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Commitments And Obligations

Conservatives have a legitimate gripe about America’s excessive “commitments and obligations” to “unfunded liabilities” but their focus on Medicare and social security misses the larger pointour disastrous commitment to the current national lifestyle, in particular suburban sprawl and everything it entails.

This point came across vividly in a video recently released by the usually level-headed David McAlvaney titled “THE FUSE IS LIT PART 3 – AN AMERICAN RECKONING.” In it, the smooth and articulate McAlvaney is shown behind the wheel of his SUV tooling across the picturesque small town in Colorado where he lives inveighing against the public that elects politicians who deliver the voters cash benefits. This dynamic is surely deadly, and implies Democracy’s tragic self-limiting nature. But McAlvaney suggests if we could come to grips with the fiscal quandary of “entitlement” spending, American life would just rock on.

This is plainly not so, but it also reveals the tragic shortsightedness of even thoughtful conservatives – and there are some out there, indeed we need them, indeed one of the political tragedies of recent American history is the surrender of conservatism to religious hysterics, professional ignoramuses, military chauvinists, and flat-earthers. A true conservative would recognize the land development pattern of the millennial USA as a consequence of tragic collective choices, a living arrangement with no future, a trap every bit as lethal as Medicare and social security.

The catch is, we’re not going to unbuild suburbia and all its accessories. There’s no way to legislate it away. We’re stuck with it. The suburban entitlement will fail even more dramatically than the social entitlements that conservatives grouse about because there’s no way to “print” cheap oil or well-paid livelihoods the way you can monetize public debt to support social spending. You can “print” mortgages, of course, for people with little chance of paying them down, but that only leads to the financial hostage racket called too-big-to-fail banking, and we know where that’s gotten us.

Around the Internet, in the vale of financial podcasting, you can hear voices cheerleading the “return” of the house-building industry. Is it a good thing that real estate speculators are banging up yet more housing subdivisions in the hills around San Diego? I can tell you why they are doing it: because that is the only way they know how to build anything in California. They’re stuck in the habits and practices of the 20th century, building more car dependent stuff for a society that is already dying a slow death from living that way.

In the collapse of all these rackets, bad habits, and brain-dead behaviors that it sure to come, historians will have a hard time sorting out what exactly brought down the empire. The big element that will not be so visible is the poverty of imagination that set the tone for it – especially among public figures and spokespeople who should have seen and articulated these relationships, and extra-especially among self-proclaimed conservatives.

This happens to be the day when the articulator-in-chief gets his official new lease in office. Genial figure that he is, I don’t think President Obama has a clue where all this is heading. I suppose he’ll argue for stricter gun laws today, but that horse is already so far out of the barn it’s in the next county. We don’t seem to realize that America is now fully armed. Additional firearms are just superfluous at this point. And to some degree the people armed themselves in direct consequence as their government tinkered with due process, and sent drone aircraft into the American skies, and commenced computer hacking operations over every business transaction in the system, and voided the rule-of-law against criminal uber-bankers who creamed off the nation’s wealth while holding the economy hostage. Since the armed public is not ready to mount an insurrection against this impudence, the dangerous tension is expressed in morbid and tragic episodes of mass shootings by maniacs against the innocent. What I want to know: where is the lone swindled rancher who waits to bushwhack Jon Corzine of MF Global in the parking lots of Easthampton, since the law won’t touch him?

I suppose we’ll hear about immigration reform today. It will surely be some cockamamie proposal to legitimize the “undocumented” by shanghaiing them into the military (think: mercenaries), and otherwise keeping the welcome mat down for more newcomers waiting politely at the front door. This is insane, of course. The USA needs to reduce its population consistent with the tremendous economic contraction underway world-wide. There are too many people for the world to support and shifting them into this country from regions more rapidly affected by contraction is just dumb — but we have our cultural myths to defend… and voting blocs to appease.

It seems obvious to me that in the, say, four years ahead (one presidential term), we will not come to grips with any of the forces of reality bearing down on us. We will lose control of the money system; we’ll go broke trying to keep up our oil supplies; the American public will get more economically desperate and angry; and pretty soon the practical matters of daily life will become rather harsh. And at that point faith in the system finally evaporates and people fight over the table scraps of a failed polity.

Many of us around the country are hoping for a better outcome in the successful downscaling and re-localizing of American life, but those questions are just not in the arena. Hence, the arena itself will probably have to topple and crash before life is reorganized outside of where it used to stand.

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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 the four-book series of World Made By Hand novels, set in a post economic crash American future. His most recent book is Living in the Long Emergency; Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward. Jim lives on a homestead in Washington County, New. York, where he tends his garden and communes with his chickens.

2 Responses to “Commitments And Obligations”

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