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.
The Feeling is Mutual
This afternoon I’m starting my next series called “Ruminating with the Ruminants: Conversations with the Cows.” I’ve been chewing my cud for the last 4 weeks on the notion of charity and philanthropy.
I’ve been going to various summer fundraisers and appreciation picnics. Here in beautiful Big Sky country with its rivers running through it, the summer residents have arrived. Summer is the perfect time for community groups to invite these people to partake in the community by giving them an opportunity to rub elbows with the locals and to contribute monetarily to the various non-profits that vie for scarce dollars in a county that has only 3500 people in it and is the size of the state of Rhode Island.
I often sigh a lot when I’m eating my plate full of food at these affairs. By and large, the people that run these organizations and those that sit on their boards are dedicated and goodhearted folks. The reason that I sigh is that I wish we didn’t need these charities. I wish everyone made a living wage so we didn’t have to help people get decent food to eat. I wish everyone made a decent living with short work hours and work weeks so that they could spend time with their kids instead of having after school volunteers take care of them. If we had free college education, we wouldn’t need to have fundraisers for scholarships or to buy a kid a tuba. If we banned chemicals and other crap from our crops and our cows, we wouldn’t need as many cancer care groups. If we really embraced community, we would take care of our retirees and respect their wisdom and reward their work years with decent pensions. In a my wishful world, everybody would be at the picnic because everything would be done in mutual support of each other. There would be no classes of the haves and have nots.
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Posted in Montana Life, Social Commentary, The Accidental Activist
Tagged Avatar, capitalism, David Graeber, Dimitry Orlov, Montana, Oscar Wilde, philanthophy, the commons