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Kunstler: In the Shadow of Christmas


Do you know why scenes or even just shots of freeways so seldom appear in the movies we watch? Because they are so depressing that nobody can stand to see them. The jolts of terror that you get in a horror movie at least inform you that you’re alive, but the sight of a freeway only reminds you of what it’s like to be dead.

     By extension, the true condition of the USA is too depressing to think about, and that’s largely the reason for our political paralysis. The “fiscal cliff” is only one step on a stairway to a different disposition of things, a world made by hand, in which we will no longer be prisoners of the freeway or hostages of the WalMart corporation, and I’m in favor of hastening the journey to get there rather than waste what remains of our wealth and spirits in futile rear-guard actions to stay where we are. There may be fewer frenzied days of Christmas shopping in that future world, but the company will be better, and the music will include the sound of your own voice.
     It’s not that hard to imagine where history is taking us, if you accept the fact that it means a very different shape and texture of daily life. For instance: the jobs problem. We seem disappointed that none of our policy dodges — money-printing, stimulus packages, bailouts, wars — can bring back the working-stiff paradise of 1965 in which assembly line workers made as much money as tenured college professors and a year at the State U cost $500.
      I don’t happen to be a political conservative in the standard sense, but the right-wingers have a point when they say there are a lot of idle people out there who can’t be supported forever by transfer payments. A lot of positions will be opening up in agriculture, but not in the way it is practiced today. The Agri-biz model of food production is not going to be operating much longer. We’re on the verge of a world food crisis that will provoke a complete revolution in farming, from the giant scale to the small and local scale, from industry to husbandry, from automation to loving care. The transition might not be a smooth one, since it entails questions of land ownership that, historically, get settled by political upheavals. But eventually we’ll get to that place of social re-set and there will be plenty of work for even the partially able-bodied. Hard to imagine, I know.
     The future is quite the opposite of the robotic wet dream currently being sold out of the corporate propaganda mills. It’s much more likely that human labor (and human attention!) will be needed in millions of local economic niches, since rebuilding local economies is at the heart of that future. This will be true in the activities that support local agriculture, but also in rebuilding Main Street commercial networks, the physical reconstruction of towns and neighborhoods to replace failed suburbs and failed giant metroplex cities, in transportation, education, and medicine, and in running households that are organized differently than today’s familiar McHouses.
     Right now the political process is resisting any effort to imagine that future, the aforementioned right-wingers most of all, despite their recognition of the transfer payment trap. More disturbing, though, is the likely apprehension by those in authority that the current arrangement of things is dangerously fragile. They are hostages to their own unwillingness to imagine living differently. So, doing nothing to upset the current system of organized complexity seems like the only safe option.
     These implacable forces of history cannot be held back forever and will only move toward greater criticality in 2013. My annual forecast on these questions will come out next week in this space. Meantime, find whatever joy you can in the frantic exertions of Christmas, as practiced today, mostly on the freeway, coming and going to and from the WalMart or Target or TJ Max — and if you happen to be on the path to living differently tell us what your Christmas is like in the comments roll.


11 Comments on "Kunstler: In the Shadow of Christmas"

  1. Dave Thompson on Tue, 25th Dec 2012 5:24 pm 

    I am hoping to sell my suburban house this spring if the market allows. To move out to an area that might be more sustainable. I feel for the poor that still grasp at the American “dream” of suburban home ownership.

  2. Bill on Tue, 25th Dec 2012 6:26 pm 

    I bought 86 acres in the beautiful rolling hills of WV. The neighbors are delightful and helpful.

    I finally paid off all debt.

    Plans for this year is to build a pond and to by a small sawmill to build a barn, fencing, etc..

    Life is good! Merry Christmas to everyone!

  3. GregT on Tue, 25th Dec 2012 7:52 pm 

    Our house in the suburbs will be on the market in the spring, when all of our beautiful gardens are once again in bloom.

    We have done our research, and have found the small community that we will be moving to. The year ahead will be one of transition.

    If all goes as planned, by this time next year, we will be mostly self sufficient in food production and storage, off grid power generation, and will be involved in a local sustainable community.

    Merry Christmas everyone! All the best to you and yours.

  4. poaecdotcom on Tue, 25th Dec 2012 10:28 pm 

    Planning to lay the blue prints for an alternative food distribution system along the front range that will try to offer up some local resilience in the same way that ‘just in time’ offers up some global bargains.

    Getting another year of farming under my belt to offset all those years with pretty callas-free hands from the office!

    And trying to get the A+ grade on my peak oil preparedness report card. Click on my name if you wish to get your grade.

    I like Kunstler, a bit depressing, but rich, conceivable and he gets my prep juices going…

    Good luck and Go local!!

  5. BillT on Wed, 26th Dec 2012 1:22 am 

    Kunstler is a good read. My step-sister in the States has gotten out of her 401k and mutual fund and bought a small (27 acre) piece of land in Virgina, away from the cities, and plans to farm there in 2013. I told her to hurry up as she may not have many more years to get it going. At least she and her family are getting the idea.

    I am in the Philippines where we have about 12 acres of jungle and old coconut palm plantation to retrofit into an off-the-grid farm. We already have a number of fruit trees planted there and a field of pineapple to sell. With a year-round growing season, we can make do with less land. We are in walking distance (3 miles) to the Pacific for fish (if the oceans hold up) and a small town of a few thousand. Most of our neighbors are self-sufficient already, as are most Filipinos. I think I made a good decision.

  6. ozman on Wed, 26th Dec 2012 10:23 am 

    Self-sufficiency is a pipe dream in a world of 7 billion. There is nowhere you can go to escape others – maybe in America where you can build up a big stash of guns to keep away the masses you can be self-sufficient for a while. True sustainability has less to do with self-sufficiency but more to do with interconnectedness with others.

  7. SOS on Wed, 26th Dec 2012 12:55 pm 

    We are all sefl sufficient except those that take transfer payments from the gov. People have been buying land and living on it for a long long time. Right here in the middle of a suburban neighborhood that I built we have a garden giving us a lot of real good food.

  8. BillT on Wed, 26th Dec 2012 1:16 pm 

    The number of truly ‘self-sufficient’ people in the Us number in the low 6 digits, while the others (unprepared) number in the low 9 figures.

    Hahaha. That ‘garden’ is nice for a few veggies in the summer, I am sure, but you could not live long on it. It IS a good start for experience.

  9. GregT on Wed, 26th Dec 2012 6:47 pm 


    Where I live, there are a miriad of small communities that are days away by car or boat from the big cities. Many existed long before there was any electric power or fossil fuels available. Some for thousands of years.

  10. poaecdotcom on Wed, 26th Dec 2012 8:19 pm 

    Self sufficiency is a pipe dream FOR 7 billion.

    Lets be honest, any long term sustainable populatiotn will be around an order of magnitude lower, best case scenario….

    But clearly, our species has had plenty of experience at ‘living off the land’ without the exponential lunacy of fossil fuels.

    Sure, there may be a need during the transition (3-20 years??)to ‘escape others’ but the key to sustainability is a connected, tribal LOCAL mentality. Going alone is not practical and too tough on the soul….

    Go Local (with others :)!! )

  11. christian phillip on Sat, 29th Dec 2012 12:48 am 

    …let thy will be done, vater…get ready for canibalism , yoyo’s, and stop whining on line, there is no out of it….and da millions shall be cooked dead, so to say….this is the real future of the world….nothing like the communities envisaged locally hereby….it is too late even for that….mein vater will show you all the power of god….hahahahaa….enjoy though just another movie, your last one…and have some more babies now….to feed mein vater…and you all

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