Tag Archives: communism

Power to the Apathetic! Why Not Voting Might Be a Sign That You’re Smart!

Or so Dimitri Orlov wants us to ponder.  It’s not a new idea, but it is an idea that doesn’t get much play in the media and in our discussions with neighbors.  We are told over and over that voting is the patriotic thing to do.  People died for the right to vote. We get little flag stickers to put on our coats like the purple fingers of Iraqi voters.  Very conventional wisdom.  So why do so many Americans sit the elections out?   And at the same time, if Americans do participate why do we hear over and over from pundits and comments on the blogs that those folks in Kansas and other reddish places just don’t get it. “Why do they vote against their own self interests? ” progressives ask.  The wags note that these voters are like chickens voting for Colonel Sanders.  But on the other hand, vast numbers of people including women and minorities vote for the blue team and get nothing substantial out of that too. So what’s up?  And yes, why do they even vote at all?

Orlov is a linguist and an engineer who has a blog called Club Orlov.  He has also written several books, one of which, “Reinventing Collapse”, I am reading for advice on how to survive such a collapse besides our two month’s supply of Nalley’s Chili and two generators.  He emigrated to the U.S. in the mid-Seventies and made several trips back to Russia during the Soviet rule and then after the Soviet collapse.  He believes that there are many lessons we in the U.S. can learn from the collapse of the other late 20th century super power.  That there are more similarities than differences between the two super powers, as Orlov describes them, gave me pause. It’s always interesting to look at a common question through a different set of glasses.

Both the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. derived their identities from being either capitalist or communist and the “extreme adherence to one or the other” as opposed to healthier countries that mix it up is what Orlov believes led to the doom of one and the coming doom of the other.  Ideologies are all well and good, he says, if they actually work.  But when it becomes clear that the average working citizen is not doing so well, the legitimacy of the rigid system begins to unravel and finally collapse.  He points out that Albert Camus made the observation that the two superpowers were more alike than not back in the 1950s.  Camus said that a specific failure of both systems was their inability “to provide creative, meaningful work.”  This Orlov says leads to mass depression.

 The chief reason why the U.S. is still hanging on, he speculates, is that the ruling elite and their spokespeople keep the people thinking that the system is legitimate by hawking that old chestnut “The American Dream”.  He actually calls this idea of working hard and playing by the rules getting you a good chunk of the pie as “a pathological fiction” promoted by the media. “Masquerading as hope, it gains its effectiveness from a perversion of pride, a psychological trick people use to play on themselves to obscure their powerlessness”.  They can sense that they are oppressed and so their last prideful stand is to pretend that their failures are of their own making, even if they have been most conveniently arranged for them by their oppressors.

And so half of them thinking it’s their own damn fault anyway get sucked into the games called elections because people can further obscure their powerlessness by picking a team or picking a horse in a two horse race, wearing their team colors, plastering their cars with stickers and then cheering on their favorite.  The Soviet Union, Orlov points out

had a single, entrenched, systemically corrupt political party, which held the monopoly of power. The U.S. has two entrenched, systemically corrupt political parties, whose positions are indistinguishable and which together hold a monopoly of power.  In either case, there is, or was, a single governing elite, but in the United States it organizes itself into opposing teams to make its stranglehold on power seem more sportsmanlike…The Communist Party offered one bitter pill. The two capitalist parties offer a choice of two placebos.  The latest innovation is the photo finish election, where each party pre-purchases exactly 50 percent of the vote through largely symmetrical allocation of campaign resources and the result is pulled out of statistical noise, like a rabbit out of a hat.  It is a tribute to the intelligence of the American people that so few of them bother to vote.

Interesting times call for interesting ideas and interesting discussions.  Not same old, same old.  In the small community  I now live in, anybody that disagrees with the free market idea of economics is a “socialist” or is “Russian”.  Time to ask what is the difference between their grey boring slabs of concrete towns and our strip malls and industrial parks?  What’s the difference between their former Gulags and our prison system?  How do our bureaucrats differ from their apparatchiks?  Why are we now emulating the Soviets tight control over information and technology when our tinkerers in garages were the envy of the world?

There is more than one political system out there.  There is more than one story humankind out there.  If you belong to the “game is rigged” gang,   don’t worry about being a tad depressed about that story.  Orlov says that depression is a sign of unconscious rebelliousness.   If you are powerless in the present American system, why legitimize it even more by participating, says Orlov.

In Soviet-era Russia, intelligent people did their best to ignore the Communists: paying attention to them, whether through criticism or praise, would only serve to give them comfort and encouragement, making them feel as if they mattered.   Why should Americans act any differently with regards to Republicans and the Democrats?  For love of donkeys and elephants?

Looks like Americans who still believe in a mom who bakes apple pie rather than one who packs a Luger participate in the sedative called elections.  And those who acknowledge their depression by proclaiming that the hunger game is rigged are the rebels that we need when collapse comes.  It will be their skills in working with alternatives to this rotten system that will be of great use.

Further information on Orlov’s  “Collapse Party” and its platform and practical info on how to survive collapse is in his book.

“Faces Along the Bar”

I picked up a book at a student book store in New Orleans because it’s title leaped out at me. “Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman’s Saloon 1870- 1920” by Madelon Powers.  It’s an academic, well foot-noted but not dry analysis of the saloon culture that arose in the U.S.  with industrialization.  Various middle class progressive reformers like the “Committee of Fifty” comprised mostly of clergymen and academics studied this culture partially to figure out how to create substitutes for it.  They tried to take the energy of the informal working groups in saloons and shovel them into union halls and temperance tearooms. But the saloons prevailed until prohibition.  They served as a way of self-organization and a way of integrating into American life.  They followed a tradition that Alexis de Tocqueville noted earlier.  He called it “the art of association”.  He observed that Americans seemed obsessed with material acquisition and individualism.  The only thing tempering this dangerous self-interest was their equal tendency to form voluntary associations.  And Powers includes saloon life as a form of voluntary association much like joining lodges, political parties, church groups, and Social Aid and Pleasure clubs like the ones that still exist in New Orleans. Continue reading

Bar Codes; Pt 3 – Buying Rounds and Gifting

This continues my series/obsession with bar etiquette and whether there are different rules for men and women at bars.

Having grown up in a Dutch Calvinist community of tea totalers even though my parents did go out for cocktails (shhhh!!!!), I did not have the Frank McCourt experience of dragging Da’  home from the bars, so my experience with them came as an adult.  My experience as a woman sitting at a bar by myself started when I moved from New York City to a Montana county the size of Rhode Island with a population of 3500.   The bar in these small places serves as sort of a club.  The American Legion bar is actually the American Legion Club and there is a new saloon in a space that used to be the Moose Lodge.  The B& B in town has a real chef and a renowned restaurant and award winning wine list.  It’s bar area with booths is a kind of club for the merchant class, but everybody goes there to dine because it has good food including one of the best burgers around. It also has only one TV so it is the only bar in town that isn’t a sports bar.  Rumor has it they may put in another TV.  That has caused some consternation since the tipping point into sportsbardom seems to be two TVs.  But that’s another story.

Buying rounds of drinks is a ritual in many bars in many towns, but our town is quite notorious for this ritual.  I have always watched with amusement the men buying a round of beers for each other.  One guy buys a round for the four guys with whom he is talking to at the bar.  Then the next guy buys a round.  Then the third and then the fourth.  Sometimes they come so fast that the guys have at least two beers in front of them.  So no one is buying somebody a beer since it all evens out.  If you want to leave early, you just say, “No more for me, but buy another round for me mates.  Gar. Gar. Gar.”   Nobody owes nobody nuthin’.

Made no sense to me.  It’s not a treat or a gift if it is even. And I began to notice that women don’t do  this.  Women buy their own drinks.  What they may do is order an appetizer and then ask if people next to her want to share.  If a woman is part of the group that a man is buying rounds for, she thanks him.  She does not then buy a round for everybody in the drinking circle.

What I have done is bring in a bottle of barbecue sauce that I ordered on line and received too many bottles of it and given it to John who has bought me the occasional drink.  What I did the other night was just thank Dan for the drink he bought me.  No reciprocity.  The next night was New Year’s Eve.  I bought a bottle of good champagne and gave glasses to a couple people including Dan.

I’ve been practicing this whole “gifting” thing for years.  I had a group of friends in New York City who, like me, were struggling artists.  We loved to find some little gadget or piece of clothing that was unique or would make us laugh and give it for no reason at all.  Whether this can work on a larger scale as part of a modern gift economy, I really don’t know.  I read a forum on this topic over at libcom.org.  Seems that thinkers for many years have wondered about a different kind of social economy other than capitalism with its organization that is hierarchical and exchange oriented.  And those thinkers often talk in terms of gifting rather than the exact exchange of commodities.

Is it coincidental that women practice sharing rather than exchange as a means of communal eating and drinking?  Just askin’.