Tuesday, August 26, 2008

This star shall rise in the east....

I suppose I should say something about the Russia-Georgia conflict that is ongoing. In general my feelings are pretty sympathetic towards Russia. They have suffered a lot in their history, more than most European or semi-European countries. In part from the harsh climate, and the tough conditions of life on the steppe. But in part because they keep getting invaded from the east and west. Hell, they've even been defeated in war by Sweden and Lithuania, of all places. They suffered more than almost any other country in the war to rid the world of the Nazi evil, and they did more than most, along a vast front that stretched the breadth of Eurasia from the Baltic Sea to the Caspian.

Not many people have remarked on this, but I believe that the coming power of the next century isn't going to be China, or India, or Brazil. Yes the U.S. will fall from dominance. But the power that comes to share co-equal power with the U.S. won't be any of these, and especially not the sclerotic nations of Western Europe. The rising power of the next century will be Russia.

Russia has a lot of things that will become exceptionally valuable in the coming century. It has oil, natural gas, and coal. It has valuable minerals. It has a climate that will actually benefit from global warming. It has huge underpopulated steppes which could be converted to use for biofuel. It has vast tracts of arable land, and some of it is fairly decent soil. It has the largest forest on earth, which could furnish valuable timber reserves.

But Russia's greatest strength is something deeper than all these. Put simply, Russians know how to suffer, and how to endure. More than any other European nation, Russia has experienced the harsh vicissitudes of fate, and survived. They have endured famine. Freezing cold. Snowdrifts. Searing heat. Invasions by the Germans, the French, the Swedes, the Turks, the Lithuanians, the Japanese. Civil war. Genocide. Bolshevism. Capitalism. Czarist tyranny. The Russians are a tough people, maybe this is why they do so well in Olympic wrestling, a sport that relies so much on toughness.

The twentieth century was the century of economic progress: this century will be the century of economic crisis. We are rapidly running out of the things that are the lifeblood of all societies, the basic natural raw materials that feed and clothe our bodies, our machines, our buildings, our civilization. Fisheries. Arable land. Nutrient rich soil. Forest. The natural processes that regulate our climate. Metals. Minerals. Oil. Natural gas. Clean water. Clean air. All of these vital goods are
being used up faster than they can be replaced, or else damaged beyond the hope of short-term repair. In the next few decades we are going to enter a period of prolonged crisis, what Kunstler calls the Long Emergency. The basic expectations we have had for the last two centuries, of ever increasing wealth, comfort, consumption and progress, are going to break down. Simply maintaining our current lifestyle will become impossible, and hanging on to the basic necessities of a modern civilization- things like producing enough steel, antibiotics, and fertilizer to survive as a society- will become a major challenge. The challenge of the future will not be how to generate more wealth, but rather how to keep from sinking further into the abyss.

I don't think the United States may deal with those problems particularly well. We are a country that has always been accustomed to ever-increasing wealth and comfort, to progress and dominance. We don't deal well with crisis, and we won't deal well with an economic collapse that makes the Depression look like peanuts. Russia will however. The quality that will count in the coming years is the ability to endure, and Russia more than anything else knows how to endure.

When the crisis is over, when after the Long Emergency we once again have enough to feed ourselves and keep ourselves healthy, when after the bitter winter we poke our heads out of our holes and survey the damage, I suspect Russia will have come out of it better than most. And at that time Russia will have much to teach the world. In a world of generalized shortages and resource crises, capitalism will be untenable. It will be an affront to most people that some rich men should be able to monopolize land, energy, and basic natural resources, and spend our precious oil reserves running private helicopters when they are more direly needed to produce fertilizer. That will produce demands for nationalization, rationing and government control- for a permanent war economy. Capitalism was born in the affluence of Renaissance Italy and will fade when affluence fades. But Russia will look back to its roots, to the peasant commune that Tolstoy idolized and that the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the enemies of both capitalist and Bolshevik tyranny, believed in. Russia will bring back the peasant commune, the peaceful, democratic, self-reliant cooperative where land is owned by the men and women who work it, and use it as the ideal for a new type of economy- one that looks not for wealth, or self-interest, but for sufficiency and for economic, social and spiritual health. In that day the world will need to turn and look to Russia. Like the rising sun, and like the return of the King, the seeds of the new social order that inspires us when the Long Emergency has ended, will come from the East.

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