16 December 2008

Redefining success

I've been going through a bit of a Russian phase lately. I just finished reading Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov and I recently watched a beautiful little movie called Roads to Koktebel. In Reinventing Collapse, the author compares the collapse of the Soviet Union (which he witnessed first hand) with his observations and predictions for the collapse of the American empire. He suggests that Russians were reasonably well prepared for huge economic disruption because of the non-commodified nature of housing and transit and generally low expectations. Vegetable gardens were ubiquitous and life could be carried on without much cash. The film follows a father and son as they travel from Moscow to Koktebel in Crimea with nothing but the clothes on their backs, a willingness to perform manual labour and very modest requirements for survival. These two have fallen on hard times, even by Russian standards, but they nicely illustrate the sufferance described in the book.

Dmitry Orlov makes the case that economic and therefore societal collapse in the US is inevitable given the non negotiable effects of peak oil and will follow the pattern exhibited by all failed empires, most recently the Soviet Union. He then goes on to explain how, because of the commercialization of every aspect of life, Americans are woefully unprepared for life in a post-peak and post-money world. As a Canadian I know he's not speaking directly to me, but we're so directly inside the sphere of influence of the US that we will not likely escape the full impact of American decline. His advice is to start learning now how to live with little or no money. And don't worry too much about wealth accumulation as money will become worthless and other forms of wealth become burdensome.

Um. That's no help. Learn to live without much money. Mr. Orlov rightly points out that to live without much money now requires one to be very much on the fringes of society - the kind of person you wouldn't bring home to meet your parents. But if you are such a person you may be very well placed to thrive in a post-collapse world. And by thrive, he means maintaining your sanity and experiencing a measure of happiness, not having a lot of material possessions. I find this line of thinking downright refreshing compared to the competitive "how to profit from the crash" kind of advice found in many places. And while I'm not ready to give up too many comforts for an unencumbered life riding the rails, perhaps after my recent Russian immersion I'll be ready to loosen my grip on useless things and notions of security with a little less difficulty when required.

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