Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.
He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.
He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.
He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.
His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.
If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.
Back in the days when I was still trying to do the corporate thing, I regularly found myself in a bit of a tight spot simply by failing to keep my mouth shut.
I seem to carry some sort of gene that makes me naturally irrepressible. I can keep my mouth shut for only so long before I have to blurt out what I really think, and in a corporate setting, where thinking isn’t really allowed, this causes no end of trouble. It didn’t matter that I often turned out to be right. It didn’t matter what I thought; it only mattered that I thought.
American involvement in the middle-eastern project is now limited to Putin’s sporadic courtesy calls to Trump, to keep him updated.
Of all the thoughts you aren’t allowed to think, perhaps the most offensive one is adequately expressed by a single short phrase: “That’s not gonna work.”
Suppose there is a meeting to unveil a great new initiative, with PowerPoint presentations complete with fancy graphics, org charts, timelines, proposed budgets, yadda-yadda, and everything is going great until this curmudgeonly Russian opens his mouth and says “That’s not gonna work.”
And when it is patiently explained to him (doing one’s best to hide one’s extreme irritation) that it absolutely has to work because Senior Management would like it to, that furthermore it is his job to make it work and that failure is not an option, he opens his mouth again and says “That’s not gonna work either.” And then it’s time to avoid acting flustered while ignoring him and to think up some face-saving excuse to adjourn the meeting early and regroup.
I lasted for as long as I did in that world because once in a while I would instead say “Sure, that’ll work, let’s do it.” And then, sure enough, it did work, the company had a banner year or two, with lots of bonuses and atta-boy (and atta-girl) certificates handed out to those not at all responsible for any of it. Flushed with victory, they, in turn, would think up more harebrained schemes for me to rain on, and the cycle would repeat.
It is probably one of the main saving graces of corporations that they do sometimes (mainly by mistake) allow some thought to leak through. The mistake in question is a staffing error in promoting those constitutionally incapable of keeping their mouths shut or shutting off their brains. Such errors create chinks in the monolithic phalanxes of corporate yes-men and yes-women.
Trump is too old to be a reformer or a revolutionary. He is of an age when men are generally mostly concerned about the quantity and consistency of their stool and how it interacts with their enlarged prostates.
The likelihood of such mistakes increases with the agony of defeat, which causes attrition among the ranks of qualified yes-sayers, creating holes that can only be plugged by promoting a few non-yes-sayers. However, this only seems to work in the smaller, hungrier corporations; the larger, better-fed ones seem to be able to avoid experiencing the agony of defeat for a very long time by moving the goal posts, outlawing any discussion of said defeat or other similar tactics. Eventually the entire organization goes over the cliff, but by then it is of no benefit to anyone to attempt to inform them of their folly.
It is much the same with governments, except here the situation is even worse. While the smaller, hungrier governments, and those blessed with a fresh institutional memory of extreme pain, do not have the luxury of lying to themselves, the larger political agglomerations—the USSR, the EU, the USA—have the ability to keep themselves completely immunized against the truth for historically significant periods of time.
The USSR clung to the fiction of great socialist progress even when it was clear to all that the cupboard was bare and there were rats gnawing through the rafters. The EU has been able to ignore the fact that its entire scheme is one of enriching Germany while impoverishing and depopulating eastern and southern Europe, neglecting the interests of the native populations throughout. And the amount of self-delusion that is still currently in effect in the USA makes it a rather large subject.
Regardless of how great the lies are and how forcefully they are defended, a moment always comes when the phalanx of truth-blocking yes-men and yes-women stops marching, turns and runs. This event results in a tremendous loss of face and confidence for all involved.
It is the crisis of confidence, more than anything else, that precipitates the going-off-a-cliff phenomenon that we could so readily observe in the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. I have a very strong hunch that similar cliff-diving exercises are coming up for the EU and the USA.
But for the time being I am just another disembodied voice on the internet, watching from the sidelines and periodically saying the unfashionable thing, which is: “This isn’t gonna work.” However, I’ve said this a number of times over the years, on the record and more or less forcefully, and I feel vindicated most of the time.
Internationally, for example:
• Carving the Ukraine away from Russia, having it join the EU and NATO and building a NATO naval base in Crimea “wasn’t gonna work.” The Ukraine is a part of Russia, the Ukrainians are Russian, and the Ukrainian ethnic identity is a Bolshevik concoction. Look for a reversion to norm in a decade or two.
• Destroying and partitioning Syria with the help of Wahhabi extremists and foreign mercenaries supported by the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel while Russia, Iran, Turkey and China stand idly by “wasn’t gonna work”; and so it hasn’t.
• Giving Afghanistan “freedom and democracy” and turning it into a stable pro-Western regime with the help of invading NATO troops “wasn’t gonna work,” and hasn’t. Western involvement in Afghanistan can go on, but the results it can achieve are limited to further enhancing the heroin trade.
• Destroying the Russian economy using sanctions “wasn’t gonna work,” and hasn’t. The sanctions have helped Russia regroup internally and achieve a great deal of self-sufficiency in energy production and other forms of technology, in food and in numerous other sectors.
All of these harebrained schemes, hatched in Washington, have backfired grandly. Those who have pushed for them are now reduced to just two face-saving maneuvers: blaming their political opponents; and blaming Russia. And these two maneuvers are set to backfire as well.
In the meantime, the world isn’t waiting for the US to shake itself out of its stupor.
The fulcrum of American influence in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia and the petrodollar. In turn, Saudi Arabia rests on three pillars: the Saudi monarchy, Wahhabi Islam and the petrodollar. As I write this, the next king, Mohammed bin Salman, is busy hacking away at all three: robbing, imprisoning and torturing his fellow-princes, working to replace the Wahhabi clerics with moderate ones and embracing the petro-yuan instead of the now very tired petrodollar.
Not that any of these three pillars were in good shape in any case: the defeat of ISIS in Syria was a defeat for the Saudi monarchy which supported it, for the Wahhabi clerics who inspired it and, consequently, for the petrodollar as well, because Saudi Arabia was until now its greatest defender.
The new guarantors of peace in the region are Russia, Iran and Turkey, with China watching carefully in the wings. American involvement in the middle-eastern project is now limited to Putin’s sporadic courtesy calls to Trump, to keep him updated.
And so here’s my latest prediction: Trump’s goal of “making America great” “isn’t gonna work” either.
The country is so far gone that just taking the first step—of allowing the truth of its condition to leak through the media filters—will undermine public confidence to such an extent that a subsequent cliff-dive will become unavoidable. It’s a nice slogan as slogans go, but Trump is too old to be a reformer or a revolutionary. He is of an age when men are generally mostly concerned about the quantity and consistency of their stool and how it interacts with their enlarged prostates.
Perhaps he will succeed in making America great… big piles of feces, but I wouldn’t expect much more than that.