Orlov: Placing the USA on a Collapse Continuum
The West is rotting!Old Soviet joke
Yes, maybe, but what a nice smell…
The word ‘catastrophe‘ has several meanings, but in its original meaning in Greek the word means a “sudden downturn” (in Greekkatastrophē ‘overturning, sudden turn,’ from kata- ‘down’ + strophē ‘turning’). As for the word “superpower” it also has several possible definitions, but my preferred one is this one “Superpower is a term used to describe a state with a dominant position, which is characterized by its extensive ability to exert influence or project power on a global scale. This is done through the combined-means of economic, military, technological and cultural strength, as well as diplomatic and soft power influence. Traditionally, superpowers are preeminent among the great powers” this one, “an extremely powerful nation, especially one capable of influencing international events and the acts and policies of less powerful nations” or this one “an international governing body able to enforce its will upon the most powerful states“.
I have mentioned the very visible decline of the US and its associated Empire in many of my articles already, so I won’t repeat it here other than to say that the “ability to exert influence and impose its will” is probably the best criteria to measure the magnitude of the fall of the US since Trump came to power (the process was already started by Dubya and Obama, but it sure accelerated with The Donald). But I do want to use a metaphor to revisit the concept of catastrophe.
If you place an object in the middle of a table and then push it right to the edge, you will exert some amount of energy we can call “E1”. Then, if the edge of the table is smooth and you just push the object over the edge, you exercise a much smaller amount of energy we can call “E2”. And, in most cases (if the table is big enough), you will also find that E1 is much bigger than E2 yet E2, coming after E1 took place, triggered a much more dramatic event: instead of smoothly gliding over the table top, the object suddenly falls down and shatters. That sudden fall can also be called a “catastrophe”. This is also something which happens in history, take the example of the Soviet Union.
The fate of all empires…
Some readers might recall how Alexander Solzhenitsyn repeatedly declared in the 1980s that he was sure that the Soviet regime would collapse and that he would return to Russia. He was, of course, vitriolically ridiculed by all the “specialists” and “experts”. After all, why would anybody want to listen to some weird Russian exile with politically suspicious ideas (there were rumors of “monarchism” and “anti-Semitism”) when the Soviet Union was an immense superpower, armed to the teeth with weapons, with an immense security service, with political allies and supporters worldwide? Not only that, but all the “respectable” specialists and experts were unanimous that, while the Soviet regime had various problems, it was very far from collapse. The notion that NATO would soon replace the Soviet military not only in eastern Europe, but even in part of the Soviet Union was absolutely unthinkable. And yet it all happened, very, very fast. I would argue that the Soviet union completely collapsed in the span of less than 4 short years: 1990-1993. How and why this happened is beyond the scope of this article, but what is undeniable is that in 1989 the Soviet Union was still an apparently powerful entity, while by the end of 1993, it was gone (smashed into pieces by the very nomenklatura which used to rule over it). How did almost everybody miss that?
Because ideologically-poisoned analysis leads to intellectual complacence, a failure of imagination and, generally, an almost total inability to even hypothetically look at possible outcomes. This is how almost all the “Soviet specialists” got it wrong (the KGB, by the way, had predicted this outcome and warned the Politburo, but the Soviet gerontocrats were ideologically paralyzed and were both unable, and often unwilling, to take any preventative action). The Kerensky masonic regime in 1917 Russia, the monarchy in Iran or the Apartheid regime in South Africa also collapsed very fast once the self-destruction mechanism was in place and launched.
You can think of that “regime self-destruction mechanism” as our E1 phase in our metaphor above. As for E2, you can think of it as whatever small-push like event which precipitates the quick and final collapse, apparently with great ease and minimum energy spent.
At this point it is important to explain what exactly a “final collapse” looks like. Some people are under the very mistaken assumption that a collapsed society or country looks like a Mad Max world. This is not so. The Ukraine has been a failed state for several years already, but it still exists on the map. People live there, work, most people still have electricity (albeit not 24/7), a government exists, and, at least officially, law and order is maintained. This kind of collapsed society can go on for years, maybe decades, but it is in a state of collapse nonetheless, as it has reached all the 5 Stages of Collapse as defined by Dmitry Orlov in his seminal book “The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivors’ Toolkit” where he mentions the following 5 stages of collapse:
- Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.
- Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.
- Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.
- Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.
- Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.
Having personally visited Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s, and seen the Russia of the early 1990s, I can attest that a society can completely collapse while maintaining a lot of the external appearances of a normal still functioning society. Unlike the Titanic, most collapsed regimes don’t fully sink. They remain about half under water, and half above, possibly with an orchestra still playing joyful music. And in the most expensive top deck cabins, a pretty luxurious lifestyle can be maintained by the elites. But for most of the passengers such a collapse results in poverty, insecurity, political instability and a huge loss in welfare. Furthermore, in terms of motion, a half-sunk ship is no ship at all.
Here is the crucial thing: as long as the ship’s PA systems keep announcing great weather and buffet brunches, and as long as most of the passengers remain in their cabins and watch TV instead of looking out of the window, the illusion of normalcy can be maintained for a fairly long while, even after a collapse. During the E1 phase outlined above, most passengers will be kept in total ignorance (lest they riot or protest) and only when E2 strikes (totally unexpectedly for most passengers) does reality eventually destroy the ignorance and illusions of the brainwashed passengers.
Obama was truly the beginning of the end
I have lived in the US from 1986-1991 and from 2002 to today and there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the country has undergone a huge decline over the past decades. In fact, I would argue that the US has been living under E1 condition since at least Dubya and that this process dramatically accelerated under Obama and Trump. I believe that we reached the E2 “edge of the table” moment in 2018 and that from now on even a relatively minor incident can result in a sudden downturn (i.e. a “catastrophe”). Still, I decided to check with the undisputed specialist of this issue and so I emailed Dmitry Orlov and asked him the following question:
In your recent article “The Year the Planet Flipped Over” you paint a devastating picture of the state of the Empire:
It is already safe to declare Trump’s plan to Make America Great Again (MAGA) a failure. Beneath the rosy statistics of US economic growth hides the hideous fact that it is the result of a tax holiday granted to transnational corporations to entice them to repatriate their profits. While this hasn’t helped them (their stocks are currently cratering) it has been a disaster for the US government as well as for the economic system as whole. Tax receipts have shrunk. The budget deficit for 2018 exceeds $779 billion.
Meanwhile, the trade wars which Trump initiated have caused the trade deficit to increase by 17% from the year before. Plans to repatriate industrial production from low-cost countries remain vaporous because the three key elements which China had as it industrialized (cheap energy, cheap labor and low cost of doing business) are altogether missing. Government debt is already beyond reasonable and its expansion is still accelerating, with just the interest payments set to exceed half a trillion a year within a decade.
This trajectory does not bode well for the continued existence of the United States as a going concern. Nobody, either in the United States or beyond, has the power to significantly alter this trajectory. Trump’s thrashing about may have moved things along faster than they otherwise would have, at least in the sense of helping convince the entire world that the US is selfish, feckless, ultimately self-destructive and generally unreliable as a partner. In the end it won’t matter who was president of the US—it never has. Among those the US president has succeeded in hurting most are his European allies. His attacks on Russian energy exports to Europe, on European car manufacturers and on Europe’s trade with Iran have caused a fair amount of damage, both political and economic, without compensating for it with any perceived or actual benefits.
Meanwhile, as the globalist world order, which much of Europe’s population appears ready to declare a failure, begins to unravel, the European Union is rapidly becoming ungovernable, with established political parties unable to form coalitions with ever-more-numerous populist upstarts. It is too early to say that the EU has already failed altogether, but it already seems safe to predict that within a decade it will no longer remain as a serious international factor.
Although the disastrous quality and the ruinous mistakes of Europe’s own leadership deserve a lot of the blame, some of it should rest with the erratic, destructive behavior of their transoceanic Big Brother. The EU has already morphed into a strictly regional affair, unable to project power or entertain any global geopolitical ambitions. Same goes for Washington, which is going to either depart voluntarily (due to lack of funds) or get chased out from much of the world.
The departure from Syria is inevitable whether Trump, under relentless pressure from his bipartisan warmongers, backtracks on this commitment or not. Now that Syria has been armed with Russia’s up-to-date air defense weapons the US no longer maintains air superiority there, and without air superiority the US military is unable to do anything. Afghanistan is next; there, it seems outlandish to think that the Washingtonians will be able to achieve any sort of reasonable accommodation with the Taliban.
Their departure will spell the end of Kabul as a center of corruption where foreigners steal humanitarian aid and other resources. Somewhere along the way the remaining US troops will also be pulled out of Iraq, where the parliament, angered by Trump’s impromptu visit to a US base, recently voted to expel them. And that will put paid to the entire US adventure in the Middle East since 9/11: $4,704,439,588,308 has been squandered, to be precise, or $14,444 for every man, woman and child in the US.
The biggest winners in all of this are, obviously, the people of the entire region, because they will no longer be subjected to indiscriminate US harassment and bombardment, followed by Russia, China and Iran, with Russia solidifying its position as the ultimate arbiter of international security arrangements thanks to its unmatched military capabilities and demonstrated knowhow for coercion to peace. Syria’s fate will be decided by Russia, Iran and Turkey, with the US not even invited to the talks. Afghanistan will fall into the sphere of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. And the biggest losers will be former US regional allies, first and foremost Israel, followed by Saudi Arabia.
My question for you is this: where would you place the US (or the Empire) on your 5 stages of decline and do you believe that the US (or the Empire) can reverse that trend?
Here is Dmitry’s reply:
Collapse, at each stage, is a historical process that takes time to run its course as the system adapts to changing circumstances, compensates for its weaknesses and finds ways to continue functioning at some level. But what changes rather suddenly is faith or, to put it in more businesslike terms, sentiment. A large segment of the population or an entire political class within a country or the entire world can function based on a certain set of assumptions for much longer than the situation warrants but then over a very short period of time switch to a different set of assumptions. All that sustains the status quo beyond that point is institutional inertia. It imposes limits on how fast systems can change without collapsing entirely. Beyond that point, people will tolerate the older practices only until replacements for them can be found.
Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.
Internationally, the major change in sentiment in the world has to do with the role of the US dollar (and, to a lesser extent, the Euro and the Yen—the other two reserve currencies of the three-legged globalist central banker stool). The world is transitioning to the use of local currencies, currency swaps and commodities markets backed by gold. The catalyst for this change of sentiment was provided by the US administration itself which sawed through its own perch by its use of unilateral sanctions. By using its control over dollar-based transactions to block international transactions it doesn’t happen to like it forced other countries to start looking for alternatives. Now a growing list of countries sees throwing off the shackles of the US dollar as a strategic goal. Russia and China use the ruble and the yuan for their expanding trade; Iran sells oil to India for rupees. Saudi Arabia has started to accept the yuan for its oil.
This change has many knock-on effects. If the dollar is no longer needed to conduct international trade, other nations no longer have hold large quantities of it in reserve. Consequently, there is no longer a need to buy up large quantities of US Treasury notes. Therefore, it becomes unnecessary to run large trade surpluses with the US, essentially conducting trade at a loss. Further, the attractiveness of the US as an export market drops and the cost of imports to the US rises, thereby driving up cost inflation. A vicious spiral ensues in which the ability of the US government to borrow internationally to finance the gaping chasm of its various deficits becomes impaired. Sovereign default of the US government and national bankruptcy then follow.
The US may still look mighty, but its dire fiscal predicament coupled with its denial of the inevitability of bankruptcy, makes it into something of a Blanche DuBois from the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She was “always dependent on the kindness of strangers” but was tragically unable to tell the difference between kindness and desire. In this case, the desire is for national advantage and security, and to minimize risk by getting rid of an unreliable trading partner.
How quickly or slowly this comes to pass is difficult to guess at and impossible to calculate. It is possible to think of the financial system in terms of a physical analogue, with masses of funds traveling at some velocity having a certain inertia (p = mv) and with forces acting on that mass to accelerate it along a different trajectory (F = ma). It is also possible to think of it in terms of hordes of stampeding animals who can change course abruptly when panicked. The recent abrupt moves in the financial markets, where trillions of dollars of notional, purely speculative value have been wiped out within weeks, are more in line with the latter model.
Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.
Within the US there is really no other alternative than the market. There are a few rustic enclaves, mostly religious communities, that can feed themselves, but that’s a rarity. For everyone else there is no choice but to be a consumer. Consumers who are broke are called “bums,” but they are still consumers. To the extent that the US has a culture, it is a commercial culture in which the goodness of a person is based on the goodly sums of money in their possession. Such a culture can die by becoming irrelevant (when everyone is dead broke) but by then most of the carriers of this culture are likely to be dead too. Alternatively, it can be replaced by a more humane culture that isn’t entirely based on the cult of Mammon—perhaps, dare I think, through a return to a pre-Protestant, pre-Catholic Christian ethic that values people’s souls above objects of value?
Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.
All is very murky at the moment, but I would venture to guess that most people in the US are too distracted, too stressed and too preoccupied with their own vices and obsessions to pay much attention to the political realm. Of the ones they do pay attention, a fair number of them seem clued in to the fact that the US is not a democracy at all but an elites-only sandbox in which transnational corporate and oligarchic interests build and knock down each others’ sandcastles.
The extreme political polarization, where two virtually identical pro-capitalist, pro-war parties pretend to wage battle by virtue-signaling may be a symptom of the extremely decrepit state of the entire political arrangement: people are made to watch the billowing smoke and to listen to the deafening noise in the hopes that they won’t notice that the wheels are no longer turning.
The fact that what amounts to palace intrigue—the fracas between the White House, the two houses of Congress and a ghoulish grand inquisitor named Mueller—has taken center stage is uncannily reminiscent of various earlier political collapses, such as the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire or of the fall and the consequent beheading of Louis XVI. The fact that Trump, like the Ottoman worthies, stocks his harem with East European women, lends an eerie touch. That said, most people in the US seem blind to the nature of their overlords in a way that the French, with their Gilettes Jaunes movement (just as an example) are definitely not.
Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.
I have been saying for some years now that within the US social collapse has largely run its course, although whether people actually believe that is an entire matter entirely. Defining “your people” is rather difficult. The symbols are still there—the flag, the Statue of Liberty and a predilection for iced drinks and heaping plates of greasy fried foods—but the melting pot seems to have suffered a meltdown and melted all the way to China. At present half the households within the US speak a language other than English at home, and a fair share of the rest speak dialects of English that are not mutually intelligible with the standard North American English dialect of broadcast television and university lecturers.
Throughout its history as a British colony and as a nation the US has been dominated by the Anglo ethnos. The designation “ethnos” is not an ethnic label. It is not strictly based on genealogy, language, culture, habitat, form of government or any other single factor or group of factors. These may all be important to one extent or another, but the viability of an ethnos is based solely on its cohesion and the mutual inclusivity and common purpose of its members. The Anglo ethnos reached its zenith in the wake of World War II, during which many social groups were intermixed in the military and their more intelligent members.
Fantastic potential was unleashed when privilege—the curse of the Anglo ethnos since its inception—was temporarily replaced with merit and the more talented demobilized men, of whatever extraction, were given a chance at education and social advancement by the GI Bill. Speaking a new sort of American English based on the Ohio dialect as a Lingua Franca, these Yanks—male, racist, sexist and chauvinistic and, at least in their own minds, victorious—were ready to remake the entire world in their own image.
They proceeded to flood the entire world with oil (US oil production was in full flush then) and with machines that burned it. Such passionate acts of ethnogenesis are rare but not unusual: the Romans who conquered the entire Mediterranean basin, the barbarians who then sacked Rome, the Mongols who later conquered most of Eurasia and the Germans who for a very brief moment possessed an outsized Lebensraum are other examples.
And now it is time to ask: what remains of this proud conquering Anglo ethnos today? We hear shrill feminist cries about “toxic masculinity” and minorities of every stripe railing against “whitesplaining” and in response we hear a few whimpers but mostly silence. Those proud, conquering, virile Yanks who met and fraternized with the Red Army at the River Elbe on April 25, 1945—where are they? Haven’t they devolved into a sad little subethnos of effeminate, porn-addicted overgrown boys who shave their pubic hair and need written permission to have sex without fear of being charged with rape?
Will the Anglo ethnos persist as a relict, similar to how the English have managed to hold onto their royals (who are technically no longer even aristocrats since they now practice exogamy with commoners)? Or will it get wiped out in a wave of depression, mental illness and opiate abuse, its glorious history of rapine, plunder and genocide erased and the statues of its war heros/criminals knocked down? Only time will tell.
Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.
The term “culture” means many things to many people, but it is more productive to observe cultures than to argue about them. Cultures are expressed through people’s stereotypical behaviors that are readily observable in public. These are not the negative stereotypes often used to identify and reject outsiders but the positive stereotypes—cultural standards of behavior, really—that serve as requirements for social adequacy and inclusion. We can readily assess the viability of a culture by observing the stereotypical behaviors of its members.
- Do people exist as a single continuous, inclusive sovereign realm or as a set of exclusive, potentially warring enclaves segregated by income, ethnicity, education level, political affiliation and so on? Do you see a lot of walls, gates, checkpoints, security cameras and “no trespassing” signs? Is the law of the land enforced uniformly or are there good neighborhoods, bad neighborhoods and no-go zones where even the police fear to tread?
- Do random people thrown together in public spontaneously enter into conversation with each other and are comfortable with being crowded together, or are they aloof and fearful, and prefer to hide their face in the little glowing rectangle of their smartphone, jealously guarding their personal space and ready to regard any encroachment on it as an assault?
- Do people remain good-natured and tolerant toward each other even when hard-pressed or do they hide behind a façade of tense, superficial politeness and fly into a rage at the slightest provocation? Is conversation soft in tone, gracious and respectful or is it loud, shrill, rude and polluted with foul language? Do people dress well out of respect for each other, or to show off, or are they all just déclassé slobs—even the ones with money?
- Observe how their children behave: are they fearful of strangers and trapped in a tiny world of their own or are they open to the world and ready to treat any stranger as a surrogate brother or sister, aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather without requiring any special introduction? Do the adults studiously ignore each others’ children or do they spontaneously act as a single family?
- If there is a wreck on the road, do they spontaneously rush to each others’ rescue and pull people out before the wreck explodes, or do they, in the immortal words of Frank Zappa, “get on the phone and call up some flakes” who “rush on over and wreck it some more”?
- If there is a flood or a fire, do the neighbors take in the people who are rendered homeless, or do they allow them to wait for the authorities to show up and bus them to some makeshift government shelter?
It is possible to quote statistics or to provide anecdotal evidence to assess the state and the viability of a culture, but your own eyes and other senses can provide all the evidence you need to make that determination for yourself and to decide how much faith to put in “the goodness of humanity” that is evident in the people around you.
Dmity concluded his reply by summarizing his view like this:
Cultural and social collapse are very far along. Financial collapse is waiting for a trigger. Commercial collapse will happen in stages some of which—food deserts, for instance—have already happened in many places. Political collapse will only become visible once the political class gives up. It’s not as simple as saying which stage we are at. They are all happening in parallel, to one extent or another.
My own (totally subjective) opinion is that the US has already reached stages 1 through 4, and that there are signs that stage 5 has begun; mainly in big cities as US small towns and rural areas (Trump’s power base, by the way) are still struggling to maintain the norms and behaviors one could observe in the US of the 1980s. When I have visitors from Europe they always comment how friendly and welcoming US Americans are (true, I live in small-town in East-Central Florida, not in Miami…). These are the communities which voted for Trump because they said “we want our country back”. Alas, instead of giving them their country back, Trump gifted it to the Neocons…
Conclusion: connecting the dots; or not
Frankly, the dots are all over the place; it is really hard to miss them. However, for the doubleplusgoodthinking “ideological drone” they remain largely invisible, and this is not due to any eyesight problem, but due to that drone’s total inability to connect the dots. These are the kind of folks who danced on the deck of the Titanic while it was sinking. For them, when the inevitable catastrophe comes, it will be a total, mind-blowing, surprise. But, until that moment, they will keep on denying the obvious, no matter how obvious that obvious has become.
Don’t expect these two losers to fix anything, they will only make things worse…
In the meantime, the US ruling elites are locked into an ugly internal struggle which only further weakens the US. What is so telling is that the Democrats are still stuck with their same clueless, incompetent and infinitely arrogant leadership, in spite of the fact that everybody knows that the Democratic Party is in deep crisis and that new faces are desperately needed. But no, they are still completely stuck in their old ways and the same gang of gerontocrats continues to rule the party apparatus.
That is another surefire sign of degeneracy: when a regime can only produce incompetent, often old, leaders who are completely out of touch with reality and who blame their own failures on internal (“deplorables”) and external (“the Russians”) factors. Again, think of the Soviet Union under Brezhnev, the Apartheid regime in South Africa under F. W. de Klerk, or the Kerensky regime in 1917 Russia.
As for the Republicans, they are basically a subsidiary of the Israeli Likud Party. Just take a look at the long list of losers the Likud produced at home, and you will get a sense of what they can do in its US colony.
Eventually the US will rebound; I have no doubts about that at all. This is a big country with millions of immensely talented people, immense natural resources and no credible threat to it’s territory. But that can only happen after a real regime change (as opposed to a change in Presidential Administration) which, itself, is only going to happen after an “E2 catastrophe” collapse.
Until then, we will all be waiting for Godot.
By The Saker
Source: The Unz Review