Dmitri Orlov is an interesting commentator. He has been claiming publically since about 2006 that the U.S. is on the edge of collapse similar to what the Soviet Union went through only a bit worse. He was born in Russia and experienced first-hand the privation of the post-Soviet period which, if you dug a little, was pretty bad. Interestingly this collapse had been predicted up to a decade before it happened but was not widely reported because of the Reagan agenda of demonizing the Soviet Union as an existential threat to the U.S.
Orlov along with people like James Howard Kunstler and many others on both the right and left—in fact, my monitoring of this movement shows a real blurring of left/right distinctions that is interesting in itself. I won’t go into the merits of Orlov’s predictions here but only want to say that the movement towards survivalism and a fascination and even longing for a collapse seems to be spreading in this country. I don’t believe this movement is irrational at all. Why do I say that? Because it should be very clear that we are in a kind of serious decline, not just economic decline, but serious political and social decline that we ought to wake up to or Orlov’s collapse scenarios may in fact take place.
Let’s look at what we are facing. The best science we have indicates that we are facing a potentially catastrophic future if we don’t address the issue of climate-change or any number of other issues that should be obvious. If we were a healthy society, we would be dealing with climate-change as the most important national security threat. Mind you, we have to be prepared to accept that it is possible that climate-change may indeed be a relatively minor issue but the vast preponderance of climate-scientists tell us a different story.
But here is what we have to face: whatever science says about any issue including climate-change next to nothing is going to be done about it that doesn’t benefit those who are currently in power. We know we are going to be spending over a trillion dollars this year on national security threats—are these threats real? There is certainly far less evidence that these threats are worth the dollars we are spending that there is for climate-change. Yet we are moving towards denying the reality of not only climate-change and even science itself in favor of comforting thoughts. We are in denial. We don’t want to do anything about climate-change because change scares us and no leaders are around to lead us. Leaders tell us we have to spend massive amounts of money on tracking our citizens who blow-up bottle rockets for fun and will show up on a national FBI database, along with people who take photos of boats in a harbor (I suggest avoiding taking photos anywhere other than in the woods) as chronicled in an important series on national security from the very pro-Intel/National Security paper the Washington Post that explores some tips of the iceberg of our national security state.
The fact is we could do something about the climate-change challenge and have a lot of fun doing it—it would demand a change in culture from a selfish to a community-oriented society that emphasized creativity and this is very difficult for us since we've been brought up by media cues that encourage a culture of narcissism for obvious economic and political reasons (communities are harder to dominate than individuals). My point here is that, whether or not we are headed for disaster, I can almost certainly say that nothing significant can be done on a national level that involves the feds. I’m sorry, I know that people on the left are always hoping for the government to “do something” about the problems we face but we have to face the reality that the system has been gamed, its over folks.
It is clear that, at this time, our current political economy allows for nothing but a drift in a very particular direction. Many people believe this drift is to the “right” but I don’t quite agree. The current right-wing-ism of the Republican Party is actually a drift over the edge and into social, economic, environmental and political chaos and, by its movement, it is pulling the rest of us along with it since there appears to be no dynamic movement to the contrary (and don’t tell me this or that group is doing something—whatever brave and noble people are doing it is not having an effect).
I am not a person who believes we all ought to be on the left. I have been influenced by Systems Theory and related fields and believe all systems operate with forces that explore, innovate and create as well as forces that sustain and drag their feet. There is, of course a third force and that is the force of destruction (when systems break out of equilibrium and go into a chaotic state) and that is where we are headed. This actually goes hand with the Hindu trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva representing the forces of creation, preservation and destruction. I feel we are in a whirlpool. We are unable to do anything, collectively, about the problems we face that really address the issue.
We can take almost any issues, take the Health Care Reform debate, it showed me two things: 1) there was never a debate based on facts, science or reason otherwise we would have been talking about which type or types of a systems is best for us--we had a whole world of systems that work and have worked for generations all around the world—there was never a need to re-invent the wheel as square (it really works best when it’s some variant of round); 2) the outcome of the debate was based purely on making sure that the major powerful factions that currently profit from our massively corrupt system would continue to thrive or at least have the opportunity to game the system—but certainly no force that currently profits from the almost criminal system we live with would have to face any major discomfort; in fact, some say the insurance companies would be even less likely to face competitive pressure. Look at the financial system. Is there anything I need to say? What was almost always criminal behavior in other times and places was not only not sanctioned but rewarded. Look at the military-industrial complex. Without going into the merits of using the military to further “national” interests, look at the strategies and tactics employed—everywhere there is the philosophy of using a shotgun to kill a fly with plans to use very expensive drones in the future to very same thing—why? Money, honey, as we used to say. But we know that. Are we willing to face it? How do we expect the middle of the country to deal with these issues when we ourselves support “Democrats” who almost universally support the most negative aspects of the problems I’ve listed? Democrats say they are “progressive” but their actions say they are not. I urge you all to read the book Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class by Hacker and Pierson(excellently written too) which goes into exquisite detail describing how, since 1978, Democrats moved to the right or, I should say, towards being agents of the corporate oligarchy. This book has back of the dust-jacket blurbs from James Fallows, E.J. Dionne, Robert Kuttner, Thomas B. Edsall and (most importantly for me) by Elizabeth Warren. The history is, as far as I can see unimpeachable—if it is wrong, please let me know; I, like everyone else, tend to like things that back up my own prejudices.
Hacker and Pierson emphasize the concept of “drift” as characterizing the current political situation. This drift is deliberate and planned by the corporate oligarchs, i.e., doing nothing is actually simply furthering the corporate agenda. It is also clear that the tendency towards the rapid increase of income redistribution from the Middle Class to the Upper-Uber-Class seems to have had little effect on political attitudes despite the plethora of evidence that huge class differences is a recipe for social ills and greater personal stress of all (read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Pickett and Wilkinson).
While the movement towards complete domination of the American political process by corporate oligarchs there has been a rather dramatic change in the body politic that has even more to do with our current situation than all the skullduggery by corporate oligarchs and their operatives.
Americans have come to be habituated to lies, denial and believing fantasy trumping reason and reality. Most people have never been very rational, T.S. Eliot famously says in Burnt Norton:
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality
All this is well known to social-scientists but what we did have for a brief time is a healthy respect for learning and science since the United States was founded on principles of the 18th century Enlightenment that, as a reaction the chaos of religious wars like the Thirty Year’s war that utterly devastated Central Europe. There had to be, they reasoned, a way to settle arguments other than war—and reason and science seemed to be something all well-meaning people could agree on. Even the Church at one time accepted reasons (e.g. Thomas Aquinas) as a guide to faith. But something changed in the U.S. Sure there have been, on and off, plenty of religious revivals and various movements and cults but the leaders of society seemed, up until relatively recently, to have championed learning, libraries, even art (at times). Something changed in the intentions of the elites and, later, the intentions of the populace as well.
America, by putting creating a social contract that sounds basically like this: we’ll work in your corporate vineyards is you provide us with status symbols we need (all cultures require status symbols) and the ability to choose lifestyles, whether these styles of life involve S&M or Christian fundamentalism just leave us alone to watch our porn or our Disney fantasies or whatever we want. You can go ahead and just the poor and jail them for drugs but leave us to smoke our joints or short heroin and coke in our bedroom suburbs (but don’t tell anyone that you’re letting us off the hook). In exchange we’ll go along with your agenda as long as you sing us to sleep (but don’t tell us the truth—we don’t really want to know).
How did we get that way? Why do we demand this collective sleep or, looked at another, way why do we want to live the land of the Lotus-Eaters and dream of being all powerful (seems to have become the favorite fantasy in this country) without having the discipline to acquire power and mastery?