Archive for April, 2019

The Saker Interview


The Saker: How would you assess the current situation in the Ukraine in terms of social, economic and political collapse?

Dmitry Orlov: The Ukraine has never been viable as an independent, sovereign state and so its ongoing disintegration is to be expected. The applicability of the concept of collapse is predicated on the existence of an intact, stand-alone entity capable of collapse, and with the Ukraine this is definitely not the case. Never in its history has it been able to stand alone as a stable, self-sufficient, sovereign entity. As soon as it gained independence, it just fell over. Just as the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), it had reached its peak of economic and social development just as the USSR was about to collapse, and it has been degenerating and losing population ever since. Thus, the right model for discussing it is not one of sudden collapse but of steady degeneration and decay.

The Ukraine’s territory was stuck together by the Bolsheviks—first by Lenin, then by Stalin, then by Khrushchev. It was Lenin who lumped in its eastern regions (Donetsk and Lugansk specifically) who previously were part of Russia proper. Stalin then added eastern lands, which were at various times Polish, Austro-Hungarian or Romanian. Finally, Khrushchev tossed in Russian Crimea in a move that was unconstitutional at the time, since no public referendum had been held in Crimea to decide this question as was required by the Soviet constitution.

Prior to this Bolshevik effort, “Ukraina” was not used as a proper political or geographic designation. The territory was considered part of Russia, distinguished from the rest by a prefix “Malo-” (small) and called “Malorossiya. The word “ukraina” is simply an archaic form of the Russian word “okraina” (outskirts, border land). This is why the definite article “the” is required: the Ukraine is literally “the outskirts of Russia.” The Soviets endowed this border land with a make-believe identity and forced many of its inhabitants to officially deckare their ethnicity as “Ukrainian” in a successful bid to gain an additional seat a the UN.

This political concoction was supposedly held together by a Ukrainian ethnic identity, which is itself a concoction. The Ukrainian language is some combination of southern Russian village dialects with a bit of Polish thrown in as flavoring. It has a lilt to it that Russians find enchanting, making it well suited for folk songs. But it never had much practical merit, and the working language of the Ukrainians was always Russian. Even today Ukrainian nationalists switch to Russian if the subject matter is demanding enough. Religiously, most of the population has been for many centuries and still is Russian Orthodox.

In my conversations about the Ukraine with many Ukrainians over the years I discovered a shocking truth: unlike the Russians, the Ukrainians seem to have exactly zero ethnic solidarity. What binds them together is their commonality of historical experience as part of the Russian Empire, then the USSR, but this historical legacy is being actively erased. After the Soviet collapse and Ukrainian independence there followed a campaign to de-Sovietize and de-Russianize the Ukraine, deprecating this common historical legacy and replacing it with a synthetic Ukrainian identity based on a falsified history that is alien to most of the population. This fake history lionizes Nazi collaborators and attempts to rub out entirely all memory of the Ukraine’s once very active role in the larger Russian world.

Thus we have a mostly Russian-speaking, historically mostly Russian territory where most of the people speak either Russian (some of them with an accent) or a sort of Ukrainian patois called Surzhik, which is Ukrainian-sounding but with mostly Russian words (the overlap between the two languages is so great that it is difficult to draw the line between them). Supposedly proper Ukrainian is spoken in the west of the country, which had never been part of the Russian Empire, but it’s a dialect that is mostly unintelligible in the rest of the country.

In spite of this confused linguistic situation, Ukrainian was imposed as the language of instruction throughout the country. Lack of textbooks in Ukrainian and lack of teachers qualified to teach in Ukrainian caused the quality of public education to plummet, giving rise to several generations of Ukrainians who don’t really know Ukrainian, have had little formal instruction in Russian, and speak a sort of informal half-language. More recently, laws have been passed that severely restrict the use of Russian. For example, people who have never spoken a word of Ukrainian are now forced to use it in order to shop or to obtain government services.

The artificial, synthetic Ukrainian identity is too thin to give the country a sense of self or a sense of direction. It is a purely negative identity: Ukraine is that which is not Russia. The resulting hole in public consciousness was plugged by making a cargo cult of European integration: it was announced that the Ukraine was leaving the Russian world behind and joining the European Union and NATO. Most recently the intent to join the EU and NATO was written directly into the Ukrainian constitution. In the meantime, it has become abundantly clear that neither EU nor NATO membership is the least bit likely, or necessary: the EU got everything it wanted from the Ukraine by forcing it to sign the Association Agreement while giving nothing of value in return; and Ukrainian territory already serves as a playground for NATO training exercises.

Thus, with regard to social collapse, there really isn’t much to discuss, because the term “Ukrainian society” has very little basis in reality. If we drop the conceit that the Ukraine is a country that can be viable if separated from Russia, what can we say about its chances as part of a Greater Russia?
Here I have to digress to explain the difference between a proper empire and the USSR. A proper empire functions as a wealth pump that sucks wealth out of its imperial possessions, be they overseas, as in the case of the British Empire, or part of the periphery, as in the case of the Russian Empire. The latter inherited the traditions of the Mongol Empire that predated it. The Mongol term “tamga” was often used to indicate the annual tribute to be collected from newly conquered tribes as the Russian Empire expanded east. (Many of these tribes were previously Mongol subjects who understood the meaning of the term.)

Here is the key point: the USSR was not a normal empire at all. Instead of functioning as a wealth pump that pumped wealth from the periphery to the imperial center, it functioned as a revolutionary incubator, exploiting the resources of the core (Russia) and exporting them to the periphery to build socialism, with the further goal of fomenting global communist revolution. The various ethnic groups that were grossly overrepresented among the Bolsheviks were all from the periphery—the Jewish Pale, Byelorussia, the Ukraine, the Caucasus and the Baltics—and they thought nothing of sacrificing Mother Russia on the altar of world revolution.

Their revolutionary zeal was hindered by its utter lack of practical merit. As this came to be recognized, Leon Trotsky—the great exponent of world revolution—was first exiled, then assassinated. Later, when it became clear that without appealing to Russian patriotic sentiments the task of prevailing against Nazi Germany was unlikely to succeed, Stalin brought back the Russian Orthodox Church and made other efforts toward the restoration of Russian ethnic identity that were previously decried as retrograde and chauvinistic. There were significant setbacks to this process as well: in the 1940s a group of communist leaders from Leningrad attempted to promote Russian interests through regional cooperation. They were purged and suffered political repression in what became known as the “Leningrad affair.”

Luckily, the idea of Russia as a disposable staging ground for world communist revolution was never fully implemented. However, the tendency to exploit Russia for the benefit of its Soviet periphery remained intact. The USSR’s most significant leaders—Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev—were not Russian; Stalin was a Georgian while the latter two were Ukrainian. All the other Soviet republics had their own communist party organizations that developed cadres to send to Moscow, while Russia itself lacked such an organization. The inevitable result was that most of the other Soviet republics were able to suck resources out of Russia, making them far more prosperous than Russia itself.

Thus, the image of the USSR as a typical empire is simply wrong. The right mental image of the USSR is that of a prostrate, emaciated sow (Russia) being suckled by 14 fat, greedy piglets (the other Soviet Socialist Republics). For all his numerous failings, Boris Yeltsin did one thing right: he dismantled the USSR (although the way he went about it was beyond incompetent and verged on treason).

If you are in need of an explanation for why Russia is now resurgent, increasingly prosperous and able to invest vast sums in hypersonic weapons systems and in modernized infrastructure for its people, this is it: the 14 piglets had been sent off to root for themselves. This bit of perspective, by the way, puts paid to the rank idiocy of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Grand Chessboard”: his theory that Russia wants to be an empire but cannot do so without the Ukraine shatters on contact with the realization that Russia hasn’t been an empire for over a century now and has no need or desire to become one again.

In any case, these days empires are a bit retro, you know, and not at all useful except as a way for silly Americans to finish bankrupting themselves. Russia needs reliable trading partners who can pay their own way, not ungrateful dependents clamoring for handouts. Just bringing Crimea up to Russia’s contemporary standards after 30 years of Ukrainian neglect has turned out to be a monumental task; as far as doing that for the rest of the Ukraine—forget it!

So, armed with this perspective, what can we say about the Ukraine from the contemporary Russian perspective?

First and foremost, it is a freak show, as attested by the content of Russian talk shows on which Ukrainian experts appear as clownish, indestructible cartoon characters: whenever their risible arguments on behalf of the Ukraine blow up in their faces, for a moment they stand there charred and furious, then brush themselves off and appear in the next segment fresh as daisies. This freak show has certain didactic merit: it helps the Russian body politic develop powerful antibodies against Western hypocrisy, because it was Western meddling that has made contemporary Ukraine into the horrible mess it is. But this was, in a sense, inevitable: deprived of the Soviet teat, the Ukraine has been attempting to suckle up to the US and EU for 30 years now and, failing that, has been carving up and roasting its own loins.

Second, the Ukraine is a rich source of immigrants, having lost around a third of its population since independence. Much of its population qualifies as Russian: linguistically, culturally and religiously they are perfectly compatible with the Russian population. Ukrainians are already the third most populous ethnic group within Russia (after Russians and Tatars) and Russia has been able to absorb the Ukrainians that have been fleeing to Russia in recent years. As the Ukraine’s population dwindles, a natural sorting-out is taking place. Those who are most compatible with the Russian world tend to move to Russia while the rest go to Poland and other EU countries.

Lastly, there is a significant amount of fatigue in Russia with the Ukrainian subject. It is currently a major topic of discussion because of the farcical presidential elections currently taking place there, but more and more one hears the question: “Must we continue talking about this?” There just isn’t anything positive to say about the Ukraine, and people tend to just shake their heads and switch to another channel. Thus, the final element of the Russian perspective on the Ukraine is that it’s painful to look at and they would rather go look at something else.

However, this is not to be. For ample historical reasons, Russia remains the Ukraine’s largest trade partner. Russian and Ukrainian economies were conceived of as a unit, based on the same set of plans, standards and regulations. In spite of concerted politically motivated efforts by Ukrainian leaders to sever these links, many of them have stubbornly remained in place, for lack of alternatives. Meanwhile, the Ukraine makes very little that the European Union or the rest of the world would want, and very little of it complies with EU’s voluminous standards and regulations. Specifically, the EU has no use at all for Ukrainian manufactured goods, and primarily sees the Ukraine as a source of cheap raw materials and labor.

It is Russia that supplies the nuclear fuel for the Ukraine’s aging nuclear power plants which provide well over half of all the electricity there, while Russian coal (anthracite, specifically) supplies much of the rest. But, for political reasons, Ukrainian officials are loath to admit the fact that the umbilical cord that connects the Ukraine to Russia cannot be severed. For example, they do not buy Russian natural gas directly but through intermediaries in the EU and at a mark-up (part of which they pocket). On paper, the Ukraine imports gas from the EU; physically, the methane molecules piped in from Russia never leave Ukrainian territory; they are simply diverted for local use.

By the time the USSR collapsed, the Ukraine was its most highly developed and possibly its richest part, and some people expected that, having thrown off the Soviet yoke, its future would be too bright to look at without goggles. It had abundant natural resources (fertile land, coal) and an educated labor force. It manufactured numerous high-tech products such as jet aircraft, marine diesels, helicopter engines, rocket engines and much else that was the best in the world. Instead, what has occurred is several decades of thievery, stagnation and decay. By now the Ukraine has lost most of its industry and the Soviet-era infrastructure has decayed to the point where much of it is worn out and on the verge of collapse. Industry has shut down and the specialists it once employed have either retired or have gone off to work in Russia, in the EU or in the US. (Some Ukrainian rocket scientists have apparently gone off to work in North Korea, and this explains the DPRK’s recent stunning successes in rocketry as well as its unlikely, exotic choice of rocket fuel: unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine.)

The Saker: What about the Donbas republics? How would you compare the situation in Novorussia with what is taking place in the Ukraine?

Dmitry Orlov: The term “Novorossiya” (New Russia) goes back several centuries, to the time Catherine the Great expanded the Russian Empire to include Crimea and other southern possessions. What Lenin reassigned to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic were Russian lands, Donetsk and Lugansk regions among them.

There are several other Ukrainian regions that are almost entirely Russian—Kharkov and Odessa specifically—but Donetsk and Lugansk are not Ukrainian in the least. This is why, after the government overthrow of 2014, when it became clear that the intentions of the Ukrainian nationalists who seized power in Kiev were to oppress the Russian part of the population, these two regions decided to strike out on their own. The Ukrainian nationalists reacted by launching a civil war, which started exactly five years ago, and which they have lost. To save face, they have declared their defeat the result of a “Russian invasion” but have been unable to present any evidence of it. Had the Russians invaded, the result would have been a replay of Russia’s action in Georgia in August of 2008, which lasted about a week.

The Ukrainians are continuing to lob missiles into the territories of Donetsk and Lugansk, causing sporadic civilian casualties. Once in a while they stage minor skirmishes, suffer casualties and pull back. But mostly their “Anti-Terrorist Operation,” which is what they are calling this civil war, has turned into a propaganda initiative, with the mythical “Russian invaders” invoked at every turn to explain their otherwise inexplicable string of defeats.

After some amount of effort by NATO instructors to train the Ukrainians, the instructors gave up. The Ukrainians simply laughed in their faces because it was clear to them that the instructors did not know how to fight at all. It was then decided that the “road map” for Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO should be set aside because the Ukrainians are just too crazy for sedate and sedentary NATO. The trainers were then replaced with CIA types who simply collected intelligence on how to fight a high-intensity ground war without air support—something that no NATO force would ever consider doing. Under such conditions NATO forces would automatically retreat or, failing that, surrender.

Meanwhile, the two eastern regions, which are highly developed economically and have a lot of industry, have been integrating ever more closely into the Russian economy. Their universities and institutes are now fully accredited within the Russian system of higher education, their currency is the ruble, and although in terms of international recognition they remain part of the Ukraine, it is very important to note that the Ukraine does not treat them as such.

The Ukrainian government does not treat the citizens of Donetsk and Lugansk as its citizens: it does not pay their pensions, it does not recognize their right to vote and it does not provide them with passports. It lays claim to the territory of Donetsk and Lugansk but not to the people who reside there. Now, genocide and ethnic cleansing are generally frowned upon by the international community, but an exception is being made in this case because of Russophobia: the Russian people living in Donetsk and Lugansk have been labeled as “pro-Russian” and are therefore legitimate targets.

Russia has been resisting calls to grant official recognition to these two People’s Republics or to provide overt military support (weapons and volunteers do filter through from the Russian side without any hindrance, although the flow of volunteers has been slowing down of late). From a purely cynical perspective, this little war is useful for Russia. If in the future the Ukraine fails completely and fractures into pieces, as appears likely, and if some of these pieces (which might theoretically include not just Donetsk and Lugansk regions but also Kharkov, Odessa and Dnepropetrovsk) clamor to join Russia, then Russia would face a serious problem.

You see, over the past 30 years most Ukrainians have been content to sit around drinking beer and watching television as their country got looted. They saw no problem with going out to demonstrate and protest provided they were paid to do it. They voted the way they were paid to vote. They didn’t take an issue with Ukrainian industry shutting down as long as they could work abroad and send money back. They aren’t enraged or even embarrassed by the fact that their country is pretty much run from the US embassy in Kiev. About the only ones with any passion among them are the Nazis who march around with torches and sport Nazi insignia. In short, these aren’t the sort of people that any self-respecting country would want to have anything to do with, never mind absorb them into its population en masse, because the effect would be to demoralize its entire population.

But the people of Donetsk and Lugansk are not like that at all. These coal miners, factory workers and cab drivers have been spending days and nights in the trenches for years now, holding back one of Europe’s larger militaries, and fighting for every square meter of their soil. If the Ukraine is ever to be reborn as something that Russia would find acceptable, it is these people who can provide the starter culture. They have to win, and they have to win without any help from the Russian military, which can squash the Ukrainian military like a bug, but what would be the point of doing that? Thus, Russia provides humanitarian aid, business opportunities, some weapons and some volunteers, and bides its time, because creating a viable new Ukraine out of a defunct one is a process that will take considerable time.

The Saker: What is your take on the first round of Presidential elections in the Ukraine?

Dmitry Orlov: The first round of the elections was an outright fraud. The object of the exercise was to somehow allow president Poroshenko to make it into the second round. This was done by falsifying as many votes as was necessary. In a significant number of precincts the turnout was exactly 100% instead of the usual 60% or so and counted votes from people who had moved, died or emigrated. All of these fake votes went to Poroshenko, allowing him to slither through to the second round.

Now the fight is between Poroshenko and a comedian named Vladimir Zelensky. The only difference between Poroshenko and Zelensky, or any of the other 30+ people who appeared on the ballot, is that Poroshenko has already stolen his billions while his contestants have not had a chance to do so yet, the only reason to run for president, or any elected office, in the Ukraine, being to put oneself in a position to do some major thieving.

Thus, there is an objective reason to prefer Zelensky over Poroshenko, which is that Poroshenko is a major thief while Zelensky isn’t one yet, but it must be understood that this difference will begin to equalize the moment after Zelensky’s inauguration. In fact, the elites in Kiev are currently all aquiver over their ingenious plan to sell off all of Ukraine’s land to foreign investors (no doubt pocketing a hefty “fee”).

The platforms of all the 30+ candidates were identical, but this makes no difference in a country that has surrendered its sovereignty. In terms of foreign relations and strategic considerations, the Ukraine is run from the US embassy in Kiev. In terms of its internal functioning, the main prerogative of everyone in power, the president included, is thievery. Their idea is to get their cut and flee the country before the whole thing blows up.

It remains to be seen whether the second round of elections will also be an outright fraud and what happens as a result. There are many alternatives, but none of them resemble any sort of exercise in democracy. To be sure, what is meant by “democracy” in this case is simply the ability to execute orders issued from Washington; inability to do so would make Ukraine an “authoritarian regime” or a “dictatorship” and subject to “regime change.” But short of that, nothing matters.

The machinations of Ukraine’s “democrats” are about as interesting to me as the sex lives of sewer rats, but for the sake of completeness, let me flowchart it out for you. Poroshenko got into second round by outright fraud, because the loss of this election would, within the Ukrainian political food chain, instantly convert him from predator to prey. However, he was none too subtle about it, there is ample proof of his cheating, and the contender he squeezed out—Yulia Timoshenko—could theoretically contest the result in court and win. This would invalidate the entire election and leave Poroshenko in charge until the next one. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Another option would be for Poroshenko to cheat his way past the second round (in an even more heavy-handed manner, since this time he is behind by over 30%), in which case Zelensky could theoretically contest the result in court in win. This would invalidate the entire election and leave Poroshenko in charge until the next one. Lather, rinse, repeat. Are you excited yet?

None of this matters, because we don’t know which of the two is the US State Department’s pick. Depending on which one it is, and regardless of the results of any elections or lawsuits, a giant foot will come out of the sky and stomp on the head of the other one. Of course, it will all be made to look highly democratic for the sake of appearances. The leadership of the EU will oblige with some golf claps while choking back vomit and the world will move on.

The Saker: Where is, in your opinion, the Ukraine heading?  What is your best “guesstimate” of what will happen in the short-to-medium term future?

Dmitry Orlov: I believe that we will be subjected to more of the same, although some things can’t go on forever, and therefore won’t. Most worryingly, the Soviet-era nuclear power plants that currently provide most of the electricity in the Ukraine are nearing the end of their service life and there is no money to replace them. Therefore, we should expect most of the country to go dark over time. Likewise, the natural gas pipeline that currently supplies Russian gas to both the Ukraine and much of the EU is worn out and ready to be decommissioned, while new pipelines being laid across the Baltic and the Black Sea are about to replace it. After that point the Ukraine will lose access to Russian natural gas as well.

If the Ukrainians continue to surrender unconditionally while placating themselves with pipe dreams of EU/NATO membership, the country will depopulate, the land will be sold off to Western agribusiness, and it will become a sort of agricultural no man’s land guarded by NATO troops. But that sort of smooth transition may be hard for the EU and the Americans to orchestrate. The Ukraine is rather highly militarized, is awash with weapons, full of people who have been circulated through the frontlines in Donbas and know how to fight, and they may decide to put up a fight at some point. It must be remembered that the Ukrainians, in spite of the decay of the last 30 years, still have something of the Russian fighting spirit in them, and will fight like Russians—until victory or until death. NATO’s gender-ambivalent military technicians would not want to get in their way at all.

Also the dream of a depopulated Ukraine to be turned into a playground for Western agribusiness may be hindered somewhat by the fact that the Russians take a very dim view of Western GMOs and wouldn’t like to see GMO-contaminated pollen blowing across their border from the West. They would no doubt find some least-effort way to make the attempt at Western agribusiness in the Ukraine unprofitable.

Orchestrating a smallish but highly publicized radiation leak from one of the ancient Ukrainian nuke plants would probably work. Rather weirdly, Westerners think nothing of poisoning themselves with glyphosphate but are deathly afraid of even a little bit of ionizing radiation.

The Saker: What about the EU and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe? Where is the EU heading in your opinion?

Dmitry Orlov: The EU has a number of major problems. It isn’t fiscally or monetarily healthy. As a whole, or as its constituent nations, it is no longer capable of the exercise of its full sovereignty, having surrendered it to the US. But the US is no longer able to maintain control, because it is internally conflicted to the point of becoming incoherent in its pronouncements. Overall, the structure looks like a matryoshka doll. You have the US, as a sort of cracked outer shell. Inside of it is NATO, which is an occupying force across most of Europe right up to the Russian border. It would be useless against Russia, but it can pose a credible threat of violence against the occupied populations. Inside of NATO is the EU—a political talking shop plus a sprawling bureaucracy that spews forth reams upon reams of rules and regulations.

Since none of this military/political superstructure is actually structural without the key ingredient of US hegemony, we shouldn’t expect it to perform particularly well. It will continue as a talking shop while various national governments attempt to reclaim their sovereignty. British referendum voters have certainly tried to prod their government in that direction, and in response their government has been experimenting with various methods of rolling over and playing dead, but a different government might actually try to execute the will of the people. On the other hand, the governments of Hungary and Italy have made some headway in the direction of reasserting their sovereignty, with public support.

But nothing has really happened yet. Once the political elite of any nation has been thoroughly emasculated by the surrender of its national sovereignty, it takes a while for it to grow back its chest hair and to start posing a credible threat to transnational interests. Even in Russia it took close to a decade to thwart the political power and influence of the oligarchy. We can see that the empire is weakening and that some countries are starting to balk at being vassals, but nothing definitive has happened yet.

What may speed things up is that Europe, along with the US, appear to be heading into a recession/depression. One effect of that will be that all the East European guest workers working in the west will be forced to head back home. Another will be that EU’s subsidies to its recent eastern acquisitions—Poland and the Baltics especially—are likely to be reduced substantially or to go away altogether. The influx of returning economic migrants combined with the lack of financial support are likely to spell the demise of certain national elites which have been feasting on Western largesse in return for a bit of Russophobia.

We can imagine that this swirling tide of humanity, ejected from Western Europe, will head east, slosh against the Great Wall of Russia, and flood back into the west, but now armed with Ukrainian weapons and knowhow and entertaining thoughts of plunder rather than employment. There they will fight it out with newcomers from Middle East and Africa while the natives take to their beds, hope for the best and think good thoughts about gender neutrality and other such worthy causes.

These old European nations are all aging out, not just in terms of demographics but in terms of the maximum age allotted by nature to any given ethnos. Ethnoi (plural of “ethnos”) generally only last about a thousand years, and at the end of their lifecycle they tend to exhibit certain telltale trends: they stop breeding well and they become sexually depraved and generally decadent in their tastes. These trends are on full display already. Here’s a particularly absurd example: French birth certificates no longer contain entries for father and mother but for parent1 and parent2. Perhaps the invading barbarians will see this and die laughing; but what if they don’t?

No longer able to put up much of a fight, such depleted ethnoi tend to be easily overrun by barbarians, at which point they beg for mercy. In turn, based on the example of the late Roman Empire as well as similar ones from Chinese and Persian history, granting them mercy is one of the worst mistakes a barbarian can make: the result is a bunch of sexually depraved and generally decadent barbarians… to be easily overrun and slaughtered by the next bunch of barbarians to happen along.

What will spark the next round of Western European ethnogenesis is impossible to predict, but we can be sure that at some point a mutant strain of zealots will arrive on the scene, with a dampened instinct for self-preservation but an unslakable thirst for mayhem, glory and death, and then it will be off to the races again.

The Saker: What will happen once Nord Stream II is finished? Where is Europe heading next, especially in its relationship with the USA and Russia?

Dmitry Orlov: The new pipelines under the Baltic and the Black Sea will be completed, along with the second LNG installation at Sabetta, and Russia will go on supplying natural gas to Europe and Asia. I suspect that the fracking extravaganza in the US is entering its end game and that the dream of large-scale LNG exports to Europe will never materialize.

The nations of Europe will gradually realize that its relationship with Russia is mostly beneficial while its relationship with the US is mostly harmful, and will make certain adjustments. The Ukraine, its natural gas pipeline system decrepit and beyond repair, will continue to import natural gas from Europe, only now the methane molecules will actually flow to it from the west rather from the east.

The Saker: How do you see the political climate in Russia? I hear very often that while Putin personally and the Kremlin’s foreign policy enjoy a great deal of support, the pension reform really hurt Putin and that there is now an internal “patriotic opposition” (as opposed to paid and purchased for by the CIA & Co,. which is becoming more vocal. Is that true?

It is true that there isn’t much debate within Russia about foreign policy. Putin’s popularity has waned somewhat, although he is still far more popular than any national leader in the West. The pension reform did hurt him somewhat, but he recovered by pushing through a raft of measures designed to ease the transition. In particular, all the benefits currently enjoyed by retirees, such as reduced public transit fees and reduced property taxes, will be extended to those nearing retirement age.

It is becoming clear that Putin, although he is still very active in both domestic and international politics, is coasting toward retirement. His major thrust in domestic politics seems to be in maintaining very strict discipline within the government in pushing through his list of priorities. How he intends to effect the transition to the post-Putin era remains a mystery, but what recently took place in Kazakhstan may offer some clues. If so, we should expect a strong emphasis on continuity, with Putin maintaining some measure of control over national politics as a senior statesman.

But by far the most significant change in Russian politics is that a new generation of regional leaders has been put into place. A great many governorships have been granted to ambitious young managers with potential for national office. They are of a new breed of thoroughly professional career politicians with up-to-date managerial skills. Meanwhile, a thorough cleaning out of the ranks has taken place, with some high-ranking officials doing jail time for corruption. What’s particularly notable is that some of these new regional leaders are now as popular or more popular than Putin. The curse of gerontocracy, which doomed the Soviet experiment, and which now afflicts the establishment in the US, no longer threatens Russia.

The Saker: You recently wrote an article titled “Is the USS Ship of Fools Taking on Water?” in which you discuss the high level of stupidity in modern US politics?  I have a simple question for you: do you think the Empire can survive Trump and, if so, for how long?

Dmitry Orlov: I think that the American empire is very much over already, but it hasn’t been put to any sort of serious stress test yet, and so nobody realizes that this is the case. Some event will come along which will leave the power center utterly humiliated and unable to countenance this humiliation and make adjustments. Things will go downhill from there as everyone in government in media does their best to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist. My hope is that the US military personnel currently scattered throughout the planet will not be simply abandoned once the money runs out, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if that is what happens.

The Saker: Lastly, a similar but fundamentally different question: can the USA (as opposed to the Empire) survive Trump and, if so, how? Will there be a civil war? A military coup? Insurrection? Strikes? A US version of the Yellow Vests?

Dmitry Orlov: The USA, as some set of institutions that serves the interests of some dwindling number of people, is likely to continue functioning for quite some time. The question is: who is going to be included and who isn’t? There is little doubt that retirees, as a category, have nothing to look forward to from the USA: their retirements, whether public or private, have already been spent. There is little doubt that young people, who have already been bled dry by poor job prospects and ridiculous student loans, have nothing to look forward to either.
But, as I’ve said before, the USA isn’t so much a country as a country club. Membership has its privileges, and members don’t care at all what life is like for those who are in the country but aren’t members of the club. The recent initiatives to let everyone in and to let non-citizens vote amply demonstrates that US citizenship, by itself, counts for absolutely nothing. The only birthright of a US citizen is to live as a bum on the street, surrounded by other bums, many of them foreigners from what Trump has termed “shithole countries.”

It will be interesting to see how public and government workers, as a group, react to the realization that the retirements they have been promised no longer exist; perhaps that will tip the entire system into a defunct state. And once the fracking bubble is over and another third of the population finds that it can no longer afford to drive, that might force through some sort of reset as well. But then the entire system of militarized police is designed to crush any sort of rebellion, and most people know that. Given the choice between certain death and just sitting on the sidewalk doing drugs, most people will choose the latter.

And so, Trump or no Trump, we are going to have more of the same: shiny young IT specialists skipping and whistling on the way to work past piles of human near-corpses and their excrement; Botoxed housewives shopping for fake organic produce while hungry people in the back of the store are digging around in dumpsters; concerned citizens demanding that migrants be allowed in, then calling the cops as soon as these migrants set up tents on their front lawn or ring their doorbell and ask to use the bathroom; well-to-do older couples dreaming of bugging out to some tropical gringo compound in a mangrove swamp where they would be chopped up with machetes and fed to the fish; and all of them believing that things are great because the stock market is doing so well.

At this rate, when the end of the USA finally arrives, most of the people won’t be in a position to notice while the rest won’t be capable of absorbing that sort of upsetting information and will choose to ignore it. Everybody wants to know how the story ends, but that sort of information probably isn’t good for anyone’s sanity. The mental climate in the US is already sick enough; why should we want to make it even sicker?

Ukrainian Election Redux


A presidential election was recently held in the troubled land known as the Ukraine. Some people are waxing hopeful that thanks to having a new president the Ukraine can now finally be put on the mend, get serious about fighting corruption and reverse its slide into destitution and crime. Others see this as an optimization, of sorts, of the existing oligarchic order: instead of having an oligarch (Poroshenko) as president, it is cheaper to have an oligarch’s personal pet (Zelensky) as president, because why should a self-respecting oligarch (Kolomoisky) have to bother with elections.

The Ukraine is interesting for me because it makes such a wonderful case study in collapse: it has been collapsing ever since it gained independence from the USSR. It’s a curious case, because its peculiar congenital disorder has rendered it morbid, and without an external life support system such as the USSR (which is, thankfully, over) or the European Union (good luck with that!) all the Ukrainians are ever likely to do is cannibalize their country until nothing of it is left. Rather than collapse as an event (after which recovery is theoretically possible) what we have in the Ukraine is collapse on rails—an inexorable, systematic hollowing-out and pauperization.

Still, I believe that this last presidential election marks a turning point of sorts for the Ukraine. We should fully expect a great deal of continuity: the oligarchic rule, the widespread corruption, the population loss, the mass impoverishment and the infrastructure decay. Although things that can’t go on forever don’t, in this case they can probably go on for a while yet. But due to the force of external events we should also expect certain discontinuities to occur sooner rather than later.

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The Martyrdom of St. Julian


News of the arrest and imprisonment of Julian Assange has probably reached you by now, but, just in case, here is a recap. Julian Assange is an Australian journalist; as such, he is a towering giant among a tiny cluster of midgets. Google “great Australian journalists” and you get him and a bunch of people nobody has ever heard of, many of them already dead.

He is a towering figure outside of Australia as well. While other Western journalists run around trying to please their owners, sell advertising space, or struggle to avoid getting banned by the all-seeing eye of social media corporations, Assange has been both principled and fearless. Through his media outlet Wikileaks he has laid bare the dirty secrets of the US State Department and the war crimes of the Pentagon, corporate malfeasance and political corruption, hanging out for all to see the dirty laundry of many powerful and influential people. This made him a cause célèbre: Time Magazine pronounced him Man of the Year and he received human rights awards, standing in the same pantheon as Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. But such are the vicissitudes of fortune that now he is being martyred—a sufferer for the truth, unjustly accused and persecuted by a doomed race of inveterate liars.

This was inevitable. In the process of publishing evidence of dirty secrets and war crimes he made plenty of powerful, influential enemies, and they eventually scared up some false evidence to use against him. In 2012, faced with the unenviable fate of being extradited from the UK to Sweden, there to be humiliated before a Swedish kangaroo court, Assange opted to enter the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he spent the next seven years living in a small room. It was, in essence, a form of solitary confinement, which is commonly considered to be a form of torture.

It’s hard to tell whether seeking refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy was a good decision or a bad one to start with, but it turned into an increasingly bad decision over time. On the one hand, the Swedish case against him eventually went away due to the extreme ridiculousness of the charges. On the other hand, something happened in the course of the 2016 presidential election in the US that placed him directly in the crosshairs of some exceptionally evil people.

Into his lap fell a mother lode of evidence that the Democratic National Committee, charged with providing for honest and transparent primary elections, had instead conspired to steal the election from the popular firebrand Bernie Sanders, who spoke before packed stadiums, and to give it to Hillary Clinton, an evil-tempered, screechy, sickly crone who on most days could barely fill a school auditorium without bribing people. To me, choosing between Sanders, Clinton and Trump is like choosing the color of flower petals to gently blow across the surface of a cesspool, but it appears that for some naïve and idealistic people Assange’s truth bomb was something of a revelation: “What? Hillary evil? Noooo!”

Assange published this information, and in so doing he stepped directly into the snake-pit called the Clinton Foundation—a vast, global grift, bribery and money-laundering scheme that, among other things, provided weapons contracts in exchange for lavish bribes from foreign officials. Its tentacles reached into all of the major US federal agencies, which had been stocked with Clinton partisans during Bill Clinton’s two terms as president. When Hillary Clinton then lost the election to Donald Trump—among other things, because angry Sanders supporters wouldn’t vote for her—a sort of slow-motion, bureaucratic civil war erupted within the Washington establishment, and Assange got stuck in the crossfire.

The missiles flying in this war have been carrying two types of payloads: truth-based and lie-based. Truth is what Assange had; it is a powerful weapon, but it has two major disadvantages. First, it is scarce and difficult to procure. Second, for it to be effective, people have to actually prefer it to being lied to. If the truth is that you are powerless and easily ignored but compelled by sheer force of propaganda to periodically take part in a humiliating farce called “national elections,” then, for obvious psychological reasons, untruth becomes your friend. The disadvantage of untruth is that when wielded by known liars it becomes no more effective than flinging feces. This disadvantage can be turned into an advantage by making enough people sufficiently mad to cause them to want to start flinging feces too.

Over the intervening years, a concerted effort, organized at the highest levels, has been made to increase the disadvantages of truth and to decrease the disadvantages of untruth. Strenuous efforts to prosecute leakers, hackers and whistleblowers have greatly reduced the public availability of truth, giving truth-seekers like Assange significantly less material to work with. Equally strenuous efforts by US mass media outlets to ignore Clinton’s malfeasance while endlessly smearing Trump have conditioned numerous politically polarized brains to prefer lies over the truth if the lies help their lost cause while the truth hurts it.

The truth that an incensed and disgusted Democratic party insider with physical access to the server copied incriminating evidence to a thumb drive and gave it to Wikileaks is damaging. The lie that “Russian hackers” managed to hack into this server, download the evidence over an internet connection and then upload it to Wikileaks in order to get Trump elected is helpful. A few heaping handfuls of Russophobic hysteria later, and the popular narrative “Clinton is a crook; that’s why she lost” is replaced with the popular narrative “Trump is a Russian stooge; that’s why he won.” Meanwhile, the feces-flinging machine has been running non-stop, producing an endless stream of fake news about Russian meddling, hacking, poisoning and other, yet-to-be-invented deeds yet more mean.

Speaking of mean, this may be a particularly mean thing for me to say, because it may cause some politically polarized brains to explode, but I’ll say it anyway: Narrative Isn’t Everything. The world is split into people who thrive on clicks, views, likes, shares, reposts, ratings and other such nonsense; for them, narrative does seem like everything. After all, people like being told stories, and a lot of the simpler people don’t see the point of drawing a sharp line between fiction and nonfiction. For instance, whether the Bible is fiction or non is a question of belief, not fact (facts exist independently of whether anyone believes them). On the other hand, there are people who are tasked with making things work, and for them narrative is dangerous: it is at best a garden path that leads them away from considering important certain facts and toward giving undue emphasis to others, while a false narrative leads them away from facts altogether.

Just because a certain narrative has become more popular than another doesn’t mean that it has won; it may just mean that the sad, insane people whose minds it has infested have lost. The replacement of the popular narrative “Clinton is a crook; that’s why she lost” with the popular narrative “Trump is a Russian stooge; that’s why he won” has not changed the underlying reality. What it did was produce a pocket of stark-raving feces-flinging insanity. Helpful Russian clinicians in white coats are standing by with straitjackets and syringes of lorazepam while the rest of the world watches nervously. All hope that this bout of mass insanity will eventually run its course without requiring major medical intervention. Meanwhile, the denizens of the insane asylum obsess over the color of flower petals to scatter over the cesspool of their national politics in 2020.

But back to Assange: not only has the world changed during his term of solitary confinement in the Ecuadoran embassy, but he has changed too. The superstar who once gave impassioned speeches from the balcony of the embassy to an excited crowd could barely be recognized in the unkempt old man who was unceremoniously dragged out of the embassy and into a police van. It was a sad sight, and many people are very upset at the prospect that the Brits will now hand him over to the Americans who will torture him to death. But what if they don’t? And if they don’t, would another seven years locked up at the embassy have been any better?

Perhaps the worst part of it for Assange is that he is no longer needed. Wikileaks doesn’t need him any more, since Kristinn Hrafnsson has taken over as chief editor. He is no longer needed by Ecuador, which in 2012 was ruled by Rafael Correa, an architect of “new socialism” and an ally of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela; but now Correa has been replaced and is facing persecution while Chavez is dead. While he was at the embassy, Ecuadoran authorities systematically limited Assange’s freedom of action, eventually cutting off his internet access and forbidding visitors, making it impossible for him to work.

He is no longer needed by Trump, whose victory he did so much to assure by letting the world know the truth about two-faced Hillary. Trump, who once said “I love Wikileaks” now sees Assange as a toxic asset: his opponents will no doubt try to invent evidence of collusion between Assange and him and, failing that, hallucinate up some “obstruction of justice.” From Trump’s point of view, it would be best if Assange were quietly disappeared. And although Trump’s opponents may be unable to resist the temptation to persecute Assange, for them he may turn out to be something of a poisoned chalice, because enough people remember Assange as the fearless journalist who let the world see grave misdeeds at the US State Department and war crimes at the Pentagon, and may take Assange’s side.

He is no longer even needed by Sweden: the rape allegations against him were dropped two years ago. And it is rather questionable whether the British government has legitimate grounds to hold him: he jumped bail by entering the Ecuadoran embassy, but the arrest, and the bail, had been granted in connection with the Swedish extradition request, which is no longer valid, making the entire matter null and void. As for the question of his extradition to the US, the Ecuadoran government swore up and down that it revoked his asylum based on a written guarantee by the Brits not to extradite him to the US. This is probably what Trump wants: to make a political show of furthering the cause of justice while doing nothing.

From this point of view Assange’s liberation from the Ecuadoran embassy and imprisonment in a British jail on charges of violating bail for an arrest grounds for which have since been dismissed starts to look like a major success. He is once again in the public eye, with numerous supporters throughout the world. If all goes well, he will be released and reestablish himself as a media personality of great stature. And if everything goes badly and the Americans do get their hands on him and torture him to death, he will die as a martyr and live in public memory forever.

I don’t know whether Assange has been baptized, but a proper choice of saint for him would be St. Julian of Antioch, who was martyred during Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians between 303 and 313 AD. Julian was stuffed into a sack filled with sand, vipers and scorpions and dumped in the sea. Diocletian’s initiative was a failure: the son of one of his lieutenants, Constantine, not only canceled the persecution of Christians but made Christianity into Roman Empire’s state religion. He then moved its capital to New Rome (Constantinople), abandoning Old Rome to languish in the Dark Ages while his New Rome went on for a thousand glorious years.

Should Julian Assange end up martyred by the Americans, we can expect a vaguely similar result: future generations of Americans will say: “There once was a great journalist by the name of Julian. He died as a martyr for the truth. It was a long time ago, and we don’t know what’s been happening to us since then, because all we have been hearing ever since have been nothing but lies…”

The Five Stages of Collapse of The [Western] Roman Empire


This is a guest post by Hugo Bardi. He has applied my collapse taxonomy to the collapse of Western Roman Empire, and his analysis shows that the canonical collapse cascade of financial–commercial–political–social–cultural collapse did operate as expected in yet another, particularly famous case. But it does raise a question that has great significance for our time. Hugo’s analysis is accurate when it comes specifically to Old Rome and its collapse except for a crucial detail. Old Rome didn’t just collapse; it was abandoned; then, two centuries later, it disappeared. I’ll include some comments about this at the end of Hugo’s article.

Dmitry Orlov wrote \”The Five Stages of Collapse\” as an article in 2008 and as a book in 2013. It was an original idea for that time that of comparing the fall of the Soviet Union with that of the United States. Being an American citizen born in Russia, Orlov could compare the two Empires in detail and note the many similarities that led both to follow the same trajectory, even though the cycle of the American Empire is not over, yet.

To strengthen Orlov\’s analysis I thought I could apply the same five stages to an older Empire, the Roman one. And, yes, the five stages apply well also to that ancient case. So, here is my take on this subject.

To start, a list of the five Stages of Collapse according to Orlov.

  • Stage 1: Financial collapse.
  • Stage 2: Commercial collapse.
  • Stage 3: Political collapse.
  • Stage 4: Social collapse.
  • Stage 5: Cultural collapse.

Now, let\’s see how these five stages played out during the fall of the Roman Empire.

Stage 1 – Financial Collapse (3rd century AD). The Roman Empire’s financial system was not as sophisticated as ours, but, just like our civilization, the Empire was based on money. Money was the tool that kept together the state: it was used to pay the legions and the bureaucrats and to make the commercial system supply the cities with food. The Roman money was a physical commodity: it was based on silver and gold, and these metals needed to be mined. It was the Roman control over the rich gold mines of Northern Spain that had created the Empire, but these mines couldn’t last forever. Starting with the 1st century, the cost of mining from depleted veins became an increasingly heavy burden. By the 3rd century, the burden was too heavy for the Empire to carry. It was the financial collapse from which the Empire never could fully recover.

Stage 2 – Commercial Collapse (5th century AD). The Roman Empire had never really been a commercial empire nor a manufacturing society. It was specialized in military conquest and it preferred to import luxury items from abroad, some, such as silk, all the way from the other side of Eurasia, from China. In addition to legions, the Empire produced only two commodities in large amounts: grain and gold. Of these, only gold could be exported to long distances and it soon disappeared to China to pay for the expensive imports the Romans were used to buy. The other product, grain, couldn’t be exported and continued to be traded within the Empire’s border for some time – the supply of grain from the African and Near Eastern granaries was what kept the Roman cities alive, Rome in particular. After the financial collapse, the supply lines remained open because the grain producers had no other market than the Roman cities. But, by mid-5th-century, things got so bad that Rome was sacked first by the Visigoths in 410, and then by the Vandals in 450, It recovered from the 1st sack, but the second was terminal. The Romans had no more money left to pay for the grain they needed, the commercial sea lanes broke down completely, and the Romans starved. It was the end of the Roman commercial system.

Stage 3 – Political Collapse (late 5th century AD). The political collapse went in parallel with the commercial collapse. Already in the late 4th century, the Emperors had become unable to defend Rome from the Barbarian armies marching across the empire and they had retired to the safety of the fortified city of Ravenna. When Rome was sacked, the Emperors didn’t even try to do something to help. The last emperors disappeared by the late 5th century but, already decades before, most people in Europe had stopped caring about whether or not there was some pompous person in Ravenna who wore purple clothes and claimed to be a divine Emperor.

Stage 4 – Social Collapse (5th century AD). The social collapse of the Western Empire went in parallel with the disgregation of the political and commercial structures. Already during the early 5th century, we have evidence that the Roman Elites had gone in “escape mode\” – it was not just the emperor who had fled Rome to take refuge in Ravenna, patricians and warlords were on the move with troops, money, and followers to establish feudal domains for themselves where they could. And they were leaving the commoners to fend off by themselves. By the 6th century, the Roman State was gone and most of Europe was in the hands of Germanic warlords.

Stage 5 – Cultural collapse (starting in the 6th century AD). It was very slow. The advent of Christianity, during the 3rd century, had not weakened the Empire\’s cultural structure, it had been an evolution rather than a break with the past. The collapse of the Empire as a political and military entity didn\’t change things so much and for centuries people in Europe still considered themselves as Romans, not unlike the Japanese soldiers stranded in remote islands after the end of the second world war .(in Greece, people would still define themselves as \”Romans\” well into the 19th century). Latin, the imperial language, disappeared as a vernacular language but it was kept alive by the Catholic clergy and it became an indispensable tool that kept Europe culturally united. Latin kept a certain cultural continuity with the ancient empire that was only very gradually lost. It was only with the 18th – 19th centuries that Latin disappeared as the language of the cultural elite, to be replaced by English nowadays.

As you see, Orlov’s list has a certain logic although it needs to be adapted a little to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. The 5 stages didn’t come one after the other, There was more than a century lapse between the 3rd-century financial collapse (stage 1) and the three subsequent stages arriving together: commercial, political, and social collapse. The 5th stage, the cultural collapse, was a drawn-out story that came later and that lasted for centuries.

How about our civilization? The 1st stage, financial collapse is clearly ongoing, although it is masked by various accounting tricks. The 2nd stage, commercial collapse, instead, hasn\’t started yet, nor the political collapse: the Empire still maintains a giant and threatening military force, even though its actual efficiency may be doubted. Maybe we are already seeing signs of the 3rd stage, social collapse but, if the Roman case is a guide, these three stages will arrive together.

Then, how about the last stage, cultural collapse? That\’s a question for a relatively far future. For a while, English will surely remain the universal language, just as Latin used to be after the fall of Rome, while people may keep thinking they still live in a globalized world (maybe it is already an illusion). With English fading, anything may happen and when (and if) a new Empire will rise on the ashes of the American Empire it will be something completely different. We can only say that the universe goes in cycles and that\’s, evidently, the way things have to be.

A rather significant event occurred on May 11, 330 AD. On that day, Old Rome (the one in Italy) stopped being the capital of the Roman Empire. On that day, Emperor Constantine I moved the capital to New Rome (Νέα Ῥώμη), previously known as Byzantium and informally called Constantinople until 1930, when it was officially renamed İstanbul. It was the largest and most prosperous city in Europe throughout the Middle Ages and remains the largest city in Europe today (the second-largest is Moscow, which is sometimes called the Third Rome). From 330 AD to April 13, 1204 AD—a span of 974 years—it was the capital of the Roman Empire, which split into Eastern and Western in 395 AD. Then, just 81 years later, in 476 AD, the Western Roman Empire winked out of existence, making the appellation “Eastern” rather superfluous. Indeed, the inhabitants of New Rome always referred to themselves simply as Romans. In 1204 AD it was ransacked and burned by the knights of the Fourth Crusade (a barbarian onslaught, you might call it) and it is a very interesting question why the Romans offered no resistance to them. We will save it for another time. Constantine didn’t just move the capital to an existing city; he substantially rebuilt ancient Byzantium (a Greek colony from 657 BC).

There were many reasons for Constantine’s decision to move the capital. The new location was simply better: easier to defend, surrounded by economically developed provinces, closer to the centers of learning and culture and strategically located at an intersection of various trade routes. Constantine moved a great deal of wealth out of Old Rome in order to found his New Rome, then left Old Rome to languish in a substantially weakened state, and it never recovered. But there was another reason for the move: Constantine was riding a wave of newfound passion that had to do with the spread of Christianity, and it took him to Eastern Mediterranean where Christianity first took root. It was a conscious decision to leave the old pagan Rome behind and to construct a new, Christian Rome. Although both Christian and pagan ceremonies were performed there at first, the pagan ones were soon abandoned.

New Rome became the center of Christian learning, where the Bible and other Christian writings were translated into many languages, including Slavonic, this being an essential step in the spread of Christianity throughout Eurasia—except for Western Europe, which lapsed into a Dark Age. There, Latin-based learning was kept barely alive by monks who toiled in scriptoria, who were barely alive themselves from cold, hunger and ennui. The Catholic priesthood, which coalesced into an authoritarian structure—the Papacy—was eager to keep the population ignorant because this made it easier to control and exploit. Instead of translating the Bible into the vernaculars and teaching parishioners to read, they resorted to teaching Christian doctrine by means of idolatrous sentimentalist dioramas. The reaction to this repression of learning, when it came, was the Protestant Reformation. It resulted in a great deal of mindless slaughter and led to the development of yet another abomination: literalist interpretations of the Bible by Protestant sects and apocalyptic cults. Thus, Constantine’s decision to leave Old Rome to languish turned out to be a very positive one, giving us a millennium of cultural development in the east, and a very negative one, giving us the Dark Age and the Thirty Years’ War which caused devastation and population loss throughout Western Europe.

What does this have to do with the Five Stages of Collapse? It shows that collapses are local phenomena. Elsewhere, life goes on, sometimes better than before. Collapses can have internal causes (resources run out) or they can be externally triggered (the world moves on). But the collapse sequence remains the same: those in control are loath to admit what is happening, and pretend that it isn’t happening. Next, they get defunded (financial collapse). Next, they lose the ability to import stuff (commercial collapse). Next, their public institutions stop functioning (political collapse). Then society breaks down. And only then, after all that, do people finally realize that the problem was inside their heads all along (cultural collapse). Quickly adopting a better, more right-thinking culture is, of course, a good idea. An alternative is to go through a Dark Age followed by an extended period of mindless slaughter.

What does this have to do with today’s world? Well, if you notice, there is a particular country in the world that has a major problem: it consumes a lot more than it produces. Also, it consumes a lot of products but most of what it produces are services—for itself, which tend to be overpriced and are of very little use to anyone else, but it proudly counts this expensive mutual back-scratching as part of its Gross Domestic Product. It papers over the giant gap between its (real, physical) production and its (real, physical) consumption using accounting tricks, and it thinks that it can go on doing this forever. The rest of the world disagrees, and makes its displeasure known by gradually defunding this country. It could abandon its culture of mindless overconsumption and of spreading \”freedom and democracy\” by military means before circumstances force it to, but it refuses to do so, running the risk of being abandoned just like Old Rome was.

Respecting the Other


One of my old friends\’ father was at one time something of a Cold Warrior: he did something or other for the US defense establishment—nuclear submarine-related, if I recall correctly. This work activity apparently led him to develop a particularly virulent form of Russophobia; not so much a phobia as a pronounced loathing of all things Russian. According to my friend, her father would compulsively talk about Russia in overly negative terms. He would also sneeze a lot (allergies, perhaps), and she said that it was often difficult for her to distinguish his sneezes from his use of the word \”Russia\” as an expletive. But perhaps she was trying to draw a distinction without a difference: her father was allergic to Russia, his allergy caused him to sneeze a lot and also to develop a touch of Tourette\’s, thus his sneezes came out sounding like \”Russia!\”

What had caused him to develop such a jaundiced view of Russia? The reason is easy to guess: his work activity on behalf of the government forced him to focus closely on what his superiors labeled as \”the Russian threat.\” Unfolded a bit, it would no doubt turn out that what Russia threatened was Americans\’ self-generated fiction of overwhelming military superiority. Unlike the United States, which had developed any number of plans to destroy the Soviet Union (of which nothing ever came due to said lack of overwhelming military superiority) the Soviet Union had never developed any such plans. And this was utterly infuriating to certain people in the US. Was this truly necessary, or was this an accident?

We could take into account geopolitical, military or economic considerations, consider the (no longer relevant) clash of socialist vs. capitalist ideologies or any number of other irrelevancies. Or we could find hints of what\’s really behind this syndrome from certain efforts to combat it. Consider this lyrics from Sting\’s 1985 debut solo album \”The Dream of Blue Turtles.\” Sting sang soulfully: \”I hope the Russians love their children too.\” From what mystical source sprang Sting\’s forlorn hope? That the Russians may be a race of soulless automatons hell-bent on wanton destruction of all life on Earth, but that perhaps there is just a tiny streak of humanity running through their character—they love their children too—and that it will hold them back? Sting\’s Russia is almost pure evil, but not quite, and a tiny speck of goodness is what keeps the world balanced on the edge of destruction.

Looking at history, a different vista presents itself. Since it first came together as a superethnos (Great Rus) around ten centuries ago, Russia has been consistently attacked and invaded from the west. It has been invaded by the Swedes, the Germans, the Poles/Lithuanians, the French and the Germans again. Note that these are all Northern European ethnic groups; this turns out to be important. All of these incursions the Russians managed to repulse. Russia was also invaded from the east, by a large and diverse group of nomadic peoples collectively known as the Mongols (even though actual ethnic Mongols among them numbered no more than a thousand) and this eventually led to integration and either assimilation or peaceful coexistence.

Why such a difference? Why are the Russians and the Poles like oil and water in spite of both being Christian, neighbors and speaking a Slavic language. Why did the Russians and the Tatars and other Turkic groups fuse together through intermarriage in spite of vast differences in language, custom, religion and geographic origin? Let us propose a daring hypothesis: the reason is organic. Ethnic compatibilities and incompatibilities are not accounted for by any historical, cultural, religious or economic factors. They may be genetic, but they do not necessarily have anything to do with genealogy (relatedness) but could just as easily result from random mutations. They could be part of an innate friend-or-foe identification system—a rather coarse-grained one, that may have evolved at a time when hominids first progressed beyond bands and tribes and started forming the first ethnic groups.

This hypothesis may seem outlandish at first, but upon consideration it explains enduring conflicts much better than do any of the other factors—ideological, cultural, religious or economic. Consider the Thirty Years\’ War which ravaged Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. Reading historical accounts of it makes it sound as if a set of obtuse theological arguments (far too obtuse for most of the participants to grasp) was resolved largely by slaughtering innocent civilians—an odd way to hold a scholastic disputation. But looking at the result an altogether different purpose becomes clear: that of delineating and separating incompatible ethnicities.

This incompatibility became clear in the New World. On the one side we have the Catholic Europeans (the Spanish, the Portuguese and, to a lesser extent, the French) who happily went native, intermarrying with native tribes and forming new, racially and ethnically fused nations such as the Mexicans, the Brazilians, the Cubans and so on. On the other side we have Northern European, Protestant Europeans (the English, the Germans, the Scandinavians, the Dutch and the Belgians) who refused to intermarry and insisted on forming highly segregated societies that persist to this day.

Acceptance of exogamy by the Catholics and insistence on endogamy by the Protestants (even unto the promulgation of racist laws against \”miscegenation\” in the US which were highly regarded and emulated by the German Nazis) cannot be accounted for by differences between Catholic and Protestant religious dogma, since these tendencies persist among the religious and the nonreligious alike. A far simpler explanation is that the Northern Europeans are internally compatible but largely incompatible with other groups while the Southern and Eastern Europeans are compatible with a much larger group. The superficial coincidence between ethnic compatibility and Protestantism/Catholicism is an artifact of the Thirty Years\’ War and similar historical accidents.

What makes the understanding of ethnic compatibilities and incompatibilities important is that if they are ignored the result is a phenomenal amount of mayhem, murder and strife. Incompatible ethnic groups can thrive side by side provided they stay separate and cultivate a healthy respect for The Other. (The plantation economy of the US antebellum South, where a large number of Africans toiled on behalf of a tiny group of Europeans, is hardly such an example). Compatible ethnic groups fuse together through intermarriage and form new nations with no special effort required.

But history attests that mashing incompatible ethnic groups together through an enforced ideology, be it religious or secular in nature, produces very poor results. Yes, it is possible to boost the rate of intermarriage by shaming those who exhibit racist tendencies while rewarding those who intermarry as a way of signaling their virtuousness, and on the surface the resulting society does not appear broken. What breaks is its sense of itself. Being among compatible people, who accept you and whom you accept unconsciously and unconditionally, creates a sense of harmony and well-being, convincing you that the world is a good place and is to be nurtured and celebrated.

But being forced to live among incompatible people, whose acceptance of you, and yours of them, is based on an enforced ideology of sameness contradicted at every turn by your innate sense, creates a sense of disharmony and malaise, leading you to believe that the world is an evil place to be cleansed and purged of all that is offensive, be it your government, your neighbors or ancient statues. The resulting ethnos is a chimera—a nonviable composite entity that is ever in search of a means to destroy itself. The ideologies it generates range from nihilism to violent anarchism, from secessionist movements to revolutionary ones, from apocalyptic cults to devil-worship and from gang rape to cold-blooded mass murder. In historical events such as the Spanish Inquisition or Stalin\’s purges, it is a waste of time to look for rational reasons for them. But if instead we examine them as resulting from clashes between incompatible ethnic groups, then a much clearer picture emerges.

One of the advantages of this approach over trying to pick apart complex and largely irrelevant questions of history, religion, culture and so on is that it can be based on readily available statistics: rate of intermarriage and viability of outcome (in terms of productivity and positive outcomes of the resulting family units). The inability to identify the organic mechanism underlying ethnic differentiation and incompatibility is, of course, a problem. But perhaps this mechanism will eventually be found, once enough evidence has been collected and cross-correlated with DNA samples. In the meantime, there is much more that is already understood about the nature of ethnos as an aspect of the Earth\’s biosphere.

I will have more to say on this topic in the next installment. In the interim, I propose that there is just one safe and valid way to act when you sense another\’s otherness: respect the otherness of others—and try to leave them well alone. Set aside your ideology of \”humanity as a whole\” (should you have one) for it will only cause trouble.

Introduction to the Ethnosphere of the Earth


The way humans relate to the rest of the animal kingdom seems a bit artificial and strained. Some would insist that they are not animals (while behaving like other animals in almost every possible way). Others wander in search of their spirit animal and worship nature (of which they are barely a part, being kept alive by the services of a perfectly unnatural technosphere). The way humans relate to each other is a bit fraught as well.

Some believe that humanity is all of a piece and that it would be racist to make any distinctions at all (even against those who would gang-rape and kill you for sport, roast you on a spit and eat you, or cut off your clitoris with a pair of scissors). Others believe that they are different and better than the rest, based artificial distinctions and incidental symbols such as a flag, an anthem, an official language and some historical documents, slogans and statues.

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Is the USS Ship of Fools Taking on Water?


It certainly appears to be doing so, and the rate is accelerating. Having spent the last three weeks at an undisclosed location away from the internet has allowed me to observe the increase in its rate of sinkage. There was wifi at the airport and I downloaded three weeks\’ worth of articles, which I read on the long flight back to civilization. What I read came as a bit of a shock, especially after three weeks of nothing but surf, sea birds, crabs scampering about and lots of happy, friendly people who couldn\’t possibly care any less about the US.

For some time people have been telling me that I should watch the movie Idiocracy because it shows what the US is turning into. Well, I am not sure that a move about idiocy can avoid being idiotic, so I\’ll pass, but there is a definite increase in the level of stupidity displayed by those who are part of the US establishment. This shouldn\’t come as a surprise; after all, why would anyone possessed of wisdom and integrity want to have anything to do with it by this time? Points of extreme stupidity—so stupid it hurts to watch—are all around us at the moment. Let me point out a few important ones.

While I was busy twinkling my toes in the azure waters, special investigator Robert Mueller finally released his report. He had left no stupid stone unturned, but failed to accomplish his assigned task, which was to prove that Trump had colluded with Russia. In his report he claimed that although he found no evidence of collusion or obstruction of justice, his report does not exonerate Trump. Note these two points of extreme stupidity. First point: if there was no collusion, there was no crime, and no course of justice to obstruct. Second point: if, as Mueller admits, no crime has been committed, there is nothing to exonerate Trump from.

The Democrats, who have been hoping to impeach Trump on the basis of Mueller\’s report, should perhaps take hope in the fact that Mueller has turned out to be so incompetent that he can\’t understand such basics of his profession; perhaps there was collusion after all, but Mueller was too stupid to find evidence of it. Or perhaps the Democrats should collapse in a paroxysm of despair, because Mueller was their best and last chance and now they look like idiots for believing in him.

Next in the stupids parade we have attorney general William Barr, who, in his summary of Mueller\’s report, uncritically accepted the claims that Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election did take place. What meddling was that?

There was a St. Petersburg troll farm run by somebody who was said to have once cooked for Putin. The trolls put up click-bait ads on social media. The scope of their operation was minuscule and most of their activity took place after the election, making the claim that they manipulated the election preposterous. Mueller\’s effort to prosecute them stalled out when their lawyers turned up in court and demanded to see the evidence. Mueller couldn\’t let that happen because it would have caused the entire courtroom to die laughing.

There was also the claim that Russian hackers hacked into an email server at the DNC, stole a bunch of emails showing an effort to rig the primaries against Bernie Sanders, and leaked them to Wikileaks. But there is evidence that these emails were not hacked but leaked by being copied to a thumb drive by somebody with physical access to the server.

Is Barr too stupid to realize the foolishness of his claims that \”the Russians\”—whatever that means—had manipulated the US election? Yes, it appears to be the case. With officials this stupid, how stupid was it for the Democrats to spend two years nurturing their dream of getting rid of Trump with their help?

And so Trump is here to stay. Is this where stupidity ends? No, of course not, for here we simply enter the next circle of stupidity. Trump dreams of \”making America great again\”; but is his dream stupid? Let\’s look at the results.

His idea was to renegotiate trade deals in America\’s favor and to repatriate manufacturing which had been offshored to low-wage countries around the world, slash the trade deficit and create lots of good jobs. Seems like a good plan, but let\’s step back for a moment and look at what the real issue is.

The real issue is that there is a massive imbalance in the US between what Americans produce and what Americans consume: they consume a lot more than they can afford.

One solution would be to slash consumption, but it makes up 70% of the economy, and doing so would shrink it, blowing up the already disproportionately large debt bubble and sending the US economy into deepest depression. This doesn\’t sound great at all.

Another solution would be to devalue the dollar through uncontrolled dollar emission. This would make American exports competitive with those of lower-wage countries. But this would undermine the US dollar as a reserve currency, cause US debt holders around the world to stampede toward the exits and result in a hyperinflationary shock that would send the US economy into deepest depression, again. This doesn\’t sound great either, but that was the plan floated by Trump\’s former advisor Steve Bannon. Perhaps Steve is a bit dense.

Yet another solution, proposed by William Dudley of the Federal Reserve, was to use fiscal methods to stimulate a rebirth of production within the US, and this is the one that Trump fell for and cut corporate taxes, allowing companies to repatriate their foreign earnings tax-free. Did this work? Of course not! Instead of investing in production, the companies used the money to buy back their own stocks, allowing their major stockholders to sell their shares profitably at public expense. Here is Alice Walton, 10% owner of Walmart, liquidating over 700 million of her stock in just the month of March.

We can be sure that Alice Walton won\’t be investing this 700 million in retail stocks. Was it stupid of Dudley and Trump to think that this plan would ever work? Apparently so.

And so here is where the plan to \”make America great again\” currently stands. The economy is tanking. The Federal Reserve can\’t pull it out of the nosedive by lowering interest rates because they are already too low. There is massive carnage in the retail sector and numerous US companies are about to go bankrupt. The once great General Electric has been kicked out of Down Jones and is busy selling its crown jewels to the Russians. What is there left to do?

Enter Janet Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair, with a plan that is truly stunning in its stupidity. She proposes that the Federal Reserve intervene and start directly buying up corporate debt using newly printed money. Note how Yellen\’s plan beautifully combines the stupidity of Bannon\’s plan (pulling the rug out from under the US dollar) with the stupidity of Dudley\’s plan (giving corporations another chance to buy back their own shares so that their major shareholders can continue bailing out and making a profit at public expense). Here\’s a chart showing how well that\’s going even without Yellen\’s brilliant suggestion.

This dearth of non-stupid ideas leaves Trump bouncing around in his padded cell issuing stupid tweets such as the following: \”Very important that OPEC increase the flow of Oil. World Markets are fragile, price of Oil getting too high. Thank you!\” Meanwhile, he banned US heavy oil imports from Venezuela (needed to make diesel) while US light oil exports (from fracking) are running into problems because of low quality, investment in fracking has fallen off a cliff, and energy companies that are in the fracking business, most of which never made any money, are reporting that there is a shortage of productive new places to drill for oil. It is stupid to think that tweeting will fix any of these problems.

To summarize, this ship of fools is taking on water and all of the proposals voiced so far are stupid ones and amount to attempting to bail it out using a sieve. It\’s really nauseating to watch! It makes me want to fly back to that beach and there to subsist on coconut milk, fresh-caught fish and tropical fruit, and to never connect to the internet again.

But I\’ll suck it up and carry on as before. Tuesdays will still be freebie days, while on Thursdays I\’ll treat my faithful supporters to grand new visions. Coming up next: the human ethnosphere, as an evolutionary aspect of the biosphere—a topic I thoroughly reserached while lying on the beach. It holds the key to understanding the life cycle of nations, some of which are full of energy and drive while others are well past their prime and run by some manifestly stupid people.