Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Kunstler: The Auto-Industry's Kabuki Theatre and the Real Work that lies ahead
We still think that "the path to success" is based on getting a college degree certifying people for a lifetime of sitting in an office cubicle. This is so far from the approaching reality that it will be eventually viewed as a sick joke -- like those old 1912 lithographs of mega-cities with Zeppelins plying the air between Everest-size skyscrapers. - James Howard Kunstler
Kunstler: It is hugely ironic that the US automobile industry is collapsing at this very moment, and the ongoing debate about whether to "rescue" it or not is an obvious kabuki theater exercise because this industry is hopeless. It is headed into bankruptcy with one hundred percent certainty. The only thing in question is whether the news of its death will spoil the Christmas of those who draw a paycheck from it, or those whose hopes for an easy retirement are vested in it.
But American political-economy being very Santa Claus oriented for recent generations, the gesture will be made. A single leaky little lifeboat will be lowered and the chiefs of the Big Three will be invited to go for a brief little row, and then they will sink, glug, glug, glug, while the rusty old Titanic of the car industry slides diagonally into the deep behind them, against a sickening greenish-orange sunset backdrop of the morbid economy.
A key concept of the economy to come is that size matters -- everything organized at the giant scale will suffer dysfunction and failure. Giant companies, giant governments, giant institutions will all get into trouble. This, unfortunately, doesn't bode so well for the Obama team and it is salient reason why they must not mount a campaign to keep things the way they are and support enterprises that have to be let go, including many of the government's own operations.
The best thing Mr. Obama can do is act as a wise counselor companion-in-chief to a people who now have to leave a lot behind in order to move forward into a plausible future. He seems well-suited to this task in sensibility and intelligence. The task will surely include a degree of pretense that he is holding some familiar things together and propping up some touchstones of the comfortable life. But the truth is we are all going to the same unfamiliar new territory.
The economy we're moving into will have to be one of real work, producing real things of value, at a scale consistent with energy resource reality. I'm convinced that farming will come much closer to the center of economic life, as the death of petro-agribusiness makes food production a matter of life and death in America -- as opposed to the disaster of metabolic entertainment it is now.
Reorganizing the landscape itself for this finer-scaled new type of farming is a task fraught with political peril (land ownership questions being historically one of the main reasons that societies fall into revolution). The public is completely unprepared for this kind of change.
The crucial element in the transformation underway will be emotion. The American experience for a few generations has produced an adult population with very childish instincts, increasingly worse each decade. For instance, the desperate power fantasies among the younger tattooed lumpenproles -- those with next-to-zero real economic power -- suggest a certain unappetizing playing-out of resource competition when the supply of Cheez Doodles and Pepsi starts to dwindle.
But even the heretofore gainfully employed middle classes are pretty lost in fantasies at least of comfort an convenience. For years now, I have wondered how their sense of grievance and resentment will be expressed when the supermarket shelves run bare and the cardboard signs get taped over the local gas pump and the cable TV gets cut off for non-payment. You wonder, to put it bluntly, how far gone we really are.
For the first part of this article, go here.
Labels: james howard kunstler