Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mismanaging Contraction

by James Howard Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of

The Long Emergency
(2005) (June 21 2010)

Lesson of the Macondo: Blowout preventers don't prevent blowouts. This comes as a shock to people attuned to the on-schedule arrival of techno-miracles. Now, all the acronym-studded invocations of techno-mastery by men wearing interesting hats will not avail to put the schnitz on an epic horror show in the Gulf of Mexico.

President Obama's speech to the nation a week ago was designed as a kind of blowout preventer for the legitimacy of the federal government. It did little to stop the hemorrhaging of confidence in political leadership. A nation foundering in a crippled vessel in the horse latitudes of collective purpose on a sea of red ink looks to its captain - who puffs a few platitudes into the tattered sails and retreats belowdecks to pace and stew. This is a society truly lost at sea, where even the friendly dolphins are turning belly-up and the dying seabirds stare accusingly under their cloaks of crude oil. The feeling grows that we can't do anything right. Will someone please turn off the TV?

In 2008, the voters turned to a lanky newcomer from Illinois to rescue itself from just the sort of technocrat jerkoffs who had run the nation into a ditch with their invocations of "mission accomplished" and "Good job, Brownie". Change was in the air. Alas, consistent with the apparent fact that history rhymes but doesn't repeat, Barack Obama proved to be the reincarnation of Millard Fillmore, not Abe Lincoln. Sometimes history works in free verse and this stanza was off by a few syllables. It turns out that change was exactly the one thing not really in the air. America does not want change, except from the cash register at WalMart.

The last time America faced a convulsion as profound as the present one was the late 1850s. The internal contradiction of slavery was driving the nation crazy. The Whig party had been running things for a couple of decades. The Whigs were the party of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. They tried everything possible to finesse the expansion of US territory around the inflammatory issue of slavery. Fillmore came along just in time for the Compromise of 1850, which was intended to settle things and did absolutely nothing to settle things. By the time the election of 1852 happened, Both Webster and Clay were old men preparing to meet their maker and the Whig party absolutely fell apart. Scroll forward a few years and we're in the slaughterhouse of The Civil War.

A hundred and sixty years later now, and the USA faces a new and very different set of internal contradictions. We've ramped up a living arrangement that has no future, just as slavery had no future. We're uncomfortable with the mandates of reality, which is trying to tell us we have to live differently. The American people don't want to hear this. The president doesn't want to tell them. It's possible that he is not tuned into the reality radio station that is broadcasting its mandates. You'd think the Macondo Blowout horror show was coming across loud and clear.

Right after President Obama gave his vapid speech last week, he traveled to Ohio to brag about how much federal stimulus money was going into "shovel-ready" highway projects there. I sincerely believe that the last thing we need right now in this country is more and better highways. Every president since Jimmy Carter has acknowledged that there's a problem with our extreme oil dependency, but none of them have made the short leap to understand that we have a more fundamental problem with car dependency. Someone paying attention to the mandates of reality would get the choo-choo trains running from Dayton to Columbus to Cincinnati to Cleveland - and he would tell General Motors to get into the business of making railroad cars so we don't have to import them from Canada.

Reality is telling us to downscale and get different fast. Quit doing everything possible to prop up the drive-in false utopia and all its accessories. Get local. Tighten up. We have no intention of doing that. The idiocy that passes as informed opinion wants the US money managers to kick out the jambs handing out more money created out of thin air to promote a fantasy called "recovery". To what purpose? To keep the tailgate parties going down at the Nascar ovals? Over at The New York Times Monday morning, the fatuous Paul Krugman says that "stinting on spending now threatens the economic recovery". Earth to Krugman: we're mismanaging contraction. Further expansion is just not in the cards right now for the human race. We don't need more people on the planet and we don't have the means to accommodate them. There will be no "recovery" to "growth" - especially by means of pumping more oil into the system. There is no techno-miracle alt-fuel panoply waiting in the wings to take over from oil. And there is no research-and-development program that will make it happen, no matter how many acronym-studded incantations we drone out.

I admit that contraction is a hard reality - but so is the recognition that we don't get to live forever, something every child begins to grapple with around age seven. The inability to face comprehensive contraction will only insure that its side effects are more debilitating.


A sequel to my 2008 novel of post-oil America, World Made By Hand, will be published in September 2010 by The Atlantic Monthly Press. The title is The Witch of Hebron.

Mr Kunstler's biography is at see

Bill Totten


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