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December 31, 2008 3:59 AM   Subscribe


 
On the one hand, I agree with a lot of what Kunstler says about the need to move away from a car-based society, among other things.

On the other hand, if schadenfreude was an energy source, that man could drive the entire North American power grid all by his lonesome.
posted by spoobnooble at 4:25 AM on December 31, 2008 [10 favorites]


I wonder if people in the future will ridicule capitalism the way that capitalists have ridiculed communism and socialism after the collapse of the USSR?
posted by SteveTheRed at 4:33 AM on December 31, 2008 [4 favorites]


16000 words? Give me a week.......
posted by micklaw at 4:35 AM on December 31, 2008


2nding spoobnooble.

Also,

the September Mumbai bombings

The caper in Mumbai last September could

November, not September.
posted by Gyan at 4:46 AM on December 31, 2008


I think he says a lot of smart things with the exception of this:

"I believe we will see them move to smaller towns and smaller cities."

It doesn't really follow. Granted, families and individuals are going to down-sizing their lifestyles, and I'd imagine owning a car might be one thing that people just don't want to deal with any longer. Insurance? Maintenance? I realize gas is cheaper now, but still. Moving to areas with decent public transit seems like the logical consequence of people who are now defaulting on their McMansions and looking for apartments.

If anything, the long and slow decline of American suburbia and small towns will continue.

And possibly more to the point, people still need jobs, even if they're taking lower wages than they're used to. Small town America simply doesn't have jobs any longer beyond the service industry.
posted by bardic at 4:53 AM on December 31, 2008


In a different thread I said that every now and again I read Kunstler's columns and break into a cold sweat, comforted only by the fact that his predictive capabilities may be thrown off a bit by his obvious desire to see North American society go down the tubes. Seriously, the dude thinks tattoos are a sign of our imminent societal collapse.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:55 AM on December 31, 2008 [5 favorites]


In a different thread I said that every now and again I read Kunstler's columns and break into a cold sweat, comforted only by the fact that his predictive capabilities may be thrown off a bit by his obvious desire to see North American society go down the tubes.

I'd say that in the last ten years, nobody's been more accurate with their predictions. Yes, he's pretty negative, and yes, he certainly has his ideas of what a more perfect country would look like, and yes, that involves a lot of people losing jobs, homes, etc. - but that has nothing to do with the fact that what the guy says makes sense, or that his predictions have played out much more accurately than any other social critic/prognosticator.
posted by billysumday at 5:15 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


tattoos are a sign of our imminent societal collapse.

A growth-based market based on tattoo output is unsustainable. In fact, one casts a wary eye on the very thought as it would necessarily devolve into a ponzi scheme. The skin of those seeking tattoos have limited surface area, and as they themselves seek to buy in as tattoo artists in order to recoup on their investemnt, they will find an ever-dwindling pool of tattoo-accepting patrons. Thus will the tattoo industry collapse into a giant steaming dung-heap beside the neglected, weed-strewn superhighway to empty suburbia.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:17 AM on December 31, 2008 [15 favorites]


So what has this guy predicted in the past? What are his big hits and misses?

Sum it up for me, please. I don't have time to read a dozen articles of this length.
posted by Nonce at 5:41 AM on December 31, 2008


Has anyone ever read "World Made By Hand"? I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it wasn't simply an angry polemic disguised as fiction - in fact, it was a very sweet story, and except for a couple of boring subplots was very well written - nearly as good as anything written by Flannery O'Connor.
posted by billysumday at 5:48 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, maybe I do have time to read more of what he's written. The TED Talk linked to in the post was wonderful. I recently went to Spain & Portugal for the first time, and I was struck by what a difference there is when cities actually have public space. So he at least makes good sense some of the time.
posted by Nonce at 6:03 AM on December 31, 2008


My hope for the year, at least for my own society, is that we will transition away from being a nation of complacent, distracted, over-fed clowns, to become a purposeful and responsible people willing to put their shoulders to the wheel to get some things done. My motto for the new year: "no more crybabies!"

Oh, great - he's a Mormon!
posted by billysumday at 6:10 AM on December 31, 2008


Don't spend more than you make.

This is a logical statement that most Americans simply can't deal with.
posted by bardic at 6:17 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


"live simply so that others may simply live"

i saw that on a bumper sticker the other day :P

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 6:41 AM on December 31, 2008


So what has this guy predicted in the past? What are his big hits and misses?

Don't use him as a guide on where the market is going. And I say that as someone who agrees with him about almost everything.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:58 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm up to "The Specter of Inflation" and so far almost everything he's said has rung true.
My dad wishes he had more land so he could grow some crops when the shit hits the fan.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:58 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Decades ago I bought a novel at a mall Waldenbooks by Kunstler. It seemed good to me as a teenager, but when I reread it recently, it came across as impossibly smug and heavy-handed. This may explain a lot.
posted by jonmc at 7:10 AM on December 31, 2008


Don't spend more than you make.

This is a logical statement that most Americans simply can't deal with.


You sound like someone who got an education for free.
posted by srboisvert at 7:32 AM on December 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


In other news, Kunstler predicts the Grim Meathook Future (™ and © Warren Ellis) is right around the corner, this time for real, honest. He sneers at "MIT-certified, high-achiever Status Quo techno-triumphalists" and "Harvard graduates who believe that all the drive-in espresso stations in America can be run on a combination of solar and wind power". because developing alternative energy sources isn't how he wants the story to end. In other words, what spoobnooble said.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:37 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think he says a lot of smart things with the exception of this:

"I believe we will see them move to smaller towns and smaller cities."


I think there are actually two background bits there from Kunstler's previous writings: one, Kunstler has long been an advocate for liveable smalltowns, so he may be injecting some wishful thinking. And two, my understanding of his dystopian future scenario is that he thinks there will be general shortages of energy, not just of oil, such that some of the gears and pulleys that run modern cities will break down or become uneconomical, pumping water, elevators and escalators, air conditioning, you name it.

(Not saying that as advocacy, just trying to link this line with previous bits I've run across. I kind of like Kunstler, glad he's there mixing things up, don't think I agree with him on everything.)
posted by gimonca at 7:47 AM on December 31, 2008


nearly as good as anything written by Flannery O'Connor.

Seriously? World Made By Hand is...pretty bad, both as a novel and as a further exploration of Kunster's Long Emergency ideas. The worst (or most amusing, depending on your point of view) part of the novel is the Queen Bee bit at the end. And I really loved how all the women just sat back there and (literally) serviced the men. It's more of a Kunstler fantasia than anything else.

But if you like post-apocalyptic fic (as I do), get it from the library and prepare to be amused. And then read The Long Emergency - it's a much better book.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:57 AM on December 31, 2008


Ever since the publication of Kunstler's above-linked Rolling Stone article, The Long Emergency, I've periodically read his blog to keep tabs on worst case scenarios, especially since the status quo of Bush era can be characterized by its willful refusal by both the government and the media to consider such things or even take the long view. Despite Kunstler providing some useful links occasionally, his bone-deep animus toward car-culture suburbia places his writing in the category of Juvenalian satire rather than formal prognostication.

This piece's I-told-you-so conclusion (no surprises) is that "People will starve, lose their homes, lose incomes and status, and lose the security of living in peaceful societies. It will become clear that the Long Emergency is underway." At least Cassandra didn't sound as though she was secretly looking forward to being proved right.

Meanwhile, I'm anxiously hoping that the Obama administration is capable of setting aside the mandatory optimism of campaigning and making realistic and ruthless energy, agriculture, and infrastructure policies - we've all but run out of time for the alternatives.
posted by Doktor Zed at 8:00 AM on December 31, 2008


I don't think Kunstler is asking anyone to agree with him on everything. His two chief points seem to be:

1) Modernist architecture, particularly since WWII, has created places so generic and uninviting as to not be worth caring about. In many of the communities built since the turn of the 20th century, Wal-Marts and strip malls have very much made this the case.

2) Our increasing dependence on the automobile and the impending energy crisis will force us to live a more compacted lifestyle in neighborhoods with multi-use buildings. He's obviously not the first or the last person to make this claim.

He makes a number of additional anecdotal points about the connection between urban design and other social ills which are not necessarily air-tight, but certainly worthy of consideration. I can tell you personally that it's very difficult in Des Moines to feel comfortable in your urban environment without a car. Keep in mind that "without a car" means everyone under 16, those too poor to own a car, those who by age or disability can no longer drive, and those who would rather cut back on their carbon footprint. That's a huge chunk of society to leave disenfranchised and under stress just by leaving their house.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:05 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Modernist architecture,

I don't think you mean Modernist. I think you mean 'architecture as it is practiced in the modern era'. Two hugely different things.
posted by spicynuts at 8:30 AM on December 31, 2008


Modernist architecture, particularly since WWII, has created places so generic and uninviting as to not be worth caring about. In many of the communities built since the turn of the 20th century, Wal-Marts and strip malls have very much made this the case.

His books Geography from Nowhere and Home from Nowhere expound on this point magnificently. In fact, those books are the primary reason I got a degree in urban planning.
posted by desjardins at 8:35 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


all the women just sat back there and (literally) serviced the men. It's more of a Kunstler fantasia than anything else.

Ew. Unsettling. I read this thread about an hour ago and have since been able to dismiss from my mind the fear that the rights of women and the GLBT will inevitably evaporate into nothing in this maybe-near post-apocalyptic world. Having not read Kunstler (my sanity -- or is it my dumb infotainment-addicted delusional state? -- depends on it) I wonder what he thinks about us queers. Or does he keep his mouth shut about such things?

And should I start to believe again, as I did when I was a morose teenager obsessed with the shocking literature of the endtimes, that we can do nothing to keep ourselves from a tailspin into a brutal, cruel world -- even with its silver linings of gentle women knowing their place?
posted by theefixedstars at 8:38 AM on December 31, 2008


nearly as good as anything written by Flannery O'Connor.

Seriously?


Yeah, seriously. It was very well written, surprisingly so. And I thought that the Queen Bee bit would have fit well as an odd passage in Wise Blood. Now, the adventure to Albany to rescue the men from the plantation was a bit bland and pointless, but the scene of the "Mayor" and his mother was perfect. Reminded me of Johnny Depp walking into the boss's office in Dead Man. Anyway, to each his own, but I thought that The Long Emergency was redundant and petty. And I thought that Kunstler's strange desire to see this culture destroyed and replaced by 18th century living is more appropriately and accessibly packaged in his fiction than in his essays - I get the feeling that he was having a lot more fun, and wasn't taking himself nearly as seriously, when he wrote World Made by Hand.
posted by billysumday at 8:44 AM on December 31, 2008


I wonder what he thinks about us queers. Or does he keep his mouth shut about such things

You don't exist. At least, there is no mention of anything GLBT in World Made By Hand. You're not alone though. There are no minorities either.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:00 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


That Ted conference talk was great.
posted by Toecutter at 9:06 AM on December 31, 2008


Every time I read Kuntsler I think he's not predicting, only projecting.

Anyone with two brain cells and a smattering of history could have seen everything coming. Housing was a classic bubble. Oil was in a bubble. When bubbles pop, people panic. Eventually, those who are not frozen in fear use the panic to their advantage.

My prediction for 2009? It will suck. Horribly. Those who pay cash will have serious power. Those who aren't working right now to minimize debt are putting themselves at risk.

New Depression, though? Hardly. Right now most of the CPI decline is in oil. It has to bottom. At $25/barrel you're essentially at 1983 prices -- and cheap oil is what fueled the 80s boom.

This is a recession that must play out, though. If the economy, fueled by cheap oil, takes off in the second half of 2009, we'll have brutal inflation.

Grow your own food? Absolutely -- but not because of a fear of no food, but because it's a good thing to do and gets dirt under your fingernails.

As for the "return of small towns" that makes Kuntsler's schlong hard? I'm in small town America right now, and it's dying. Distances already require a car -- it's 15 miles to the old market town. There's nothing to compel anyone to stay.

His short-term predictions might look right, but they don't add up to the long term prediction he so wants.
posted by dw at 9:10 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


You don't exist. At least, there is no mention of anything GLBT in World Made By Hand. You're not alone though. There are no minorities either.

This brings up an interesting point. Will identity politics remain in the long emergency? And by the by, ethnic and racial strife is actually a pretty significant chunk of the story - indeed, it's why the New Faithers moved up to Union Grove, to get away from the race wars of Philadelphia. It's not that Kunstler ignores race - rather, he has such a gloomy view of human nature that he believes society will break down along color lines soon after shit starts hitting the fan.
posted by billysumday at 9:13 AM on December 31, 2008


While he's a great speaker, and seems to have assembled a large number of words together coherently, this jumped right out at me:
I'm sure the ever-growing cohort of American anti-semites who send me emails will be tickled when I assert that the Hamas rocket attacks against Israel of recent days guaranteed a sharp response from Israel -- and now, of course, Hamas is playing the crybaby card: "... what'd we do to deserve this...?" Well, you fucking fired a bunch rockets into Israel. Did you ever hear of cause-and-effect? This matter requires no further elucidation, except that it seems to suggest a ramping back up of hostilities. I wonder if it is the beginning of a new coordinated offensive by Islamic extremism aimed at taking advantage of the West's current economic plight (and the West's probable aversion to anything that will complicate its desired recovery). We'll know in a month or so, I think, since any coordinated campaign (if such a thing were possible) might well be aimed at confounding the new American president.
I'm very confused by the otherwise long perspective of the author in the light of the narrow view of this paragraph. I thought equating anti-semitism with criticism of Israel was a marker of ... well, is that defensiveness, ill-informedness, middle-eastern 'manifest destiny' or ... a person who selectively interprets facts to suit their argument?
Which is a shame, as I was enjoying the end-of-year doom-mongering up to that point.
posted by davemee at 9:27 AM on December 31, 2008


Ah, that's true - forgot about the Philadelphia race wars. It does seem weird that there are no black/asian/hispanic/insert non-white race individuals in upstate New York though. Maybe they were eliminated in a local form of ethnic cleansing and Kunstler forgot to mention it.

In any case, besides the (IMO) bad writing, my big bone to pick with WMBH is the completely unrealistic lethargy that everyone (except the cult members) is apparently suffering from. I sort of wonder how much time Kunstler has actually spent in rural/developing countries - people are incredibly creative and inventive, particularly when they're hungry and poor. Americans aren't just going to sit there and starve, even if the large majority of them were obese office/retail workers in their pre-Collapse lives.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:30 AM on December 31, 2008


At $25/barrel you're essentially at 1983 prices -- and cheap oil is what fueled the 80s boom.

Two words: demand destruction.

If there are ten people fighting over nine sandwiches, things are tight. If six of those people get too weak to fight, hey, sandwich surplus! Unfortunately the sandwich chef works on a geological timetable so the supply of sandwiches is not actually increasing.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:34 AM on December 31, 2008 [4 favorites]


I'm in small town America right now, and it's dying. Distances already require a car -- it's 15 miles to the old market town. There's nothing to compel anyone to stay.

Agreed. We were in a medium sized town from 2005 to 2008 (a house in town and acreage outside it) to see if the simple life was working for us -- and hoping that the drive towards telecommuting, flourishing of the Internet, people avoiding the pitfalls of buying in suburbia, and so forth would drive more professionals (well, social/intellectual peers) out our way. The reverse seemed to be true and my optimism for the area faded. So due to this PLUS some other unrelated factors we've moved near a big city again; we're a bit happier. I suppose if there is any move towards the simple life it's probably to exurbs and small towns directly around small cities in little stages.
posted by crapmatic at 9:36 AM on December 31, 2008


I think we read different books. Nobody suffered from lethargy, indeed everyone in the book was pretty resourceful. As far as creativity/resourcefulness, there's the Karp crew, who created their little village out of salvaged goods. And then the stately duke with his plantation, pretty resourceful. They had electricity, lots to eat, organization, etc. The dentist who used an old drill, everybody making new wines and whiskeys and different sorts of breads and things.
posted by billysumday at 9:39 AM on December 31, 2008


People love interesting writing.
posted by Zambrano at 9:42 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't think Kunstler is asking anyone to agree with him on everything.

That I actually agree with.
posted by gimonca at 9:53 AM on December 31, 2008


Well, that's how Brother Jobe described the community ("sunk in laxness and lassitude"), and it's a critique the main narrator makes as well when he requests that they call a town meeting. The arrival of the cult is basically the only reason Earle gets off his ass.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:56 AM on December 31, 2008


I'd say that in the last ten years, nobody's been more accurate with their predictions.

I'd say this overstates it quite a bit - among other things, Kunstler was convinced the Y2K bug would unleash mass catastrophe.

That said, the general thrust of his argument(s) - that an oil-dependent lifestyle lived primarily amid farflung palaces of consumption has reached its natural end - is to my mind quite convincing, and it's a necessary counterweight to blind the techno-optimism that suggests clean coal and the Chevy Volt will allow another half-century of consumerist growth like the one just passed.

And that said, I think Kunstler's biggest mistake is to extrapolate from known conditions that rightfully suggest emerging chaos in complex systems to bedrock certainties. Peak oil is a reality, and it will likely compel a radical relocalization of modern life; it does not inevitably follow that the process will look exactly like Kunstler says it will nor that it'll unfold as rapidly as he thinks. Our energy delivery systems can't be sustained much longer, and existing green/cleantech can't meet the predicted shortfall if it doesn't radically expand and improve and innovate; Kunstler is doubtful to the point of smirking dismissal that it can improve quickly enough, which makes him blind to the fact that clean-energy technology is in fact expanding and improving and innovating at unprecedented rates. And so forth.

Kunstler's a wildly entertaining speaker, insightful and biting and hilariously funny, and you can tell when you see him live that he just loves his hellfire-and-brimstone rhetorical fluorishes. He'd likely hate the comparison, but he builds to crescendos like a Puritan preacher in full jeremiad mode. I think he finds the internal momentum of his arguments so convincing that he is dismissive of alternate scenarios, and he has zero faith in the ability of democratic institutions, the mass market or the public in general to embrace a sustainable way of life at anything other than the spearpoint of an angry post-apocalyptic mob.

Is his scenario plausible? More or less. But that doesn't make it inevitable. I'd recommend Thomas Homer-Dixon's Upside of Down as a less brimstone-inflected take on these emerging challenges.
posted by gompa at 10:02 AM on December 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


. . . "a neccessary counterweight to the blind techno-optimism," that is . . .
posted by gompa at 10:03 AM on December 31, 2008


I'd say that a comparison of Kunstler to a Puritan preacher is very appropriate, since he's an exemplar of what I call "Neo-hippy Puritanism". The basic precepts are that Capitalism is sinful, cities and suburbs are sinful, consumption is sinful, and this whole sinful edifice of modern civilization is about to topple annd collapse, Real Soon Now. the only ones who will be save are the ones to move to rural enclaves straight out of the 19th century, where they will farm, make soap by hand, and women will do whatever their menfolk tell them to do.

It's not surprising that his attitude toward women is straight out of the 1970s, since everything about him is straight out of the 1970s. It's a sign that everything that was old comes into fashion again, since 1970s doomsaying is now back in vogue again.
posted by happyroach at 10:45 AM on December 31, 2008 [10 favorites]


From Adam Cadre's recent review of World Made by Hand:

Kunstler skips over the interesting part — the transition from the world of today to the "world made by hand" — and opens the book in a Hudson Valley town that has already settled into a standard of living roughly equivalent to that in the year 1800. Same technology, same population levels, same social structure — Kunstler casually avers that basically as soon as the electricity went out women silently stepped back into basket-weaving and butter-churning and let the menfolk run things. There are a number of problems here. One is that the characters, even the younger ones, are set up as being issei: they were big-city software engineers and corporate executives and things as recently as fifteen or twenty years ago. Now they're farmers and carpenters and things — fair enough — but we're supposed to believe that this automatically turns them into rustics? There are several conversations that go something along these lines:
"Say, you remember that there Mountain Dew?"
"I surely do. Had it in the break room back at Centrex Systems."
"Mountain Dew'd go down real smooth about now."
"You said a dadgum mouthful. Even if it was full a' chemicals."
"Reckon that attitude got us in this fix, though."
"Maybe so. Could be we're better off now."
"Leastwise there's no grunge music. Pass the applejack."
posted by Iridic at 10:49 AM on December 31, 2008 [5 favorites]


I'd love to see a debate between Kunstler and Naomi Klein.
posted by waraw at 11:34 AM on December 31, 2008


Okay, so everything is going to hell. Thank you. I am, unfortunately, cutting back on my newsletter subscriptions this year, but do continue to blog about the end of the modern world.

I especially like the way assertions and facts become indistinguishable, well done. Yes, well done.

Next!
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:08 PM on December 31, 2008


I'd love to see a debate between Kunstler and Naomi Klein.

MOD: Be it resolved that the world is going to hell in a handcart.

Kunstler: Actually, it'd be better if there were more handcarts. Trouble is we're going to the HellWorks big box emporium in an eight-cylinder, ten-cup-holder SUV.

Klein: I agree completely about the direction, but it's delusional and unfair to the Global South to claim we're all driving there. The real problem is that elaborately orchestrated disasters are creating an illusion of hell, a sort of false consciousness derived from these manufactured hells, which in turn allows handcart-peddling multinationals to force their kleptocratic partners who govern developing countries into buying into a handcart-driven, hellbound economic model that only serves Big Handcart.

Kunstler: If the handcart cartels were really that smart, would they have allowed their share prices to fall 80 percent in the last three months?

Klein: Yes, because they are blind Friedman devotees, building the very handcarts that'll take them to hell.

Kunster: Nah, they're a bunch of fat carbon blobs stuffing their faces while the handcart drives off a cliff.

Klein: Elaborate, orchestrated plan.

Kunstler: Plug-dumb accident.

Klein: Chicago School!

Kunstler: Peak oil!

MOD: If I may interrupt, can it safely be said that neither of you thinks we're headed anywhere but hell?

Klein: Well, of course.

Kunstler: Obviously.
posted by gompa at 12:08 PM on December 31, 2008 [14 favorites]






"You sound like someone who got an education for free."

I had scholarships for both of my degrees. I guess you could argue that structurally my parents were in an assumed socio-economic position that allowed for this to happen. I dunno. I took dem standardized tests reel gud, got me educmakated.
posted by bardic at 2:28 PM on December 31, 2008


Seems to me that if Kunstler views economic collapse and a return to hard living as a potentially healthy thing, the least I can do is not buy any of his books.

Ultimately, his "science won't do it because science can't do it" attitude is where he's wrong. Science has done it before, and I strongly suspect it will do it again.

Need a little informed optimism to counter Kunstler's fiction? Start watching two minutes in to this video with Steven Chu, Nobel laureate / Barack Obama's Energy Secretary, (or, for more details, about 39 minutes into this video) and you'll begin to understand that Kunstler's fantasy world is based on something from long, long ago, and not on our future.

And if you want a really bright future, well... there are plenty of alternatives out there, based upon natural processes... which, last time I heard, can work pretty well.

We don't need a half-dozen great innovations to make Kunstler's future a fantasy... we just need 25 years of reliable progress, or one big step forward.
posted by markkraft at 3:56 PM on December 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


Here's a lesson that I learned from studying a lot of history: empires do not fix their own problems. The problems grow and fester and get worse and worse until the empire collapses. I can't think of a single exception. Kunstler believes the US could be an exception. I think he is dreaming. But I still eagerly read his column every Monday. The guy can really turn a phrase now and then.
posted by telstar at 4:17 PM on December 31, 2008


"empires do not fix their own problems"

The problem is global, so why even bring up empires?!

And yes, oftentimes, global problems do, in fact, get solved... or at least indefinitely delayed.

Just ask Malthus!
posted by markkraft at 4:42 PM on December 31, 2008


The one place I disagree with Mr. Kunstler is that I don't think most people are blissfully unaware of the world going to hell in a hand basket. It's just that they're 'regular people'. Which mostly means they aren't successful authors who can afford to move to old mill towns in upstate New York.

A great many people see things coming, and are doing what they can. For example, you couldn't get certain brands of freeze-dried food in cans all last summer and fall because of the stupendous demand. Closer to home, one of the nearby homeowner associations is actively encouraging people to dig up their backyards and plant food. The problem is not a lack of awareness.

I think the phenomenon at work here is quite simple: It is, to use a technical phrase, a major bummer to contemplate a future such as the one Kunstler portrays in A World Made by Hand. Most especially when you've also read The Long Emergency and realize that he thinks that only New England will still resemble something like the United States of today. According to him, the rest of the nation will suffer varying degrees of racial strife and strongman politics. Not to mention chronic lawlessness and common cruelty. Hell, even slavery may make a comeback.

So how is it that regular people are meant to face such a future? I think Kunstler would agree that we haven't gotten to the SHTF point yet where you make a break for it if you want to live. So in the meantime people still need to feed their families, pay their bills, etc. They can't afford to to make any kind of elaborate preparations or move to New England as he prescribes. So they buy some extra spaghetti sauce when they shop and maybe plant a garden.

Mostly though, unless they already live someplace 'safe', they hope for the best because whistling past the graveyard is their only viable option.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:25 PM on December 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


This used to be real estate, now it's only fields and trees.
(what used to be a pleasantly amusing ditty is now becoming somewhat disturbing, on repeated listenings)
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:28 PM on December 31, 2008 [2 favorites]


I too look forward to his column every Monday. I enjoyed The Long Emergency and thought it was quite good, with the exception of his claim that, for some reason, Asian pirates will sail to the Pacific Northwest after the collapse. That was just silly.
posted by alpinist at 7:36 PM on December 31, 2008


Kunstler's vision of the collapse sounds like something out of The Road or The Turner Diaries.

The decline will not be so dramatic.

Imagine the conditions of daily life in New York City in the mid-seventies. Grubby. Poor. Violent. Ineffectual law enforcement. No economic growth or jobs. But the system survived. Citizens voted for candidates. The people who still had jobs had a daily commute. People read the newspaper. While some were drawn to radical ideas, both right and left, the legitimacy of the system was never seriously questioned.

That's what the "collapse" will be like. Falling living standards. Increases in violence, crime and disorder. Some racial tension, occasionally escalating into Bad Shit, but not as much as in the past.

But the system will survive. Life will go on.

This vision of the future is not as interesting or fun to talk about as Kunstler's but I personally think it's more accurate.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:49 PM on December 31, 2008 [3 favorites]


I will join longdaysjourney in saying that the book World Made By Hand was worth one quick read, if that. I love end-of-the-world fantasies so much that I bought this while it was still in hardback, and it was good for one quick read, if that.

It was utterly forgettable except for one terribly violent scene (note to Kuntsler: read Stephen King to discover how to terrify your readers without being so literal that it's just crass and disgusting).

Though I do love Kuntsler's snark about modernist architecture and hope he develops into a better fiction writer.
posted by salvia at 11:29 PM on December 31, 2008


the kunstlercast hosted by duncan crary is both informatve and entertaining. recently they caught up with a town mayor during a victorian stroll and it was hilarious, just like tapping into "the wire"
posted by paradise at 11:16 AM on January 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem is global, so why even bring up empires?!

Denying the US empire is so ten years ago.
posted by telstar at 4:36 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, it being Monday, I checked in with Kunstler. I was reading along and then once again, he came up with the lame-ass Michael Ledeen argument that because of 9/11 the US had to kick some ass, never mind whose ass. I realized I had seen this before from Kunstler but wrote it off as a bad burrito or something. But he's confirmed it: he's a jerk, who cannot think. I've removed his blog from my bookmarks and RSS. I'll check in in a year or so and see what his latest doom-leading-to-the-home-milk-churn ridiculousness is.
posted by telstar at 11:55 PM on January 5, 2009


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