by James Howard Kunstler
Something is sucking the air out of the humid terrarium that is US politics, making the lizards, tarantulas, and scorpions within hyperventilate. That something is the vacuum of disappearing wealth. All the accounting fraud, statistical mis-reporting, price manipulations, naked-short beat-downs, high-speed arbitrage hijinks, and carry trade rackets can’t conceal the reality that the nation is going broke – at least 99 percent of the nation. The remaining 1 percenters, outside the terrarium, are swimming in a pool of notional wealth that is primed to go down the drain and leave them at the bottom, desiccated little husks of animal matter that the crows will feed on.
The reason nobody seems to know what to do is because they know anything they do will make them look bad, so the only thing to do is nothing, with a sound track of lizard squawks and much darting of forked tongues. Nature is now in charge, not personalities, and nature is now leading a purblind humanity to the place it has to go, which is smaller, simpler, and local. The flailings and squawking of politicians can only avail to make the journey more painful and disorderly, but the march is on.
Leadership in every realm — politics, business, the ivory tower, media — does not grasp that the terms for carrying on the human project have changed. The agenda now is to go medieval, and not in the Pulp Fiction sense, but in our arrangements for daily life. We are being asked by nature to say goodbye gracefully to the hubris known as the current edition of modernity. If we don’t do this gracefully, nature will kick our ass out of it and drag the stragglers along kicking and screaming into the next disposition of things. That is pretty much the true subtext of the struggle in government this season, but it is not being translated at the conscious level into a coherent narrative that the public can understand. The failure of narratives produces a failure of leadership. Failures of leadership lead to failures of action.
I can especially understand this after being in a particular part of the USA for three days last week: Orange County, California, specifically the fiasco known as Irvine. This so-called “city” was once a ranch comprising hundreds of thousands of acres consolidated out of old Spanish land grants by one James Irvine, an Irish immigrant who made a fortune selling groceries and dry goods during the California Gold Rush and parlayed it into real estate — including eventually the nearly 200-square-mile tract of creosote bush and sagebrush forty-odd miles south of nascent Los Angeles. The so-called city named after Mr. Irvine — and still largely controlled by a private real estate development company he founded — prides itself on being rationally planned. By this they mean that all the angles have been figured out for producing massive volumes of exquisitely-tuned suburban sprawl at a nice profit.
One thing this demonstrates is that rational planning is not the same thing as intelligence because the end result on-the-ground is a nightmare of the most extreme car dependency in the nation, arguably even worse than Los Angeles. That it is also a nightmare of crushing uniformity, disconnection, boredom, and ennui probably matters less because the essence of the place’s character is that it has no future. There is absolutely no way that the American people can continue their Happy Motoring frolic for another generation, yet the Irvine Company is still busy slapping together new monocultures of housing pods, strip malls, and all the other usual furnishings with the kind of stupid confidence of people intoxicated on Rotary Club bullshit — which is to say zeal minus consciousness. It is the same frame-of-mind that produces the famous Orange County right wing politics.
Orange County, and places like it, represent a tremendous tragic problem for this country. They were the products of emergent economic forces that humans only pretended to control with their vaunted rational planning. They almost certainly cannot be fixed. They’re too big and the money won’t be there; it’s the essence of our predicament that capital formation is crippled and that situation will only get worse.These places will enter a state of widespread crisis within the next ten years, and possibly much sooner. The people who live there will see their property lose all its value, and then they will have to make choices about where to move to. In the process, they will dig in their heels, cause an immense amount of political mischief, and eventually lose anyway.
The emergent path of going medieval means living in smaller, tighter towns and doing some kind of business, or working some kind of trade, that is based in the economy of the town and its region. Under these conditions, things like the federal government are destined to wither. The dumbshow underway in Washington these days is just a symptom of all that.
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