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Page added on September 24, 2012

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Kunstler: Duty

General Ideas
I drove the eight miles from Cambridge to Greenwich, New York, around eight o’clock and the night was bell-jar clear. A scrim of deepest blue sky backlit the landscape of tender hills and valleys while on the ground I wended the twisting two-lane state highway 372 with my brights amplifying the yellow road signs and the iridescent lines on the pavement, alert for deer, who can kill you. The Talking Heads spastically warbled one of their triumphant electronic anthems of post-modernity over the radio. It happened that I had been playing fiddle at a contra dance.
     What a strange privilege it is to live in these perilous times. I don’t mean privilege in the sense of the college humanities departments, with all their crybaby overtones of grievance and resentment. I mean in the sense of having lived through a thrilling turbo-powered climactic chapter of the human melodrama. Until a few decades ago nobody ever swooshed through these ancient hills in a motor car, on a magnificently engineered minor country highway, and in perhaps less than a decade no one ever will again, and at the collective level of a culture or a nation we have no sense of this whatsoever.
     We have no sense of anything except the junk-cluttered moment, including our junk politics and the junk ceremony of the present election. When today is a long time ago we will wonder at the feckless cravens that modernity made of us, in particular the absence of any sense of duty to the project of being the only self-aware organisms (as far as anyone knows) in the universe. In this country, anything goes and nothing matters, and that’s the simple sad truth of where we are right now.
     In all the monumental yammer of the media sages surrounding the candidates they follow, and among the freighted legions of meticulously trained economists who try so hard to fit their equations and models over the spilled chicken guts of daily events, there is no sense of the transience of things. Tom Friedman over at The New York Times still thinks that the petroleum-saturated present he calls “the global economy” is a permanent condition of human life, and so does virtually every elected and appointed official in Washington, not to mention every broadcaster in Manhattan.
     We’re not paying attention, of course. Someone told all these clowns about fourteen months ago that we will be able to keep running WalMart on shale oil and shale gas virtually forever, and they swallowed the story whole, and then force-fed it down the distracted public’s throat. In reality – that alternative universe to flat-screen America – all the mechanisms that allow us to keep running this wondrous show teeter on a razor’s age of extreme fragility.  We’re one bomb-vest or HFT keystroke away from a possible dark age, or at least a world made by hand. The true sense of entitlement extends light-years beyond the peevish carpings of the tea-bags-for-brains bunch.
     The only issue in this election contest between Pee Wee Herman and Captain Kangaroo is how to do nothing to disturb the fantasy that we can keep living the way we do. I am coming to detest Mr. Obama for the unforgivable feats of doing absolutely nothing to oppose, resist, or remedy the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and doing absolutely nothing to restore the rule-of-law in banking. Mr. Romney, at this point, can only be pitied as some kind of thought-experiment gone awry in an evil consumer product testing lab on a planet of oafs. His fecklessness has no modern analog. Next to Romney, Bob Dole looks Lincolnesque.
     Which brings me in a very roundabout way to my point: Lincoln emerged out of a political age as mendacious as ours, after decades of gaming the issue of slavery. Out of that morass of lying connected to immense human suffering somebody had to bring the clarity of real moral duty to broad consciousness and Lincoln was selected by the same hand of Providence that would lodge a bullet in his brain-pan five years later — so it is not that hard to understand the awe of Providence that attended the terrible convulsion of the 1860s and all its long-resounding ramifications. It took most of the 20th century and then some for us to un-learn that life is tragic.
     In the history that doesn’t repeat but only rhymes, we’re in the 1856 equivalent of the cycle now, short of the moment when mere clowning turns to savagery. I can barely stand to watch the antics, dogged by visions of where this is all tending. We have achieved something that few cultures ever have before: made ourselves unworthy even of our own low standards. There is no center left to hold, only ragged edges around a core of darkness.
Kunstler


9 Comments on "Kunstler: Duty"

  1. Plantagenet on Mon, 24th Sep 2012 6:51 pm 

    Kunstler wrote: ” I am coming to detest Mr. Obama for the unforgivable feats of doing absolutely nothing to oppose, resist, or remedy the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and doing absolutely nothing to restore the rule-of-law in banking. ”

    Even worse, IMHO, is Obama’s failure to do anything about the problems of peak oil.

  2. Welch on Mon, 24th Sep 2012 9:19 pm 

    It’s hard to blame Obama–in our current political system there’s little to be gained from being honest about our situation.

  3. ken Nohe on Mon, 24th Sep 2012 11:16 pm 

    Kunstler is one of the best “doom and Gloom” writer of our time. There must be something about upstate New York which gives you a magnified view over the incoming tsunami. So well written too! The swirls and eddies of the dark waters take a life of their own. The omen takes second place to the grandiloquent gallop of the horsemen of the apocalypse. Kunstler should be writing on stone, not on the Internet. “Oh thou who wanders in this forest, knows that once suburbia stood here. that below thy path lays a eight lane tar road that led a past civilization to nowhere. that darkness shrouded vain hopes of endless consumptions were utterly crushed when rusty neon lights went out. Give up thy quest for more bounty and go back to the village enjoy the stories of the ancients around the warm amber of the campfire glowing in the dusk.”

  4. MrEnergyCzar on Mon, 24th Sep 2012 11:21 pm 

    I just read his latest book, “Too Much Magic”. Highly recommended…

    MrEnergyCzar

  5. BillT on Tue, 25th Sep 2012 1:23 am 

    I too applaud Howard’s clear view of events and paths into the future. I have read most of his books and then passed them on to others who might benefit from his insight.

    Plantagenet, just what is the President supposed to do about Peak Oil? I guess he could come right out and tell the public that their way of life is NOT permanent. That their lives are going to change in the negative and growth is over. He could say that we live in a failed world and survival of the species is in doubt. He could say many things, and he would be right, but he would not be believed. Look at Carter who tried to do that thirty odd years ago. He was laughed at. Well, he is having the last laugh now, and we are all f—-d!

  6. ken Nohe on Tue, 25th Sep 2012 8:45 am 

    Of course Kunstler is right on many points. But the questions is how to motivate people to behave differently and for that unfortunately, there is no answer. The fat zombies are all mesmerized like moths swirling around a McDonald neon sign in the night and it will be so until the light flicker out.

  7. Arthur on Tue, 25th Sep 2012 10:37 am 

    “There must be something about upstate New York which gives you a magnified view over the incoming tsunami.”

    It is likely the slightly higher than average IQ of that state, that does it. Howard Kunstler is an outlier of his ethnic group. Where others spend their lives calculating interest in a Wallstreet office, or busy with winning court cases as a lawyer or writing columns for the NYT, Kunstler uses his considerable talent as a writer and educator/speaker. He is very atypical in that he makes bicycle tours through Upstate NY, he is busy setting up a vegetable garden as well as planning to open a cafe soon. He knows that the exploitation of the planet nearly has come to an end and says so loudly. He is also the only prominent peaker who is not a 9/11-truther. In the light of the knowledge of who must have been the true perps, if it were not these 19 Arabs with boxcutters, this is understandable. We are not going to push it, now are we.lol

  8. Arthur on Tue, 25th Sep 2012 10:52 am 

    As Bill indicates, politicians are near powerless in this situation. The US population will not choose a politician in office whose message is that the American Dream is basically over and that instead we have to switch from the eonomic growth paradigm, that was the norm between 1960-2008, to a raw surival mode, to manage the inevitable decline that is ahead of us and could last decades before the bottom will be reached. People like Dick Cheney were very well aware of the oil situation in 1999, and co-advocated an invasion Iraq, before Arabs supposedly were so kind to deliver the pretext for doing so.

    MR. MINETA: No, I was not. I was made aware of it during the time that the airplane coming into the Pentagon. There was a young man who had come in and said to the vice president, “The plane is 50 miles out. The plane is 30 miles out.” And when it got down to, “The plane is 10 miles out,” the young man also said to the vice president, “Do the orders still stand?” And the vice president turned and whipped his neck around and said, “Of course the orders still stand. Have you heard anything to the contrary?”

  9. ken Nohe on Tue, 25th Sep 2012 11:22 am 

    Yes Arthur, I was only half joking. Kunstler is indeed a great and talented writer and I do read his column most weeks. His book: “The geography of Nowhere” is on my reading list too. But he is negative; that’s for sure. He may eventually be vindicated but then what? “I told you so!”?

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