Monday, July 16, 2012

Kuntsler's Magical Dreams of Apocalypse

James Howard Knustler's new much-publicized critique of humanity, Too Much Magic, predicts peak oil, the death of the automobile and the fall of the global economy as we know it.

Of course, the strangest thing about this post-apocalyptic obsession is that the post-apocalypses we see are almost always beautiful. Knustler predicts the repopulation of quaint old ports like Troy, New York, as the riverboat and rail trade revive. In his post-apocalypse, the beautiful buildings will be saved, while the strip malls and superhighways will fall. And indeed, there is more than a tinge of romanticism in many of these visions; some combination of Burning Man-style, radical self-reliance and the slow show of the old steamboat culture, before iPhones and the 24-hour election cycle.

In many ways, this is reminiscent of the culture that spawned the Whole Earth Catalog: late sixties conviction that society was on the verge of collapse, combined with a liberal, oddly techno-utopian sentiment that this didn't have to be so bad; we could isolate ourselves from the ugly world and build our own farmsteads of geodesic domes. It's an odd kind of wishful thinking, to fantasize the beauty of a slower world while at the same time trusting technology to forestall the true, ugly disasters of the traditional post-apocalypse: disease, lacking sanitation, mass famine. A clean slate is always romantic, after all, and it's lovely to think of a world where electronic isolation and a scenic train trip are more than just decadence. But there's a hypocrisy to Knustler's charge that we're a society more mired in fantasy than reality, when the art that surrounds his post-apocalyptic world plays off precisely our desire to envision ourselves in a world other than the real. _Isaacson
Peak oil doomer and apocalyptic, James Howard Knutsler, has written a book detailing his magical dreams of apocalypse, "Too Much Magic." Kuntsler has long predicted the collapse of civilisation, with blood running through suburban streets. And he is not discouraged that his predictions seem a bit slow in taking form. More from
In his new book Too Much Magic, Jim [Kuntsler] attacks the wishful thinking dominant today that with a little more growth, a little more energy, a little more technology — a little more magic — we’ll somehow sail past our current tribulations without having to change our behavior.

Such self-delusion is particularly dangerous because it is preventing us from taking intelligent, constructive action at the national level when the clock is fast ticking out of our favor. In fact, Jim claims we are past the state where solutions are possible – instead, we need a response plan to help us best brace for the impact of the coming consequences. And we need it fast.
[We now live in] this weird, peculiar period in American history when the delusional thinking has risen to astronomical levels — predictably, really — in response to the stress levels that our society feels. And it is expressing itself as sort of “waiting for Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy” to deliver a set of rescue remedies to us so that we can continue running Wal-Mart, Walt Disney World, Suburbia, the U.S. Army, and the Interstate Highway System by other means. That is the great wish out there. It is kind of understandable because that is the stuff that we have, and people tend to defend the stuff that they have in any given society and the systems and platforms that they run on. But it is probably a form of collective behavior that is not really going to benefit us very much and really amounts to simply wasting our time, and wasting our dwindling resources, and even our spiritual resources when we could be doing things that are a lot more intelligent.

Here is something I have detected as I travel around the country: there is a clamor for “solutions”. Everywhere I go people say “Don’t be a doomer, give us solutions.” And I discovered that the subtext to all that is they really want solutions for allowing them to keep on living exactly the way they are living now. To keep on running Wal-mart, and keep on running suburbia, and keep on running the highway system, and the whole kit of parts. And what that really means is, that they are looking for ways to add on additional complexity to a society that is already suffering from too much complexity.

So I am trying to propose something a little different. Rather than so-called solutions, I am proposing that we use the term “intelligent responses”, which is not so grandiose. It does not come with a whole grab bag of promises that life is actually going to work out exactly the way you wish. A lot of the intelligent responses that we could be making to our predicament would have a lot to do with decomplexifying and with simplifying. But we do not want to do that; we just want to add more complexity, and that is what some of the wishful thinking and vanities about technology are all about.

We are discovering more and more is that the world is comprehensively broke in every sphere, and in every dimension and in every way. The governments in every level are all broke, the households are going broke, the banks are insolvent, the money really is not there. And the pretense that the money is there has been kept going simply with accounting fraud. And accounting fraud really accounts for most of the so-called “innovation” that we chatter incessantly about – this is at the heart of Too Much Magic and the wishful thinking about technology. We are so intoxicated with this idea that we can create new and wonderful things. And we have absolutely no sense that the new and wonderful things that we created in the money system are destroying the money system.

One of the lessons that used to be at the center of a liberal education, and no longer is, is that life is tragic. And by that I do not mean that happy endings are impossible or that bad outcomes are guaranteed. What I mean is that there are consequences to the things that you do and that everything has a beginning and a middle and an end. And we have to get real with those.

It seems to me that the whole capital issue is going to accelerate hugely over the summer. I really do not see how the Europeans can get out of the box they are in – it really does not look like they are going to be able to form a European fiscal union. And it really does not look like the Germans are going to be willing to print money into a hyperinflation. And so I think that the disappearance of money is going to accelerate, and it is going to be all getting sucked into a black hole over the next six months. And that is going to be the beginning of a broad-based social awareness of the nature of this problem.
The excerpt above is only a brief glimpse into Knutsler's thinking, but it is revealing all the same. Increasingly frustrated that his dreams of doom have not yet come to pass, the apocalyptic prophet inserts more and more urgency into his magical dreams of doom. Much like a magical conjuring, Kunstler seeks through repetition to find the most powerful spell of death, which will finally bring the overblown and crumbling edifice to the ground.

There are many other opportunists who have settled into this economic niche, in an attempt to satisfy the appetite for bloody wishful magical thinking scattered through a dumbed down population. For those who are only serving out their time, without a purpose or dream of their own, the doomer-dreams of others may seem quite compelling. Particularly if they are infused with a self-righteous sense of payback and comeuppance against their enemies.

This quasi-religious apocalyptic feeling which pervades every capillary of such doom cults, is a powerful draw. The more powerful the quasi-religious appeal, the more strongly the true believers deny any sense of religiosity or cultish thinking.

How long can these grifters fool others into giving them money and respect? You might think that as peak oil doom grows less and less likely the grifters would be discredited. But just as in the Y2K hysteria, doomers always find another source of imminent catastrophe. Whether climate hysteria, overpopulation hysteria, pollution hysteria, water scarcity hysteria, collapse of capitalism hysteria -- it all amounts to the same idea: Humans have risen too far in their utter hubris, and will certainly be brought low by the pure force of nature, balance, justice, or whatever you wish to call it.

The sentiment underlying all of the doom hysterias is essentially the same, which makes the particular dooms rather interchangeable. This is very convenient for the doom-sayers, and allows them to shift from one doom to another with minimal inconvenience.

You, of course, have a choice. And you probably have something else to do than to hang on the words of opportunistic doom grifters.



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