[R-G] [BillTottenWeblog] Dreams Die Hard
shimogamo at ashisuto.co.jp
Tue Nov 10 04:26:58 MST 2009
by James Howard Kunstler
Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency (2005)
www.kunstler.com (November 09 2009)
In The Long Emergency (2005, Atlantic Monthly Press), I said that we ought
to expect the federal government to become increasingly impotent and
ineffectual - that this would be a hallmark of the times. In fact, I said
that any enterprise organized at the colossal scale would function poorly
in years ahead, whether it was a government, a state university, a
national chain retail company, or a giant midwestern farm. It is
characteristic of the compressive contraction our society faces that giant
hypercomplex systems will wobble and fail. We should expect this.
It's tragic that the avatar of hopefulness himself, Barack Obama, stepped
into his role at exactly the moment when this set of conditions was
getting traction. It is sure to get worse, and there are going to be a lot
of disappointed people out there who will be suffering terrible losses and
real pain in daily life. Societies don't do well when the public falls
into the broad despair that is the opposite of hope. That's when the long
knives and the tribal animosities come out and things get smashed.
Within the context of conventional party politics - the kind that has been
baseline "normal" in the USA for a long time - we see this playing out in
two factions that are increasingly out-of-touch with reality. The Obama
government has made itself hostage to a toxic form of pretense and lying.
In order to sustain the wish for "hope" - if not hope itself - the
President and his White House advisors along with his cabinet
appointments, are pretending that the historical forces of compressive
contraction are not underway. They're flat-out lying about the employment
figures issued in the government's name. They're willfully ignoring the
comprehensive bankruptcy gripping government at all levels. They refuse to
bring the law to bear against "the malefactors of great wealth". They
appear to not understand the epochal energy scarcity problem the whole
world faces, or its implications for industrial economies. Most of all,
they persist in promoting the lie that this economy can return to the
prior state of reckless debt accumulation (aka "consumerism") that has
made us so ridiculous and unhealthy.
The trouble with self-delusion, either in a person or a society, is that
reality doesn't care what anybody believes, or what story they put out.
Reality doesn't "spin". Reality does not have a self-image problem.
Reality does not yield its workings to self-esteem management. These days,
Americans don't like reality very much because it won't let them push it
around. Reality is an implacable force and the only question for human
beings in the face of it is: what will you do? In other words, it's not
really possible to manage reality, but you can certainly choose to manage
your affairs within reality. We won't do that because it's too difficult.
This harsh situation leaves the public increasingly with little more than
bad feelings of discouragement and persecution. It's astonishing that all
the smart people around the president don't get this.
Reality unfolds emergently, and this ought to interest us. For instance,
I have maintained for many years that we are approaching the twilight of
the automobile age - and the implications of this for daily life in the
USA are pretty large. For a long time, I had assumed that this change of
circumstances would proceed from our problems with the oil supply. But
reality is sly. It has thrown two new plot twists into the story lately.
America's romance with cars may not founder just on the fuel supply
question. It now appears that our problems with capital are so severe
that far fewer people will be able to borrow money from banks to buy cars
at the rate, and in the way, that the system has been organized to depend
on. Our problems with capital are also depriving us of the ability to pay
to fix the hypercomplex system of county roads, interstate highways, and
even city streets that make motoring possible. What will we do
For now, a cashless government gives out cash-for-clunkers, which is
basically a self-esteem building program designed to make the government
feel better about itself because it is ostensibly taking
eleven-miles-per-gallon cars off the road and replacing them with
27-miles-per-gallon cars, thus forestalling scary problems with climate
change. It's dumb of course, but the failure of leadership is
comprehensive. Even the elite environmentalists at the Aspen Institute are
preoccupied with finding new "green" ways to keep all the cars running.
They put zero effort into the idea of walkable communities, or restoring
the railroad system, which will be the reality-based remedies for the
The Republican right wing is, if anything, even more childishly
delusional. For Glen Beck and Sarah Palin it comes down to "drill, baby,
drill". They know nothing about the geology of oil - they don't even
believe that the earth is more than six-thousand years old, meaning they
don't believe in geology, period - but they are inflamed with the faith of
eight-year-old children that we must have a lot more oil in the ground
because this is America and God loves us more than people in other parts
of the planet so it must be there. As their disappointment mounts, their
childish ideas will turn cruel and sadistic. They'll seek to punish
anybody who believes that the earth is more than six thousand years old.
The catch is, if they get into power in the election cycles ahead, they'll
be impotent and ineffectual even at persecuting their enemies.
In the meantime, American life will just wind down, no matter what we
believe. It won't wind down to a complete stop. Its near-term
destination is to lower levels of complexity and scale than what we've
been used to for a long time. People will be able to drive fewer cars
fewer miles. The roads will get worse. They'll be worse in some places
than others. There will be fewer jobs to go to and fewer things sold.
People who live in communities scaled to the energy and capital realities
of the years ahead are liable to be more comfortable. We're surely going
to have trouble with money. Households will drown in debt and lose all
their savings. Money could be scarce or worthless. Credit will be scarcer.
Both factions of American political life indulge in the fiction of
control. History is reality's big brother. It is taking us someplace that
we don't want to go, so it will probably have to drag us there kicking and
screaming. For starters, both reality and history will probably take us
out to some woodshed of the national soul and beat the crap out of us.
That could be a salutary thing, since the crap consists of all the lies we
tell ourselves. Once we're rid of all that, we may rediscover a few things
left inside our collective identity that are worth regarding with real
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