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20 Jan 2009

Excerpts and Commentary on Ben McGrath’s "The Dystopians" – Jan 26th, New Yorker

"Bad times are boom times for some."

The article starts off with US resident Dmitry Orlov, from Leningrad, who has been living on a semi-self-sustainable boat in a form 'bourgeois survivalism' for 2 ½ years, riding a bicycle and skipping the TV.

After the downfall of the Soviet Union he learned a lesson for future reference: “When faced with a collapsing economy, one should stop thinking of wealth in terms of money.”

In his 2008 book, “Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects,” Orlov identifies the ingredients of what he calls “superpower collapse soup” — a severe shortfall in the production of crude oil, a worsening foreign-trade deficit, an oversized military budget, and crippling foreign debt.

“We don’t have a long wait before sail-based transport is the only option,” he said, anticipating dire environmental conditions. Should the need to raise chickens arise, Orlov and his wife will "set sail and relocate to a more rural base of operations," where the boat, Hogfish, which has a flat bottom, can double as a trailer home.

In 2006, Orlov published an online manifesto, “The New Age of Sail,” where he writes that sailing has the additional benefit of providing “isometric exercise similar to a Pilates workout,” because of the constant jostling of the sea. “People who live aboard are rarely overweight.”

In a blog that he maintains, Club Orlov, he categorises his readers into three basic cultural categories;

1. “back-to-the-land types,” united in their opposition to industrial agriculture;

2. “peak oilers,” who worry about the shock effects on energy markets of reaching the maximum global crude-extraction rate; and all-around Cassandras, and

3. “people who sometimes derisively are called doomers.” (The doomers are currently enjoying a little less derision, which is a mixed blessing, because it is axiomatic among true believers that mainstream respect means that it is too late for anything to be done.)

Orlov has recently acquired a fourth audience, composed of financial professionals, who have been, as he said, “bolstering my gut feeling that the United States is bankrupt.” A number of them have placed orders for multiple copies of his book, and he took some pleasure in imagining them passing it on to their friends and families this past holiday season as a grim kind of stocking stuffer.

Also mentioned is Jim Sinclair and his website:, on which he posts daily blitzes of commentary with headers like “What Happens in Iceland Doesn’t Always Stay in Iceland.”

Ben McGrath meets James Howard Kunstler, author of “The Geography of Nowhere,” and “World Made by Hand,” which is set in a small town north of Albany, where the residents have no oil, no coffee, no spices, no mail delivery, and only sporadic electricity, but marijuana cultivation is booming and they’re growing “buds the size of plums.”

Also recommended for dystopians are Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s best-selling book “The Black Swan,” about the inevitability of unforeseeable events.

“I’d say an emergency meeting of the G7 is pretty much the front entrance,” Kunstler said. “Although who would have thought Iceland would be the first to go?...... Capitalism and human ingenuity persist; it’s only the economic incentives that change."

Kunstler likes to say that the United States has “a railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of,” and told a joke involving orders from the Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson, to his underlings, to “buy the Dow,” in order to stave off consumer panic.

Three days after the Presidential election, in Montpelier, Vermont, at a convention of nearly two hundred “neo-Luddites, anarchists, socialists, freegans, steampunks, homeschoolers, folksingers, knitters and yak farmers”, Knustler called himself “an emissary from a place you may someday regard as foreign: New York State. . . . For the moment, we remain sister and brother states in a nation that is enduring a convulsion.”

He declared that the airline industry as we know it will not exist within forty-eight months, or by the end of President Obama’s first term.

These were people whose solution to the imminent death of the American dream was secession: a Vermont Independence Convention, sponsored by the Second Vermont Republic, a “nonviolent citizens’ network and think tank opposed to the tyranny of Corporate America and the U.S. Government.”

Also speaking were Chellis Glendinning, the author of “My Name Is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization,” and Lynette Clark, the chair of the Alaskan Independence Party,

The speeches were accompanied by comic and musical interludes from the Bread & Puppet Theatre, whose members wore bear costumes and danced around with plungers, and by the singing of the Vermont secession anthem: “It’s Vermonters to the lifeboats, this is a sinkin’ ship....”

Alex Akesson
Editor for

Along these lines I would also recommend reading: "Game Over" how to prosper in a shattered economy – by Stephen Leeb.

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