“By the way, the reason trust and credit are gone is because oil is no longer cheap and world economies can’t grow anymore. They can’t afford to run the day-to-day operations of a techno-industrial society. They can only pretend to afford it. The stock markets are mere scorecards for players who can only lie and cheat now to keep the game going. Somewhere beyond all the legerdemain and fraud, however, there remains a real world that is not going away. We just don’t know what it will look like when the smog of fraud clears.” – James Howard Kunstler, “The Smog of Fraud” at Clusterfuck Nation
“Walter White is the Steve Jobs of meth,” writes James Howard Kunstler in “Like your hair’s on fire” at Clusterfuck Nation, making the connection between the TV series “Breaking Bad” and the sad state in which we find ourselves in America today. The real villain of the show (which I admit I haven’t seen), Kunstler argues, is an enemy that creates the whole plot but which is rarely if ever mentioned: our country’s health care system—or lack thereof. The end of the road is that, as Kunstler succinctly puts it, “money is everything and nothing.” Money is why we poison our watersheds and torture animals and sit in boxes all day, but there’s so much money generated from the conversion of life into death, and at the same time money has been pulled through so many iterations of abstraction (it’s a symbol of a symbol of a symbol… on a computer screen that would go dark without oil), that the almighty dollar might as well be worthless. We can’t eat money, as the saying goes.
Kunstler also points out the growing popularity of zombies in entertainment media, a popularity that might suggest a growing self-reflection—and blank-stared resignation, zombie-like—about our current predicament. We are all stumbling around in some somnambulant fog or another, aren’t we? And Kunstler is only writing here about the financial collapse; when delving into the ecological one, TV shows will be the least of our worries. Although, sticking with TV for a moment, I attribute the rise of zombie motifs (get it?) more to the fact that every story has already been done a thousand times than to a deep, underlying cultural consensus about just how badly we’re fucked. I can picture network executives saying to one another: “zombies worked in the past, so let’s bring ’em back—this time with the pretense of production value!” and then plugging zombies into the same old situational tropes (although, “I Am Legend” is also ultimately about the failure of the health care system, isn’t it?), which they know Americans will love to watch for their supposed verisimilitude. Maybe Andy Warhol was right, and in a few years people won’t watch “shows” anymore, but instead live feeds of other people’s parties. Can’t get much more real than that.
And speaking of other people’s parties, it looks like according to Oxfam about 85 people run the world at this point. But, nah—that’s probably sustainable.
“Notice that all of these stories want to put over the general impression that the status quo is alive and well,” writes James Howard Kunstler in his latest post at Clusterfuck Nation (Forecast 2014—Burning Down the House), adding, “They’re based on the dumb idea that the stock markets are a proxy for the economy, so if the Standard & Poor’s 500 keeps on going up, it’s all good. The master wish running through the American zeitgeist these days is that we might be able to keep driving to Wal-Mart forever.”
The stories he mentions are the tropes that the oligarchy keeps pushing through the media about how everything is fine, energy-, technology-, and economy-wise, despite all the evidence being to the contrary. As usual, the message from the people who are supposed to dealing with these real problems is “nothing to see here!” and national discussions, if they were ever even possible, remain to be confined to the realm of celebrity gossip, which includes politicians, or the latest sports scores. Not that there’s anything wrong with talking about sports (I count myself as an agonizingly loyal fan of the Baltimore Ravens, for instance), but the fact that just cannot be ignored or repressed for any substantial amount of time is that without potable water, there isn’t any NFL (or, for that matter, anything else).
Taken in totality, the resounding message of the idiot box is, as it always has been and always will be, that everything is normal. You’re normal. Are you often depressed or bored or have strange rashes or can’t sleep at night? That’s normal; here are some pills everyone is taking so that they temporarily cheer up with numbness or pass out entirely. Your house is normal. Do you have trouble cleaning all those extra rooms you barely use with just regular mops and rags? That’s normal; here’s some DOW chemicals everyone just like you is using to completely sterilize every surface they’ve ever seen. Your job is normal. Your economic status is normal. Your health is normal. Your life is normal, and everything is A-OK.
Meanwhile, the world burns.
Ran Prieur summed up this notion well in his analogy of the health care debacle. Imagine a burning building, where the fire has started on the ground floor. In Prieur’s example, the fire is the insurance system, with fits just as well with the overall economic circus described by Kunstler above, but let’s broaden the symbol to mean the end of cheap fossil fuels, i.e. peak oil, peak soil, peak everything. You can climb to higher floors of the building to escape the flames, and you are temporarily safer, but by climbing higher you’re just making the situation more inescapable. Once you get to the top of the building, the only options are to burn or to jump.
Here’s a strangely written Nature Bats Last post about how the main responsibility of doomers going forward is the collection and categorization of information (i.e. the building and preserving of personal libraries), so that future “humans” (humanoids or extraterrestrials) can know what we were thinking as we cut down the last tree. I can’t decide if this is the best or worst thing I’ve read on the internet this week.
Here’s James Howard Kunstler making a good case that when governments attempt to control everything (which they always do), that the effort only serves to bring about the reverse of the intended outcome; instead of a stronger concentration of power, the end result is an erosion of the legitimacy of the government to a point of a vote (either literal or metaphoric) of no confidence:
As history develops, people do things for the simple reason that it seems like a good idea at the time. Computer tech made it possible for bureaucrats and military apparatchiks to invade the privacy of everybody, but in the end it only had the effect of embarrassing the perpetrators and eroding a big chunk of the US government’s legitimacy.
And here’s an article about towns in Northern Ireland painting fake shopfronts to make the place look neater for the G8 summit. What do the locals think of the sprucing up and how the movie-set-esque coverings will look in the future? “They’ll just be pieces of paper blowing around the ground.”
“The means for such a coup of the zeitgeist are rather frightful now: drone aircraft, computer surveillance, militarized police, a puppet press. It makes thoughtful folks queasy. My bet, though, is that a fascist takeover of the US would end up being as inept and ineffectual as ObamaCare. It is one of the great hidden blessings of our time, actually, that anything organized on the massive scale is doomed to failure. But it is likewise the great mission of our time to prepare to get local and smaller, something we’re not really ready for and certainly not interested in. The intertwining of these dynamics will be the story in the year to come.” – James Howard Kunstler
Since it’s Monday, and the holidays are upon us (i.e. people stop giving a shit, which is nice), I figured I’d pepper in a video, a quote, and a comic strip—you know, to keep things light. Enjoy.
Another interesting talk by Guy McPherson, who thinks humans will be extinct relatively soon: http://guymcpherson.com/2013/11/its-movie-season/
Here’s James Howard Kunstler with a similarly rosy assessment of the US economy: http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/all-bulled-up-with-no-place-to-go/
The story making the rounds these days is that the USA’s industrial economy is on the rise again; that the housing market has “recovered;” that (according to Meredith Whitney) the “central corridor” of the nation (Texas to Minnesota) is the second coming of Japan in the 1960s; that we have more oil than we know what to do with; that the nation has bred a super-race of intrepid entrepreneurial risk-takers like unto no other society in history; and finally that whatever else we are or are not, America is the cleanest shirt in the laundry basket of Mother Earth. This is all horseshit of course, being smoked in the New York Fed’s crack pipe.
And finally, here’s a cool comic from Code Green by Stephanie McMillan: http://www.stephaniemcmillan.org/codegreen/