The Dreamtime

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Published : July 30th, 2013
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Category : Editorials

 

 

 

 

 The idea that techno-industrial society is headed toward a collapse has become very unpopular the last couple of years. Thoughts (and fears) about it have been replaced by a kind of grand redemption fantasy that bears the same relation to economics that masturbation has to pornography. One way to sum up the current psychological state of the nation is that an awful lot of people who ought to know better don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground anymore. We’re witnessing the implosion of the American hive mind.


     This is what comes of divorcing truth from reality, and that process is exactly what you get in the effort to replace authentic economic activity with accounting fraud and propaganda. For five years, the Federal Reserve has been trying to offset a permanent and necessary contraction of techno-industrialism by lobbing mortar rounds of so-called “money” into its crony “primary dealer” banks in order to fuel interest rate carry trades that produce an echo in the stock markets. An echo, let us be clear, is the ghost of something, not the thing itself — in this case: value.


     The permanent contraction of techno-industrialism is necessary because the main fuel for running it has become scarcer and rather expensive, too expensive really to run the infrastructure of the United States. That infrastructure cannot be replaced now without a great deal of capital sacrifice. Paul Krugman — whom other observers unironically call Dr. Paul Krugman, conferring shamanic powers on him — wrote a supremely stupid op-ed in The New York Times today (“Stranded by Sprawl”), as though he had only noticed over the past week that the favored development pattern of our country has had adverse economic consequences. Gosh, ya think?


     Meanwhile, the public has been sold a story by nervous and wishful upholders of the status quo that we have no problem with our primary resource due to the shale oil and shale gas bonanzas that would make us “energy independent” and “the world’s leading oil exporter — Saudi America!” A related story along these lines is the imminent “American industrial renaissance.” What they leave out is that, if actually true, it would be a renaissance of robots, leaving the former (and long ago) well-paid American working class to stew in its patrimony of methadrine, incest, and tattoo “art.”


    To put it as simply as possible, the main task before this society is to change the way we live. The necessary changes are so severe and represent so much loss of previous investment that we can’t bring ourselves to think about it. For instance, both the suburbs and the big cities are toast. The destiny of the suburbs is to become slums, salvage yards, and ruins. The destiny of the big cities is to become Detroit — though most of America’s big cities (Atlanta, Houston) are hybrid monstrosities of suburbs and cities, and they will suffer the most. It is not recognized by economic poobahs such as Dr. Krugman and Thomas Friedman that the principal economic activity of Dixieland the past half century was the manufacture of suburban sprawl and now that the endeavor is over, the result can be seen in the millions of unemployed Ford F-110 owners drinking themselves into an incipient political fury.


     Then where will the people live? They will live in smaller cities and cities that succeed in downsizing sharply and in America’s currently neglected and desolate small towns and upon a landscape drastically refitted for a post-techo-industrial life that is as far removed from a Ray Kurzweil “Singularity” fantasy as the idea of civic virtue is removed from Lawrence Summers. The people will live in places with a meaningful relationship to food production.


     Many of those aforementioned swindled, misled, and debauched lumpen folk (having finally sold off their Ford-F110s) will eventually see their prospects migrate back into the realm of agriculture, or at least their surviving progeny will, as the sugar-tit of federal benefits melts away to zero, and by then the population will be much lower. These days, surely, the idea of physical labor in the sorghum rows is abhorrent to a 325-pound food-stamp recipient lounging in an air-conditioned trailer engrossed in the televised adventures of Kim Kardashian and her celebrated vagina while feasting on a KFC 10-piece bundle and a 32 oz Mountain Dew. But the hypothetical grand-kids might have to adopt a different view after the last air-conditioner sputters to extinction, and fire-ants have eaten through the particle-board floor of the trailer, and all the magical KFC products recede into the misty past where Jenny Lind rubs elbows with the Knights of the Round Table . Perhaps I wax a little hyperbolic, but you get the idea: subsistence is the real deal-to-come, and it will be literally a harder row to hoe than the current conception of “poverty.”


      Somewhere beyond this mannerist picture of the current cultural depravity is the glimmer of an idea of people behaving better and spending their waking lives at things worth doing (and worthy of their human-ness), but that re-enchantment of daily life awaits a rather harsh work-out of the reigning deformations. I will go so far to predict that the recent national mood of wishful fantasy is running out of gas and that a more fatalistic view of our manifold predicaments will take its place in a few months. It would at least signal a rapprochment of truth with reality.

 

 

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James Howard 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 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.
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Mr K, I believe you have hit a very large nail precisely and powerfully and right square on the head. As an observation of the current situation this piece is incredibly accurate IMO.
To amplify what another commenter has said, we are not running out of oil or gas. The EROI or energy return on investment is changing for the worse. We are down to 9-1 from 100-1 a century ago. Tar sand is 4-1 return with the higher grades maybe 6-1. When it takes 1 gallon equivalent to get 8,7,6,5,4,3,2-1, we likely will still get oil and gas but the price will reflect the energy required to obtain it.
This is why some have referred to precious metals as "stored energy."
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Actually Jim C had some good points in his critique of Mr. Kunstler. There have been many oil discoveries in the past few years, the most recent being the enormous one in Australia that is said to potentially produce more oil than exists under the sands of Saudi Arabia. I agree with him that Mr. Kunstler's Peak Oil argument is dead in the water. And for the life of me I don't understand Mr. Kunstler's hatred of surburbia and the automobile. I don't understand why his commentary was deleted.
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What I stated is correct, peak oil is a myth but... To believe that we minions will keep paying cheap prices is pure lunacy. Since when has a large oil company ever done anything because it's good for the people? They do what's good for the shareholders. When someone makes the argument that there is much oil to be tapped without adding the perspective of what oil will cost us in years to come shows a very short sighted outlook. Now take this much higher cost that we the minions will have to pay and apply that to people living in a metropolis or even any large city. Apply this much higher cost for all goods because of increased transportation costs, add in social unrest, and what do you think the outcome will be, a nice civil society where people start loving their neighbor as they love themselves? I don't think so. When a five pound sack of potatoes costs urban dwellers $50 what will happen. How about rice at $45 a pound? You know there will be many that will start looking for a few square feet of dirt to plant something. Problem is that when this point is reached it will be too late for most.

So while I have no doubt that the world has many more oil deposits to be 'discovered' I doubt that those who pull it out of the ground will sell it to us cheaply. They will keep finding these new deposits (or previously found but somehow forgotten) just in time to keep the prices elevated but keep wheels moving. This in addition to the afore mentioned China and Russia doing everything they can to control who gets oil. Wars cost big bucks, this means that going to war to secure resources will naturally drive up the pump prices in an endeavor to support the war effort. It's all lose lose for us and win win for the oil companies.

So yes, I take issue with Jim C's view on what JHK stated. Don’t forget that Jim C is a prepper and has worked to ensure that when the things JHK talks about happen he will be prepared. While people in city’s will be starving old Jim C will be out there on his little plot of land bringing in the harvest of fresh vegetables. So people like Jim C while being short sighted when considering humanity are also selfish, preparing to ensure they live better than those poor suckers in the city.
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Look, oil companies don't drill for the public good. They do it primarily for personal profit which is what real capitalism is all about. The price of oil, and anything for that matter, depends on the cost to produce the product and the current level of competition. And prices will go up and down accordingly.

To that end government needs to keep their noses out of ALL private enterprises and let the public sector duke it out. That means no special incentives, tax cuts, or anything to those oil companies or any private company.

Without government interference the gas engine will be replaced by the electric one, but only when the price competes with the older technology. The gas engine will be replaced as was the horse and buggy, and it will be done by private companies but only when they think they can make a profit.
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So I'm not sure where our opinions diverge enough that it warranted a response? Especially when I stated that "They do what's good for the shareholders." I own a company and I understand that my company has to provide a return. When I stated “Since when has a large oil company ever done anything because it's good for the people?” it was simply that, a statement not a point to argue over.

As for electric cars, this is a topic that much discussion and opposition will be focused on in the near future. Having gone through a public panel with the city I live in that was formed specifically to review options for public transportation and general resource use by the city today and in the next 50 years, I have been privy to the kind of information most people don't bother to read or even think about. I have had a firsthand look, over a period of several months, at the challenges this world faces with regards to energy on a far larger scale then my own back yard. At first glance electric vehicles hold a lot of value, it's not till you get into what it takes to sustain a fleet of these vehicles that you start to realize electric is not a viable option at this time and won't be till some major breakthroughs in battery and motor technology happen. The power to charge these vehicles is another problem, people wrongly assume that solar and wind generation will replace coal and gas fired power plants. There is today no better engine than a diesel to move people and produce around with a reasonable associated cost. How long this will hold all depends on how the oil companies maneuver things. While solar and wind can certainly ad to the grid when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing they become useless without these natural elements. When it's dark and no wind is blowing we still need an alternative to charge those vehicles and run the air conditioners. If a very large abundance of green power is put into the grid why would we expect the owners of power plants to keep them running? Why would or should they be happy to maintain all that equipment just to pump out a few GWH only at night? As a shareholder based company they have to provide an ever increasing profit for the shareholders or close their doors. What would happen if the power plants were shut down, even a portion of them? We wouldn’t have enough juice to recharge that vehicle battery when we get home at night. At best with some power plants still running we would have rolling blackouts, not something that is conducive to keeping people happy that want to run the air conditioner every night. I’ve lived for years in a third world country where rolling blackouts are common, the people are accustomed to this since they have never had 24/7 uptime on their power plants, how long do you think spoiled people in the US or Europe would tolerate this kind of thing before there were riots? Nuclear is an option but if you've kept up on what's going on in the uranium and its associated mining industry you'll know that the US will be running short on uranium supply in the not so far off future forcing them to buy from countries they’ve been pissing off for years. This will of course cause the price per kilo watt hour to keep going up. Given these facts, that fuel prices will keep going up with no real alternatives, is it then really too much to imagine that horse and buggy may become more common place, especially in rural areas? Will it be unreasonable for city dwellers to start looking at where they can put a garden? If it takes a few hours of grazing to put enough energy into a horse which can then take you into town and back vs. paying $12 for a gallon of gas or $16 for a gallon of diesel and you had a buggy to pull with the horse what would you chose? This brings us closer to JHK’s world made by hand. The event that puts us back into this mode need not be apocalyptic, it could be nothing more than energy company shareholders demanding higher dividends, but there will come a time when humans will start looking at what they can do to reduce their overall energy bill and the costs associated with trying to stay fed.

There is no easy way out of higher future oil prices when our world infrastructure has been built around the use of fossil fuels, no matter if markets are free of government intervention. We can wish for new technologies that will save us and I for one hope that there will be advances that a free (freer) market can bring us at a reasonable price. Ask yourself though if you are willing to bet everything you have on these ‘possible’ advances and not take advantage of what has worked for years. In one of your previous posts you state “I own gold and silver”. Why? Are you hedging your bets and ensuring that when the fiat Ponzi scheme crashes you still have something? But... But… Gold and silver are ancient relics, what could they possibly do for you when there’s lots of fiat cash? Ask yourself the same thing about other things humans have done for thousands of years, things like growing their own food, working the land by hand, using a horse drawn buggy. Insurance comes in many forms.

And as I’ve stated, I am a vocal opponent of the Man-Made Global Warming crappola so please don’t try to make me out as some tree hugger who hates oil. Much of my income comes from the oil industry. I merely hold a balanced view of what’s happening and don’t let lunatics on either end of an issue determine what I believe.
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Jim C, are you purposely ignorant? When JHK talks about doing things by hand does it mean that society as a whole must go back to shucking oysters and planting potatoes by hand when he talks about people getting back to working with their hands rather than depend on all of their food being shipped from 4000 miles away? I don’t think so. While I vocally oppose the totally debunked theory of man-made global warming I happen to agree that it would be a good thing for people to start working a plot of land and growing some of their own food if for no other reason than to avoid at least a portion of the GMO crap we get at the super market. I don’t know where you live but have you ever traveled through the low priced real estate parts of a metropolis like New York or LA? If you had you would understand that what JHK is saying here has value. Ask yourself this, if the cities are such bloody great places why do so many people that have their domicile within them take so many vacations someplace other than a big city? Why are tours to the California vineyards, and why are so many RV rental companies, doing gangbuster business? People want to get out of the city even if it’s only for a few weeks. Sure, they have to work in these hell holes but ask them where they would rather live. You already know the answer.

Why do you continually hate on the man so? What the hell has he done that no matter what he says you go ape shit every time he posts. How long are you going to carry this grudge. You act like a teen age girl, on a vendetta to take apart some other teen girls life because she kissed the first girls boyfriend.

Did JHK hit to close to the mark and you took it personally when he posted “These days, surely, the idea of physical labor in the sorghum rows is abhorrent to a 325-pound food-stamp recipient lounging in an air-conditioned trailer engrossed in the televised adventures of Kim Kardashian and her celebrated vagina while feasting on a KFC 10-piece bundle and a 32 oz Mountain Dew.” Look around you, how much of the US population falls into or very near this category of lay about? You take issue with JHK and keep bringing up the fact that the world is not at nor have we passed peak oil. Ok, I agree with you but you keep missing one point that I mentioned in a response to you in another post where you were ranting about this. While the world still has lots of oil, what’s it going to cost you for a gallon of gas in five years from now when the Chinese, Russians, and others in their group have locked up the supply? Yes, Australia may be sitting on supposed trillions of gallons of the black stuff but in the link you gave it talked about how expensive the lifting costs were, did you even read the whole article or simply look at the picture? Do you ever give any thought to the process and the costs involved or do you take a simple childish look at it and say ‘there’s lots of oil, we won’t run out’? I’m sure there are many more as of yet undiscovered as well as many discovered but covered up deposits of conventional and non-conventional oil. The big question is simply how much will it cost you to get any of it in the future? If you had to pay $8 a gallon would you start to think that JHK was onto something? How about $15 or $35 a gallon, would that make you start growing your own food and permanently park the SUV unless there was an emergency? What effect would those kinds of prices have on the people who are unfortunate enough to live in large cities? That’s right, stop thinking today or tomorrow and start thinking about next year or the next five years.

So far you have never posted anything to provide contrary evidence to what JHK says, you simply find some point to rage about. Raging like an idiot only proves one thing, he’s right and your wrong.

Good grief grow up already.
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James, you got me to thinking about "the current conception of poverty." Poverty nowadays is defined as: only one car, a too-small Public Housing apartment, barely enough food stamps to get "the good stuff", local-only cable TV, and only 200 minutes a month on your ObamaPhone. Future poverty will be defined as: walking only, living in abandoned dwellings, scratching enough food from the earth, watching our for predators and communicating with distant places by smoke signals. By the way, those Ford pickups are F-150's. The 110's you're thinking of is the voltage to keep the TV working.
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Kunstler starts with this: "The idea that techno-industrial society is headed toward a collapse has become very unpopular the last couple of years."

If anything, the opposite is true. The culture is rife with end times scenarios, with television shows like PREPPERS and the WALKING DEAD to economists like Jim Rogers and Dr. Doom Mr. Faber. The idea is very popular.

What is the cause of this Kunstler asks? He says, "This is what comes of divorcing truth from reality.."

If anything, it is Kunstler who divorces truth from reality. Take his repeated allegiance to the idea of Peak Oil -- thoroughly refuted by experts and now the recent enormous oil discovery coming out of Southern Australia.

So, what, according to Kunstler, needs to be done. He says, "To put it as simply as possible, the main task before this society is to change the way we live."

We know from his past opus what that means: the elimination of anything made by hand and the forced evacuation of suburbia to the crime ridden big cities -- to name just a few of his proposals.

Kunstler, as we know from volunteered information, has been hospitalized a few times. How does the dear man imagine, in his Luddite future, he'll be transported to a medical facility?

Since he's done away with technology, does he envision himself being dragged in a litter by horses over rocky paths or unrepaired roadways?

Now who is it that's in a dream state?





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Are you purposely ignorant? When JHK talks about doing things by hand does it mean that society as a whole must go back to shucking oysters and planting potatoes by hand when he talks about people getting back to working with their hands rather than depend on all of their food being shipped from 4000 miles away? I don’t think so. While I vocally oppose the totally debunked theory of man-made global warming I happen to agree that it would be a good thing for people to start working a plot of land and growing some of their own food if for no other reason than to avoid at least a portion of the GMO crap we get at the super market. I don’t know where you live but have you ever traveled through the low priced real estate parts of a metropolis like New York or LA? If you had you would understand that what JHK is saying here has value. Ask yourself this, if the cities are such bloody great places why do so many people that have their domicile within them take so many vacations someplace other than a big city? Why are tours to the California vineyards, and why are so many RV rental companies, doing gangbuster business? People want to get out of the city even if it’s only for a few weeks. Sure, they have to work in these hell holes but ask them where they would rather live. You already know the answer.

Why do you continually hate on the man so? What the hell has he done that no matter what he says you go ape shit every time he posts. How long are you going to carry this grudge. You act like a teen age girl, on a vendetta to take apart some other teen girls life because she kissed the first girls boyfriend.

Did JHK hit to close to the mark and you took it personally when he posted “These days, surely, the idea of physical labor in the sorghum rows is abhorrent to a 325-pound food-stamp recipient lounging in an air-conditioned trailer engrossed in the televised adventures of Kim Kardashian and her celebrated vagina while feasting on a KFC 10-piece bundle and a 32 oz Mountain Dew.” Look around you, how much of the US population falls into or very near this category of lay about? You take issue with JHK and keep bringing up the fact that the world is not at nor have we passed peak oil. Ok, I agree with you but you keep missing one point that I mentioned in a response to you in another post where you were ranting about this. While the world still has lots of oil, what’s it going to cost you for a gallon of gas in five years from now when the Chinese, Russians, and others in their group have locked up the supply? Yes, Australia may be sitting on supposed trillions of gallons of the black stuff but in the link you gave it talked about how expensive the lifting costs were, did you even read the whole article or simply look at the picture? Do you ever give any thought to the process and the costs involved or do you take a simple childish look at it and say ‘there’s lots of oil, we won’t run out’? I’m sure there are many more as of yet undiscovered as well as many discovered but covered up deposits of conventional and non-conventional oil. The big question is simply how much will it cost you to get any of it in the future? If you had to pay $8 a gallon would you start to think that JHK was onto something? How about $15 or $35 a gallon, would that make you start growing your own food and permanently park the SUV unless there was an emergency? What effect would those kinds of prices have on the people who are unfortunate enough to live in large cities? That’s right, stop thinking today or tomorrow and start thinking about next year or the next five years.

So far you have never posted anything to provide contrary evidence to what JHK says, you simply find some point to rage about. Raging like an idiot only proves one thing, he’s right and your wrong.

Good grief grow up already.


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Haven't read either the article or your post but looking at the arrows, maybe you should just give up.
SW
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It would appear that Jim C and his many logins also didn't like your comment...
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Well I thought that I had directed it towards Jim C so I am a bit bemused.
Actually I am finding it difficult to justify the very modest monthly fee for 24h Gold as it is just a bit of sport for me anyway.
Maybe I will write something one day so I can get a whole bunch of hash keys as a post...like a badge of honour!
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You pay for 24hgold? Now I'm bemused.
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Latest comment posted for this article
You pay for 24hgold? Now I'm bemused. Read more
Hart - 7/31/2013 at 9:07 PM GMT
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