Hardier than Thou?

I just finished Orlov’s book “Reinventing Collapse” (2011). I read it because I saw it mentioned here, and I know it’s a sequel, but I thought I might as well start with the most recent volume.
I’m sure you polymaths who’ve read it were more focused on the inventive post-oil technologies the author mentions. The details of those didn’t mean much to me, but the way he talks about them reminded me of the bomb-shelter mania of my childhood. Even my father, a doctor who surely must have known the futility of the scheme, brought us all together one day and explained how we could take shelter in the fruit cellar, or our basement storeroom. Where would we excrete? And our kind daddy’s sober acknowledgement that our animals would be left outside to be incinerated was the stuff of nightmares: my sister and I burst into tears.
Why did he put us through that?
I think because, when everybody falls under the spell of a mass delusion, it begins to seem…imprudent to simply ignore what so many people are apparently taking seriously, even if you know it doesn’t make sense.
I know Orlov first wrote about what happened in the USSR, and I think I will read that one now; that must be more journalistic, whereas this one is, necessarily, a fantasia.
I’m struck by a certain gloating tone, though. He’s like a survivalist Solzhenitsyn, fleeing to our country but still extolling the superiority of the Russian spirituality: A couple years before 1989 I had a similar rebuke from a cab driver in Moscow, who informed me that America had no soul (душ).
That was an example of a “holier than thou” attitude—and Orlov, with his repeated insistence on how much tougher and less spoiled the Russian people were and are, seems to me to be striking a “hardier than thou” attitude. (At one point he refers to our country as “a big, rowdy party”.) That became a tad irritating.
Also, didn’t “peak oil” theory peak in like 2007–with production then reaching new highs a decade later?
One refreshing aspect is that Orlov doesn’t bother pretending we can do without oil, coal, etc. —we can’t! As he points out, even if these much-touted new technologies could ever work on a large scale, it would take…let’s just say OODLES of fossil fuels to get them to that point and to manufacture enough of them. No, he’s right: if we do run out—or if the Left succeeds in its insane, short-sighted goal of destroying the vast industrial complex devoted to extracting and refining fossil fuels—it’s Ridldley Walker, c’est nous!

I’m glad I read the book: it can be regarded on one level as modern Russian literature filtered through American English, a specie of the same phenomenon as Nabokov’s oeuvre.


I think there is much validity, sad to say, in his view that Russians were much better able to contend with collapse than we will be. The fact they were used to material hardship and scarcity, grew a lot of their own food, most essential public services continued, there were no evictions (public ownership of housing), not to mention the spiritual component, which I suspect also has some validity. Virtually none of those are likely to apply here when the inevitable happens. I fear for my children & grandchildren.


As I said in my review of Reinventing Collapse, “If you’re going to end up primitive, you may be better starting out primitive.”

Orlov was strongly bought in to the Peak Oil mythology and most of the rest of the environmental left’s rhetoric and based his forecasts for the U.S. on an economic collapse due to exhaustion of energy supplies that could be bought for borrowed money. But, writing prior to the 2008 financial crisis, I suspect he couldn’t have imagined how much debt the U.S. could run up in its aftermath, even during a time when it was largely energy independent. But, as I noted,

The ultimate trigger doesn’t make a great deal of difference to the central argument: the U.S. runs on oil (and has no near-term politically and economically viable substitute) and depends upon borrowed money both to purchase oil and to service its ever-growing debt. At the moment creditors begin to doubt they’re every going to be repaid (as happened with the Soviet Union in its final days), it’s game over for the economy, even if the supply of oil remains constant.

My conclusion about the book was:

There are some valuable insights here into the Soviet collapse as seen from the perspective of citizens living through it and trying to make the best of the situation, and there are some observations about the U.S. which will make you think and question assumptions about the stability and prospects for survival of the economy and society on its present course. But there are so many extreme statements you come away from the book feeling like you’ve endured an “end is nigh” rant by a wild-eyed eccentric which dilutes the valuable observations the author makes.


Of course I get it—if you’ve never BEEN comfortable, you won’t miss being comfortable. But, I dk, this kinda reminds me of what people used to say to us when we included a local girl,from a pretty much penniless family on various outings: it’s not fair to expose her to those things since she’ll probably never be able to afford them. Um, I don’t agree. At least she’ll have had a nice time! Is that ever a BAD thing, really? Like our American “big, rowdy party”.

Another thing about Orlov is he says there will be hordes of violent men loose, because the prisons will break open and the soldiers will be repatriating. If that’s true, what makes him think people can do well by stockpiling things they can barter? It’s like with gold: once you spend some, then everybody knows you’ve got a stash, and why wouldn’t they just come TAKE it?

But, the book made me wanna take stock just in case. So;

I’ve always read the best things to have, in lieu of $$ which will be worthless, are alcohol, tobacco and firearms.
So I started thinkin’ ok, we are awash in guns—but what about ammo? You can easily make bullets my BMD says, if you have the mold, (and he does) you can reload. Ok, but what about copper or lead? Copper already scarce and expensive, and lead….once you’ve melted down the sinkers on the fishing lures…but, once again he sez bullets don’t hafta be made of those. So what’ve we got a LOT of…:thinking:? I’ve got it: silver! We can melt down the various heirloom sets that have ended up in our barn here! Silver bullets! Firearms: :heavy_check_mark:

Alcohol: yes we could fill our cellar with Jack Daniels, like rich people did before Prohibition. But that won’t last forever, with me around…could we MAKE any booze? It occurred to me that his beekeeping hobby is very timely: we can ferment honey to make mead! Plus, under the grim circumstances Orlov is describing, I’m gonna want such a delightful tipple myself i after I’ve sucked up most of the Jack Daniels…win-win! . :heavy_check_mark:

Tobacco: I kinda doubt we can grow that here, with our short growing season, there must be a reason all the tobacco fields are in the south. That might be worth stockpiling, little cans of loose dried leaf. Maybe we could grow it in a greenhouse, or inside? We could of course grow pot but I reckon everybody else will be doing that too…but people might really want reg’lar old non-hallucinogenic cancer sticks—I don’t know why they’d want to aspire to a long life in such miserable circumstances. This one needs work.

So there you have it товарищ! I’ve got me a plan—, now, if you’ll ‘scuse me, Ive got a big rowdy party to get back to!


My take is substitute antibiotics and pain killers for tobacco.


That’s a great idea!
Just as a matter of interest though, I learned after writing this post that a lot of tobacco IS grown in my state, and we’re one of only 4 states where it’s legal to grow and smoke your own! (Not that legality will matter Post-collapse, but this means we can start a crop next spring! )
Ab article I read said you shouldn’t smoke your own cuz you don’t know how much nicotine may be in it…and there are hazards to growing it: apparently the plant itself exudes lotsa nicotine into the air.
That’s a drawback? I mean, I havent smoked for decades, but the idea of standing in a green field inhaling fresh nicotine along with our salubrious mountain air really does not sound bad….no wonder they used to call it “sot-weed”!


Back when the “American West” meant “west of the Appalachians”, the major industry and export of the West was corn (maize) whiskey, produced locally. Before the advent of canals and railroads, the cost of transporting the main crop, maize, to markets in the East was much greater than its value, and losses to vermin and fungus on the long journey were prohibitive as well. But distilled into white lightning, it was compact, imperishable, and valuable. W. J. Rorabaugh’s 1979 book, The Alcoholic Republic tells the tale. From my review,

Prior to the revolution, America was a rum drinking nation, but after the break with Britain whiskey made from maize (corn, in the American vernacular) became the beverage of choice. As Americans migrated and settled the West, maize was their crop of choice, but before the era of canals and railroads, shipping their crop to the markets of the East cost more than its value. Distilling into a much-sought beverage, however, made the arduous trek to market profitable, and justified the round trip. In the rugged western frontier, drinking water was not to be trusted, and a sip of contaminated water could condemn one to a debilitating and possibly fatal bout of dysentery or cholera. None of these bugs could survive in whiskey, and hence it was seen as the healthy beverage. Finally, whiskey provides 83 calories per fluid ounce, and is thus a compact way to store and transmit food value without need for refrigeration.

Pennsylvania was part of the heartland of the corn whiskey trade, and it was in the western part of the state that the first tax rebellion against the illegitimate regime in Washington broke out, aptly dubbed the “Whiskey Rebellion”. This is when it first became obvious to the rugged individualists of the frontier that the Anti-Federalists were right.


I reckon you can ferment just about anything! Look at poteen, the tipple of the indomitable Irishry: it can be made from whatever you can get into the pot. Corn, sure, but we ain’t growin no corn here—what we got is BEES!


Has anybody ever had corn liquor? When you buy it here it’s styled “moonshine ‘ and it is cloyingly sweet, and I’ve never known whether that’s just from the corn, which does have a lot of sugar, or whether that’s just to market it as a “fun” beverage.


This is probably a marketing thing. Corn liquor, if distilled, is pretty much like any other kind of spirit. The taste comes from how it is blended after distillation and aged. Back in the Whiskey Rebellion days, there was probably precious little aging. Generally all of the sugar in the grain is fermented into ethanol, then distilled to increase the concentration (“proof”).

The purest distilled “beverage” in the U.S. is Everclear, which has the additional advantage of being a fine hand sanitiser.


Nicotine is not to be trifled with. Pure nicotine extract coming in contact with your skin can actually kill you. But I guess that in a post collapse situation that might be just one of the many other things that could or would …


No wonder then that the nature has been evolving to leverage all those alcohol fumes in the Old American West:


As a born again survivalist, among my purchases was a glass fractional distillation column, heating flasks to vaporize alcohol and rubber tubing to siphon water through the condenser for cooling. I learned this techniques in my dorm room in college, where we made our version of ever clear. Indeed, we checked the specific gravity with the help of our physics prof (a good old boy from Kentucky) and it proved out to 94% pure. We instant aged it in powdered charcoal and mixed it with grape juice. Originally we distilled fermented apple cider. Then, to save money we made a sugar solution with sugar from the cafeteria.

Anyway, I also purchased high alcohol-tolerant yeast, which was supposed to generate > 20% alcohol from sugar solution. It is all packed away with the yeast in the refrigerator for the (hoped) sake of longevity. I also have a supply of miniatures - vodka and whiskey - for trade. All the foregoing was for backup, lest the commercial alcohol get used up. The process is slow, but can be kept going with intermittent attention and modest heat. I think my shelf life is now shorter than this material. My son & SIL will get it.