Monday, October 29, 2007

Kunstler: Unhappiness is Funny

Images are from Yahoo News Pictures of the Week.
When historians glance back at 2007 through the haze of their coal-fired stoves, they will mark this year as the onset of the Long Emergency – or whatever they choose to call the unraveling of industrial economies and the complex systems that constituted them.

And if they retain any sense of humor – which is very likely since, as wise Sam Beckett once averred, nothing is funnier than unhappiness – they will chuckle at the assumptions that drove the doings and mental operations of those in charge back then (i.e. now).

Media AWOL?

The price of oil is up 53 percent over a year ago, creeping up now toward the mid-$90-range. The news media is still AWOL on the subject. (The New York Times has nothing about it on today’s front page.) The dollar is losing a penny a week against the Euro.

US Standard of Living Dropping

In essence, the American standard of living is dropping like a sash weight. So far, a stunned public is stumbling into impoverishment drunk on Britney Spears video clips.

If they ever do sober up, and get to a “…hey, wait a minute…” moment when they recognize the gulf between reality and the story told by leaders in government, business, education, and the media, it is liable to be a very ugly moment in US history.

Smooth Transition. Really?

One of the stupidest assumptions made by the educated salient of adults these days is that we are guaranteed a smooth transition between the cancerous hypertrophy of our current economic environment and the harsher conditions that we are barreling toward.

The university profs and the tech sector worker bees are still absolutely confident that some hypothetical “they” will “come up with” magical rescue remedies for running the Happy Motoring system without gasoline.

Trains and Walking

My main message to lecture audiences these days is “…quit putting all your mental energy into propping up car dependency and turn your attention to other tasks such as walkable communities and reviving passenger rail….”

Inevitably, someone will then get up and propose that the transition to all-electric cars is nearly upon us, and we should stop worrying.

As I said, these are the educated denizens of the colleges. Imagine what the nascar morons believe – that the ghost of Davey Crockett will leave a jug of liquefied “dark matter” under everyone’s Christmas tree this year or next, guaranteed to keep the engines ringing until Elvis ushers in the Rapture.

Technology will save us. Really?

The educated folks – that is, the ones subject to the grandiose story-lines of techno-triumphalism taught in the universities – are sure that we’ll either invent or organize our way out of the current predicament.

A society that put men on the moon in 1969, the story goes, will ramp up another “Apollo Project” to keep things going here. One wonders, of course, what they mean by keeping things going.

Even if it were hypothetically possible to keep all the cars running forever, would it be good thing to make suburban-sprawl-building the basis of our economy – because that’s the direct consequence of perpetually cheap energy.

Has anyone noticed that the housing bubble and subsequent implosion is following the peak oil line exactly?


It’s a bit harder to discern what the assumptions really are among leaders in the finance sector, since so much of their activity the past ten years has veered into sheer fraud.

The story line that everyone is putting out – from the Fed chairman Bernanke to the CEOs of the Big Fundz – is that American finance is a python that has swallowed a few too many pigs, but if we jigger around interest rates a little bit more, and allow some more money to be lent out cheaply, the python will eventually digest the pigs and go slithering happily on its way along the jungle trail with a burp.

Own Assumptions

My own assumptions are somewhat different. I think we’re likely to see a lot of nations scrambling for survival, initially manifesting in a contest for the world’s dwindling supply of oil (and oil-like substances).

For instance, when viewing the globe, few people consider that Japan currently imports 95 percent of its fossil fuel. Japan has been a “good boy” among nations since its episode of “acting out” in the mid-20th century and has enjoyed a long industrial prosperity since then.

But what happens when there is not enough oil in the world to be allocated rationally by markets among the powerful nations? Will Japan just roll over and die? Will they shutter the Toyota factories and happily turn to placid tea ceremonies.

I think Japan will freak out, and it’s hard to predict exactly who will feel its wrath and how.


Similarly, Europe. Americans view Europe as a kind of theme park full of elderly café layabouts swaddled in cashmere as they enjoy demitasse cups in the outdoor cafes of their comfortable art-filled cities (some of them not long ago rebuilt from rubble).

Europe has let America do its dirty work for it in the Middle East for the past decade while enjoying tanker-loads of oil coming up through the Suez Canal.

Europe has only had to make a few lame gestures in defense of its oil supplies. But the North Sea oil fields, which for twenty years have hedged the leverage of OPEC, are crapping out at a very steep rate.

Sooner or later Europe will freak out over oil, and geo-political flat-earthers will be shocked to see that all the nations of café layabouts can mobilize potent military forces.

God knows whose side who will be on, exactly, when that happens, and where America will stand – if its own military is not so exhausted that it can even stand up.
This image courtesy New York Times.
Large World Eh?

Personally, I think the world will be growing a lot larger again, and less flat, and that eventually America will find itself isolated once again between two oceans – though incursions by desperate foreign armies in one way or another, is not out of the question as the great struggle for resource survival gets underway.

In time, however, I think the current Great Nations of the world will lose their ability to project power in the ways we’ve been conditioned to think about it.

Failure to Compute

In the meantime, our own nation has become a society incapable of thinking, and the failure at all levels of rank, education, and privilege is impressive.

If you listen to the people running for president – many of them overt clowns – you’d think that that all the comfortable furnishings of everyday life can continue with a few tweaks of the dials.

They are cowards and it is possible that they perfectly represent a whole nation of cowards who deserve cowardly leadership.

The danger, of course, is that when a non-cowardly leader finally does step forward in a desperate America, he will not shrink from pushing around a feckless people, or doing their thinking for them.
Read James Kunstler's blog here.
NVDL: There is so much noise out there that there is a collective failure to listen. As Kunstler says, the media seem to report everything except what is of vital importance. Here is a shard of truth, here is an epithet we need to respond to...
During my drive to the Big City last night I had an odd sense of peace about what is in store for our generation, starting round about now.

I believe it is probably for the best that we worked as hard, and fast and greedily as we have - the media participating in our desperate bid to indulge all our wants, all our appetities, our every individual ambition... to build our citadels, to develop technology, to shop, to turn sex into an industry, and a major form of afterhours entertainment etc.

Any number of things could have wiped us out - disease, asteroids, nuclear war. This will be a major challenge. At least we have information at our disposal (while the lights are on), libraries and an internet which could possibly survive (perhaps only fragments) the converging catastrophes of climate and an insufficient energy crunch, financial collapse and all the rest. Humanity Is...

It was important to develop some of these systems. Who expected that we would be - collectively - sufficiently highly evolved to hold ourselves back. As a species, we remain like children. Curious, hungry, easily distracted, prone to tears and burst of laughter. We like to play. We like pictures. We are not yet ready to behave in an enlightened way, but we might be close. Perhaps that will come after this phase of destruction and renewal. It's possible of course that we won't.

Next will truly be an austere period, but perhaps some good will come of it. For starters, with the world - as we know it, fast food and all the rest - ending, there will be no one to save us except ourselves, so perhaps some will rise to this challenge. That will possibly be the greatest delusion our species manages to rid itself of. Here comes the wave. Now take a deep breath...

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