is surely a correspondence between an exhausted culture and a populace
devolved so far into mental dullness that it can't recognize its predicament.
We don't seem to get how much the industrial production spree of the past 200
years has just plumb worn us out, not to mention the ecosystem we were
designed to dwell in. My general sense of things for at least a decade is
that we are closing this chapter of history and heading into something
smaller, slower, and simpler, and that we could either go there willingly or
get dragged there kicking and screaming by circumstances.
interests me to reflect that the way things are temporarily is the way people
define normality, and think things will always be, so that if you are living
in a big city like New York where so much remaining wealth is concentrated,
and you are dazzled by the whirr and flash of things, including all the
pretty young people drilling into their iPhones, you might expect a longer
arc to the moment at hand.
here in the provinces it's a different story. The exhaustion is palpable. I
dropped into the mall at mid-day on Sunday to take the pulse on the
ballyhooed post-Thanksgiving ritual shopping frenzy and the place was like a
ghost town. The sparse stream of supposed "consumers" had the dazed,
beaten-down look of people pushed beyond the edge of some dark threshold,
like displaced persons in a low-grade war zone.
behavior seemed ceremonial, though, mere acting-out as opposed to acting.
They were not carrying bags with purchases. I saw almost nobody actually
shopping, that is, fingering the merchandise, in either the two department
stores I passed through or the smaller shops lining the corridors. There were
strikingly few clerks in either the big or little retail operations and you got
the feeling that these stores were now expected to run on automatic pilot,
with a skeleton crew of employees because the margins just aren't there
anymore. They are going through the motions of being in business, and when
Christmas is over some will not be there anymore. America has had enough,
notwithstanding the latest YouTube videos showing crazed mobs fighting over
worthless plastic crap at the "Black Friday" WalMart
openings elsewhere around the country.
physical condition of our so-called towns (many of them just
"facilities" smeared carelessly over the landscape) is something
else. We are not taking care of our property in part because we don't have
the money, but also because so much of it is obviously not worth caring
about, was not designed and built to be cared for - and anyway, there is the
lure of the narcotic flat-screen television within to distract anyone with a
fugitive thought of opposing the pervasive entropy of these times. The
disgrace of this nation - I mean it quite literally - is now total, from our
bodies to everything around us. We are entropy made visible.
on this exhaustion are playing out in other parts of the "advanced"
world, Europe and Japan, where all the money-related parts of the modernity
machine have gravel in their gears and are grinding into self-destruction.
China will get to the same event horizon soon, too, despite the fact that so
much of their stuff is brand-new - after all, what use is a set of new
super-highways if Brent crude prices remain above $110?
if we just accept the reality that the industrial spree was a self-limiting
adventure and now we have to move on? What do we give up? What do we actually
do with our time and effort?
a clear trend to give up on the gigantic nation-state, at least in its
current corporatist configuration, most recently in Spain with separatists
winning this week's election in the northern province of Catalonia. Perhaps
greater Spain will now join the defunct entities of Yugoslavia,
Czechoslovakia, and the USSR. There are rumblings of "secession"
here in North America now, where a certain moron-inflected cohort favors a
replay of the Civil War, largely for sentimental reasons instilled by TV.
What Dixieland doesn't seem to grok is the
unraveling of its own Sunbelt miracle economy which was, in effect, a
suburban development bubble, and which will land them back in a ditch with a
sack of turnips like Jeeter Lester's family in Tobacco
are some trends we would benefit from getting comfortable with:
is withering and will end with a whimper (sorry, Tom Friedman). The economy
of North America will become much more internally focused in the decades
ahead. If you are young, think about getting into the boat business on the
continent's magnificent inland waterway system. There will be no more
trucking to move stuff around, and at the rate we're going the railroads will
never be fixed.
chain retail will be dying as its economies-of-scale vanish. WalMart and everything like it will be gone. No more
Black Friday toy riots. Sorry. If you are young, think about getting into
some kind of local business that will play a role in your rebuilt local
economic network. There will be plenty of work for you, but not so much new
cheap plastic crap to hassle with. Lots of opportunities for the
comes back to the center of economic life. Hard to believe, I'm sure, if you
live in an iPhone fantasy-land of apps and tweets. Forget all that stupid
shit. The electric grid will certainly fail, or at least fail to be reliable
enough to matter, in the next couple decades, and the real value in human
existence will be using the land to produce a living. Lots of opportunities
for young people who like to work outside. Also, some chance of political
revolution to expedite changes in land tenure.
to the auto age and hello again to real communities. Hard to believe, I'm
sure, as you read this in traffic on your iPad, but
your commuting days are numbered. Indeed the whole car thing comes to a
rather stunningly abrupt halt - though we are certainly doing everything
possible now to prop it up. The old Herb Stein formulation will apply here:
people do what they can until they can't, and then they don't. The
implications in this for how we inhabit the landscape going forward are
rather huge. Find a nice small town on a waterway surrounded by farmland and
get ready to have a life.
the meantime, as these circumstances roil in the background, you can be sure
that the people running things will campaign strenuously to keep the current
set of rackets running. The results will be sad and possibly terrifying. Be
brave and seek opportunity in these epochal changes. Modernity has nearly put
us out of business. Leave the exhausted enterprise behind and be human for while. Enjoy the time-out from techno-progress that is at
hand. It will be something to be grateful for.