Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cracking Jokes at a Wake

by Dmitry Orlov

ClubOrlov (December 06 2009)

As we approach the end of a year, and the end of a decade, it is a good time to draw some conclusions and think about the future ... of the blog you are currently reading. I started it a few years ago, as part of an effort to promote a book I was writing. That went quite well, and in the process I built a small but enthusiastic audience of people who clamored for more.

They tended to be forward-looking, independent-thinking types who couldn't help but see that an American collapse was coming and were quite worried by this prospect. I was able to ease their minds, from several directions. Based on my first-hand observations of the Soviet collapse, I was able to add a lot of mundane detail, which is helpful in developing a realistic picture of the future and forming reasonable expectations. But perhaps more importantly, I was able to do so with a sense of humor. I find that a sense of humor is absolutely indispensable for preserving one's sanity. Furthermore, I feel that people who lack a sense of humor tend to be dreary, awful company, risky to have around, and a potential mental health hazard. (By the way, according to such people, that's not funny.)

To me, dead-serious people have always seemed much more dead than serious. Humor is not just about taking the edge off: most interesting critical thinking seems to happen at the cusp between seriousness and humorousness. Judging the serious and humorous aspects of each statement allows us to become cognizant of the expressive limitations of contemporary language and the imbecilic cliches with which it is riddled, and liberates us somewhat from conventional modes of thought. But what can be a benefit can also be a limitation: I find it hard to adequately express myself without recourse to parody, satire, absurdity, double entendres, gallows humor, irony or sarcasm. These are all arrows in my quiver, and I never go hunting without them. But humor, as it turns out, has its limits.

Over just the past year, based on the numerous blog comments and emails I have received, I could see the mood of the audience shift. First, the audience got much larger: collapse has gone mainstream. Second, the mood went from light-hearted and humorous to earnest, to serious, to concerned, to angry. This is, of course, perfectly understandable. Over the course of the past year, it has become clear that Obama is just the next political fraud-in-chief, that national bankruptcy is unavoidable, that economic recovery is a pipe dream, that Washington and Wall Street have congealed into a single kleptocratic monolyth impervious to popular influences, that Pax Americana is at an end throughout the world, and that if you aren't absolutely certain that you are high-class, then you must be low-class like the rest of us, because the middle class ain't no more. Funny, isn't it, the difference just one year makes?

I was lucky, because when I started writing about the collapse of the USA, it was still an arrogant, self-assertive, self-satisfied country that believed in its full-spectrum dominance and thought it was heading for a "new American century". In short, it was a country that could still take a joke rather than being one. What before seemed witty is now perceived as a mockery or an insult. Not only is it impossible to joke away pain, grief and despair, but attempts to do so are in rather questionable taste, and that, more than anything else, gives me pause, because if there is anything I detest more than humorlessness, it's mauvais goût.

And so, the time has come to make some changes. Henceforth, this blog will be for publishing perfectly serious articles about climate effects on the shoreline, sail-based transport, and my next book.

Happy Holidays!

Bill Totten


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