210 of 221 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Collapse-proof yourself: Review by author of When Technology Fails
As an MIT engineer (BSME MIT, 1978) and Author of When Technology Fails, I have read over a hundred books over the past two years, but Dimitri Orlov's "Reinventing Collapse" is the one that haunts me. Like many Americans, I felt quite smug when the Soviet Union collapsed. At the time, it appeared to be proof that the western world's way of running its businesses and...
Published on May 30, 2008 by Matthew I. Stein
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Honest but one-sided
I always worry a bit when an author proclaims near the beginning of a book that he is not an expert or researcher on the topic he will cover. Orlov presents what he considers to be observations and parallels between the collapse of the Soviet Union and an impending collapse of the US. In spite of obvious differences, he finds a number of similarities between the two...
Published on June 29, 2008 by J. Dykstra
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210 of 221 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Collapse-proof yourself: Review by author of When Technology Fails,
Orlov's analysis, gained through personally experiencing the Soviet collapse, shows us that this collapse was more a factor of economic problems caused by a crash in oil revenues than by the Regan/Breshnev arms race that was credited by so many westerners for fomenting this collapse. When the oil-glut of the 1980's caused the price of oil to fall radically, the Soviet income from their inefficient state run petroleum industries crashed (it basically cost them about as much to pump and refine their oil as the export price per barrel), and the result was a cash flow crunch that could not sustain the rest of their state-run economy.
Now that oil prices have shot past the $100 a barrel mark, the tables have turned. Russia has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world's number one oil producer, and the same oil exports that caused the Soviet regime's cash flow problem when prices were extremely low, is now making the new Russian economy cash-rich. America is seeing the devaluation of our dollar, brought on primarily due to a negative cash flow of billions of dollars a day for petroleum product imports and military ventures to protect our access to the supply of oil in foreign countries (Iraq, etc.), contributing to a large portion of our skyrocketing national debt, bringing the threat of economic collapse ever closer to our shores. Orlov points out a few of the differences between the former Soviet situation and the current US situation that makes our predicament even scarier.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, many of its state run systems continued to function. For example, most Soviets lived in public housing, fueled by public utilities, and they got around using public transportation. When their economic system went down, even though few people had much or any usable cash, their homes were still heated and not boarded up, the lights stayed on, and they could still get around using buses and trains. Here in America, the free market and privatization makes ours a very different story. When we stop paying our bills, the lights go out and the banks take our homes. If you don't have money for gas, or happen to live where trains and buses don't go where you need to go, your only recourse is to walk or hitch hike. When cash stops flowing, paychecks halt immediately and services screech to a halt (remember Enron and MCI?). When the Soviet Union collapsed, their country still had vast untapped resources to help rebuild after the collapse. America, on the other hand, has already used up most of our steel, natural gas, oil, timber, and so on. What untapped resources do we have to draw upon to pull ourselves out of this predicament? If the American dollar plunges, how will we continue to buy the resources and products from other countries that we no longer make ourselves?
So, if you are worried about the future and what you may do to prepare your friends, family, and country for what may lie ahead, I suggest you pick up a copy of "Reinventing Collapse", and learn from Orlov's experience. He gives us a clear vision of what to expect, including which strategies worked best for individuals, and what items proved most valuable to stock up for barter use when cash has no value because the economy crashed. What you learn from the past can help you to navigate a course through the future. Highly recommended!
89 of 94 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Preparing for Collapse,
Throughout this book Orlov uses scientific precision to knock down one myth after another about American life. He is very funny in mocking many of the silliest and stupidest aspects of American life. This book doesn't lay out a blueprint for how to survive the collpase, because Orlov himself makes plain that he doesn't pretend to know exatly how it will happen, but it does give some useful tips for how to prepare mentally and physically. The book is only 160 pages and I think you'll be so drawn in by it that you'll finish it in one evening just like I did. I guarantee it will be an evening well spent.
87 of 99 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars thought-provoking, insightful, but missed a bit,
1. The collapse of the USSR was a political act; the USA is facing a resource-depletion-financial crisis. Now a financial collapse (K-Wave "winter," or the repudiation of all debts, public and private) certainly could lead to political collapse, but that is by no means set in stone.
The cultural and structural differences between the USSR and the USA are significant, and if Orlov had been an anthropologist his book might have drawn somewhat different distinctions. His primary thesis is that the Soviet Union was actually better prepared to weather collapse than the U.S., but I think he missed this critical difference: Russia and the other constituent states of the former USSR were resource-rich. Once they got their politcal house in order, they had immense resources to aid their financial recovery.
2. The Soviet Union was not a nation of immigrants; the U.S. is and has been since its inception. Even the Native Americans came from somewhere else, albeit a long time ago (though 12,000 years is merely a blink in geological time). Now on the surface immigration is driven by a number of things: hunger, poverty, desire for religious freedom, etc. But fundamentally it is a form of natural selection. Among any group of people, there wil be some who look around at the poverty, corruption, hopelessness and lack of opportunity for non-elite people and decide the best way to change their lives is to leave.
3. Religion plays a unique and powerful role in the U.S. in ways which it did not in the USSR. A quick glance at Russian art suggests the central role of the Church in Russian culture. But if Orlov were African-American, I believe his dismissal of religion might not have been so quick and assured.
Rather than the non-factor Orlov expects, I would reckon religious institutions will play critical roles in organizing people for their own betterment. People didn't come here to ignore their religion, they came here to practice it, and that goes for every religion. It's been said that the black church is the only institution owned lock, stock and barrel by the African-American community, and it will not be a non-factor in that community but a central institution of stability, hope and communal services.
4. Wandering around as a homeless migrant is not a good survival strategy. Orlov suggests at the end of his book that wandering between two or three sources of resources would be a good strategy. My own view is that freeloading is frowned upon in the U.S. and your best bet to is either stay put (yes, even in ghettos and urban neighborhoods) or move to a place where you have some roots (where you grew up is always a good place to start) or where there is some commonality: a church you belong to, an ecosystem you love and will nurture, etc.
5. The U.S. is on par with Sadr City, Iraq in terms of firepower in the hands of citizens. As the most heavily armed society in the developed world, the U.S. can easily go the way of well-armed criminal gangs controlling urban zones or well-armed militia sprouting up to take out the criminals. There is historical precedents for either scenario. A third scenario (common in the 3rd World) is for wealthy enclaves to hire private forces to protect the enclave.
While I can't predict which will play out in various circumstances, we should be aware that the U.S. has millions of military veterans and millions of weapons. The USSR had the vets but not the weapons in private hands. People will eventually choose to support an alternative to anarchy or criminal/mob rule, unless the criminal gang is the only alternative to something worse (i.e. the Sadr City scenario). Or people will pay extra to maintain a top-notch police force and let go of the other city services, performing them communally via volunteer labor.
My point is simply that a heavily armed culture with tens of millions of firearm-trained vets is not going to follow the route of a society without those two elements.
6. Orlov underestimates the power of the Web/Internet. Orlov is extending his experience in a pre-Internet Russia, in which you had to stand outside in the cold in order to hitch a ride. Assuming the Internet backbone will be maintained--and why wouldn't it be placed ahead of every other use except hospitals and the public safety centers?--then virtually everyone will be able to arrange barters of almost unimaginable range via the Web.
Despite these points (which are all debatable, of course), it's a very worthy exercise to read his work and make your own analysis.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stand Up and Look Around in America, Then Read This Book To Have Your Observations Confirmed.,
Enter Dmitry Orlov's compelling book, Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects. By Mr. Orlov's accounts, the former Soviet Union had a cushy collapse experience in comparison to the hellish ride Americans are in for. Russians had free access to housing and public transportation not to mention the fortitude to grow their own food in kitchen gardens around their homes. Americans? Do we have public transportation? Who owns their home free and clear in America, home of the free? Mr. Orlov contends that because of circumstances of dire economic times before Soviet collapse this set Russians up to better survive collapse when it happened. Because Americans have none of the hearty attitudes developed after years of living through tough times or the public transportation or railroad infrastructure required to survive an economic collapse situation that begins mainly with the disappearance of cheap oil, hyperinflation will render money useless while wiping out savings and the supermarket will not be the place where food is. Americans will fare worse than their post-Soviet Union counterparts.
Mr. Orlov examines many useful ideas about facing our fears during uncertain times and even has a sense of humor about it. He is self-consciously lighthearted about a subject as lighthearted as economic collapse. I think reading this book is a more important use of one's time than spending stimulus money at Dillard's to buy women's purse holders that attach to ballroom stall doors for $22 a pop. The evidence is all around us. Who needs half this crap? How many more times can Wal-Mart abandon their locations leaving shell after shell of big boxes in their wake in the same rural community?
There must be some limit to the waste and excess that the country has experienced, produced and profited from in the last thirty years. And instead of adding to the general health and overall good of its citizenry Mr. Orlov contends that most of what the economy is doing is creating debt (p.156). Mr. Orlov's other keen insights include personal experiences of witnessing a large country go through the gentle process of hyperinflation. Mr. Orlov goes into stunning detail without terrifying you (too much).
Mr. Orlov also dabbles in biting social commentary about industrial civilization as a whole. Rather than favoring one ideology over another, i.e. Capitalism over Communism or vice versa, Mr. Orlov contends favor of one ideology over another will create collapse instead of avoid it. He even goes as far as to say America adheres and upholds free market theory and capitalism as much as authoritarian control governments restrict free speech, movement and organizing.
Mr. Orlov tackles big and complex topics such as the elderly in relation to collapse and how our ingrained attitudes and our societal norms are ridiculous if not outright insane. Mr. Orlov routinely attacks the institutionalization of child care and basically says we are treating children like prisoners by sending them off to schools that are run like institutions. For instance, regarding the elderly and collapse on page 75 Mr. Orlov writes, "Once the joy ride ends, human society will revert to the norm, but many will suffer and many lives will be cut short. The elderly will get a dose of their own toxic medicine. Adult children will take care of their helpless parents only inasmuch as their parents took care of them when they were young and helpless. Were they placed in day-care, sent of to a boarding school, or encouraged to join the military? Well then, institutional care for the elderly must be the perfect solution! (And no use complaining; when their children were three years old and complained, did they listen to them?) Were they made to work for their allowance, to learn the spirit of free enterprise at a young age? Well then, how do their parents expect to earn their keep when they are eighty? Shape up or ship out!"
This book is one man's opinion about the subject of the state of our superpower in the throes of decay. Throw in some wildly fluctuating prices of oil, Mr. Orlov's predicts, and we are no different from the USSR in 1985 right before it collapsed. If you want the latest opinions from the latest energy secretary of Qatar or the CEO of Energy R US in Dubai, don't bother with this book and just head straight to Thomas Friedman. Or chose complete denial and hope that the strip malls will continue to operate as usual. Because, after all, do not the strip malls and conspicuous consumption give over to complete joy? And does the service economy not deepen and strengthen human relationships? In a collapsed economy, Mr. Orlov predicts, where people must survive without an income, the bald faced inefficiencies and follies of industrial civilization will be exposed as mere survival takes up more of people's time. For instance, on page 53, Mr. Orlov writes, "Camus also indicated a specific failure of both systems: their inability to provide creative, meaningful work. We see this failure in the very high rates of depression. We attempt to define depression as a psychological ailment, but it is a symptom of a cultural failure: the inability to make life meaningful or enjoyable."
If you are like me, and you wonder at all the useless crap being peddled in the malls by college students who are studying marketing and show biz, then you will find infinite value and wisdom Mr. Orlov's honest and direct approach.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Run, Don't Walk To Buy This Book,
These words from Pages 125 and 126 of Dmitry Orlov's Re-Inventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects leapt out at me as perhaps the most definitive in his marvelous new book in which Dmitry illumines the collapse of the American empire, now well underway, with his insights from living through the collapse of the Soviet Union.
By way of background, I will be using his first name throughout this review because although I've only met him once, he feels like an old friend. I first heard of Dmitry several years ago when I became a subscriber to From The Wilderness where I was captivated by his article series "Post-Soviet Lessons For A Post-American Century." Later in 2007, Dmitry wrote an exclusive article for my website entitled "Collapse And Its Discontent." I was then honored and humbled by his request for an endorsement of Re-Inventing Collapse and immediately requested a review copy from his publisher, New Society.
In the face of massive housing foreclosures, skyrocketing food prices, bizarre weather patterns, droughts, oil prices off the charts, unprecedented numbers of personal bankrupticies in the U.S., escalating unemployment, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are fiscally sucking the United States dry that any sane person can deny that the empire not only has no clothing but is crumbling before our eyes. Dmitry Orlov calls this what it is: Collapse.
Opening the book with a "recipe" for collapse soup and noticing that the United States has combined all of the ingredients, Dmitry states that economic collapse, particularly in the throes of Peak Oil, is an enormous red flag signaling that the collapse of the American empire is underway. Additionally, he emphasizes that "when faced with a collapsing economy, one should stop thinking of wealth in terms of money." Physical resources and assets, as well as relationships and connections are worth their weight in gold and quickly become more valuable than cash. (11) Specifically, he states:
I therefore take as my premise that at some point during the coming years, due to an array of factors, with energy scarcity foremost among them, the economic system of the United States will teeter and fall, to be replaced by something that most people can scarcely guess at, and that even those who see it coming prefer not to think about. (15)
A key psychological factor in the individualization of oppression, deeply embedded in the American psyche, is the notion that in the face of utter powerlessness, blaming oneself provides the last semblance of empowerment, i.e., "It's my fault; I caused it; if only I hadn't...." This is not unlike the internal psychological mechanisms that engage within a child during and after abuse in which the child unconsciously blames him/herself for the abuse because not to do so confronts the child with an intolerable, overwhelming sense of powerlessness.
Noting that Americans find it difficult to imagine failure collectively in terms of the nation itself and prefer to insist that all failure is individual in nature, Dmitry concedes that collapse will be different for each person, but that one way to bridge the gap between "individual" and "collective" might be to notice the pre- and post-collapse conditions of the Soviet Union and compare them hypothetically with those of the United States. The ultimate intention here is to invite the reader to ask him/herself to what extent each important thing in one's life is "collapse-proof" and then after several pages of deepening and refining many of the concepts of his "Post-Soviet Lessons" series, Dmitry makes a stunning request: to consider how to make that "important thing" collapse-proof, or come to terms with how to live without it. (17)
In his marvelous chapter on "Superpower Similarities" Dmitry offers a conclusion, certainly not new to me, but one which begs to be pondered: "Rather than one giant explosion, this is more likely to be death by a thousand cuts." (35) After each cut, he states, Americans are likely to fantasize a technological remedy, but increasingly their fantasy will be proven to be just that, and those who offer such false hopes will become, "progressively lest trustworthy." (35) At the same time that he emphasizes the protracted nature of collapse, he notes the power of tipping points, like Chernobyl in the Soviet Union and Katrina in the U.S., to exacerbate the velocity of collapse.
During this hour of national election mania in the United States, I cannot resist Dmitry's sardonic observation that "The two capitalist parties offer a choice between two placebos," (55) later noting that "...all successful adaptations to the new circumstances will have to be made at the local level, and will have to rely on existing infrastructure, inventory and locally available talents and skills." (61) In pondering his analysis of collapse-how it manifested in the S.U. (Soviet Union) and is now manifesting in the U.S., one is dumfounded with the utter vacuousness of all American political party platforms in the face of a crumbling empire. The Soviet experience confirms that when societies collapse, all issues become acutely and intensely local, and communities and neighborhoods-or large numbers of the dispossessed in a particular venue--must address them.
Whereas some may feel guilty about political apathy or their unwillingness to participate in the national election charade, Dmitry argues that "Although people often bemoan political apathy as if it were a grave social ill, it seems to me that this is just as it should be. Why should essentially powerless people want to engage in a humiliating farce designed to demonstrate the legitimacy of those who wield the power?" (114) Thank you Dmitry; you've just described how I've felt after departing a voting booth every four years for the past three decades.
In his chapter on "Collapse Mitigation" Dmitry names his major concerns regarding the nature of the catastrophe that lies ahead. He notes that "there is no one who will undertake an organized effort to make the collapse survivable", but this is indeed a circular dilemma. A society that cannot and will not even consider the possibility of collapse is incapable of organizing to survive it. And so it is that we have many radioactive toxic installations, stockpiles, and dumps lying around. Many nuclear power plants have been built near coastlines, which does not bode well for surrounding communities in the face of rising sea levels resulting from global warming. (111) As a result of collapse, soldiers may become stranded overseas, along with private contractors.
As prison systems become increasingly costly and unmanageable due to the diminishment of resources, what will happen to those populations that can no longer be maintained and managed? Will they be released, setting off "a crime wave of staggering proportions"? (112) Even more frightening is the collection of non-collateralized debt, such as credit card debt, which is "secured by threat of force" and which Dmitry suggests may result in massive indentured debt servitude.
In a wonderful section called "Do It Yourself", Dmitry states:
Any behavior that might result in continued economic growth and prosperity is counterproductive: the higher you jump, the harder you land. It is traumatic to go from having a big retirement fund to having not retirement fund because of a market crash. It is also traumatic to go from a high income to little or no income. If, on top of that, you have kept yourself incredibly busy and suddenly have nothing to do, then you will really be in rough shape.... (122) If the economy, and your place within it, are really important to you, you will really be hurt when they go away.(123)
It takes a lot of creativity and effort to put together a fulfilling existence on the margins of society. After the collapse, these margins may turn out to be some of the best places to live. (123)
So "doing it oneself" is about figuring out how to increasingly operate and live from the margins of society. Those who have already learned how to do so will have an advantage over the many who haven't.
From many collapse watchers such as Richard Heinberg, Derrick Jensen, James Howard Kunstler and others, we frequently hear the word "adaptation" or synonymous terms, indicating how crucial it is that we are able to adjust our demands to the reality of "Peak Everything" because of how a collapsing world will force human beings to live. Ideally, we need not be forced but will proactively prepare ourselves physically, financially, and emotionally. While Dmitry points out that there is nothing wrong with comforts, he emphasizes that for optimum collapse survival, we need to perceive them as luxuries, not necessities.
In addition, we need to be able to blend, in somewhat chameleon-like fashion, into the environment. It is best to appear average and mainstream while constructing a life of radical survival so as not to attract attention. While we live in a great deal of uncertainty that FEMA is actually constructing detention camps to incarcerate American citizens, we read here and there online about it, and we assume that in a chaotic milieu of food shortages, power failures, water rationing, massive unemployment, inaccessibility of health care, and total societal breakdown, martial law and detention camps will be required for social control. Those whose behavior is agitated, hysterical, or recalcitrant attract attention, while the ability to remain calm, rational, and outwardly compliant may afford much-needed anonymity as the panic of collapse exacerbates.
Dmitry implies that acting skills might be useful in a milieu where many people will be looking for someone to blame for their plight. The most important thing beyond personal safety, he suggests is "to understand who has what you need and how to get it from them." (138) That is to say that in a collapsing world, existence is likely to become increasingly utilitarian-much more about getting the job done than agonizing over social graces or ego-based preoccupations with performance. This may sound robotic, and perhaps a bit schizophrenic in the light of the disparity Dmitry points out between one's inner world and one's public persona. Nevertheless, countless survivors of extremely oppressive regimes have found the discrepancy invaluable for navigating unimaginable stress.
Dmitry has sometimes been called a "doomer"-a label with which I'm quite familiar since it has frequently been attached to me as well. And while it's true that Re-Inventing Collapse isn't a fluffy, feel-good novel with a happily ever after ending, it is tempered with delicious outbursts of Dmitry's heartwarming sarcasm and mischievous humor which makes him the delightful human being he is. An unforgettable case in point from the book is the section entitled "The Settled And The Nomadic" in which he emphasizes how much moving around from place to place may be required of us in a collapsing world. Then poking fun at our terminally mobile culture he says:
Where to ensconce and secrete our precious selves, there to sit out the gathering storm? In a nation of nomads, who think nothing of growing up in one state, going to school in another and settling down in a third, it is surprising to see that so many people come to think that, during the most unsettled of times, some special place will sustain them perpetually. More likely than not, they will be forced to stay on the move. (139)
The idyllic dream of many collapse watchers-the small farm isolated from the city, may or may not be the safest, sanest venue. One will need neighbors with whom to barter, and who knows--and Dmitry doesn't address the topic, to what extent a repressive regime will have the time, money, or hydrocarbon energy to roam the countryside and round up those who do not "blend in."
What he does recommend is a small village where an acre of farmland for every 30 people or so is available and where people know each other and are willing to help each other. However, given the uncertainties and unpredictability of life during and after collapse, one may be forced to stay on the move. "Having a permanent base of operations is certainly a good thing, but if so, then having two or three is even better." (141) Remaining somewhat nomadic allows one the necessary detachment to avoid getting caught in "deteriorating circumstances" and flee so as to avoid them. Thus, a "winter camp" and a "summer camp" are recommended. Again, like maintaining one's inner world while presenting a divergent exterior, Dmitry suggests not letting on that one doesn't have a permanent home since "communities are always suspicious of nomads", but at the same time remaining aware that "To seek out that sympathy of strangers, you need to have a place you call home, even if that place only exists in your imagination...."(142)
Suddenly, following his daunting description of life in a collapsed world, a chapter entitled "Career Opportunities" appears. As a result of reading "other Orlov", I smiled and guessed that this chapter would be more about survival, as opposed to becoming comfortably ensconsed in a new profession. And I was right.
In this final chapter, Dmity speaks honestly about the alternative economies that flourished in the Soviet Union and that are typical of decaying societies. "Asset stripping" or pulling the copper out of the wires of abandoned homes, carrying off the vinyl siding and the fiberglass insulation could provide a treasure trove of "currency" and bargaining chips for future transactions on which life depends such as food, water, or medicines. Black market pharmaceuticals will be indispensable, and of course, in a world in which people have collapsed emotionally as well as financially, drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes will have inestimable value. Authentic doctors and nurses will be sorely needed, but black market medical practices are likely to abound as well.
As for transportation Dmitry opines that there will soon be only two viable options: bicycling and sailing. A proud proponent of sailboating as the most reliable form of transportation during and after collapse, Dmitry emphasizes that sailboats are not actually luxury items. He suggests checking the foreclosure lists and states that "a few months' rent will buy you a new, floating, rent-free home. If the cost is still too much, all you have to do is wait; the sailboat market is going from bad to worse."(154)
Dmitry leaves us with an exceedingly important piece of advice. Noting the vast numbers of people who have asked him what he plans to do to prepare for collapse, he emphasizes that preparation should include more than one option because there is no "one plan." In Re-Inventing Collapse, he offers no crystal ball and humbly admits that he does not know how collapse will unfold, only that he has lived through one collapse in his life and wishes to utilize that experience to shed light on the next one that has already begun.
I have no negative criticism of the book, but I must add that I wanted to hear more about psychological and attitudinal preparation-for two reasons, one being that my own forthcoming book explores them deeply, but also because I long to hear more personally from Dmitry how he has been impacted by the demise of the S.U. even as he navigates the downward spiraling of the U.S. Nevertheless, everyone who has forsaken denial about collapse and is serious about preparation must read Re-Inventing Collapse.
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comparing Collapse Scenarios,
I question Orlov's assertion that Americans should emulate the political apathy of the Soviet proletariat as a strategy to survive energy collapse. It is true that the people of the Former Soviet Union (FSU) stoically survived a political and economic collapse, which to some extent was precipitated by a peak of national oil production. But during their rebound, Russia and the other FSU republics have had substantial resources of oil and natural gas remaining. Charts of FSU oil production show a production peaks in the 1980s, then a deep trough, then increasing production to another, though lesser peak forming right now. The FSU's oil exports actually increased after the trough, and in some circles they are considered a swing producer of oil.
At present, only certain third world nations have experienced the initial effects of the energy collapse that now confronts the world. It remains to be seen who will survive and whether any will prosper.
Update: Reading the article "Drunken Nation: Russia's Depopulation Bomb" in the Spring 2009 issue of World Affairs Journal has caused me to reject Orlov's premise that the Russian people successfully survived collapse. Despite their many millionaires and solid educational system, the average Russian's life expectancy, marriage rate and birth rate has plummeted to the level of a struggling third world nation. I only hope that America's recent spate of violence isn't leading to a similar tragedy.
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Honest but one-sided,
It is obvious that Orlov is a disciple of the more extreme, doomsday-type scenarios envisioned by the worst-case peak oil crowd. He quotes James Kunstler, and appears to be acquainted with the work of a number of other writers that envision a severe and impending production shortfall in oil, natural gas, and even coal. In some ways, the collapse he imagines in the US is even more severe than Kunstler's Long Emergency. Additionally, the only differences he allows himself to see between the US and old Soviet Union are ones in which the Soviet Union was previously pre-disposed towards things that made it less susceptible to the worst parts of a collapse. However, he fails to see any attributes in American culture that could mitigate a crisis. It seems to me that it's possible any crash or collapse in the US could be offset somewhat by evolution in the way things are done and ingenuity. Orlov's imagined scenarios depend on a drastic collapse of many interconnected aspects of the American system that may or may not happen. For example, peak oil doesn't necessarily imply that oil will be outright unavailable in a short period of time. It may simply constantly increase in price leading to adaptations along the way.
On the other hand, Orlov presents a very unvarnished an honest appraisal of some very disturbing trends in the US, and uses some interesting examples from the Soviet experience to show that bad things can happen. He points out that the US is heavily in debt, makes use of an unsustainable energy habit that has very few backup options, is creeping towards a justice system that incarcerates increasingly more citizens, and is involved in unaffordable military operations around the world. It is definitely a thought-provoking book in this sense, and offers some areas in which we could definitely consider new ways of doing things.
The final part of the book is sort of a survivalist guide on how to get by in the coming rough times. This is all fine and good, but he imagines a scenario in which the US reverts to a sort of 19th century existence. An unavoidable aspect to this kind of argument is the obvious point that if things get as bad as he imagines, chaos will probably reign supreme to the point that survival won't be an option for many people.
This is an interesting book, and I tend to think that a number of the things he talks about will definitely be problems we will face. However, it seems to me that there is only an outside chance that things will get as bad as he imagines.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reinventing Collapse: Laugh Till it Hurts,
1. It makes the book enjoyable to read.
2. It helps the reader develop a certain healthy detachment from the subject matter. If you can see the humor in the situation, it can lessen the melodrama of the Cold War in the past, and the collapse of both the Soviet Union (past) and its mirror twin the United States (very current).
Orlov observes that the citizens of both the U.S. and the S.U. were targets of marketing campaigns that successfully developed intense brand loyalty. In each country, it was forbidden (either legally or through intense peer pressure) to advocate for the other brand. The U.S. was for capitalists (Yes, we're #1), and the S.U. for communists (Da, we're #1), and never the twain shall meet.
Those benighted residents of countries other than the US and the SU were often forced to choose sides; particularly in the smaller countries when well-armed and well-funded sales reps showed up to make them a deal they couldn't refuse.
Orlov's demonstration in the first part of the book of the similarities between the two countries helps further this detachment, just as he does later in the book with his description of the differences between both empires. What is perhaps most interesting and intriguing is his pointing out that although they appear to be mirror opposites, things are not that simple. Each contains yin-yang-like the opposite of itself, so that the Soviet Empire had a strong entrepreneurial nature (which manifests most obviously through the huge black market), and the American Empire has a strong communal nature, which manifests through community groups and the high-level support of charitable organizations. Orlov even states that Americans make better communists than the Russians, because they are much more willing to live communally.
For the American reader, however, it is the differences in preparedness for collapse that are most important. It's not that the Russians intentionally prepared; it's that their society's condition inadvertently prepared them. The collectivization of agriculture changed, as Orlov says, Russia from Europe's bread basket to Europe's basket case. It was a massive failure. So Russians started their own kitchen and neighborhood gardens which eventually, although only 10% of agricultural land, were estimated to produce a staggering 90% of the country's agricultural products.
Housing was another issue. The Soviet Union's housing program was as bad as its agricultural program. There was always a major housing shortage, and families were required to live in crowded conditions in ugly concrete housing monstrosities. And yet...everyone was housed and the state owned the buildings. When the collapse came, everyone was still housed, because there were no bankers to foreclose on their homes.
Transportation was another important issue. The Soviet Union never dismantled its passenger rail system, as the U.S. began doing in the 1950s when the interstate highway system was being built. So intercity travel remained as good (and as uncomfortable in many cases) as ever. Within the cities, housing was built by the state only where public transportation was available. Few people could afford (and even fewer needed) automobiles. When the crash came, transportation continued as before. Buses, trolleys, trams, subways continued to move residents throughout their cities.
In many smaller cities and most towns in the U.S., public transportation is poor at best, and transportation to outlying suburbs is nonexistent. A huge percentage of Americans are dependent on their personal cars for transportation. When the collapse comes and gasoline is prohibitively expensive (if even available), the choice will no longer be food or fuel. Except...millions of Americans need fuel to get to, or earn the money to pay for, food.
The book is filled with useful information, but I think the most important is the need for "social capital". This is the good will and trust built up among people over time as a result of frequent social and cooperative contact. Orlov describes how the people in Russia who got by best were those who networked with friends and neighbors, giving when they had something, receiving when they didn't. This seemed to be even more essential than the barter system, which was also very important and heavily used.
I've already given several copies of this book to friends. I think it's an excellent manual filled with useful tips, and even more importantly, a guide to the psychological and emotional attitudes that will be necessary to survive in much of the world as we all encounter the tribulations of Peak Oil and Economic Collapse.
Mick Winter ([...]) is the author of Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate Change and Economic Collapse
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dancing The Superpower Tango,
In comparing the two superpowers as two ideologically different sides of the same flawed empire coin, Orlov confirms the premise that empires fall and the US would fall particularly hard and perhaps quite soon. He takes on the task of breaking it to the American reader that the very successes that made them so rich (a few anyway) and so great, will help not at all, and this is where his best jokes are embedded allowing me to laugh wryly out loud throughout his short book.
Along the way, he reveals pithy insights to explain how the American system works in contrast with the Russian one. For instance the story of the classless society is exemplified by the concept of a middle class--something Americans have proudly espoused--which he points out is held together by the common denominator of everyone owning a car. That's right, not education, not equal opportunity, or equal rights but the one-ton behemoth that we must have to get around the wasteful geography created by suburbia.
We know about this waste from the film "The End of Suburbia" and James Kunstler's "Geography of Nowhere" and all the other peak oil fellows, but Orlov points out that because we are so identified with owning a car as part of this American middle class identity we will be hard put to let it go. And when we are forced to (due to diminishing and increasingly expensive gasoline supplies) so will go the myth of the middle class. In turn he explains how the Russians lost faith in the classless worker's paradise because they could clearly see that there was an elite strutting around in cool Armani threads while the lack of consumer goods and trendy fashions for all never became a reality.
And because our ideologically indoctrinated minds are so closed to such deep seated change and so invested in our "can do" innovation, we will, like Napoleon, be unable to retreat from the overextended, oil fueled, debt based economy which is poised to come crashing down, financed as it is by foreign investment that will eventually decide that we are not a good credit risk.
And there was the revealing insight about each country's self-image regarding defense. That the Russians were all about being undefeated while the Americans were all about victory, leading both to overextend themselves in the weapons department and both can say they won, because the SU did indeed remain undefeated by the US and the US gets to cry "victory" every time it bombs somebody back into the stone age.
While these cultural details make the book a fascinating read just for his pragmatic sociopolitical perspective, Orlov's main message is to get Americans to understand what it will mean to live without an economy, when cash is virtuously useless and most people won't be getting any income anyway because they'll be out of a job. Peak oil gurus already talk about how economic growth will be curtailed by decreasing supplies of energy, but Orlov takes it one step further by adding currency collapse and the collapse of the known economic system into an unknown bartering system. The reader cannot escape his picture of inevitable collapse as he takes pains to explain that the usual channels of activism, politics and private enterprise, if we use them to attempt to mitigate the collapse, will only make things worse because these systems are ideologically driven and incapable of putting into practice what is needed to happen to ensure survival.
Since his book will likely be read chiefly by those already inclined to accept that collapse is inevitable, I don't think we need worry about attempts to mitigate collapse. Indeed the public is only just beginning to be able to hear the news that peak oil is a phenomenon that must be managed. The end result of the collapse of the Soviet Union was to pronounce that it was no longer a country, no longer a controlled political entity under the superpower operating system. So game over.
What I imagine we will get is a whole lot of denial about how collapse won't happen here. Joseph Tainter, in his 1988 classic, The Collapse of Complex Societies, after first describing how collapse is inevitable (because of diminishing returns on investment of energy and labor), goes on to give three reasons why collapse is not likely in modern times. 1) Absorption by a larger state or neighbor. 2) Economic support by a dominant power or by an international financing agency. 3) Payment by the support population of overhead costs to keep the society going. He added a telling little aside. Complex societies, he claimed are excellent at solving complex problems and if they fail to, then it is not because they are incapable of it, but because of some psychological underpinning in the society itself. He did not delve further into these underpinnings. The mirror that Orlov holds up shows us that this very psychosis is built into the society that attempts to play the game of empire. Why else would a people believe such delusions about themselves? P.S. Nobody bothered to save Russia preferring, instead, to loot it.
After offering this futile outlook, Orlov does give some practical tips on what individuals can do to prepare. In this he shows a kindness and compassion for his American reader, much as he did for his Russian countrymen when he returned to visit after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some of the consequences of not having an economy, as Orlov describes it from the Russian experience, sounds really grim especially given the uncertainty of how Americans will respond. It makes me want to always have a viable first class plane ticket out of here and Orlov does mention that most immigrants (the ones doing all the skilled and unskilled work around here) are going to go home.
At the same time he describes a lot of skills and psychological resiliency that I already possess, making it possible to think of staying (as opposed to the psychologically daunting task of persuading my American partner that we must sell the house, spend all our savings on durable, useful goods and move to a completely foreign land that will, incidentally also suffer in the backwash of American collapse in the urban parts where it has bought into the American lifestyle). At least I will have a model, from my formerly considered backwards, peasant country, of how one can live a viable low tech sustainable existence that has already proven to be collapse proof following the economic collapse of the Asian Tigers. In fact not having America's consumer glory around as an example to strive for will help a lot both for the self-esteem of these peasants and the well being of the planet.
In the end the picture that emerges of a simplified America based on complex interrelationships between people one can trust, hand skills to make things work, an ability to relate up and down the social classes and left and right to different social groups, being able to grow food, being able to downgrade living standards dramatically and manage expectations, being self-sufficient, flexible and adaptable sounds like a big improvement to the hollow, consumer driven, meaningless, success culture we do live in.
In his conclusion, Orlov neither tries to sell cheerful optimism, Al Gore style, or grind you to a pulp Kunstler, "Long Emergency" style. For that I am grateful for the experience of having my mind opened to the view while drifting silently to earth wondering what crocodiles will be lurking in the swamps of post collapse America.
Amanda Kovattana is the author of Diamonds In My Pocket: Tales of a Childhood in Asia, coming out in August.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I felt a chill going down my back!,
Orlov's book and my visits to Ukraine have allowed me to see how vulnerable we in the USA are, and that there are worse things than being stupid...that is...thinking you are smart when you really are stupid. Makes for an even further humiliating and decisive fall with fewer coping mechanisms with which to survive. The visits and this book made the unthinkable not only plausible, but a likely event. I wish to thank Orlov for his writing as I systematically prepare for the barter economy.
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