| A Dry Dipstick Book Review
A Dry Dipstick Book Review
The Soviet Example and American Prospects
Author: Dmitry Orlov
2008, New Society Publishers
Well, first of all, it's funny. Really. I don't
mean it's filled with jokes, but Dmitry Orlov has a very humorous
and biting style. This humorous approach serves two important
- It makes the book enjoyable to read.
- It helps the reader develop a certain healthy detachment
from the subject matter. If you can see the humor in the
situation, it can lessen the melodrama of the Cold War in
the past, and the collapse of both the Soviet Union (past)
and its mirror twin the United States (very current).
Orlov observes that the citizens of both the U.S. and the
S.U. were targets of marketing campaigns that successfully
developed intense brand loyalty. In each country, it was forbidden
(either legally or through intense peer pressure) to advocate
for the other brand. The U.S. was for capitalists (Yes, we're
#1), and the S.U. for communists (Da, we're #1), and never
the twain shall meet.
Those benighted residents of countries other than the US
and the SU were often forced to choose sides; particularly
in the smaller countries when well-armed and well-funded sales
reps showed up to make them a deal they couldn't refuse.
Orlov's demonstration in the first part of the book of the
similarities between the two countries helps further this
detachment, just as he does later in the book with his description
of the differences between both empires. What is perhaps most
interesting and intriguing is his pointing out that although
they appear to be mirror opposites, things are not that simple.
Each contains yin-yang-like the opposite of itself, so that
the Soviet Empire had a strong entrepreneurial nature (which
manifests most obviously through the huge black market), and
the American Empire has a strong communal nature, which manifests
through community groups and the high-level support of charitable
organizations. Orlov even states that Americans make better
communists than the Russians, because they are much more willing
to live communally.
For the American reader, however, it is the differences in
preparedness for collapse that are most important. It's not
that the Russians intentionally prepared; it's that their
society's condition inadvertently prepared them. The collectivization
of agriculture changed, as Orlov says, Russia from Europe's
bread basket to Europe's basket case. It was a massive failure.
So Russians started their own kitchen and neighborhood gardens
which eventually, although only 10% of agricultural land,
were estimated to produce a staggering 90% of the country's
Housing was another issue. The Soviet Union's housing program
was as bad as its agricultural program. There was always a
major housing shortage, and families were required to live
in crowded conditions in ugly concrete housing monstrosities.
And yet...everyone was housed and the state owned the buildings.
When the collapse came, everyone was still housed, because
there were no bankers to foreclose on their homes.
Transportation was another important issue. The Soviet Union
never dismantled its passenger rail system, as the U.S. began
doing in the 1950s when the interstate highway system was
being built. So intercity travel remained as good (and as
uncomfortable in many cases) as ever. Within the cities, housing
was built by the state only where public transportation was
available. Few people could afford (and even fewer needed)
automobiles. When the crash came, transportation continued
as before. Buses, trolleys, trams, subways continued to move
residents throughout their cities.
In many smaller cities and most towns in the U.S., public
transportation is poor at best, and transportation to outlying
suburbs is nonexistent. A huge percentage of Americans are
dependent on their personal cars for transportation. When
the collapse comes and gasoline is prohibitively expensive
(if even available), the choice will no longer be food or
fuel. Except...millions of Americans need fuel to get to,
or earn the money to pay for, food.
The book is filled with useful information, but I think the
most important is the need for "social capital". This is the
good will and trust built up among people over time as a result
of frequent social and cooperative contact. Orlov describes
how the people in Russia who got by best were those who networked
with friends and neighbors, giving when they had something,
receiving when they didn't. This seemed to be even more essential
than the barter system, which was also very important and
I've already given several copies of this book to friends.
I think it's an excellent manual filled with useful tips,
and even more importantly, a guide to the psychological and
emotional attitudes that will be necessary to survive in much
of the world as we all encounter the tribulations of Peak
Oil and Economic Collapse.
"Reinventing Collapse" by Dmitry Orlov is available through
local bookstores and at Amazon.com.
Mick Winter (www.DryDipstick.com)
is the author of Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate
Change and Economic Collapse (www.peakoilprep.com)