Dmitry Orlov on Ebola and the Five Stages of Collapse
Orlov is one of the best futurists writing on society collapse, having witnessed and personally experienced the collapse of the Soviet Union. His book, Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Experience and American Prospects http://www.amazon.com/Reinventing-Collapse-Experience-American-Prospects/dp/0865716854, is one of the best ever written in the collapse genre and necessary reading for anyone who is interested in this theme.
In 2008 he came up the a taxonomy of collapse, which he says occurs in 5 stages. The full article is here, http://cluborlov.blogspot.com/2008/02/five-stages-of-collapse.html and he has a book on it too.
Below is a summary of his five stages of collapse:
Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost. The future is no longer assumed resemble the past in any way that allows risk to be assessed and financial assets to be guaranteed. Financial institutions become insolvent; savings are wiped out, and access to capital is lost.
Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost. Money is devalued and/or becomes scarce, commodities are hoarded, import and retail chains break down, and widespread shortages of survival necessities become the norm.
Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost. As official attempts to mitigate widespread loss of access to commercial sources of survival necessities fail to make a difference, the political establishment loses legitimacy and relevance.
Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost, as local social institutions, be they charities or other groups that rush in to fill the power vacuum run out of resources or fail through internal conflict.
Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in the goodness of humanity is lost. People lose their capacity for “kindness, generosity, consideration, affection, honesty, hospitality, compassion, charity” (Turnbull, The Mountain People). Families disband and compete as individuals for scarce resources. The new motto becomes “May you die today so that I die tomorrow” (Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago). There may even be some cannibalism.
Now that the world may be in the early stages of an ebola pandemic that will rival the 14th century bubonic plague in its impact if it is not contained, this is a very good time to study Orlov’s ideas and forecasts on ebola as it relates to his five stages of collapse, since such a pandemic may be the major causative factor of collapse occurring at all five stages.
Here are some striking extracts from his long article which should be read entirely. (If you are not familiar with Orlov’s style, be forewarned that some of what he says may strike readers as repugnant or unthinkable, but he tells it as he sees it, often with wit, irony and humor, and this subject matter is inherently repulsive in many ways but may soon become routine reality everywhere):
“There is a test that shows whether someone is infected with Ebola, but it is known to produce false negatives. Other methods do even worse. Current effort at “enhanced screening,” recently introduced at a handful of international airports, where passengers arriving from the affected countries are now being checked for fever, fatigue and nausea, are unlikely to stop infected, and infectious, individuals. They are akin to other “security theater” methods that are currently in vogue, such as making passengers take off their shoes and testing breast milk for its potential as an explosive. The fact that the thermometers, which agents point at people’s heads, are made to look like guns is a nice little touch; whoever came up with that idea deserves Homeland Security’s highest decoration—to be shaped like a bomb and worn rectally.
It is unclear what technique or combination of techniques could guarantee that Ebola would not spread. Even a month-long group quarantine for all travelers from all of the affected countries may provide the virus with a transmission path via asymptomatic, undiagnosed individuals. And even a quarantine that would amount to solitary confinement (which would be both impractical and illegal) would simply put evolutionary pressure on this fast-mutating virus to adapt and incubate longer than the period of the quarantine.
Treatment of Ebola victims amounts to hydration and palliative care. Transfusions of blood donated by a survivor seem to be the only effective therapy available. An experimental drug called ZMapp has been demonstrated to stop Ebola in non-human primates, but its effectiveness in humans is now known to be less than 100%. It is an experimental drug, made in small batches by infecting young tobacco plants with an eyedropper. Even if its production is scaled up, it will be too little and too late to have any measurable effect on the current epidemic. Likewise, experimental Ebola vaccines have been demonstrated to be effective in animal trials, and one has been shown to be safe in humans, but the process of demonstrating it effectiveness in humans and then producing it in sufficient quantities may take longer than it would for the virus to spread around the world.
The scenario in which Ebola engulfs the globe is not yet guaranteed, but neither can it be dismissed as some sort of apocalyptic fantasy: the chances of it happening are by no means zero. And if Ebola is not stopped, it has the potential to reduce the human population of the earth from over 7 billion to around 3.5 billion in a relatively short period of time. Note that even a population collapse of this magnitude is still well short of causing human extinction: after all, about half the victims fully recover and become immune to the virus. But supposing that Ebola does run its course, what sort of world will it leave in its wake? More importantly, now is a really good time to start thinking of ways in which people can adapt to the reality of a global Ebola pandemic, to avoid a wide variety of worst-case outcomes. After all, compared to some other doomsday scenarios, such as runaway climate change or global nuclear annihilation, a population collapse can look positively benign, and, given the completely unsustainable impact humans are currently having on the environment, may perhaps even come to be regarded as beneficial.”
“Stage 1: Financial Collapse
Our current set of financial arrangements, involving very large levels of debt leading to artificially high valuations placed on stocks, commodities, real estate, and Ph.D’s in economics, is underpinned by a key assumption: that the global economy is going to continue to grow. Yes, global growth started stumbling around the turn of the century, stopped for a while during the financial collapse of 2008, and has since then remained anemic, with even the most tentative signs of recovery having much to do with unlimited money-printing by the world’s central banks, but the economics Ph.D’s remain ever so hopeful that growth will resume. Nevertheless, this much is clear: halving the number of workers and consumers would not be conducive to boosting economic growth.
Quite the opposite: it would mean that most debt will have to be written off. Likewise, the valuations of companies that would supply half the demand with half the workers would be unlikely to go up. Nor would the houses, half of which would stand vacant and dilapidated, increase in value. If the supply of oil suddenly outstrips demand by 50%, then this would cause the price of oil to drop to a point where it no longer covers the cost of producing it, and oil producers will be forced to shut down. This would not be a happy event for those countries that are heavily dependent on energy exports in order to afford imports of food to feed their populations. Nor would such developments spell a happy end for those countries that need to continuously roll over trillions of dollars of short-term debt in order to continue feeding their populations via government hand-outs (the United States comes to mind).
“But what about wealth preservation?!” I hear some of my readers screaming in anguish? “How do I hedge my portfolio against a sudden 50% global population drop?” Well, that’s easy: you need to be short all paper. Short it all: currency, stocks, bonds, debt instruments, deeds on urban real estate. Get out of most commodities: energy, obviously, but also precious metals, because you can’t eat gold. Go long people (who will be in ever-shorter supply) and arable land (because people have to eat) and stockpile everything else that they will need to learn to feed themselves. If they are sufficiently grateful for all you help, they will feed you too. Alternatively, you can just sit on your paper wealth as it dwindles to nothing, and wait for the torches and the pitchforks to come out. Since wealthy people squander a disproportionate amount of wealth on themselves and their families, killing them off is a good wealth preservation strategy—for the rest of us, so feel free to do your part.”
“Stage 5: Cultural collapse
The cultures most favored to survive would be those that can be preserved autonomously at a small scale. Particularly favored to survive would be those that have a strong oral tradition, teach their own children within families rather than submitting them to government-run schools, and insist on internal systems of jurisprudence and governance in defiance of any external interference. It is hard to imagine that the Roma of the Balkans or the Pashtuns of Waziristan would fail to pass on their culture just because half of them suddenly die. Such circumstances may sound dire to most of us, but to these long-suffering tribes it’s a sunny day in the park and a boat-ride on the pond, and they would be sure to add a few epic poems about it to their repertoire once it’s over.
At the other extreme are those cultures that depend entirely on book-learning, and have a writing system sufficiently abstruse to require many years of schooling just to achieve a basic level of literacy (English, Chinese). Education relies on transmitting information from those who are older to those who are younger, and as the die-off compresses the age spectrum toward its younger end, the number of teachers will dwindle. Coupled with other inevitable disruptions, formal schooling may become impossible in many areas, resulting, a generation or so later, in very low levels of literacy. Severed from its main mechanism for acquiring knowledge, the culture of the people in such areas would disintegrate. At the very far end of the spectrum are found roving bands of feral children, speaking a language that no adult is able to understand. It is at this point that we are able to conclude that cultural collapse has run its course.”
Orlov’s ideas about an especially important role where many have died of ebola is that of what he calls a “sanitar”:
“In absence of any curative or preventive therapies, Ebola patients need shelter, hydration, hygiene, palliative care and, if and when they die, sanitary disposal of the remains. The goal is to do what is possible to give patients a chance to recover more or less on their own. To this end, it is very important to do all the things necessary to make sure that people are dying just from Ebola, and not from exposure, dehydration, or from any of the opportunistic diseases that thrive in disrupted circumstances, such as cholera and typhus. Sanitation is the most important aspect of the entire operation. These services need not be provided by trained medics. The main two requirements for such service are: 1. psychological immunity to scenes of horrific suffering and death; and 2. immunity to Ebola. The first of these requirements comes down to natural talent; some have it, some don’t. The second requirement is being provided free of charge by the Ebola virus itself, in cooperation with the survivors’ immune systems.
English lacks a good word to describe this type of specialist, but we don’t have to reach far to find one: the Russian word for it is “sanitar.” A popular Russian saying goes “wolves are sanitars of the forest” because they take care of disposing of the sick, the weak and the lame, thus giving those that survive a better chance. A sanitar need not be medically trained, but some training is needed: in diagnosis, palliative care, sanitation procedures and corpse disposal.
A third requirement is one that applies to the sanitation service as a whole: the number of sanitars has to scale with the rate of infection. Since the number of those infected is increasing exponentially, the number of sanitars assigned to serve them has to be able to increase exponentially as well.”