Do you know why scenes or even just shots of freeways so seldom appear in the movies we watch? Because they are so depressing that nobody can stand to see them. The jolts of terror that you get in a horror movie at least inform you that you’re alive, but the sight of a freeway only reminds you of what it’s like to be dead.
By extension, the true condition of the USA is too depressing to think about, and that’s largely the reason for our political paralysis. The “fiscal cliff” is only one step on a stairway to a different disposition of things, a world made by hand, in which we will no longer be prisoners of the freeway or hostages of the WalMart corporation, and I’m in favor of hastening the journey to get there rather than waste what remains of our wealth and spirits in futile rear-guard actions to stay where we are. There may be fewer frenzied days of Christmas shopping in that future world, but the company will be better, and the music will include the sound of your own voice.
It’s not that hard to imagine where history is taking us, if you accept the fact that it means a very different shape and texture of daily life. For instance: the jobs problem. We seem disappointed that none of our policy dodges — money-printing, stimulus packages, bailouts, wars — can bring back the working-stiff paradise of 1965 in which assembly line workers made as much money as tenured college professors and a year at the State U cost $500.
I don’t happen to be a political conservative in the standard sense, but the right-wingers have a point when they say there are a lot of idle people out there who can’t be supported forever by transfer payments. A lot of positions will be opening up in agriculture, but not in the way it is practiced today. The Agri-biz model of food production is not going to be operating much longer. We’re on the verge of a world food crisis that will provoke a complete revolution in farming, from the giant scale to the small and local scale, from industry to husbandry, from automation to loving care. The transition might not be a smooth one, since it entails questions of land ownership that, historically, get settled by political upheavals. But eventually we’ll get to that place of social re-set and there will be plenty of work for even the partially able-bodied. Hard to imagine, I know.
The future is quite the opposite of the robotic wet dream currently being sold out of the corporate propaganda mills. It’s much more likely that human labor (and human attention!) will be needed in millions of local economic niches, since rebuilding local economies is at the heart of that future. This will be true in the activities that support local agriculture, but also in rebuilding Main Street commercial networks, the physical reconstruction of towns and neighborhoods to replace failed suburbs and failed giant metroplex cities, in transportation, education, and medicine, and in running households that are organized differently than today’s familiar McHouses.
Right now the political process is resisting any effort to imagine that future, the aforementioned right-wingers most of all, despite their recognition of the transfer payment trap. More disturbing, though, is the likely apprehension by those in authority that the current arrangement of things is dangerously fragile. They are hostages to their own unwillingness to imagine living differently. So, doing nothing to upset the current system of organized complexity seems like the only safe option.
These implacable forces of history cannot be held back forever and will only move toward greater criticality in 2013. My annual forecast on these questions will come out next week in this space. Meantime, find whatever joy you can in the frantic exertions of Christmas, as practiced today, mostly on the freeway, coming and going to and from the WalMart or Target or TJ Max — and if you happen to be on the path to living differently tell us what your Christmas is like in the comments roll.
For a complete list of books by James Howard Kunstler and purchase links, CLICK HERE.