Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dear Abby

I’m still not a huge fan of Dimitry Orlov, although if Sharon Astyk were to market “I’d do Dimitry Orlov” bumper stickers, I might buy one just because it’s such a great insider joke.

Maybe part of the problem I have with Dimitry is his off-hand dismissal of efforts such as Transition initiatives. As I see it, any movement toward a more sustainable, more resilient tomorrow is better than sitting around waiting for the sky to fall. We need positive visions of what the world could be. We need more bicycles, more gardens, more community. Okay, maybe reality will fall short of the plans that were made, but a step in the right direction is still a step in the right direction.

Or maybe I have a problem with him because he seems so sure of himself. I like writers who admit they could be wrong. Or maybe because he seems so ‘out there’ – so far out on the fringe that he risks 'kook' status and I’m trying to convince others that doomsayers such as he are not kooks but intelligent, well-informed, rational people who just happen to be really good at reading the tea leaves.

All that said, Dimitry made some salient points that I’d like to share.

In answer to the concern how long before TEOTWAWKI?, Orlov offers the following:

Now: end of growth, onset of permanent crisis.
The next decade: steep declines in the availability of fossil fuels; some of the natural realm left intact; some ability to make alternative arrangements.
The following decade: collapse of fossil fuel industry; natural realm largely destroyed; no ability to make alternative arrangements.

A fast collapse is the optimistic scenario. The alternative is a nasty ‘slow burn.’

The biggest risk of all, as I see it, is that the industrial economy will blunder in for a few more years, perhaps even a decade or more, leaving environmental and social devastation in its wake. Once it finally gives up the ghost, hardly anything will be left with which to start over. To mitigate against this risk, we have to create alternatives, on a small scale, that do not perpetuate this system and that can function without it.

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It’s always personal. No one will inform you that collapse has happened; you will only know that it has happened to you.

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There are two components to human nature, the social and the solitary. The solitary is definitely the more highly evolved, and humanity has surged forward through the efforts of brilliant loners and eccentrics. Their names live on forever precisely because society was unable to extinguish their brilliance or to thwart their initiative. Our social instincts are atavistic and result far too reliably in mediocrity and conformism. We are evolved to live in small groups of a few families, and our recent experiments that have gone beyond that seem to have relied on herd instincts that may not even be specifically human. When confronted with the unfamiliar, we have a tendency to panic and stampede, and on such occasions people regularly get trampled and crushed underfoot: a pinnacle of evolution indeed! And so, in fashioning a survivable future, where do we put our emphasis: on individuals and small groups, or on larger entities - regions, nations, humanity as a whole? I believe the answer to that is obvious.

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I think that what makes us likely to think that technology will save us is that we are addled by it. Efforts at creating intelligent machines have failed, because computers are far too difficult to program, but humans turn out to be easy for computers to program. Everywhere I go I see people poking away at their little mental support units. Many of them can no longer function without them: they wouldn't know where to go, who to talk to, or even where to get lunch without a little electronic box telling what to do. . . .

There are people who believe in the emergent intelligence of the networked realm - a sort of artificial intelligence utopia, where networked machines become hyperintelligent and solve all of our problems. And so our best hope is that in our hour of need machines will be nice to us and show us kindness? If that's the case, what reason would they find to respect us? Why wouldn't they just kill us instead? Or enslave us. Oh, wait, maybe they already have!

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Now, supposing all goes well, and we have a swift and decisive collapse, what should follow is an equally swift rebirth of viable localised communities and ecosystems. One concern is that the effort will be short of qualified staff.

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We have a huge surplus of “factory-farmed humans” and a shortage of “free-range humans.”

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It is an unfortunate fact that the recent centuries of settled life, and especially the last century or so of easy living based on the industrial model, has made many people too soft to endure the hardships and privations that self-sufficient living often involves. It seems quite likely that those groups that are currently marginalised, would do better, especially the ones that are found in economically underdeveloped areas and have never lost contact with nature.

But the best part of the whole article is Orlov’s ardent advice (this aside from his admonition to invest in land and bronze nails):
Conserve energy: get plenty of rest and sleep a lot. Sleeping burns ten times less energy than hard physical labor.

Save time: avoid living by a schedule. Choose the best time to do each thing. Work with the weather and the seasons, not against them.

Pick and choose: always have more to do than you ever plan to get done.

Have plenty of options: You don’t know what the future holds, so (don’t) plan accordingly.

Think for yourself: the popularity of a stupid idea doesn’t make it any less stupid.

Laugh at the world: make sure to maintain a healthy sense of humor.

Now that is much-needed advice -- advice I can even live with!

1 comment:

risa said...

I remember reading this and I like your selection. "The Shorter Orlov." :D