Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Monday, June 24, 2013

Dr. Orlov's report: The five stages of collapse

Dmitry Orlov's recent book, "The Five Stages of Collapse" is a stark description of the world as it is today and of what its destiny could be.  So impressive it is that it reminded me of a story by J. L. Borges "Dr. Brodie's Report"

Sometimes, when you read a book, something rings in your head; something that requires a little work to identify but that, in the end, comes out loud and clear. This was the case for me with the latest book by Dmitry Orlov. It reminded me of something and, eventually, I found out what it was. It was one of the many stories by Jorge Luis Borges,"Dr. Brodie's report" (El relato de Brodie); the description of the barbarous customs and the cruel culture of the African tribe of the Hrn; as observed by Dr. Brodie. "The Five Stages of Collapse" describes instead the barbarous customs and the cruel culture of the tribe of the "Middle Class Westerners" as observed by Dr. Orlov.

It must be said that Orlov and Borges write in very different styles: sometimes Orlov's brilliance hides his depth while, at times, Borges' depth hides his brilliance. And while Borges remains in the allegoric tradition that goes back to Johnathan Swift and his "Yahoos", Orlov goes direct to his real subject: modern society. But there are points in common. Orlov, like Borges, doesn't hide any of the grim details of what he describes and both Borges and Orlov show a certain sympathy and kindness toward their subject. There are many ways of being human and the great virtue of people such as Orlov and Borges is the capability of appreciating all of them.

Orlov's book is so full of insight and revelations that it can't be summarized; it must be read. But to give you just some idea of the style and content of the book, here is an excerpt from the section where Orlov describes another human subculture, that of the Roma (ake Gypsies), perhaps somewhat less cruel than others.

From "The Five Stages of Collapse" by Dmitry Orlov

Throughout their history the Roma have been a nomadic people, ranging all over Europe and, more recently, the Americas. Although economically dependent on the surrounding population, they have always taken great pains to remain completely separated from it, socially. 

Roma identity is an internal identity that is not disclosed to the outside world. It is a birthright reinforced by upbringing and socialization into a community that caters to its members from cradle to grave. Roma are not known to adopt Gadjo children. It is possible to marry into a Roma family and participate in the life of a Roma community but it is not possible to become Roma. The children from such a mixed marriage may become Roma if so brought up.

Although the Romani language has been written down, this has had minimal effect on the Roma themselves, who continue to adhere to a strictly oral tradition, with a rich folklore that includes creation myths, a religious tradition loosely based on Christianity and a purely oral internal system of jurisprudence. Among the Roma, literacy correlates negatively with wealth and status, occurring least often with the wealthiest. The literate play subservient, low-status roles, such as corresponding with Gadje and forging paperwork and documents.

The effort of keeping everything in one's head seems to result among Roma in excellent memory and a sharp and lucid mind, which are all very helpful in stealing, cheating, lying and swindling – major advantages which ignorant educationalists tend to miss. As the US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky likes to say: “this is important, don't write it down!”



  1. Fascinating BBC documentary about the Roma:

    1. Yes, fascinating. The opening of the frontiers with Romania has led to a massive influx of Romanian Roma into other European countries. That has unbalanced many situations that had slowly attained some sort of equilibrium before and led to situations of extreme poverty and social distress. In some cases, it has led to children exploitation, as described in the BBC documentary.

      In Italy, fortunately, the government has stepped in rather forcefully and the exploitation of children as beggars or thieves is very rare. At least with the Roma I know, the problem doesn't exist: all of their children go to school. That requires a bit of gentle arm-twisting on the part of the social workers, but the children go to school with a certain regularity and consistency.

      Most people think that going to school is a way of integrating the Roma with the rest of society. For what I can say, however, it doesn't work. The Roma children take school as something hateful that they have to endure until it will be over. But they show no interest whatsoever in what they are being taught. (Orlov describes this situation in the same terms in his book).

      That's not a problem with just the Roma children. I have been a volunteer teacher in junior high school and I have lived the experience as total disaster. I was trying to teach children things that they saw as totally alien to their world and their experience - and that is valid both for Italian and non-Italian children. The collapse of the public school is part of the general collapse. It is just happening.

  2. I'd be wary of praising Orlov or associating yourself with him. Long story short, he has some very retrograde and negative attitudes towards women, and believes that post-collapse women will return to "baseline", which means subordinated and valued only for having babies.

    Also, he really isn't brilliant at all. Post-collapse Russia is nothing the like the post-collapse USA that he imagines, it's arguable whether Russia really collapsed in the first place, yet he insists that there is some connection between the two scenarios. And heaven only knows why he is so enamoured of the Roma. Roma society has its strong points but there is also A LOT to be said against it - and it's not all due to their being oppressed and poor.

    1. Come on, Pearl, now "Orlov-bashing" has become fashionable all over the Web. But for no reason at all: I am sure he has nothing like "negative attitudes towards women"!!!!

      About the Roma, both myself and Dmitry find their culture and their ways fascinating. But that doesn't mean we think we should strive to become like them. It is, as I said, one of the many ways of being human and, as such, it should be respected.

    2. Gail wrote about the Orlov & women debacle on her blog, and Dmitry posted retaliatory remarks on his. There is even video of part of it. As far as I know, it's all still online. I'm not making it up. You can check it out for yourself, instead of dismissing it out of hand.

      I don't see how legitimate criticisms of Orlov's arguments re: collapse is "bashing". His arguments ARE deeply flawed, why should we just assume they're right? What is so special about Orlov that we can't discuss his work critically? For just one example, he has a very limited view of what post-collapse society could be like, when there are literally thousands of possibilities.

    3. Having just finished Dmitry's book, and being a regular follower of his blog, I can say with some certainty that he is not 'anti women'. By highlighting a number of diverse cultures - one of which is Iceland, by the way, which is hardly a macho paradise- he is just highlighting cultures that have managed to stay resilient in the face of collapse-like situations.

      I sense a certain amount of fear that various hard-won gains will be reversed in a collapse scenario. It's a liberal-progressive's fantasy that the empowerment of various types of people are non-reversible, but I doubt history will bear this out.

      My own view is that in various relatively tiny fractions of humanity - say middle class liberal Americans (approx 0.5% of the people in the world) - something relatively permanent may indeed have happened and could stay that way for a few decades, but it remains a fact that there are no examples of resilient feminist cultures. There are many examples of men and women working harmoniously within a culture, perhaps it would be better to celebrate that.

    4. That's not what he was saying, and you know it.

      Your whole "don't be associating" crap is what he was addressing. Criticize Orlov's work all you want, but when you start telling people to watch who they associate with, you're crossing the line.

      And, yes, I've read all accounts, and, frankly, it's people like you who are blowing it out of proportion. But, hey, keep on fighting the good fight--Pussy Riot REALLY changed things.

    5. "I'd be wary of praising Orlov or associating yourself with him. Long story short, he has some very retrograde and negative attitudes towards women, and believes that post-collapse women will return to "baseline", which means subordinated and valued only for having babies."

      Author Steven Brust:

      "Do you really want to say, “Let us use the threat of denial of employment as a method of attack against our political opponents”? That isn’t *like* what McCarthy did–it is *exactly* what McCarthy did. Yes, there was also, at a certain point, the use of the State, and that is an important difference; but most of what McCarthyism was, was blacklisting–”We are not saying you cannot hire Herbert Biberman because of his beliefs; that would be unconstitutional, and besides, we’re just ordinary citizens like yourself. We’re just making sure you know that he’s a communist, and if you hire him we’ll mail letters to all of your sponsors letting them know that you are hiring a communist, and if they don’t have a problem with that, we’ll use the internet, uh, I mean the press to make sure that everyone knows that those sponsors don’t have a problem supporting communism. Besides, he’s made a lot of money writing for TV, so where’s the harm?” So, to this I say, folks, give some really serious thought to whether you want to go there."

      I mean, seriously pinkpearl? "Be wary of associating yourself with" a person? SERIOUSLY?

      You must be about 12. If you were any older, you'd surely know better than to go there. You'd have it BRED IN THE BONE not to go there.

      From the memoirs of Dave Van Ronk: "I was talking with [Oscar Brand] and expressed my disgust that that he, or maybe someone else, had put on a show with Burl Ives, who had outraged us all by naming a string of names in front of HUAC. Oscar just quietly said, “Dave, we on the left do not blacklist.” Put me right in my place."

      We on the left do NOT blacklist. Senator McCarthy.

    6. I've only seen Orlov's slide show about the USSR collapse, but I spent considerable time in the eastern part of the FSU in the early/mid 90's and can confirm the collapse - it happened, and the people I met and worked with there survived it as Orlov described. Given the differences in culture,our JIT warehousing and such, I believe his predictions about the USA's capability of surviving a similar collapse will turn out to be correct as well.

    7. Jason said, "but it remains a fact that there are no examples of resilient feminist cultures".

      There's never been a dominant culture that has had strong feminist elements for a sustainable sub-culture to draw upon as it separated itself from the wider community, so I don't think it's unusual that there are no records of any.

      People have that opportunity today. Feminists may only represent 1% - 2% of the population, but the societies we look at when studying communities that abide are equally small. They have a believe in their being oppressed, a factor highlighted as an aspect of "successful" communities.

      I suppose it comes down to intent. If their intent is to create new society that does not contain what is seen as "patriarchal mistakes" then I wish them luck. I hope they are successful creating communities that abide and share their wisdom with our descendants.

      What I see, however, is people putting themselves in the shoes of women in other cultures (Roma, Anabaptist) and reacting exactly how they would react if taken from their privileged middle-class white urban lifestyle and placed in that community.

      I don't see any survival value in doing the latter. We'll never be in their shoes, never know what it is like to live the Roma lifestyle.

      So people could simply resolve to arrange social issues differently, and look to the survival issues these communities have in common.

      For those outside the arguments but concerned about survival the question is simple: does the agenda of (insert social movement) increase the likelihood of my family surviving another generation?

      If the answer is no, then they are a threat to avoid, not an asset to work along side.

  3. Thank you, Ugo, for your very flattering review. I have just re-posted most of it on ClubOrlov with a link back to you.

    As you may have noticed, there is now a small party of irate feminists following me around the internets, casting aspersions. There are some people who seem to feel that their agenda should be everyone's agenda. Their criticisms are not legitimate.

    1. Well, maybe you can take that as a honor. At least, someone has noticed you!

    2. I can just see the headlines:

      "Dmitry? Or love? You decide!" ;)

      Just teasing, guys!

      While I'm here I really wish JHK would get off the "I voted for Obama" schtick. Jim, I luv ya, but don't you know anything about real anarchism or the iron law of oligarchy?

      Or peak government?

      Well maybe you and the rest of you lot should start talking more about it.

      Nothing exists out of context with anything else, by the way, including the Roma.

      As for feminism-- what? Getting the vote? For the corporate oligarchy? Getting into the workforce? For wage slavery? Neo-feudalism? The rat race? Institutionalized child-raising? Oh you go, girl.

    3. Unfortunately one tiny brush with feminists will ignite a Greek fire of indignation that will follow you wherever you go and won't be extinguished by any argument, however cogent.

  4. Thank you Professor Bardi for that illuminating review. I can't say that Roma culture sounds particularly attractive, but I gather that Dmitry's point is to identify those characteristics which make a culture durable even in the face of considerable adversity, not necessarily those which make it palatable to middle-class westerners.

    To speak of the latter, the fact that Gail and her fellow cyber-stalkers have chosen to shadow Dmitry around the web inclines me to think even more than I did before that he's doing something right, and is thereby offending the people who most need to be offended. If he keeps going in this vein, maybe crooked bankers and sponging public officials on the take will start going after him too.


  5. I love Dmitri Orlov's work, have his books, read him regularly along with the three other horsemen of the apocalypse: James Howard Kunstler, John Michael Greer, and Morris Berman. Each has his own special style and contribution to the conversation about the end of the world as we know it. My one criticism of Orlov is that he is enamored of boats. He's wrong, wrong, wrong. My personal experience from the Coast Guard is that they are smelly, noisy, overly demanding of time and work, and worst of all, unstable.

    1. I always admired the definition of a boat as "...a hole in the water into which you pour money".

    2. One word (and not to make light of a tragedy) - "Nina".

    3. Hi Pete,
      Everybody has their weaknesses! I've spent far too much time messing around in boats and fixing them to accept Dimitri's fantasies that boats should be square. And of course saying so hits a raw nerve.

      But we can overlook one small fault for the pleasure of reading an author who can look over the edge of a cliff where few venture to tread, and describe what he sees with such style and humor.

      Thanks Kollapsnik, and I promise never again to cast aspersions on whatever boat you chose!

  6. Presently the publication of Dmitry Orlov’s Five Stages of Collapse is accompanied by controversy. To put this matter into perspective let’s go back to the original offending passage of Orlov’s talk delivered at the AOL conference.

    ‘There is a big unintended consequence that results from treating women (or men) as a (fake) political class: it cuts across the real class lines, to the great disadvantage of the lower classes. America’s class war against its lower classes is a permanent, full spectrum, total war, and it is by this point quite close to total victory’ He then goes on to characterise the coopted nature of American feminism in it’s relation to a proletarianised and massively incarcerated underclass.

    Does this sound like ‘sex’ to you? To me it sounds more like ‘class’. But instead of talking critically about class we talk about sex, and this is exactly Orlov’s point, fake political classes for a fake politics, and very well suited to the neoliberal agenda this theatre of victimhood serves. Maybe we need an internet blogsite rumpus room for the boys and girls to talk about their sexual identities so we can get the thread back on track.

    Dr. Bardi, a pleasure to congratulate you on what I take to be a significant insight. You were wondering what it was about Orlov’s essays that had you scratching your head in search of something familiar but ... what was it? and you were reminded of Borges.

    Thank you, you supplied for me the missing piece. I’d previously noticed something interesting about his method. For example just recently, when considering the prospect of near term extinctions he posed the problem: ‘how do we know when we’ve become extinct?’ Here I was reminded of Achilles and his old friend the tortoise. It’s of some interest because he’s dead serious and yet satirical at the same time, most unusual in our milieu of moral gravitas and reductionist social science. But the satire is not invested in the discussion, that is, it’s not added from outside. Rather it’s ensconced within the dialectical logic itself; that’s the beauty of it. It’s a dialectic of incommensurables and therefore very well suited to a treatment of society and community. Here I’m afraid I’m dumbing things down a bit into flatlander prose. Achilles is like society and we know that society ain’t going to cross the finish line or sustain itself in the realm of ‘abiding’ phenomena. Community on the other hand has a chance, and that’s because it’s .. a different kettle of fish, so to say. It’s not the same kind of thing. It’s not simply a question of size.

    There’s much more one could say about this but here I’m pleased to thank you for this piece of well aimed archery; your bolt hits the mark. Best, KJF

  7. I think Dmitry Orlov has been misunderstood regarding his opinions of women. In our techno world which runs on fossil fuels, it has been easy for men and women to do the "same" work, because it's not manual. Post- collapse, there will be more of a need for manual work. Men are physically stronger than women, this is a fact, not a debasement of women. When most humans lived as farmers, men worked the fields and women stayed inside cooking, sewing, preserving fruits and veggies, watching the children, etc., because, physically, this is what made the most sense. It was not because women were oppressed. I think this is what Orlov is saying. That feminists jumped all over him for this is simply stupid. It's another example of their thinking that equality must mean "the same as."

  8. Thanks Ugo. It is good to get an insight into cultures that I feel totally ignorant about, and it is interesting to see that Dmitry has also been studying the Roma. I do try to treat everyone with respect, no matter what their culture or situation, but local people seem to have so much venom for Travellers/ Gypsies/ Roma. It is hard to see how any group can thrive with that kind of persecution. I will have to read Dmitry's book to find out more :)

    It is a shame that the discussion has to involve the persecution of Dmitry, when he really deserves much more respect than that. He is dealing with a very difficult subject and trying to give us tools and knowledge to help ourselves with. His writing is unashamedly honest and downright brutal at times, yet there is a twist of humour which makes his posts enjoyable. I found the exploding head on a recent post rather distasteful and I'm sure the temptation must of been to use a womens head ;)

    I think most women are just after respect, the same way most men are. Respect isn't gained by turning all men into villains. Though on the other hand, a few men can be very chauvanistic and belittle women, and neither are all women perfect. It is blatantly obviouse that Ugo and Dmitry certainly aren't in this category.

    It is a lot tougher to get your ideas heard as a woman. A lot of that is about confidence. Men are brought up oozing confidence, sometimes to the point of being over-confident and will 'blag' their way through life. Whereas women tend to be less sure of their abilities and are more aware of what they dont know. A young woman on passing her driving test will generally still drive carefully and build up confidence slowly, whereas the young man is more likely to feel like the next Michael Schumacher, despite them both being at the same level.

    jml - you are right that it is stupid that the feminists have picked on Dmitry for nothing, but most of your comment is likely to fan the flames. My good friend is a 'farmers wife' and comes from a family of farmers and her work is incredibly manual - she has designed and built 2 houses for a start. Not all manual work is about who can lift the heaviest weight.

    Cooking is a very respectable task. Is it as important as being an engineer? Yes, because it is about keeping a family fed, ensuring good health and lifting the spirit. How much happier do you feel after eating a tasty meal? I enjoy cooking more than working as an engineer, because it also gives me an outlet to be creative, and it makes me happy if people enjoy my food. It is just that our societies don't value jobs such as cooking, sewing and child-rearing, as much as engineering. And by extension society does not value the people who perform these tasks, which are predominantly women. The trouble is they are really important tasks, and how do you entice anyone to do them when they have been assigned to menial unpaid chores?


    1. Thanks Judy. I think that people like Dmitry and others have this capability of trying to seek for differences as positive entities, of looking at the ways of others to learn something. And that often brings them to clash against people who have the "cult of BAU" - if I could use this term. And, yes, there are differences between men and women. That's why I am chauvinistic: I always say that women, on the whole, are much better at managing things. And governments should be 100% in the hands of women: men are way too aggressive to manage such dangerous things as armies and secret services.

    2. All I'm going to say is Margaret Thatcher! Women are just as dangerous in a position of power - it's something about power! Admittedly she didn't hold Bunga Bunga parties ;)

    3. Well, in a male-dominated environment, woman must behave as males to succeed.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)