August 01, 2010

Reinventing Collapse, Dmitri Orlov

You could read Orlov's blog if you'd rather; it contains much (all?) of this book and more besides; but the book form is a succinct, logically laid out, concisely illustrated argument. This should be enjoyed even if you disagree with his conclusion.

Loosely, Orlov says that the US can't maintain dominance any more than the USSR could, but that the people of the ex-USSR were able to survive its collapse because it had actually collapsed slowly long ago, giving them time to adapt. Those of us in the US, he thinks, are too dependent on the many effective parts of our techno-hegemony to survive its inevitable overshoot and failure. Also, we're too acculturated to optimism to prepare for troubles that are already here. It would be a jeremeiad, but it's as much in sorrow and astonishment as in anger.

The descriptions of how the Soviet Union worked, and then didn't, are interesting even if you want to skip the comparisons to the US:

In the Soviet Union, very little could be obtained for money. [...] It was important that everyone [among friends] had some, not that one had more than the others. With the arrival of market economics, this cultural trait disappeared, but it persisted long enough to help people survive the transition.
Most people in the United States cannot survive very long without an income. This may sound curious to some people in the US: how can anyone, anywhere survive without an income? Well, in post-collapse Russia, if you didn't pay rent or utilities (because no one else was paying them either), and if you grew or gathered a bit of your own food, and you had some friends and relatives to help you out, then an income was not a prerequisite for survival.

That makes Perfect Rigor, Masha Gessen's biography of Grigori Perelman, more understandable. His whole mathematical world had traded worldly reward for the freedom to tell their truths, and Perelman, having found one of the great proofs, was uninterested in fame and disgusted at the thought of monetary reward.

Find in a Library: Reinventing Collapse

Perfect Rigor

So wrote clew in History (20th c.).
And thus wrote others:
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