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The Dreamtime

by James Howard Kunstler

     The idea that techno-industrial society is headed toward a collapse has become very unpopular the last couple of years. Thoughts (and fears) about it have been replaced by a kind of grand redemption fantasy that bears the same relation to economics that masturbation has to pornography. One way to sum up the current psychological state of the nation is that an awful lot of people who ought to know better don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground anymore. We’re witnessing the implosion of the American hive mind.

     This is what comes of divorcing truth from reality, and that process is exactly what you get in the effort to replace authentic economic activity with accounting fraud and propaganda. For five years, the Federal Reserve has been trying to offset a permanent and necessary contraction of techno-industrialism by lobbing mortar rounds of so-called “money” into its crony “primary dealer” banks in order to fuel interest rate carry trades that produce an echo in the stock markets. An echo, let us be clear, is the ghost of something, not the thing itself — in this case: value.

     The permanent contraction of techno-industrialism is necessary because the main fuel for running it has become scarcer and rather expensive, too expensive really to run the infrastructure of the United States. That infrastructure cannot be replaced now without a great deal of capital sacrifice. Paul Krugman — whom other observers unironically call Dr. Paul Krugman, conferring shamanic powers on him — wrote a supremely stupid op-ed in The New York Times today (“Stranded by Sprawl”), as though he had only noticed over the past week that the favored development pattern of our country has had adverse economic consequences. Gosh, ya think?

     Meanwhile, the public has been sold a story by nervous and wishful upholders of the status quo that we have no problem with our primary resource due to the shale oil and shale gas bonanzas that would make us “energy independent” and “the world’s leading oil exporter — Saudi America!” A related story along these lines is the imminent “American industrial renaissance.” What they leave out is that, if actually true, it would be a renaissance of robots, leaving the former (and long ago) well-paid American working class to stew in its patrimony of methadrine, incest, and tattoo “art.”

    To put it as simply as possible, the main task before this society is to change the way we live. The necessary changes are so severe and represent so much loss of previous investment that we can’t bring ourselves to think about it. For instance, both the suburbs and the big cities are toast. The destiny of the suburbs is to become slums, salvage yards, and ruins. The destiny of the big cities is to become Detroit — though most of America’s big cities (Atlanta, Houston) are hybrid monstrosities of suburbs and cities, and they will suffer the most. It is not recognized by economic poobahs such as Dr. Krugman and Thomas Friedman that the principal economic activity of Dixieland the past half century was the manufacture of suburban sprawl and now that the endeavor is over, the result can be seen in the millions of unemployed Ford F-110 owners drinking themselves into an incipient political fury.

     Then where will the people live? They will live in smaller cities and cities that succeed in downsizing sharply and in America’s currently neglected and desolate small towns and upon a landscape drastically refitted for a post-techo-industrial life that is as far removed from a Ray Kurzweil “Singularity” fantasy as the idea of civic virtue is removed from Lawrence Summers. The people will live in places with a meaningful relationship to food production.

     Many of those aforementioned swindled, misled, and debauched lumpen folk (having finally sold off their Ford-F110s) will eventually see their prospects migrate back into the realm of agriculture, or at least their surviving progeny will, as the sugar-tit of federal benefits melts away to zero, and by then the population will be much lower. These days, surely, the idea of physical labor in the sorghum rows is abhorrent to a 325-pound food-stamp recipient lounging in an air-conditioned trailer engrossed in the televised adventures of Kim Kardashian and her celebrated vagina while feasting on a KFC 10-piece bundle and a 32 oz Mountain Dew. But the hypothetical grand-kids might have to adopt a different view after the last air-conditioner sputters to extinction, and fire-ants have eaten through the particle-board floor of the trailer, and all the magical KFC products recede into the misty past where Jenny Lind rubs elbows with the Knights of the Round Table . Perhaps I wax a little hyperbolic, but you get the idea: subsistence is the real deal-to-come, and it will be literally a harder row to hoe than the current conception of “poverty.”

      Somewhere beyond this mannerist picture of the current cultural depravity is the glimmer of an idea of people behaving better and spending their waking lives at things worth doing (and worthy of their human-ness), but that re-enchantment of daily life awaits a rather harsh work-out of the reigning deformations. I will go so far to predict that the recent national mood of wishful fantasy is running out of gas and that a more fatalistic view of our manifold predicaments will take its place in a few months. It would at least signal a rapprochment of truth with reality.

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About James Howard Kunstler

View all posts by James Howard Kunstler
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

819 Responses to “The Dreamtime” Subscribe

  1. Karah August 7, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    Globalism at the current scale has more cons than pros.

    Globalism will always be here in the way of informing us about the activities of national groups, climate and geology. However, the impact of these three things must be reduced. Nations must find a way to conduct their activities in a safe, fair and equitable way. Of course, reality dictates this can never happen in our current system of things.
    Therefore, all men can hope to do is slow things down by pouring oil on troubled waters*.

    *In earlier times, the pouring of modest quantities of oil into the sea was done deliberately in order to forestall rough seas. This phrase alludes to the calming effect of that oil has on wave action as it spreads over the surface of the sea. Very small quantities of oil can cover a surprisingly large area as it spreads into a layer just a few molecules in thickness. The surface tension of the oil layer has an effect similar to that of a thin skin and is highly effective at calming ‘troubled’ water.

    The calming effect of oil was known to the ancient Greeks. In 1762, Benjamin Franklin repeated an experiment first performed by Pliny, which he reported in A Letter from Benjamin Franklin to William Brownrigg, 1773:

    “At length being at Clapham, where there is on the common a large pond which I observed one day to be very rough with the wind, I fetched out a cruet of oil and dropped a little of it on the water. I saw it spread itself with surprising swiftness upon the surface; but the effect of smoothing the waves was not produced; for I had applied it first on the leeward side of the pond where the waves were greatest; and the wind drove my oil back upon the shore. I then went to the windward side where they began to form; and there the oil, though not more than a teaspoonful, produced an instant calm over a space several yards square which spread amazingly and extended itself gradually till it reached the lee side, making all that quarter of the pond, perhaps half an acre, as smooth as a looking glass.”


    • Elmendorf August 8, 2013 at 12:23 am #

      With all due respect, Karah, globalism is a phenomenon which is on its way to extinction. Oh it’ll hang on for another five years or so but the writing is on the wall with $104/barrel oil despite the disinformation about a “surplus” of oil.

      The Web is the primary disseminator of illusions about globalism because it has global reach. However, as salaries continue to fall and everybody everywhere is a debt serf, they’ll be more interested in the Kardashians and the Super Bowl than Wikipedia or Google searches. Amazon relies on extensive shipping connections which are going to run dry as truckers leave the business.

      Today’s Yahoo Finance main page talked about the increasing dubiousness of a college degree because 52% of degree recipients are vastly underemployed. They cannot use their degrees.

      Globalism is the wet dream of the 1990s mentality and its run is a twilight phenomenon.


      • Karah August 8, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

        Yes, I agree. I think the internet will still exist despite the commercial limitations of it. I believe it will always exist as a means of communication between scientists, governments and the elite because that’s how it started. The INTERNET may morph into a utility in order to survive. It’s another aspect of the psychology of previous investment. Most people have ditched their landlines and cable t.v. for the internet and millions of dollars have been invested in fiber optic cable by Verizon.

        Whatever is going on in the middle east and egypt, they still have the internet.

        • Elmendorf August 9, 2013 at 5:43 am #

          Part of the psychology of previous investment lies in the trillions of lines of computer code, most haphazardly written web code, that has to be maintained. Most non-techies have no idea how close the Web is to be held together by chewing gum, bailing wire, and duct tape. Moreover, Web programming is boring as hell because most of the time you’re figuring out how to force irritating pop-up ads to appear on people’s visits to almost any blog, commercial site, or infotainment site. Wow … such a meaningful life but it’s your job if you work for a Web company.

          And new protocols pile on top of old and the whole edifice is a creaking mess of quasi-functionality. Personally, I’d ditch my cellphone waaaay before I’d ditch my landline. Cellphones are always hard to hear, they heat up your ear canal and irritate it, and they drop about one call in five or ten. The Internet gives the masses the delusion, which we also have here on CFN, that we can “change the world” with the Web. Nah. It’s just a great diversion so that we don’t notice the diminution of the quality of our lives quite so much.

          The older the Web gets, the closer the signal to noise ratio gets asymptotically close to zero.


  2. Elmendorf August 8, 2013 at 7:57 am #


    I’m willing to concede that life in the USA is stressful and that much social life is really phony and mean-tempered … because we’re mostly a spoiled people and life isn’t meeting our unjustifiably high standards these days. That said, I don’t buy that Asian tropical paradises are the way to go.

    The “friendliness” of the women you “lay” who are 1/2 your age is mostly an act because in California we have millions of Asians and one of the most pathetic types of creatures are engineers with Asian trophy wives whose prime objective is attaching themselves to the men’s WALLETS.

    I’ve heard dozens of guys try to convince me that places like Vietnam and so forth are heaven for guys. If that were true then how come the net outflows from those countries to the USA is much, much higher than the net migration from the USA to those countries. Different strokes for different folks but, personally, I’ve never been turned on by the mercantilism of Asian cultures or by the coquettish women in most of them.


    • Elmendorf August 8, 2013 at 8:04 am #


      Moving on to the rest of the substance of your posts …

      I have no problem with the truth of the idea that the US government is a scurrilous, bellicose, malicious entity. It’s mostly because our government reflects the increasing greed, narcissism, and vulgarity of the populace they govern. However, I do not now, nor will I ever, believe that if OTHER countries had our military power that they would be any less malevolent than we are.

      If China was a world empire, I guaran-fucking-tee you that they’d be as ruthless as Mao’s Cultural Revolution or Pol Pot. The USA is, of course, dead meat but we’re no more corrupt that a world full of pisspots and hellholes.



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