Paul Fernhout: Encouragement for the Sick at Heart – Planning for US Collapse, Learning from Soviet Collapse

Blog Wisdom
Paul Fernhout

Always remember Howard Zinn’s remarks:

“In this awful world where the efforts of caring people often pale in comparison to what is done by those who have power, how do I manage to stay involved and seemingly happy? I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world. There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible. What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its utter unpredictability. This confounds us, because we are talking about exactly the period when human beings became so ingenious technologically that they could plan and predict the exact time of someone landing on the moon, or walk down the street talking to someone halfway around the earth.”

Also, check your vitamin D level from all your indoor work (humans are not adapted to life without lots of sunlight) and eat more veggies and omega 3s, and try other holistic stuff to maintain your balance in difficult times.

There is always a lot of corruption and confusion in any system under yin/yang tension. It is still worthwhile to focus on the green shoots that may someday grow into something better for a time.

You can ask yourself, what can be legally and honorably be put in place *now* to be ready for if/when the corruption and confusion in Washington collapses under its own weight? What world do you want to see emerge if that system collapses? What would you stand ready to offer to others as specific systems to use and specific social networks to expand if, as in Egypt, the US government falls from its own excesses and people turned to you and said, now what?

What would you have specifically to tell people to do? If you do not have specifics, you could work on them. In that work, as you have been doing to some extent, you can find some hope for a heavy heart.

Here is one alternative example, but there are many:  “Study Reports On Debian Governance, Social Organization

Anyway, so, an interesting thought experiment game to play or even have a conference on: “The US government has collapsed (for whatever reason), now what?”

=== More on that theme

P.S. Glad to see the word “integrity” in Phi Beta Iota editorial comment on my recent essay, making it one of those top matches. 🙂

So, nutrition, defense, and economics that I mentioned are three core examples of that related to overcoming past difficulties (respectively, in acquiring fat&salt&sugar&starch, weapons&resources, or goods&services) but where strategies that worked in the past are increasing ironic (as demonstrated by obesity, arms races, and lack of jobs). But there are no doubt others, such as changes in abundance of access to information and education. Those are demonstrated by information overload caused by too much interesting email or relatively boring schools compared to other media that are increasingly advocating drugging kids to keep them in their chairs so schools can drill facts into them kids could easily find via Google on their SmartPhone. Related:

Understanding exponential growth is important in seeing how fast systems can go past tipping points, and others have talked about that for years, including Albert Einstein and transhumanists:

Again, problems can grow exponentially, but so can solutions, and many trends turn out to eventually be S-curves by negative feedback of some sort. So I remain hopeful, even if, as it that YouTube video there is a lot of truth to the point that “The Greatest Shortcoming of the Human Race is our Inability to Understand the Exponential Function”.

But Dr. Albert A. Bartlett in that video (on Peak Oil and other issues) focus on limiting population growth ignores that humans also produce resources (including solar panels and even newer products of the imagination), not just consume resources, so his arithmetic and analysis is incomplete and there is an answer to his “Great Challenge” question in the eighth segment, since innovation is a function of population and cognitive diversity. Ref:  Ultimate Resource.

Too bad I don’t have Dr. Bartlett’s grant and positional funding, PhD credentials, in-house professional technical production facilities, student assistants, and, admittedly, his excellent organizational and presentation skills. Maybe someday. 🙂 I think his students found the message a bit depressing though, even if it may take them years to see beyond that incomplete presentation; I can wonder if they felt something was wrong, just by their body posture at the end?

Related by me:

[p2p-research] Ralph Nader, exponential growth, trimtabs, S-curves

In my opinion, the USA has long passed the tipping point where the costs of guarding to enforce the social order (restricting access to basic goods based on work) massively exceed the benefits. So, if certain pressures were suddenly released, like by some small part of the overall society breaking equivalent to a steam valve, the whole society might flash over in an instant metaphorically from liquid to steam. Refs:

But maybe that is wishful thinking on my part?

But this general theme of a phase change (James P. Hogan’s term) requiring different operating procedures is something a bit different and more generalizable, even as exponential growth may be why some phase changes often don’t seem about to happen until they already have happened.

The Arab Spring might be an example of that kind of phase change, whatever comes of it given a huge state of disorganization right now. I was on a conference call the night before last about alternative economics that included a reporter from Al Jazeera currently in Russia who was originally from Egypt and talked about the challenges there. Ref: Discussions on the Future of the Economy

She said that there had been growing protests for years before the big one, so this did not exactly come out of nowhere. Hopefully my name will be spelled right if that reporter (mis?)quotes me about anything. 🙂 Not that she seems about to write an article anytime soon; I think she was just more concerned in learning about possible alternatives for background.

She indicated that much of the day-to-day economy worked based on government planning, When asked, she does see some parallels with what Russia went through with its collapse. I mentioned this link:
Dmitry Orlov: US Social Collapse Best Practices from USSR example

Egypt certainly seems “in play” in the sense of searching for alternatives, whether an exchange economy with a basic income or guaranteed minimum income, stronger local communities like via a LETS approach, better participatory planning at all levels, improved subsistence, or something else. Hopefully the USA can learn from whatever they try, and whether Egypt succeeds or fails, in its own possible coming turmoils? Obama has not even given his jobs speech, and it already seems disappointing to me (like, physically expand the schools that have failed us and will only do more of the same if we give them more money?).

Unfortunately, trying to put in place something completely new after an upheaval when you don’t know what you want seems far less likely of success than having alternative institutions in place to build on. Egypt’s best hope may well be to find the functional seeds (like NGOs) with long track records within Egypt and build from them, aided by their cell-phone network and internet network. But it is going to be a big challenge, especially if you look at Iran as an example, were unrest in the end led to rule by those best organized beforehand (the religious hardliners). This group may be an example in Egypt of one of the better organized groups?

But Wikipedia also suggests: “According to anthropologist Scott Atran, the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood even in Egypt has been overstated by Western commentators. He estimates that it can count on only 100,000 militants (out of some 600,000 dues paying members) in a population of more than 80 million, and that such support as it does have among Egyptians—an often cited figure is 20 percent to 30 percent—is less a matter of true attachment than an accident of circumstance: secular opposition groups that might have countered it were suppressed for many decades, but in driving the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, a more youthful constellation of secular movements has emerged to threaten the Muslim Brotherhood’s dominance of the political opposition.[102]”

Anyway, it’s not an area of the world I know much about. And I’m not sure anyone knows what will really happen as various power struggles go on.

Too bad the US government does not have better free systems to offer (“Democracy in a box?” 🙂 to offer that are more aligned with our broadly proclaimed democratic values. A related suggestion by me from 2000:  “[unrev-II] The DKR hardware I’d like to make…

“Consider millions of these devices airdropped into Iraq and Yugoslavia– instead of more expensive cruise missiles! Anybody got $1 billion to spend on ensuring democracy with a true defense against tyranny in those places? (This is probably what the U.S. military’s spends on gas/oil for a month cruising the area…)”

I suggested she look into Drupal as the closest thing the world has right now to an off-the-shelf solution to help with democratic governance. And there are quite a few users in Egypt who could support that:

If I wrote a book about all this, I might call it “Slouching towards Post-Scarcity”. 🙂 What a long, painful, drawn out process related to the difficulty of changing out-of-date ideology.

Though Brad DeLong already has a similar title with some related aspects:  “Slouching Toward Utopia: The Economic History of the Twentieth Century

He seems optimistic, overall, but points out that never before have ideological issues about economics driven so much slaughter (which, as above, are made possible by exponentially more powerful technological systems including effective bureaucracies and things like radio).

Bucky Fuller’s point about “Utopia or Oblivion” comes to mind.

Anyway, so you can think about, what would happen in the USA if it experienced what the USSR or Egypt experienced? Within the bounds of what is currently legal, moral, and implementable, what would you want to have ready to go as an alternative as far as an intelligence system or governance system and financial system and so on? Or, if that seems too far fetched to ever think of the US government collapsing, and so on, ask yourself, what sort of systems would you want Egypt to put in place right now?

And, to be clear, I’m not talking about individual “survivalism” as in hiding out; I’m talking about what would you do to rebuild collapsed social institutions in North America (or elsewhere) based on important core values you write about? If you can come up with such a plan, then you can make sure that the seeds of good solutions are available should that collapse suddenly happen “out of the blue” like with the Arab Spring. Or, you could supply such systems to places currently in crisis, like Egypt. You can think of it as a variation on Naomi Klein’s “disaster capitalism”, but sort of in reverse. 🙂

Sometimes we can find a renewed sense of purpose and find our heart made well again in directly helping others:’s_a_Wonderful_Life)