Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Organizational Announcement

By popular demand, ClubOrlov is shifting to a semiweekly publishing schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays.

• Tuesdays will once again be free blogging days, with the full article (usually an editorial on current events) published on ClubOrlov and announced on Patreon. You should feel free to quote, excerpt or re-post these articles, provided you do so with full attribution (including my name and a link to the original).

• Thursdays will be premium content days, with the full essay (usually a longer, more in-depth, analytic piece) published on Patreon, visible to subscribers only and announced on ClubOrlov. For those who object to paying $1/month for Patreon access, a paper edition of the essays will be published on Amazon on a semiannual basis. For those who object to paying Amazon… well, there is just no pleasing some people!

Military Defeat as a Financial Collapse Trigger

Back in 2007 I wrote Reinventing Collapse, in which I compared the collapse of the USSR to the forthcoming collapse of the USA. I wrote the following:

“Let us imagine that collapsing a modern military-industrial superpower is like making soup: chop up some ingredients, apply heat and stir. The ingredients I like to put in my superpower collapse soup are: a severe and chronic shortfall in the production of crude oil (that magic addictive elixir of industrial economies), a severe and worsening foreign trade deficit, a runaway military budget and ballooning foreign debt. The heat and agitation can be provided most efficaciously by a humiliating military defeat and widespread fear of looming catastrophe.” (p. 2)

A decade later these ingredients are all in place, with a few minor quibbles. The shortfall of oil is in the case of the US not the shortfall of physical oil but of money: against the backdrop of terminal decline of conventional oil in the US, the only meaningful supply increase has come from fracking, but it has been financially ruinous. Nobody has made any money from selling fracked oil: it is too expensive.

Meanwhile, the trade deficit has been setting new records, defense spending has continued its upward creep and the levels of debt are at this point nothing short of stratospheric but continuing to rise. Fear of catastrophe is supplied by hurricanes that have just put significant parts of Texas and Florida under water, unprecedented forest fires in the West, ominous rumblings from the Yellowstone supervolcano and the understanding that an entire foamy mess of financial bubbles could pop at any time. The one ingredient we are missing is a humiliating military defeat.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Everything is Going According to Plan—The Book

Six months ago I started publishing my weekly blog posts behind a paywall. Over the intervening months I have accumulated well over a thousand subscribers, most of whom pledge the minimum $1 per month. After all the fees (PayPal, Visa/Mastercard, etc., plus 5% for Patreon's service), this nets me just 77 cents. This rather minimal amount has had some wonderful effects. First, I no longer have to fight off trolls and filter spam from the comments. Second, the quality of the comments, which are now hidden behind the paywall, has improved greatly and now make very interesting reading, often as interesting as the blog posts themselves. Third, even this little bit of extra income has given me some needed breathing space, allowing me to devote more time to writing longer, more detailed, better researched weekly articles. The result is that over the past six months I have written over 300 printed pages, which I am now bringing out in paper book form. I hope that this book will please all those who have balked at making a monthly pledge but won't balk at buying a paper book.


At present the book is only available through CreateSpace, which works well within the US and hardly at all for foreign orders. If you are outside the US, please wait a couple of days, until it becomes available worldwide on Amazon. Thank you for your support.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Arise, You Prisoners of Semantics! (Part 2)

“A bad workman blames his tools” is a common enough idiom, which people often mistake to mean that tools don’t matter—only skills do. This is obviously wrong: tools do matter a great deal, and a good workman starts out with good tools and keeps them sharp and in good working order. Good workmen follow professional standards, both in the tools they use and in the objects they produce. When it comes to thinking, our main tool is language. It is very difficult to express complicated thoughts using simple languages, or to think well using a language that is flawed.

For example, pidgins and creoles, which evolve spontaneously in isolated communities lacking a common language, tend to lack concepts of time (past, present, future). Consequently, users of these languages find it very awkward to get across ideas such as whether someone might have said or done something had no one else said or done it previously. Research on an isolated group of deaf people in Nicaragua which spontaneously evolved a simple sign language showed that once temporal concepts were added to their languages their ability to recall the past and make plans for the future improved as well: language limits cognition.

Most likely, this is not a hard limit, and even limited expressive means can be stretched through effort. But since most people tend to be somewhat lazy it is to be expected that they will shy away from pushing against the boundaries of what their language can readily express. Just as importantly, most languages have certain safeguards built into them that constrain what they can express, blocking out large areas of physical impossibility, whimsy and illogic. These function as guard rails that keep your thoughts from going off a cliff. Languages that lack these guard rails do nothing to limit one from spouting spurious nonsense.

Pidgins and creoles aside, most of the major languages have evolved steadily over time, becoming ever more elaborate and refined, and by now all of them provide a very extensive toolkit for expressing constructive and creative thoughts. Although details vary quite a bit, most Indoeuropean languages (which account for well over half of the world’s speakers and an overwhelming majority of published texts) have a set of grammatical features that are obligatory: to say something, you have to make a choice of tense, mood, number, the animate/inanimate distinction and, significantly for this discussion, that most loaded of contemporary terms, gender. [2974 words]