Monday, November 28, 2011

Kunstler: "Your New American Dream"

Your New American Dream
By James Howard Kunstler on November 28, 2011 9:52 AM

It's really something to live in a country that doesn't know what it is doing in a world that doesn't know where it is going in a time when anything can happen. I hope you can get comfortable with uncertainty.

If there's one vibe emanating from this shadowy zeitgeist it's a sense of the total exhaustion of culture, in particular the way the world does business. Everything looks tired, played out, and most of all false. Governments can't really pay for what they do. Banks have no real money. Many households surely have no money. The human construct of money itself has become a shape-shifting phantom. Will it vanish into the vortex of unpaid debt until nobody has any? Or will there be plenty of worthless money that people can spend into futility? Either way they will be broke.

The looming fear whose name political leaders dare not speak is global depression, but that is not what we're in for. The term suggests a temporary sidetrack from the smooth operation of integrated advanced economies. We're heading into something quite different, a permanent departure from the standard conception of economic progress, the one in which there is always sure to be more comfort and convenience for everybody, the economy of automatic goodies.

A big part of the automatic economy was the idea of a "job." In its journey to the present moment, the idea became crusted with barnacles of illusion, especially that a "job" was a sort of commodity "produced" by large corporate enterprises or governments and rationally distributed like any other commodity; that it came with a goodie bag filled with guaranteed pensions, medical care to remediate bad living habits, vacations to places of programmed entertainment, a warm, well-lighted dwelling, and a big steel machine to travel around in. Now we witness with helpless despair as these illusions dissolve.

The situation at hand is not a "depression," though it may resemble the experience of the 1930s in the early going. It's the permanent re-set and reorganization of everyday life amidst a desperate scramble for resources. It will go on and on until there are far fewer people competing for things while the ones who endure construct new systems for daily living based on fewer resources used differently.

In North America I believe this re-set will involve the re-establishment of an economy centered on agriculture, with a lot of other activities supporting it, all done on a fine-grained local and regional scale. It must be impossible for many of us to imagine such an outcome - hence the futility of our current politics, with its hollow promises, its laughable battles over sexual behavior, its pitiful religious boasting, its empty statistical blather, all in the service of wishing the disintegrating past back into existence.

This desperation may be why our recently-acquired traditions seem especially automatic this holiday season. Of course the "consumers" line up outside the big box stores the day after the automatic Thanksgiving exercise in gluttony. That is what they're supposed to do this time of year. That is what has been on the cable TV news shows in recent years: see the crowds cheerfully huddled in their sleeping bags outside the Wal Mart... see them trample each other in the moment the doors open!

The biggest news story of a weekend stuporous from leftover turkey and ceremonial football was a $6.6 billion increase in "Black Friday" chain-store sales. All the attention to the numbers was a form of primitive augury to reassure superstitious economists - more than the catatonic public - that the automatic cargo cult would be operating normally at this crucial testing time. The larger objective is to get through the ordeal of Christmas.

I don't see how Europe gets through it financially. The jig is up there. Lovely as Europe has become since the debacles of the last century - all those adorable cities with their treasures of deliberately-created beauty - the system running it all is bankrupt. Europe is on financial death-watch and when the money stops flowing between its major organs, the banks, the whole region must either go dark or combust. Nobody really knows what will happen there, except they know that something will happen - and whatever it is portends disruption and loss for the worlds largest collective economy. The historical record is not reassuring.

If Europe's banks go down, many of America's will, too, maybe all of them, maybe our whole money system. I'm not sure that we will see a normal election cycle here in 2012. A few bank runs, bank failures... gasoline shortages here and there... the failure of some food deliveries to supermarkets in some region... these are the kinds of things that can bring down a political system drained of once-ironclad legitimacy. All that is left now is the husk of ritual - witness the failure of the senate-house "super-committee." The wash-out was so broadly anticipated that it was greeted with mere yawns of recognition. It would be like pointing at the sky and saying, "air there."

This holiday season spend a little time musing on what the re-set economy will be like in your part of the country. Think of what you do in it as a "role," or a "vocation," or a "trade," or a "calling," or a "way of life," rather than a "job." Imagine that life will surely go on, even civilized life, though it will be organized differently. Add to this the notion that you are part of a larger group, a society, and that societies evolve emergently according to the circumstances that their time and place presents. Let that imagining be your new American Dream.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving, Not Thanksgetting

Happy Thanksgiving. And you don't have to rush to the stores at midnight.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Five Misconceptions About Peak Oil

Here. Original version here. (Robert Rapier is based in Hawaii, which gives a distinct perspective--since the islands have no fossil fuels--on the problem of peak oil and the challenge of developing our own supplies of energy.)

Misconception 1: Peak Oil = Running Out of Oil

This one is surely the most common. Many articles that seek to debunk the notion of peak oil start with that premise, and then respond by highlighting historical instances where someone influential suggested that we could be running out of oil. In fact, anyone concerned about peak oil will readily acknowledge that we are going to be producing oil for a very long time, and when we stop there is still going to be a lot of oil left in the ground.

So what then is the definition of peak oil? In its simplest form, peak oil means that just as oil production in the United States peaked in 1970 and began to decline, so shall global production do the same. Once you get past that basic premise – one in which there is near-universal agreement once people understand that is what you mean when you say “peak oil” – there are many different opinions of exactly how events will unfold. The would-be peak oil debunkers are only addressing their arguments at one of the ways some people think this will play out, and then declaring that they have debunked peak oil.

(More at the above links.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Most Infandous Buggeries"

Kunstler on the Penn State abuse scandal.

17 November update: Browsing through an issue of New York, I found this story, newly relevant.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Kunstler: Winter Occupy's Valley Forge

Critical State
By James Howard Kunstler
on November 7, 2011 8:11 AM

Portents of winter and the toothless chatter of flag-draped traitors vies with a fog of lies spread by Koch Brother messenger boys, Reagan nostalgia hucksters, suck-ups in office, Murdoch empire servlings, Banker PR catamites, and Jesus terrorists to occupy the national mind-space with a narcotic Jell-O of half-formed wish fulfillment scams. The nation is hostage to a confederacy of racketeers. Banking. Big Pharma. The Higher Ed / Loan nexus. GMO agri-biz. Fast food. Mandatory motoring. You name it. What a disgrace we are, and the worst of us are the least to know that.

This winter will be the Occupy Movement's Valley Forge. [This and following links mine--P.Z.] An uneasy quiet may settle across this land blanketed in frozen dishonesty while OWS goes to the ground. Wait until next summer when the Occupiers head for the nominating conventions. Chicago in 1968 was nothing compared to what might go down in Charlotte, NC (Democrats) and Tampa, FLA (Republicans) in 2012. These two giant, useless, political bucket shops need to be put out of business and something else has to take their place. Who will be the new breed of genuine patriots? It would be nice to suppose that something noble and intelligent might emerge from the current miasma, a reality-based third party. But history isn't so reassuring.

I heard some rumors. Lawrence Kotlikoff at Boston University - the only economist in the USA with a coherent plan for banking, healthcare, tax, and entitlement reform - said on a podcast some weeks back that he was advising an un-named national figure who intends to mount a third party campaign. I didn't have a clue who that might be.

Last week in Virginia a professional political back-stager, who had worked for the DNC during the Howard Dean days, told me that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was stealthily hiring Hillary Clinton's old campaign staffers in seeming preparation for... something. Well, Bloomberg wouldn't have to take anybody else's money - and by "anybody" I mean especially the corporations because, you know, corporations are people, with free speech rights (and feelings!). It also happens that Bloomberg is neither a Republican or a Democrat, but a registered independent. Will he go to the ground, too, this winter like OWS, and wait for the public disgust to mount toward criticality? Hey, sometimes your country calls (for help!) and figures arise and they undertake what's necessary, even against type. Abe Lincoln, in 1859, was a railroad lawyer - the horror!

I have no idea who else might be waiting in the background, someone tortured with disgust by the leveraged buy-out of the American common good, someone capable of articulating the terms of the convulsion we face in national life if we don't start doing things differently. Surely in a population of 310 million you can find more than a few resolute personalities who refuse to just sit back and watch the sickening spectacle of inept vacillation.

Of course, the first order of business is to get corporate money out of politics. Are we capable of doing that? Can we legislate a redefinition of corporate "personhood?" After all, corporations have no allegiance whatsoever to the public interest, only to their shareholders and boards of directors. Who was the Supreme Court kidding when they proposed in 2010 that corporations have a personal stake in politics. Corporations are sociopaths. They need to be tasered!

The second order of business is to enforce the existing laws in money matters and bring back laws (e.g. the Glass-Steagall act) that were recklessly thrown away in the systematic bid to loot the working public; then move beyond that to contest the web of rackets that make it impossible for Americans to even take care of themselves.

The third order of business is to shut down the war industry and close hundreds of overseas military bases that are draining scarce public capital.

The fourth order of business is to prepare the US public for the realities of the post-Global economy and the post-cheap-energy way of life. Tell them the truth: we don't have "a hundred years" of natural gas. We can't drill-drill-drill our way to "energy independence." We have to get more local, less complex, finer, and leaner. Give the American people a clear sense of where circumstances are taking us, even if it is a tough assignment.

More likely, nobody will step forward to take on the two major parties. In which case, plan now to occupy the political conventions. Google-map your routes to Tampa and Charlotte (Home of Bank of America!). Stake out the campsites and cheap lodgings. Prepare to shame these organized grifters, and to turn their self-serving jamborees upside-down.

Wikipedia's comprehensive template of anti-government protests in the 21st century. As it shows, this is a time of great ferment, not the end of history.