Dreams Die Hard
James Howard Kunsler
Somewhere between the fevered Zzzz’s of American Dreaming and the blinding shock of being “woke,” there is a recognition that an awful lot about contemporary life is not working and can’t go on. At the bottom of this discontent is the mistaken notion that the unwind of modernity can be arrested or mitigated by “smart” and “green” this-and-that.
The disappointment over it will be epic when we discover that the laws of physics override the bright ideas of politicians. America has been blowing green smoke up its own ass for years, promoting oxymorons such as “green skyscrapers” and “clean energy,” but the truth is we’re not going to run WalMart, Suburbia, DisneyWorld, and the interstate highway system on any combination of wind, solar, geothermal, recycled Fry-Max, and dark matter. We’re just running too much stuff at too great a scale for too many people. We’ve blown through the capital already and replaced it with IOUs that will never be honored, and we’re caught in an entropy trap of diminishing returns from all the work-arounds we’re desperately trying.
For all that, there are actually some sound proposals in the mostly delusional matrix of the Green New Deal promoted by foxy front-person AOC.
- Revoke corporate personhood by amending our Constitution to make clear that corporations are not persons and money is not speech. Right on, I say, though they have not quite articulated the argument which is that corporations, unlike persons, have no vested allegiance to the public interest, but rather a legal obligation solely to shareholders and their boards-of-directors.
- Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions. A no-brainer.
- Replace big money control of election campaigns with full public financing and free and equal access to the airwaves. Quite cheap and worth every penny.
- Break up the oversized banks that are “too big to fail.” And while you’re at it, resume enforcement of the anti-trust laws.
- Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks. Duh….
Of course, a lot of the proposals above may be obviated when the money system we’ve been using, and its subsidiaries in markets, blows up, taking much of the world’s notional wealth with it, along with our hopes and dreams for replacing the fossil fuel economy with “Green technology.”
The Green New Deal may be an exercise in throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks, so let’s just assume that a lot of the “social justice” pander-jive in it will slide down the wall onto the floor and make its way to the dumpster. Stuff like: “the right to full employment” (there is no such right), Free college and medicine (doesn’t pencil out with our capital gone, though the current odious rackets must go), “ending the war on immigrants” (how about ending the Democratic Party’s war on enforcing immigration laws?)
There are two kinds of deadly narcissism at work in American culture these days: techno-narcissism — the belief that magical rescue remedies can save the status quo of comforts and conveniences — and organizational narcissism — the belief that any number of committees can lead a march of humanity into a future of rainbows and unicorns. Both of these ideas are artifacts of a fossil fuel turbo-charged economy that is coming to an end. Societies and economies are fundamentally emergent, non-linear, and self-organizing as they respond to the mandates of reality — which are not necessarily consistent with human wishes. Circumstances in the world change and sometimes, when the changes are profound enough, they provoke episodes of flux and disorder.
A better index for our journey into the unknown frontier beyond modernity will not be what is “green” and “smart” but perhaps what is “sane” and “insane.”
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.