Every time I
do a Q and A after a college lecture, somebody says (with a fanfare of
indignation) - so as to reveal their own brilliance in contrast to my
foolishness - "You haven't said anything about overpopulation!"
Right. I usually don't bother. Their complaint, of course, implies that
we would do something about overpopulation if only we would recognize
it. Which is absurd. What might we do
about overpopulation here in the USA? Legislate
a one-child policy? Set up an onerous set of bureaucratic protocols
forcing citizens to apply for permission to reproduce? Direct the
police to shoot all female babies? Use stimulus money to build
crematoria outside of Nashville?
It's certainly true that the planet is suffering from human population
overshoot. We're way beyond "carrying capacity." Only the
remaining supplies of fossil fuels allow us to continue this process, and not
for long, anyway. In the meantime, human reproduction rates are also greatly
increasing the supply of idiots relative to resources, and that is especially
problematic in the USA, where idiots rule the culture and polity.
The cocoon of normality prevents us from appreciating how peculiar and
special recent times have been in this country. We suppose, tautologically,
that because things have always seemed the way they are, that they always
have been the way they seem. The collective human imagination is a
I'm fascinated by the dominion of moron culture in the USA, in
everything from the way we inhabit the landscape - the fiasco of suburbia -
to the way we feed ourselves - an endless megatonnage
of microwaved Velveeta and corn byproducts - along
with the popular entertainment offerings of Reality TV, the Nascar ovals, and the gigantic evangelical church shows
beloved in the Heartland. To evangelize a bit myself, if such a concept as
"an offense in the sight of God" has any meaning, then the way we
conduct ourselves in this land is surely the epitome of it - though this is
hardly an advertisement for competing religions, who are well-supplied with
Moron culture in the USA really got full traction after the Second World War.
Our victory over the other industrial powers in that struggle was
so total and stupendous that the laboring orders here were raised up to
economic levels unknown by any peasantry in human history. People who had
been virtual serfs trailing cotton sacks in the sunstroke belt a generation
back were suddenly living better than Renaissance dukes, laved in
air-conditioning, banqueting on "TV dinners," motoring on a whim to
places that would have taken a three-day mule trek in their grandaddy's day. Soon, they were buying Buick
dealerships and fried chicken franchises and opening banks and building
leisure kingdoms of thrill rides and football. It's hard to overstate
the fantastic wealth that a not-very-bright cohort of human beings was able
to accumulate in post-war America.
And they were able to express themselves - as the great chronicler of
these things, Tom Wolfe, has described so often and well - in exuberant
"taste cultures" of material life, of which Las Vegas is probably
the final summing-up, and every highway strip, of twenty-thousand strips from
Maine to Oregon, is the democratic example. These days, I travel the road up
the west shore of Lake George, in Warren County, New York, and see the sad,
decomposing relics of that culture and that time in all the
"playful" motels and leisure-time attractions, with their cracked plastic
signs advertising the very things that they exterminated in the quest for
adequate parking - the woodand vistas, the paddling
Mohicans, the wolf, the moose, the catamount - and I take a certain
serene comfort in the knowledge that it is all over now for this stuff and
the class of morons that produced it.
very close friend of mine calls them "the yeast people." They were
the democratic masses who thrived in the great fermentation vat of the post
World War Two economy. They are now meeting the fate that any yeast
population faces when the fermentation process is complete. For the moment,
they are only ceasing to thrive. They are suffering and worrying
horribly from the threat that there might be no further fermentation.
The brewers running the vat try to assure them that there's more sugar
left in the mix, and more beer can be made from it, and more yeasts can be
brought into this world to enjoy the life of the sweet, moist mash. In
fact, one of the brewers did happen to dump about a trillion-and-a-half
teaspoons of sugar into the vat during 2009, and that has produced an
illusion of further fermentation. But we know all too well that this
artificial stimulus has limits.
What will happen to the yeast people of the USA? You can be sure that
the outcome will not yield to "policies" and "protocols."
The economy that produced all that amazing wealth is contracting, and
pretty rapidly, too, and the numbers among the yeast will naturally follow
the downward arc of the story. Entropy is a harsh mistress. In the immediate
offing: a contest for the table scraps of the
20th century. We've barely seen the beginning of this, just a
little peevishness embodied by yeast shaman figures such as Sarah Palin and
Glen Beck. As hardships mount and hardened emotions rise, we'll see "the
usual suspects" come into play: starvation, disease, violence.
We may still be driving around in Ford F-150s, but the Pale Rider is
just over the horizon beating a path to our parking-lot-of-the-soul.
It's a sad and tragic process and, all lame metaphors aside, there are
real human feelings at stake in our prospects for loss of every kind, but
especially in the fate of people we love. The human race has known
catastrophe before and come through it. There's some credible opinion
that "this time it's different" but who really knows? We have
our 2012 apocalypse movies. The people of the 14th century, savaged by the
Black Death, had their woodcuts of dancing skeletons. Feudalism was wiped out
in that earlier calamity but, whaddaya know, less
than a century after that the Renaissance emerged in a wholly new culture of
cities. Maybe we will emerge from our culture of free parking to a new
society of living, by necessity, much more lightly on the planet and for a
long time, perhaps long enough to allow the terrain to recover from all the
James Howard Kunstler
by James Howard Kunstler
My new novel of the post-oil future, World Made By Hand, is
available at all booksellers.
James Kunstler has worked
as a reporter and feature writer for a number of newspapers, and finally as a
staff writer for Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1975, he dropped out to write
books on a full-time basis.
His latest nonfiction book, "The Long
Emergency," describes the changes that American society faces in the 21st
century. Discerning an imminent future of protracted socioeconomic crisis, Kunstler foresees the progressive dilapidation of
subdivisions and strip malls, the depopulation of the American Southwest,
and, amid a world at war over oil, military invasions of the West Coast; when
the convulsion subsides, Americans will live in smaller places and eat
locally grown food.
You can purchase your own copy here
: The Long
You can get more from James Howard Kunstler -
including his artwork, information about his other novels, and his blog - at
his Web site : http://www.kunstler.com/