The press wet its small-clothes over Mitt Romney's ebullience in last Thursday's so-called debate, as these joint interview contests are styled these days. What a jaunty fellow Mitt came off as, compared to poor Mr. Obama, cloaked in presidential gloom, the wearisome woes of high office and all that - or perhaps just some indigestible tidbit served out of Air Force One's galley, an infected cocktail weenie, a shrimp with attitude, or an empanada with the E coli blues, who knows....
To be sure, Mr. Romney's ebullience had a crafted tang to it, like one of those pumpkin-flavored beers made for the season, especially since all that verve was employed in the service of ebullient lying, statistical confabulation, and self-contradiction. At times his sheer manic zest veered in the direction of what used to be called hebephrenia in the old clinical sense of someone euphorically out-of-touch with reality.
Alienation from reality being at the very core of the current zeitgeist, the American public can only admire somebody who displays such a buoyant disregard for what is actually happening in the universe. To me, Mr. Romney just gave off the odor of someone who will do anything to get elected while Mr. Obama evinced the dejection of someone doubting it was worth it.
Of course, the issues this time around are framed with the presumption that all the current rackets of political economy can be kept running - everything from Fannie Mae to Medicare to suburbia to the systematic looting of the future by the Federal Reserve's shell-game operations with every loser bond instrument lately fobbed off on hopelessly rigged markets - which is exactly the opposite of what reality has in store for us. In fact, the salient feature of these times is the remorseless running down of all these rackets to their entropic end points.
The sad part is that everyone from the leadership down to the lowly clientele of food stamps and gamed disability payments is locked into the vast array of rackets that constitute our national life, and the truth of their failure thresholds is too terrifying to entertain. What to many appears to be a "conspiracy of elites" is just our way of life. Evidence of this is the increasingly eerie way that the financial crimes of recent years somehow vanish into the ethers of history without any official notice from either the media or the police powers of society. In a very serious time, we are just not a serious people. Anything goes and nothing matters.
The central reality broadly ignored is the unavoidable contraction of industrial economies all over the world. The action is especially brutal in the USA, which actually gave up on the nuts-and-bolts of industrial production beginning in the 1970s, but managed to cream off other nation's exertions by reserve currency hocus-pocus, pervasive executive control fraud, and a reckless spewage of glitzy "consumer" service infrastructure over the landscape, which gave the appearance of vitality in the absence of value creation - the exact specialty, by the way, of predatory private equity squads like Mitt Romney's Bain Capital. All of this was enabled by the last gasps of cheap oil, and without it our whole way of life craps out, including the creaming off of leftovers. And this illness of advanced economies is now spreading all over the world.
You would think that the question of what we will do about all this might be at issue in the current election - how we might deliberately face the tasks of reorganizing farming, commerce, transportation, banking, schooling, and all the other practical matters of existence. There is an awful lot to talk about, and much to be done, but nobody is interested. Instead, we've mounted a foolish campaign to keep all the old rackets running, and there is no fundamental difference between Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama on that. The empty pageantry of these debates dresses this dangerous madness in the raiment of clowning.
All of this has consequences, of course, but in a society that has ditched all sense of consequence nobody can pay attention to that either. The poet W.H. Auden called his time "a low, dishonest decade." Bad as the 1930s were, the stakes are even higher now, and our clownish inattention conceals darker falsities that could make that terrible era seem quaint.
For a complete list of books by James Howard Kunstler and purchase links, click here.