"Fear Of Change" Isn't Just a SignOn A Coffeehouse Tip Jar

Yesterday I listened to three-fourths of a lecture by Dmitry Orlov titled Social Collapse Best Practices. Three-fourths? Well, as fans of Russia’s great writers know, nobody does gloom like the Russians. Consider Dostoyevsky. Or Solzhenitsyn, who makes Dostoyevsky read like Steve Martin. Orlov channels that famous Russian gloom into our new century and aims it square at the heart of our current socioeconomic madness. I ran out of mental room for the apocalypse so I had to put the last bits aside.

Mr Orlov is a hybrid: born and early raised in Russia, he moved to the U.S. at age twelve. Now he is a writer and lecturer specializing in such happy topics as Peak Oil and the collapse of societies. Serious collapse, as in Post-Soviet the-world-we-knew-is-gone-OMG! collapse.

Both bits of his background come through. He is relentlessly, apocalyptically depressing, forecasting nothing less than… oh, let him say it:

I am one of the very few people who several years ago unequivocally predicted the demise of the United States as a global superpower.

Yet he approaches his subject with a practical – dare I say American? – bent, going so far as to offer post-apocalypse how-to tips like growing food in abandoned parking lots and moving people from the rotted suburbs into city cores by “repurposing” empty office buildings. He tries to smooth his sermon with a gallows wit:

The idea that the USA will go the way of the USSR seemed preposterous at the time. It doesn’t seem so preposterous any more. I take it some of you are still hedging your bets. How is that hedge fund doing, by the way?

Ha. Ha. Ha.

So why am I bringing up Prophet Orlov? In a word: change. Orlov may be hallucinating the far side of our messed up world but however his predictions play out he’s dead right about current events being a game changer.

Change is a’comin’ folks. Actually, change is already here and we’re sitting smack in a big pile of it. But we don’t like change. So we pretend it’s not happening.

We humans are a deeply conservative (small “c”) species. Historically, even archaeologically, big changes come to us only when they’re forced upon us. The few times we’ve tried to intentionally trigger it we usually end up with a disaster (see ref: Soviet Union). In the U.S., we figure we changed 240 years ago and other than a few tweaks here and there (slavery, women’s vote) there’s no reason to do it again. Change makes us nervous. VERY nervous.

Yet we’ve known we’ve been living a lie for years now. We’ve also known it couldn’t continue forever. In our heart of hearts we never really believed our houses were ATM machines. We knew something was weird about shopping-till-dropping with other people’s money for stuff we didn’t even make but had “outsourced”. It never made sense but we spent and ran up our credit cards and bought houses we couldn’t afford because it felt good and mommy wasn’t around to say no. Heck: far from saying no, after our last big catastrophe our insightful leaders even told us to keep on keeping on.

To rephrase in Mr. Orlov’s global-minded pith:

We were building a brave new world where the Chinese made things out of plastic for us, the Indians provided customer support when these Chinese-made things broke, and we paid for it all just by flipping houses, pretending that they were worth a lot of money whereas they are really just useless bits of ticky-tacky.

Now, like the addicts we are, we’re on a forced 12-step program. We’re having to admit that what we’ve been doing these last years was madness. Worse, we’re also figuring out that we weren’t really happy doing those things, we just thought we were. Acquiring more stuff didn’t bring us joy: it brought us headaches and debt. And more stuff.

The bills from our binge are in and they include foreclosures, asset destruction, market collapse and work implosion. Mass migrations, food disruptions, global realignments and social uprisings and more are on the horizon. Another word for all this? Change.

If anything was pounded in my head over three years’ of medical drama it is that fighting change once it has started is a huge and likely deadly waste of time. Once you see that your life is going to change you have no real choice but to accept it (if not embrace it) and try to figure out how you can make it through to another, hopefully better, side.

Think: Every change in life comes bundled with anxiety and fear. A better job brings an awful move and loss of place and friends. The birth of a child is scary and exciting and constant change from conception to adulthood. A horrifying choice for a life-saving transplant leads to a life almost beyond recognition from the one before. Even simple changes – a new puppy in the house, traveling with just a backpack and a pocket full of change, the end of a relationship, the start of a relationship – bring with them fear, anxiety, wonder, life.

I’m not saying this is easy. What I finally hit upon to cope is, when some big anxiety-producing change appears, I allow myself 24 hours to sulk. Oh woe is me… Why me… OhMyGod what does it all MEAN… etcetera. After the 24 hours is over, I get on with it. A couple of times it took more like 36 hours or 48, but I did get on with it. Sort of like listening to the last quarter of a lecture of doom. I’d say we’re societally past our 24 hours and running out of the 48.

Consider the title of Orlov’s talk again: Social Collapse Best Practices. Now it’ll make more sense. The realization that we must cope with all this… this… change is what Orlov offers that is most of value. You may not like any of his ideas but he’ll shock you into seeing that change is already happening. Admit it and, like the recovering addict, the battle’s half won.

Here’s the text of his talk, but to get the full impact you must listen to him. He really is entertaining, in a Dawn of the Dead kind of way.

Now, I guess I’d better listen to those last 15 minutes.


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