Review: Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov.

Read something good? Written something good? Link it, or copy it here!
Post Reply
featherstick
Posts: 951
Joined: Mon Feb 17, 2014 9:09 pm

Review: Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov.

Post by featherstick » Mon Jul 25, 2016 7:57 pm

Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer, blogger, sailor and writer who has built up a bit of a following among the “kollapsnik” community for his perceptive insights into the end of empire. He is probably most well-known for a work comparing the Soviet Union and America, which concluded that the population of the SU was better prepared for collapse due to the high prevalence of informal rules, networks of obligation and favour, and being well-used to making-do in times of shortage. His point of view is informed by being born and brought up in the SU but emigrating in 1976, and observing from afar the changes in that society – where his family still had many friends and relatives – and how people dealt with them. One also has a very strong sense that he has never integrated in US society and indeed his current living arrangements – on a boat in a marina – illustrate this – half on land, half on sea, able to slip anchor and drift away any time. Incidentally this rootlessness is very common in the Russian migration, as if nothing can replace the “little homeland” that was left behind so there is no point in committing to another place. The writer Nabokov, for instance, lived out his life in migration in a series of hotels from 1919 to his death in 1977. But I digress.

Orlov’s blog contains entertaining and at times provocative takes on world current events, and he sets out to be deliberately provocative in some of his comparisons, particularly in relation to the EU. While I personally feel that the EU is in great need of reform, I don’t believe that it promotes bestiality and other perversions, and that such statements are entertaining but not very useful in the discussion. However there is little of that sort of provocation in this book.

Orlov’s basic thesis is easy to state: that all empires and civilisations collapse, that there are five stages of collapse – financial, commercial, political, social and cultural, that each stage has predictive features and certain possible responses. Within this short framework, Orlov examines the role of fiat currency, gift-giving economies, the place of language in forming identity, the role of religion as a resilient and coherent system of overcoming collapse and disruption, our blind over-reliance on technology, and several other fascinating inclusions. The writing is lively and engaging, and examples clamour for quotation. Here is one, relating to the impossibility of responding effectively to malign results of our growth-based societies in our current political system. It relates to the increase of breast cancer as a result of chemical agriculture:
“Let us take a short mental holiday…and ask a prince. Suppose the court scientist comes to the prince and says “My Prince, our women are developing tumours in their breasts at an alarming rate, and I have discovered why….in this vial I have an extract of breast milk which contains the same poisons your chemists are giving to your peasants to kill insects. I have fed these poisons to rats and they too developed tumours. The poisons must be banned”. The prince…thinks to himself “These chemists say they are my friends but are they really? Here is my chance to find out. If I ban these dreadful poisons, then they may comply willingly, but if they resist even for a moment I will condemn them as poisoners of women and children and clap them in irons and/or banish them from my realm in accordance with my caprice du jour! In any case, I will no longer have to wonder whether they are my friends.” Aloud he says “These poisons are an abomination!” and to the palace guard “Summon the chemists!”. When the chemists arrive some minutes later, red in the face and out of breath, the prince, growing impatient, motions to the court scientist to get on with it. The court scientist repeats his words. “As you wish, my prince”, the chief chemist says, “but don’t your peasants need these poisons to kill the insects to feed the growing population?” The prince, now looking bored, turns to his scientist: “What would be better for us, a smaller but healthier population or a larger but sicker one…never mind, I just answered my own question. The poisons are hereby banned. Lunch, anyone?”

This is an entertaining example from the chapter on political collapse and illustrates the complexity of finding a coherent response to pressing problems in our over-specialised, silo-ed and fractured society. His conclusion is that lust for power is the driver of a “global political juggernaut” and that “our task, it would appear is to jump off this death-wagon without breaking our legs”, which piece of thinking explains Orlov’s life choice of living in the semi-marginal, close-knit but private world of live-aboard yachts in out-of-the-way marinas along the US east coast.

That choice is not possible for all of us, and although the book is sub-titled “Survivors’ Toolkit” it does not contain lists of kit, technology, guns-and-ammo, bug-out bags or local militia, and indeed I suspect that the publishers probably insisted on the sub-title in order to make it more appealing to the more kit-obsessed prepper community (which is most of us, right?). Anyone looking for specific things to Do Right Now will be disappointed. Instead, as readers we need to infer and decide for ourselves how to respond to the impending collapse. To help us with this, Orlov includes case studies at the end of each stage of collapse that illustrate (as far as he is concerned) possible survival responses. The case studies become grimmer in lock-step with the stages of collapse.
For Orlov, financial collapse is caused by the moral hazard of unrestrained lending caused by the over-financialisation of society and markets, the need for debt that fiat money causes, and political unwillingness to reset the financial system to anything approaching reality, choosing instead to kick the can down the road for future generations to deal with. The Icelandic response to their financial crisis is examined in detail – let the banks go bust, lock up the bankers, stiff the creditors. However this is only possible in a small country that can give an overwhelming political mandate strong enough to empower a sympathetic politician to face down global greed. Iceland has a population of 300,000, and in a referendum on repayment, 90% of Icelanders voted against. Only very small democracies can do this. The Isle of Man is another small, ancient democracy, Switzerland, though larger, has a small canton structure. Ireland, at only 10 times the Icelandic population, was unable to generate the political will to face down the banks. Other, larger countries have no chance, captured as they are by the vested interest of corporations and their lobbyists.

Commercial collapse follows shortly after financial collapse as banks realise that they don’t know who is good for the letters of credit, promissory notes, options, short-term loans, and other unstable forms of interbank finance, and as a consequence refuse to honour their liabilities towards other banks. This sudden freeze in payments means that cargoes don’t get unloaded, trucks get turned around, cashpoints empty and are not refilled, and payments of all sorts cease virtually overnight. Indeed it is little understood that we were within hours of such a collapse in 2008 and only massive pump-priming by central banks prevented it. This sudden freezing of the bank system is a massive, catastrophic event that can almost certainly not be reversed and would cause a massive re-set of society. The case-study to illustrate this is that of the Russian Mafia, whose origins lay in existing criminal underworld of the Soviet Union and the specific parallel state that it provided for criminals and those state structures close to them, but also in the sports clubs, Afghan veterans, and state security structures, all of whom had shared objectives, common loyalties, and enough muscle to grab territory. They broker this to set up enterprises that flourish in the gaps, and eventually become semi-legitimate and consolidate or take over other operations.

Political collapse is a result of the state and the ruling elite’s loss of legitimacy, territory and control as a result of the above two collapses. It is messy and unpredictable as the state’s writ withdraws from large parts of territory, leaving the void to be filled by warlords, bandits, petty despots and anyone who can enforce their control and offer a basic set of rules for the people in an area to live by. Orlov maintains that the current nation-state settlement is the hangover of the fossil-fuelled 20th Century and as such unsustainable, and its collapse will be messy, unpredictable, and bad for bystanders. Orlov devotes a lot of attention to anarchism as an organising principle in response to political collapse, and provides a thought-provoking case study. According to Orlov, the Pashtuns and their society offer a good example of how to establish resilient, robust means of organisation that is not based around the preservation of a state and the provision of state services, but around the preservation of an identity and a way of life that exists to perpetuate itself free of the control and interference of outsiders, elected or unelected governors, and/or self-assumed leaders. Certain key concepts of honour, hospitality, and revenge, and governance behaviours ensure its survival, but at no point is there an organised governing body whose loss or coopting would threaten the existence of Pashtunwali, because that’s not how it works. The results can be seen in successive imperial attempts to conquer Pashtun – massive loss of blood and gold which results in sure defeat for the imperial power, despite their overwhelming superiority.

As collapse continues, the outcomes and responses become more grim. Social collapse is advancing as “more and more people are being excluded from the productive life of their society, condemned to exist on various hand-outs, odd jobs, and if they are lucky, earning a little something in the ever-expanding informal economy. Note here that collapse are not sequential and indeed different stages are evident in different parts of the world. Social collapse is advanced in many post-industrial economies of the West, but it is treated not as a feature of the present but as a glitch. However as Orlov says “Society exists, until it doesn’t”. Responses are based around religion, as a resilient system of shared identity and culture with a long history of survival, and around looking after one’s own. The case of the Roma and their history and traditions, internal customs for settling disputes, forming agreements and alliances, complex sets of livelihoods strategies based on ripping off settled communities, misdirection and obfuscation when it comes to dealing with official bodies, extended kinship networks that provide trust, surety for deals, places to go when it’s time to move on, and community oversight of Roma behaviour, trade specialisations such as fine handcrafts, and an iron-hard set of customs and taboos that effectively prevent integration with settled communities, make them a survival example par excellence, well-fitted for existing in and around the margins of whatever political or economic system they find themselves in, as indeed they have done for the alst two thousand years.

Cultural collapse is the final, most depressing stage of collapse as families dissolve, individualism is rampant, and people lose their capacity for kindness, tolerance, compassion, honesty, affection, hospitality and love. Orlov’s case study for this stage is that of the Ik People – nomadic hunter-gatherers in East Africa who suffered an enormous social and cultural shock when driven from their ancestral lands, and forced to “farm” barren marginal land in the highlands of Uganda. This shock has driven them to barest survival essentials – trusting no-one, stealing from everyone, sharing nothing unless compelled to, and valuing only a full stomach. Family values have dissolved with children regarded as a curse, and put out to shift for themselves at the age of three in bands of other feral children. Simple spousal abandonment has replaced formal divorce, and transactional sex with neighbouring tribes is the most widespread livelihoods strategy for women. Men are forced to rely more on their wits in stealing, trading information, scavenging, pimping and making weapons.

Throughout the stages and the case studies, Orlov poses the questions of what does it mean to be human, and how far would one go for survival? Indeed are the Ik still human if the values and behaviours we consider the best of humanity have been driven from them? This is a question McCarthy poses in The Road too, and is one each individual will only be able to answer when that particular choice is in front of them.

Orlov’s book is an entertaining, thought-provoking and disturbing taxonomy of collapse that poses as many questions to the reader as it answers. It doesn’t set out to give lists of Top Ten Barter Items or Best Rifle and Ammo for TEOTWAWKI, but to challenge the reader to widen their horizons, think about the long view, and prepare for a long haul along the downslope of post-industrial civilisation. If you read it, be prepared for some sleepless nights and a renewed sense of urgency in making viable connections and husbanding resources.

Hamradioop
Posts: 2089
Joined: Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:21 am
Location: Area 1: north wessex

Re: Review: Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov.

Post by Hamradioop » Tue Jul 26, 2016 8:46 am

Thank you for posting such a thought provoking thread. It is one of the best I have read on this board for a long time.
“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.” ― Edward R. Murrow
"Remember Politicians are like babies diapers they both need changing often for the very same reason" - Mark Twain
If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.

izzy_mack
Posts: 333
Joined: Thu Aug 15, 2013 12:35 pm

Re: Review: Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov.

Post by izzy_mack » Wed Jul 27, 2016 11:40 am

Hamradioop wrote:Thank you for posting such a thought provoking thread. It is one of the best I have read on this board for a long time.


Ditto!!

User avatar
Decaff
Posts: 1652
Joined: Tue Apr 22, 2014 8:59 pm

Re: Review: Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov.

Post by Decaff » Wed Jul 27, 2016 12:01 pm

Very interesting indeed, thought provoking at the very least.
Behind every great man is an even greater woman. She carried you, raised you and made you who you are.

Arzosah
Posts: 3571
Joined: Fri Jun 22, 2012 4:20 pm

Re: Review: Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov.

Post by Arzosah » Wed Jul 27, 2016 4:08 pm

I made time to read this properly today.

Thank you featherstick! I found his blog now too. http://cluborlov.blogspot.co.uk/

It's started me wondering whether those five stages are always in the same order? The "financial, commercial, political, social and cultural" ... what he describes as the "cultural" collapse would almost certainly always be the last stage, I agree. It makes me wonder about the collapse of the first (second?) British Empire in the 18th century - maybe that started really early on, with the South Sea Bubble? accelerated by the growing independence of the American colonists and the War of Independence. And the writ no longer ran in parts of the country, but it pulled back from political collapse by re-forming.

We had a partial political collapse when the IRA were stronger :( but again, pulled back from it. I suppose thats comparatively localised (i.e. compared to a global scale) ... something global like all our interrelated banks crashing around our ears will cause global problems.

Really, really interesting, thank you.
My blog: http://www.preparednessfactandfiction.co.uk/
There are affiliate links to Amazon in this blog.

featherstick
Posts: 951
Joined: Mon Feb 17, 2014 9:09 pm

Re: Review: Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov.

Post by featherstick » Wed Jul 27, 2016 7:45 pm

Arzosah wrote:I made time to read this properly today.

Thank you featherstick! I found his blog now too. http://cluborlov.blogspot.co.uk/

It's started me wondering whether those five stages are always in the same order? The "financial, commercial, political, social and cultural" ... what he describes as the "cultural" collapse would almost certainly always be the last stage, I agree. It makes me wonder about the collapse of the first (second?) British Empire in the 18th century - maybe that started really early on, with the South Sea Bubble? accelerated by the growing independence of the American colonists and the War of Independence. And the writ no longer ran in parts of the country, but it pulled back from political collapse by re-forming.

We had a partial political collapse when the IRA were stronger :( but again, pulled back from it. I suppose thats comparatively localised (i.e. compared to a global scale) ... something global like all our interrelated banks crashing around our ears will cause global problems.

Really, really interesting, thank you.
You're welcome.

I also thought that the stages were in order but of course they are not, and indeed different parts of the world are experiencing different aspects of collapse as we write. Some parts of the de-industrialised North of England could be said to be in social collapse although located in a stable country. There are many failed states in political collapse where the government's writ runs to the Green Zone and the highway between airport and compound only, but that have functioning-ish financial and commercial systems. As someone once said "The future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed." I suppose the big shock that might topple all the dominoes all at once will probably happen in the above order - but I hope I'm not around to see it.

grenfell
Posts: 2004
Joined: Thu Jul 04, 2013 7:55 pm

Re: Review: Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov.

Post by grenfell » Fri Jul 29, 2016 7:15 am

Agreed very good article. Some of featherstick's last comments really reinforces the idea that there must be degrees of collapse as well as stages. The British empire didn't , in my eyes , collapse , more it just sort of dissipated . Yes there were a few colonial wars and British troops died in far flung places but here at home at least there was no economic and social collapse quite the opposite in many ways . Our wealth and quality of life are greater now after that collapse. Now look at the Aztec or Inca empires and the Japanese empire all of which collapsed in a very war like manner. The Aztecs and Incas have both pretty much vanished but after the atomic bomb brought about the end of the Japanese empire the country was rebuilt and reorganised and while there may have been some turmoil it was relatively short lived and they too started to see a more prosperous and peaceful society emerge. Orlov's own country still had serfdom at the start of the last century and the collapse of that empire was looked at as a great thing by most of his countrymen when it came in 1917. Yes the next few decades were turbulent to say the least but after the war their standards of living again began to rise.
So in short not all collapses are the complete doom and gloom scenario that it's easy to think they are . The human race will (probably) survive and it may well be for the good. If our present economic system , which is inherently flawed and has the seeds of it's own destruction within , collapses and is replaced by something more stable and sustainable is that a bad thing?

featherstick
Posts: 951
Joined: Mon Feb 17, 2014 9:09 pm

Re: Review: Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov.

Post by featherstick » Wed Nov 09, 2016 9:41 pm

Thought it might be a good time to bump this post.

Who thinks we've moved a little further along the collapse spectrum?

Hamradioop
Posts: 2089
Joined: Sun Jan 20, 2013 11:21 am
Location: Area 1: north wessex

Re: Review: Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov.

Post by Hamradioop » Mon Nov 14, 2016 12:33 pm

Well the EU as an organisation certainly is moving closer with Greece, the Deuch bank and Brexit. Plus upcoming political election in France and stuff going on in Italy and Germany showing signs of Increase in Right Wing Activity. Interesting Times for us all.
“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.” ― Edward R. Murrow
"Remember Politicians are like babies diapers they both need changing often for the very same reason" - Mark Twain
If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal.

featherstick
Posts: 951
Joined: Mon Feb 17, 2014 9:09 pm

Re: Review: Five Stages of Collapse, Dmitry Orlov.

Post by featherstick » Fri Jul 20, 2018 9:46 am

Your reminder that collapse is a spectrum and we are moving along it.

You're welcome.

Post Reply