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Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects Paperback – May 31, 2011
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…Reinventing Collapse< examines the circumstances of the demise of the Soviet superpower and offers clear insights into how we might prepare for coming events. This challenging yet inspiring work is a must-read for anyone concerned about energy, geopolitics, international relations, and life in a post-Peak Oil world.―The A Word
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Even with rudimentary understanding of history, we know that a democracy cannot be sustained without a strong, vibrant middle class. To those who deny this is a problem, you lived through 2008. You should have learned enough that it could happen again and on a much greater scale.
Orlov provides an insightful perspective, including an insider's view as having spent time there, on Russia and the comparisons are instructive and often verge into gallows humor: boondoggles are good. Americans are actually smart in their voter apathy (an original idea I've not heard expressed before, but in a twisted way makes sense). "Why should essentially powerless people want to engage in a humiliating farce designed to demonstrate the legitimacy of those who wield the power?" According to Orlov, In Russia, during the Soviet era, smart people did their best to ignore the Communists, either through praise or criticism.
In the latter sections, Orlov almost cheerily outlines possible means of surviving the collapse based on skills and opportunities.
Also recommended in this genre: Morris Berman's trilogy, "The Twilight of American Culture," "Dark Ages America," and "Why America Failed."
This is all for the open-minded and not those desperately clinging to the myth of American Exceptionalism. If the Russians were resilient and adept at dealing with shortages and bureaucracy, we soft overstuffed consumers, besotted with junk food and i-pads and bottomless debt might do well to listen.
If you think America is situated to face an uncertain future with strength, you aren't ready for this book yet. There are so many vulnerabilities to choose from, does it really matter which event is the straw that breaks the camel's back? Choose your poison. Is it Peak Oil? Is it the national debt? A natural disaster? An environmental catastrophe? Some combination thereof?
If you think of America as an exceptional nation, you may take umbrage at Orlov's characterization of Americans as overfed with unreal, unnourishing foods, overmedicated with various psychoactive drugs, conditioned to the indentured servitude of mortgages and private health insurance.
I consider it valuable that Orlov gave many examples of how ordinary Russians adapted after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Certain aspects of Russian life and culture facilitated that adaptability, and some hindered it. He seems to me to write about a certain kind of inner work, developing the determination to observe, learn the lessons of history, and adapt to rapidly changing situations. He also writes about outer preparation in matters such as food, fuel, transportation and security. You need not suffer from the collapse of the United States. Who knows, you might even thrive with a little advance preparation.
One could think of this book as a particular instance of Stein's Law, "Things that can't go on forever, won't."
The reason I only gave this book four stars is because I consider it to think of collapse as an economic phenomenon, as opposed to a moral phenomenon. I don't know how long a nation can last with a government that doesn't share its values. And he only thinks about how individuals can adapt to the collapse of the United States, not about any future reconstitution. But as far as it goes, it considers ideas that many Americans would do well to consider.
The bedrock Orlov bases his book on is that the economic system of the US, depending as it does on a vast supply of oil and foreign credit, will collapse once this supply thins out. The thesis built on this bedrock is not that we can somehow avoid the collapse, but the more humble (and reasonable, in my opinion) notion that there are particular aspects of the US economy and society that make us particularly vulnerable to disaster when the collapse comes. He compares the United States to a society whose collapse he witnessed firsthand, the former Soviet Union, and finds we come up on the losing side of the "collapse gap".
Whether you buy his particular brand of reasonable doomsaying or not, I find it very compelling that the steps he recommends for weathering collapse (live more sustainably; get to know your neighbors; stop concentrating on monetary wealth and build up concrete and social assets; start growing some of your own food; learn valuable, productive skills) are more or less things which would benefit us in any case, whether our economy collapses or not. If he turns out to have been wrong, and we get out of this depression back into the "business as usual" of five years ago, and go back to clearing land for more strip malls and suburban cookie-cutter housing developments, then - oh well - at least it was an interesting read. If he's not wrong, then hopefully it will be slightly less shocking when the collapse comes.