Archive for May, 2015

The Extinction Survey

Tim White

There is a survey currently running on the Doomstead Diner, which asks people to make specific, numerical estimates about the timing of human extinction. It is inspired by the work of Guy McPherson, who has amassed much scientific evidence that points to very major climate disruption occurring over the next 2-3 decades, caused by multiple runaway positive feedback effects, such as Arctic methane release. Guy\’s conclusion is that these changes will mean that the Earth will no longer provide a habitat for humans, leading to near-term human extinction. His reasoning, as far as I have been able to piece it together, rests on a supposition of time-invariance: the planet will be warmer than it has ever been in human experience; therefore, no humans will survive. This is far short of a proof.

I see two ways to provide a proof.

The first is based on proving the existence of an extinction mechanism. For example, humans don\’t function well when atmospheric CO2 concentrations exceed 5000ppm, which cause dizziness, fainting spells and asphyxiation. Right now they are around 400ppm, going up by 2ppm every year. If that stays on track, this gives us 2300 years. However, there is not enough fossil fuels to keep burning at the same rate for another 2300 years. I am not aware of any straightforward bit of math that would conclusively demonstrate the impossibility of our continued existence.

The second is to make an inventory of all possible human habitats, and lifestyles to go with them, and then demonstrate that none of these habitats will be available in just a few decades. This is tricky, because it\’s so easy to pass over some small niche that may remain survivable far into the future, and all it takes is one of these to narrowly avoid extinction. An examination of mitochondrial DNA showed that at one point the human population dwindled to just a handful, yet we are still around—numbering in the billions! Extermination is hard—ask any exterminator—and extinction is even harder.

Still, my personal feeling is that most of us will go extinct by this century\’s end. Some will have no choice: when the Himalaya stops producing the requisite amount of snow melt to irrigate much of southeast Asia, and when the monsoon fails, that will be the end for a few billions of us. In other cases, it will be a matter of not being given a choice: many people would be able to leave death-trap cities behind and filter out into the countryside, where they could fend for themselves, but the countryside is marked \”Private Property\” and \”No Trespassing,\” and so they will stay in the cities and die. (However, there are effective, proven methods of disabusing people of the notion that \”this land is their land,\” and city people can be quite resourceful.) But there are many of those for whom extinction will be a matter of cultural preference. Like the Greenland Vikings, who could very well survive by emulating the Inuit rather than trying to exterminate them, many people will refuse to survive because the sort of survival that is possible will be below their high cultural standards. In the best traditions of the British navy, they will prefer to \”drown like gentlemen\” rather than grab a piece of flotsam, wash up on some wild shore, and quietly go native.

Back to the survey on the Doomstead Diner: Guy found it disagreeable. Here is his take on it:

I’ve not responded to the survey, nor will I, for two primary reasons:

1. Ask a stupid question, and you’re likely to receive a stupid answer. In this case, stupid responses prevail. A relevant question would focus on habitat for humans. Such a question might produce rational responses, even from academics.

2. Science does not depend upon, and is not heavily influenced by, democratic principles. Our votes have no bearing on the outcome.

To this I would add the following. Finding out people\’s guesstimates on exact numbers they have no way of calculating amounts to two things:

1. a better way to \”market\” human extinction (creepy as hell, if you think about it); and

2. feeding the confirmation bias of a bunch of self-selected \”doomers,\” who can then all agree with each other about things they don\’t know anything about.

But I am very interested in the topic of voluntary extinction: the idea that large groups of people, who could theoretically have a choice in the matter, will go to their doom voluntarily, because they are unwilling to relinquish various standards and expectations which are becoming maladaptive.

And so, as a first thing, I thought I\’d do a survey myself, to see where my readers\’ comfort level is in discussing the subject. A low comfort level would be indicative of an unwillingness to entertain thoughts of breaking cultural taboos and embracing choices that \”civilized\” people find distasteful. If the average score turns out to be low, then there is no reason to proceed. But if it is reasonably high, then the next step is to ask which cultural adaptations elicit the most discomfort, and which the least.

I am not interested in marketing extinction to a bunch of \”doomers.\” The \”doomers\” are doomed by definition. I am interested in proposing cultural adaptations and small-scale technologies that might prevent extinction.

And so, without further ado, here is my survey (which is now closed, so here it is in text form).

1. How comfortable are you with the idea that Homo Sapiens, just like every other species, is doomed to eventual extinction?

2. How comfortable are you with the idea that the human species may go extinct in the not-too-distant future?

3. How comfortable are you with the thought that many coastal cities, in which much of the global population lives, will be underwater by the end of the century?

4. How comfortable are you with the thought that reduced snow-pack and glacial melt will wipe out entire farming regions, on which billions of people depend?

5. How comfortable are you with the reality of national boundaries dissolving under the influx of political, economic and environmental migrants?

6. How comfortable are you with the idea of overwhelmed health care systems leading to much higher disease loads, widespread mortality from currently preventable causes, much higher infant mortality and much lower life expectancy?

7. How comfortable are you with the thought that, due to shortages of nonrenewable resources of all kinds, dense population centers will not be maintainable, turning cities into death traps?

8. How comfortable are you with the prospect that unstable and extreme weather will make farming and kitchen-gardening unreliable, forcing the few survivors to revert to a nomadic lifestyle, gleaning what they can when and where they can, then moving on?

9. How comfortable are you with the prospect of civilized, urban humanity going extinct, being survived by widely dispersed, feral populations of hominids that eventually evolve into different hominid species?

For each question, the answers were:

Extremely uncomfortable
Somewhat uncomfortable
Somewhat comfortable
Perfectly comfortable

Update: between 3am and 8:44am I\’ve collected more than enough data—a few hundred sets of responses. But unfortunately I used a service called SurveyMonkey, which allowed me to put up a survey for free, but then, unannounced, decided to hold the results hostage unless I pay them $300, which I won\’t do. After some email back-and-forth, they admitted that I own the data, and then refused to give it to me. So, don\’t use SurveyMonkey unless you want your data stolen. I managed to scrape the first 100 results off their web site (they won\’t let me download any results unless I pay up) but they are interesting and significant in any case. In short, I got the data I was looking for. Here is how they break down.

1. How comfortable are you with the idea that Homo Sapiens, just like every other species, is doomed to eventual extinction?

6 12 21 13 47

This was a calibration question, to get the dirt out of the data. People who are uncomfortable with the age and size of the universe, and our utter insignificance on the scale of things, aren\’t ready to discuss near-term human extinction. The 6 \”Extremely uncomfortable\” and the 12 \”Somewhat uncomfortable\” responses on the left are skewing the data. To adjust for this skew, I subtract 6 from the \”Extremely uncomfortable\” column, 12 from the \”Somewhat uncomfortable,\” and add 18 to \”Indifferent\” (because indifference cuts both ways, you know).

0 0 39 13 47

The data that follow have been adjusted accordingly. Ah, much better! We will all go extinct eventually, and if you are uncomfortable with this, please seek help elsewhere. Yes, this does mean that 18% of the audience won\’t benefit from this exercise, but I think we should proceed for the sake of the remaining 82%.

2. How comfortable are you with the idea that the human species may go extinct in the not-too-distant future?

17 16 33 11 22

Now, this is very interesting indeed, because the data is split very evently: 1/3 uncomfortable, 1/3 indifferent, and 1/3 comfortable. Now, it doesn\’t seem all that normal to be perfectly comfortable with everyone you know and their children going extinct in the next few decades. Some amount of emotional discomfort seems normal, given the subject matter. And look at the spike over on the right! I believe that at least some of the 22 \”Extremely comfortable\” respondents answered the wrong question: not whether they are comfortable with it, but whether they believe in it. This is another sort of skew, but let\’s hope that it is confined to this question.

3. How comfortable are you with the thought that many coastal cities, in which much of the global population lives, will be underwater by the end of the century?

2 7 37 19 33

This, I would guess, is the result of the story of rising ocean levels being endlessly repeated: people have become comfortable with the idea, in the sense of their senses having been dulled. But this isn\’t something to be comfortable or complacent about.

4. How comfortable are you with the thought that reduced snow-pack and glacial melt will wipe out entire farming regions, on which billions of people depend?

11 19 30 12 27

But this one hasn\’t been talked about quite so much. Yes, the California drought is a big story, and Lake Mead which feeds Las Vegas is drying up, but the full scale of the disaster globally hasn\’t quite sunk in yet. So this is a gap in coverage that is worth addressing.

5. How comfortable are you with the reality of national boundaries dissolving under the influx of political, economic and environmental migrants?

7 6 28 16 42

This is interesting, because there is a supermajority of people who are comfortable with the traditional nation-state going away. It would appear that most national politicians who try to make use of immigration as a \”hot button\” issue are in fact quite far behind the curve on this one. Since my work is very much international, not in terms of nation-states but in terms of ethnic nations, this result makes me happy.

6. How comfortable are you with the idea of overwhelmed health care systems leading to much higher disease loads, widespread mortality from currently preventable causes, much higher infant mortality and much lower life expectancy?

9 18 27 12 32

Here we have a clear multimodal distribution, its two peaks representing resignation (in the middle) and indifference (on the right). I don\’t think that this is a particularly helpful result. It is very hard for a society that has had the resources to be compassionate to embrace austerity and to ration treatment, limiting it to those who are either productive or promising to become so. Coming to terms with this transition is quite a task, and this is another area that needs much more attention. If it did, people might be a bit less comfortable with it.

7. How comfortable are you with the thought that, due to shortages of nonrenewable resources of all kinds, dense population centers will not be maintainable, turning cities into death traps?

7 10 27 16 39

Same multimodal distribution, but overall leaning even more heavily toward \”comfortable.\” It would seem that, in light of all we see, many people have lost hope that there will still be prosperous urban islands, with the help of advanced technology perhaps. (If you study the data, bauxite, used to smelt aluminum, will be the only nonrenewable industrial input that will still be abundant by mid-century; but the energy to smelt it won\’t be.) The demise of megacities is another subject worth tackling, and it is clear that there is an audience for it.

8. How comfortable are you with the prospect that unstable and extreme weather will make farming and kitchen-gardening unreliable, forcing the few survivors to revert to a nomadic lifestyle, gleaning what they can when and where they can, then moving on?

12 9 33 20 26

The surprise here, if any, is the lack of strong sentiment on the issue: the majority is either indifferent or only somewhat comfortable with the idea.

9. How comfortable are you with the prospect of civilized, urban humanity going extinct, being survived by widely dispersed, feral populations of hominids that eventually evolve into different hominid species?

10 -5 35 18 42

Bottom line: extremely comfortable. The -5 is the result of a few people who were far out in left field in question 1. lurching even further to the left. The subject of feral humanity should also be on the menu.

Thank you for your responses. This has been most enlightening!

No, you can\'t go back to the USSR!


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One of the fake stories kept alive by certain American politicians, with the help of western media, is that Vladimir Putin (who, they vacuously claim, is a dictator and a tyrant) wants to reconstitute the USSR, with the annexation of Crimea as the first step.

Instead of listening to their gossip, let\’s lay out the facts.

The USSR was officially dissolved on December 26, 1991 by declaration №142-H of the Supreme Soviet. It acknowledged the independence of the 15 Soviet republics, and in the place of the USSR created a Commonwealth of Independent States, which hasn\’t amounted to much.

In the west, there was much rejoicing, and everyone assumed that in the east everyone was rejoicing as well. Well, that\’s a funny thing, actually, because a union-wide referendum held on March 17, 1991, produced a stunning result: with over 80% turnout, of the 185,647,355 people who voted 113,512,812 voted to preserve the USSR. That\’s 71.92%—not exactly a slim majority. Their wishes were disregarded.

Was this public sentiment temporary, borne of fear in the face of uncertainty? And if it were to persist, it would surely be a purely Russian thing, because the populations of all these other Independent States, having tasted freedom, would never consider rejoining Russia. Well, that\’s another funny thing: in September of 2011, fully two decades after the referendum, Ukrainian sociologists found out that 30% of the people there wished for a return to a Soviet-style planned economy (stunningly, 17% of these were young people with no experience of life in the USSR) and only 22% wished for some sort of European-style democracy. The wish for a return to Soviet-style central planning is telling: it shows just how miserable a failure the Ukraine\’s experiment with instituting a western-style market economy had become. But, again, their wishes were disregarded.

This would seem to indicate that Putin\’s presumptuously postulated project of reconstituting the USSR would have plenty of popular support, would it not? What he said on the subject, when asked directly (in December of 2010) is this: “He who doesn\’t regret the collapse of the USSR doesn\’t have a heart; he who wants to see it reborn doesn\’t have a brain.” Last I checked, Putin does have a brain; ergo, no USSR 2.0 is forthcoming.

Interestingly, he went on to say a few more words on the subject. He said that the USSR had a competitive advantage as a unified market and a free trade zone. This one element of the USSR is now embodied in the Customs Union, of which Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and several smaller countries are members, and it appears to be a success.

The Ukraine—with over 40 million inhabitants, a major piece—refused to join while continuing to trade mostly with Customs Union members. This strategy has turned out to be, to put it mildly, disadvantageous, with Ukrainian economy now in rapid collapse, having declined over 17% in just the first quarter of this year. Thus, while the theory of competitive advantage may or may not be valid, the converse competitive disadvantage of *not* joining the Customs Union is there for all to see.

* * *

To be sure, many aspects of the old USSR have been happily consigned to oblivion. Among them:

• The communist ideology: the Communist Party no longer has a monopoly on power.
• The bloc mentality: the Warsaw Pact evaporated, leaving NATO behind as the one hand clapping. The new system is a multipolar one.
• Central planning: replaced with a market economy
• Economic isolationism: replaced with an export-driven economy based on trade agreements with numerous nations around the world
• Authoritarian governance: replaced with authoritative governance, in which leaders derive their authority from their popularity, which is based on their performance in office, whereas previously the General Secretary of the CPSU was a bit like the Pope—infallible by definition.

These are all positive changes, and very few people regret that they have occurred, or wish for a return to status quo ante.

There are many other aspects of the old USSR which have been degraded, sometimes severely, but nevertheless remain in place. Among them are public health and public education.

The USSR had a system of socialized medicine that excelled at some things and was mediocre in others. The shift to privatized medicine has been a success in some ways, but is very hard on those who cannot afford the care or the medications. The educational system is still very good at all levels, but here too there has been significant degradation, bemoaned by many observers.

The USSR invested heavily in science and culture, and much has been lost during the difficult years of the 1990s—something that many people regret very much. The USSR led the world in basic scientific research, probing into matters that did not have any commercial applications, simply because they were scientifically interesting and led to publishable results. The US led the world in product design, something that Soviet engineers were happy to simply copy much of the time, to save time and effort. Since they were not attempting to export into the western consumer market, a slight lag in time to market was of no consequence to them.

On the other hand, Americans have always had trouble wrapping their heads around the idea of financing scientific research that had absolutely no conceivable commercial applications. In addition, the anti-intellectualism prevalent in American culture caused a proliferation of other sorts of “scientists”: political scientists, social scientists, food scientists… a certificate in “janitorial science” wouldn\’t be too much of a stretch.

Basic science is the premier transnational intellectual endeavor of the human species in modern times, and the damage done to Soviet science has caused significant damage to the pursuit of scientific knowledge throughout the world, and a diminution in the stature of the scientific endeavor. Now even in Russia scientists are forced to chase after grant money by pursuing avenues of research that lead to patentable gizmos and gadgets.

One of the things that has been retained is the living arrangement. Over the seven decades of the USSR\’s existence, there took place a thorough transformation from an agrarian population dispersed across the countryside to an industrialized population concentrated in major cities. The people went from being log cabin-dwellers to apartment-dwellers. Following the dissolution of the USSR, the housing stock was privatized, and now many families own their residences free and clear. The ability to live rent-free provides them with a very large competitive advantage compared to families in high-rent, debt-ridden countries such as the US.

Along with apartment buildings built in dense, walkable clusters went a system of public transportation. This, too, has remained largely intact, and in many cities has been expanded and modernized. This, again, provides numerous benefits to the population, and gives them an advantage vis à vis people in car-dependent countries, where the people spend much of their life stuck in traffic, and where the elderly, who are too old to drive safely, are often forced to choose between being stuck in their homes and taking their lives (and those of others) in their own hands behind the wheel.

* * *

When something is said to have collapsed, people often assume that it has simply ceased to exist. But the effects of collapse depend on the nature of the thing that collapses. When a hydroelectric dam collapses, it ceases to produce electricity, plus it destroys lots of things downstream from it, plus it may disrupt access to water. When a school collapses, it may kill some schoolchildren, and some teachers, but it doesn\’t necessarily destroy the knowledge that was being imparted. And when a mausoleum collapses, only its description changes: it can then be described as “ruined.”

Some collapses are common, others not. Economies, especially bubble economies, collapse all the time. Empires collapse with great regularity. Civilizations are said to collapse, but do they really? A civilization can be viewed as a functioning apparatus, but doing so seems to confuse a set of principles with the entity that embodies them. Civilizational principles can be quite durable: the Roman empire was gone for a thousand years when Europe once again became capable of large-scale social organization, but, sure enough, the Europeans dusted off the old Roman legal codes and principles of organization, and started applying them. In the meantime, in the colleges and universities, Latin had remained the language of learned discourse, in absence of any surviving Latins being present to teach LSL classes. It would appear that civilizations don\’t really collapse; they just become quiescent. New developments may spark them back to life, or they may eventually be supplanted—by another civilization.

The USSR is gone as a political entity, but as a civilizational entity it appears to be holding its own, though it lacks a name. The two-part name—Soviet, plus “Soyuz” (Union)—fell apart. The word “Soviet,” used as an adjective, applies only to the past. As a noun, it means “council,” having originated from the revolutionary workers\’ councils, and this is still used, although cautiously: “to help with council” is, to a Russian, to only pretend to help. But the term “Soyuz” lives on; it is the name of the only spaceship that can still ferry passengers to the International Space Station; the new Customs Union is a Customs Soyuz. And Russian children still grow up in the Soyuz, in a manner of speaking, thanks to Soyuzmultfilm, the Soviet-era studio that produced excellent children\’s animated films, which are still hugely popular and are now available on Youtube.

Let us think of the Soyuz—as a civilization, rather than of the USSR—which was a political empire. A major effort was made to supplant it with western civilization, through the introduction of market economics and a flood of western imports, both material and cultural. Western civilizational principles dominated for a time, among them such western innovations as granting equal status to homosexual practices, disregarding the role of ethnicity in political organization, and the abnegation of economic and political sovereignty to the imperial center in Washington, DC. All of these were, for a time, masticated thoroughly. Then they were rather forcefully spat out, everywhere in the former USSR except for a few sorry basket cases, the Ukraine foremost among them. But everywhere else, once the full fiasco of western values became clear to all, previous civilizational principles came roaring back to life.

Perhaps foremost among them is social conservatism. The Russian Federation has two major religions: Orthodox Christianity and Islam, and a great deal of effort goes into maintaining their mutual compatibility, so that religion does not become a divisive factor. Introducing constructs that are alien to both, such as gay marriage, is a nonstarter. But polygamy is not off the table, and a senior Chechen official recently took a young bride to be his second wife. This event caused quite a sensation, but was allowed to proceed—in Moslem Chechnya.

Second is the principle that ethnicity is significant to social and political organization. Russia is not a nation—it is a multinational federation. There are over 190 different nations that make it up, with ethnic Russians accounting for a little over 3/4 of the population. This percentage is likely to decrease over time: Russia is second only to USA in the number of immigrants it absorbs, and their country of origin, sorted by the number of immigrants, is as follows: Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Belarus, China, Germany and USA.

During the existence of the USSR, the multi-ethnic composition of the country was given much emphasis. Numerous small nations had their languages written down for the first time, using the ever-expanding Cyrillic alphabet, and endowed with a national literature. National languages were included in school curricula, and various nations used them in their local self-governance, to enlarge their autonomy and improve social cohesion. In essence, the Russian Federation provides for ethnic sovereignty—each nation can claim a measure of sovereignty for itself, rule itself and create its own laws, provided they do not conflict with the larger whole. A prime example of this is modern Chechnya: Moscow is content to let it prosecute its own anti-terrorist campaign, to put down the remaining foreign-financed jihadis.

Imagine the principle of ethnic sovereignty being applied to the US, where one\’s ethnicity is of no consequence provided one looks, sounds and behaves sufficiently Anglo. In the US, ethnicity has been reduced to questions of music and cuisine, with perhaps a festival here and there, but always with the tacit understanding that “ethnic” means “other”: there is no such thing as an “ethnic Anglo.” Since ethnicity is essentially taboo, the completely artificial construct of race is used instead, with artificial, discriminatory labels attached to categories of individuals. The label “Latino” is particularly bogus, since there is very little in common between, say, a Cuban and a Bolivian, except that both are likely to face discrimination, neither being considered sufficiently “white”—Anglo, that is. But imagine if the Mexicans or the African-Americans were to be granted a similar level of autonomy within the US? It would blow the country to pieces!

A country predicated on protecting “white privilege” cannot possibly survive such a corruption of its founding principles. The US fought a revolution to keep slavery legal (it was about to be abolished by the British); then it fought a civil war to change slavery from one form to another (there are more African-Americans in US jails now than there were slaves in the Confederate South prior to the Civil War).

Nobody knows what wars lie in its future, or what will provoke them, but this particular intercivilizational fault line is likely to be very important. For what is a nation? Is it your tribe, or is it a bunch of mercenaries pretending to be Anglo so that they are allowed into the country club? Only time will tell which of the two civilizations will prove to be more durable.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.


A little Friday humor. NATO just held a summit in Turkey, which ended with the assembled foreign ministers drunkenly butchering We Are the World karaoke-style. Enjoy!

America\'s Achilles\' Heel

Heiko Müller

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Last Saturday, a massive Victory Parade was held in Moscow commemorating the 70-year anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany to the Red Army and the erection of the Soviet flag atop the Reichstag in Berlin. There were a few unusual aspects to this parade, which I would like to point out, because they conflict with the western official propaganda narrative. First, it wasn\’t just Russian troops that marched in the parade: the troops of 10 other nations took part in it, including the Chinese honor guard and a contingent of Grenadiers from India. Dignitaries from these nations were present in the stands, and the Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife were seated next to President Vladimir Putin, who, in his speech at the start of the parade, warned against attempts to create a unipolar world—sharp words aimed squarely at the United States and its western allies. Second, a look at the military hardware that rolled through Red Square or flew over it would indicate that, short of an outright nuclear mutual self-annihilation, there isn\’t much that the US military could throw at Russia that Russia couldn\’t neutralize.

It would appear that American attempts to isolate Russia have resulted in the exact opposite: if 10 nations, among them the world\’s largest economy, comprising some 3 billion people, are willing to set aside their differences and stand shoulder to shoulder with the Russians to counter American attempts at global dominance, then clearly the American plan isn\’t going to work at all. Western media focused on the fact that western leaders declined to attend the celebration, either in a fit of pique or because so ordered by the Obama administration, but this only highlights their combined irrelevance, be it in defeating Hitler, or in commemorating his defeat 70 years later. Nevertheless, in his speech Putin specifically thanked the French, the British and the Americans for their contribution to the war effort. I am sorry that he left out the Belgians, who had been so helpful at Dunkirk.

One small detail about the parade is nevertheless stunning: Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, a Tuvan Buddhist and one of the most respected Russian leaders, who presided over the Emergencies Ministry prior to becoming the Defense Minister, did something none of his predecessors ever did: at the beginning of the ceremony, he made the sign of the cross, in the Russian Orthodox manner. This simple gesture transformed the parade from a display of military pomp to a sacred ritual. Then followed the slow march with two flags side by side: the Russian flag, and the Soviet flag that flew on top of the Reichstag in Berlin on Victory Day 70 years ago. The march was accompanied by a popular World War II song? Its title? “The Sacred War.” The message is clear: the Russian military, and the Russian people, have put themselves in God\’s hands, to do God\’s work, to once again sacrifice themselves to save the world from the ravages of an evil empire.

If you try to dismiss any of this as Russian state propaganda, then here is something else you should be aware of. Did you hear of the spontaneously organized procession in which, after the official parade, half a million people marched through Moscow with portraits of their relatives who died in World War II? The event was called “The Eternal Regiment” (Бессмертный полк). Similar processions took place in many cities throughout Russia, and the total number of participants is estimated at around 4 million. Western press either panned it or billed it as an attempt by Putin to whip up anti-western sentiment. Now that sort of “press coverage,” my fellow space travelers, is pure propaganda! No, it was an enthusiastic, spontaneous outpouring of genuine public sentiment. If you think about it just a tiny bit, nothing on this scale could be contrived artificially, and the thought that millions of people would prostitute their dead for propaganda purposes is, frankly, both cynical and insulting.

* * *

Instead of collapsing quietly, the US has decided to pick a fight with Russia. It appears to have already lost the fight, but a question remains: How many more countries will the US manage to destroy before the reality of its inevitable defeat and disintegration finally catches up with it?

As Putin said last summer when speaking at the Seliger youth forum, “I get the feeling that no matter what the Americans touch, they end up with Libya or Iraq.” Indeed, the Americans have been on a tear, destroying one country after another. Iraq has been dismembered, Libya is a no-go zone, Syria is a humanitarian disaster, Egypt is a military dictatorship executing a program of mass imprisonment. The latest fiasco is Yemen, where the pro-American government was recently overthrown, and the American nationals who found themselves trapped there had to wait for the Russians and the Chinese to extract them and send them home. But it was the previous American foreign policy fiasco, in the Ukraine, which prompted the Russians, along with the Chinese, to signal that the US has taken a step too far, and that all further steps will result in automatic escalation.

The Russian plan, along with China, India, and much of the rest of the world, is to prepare for war with the US, but to do everything possible to avoid it. Time is on their side, because with each passing day they become stronger while America grows weaker. But while this process runs its course, America might “touch” a few more countries, turning them into a Libya or an Iraq. Is Greece next on the list? What about throwing under the bus the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), which are now NATO members (i.e., sacrificial lambs)? Estonia is a short drive from Russia\’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, it has a large Russian population, it has a majority-Russian capital city, and it has a rabidly anti-Russian government. Of those four facts, just one is incongruous. Is it being set up to self-destruct? Some Central Asian republics, in Russia\’s ticklish underbelly, might be ripe for being “touched” too.

There is no question that the Americans will continue to try to create mischief around the world, “touching” vulnerable, exploitable countries, for as long as they can. But there is another question that deserves to be asked: Do the Americans “touch” themselves? Because if they do, then the next candidate for extreme makeover into a bombed-out wasteland might be the United States itself. Let\’s consider this option.

As the events in Ferguson, and more recently in Baltimore, have indicated, the tensions between African-Americans and the police have escalated to a point where explosions become likely. The American “war on drugs” has been essentially a war on young black (and Latino) men; about a third of young blacks are behind bars. They also run a high risk of being shot by the police. To be fair, the police also run a high risk of getting shot by young black males, causing them to be jumpy and to overreact. Given the gradually collapsing economy—close to 100 million working-age Americans are unemployed (“outside the labor force,” if you wish to split hairs)—it would seem that for an ever-increasing chunk of the population cooperating with the authorities is no longer a useful strategy: you get locked up or killed anyway, but you get none of the temporary benefits that come from ignoring the law.

There is an interesting asymmetry in the American media\’s ability to block out information about civil unrest and insurgency: if it is happening overseas, then news of it can be carefully calibrated or suppressed outright. (Did American television tell you about the recent resumption of shelling of civilian districts by the Ukrainian military? Of course not!) This is possible because Americans are notoriously narcissistic and largely indifferent to the rest of the world, of which most of them know little, and what they think they know is often wrong. But if the unrest is within the US itself, then the various media outlets find themselves competing against each other in who can sensationalize it better, in order to get more viewership, and more advertising revenue. The mainstream media in the US is tightly controlled by a handful of large conglomerates, making it one big monopoly on information, but at the level of selling advertising market principles still prevail.

Thus there is the potential for a positive feedback loop: more civil unrest generates more sensationalized news coverage, which in turn amplifies the civil unrest, which further sensationalizes the news coverage. And there is a second positive feedback loop as well: the more civil unrest there is, the more the police overreact in trying to control the situation, thereby generating more rage, amplifying the civil unrest. These two positive feedback loops can continue to run out of control for a while, but the end result, in all such recent incidents, is the same: the introduction of National Guard troops and the imposition of curfew and martial law.

The swift introduction of the military might seem a bit odd, considering that most police departments, even small-town ones, have been heavily militarized in recent years, and even the security people at some school districts now have military vehicles and machine guns. But the progression is a natural one. On the one hand, when people who habitually resort to brute force find that it isn\’t working, they naturally assume that this is because they aren\’t using enough of it. On the other hand, if the criminal justice system is already a travesty and a shambles, then why not just cut through the red tape and impose martial law?

There is an awful lot of weapons of all sorts in the US already, and more will come in all the time as the US is forced to close overseas military bases due to lack of funds. And they will probably get used, for the same reason and in the same fashion that red bricks came to be used in Boston. You see, plenty of red bricks kept coming into Boston aboard British ships, where they were used as ballast for the return trip. This created the impetus to do something with them. But putting up brick buildings is a difficult, demanding process, especially if laborers are always drunk. And so the solution was to use the bricks to pave sidewalks—something one can do on one\’s hands and knees. Similarly with the military hardware sloshing back into the US from abroad. It will be used, because it\’s there; and it will be used in the stupidest way possible: shooting at one\’s own people.

But bad things happen to militaries when they are ordered to shoot at their own people. It is one thing to shoot at “towel-heads” in a far-away land; it is quite another to be ordered shoot at somebody who could be your own brother down the street from where you grew up. Such orders result in fragging (shooting your own officers), in refusal to follow orders, and in attempts to stand up for the other side.

And that\’s where things get interesting. Because, you see, if you shoot at, imprison, and otherwise abuse a defenseless civilian population long enough, what you get in response is an armed insurgency. The place insurgencies are easiest to organize is in prison. For instance, ISIS, or the Islamic Caliphate, was masterminded by people who had previously worked for Saddam Hussein, while they were imprisoned by the Americans. They took this opportunity to work out an efficient organizational structure and, upon release, found each other and got down to work. Having a third of young American blacks locked up gives them all the opportunity they need to organize an effective insurgency.

To be effective, an insurgency needs lots of weapons. Here, again, there is a procedure for acquiring military technology that has become almost routine. What weapons are being used by ISIS? Why, of course, American ones, which the Americans provided to the regime in Baghdad, and which ISIS took as trophies when the Iraqi army refused to fight and ran away. And what weapons are being used by the Houthi rebels in Yemen? Why, of course, the American ones, which the Americans provided to the now overthrown pro-American regime there. And what are some of the weapons being used by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad? Why, of course, American ones, sold to them by the Ukrainian government, which got them from the Americans. There is a pattern here: it seems that whenever Americans arm, train and equip an army, that army stands a really big chance of simply melting away, with the weapons falling into the hands of those who want to use them against American interests. It is hard to see why this same pattern wouldn\’t hold once the US places much of itself under military occupation.

And that\’s where things get really interesting: a well-armed, well-organized insurgency composed of thoroughly radicalized, outraged people who have absolutely nothing to lose and are fighting for their home turf and their families squaring off against a demoralized, defeated US military that has just failed spectacularly in every country it “touched.”

They say that “You can\’t fight city hall.” But what if you have a tank battalion that can control four intersections all around city hall, turrets pointed in all directions, firing at anything that moves? And what if you have enough infantry to go around and ring the doorbells of all the key city hall bureaucrats? Wouldn\’t that change one\’s odds of victory in fighting city hall?

The US might get to “touch” a few more countries before this scenario unfolds, but it seems likely that (excepting the possibility of all-out war) eventually America will “touch” itself, and then all those countries whose troops marched through Red Square last Saturday won\’t have America to kick around any more.

First title from Club Orlov Press has been released


I am very happy to announce that our first Club Orlov Press offering is

Now Available for Ordering.

Club Orlov Press is a fledgling publishing company whose mission is to mitigate some of the drastic changes that are unfolding in the world around us, and that are affecting all of us in some way, by producing transformative books based on the author\’s personal experience. Unlike the traditional book publishing model, in which everyone at the publishing house draws a nice salary while the author gets paid a pittance, with us the author gets to keep more than half of the cover price. We achieve this by using the latest print-on-demand technology, free software, a streamlined editorial process and zero office space. You can help our venture take off by ordering a copy of this book, and by spreading news of it among your circle of friends.

* * *

This book is a collection of the best essays from Ray Jason\’s popular \”Sea Gypsy Philosopher\” blog, which now has readers in over 130 countries. Although he deals with controversial subjects, Ray approaches them in a calm, measured manner and avoids strident rants. His highly readable meditations begin with a poignant vignette from his travels. Some of the volatile topics he addresses include: predatory capitalism, television, American imperialism, religion, the downside of civilization, possible societal collapse and many more.

* * *

My friend Ray calls himself a philosopher, but he is more accurately described as an artist. As you’ll discover, he has achieved remarkable artistry in juggling knives, torches and bowling balls; I hope that you’ll also enjoy Ray’s gifts as a prose artist and a poet in the pages that follow.

More significantly, he has perfected the art of living, reducing his physical requirements and thus his budget down to bare essentials, encapsulating them all in his modest but very capable sailboat. Doing so has given him the freedom to spend his days sailing around an idyllic and pristine tropical archipelago, anchoring wherever he pleases for as long as he pleases, communing with the locals both animal and human, rowing ashore to pick fruit, going for a swim, or sitting up on deck, his back against the mast, composing these essays with a clipboard and pen.

Ray was anchored next to us for some of the time we worked together on this book, and I saw for myself just how closely his deliberate, well-paced, contemplative way of living approximates the ideal of personal freedom. This freedom has given Ray the time, mental and physical space, and the perspective to focus intensely on the multitude of predicaments that beset the world, such as nuclear self-annihilation, runaway climate change and the steady morphing of the U.S. into a police state. Most people, who endlessly sail their little dinghy around the three racing buoys of work-shopping-home, have neither the time nor the mental fortitude to adequately consider such matters, never mind respond to them with anything more constructive than anxiety and compulsive shopping for “survival” goods.

But Ray has been able to formulate and execute a plan: in almost any worst-case scenario, he and his boat will be nowhere to be found—for a while—and then drift back once the dust settles. More than two decades spent living aboard and single-handing his way around the world\’s oceans have prepared him for just about anything. As they say, don\’t try this at home, but I do hope that Ray\’s example inspires you to try something—anything—that won\’t leave you treading water, waiting for a helpful shark to drop by and put you out of your misery.

It seems that a measured, well-paced life in a serene setting, combined with the option to relocate to any one of 139.7 million square miles of ocean, has given Ray the ability to handle with equanimity and poise topics that fill most of us with trepidation, and to offer you an alternative, not just for some distant future, but, if you choose it, as soon as you like. What’s that alternative? It is to join Ray\’s Sea Gypsy Tribe and get ready to sail away from trouble. If his vision strikes you as romantic, then that\’s because Ray is a romantic, following in the footsteps of Emerson and Thoreau.

I hope that you thoroughly enjoy these most extraordinary lessons from a most extraordinary being. And I hope that they will help you move in the direction of living a life that is less ordinary. Maybe it will even inspire a few of you to accept Ray\’s advice, move aboard and sail off, in which case Ray and I might see you out on the water.

* * *

About the author:
Ray Jason has enjoyed a contrary-to-ordinary life. After receiving his Political Science degree, he was drafted and served in Vietnam aboard an ammunition ship. This experience convinced him to avoid the \”real world\” as much as possible. He achieved this by spending the next 20 years juggling torches, knives and bowling balls on the streets of San Francisco—with considerable skill, prompting San Francisco\’s Mayor to declare July 17, 1981 Ray Jason Day. He has spent his recent years as a sea gypsy—wandering the wide waters in search of adventure, serenity and philosophical insights.