going through with the review/editing/proofreading process, and agrees not to publish the book through any other venue for as long as it remains available through Amazon and the money keeps flowing. The reasons for the latter should be obvious; as for the former, it’s in my interests—and yours—that your ideas find their way to the printed page as clearly, concisely and unassailably as possible.

The most difficult part of publishing a book turns out to be publicizing it. You see, the books I have self-published, and the books I want to publish, circumvent not only much of the world of conventional book publishers, but also much of the worldview their offerings attempt to present. This worldview, aggressively pushed by all of the corporate media, states unequivocally that all is well with the world, except for a few singular problems, of which you should of course stay somewhat informed by reading a few books.

I, on the other hand, have published books, according to which:

1. what we face are not problems but predicaments, which are problems with no solutions;
2. that these predicaments require adaptations in the form of massive lifestyle changes; and
3. that these adaptations are impossible to make without personal experimentation.

These, then, are the authors I want to help: those who understand what the problems are, who understand that they cannot be solved but that one can adapt to their inevitable unfolding, and who have gone beyond theory, have actually tried to adapt, and have meaningful, empirical results to report.

Since such a perspective is at odds with the official narratives embraced by all mainstream book publishers, I will offer ClubOrlov, which gets around half a million visits a month, as the venue for announcing these books to the world. The first Club Orlov Press imprint will be available shortly, and will be announced right here.

Please submit your book proposal or manuscript by emailing it to dmitry dot orlov at gmail dot com.

Communities that Abide Revisited


My tropical wanderings have taken me to the exact same spot where I was last year, when I took the photograph that ended up on the cover of the book Communities that Abide [order link]:

I took a number of pictures of this tree, during different times of day, until I got the one I wanted: the tree is deserted, with the entire colony out foraging for fruit and insects, except for the everpresent sentinel. And then, one rainy morning a few days after I took this picture there was the roar of a chainsaw, and then a loud crash. I came out to look, and the dead tree was missing. Instead, there was a large number of Oropendola up in the sky, circling around the spot where their tree had stood in uncharacteristic silence. The object lesson of the Oropendola just became a bit more poignant: this is what collapse looks like.

I soon found out that the tree\’s roots were on an adjoining property, and that the owner of that property killed the tree by pouring a foundation slab over the roots and then, once it was dead and declared a hazard, hired some locals to cut it down. That person also owns a gift shop, and Oropendola nests sell for $75 apiece. The chainsaw gang charged her $300; there were about 50 nests. I saw them sitting in a wheelbarrow and stole one. The object lesson of the Oropendola became even more poignant: what destroyed their habitat was the profit motive.

The birds circled about for an hour, and then regrouped. They posted sentries on the neighboring tall trees, and spent a few hours drilling: flying back and forth between trees single-file and having the sentries check them out and in again, as before. A day later they started collecting grass for new nests. (They first assemble a giant stockpile of long strands of grass in the crook of a tree, and then start weaving.) Three days later, they didn\’t seem any less happy than before the calamity, and a lot louder (apparently, there was a lot for them to discuss).

The object lesson of the Oropendola is now complete. We are nesting in a dead tree. The tree was killed by somebody else\’s profit motive. Our communities will abide because 1. we are self-sufficient, 2. we have the ability to self-organize and recover in the face of calamity, and 3. we are not tied to any one place but are mobile.

Since then the Orapendola have established a new colony, almost as big as the old one, on a tree some 10 meters away from the tree that was cut down. It is in the picture above. And so, it appears I chose appropriate mascots for the book: their community does abide.

Also since then my tropical wanderings took me to a place where I could observe some human communities that may or may not abide. I spent a couple of months house-sitting a property in a place called Tierra Oscura, sometimes translated as “Darklands,” which is situated in a lagoon within the Bocas Del Toro archipelago in the northeast of Panama. The archipelago has always been a favorite playground for the Panamanians themselves: the erstwhile dictator and CIA asset Manuel Noriega frequented Bocas Town on holidays, while the current president of Panama likes to spend weekends in one of the cottages near Red Frog Beach on the nearby island of Bastimentos.

But the last decade or so witnessed a remarkable transformation: the archipelago has been discovered by wealthy Gringos, who have moved in in their hundreds, buying up bits of coastal land and building houses on them. About a dozen of these houses have sprung up around Tierra Oscura, inserting themselves between the far more modest houses of the locals. Seeing an opportunity, another tribe—the Chinos, or Chinese merchants—moved in and opened stores catering to the Gringos as well as the locals.

But the locals are still all there. There are a few distinct tribes. First, there are the Indios. They live in shacks roughly nailed together out of rough-sawn boards and roofed with corrugated sheet metal, some on land, some over water nestled in the mangroves. They generally lack electricity and rise and go to bed with the sun, although they do sometimes run a generator to light up and amplify a party. They generally don\’t have pumped water, and gather the rainwater that falls on the roof using large blue plastic tanks. They don\’t have much furniture, and sleep in hammocks.

They do have chainsaws (important in a place where trees sprout up as soon as you turn around) but most of the work is done using the universal tool of choice, be it chopping down plantains, shaving coconuts or killing snakes: the machete. Of the tools of modern civilization, their most prized family possession seems to be a smallish outboard motor. The motor is essential for getting their cash crop—cacao pods—to market, where they exchange their winnings for large bags of rice, which is a staple.

But mostly they get around in cayucos, which are dugout canoes. Of these, the most ancient ones seem to be the most highly prized. Cayucos start out tippy, but get more stable with time as they become waterlogged below the waterline while their freeboard dries out. Indios of all ages, including kids as young as three and four, can be seen paddling around the lagoon at all hours, fishing, going visiting, or going to and from school.

They do have cell phones and laptops, and, not having electricity, frequently brought them over to the house we were house-sitting to get them charged. Unlike the neighboring Gringos, who would also charge their cell phones, but made it abundantly clear that they didn\’t want any Indios on their property, we would invite them to hang around as much as they liked. Our dock became a favorite fishing spot of theirs, with as many as four cayucos lurking underneath it at any one time.

Sometimes an entire Indio family would spend part of an afternoon with us, and while their devices were charging their kids would play and watch cartoons with ours. They would eat meals with us, which consisted mostly of stuff that grew in the back yard. This gave us a chance to get to know them a little. They are mostly shy and not at all talkative (they are bilingual, but for some, especially the kids, Spanish is pretty much tierra incognita). Nevertheless, I managed to find out a lot of details over time. For instance, some of them have a wild sense of humor, and a keen appreciation for the absurd.

The other local tribe I got to know a little bit are the Afro-Antilleans. These work in a number of trades. Some ferry passengers and cargo between the islands in pangas, which are large fiberglass boats with powerful outboard engines, and are the main form of transportation in the archipelago, there being almost no roads but thousands upon thousands of docks. Some work in forestry, the building trades, or as mechanics. They are bilingual, speaking perfectly good Spanish, plus a sort of English which, to the untrained ear, doesn\’t sound like English at all. It took me several hours of listening to them tell stories before I could actually understand everything that was being said. Think of rapid-fire Jamaican English, but with most of the vowels rationalized to more closely match Spanish ones.

I have been told that the Hispanics—the descendants of the conquistadors—also form a separate tribe, but I was unable to discern their distinctness. They seem to float in a sea of Spanish-speaking culture along with everyone else.

But the most distinct tribe of all (if it can be called that) are the Gringos. They inhabit houses that wouldn\’t look out of place in Florida, except that they are also “green,” meaning that they have rainwater collection systems, and rooftop solar panels with battery banks and inverters to run the various pumps, refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, lights and—don\’t you dare forget—the giant plasma TV that is the centerpiece of most of their living rooms. In a place where windows are generally just holes with wooden shutters and some netting, the Gringos put in plate glass windows and sliding doors. Since all of this stuff has to be guarded 24/7, they employ locals as “watchee men,” sometimes even building little shacks for them to live in. A more economical option is to get a free house-sitter, who lives in the “big house.” House-sitters are recruited from among the Gringos, because the locals aren\’t to be trusted.

Unlike the other tribes, the Gringos are predominantly monolingual. Some do speak passable Spanish, but most don\’t speak it well enough for extended dialog or storytelling. Almost none make any effort to lose the atrocious English accent, which makes Panamanian Spanish, with its crisp vowels, cloudy consonants and staccato delivery, sound like somebody is trying to speak Spanish while gulping down mashed potatoes. Few that I\’ve noticed partake of the many gems of Latin American literature, be it Gabriel Garcia Márquez or Jorge Luis Borges or Pablo Neruda. The sense I got is that most of them treat Spanish as a necessary evil, to be spoken so-so for the sake of those locals guilty of the cardinal sin of not speaking God\’s own language, English. One appalling case is an individual who has lived in the area for years, and is yet to bring himself to mouth a simple “¡Gracias!”

In contrast to the locals, who get around in a cayuco, or a panga with a smallish outboard, the main form of transportation for the Gringo is the speedboat, powered by an outboard in the 75-150 horsepower range which burns through somewhere around five gallons an hour. With a typical round-trip to go shopping taking an hour or so, this adds up to a lot of gasoline, and the amount of time spent queued up at the fuel dock is a constant source of annoyance.

Also in contrast to the locals, who tend to take a purely functional approach to land management, some of the Gringos hire locals to do their landscaping, and maintain their compounds in immaculate condition—ready to be featured on the glossy cover of Better Homes and Gringos, perhaps? In a country where the average day-laborer makes somewhere around $10-12 a day, such a lavish lifestyle would be impossible to maintain using local resources.

In spite of these societal rifts and fault lines, the relations between the Gringos and the locals are mostly amicable and cordial, but there are some notable exceptions. The locals have two modes: peaceful, and, failing that, spit-your-teeth-out not peaceful at all by any stretch of the imagination. The tipping point between the two is tricky to discern, but raising your voice in anger, using expletives or ethnic slurs, making threats and ultimatums, attempting to extract an apology (the locals never apologize for being late on anything) are all dumb moves—unless you happen to enjoy spitting your teeth out.

Still, some Gringos do apparently run afoul of these simple rules. For instance, the late owner of the house we were house-sitting got almost killed—simply by being confrontational and combative with some of the neighbors—and died soon thereafter from the injuries he sustained during the confrontation. Some other Gringos I either met or heard of are still alive, but, given their demeanor vis-à-vis the locals, a life insurance policy on them wouldn\’t be a bad investment, if only they were a bit younger and healthier.

Such thumbnail sketches are fun to write, but there is a point I am building up to maybe making. And the point is, not all tribes are made equal. Communities composed of members of these tribes will not all do equally well, or badly. For instance, the Indios and the Afro-Antilleans will do fine. If the Indios find that they can\’t sell their cacao for rice, or if the Afro-Antilleans find that their trades aren\’t earning them enough to buy food, they will switch back to fishing, and growing and eating yucca and plantains.

By the way, yucca is ridiculously easy to grow. You take a yucca stem and break it into pieces, each about two hands long (it snaps like chalk). Then you poke a hole in the ground with a sharp stick (any sort of ground, even red clay). Scrape some seafood off a piling and dump it in the hole as fertilizer and soil amendment. Insert the piece of yucca stem in the hole, and tamp it down with your foot. The only tricky bit is that the piece of yucca stem cannot be planted upside-down, or it will refuse to sprout. Each planting will yield one or two large tubers. The drill then is to wash the dirt off, peel off the bark, hack it into pieces, boil the pieces until tender, and serve. The only hard work is ripping the tubers out of the ground. This, along with plantains, takes care of carbohydrates; the fish takes care of protein.

But what of the Gringos? Well, first of all, they don\’t match my definition of a community, because, to the extent that they are a community, they are a retirement community (the average age is well over 65) and my stipulation is that a community must be able to reproduce itself biologically. Secondly, their special status in the archipelago derives from the umbilical cord that ties them to the western financial scheme, which is falling apart. (The fact that Social Security is not long for this world, along with all the other rickety financial scaffolding they rely on, is a favorite subject of discussion, along with the assorted conundrums of health care, both local and state-side.)

And so, as far as the ability of the Gringo to abide in Panama\’s waterside jungle wonderland, it will be determined by just one thing: the ability to go native, to learn to live and work alongside the locals. This is by no means impossible, but the cultural resistance of the average Gringo to going native is simply stupendous, for, with some laudable exceptions, never has a generally somewhat plain and nondescript group of humans elevated itself in its own opinion so far above the rest of humanity, all, mind you, on the basis of very transitory material opulence made possible by a rigged financial scheme that is on its last legs.

At this point, the obvious futility of writing this essay becomes apparent, because my bottom line is this: “Don\’t be a Gringo.” Except that I am writing it in English, meaning that it will be read mostly by Gringos. Is this the end, then? Well, no, because some of you reading this are young enough and independent-minded enough to actually go ahead and go native. And some of these might then, together with the other natives (or gone-natives) form a community.

And for these few, here again are my XIII commandments of Communities that Abide [order link]. I came up with this list by examining many separatist, anarchic communities that have stood the test of time by lasting over the centuries. I excluded monastic and retirement communities, military orders and the like, and only considered the ones that reproduced biologically. And I found that they all share certain principles, which I expressed as these XIII “commandments.”

I. You Probably Shouldn\’t come together willy-nilly and form a community out of people that just happen to be hanging around, who don\’t have to do much of anything to join, and feel free to leave as soon as they get bored or it stops being fun. The community should be founded as a conscious, purposeful, overt act of secession from mainstream society, a significant historical event that is passed down through history and commemorated in song, ceremony and historical reenactment. A classic founding event is one where the founding members surrender all of their private property, making it communal, in a solemn ceremony, during which they take on new names and greet each other by their new names as brothers and sisters. The founding members should be remembered and revered for their brave and generous act. This makes the community into a self-aware, synergistic entity with a will of its own that transcends the wills of its individual members.

II. You Probably Shouldn\’t trap people within the community. Membership in the community should to be voluntary. Every member must have an iron-clad guarantee of being able to leave, no questions asked. That said, do everything you can to keep people from leaving because defections are very bad for morale. One good trick is to give people a vacation when they need it, and one good way to do that is to run an exchange program with another, similar community. There need not be an iron-clad guarantee of being able to come back and be accepted again, but this should be generally possible. Those born into the community should be given an explicit opportunity, during their teenage years, to rebel, escape, go out and see the world and sow their wild oats, and also the opportunity to come back, take the pledge, and be accepted as full members. When people behave badly, the threat of expulsion can be used, but that should be regarded as the “nuclear option.” On the other hand, you should probably have some rules for expelling people more or less automatically when they behave very, very badly indeed (though such cases should be exceedingly rare) because allowing such people to stick around is also very bad for morale.

III. You Probably Shouldn\’t carry on as if the community doesn\’t matter. The community should see itself as separate and distinct from the surrounding society. Its separatism should manifest itself in the way its members relate to members of the surrounding society: as external representatives of the community rather than as individual members. All dealings with the outside world, other than exchanging pleasantries and making conversation, should be on behalf of the community. It must not be possible for outsiders to exploit individual weaknesses or differences between members. To realize certain advantages, especially if the community is clandestine in nature, members can maintain the illusion that they are acting as individuals, but in reality they should act on behalf of the community at all times.

IV. You Probably Shouldn\’t spread out across the landscape. The community should be relatively self-contained. It cannot be virtual or only come together periodically. There has to be a geographic locus or a gathering place, with ample public space, even if it changes location from time to time. The community should be based on a communal living arrangement that provides all of the necessities. A community living in apartments scattered throughout a large city is not going to last very long; if that\’s how you have to start, then use the time you have to save money and buy land. A good, simple living arrangement, which minimizes housing costs while optimizing group cohesion and security, is to provide all adults and couples with bedrooms big enough for them and their infants, separate group bedrooms for children over a certain age, and common facilities for all other needs. This can be realized using one large building or several smaller ones.

V. You Probably Shouldn\’t allow creeping privatization. The community should pool and share all property and resources with the exception of personal effects. All money and goods coming in from the outside, including income, pensions, donations and even government handouts, should go into the common pot, from which it is allocated to common uses. Such common uses should include all the necessities: food, shelter, clothing, medicine, child care, elderly care, education, entertainment, etc. Members who become rich suddenly, through inheritance or some other means, must be given a choice: put the money in the pot, or keep it and leave the community. This pattern of communal consumption is very efficient.

VI. You Probably Shouldn\’t try to figure out what to do on your own. The community should have collective goals and needs that are made explicit. These goals and needs can only be met through collective, not individual, actions. The well-being of the community should be the result of collective action, of members working together on common projects. Also, this collective work should be largely voluntary, and members who are fed up with a certain task or a certain team should be able to raise the issue at the meeting and ask to be reassigned. It\’s great when members have brilliant new ideas on how to do things, but these have to be discussed in open meeting and expressed as initiatives to be pursued collectively.

VII. You Probably Shouldn\’t let outsiders order you around. It\’s best if the community itself is the ultimate source of authority for all of its members. It should have a universally accepted code of conduct, which is best kept unwritten and passed down orally. The ultimate recourse, above and beyond the reach of any external systems of justice or external authorities, or any individual\’s authority within the group, should be the open meeting, where everyone has the right to speak. People should only be able to speak for themselves: attempts at representation of any sort should be treated as hearsay and disregarded. You probably shouldn\’t resort to legalistic techniques such as vote-counting and vote by acclamation instead. Debate should continue until consensus is reached. To reach a consensus decision, use whatever tricks you have to in order to win over the (potentially vociferous and divisive) opposing voices, up to and including the threat of expulsion. A community that cannot reach full consensus on a key decision cannot function and should automatically split up. But this tends to be rare, because the members\’ status depends on them putting the needs of the community ahead of their own, and one of these needs happens to be the need for consensus. Decisions reached by consensus in open meeting should carry the force of law. Decisions imposed on the community from the outside should be regarded as acts of persecution, and countered with nonviolent protest, civil disobedience, evasion and, if conditions warrant, by staging an exodus. The time-tested foolproof way to avoid being subjected to outside authority is by fleeing, as a group. Oh, and you probably shouldn\’t waste your time on things like voting, trying to get elected, testifying in court, bringing lawsuits against people or institutions, or jury duty.

VIII. You Probably Shouldn\’t question the wonderful goodness of your community. Your community should have moral authority and meaning to those within it. It can\’t be a mere instrumentality or a living arrangement with no higher purpose than keeping you fed, clothed, sheltered and entertained. It shouldn\’t be treated in a utilitarian fashion. There should be an ideology, which is unquestioned, but which is interpreted to set specific goals and norms of behavior. The community shouldn\’t contradict these goals and norms in practice. It should also be able to fulfill these goals and comply with these norms, and to track and measure its success in doing so. The best ideologies are circularly defined systems where it is a good system because it is used by good people, and these people are good specifically because they use the good system. Since the ideology is never questioned, it need not be particularly logical and can be based on a mystical understanding, faith or revelation. But it can\’t be completely silly, or nobody will take it seriously.

IX. You Probably Shouldn\’t pretend that your life is more important than the life of your children and grandchildren (or other members\’ children and grandchildren if you don\’t have any of your own). If you are old and younger replacements for whatever it is you do are available, your job is primarily to help them take over and then to keep out of their way. Try to think of death as a sort of bowel movement—most days you move your bowels (if you are regular); one day your bowels move you. As a member of the community, you do not live for yourself; you live for the community—specifically, for its future generations. The main purpose of your community is to transcend the lifespans of the individual members by perpetuating its biological and cultural DNA. To this end, you probably should avoid sending your children through public education, treating it as mental poison. It has very little to do with educating, and everything to do with institutionalization. Also, if a child is forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in class, that creates a split allegiance, which you should probably regard as unacceptable. If this means that your community has to expend a great deal of its resources on child care and home schooling, so be it; after providing food, shelter and clothing, it\’s the most important job there is.

X. You Probably Shouldn\’t try to use violence, because it probably won\’t work. Internally, keep your methods of social control informal: gossip, ridicule, reprimand and scorn all work really well and are very cheap. Any sort of formal control enforced through the threat of violence is very destructive of group solidarity, terrible for morale, and very expensive. You should try to enforce taboos against striking people in anger (also children and animals). Use expulsion as the ultimate recourse. When dealing with outsiders, don\’t arm yourselves beyond a few nonlethal defensive weapons, don\’t look like a threat, stay off the external authorities\’ radar as much as possible, and work to create good will among your neighbors so that they will stand up for you. Also, be sure to avoid military service. If drafted, you should probably refuse to carry weapons or use lethal force of any sort.

XI. You Probably Shouldn\’t let your community get too big. When it has grown beyond 150 adult members, it\’s time to bud off a colony. With anything more than 100 people, reaching consensus decisions in an open meeting becomes significantly more difficult and time-consuming, raising the level of frustration with the already cumbersome process of consensus-building. People start trying to get around this problem by hiding decision-making inside committees, but that is incompatible with direct democracy, in which no person can be compelled to comply with a decision to which that person did not consent (except for the decision to expel that person, but most people quit voluntarily before that point is reached). Also, 150 people is about the maximum number of people with whom most of us are able to have personal relationships. Anything more, and you end up having to deal with near-strangers, eroding trust. The best way to split a community in two halves is by drawing lots to decide which families stay and which families go. Your community should definitely stay on friendly terms with the new colony (among other things, to give your children a wider choice of mates), but it\’s probably a bad idea to think of them as still being part of your community: they are now a law unto themselves: independent and unique and under no obligation to consult you or to reach consensus with you on any question.

XII. You Probably Shouldn\’t let your community get too rich. Material gratification, luxury and lavish lifestyles are not good for your community: children will become spoiled, adults will develop expensive tastes and bad habits. If times ever change for the worse, your community will be unable to cope. This is because communities that emphasize material gratification become alienating and conflicted when they fail to provide the material goods needed to attain and maintain that level of gratification. Your community should provide a basic level of material comfort, and an absolutely outstanding level of emotional and spiritual comfort. There are many ways to burn off the extra wealth: through recruitment activities and expansion, through good works in the surrounding society, by supporting various projects, causes and initiatives and so on. You can also spend the surplus on art, music, literature, craftsmanship, etc.

XIII. You Probably Shouldn\’t let your community get too cozy with the neighbors. Always keep in mind what made you form the community to start with: the fact that the surrounding society doesn\’t work, can\’t give you what you need, and, to put in the plainest terms possible, isn\’t any good. Over time your community may become strong and successful, and gain acceptance from the surrounding society, which can, over time, become too weak and internally conflicted to offer you any resistance, never mind try to persecute you. But your community needs a bit of persecution now and again, to give it a good reason for continuing to safeguard its separateness. To this end, it helps to maintain certain practices that alienate your community from the surrounding society just a bit, not badly enough to provoke them into showing up with torches and pitchforks, but enough to make them want to remain aloof and leave you alone much of the time.