The ever-eloquent James Howard Kunstler returns to our podcast this week to discuss the dangers of the 'comprehensive dishonesty' he observes in our culture today.
We occupy ourselves with distractions (e.g., the fear du jour that our media continually manufactures) and diversions (e.g., our empty social media addiction), while ignoring the erosion of the essential systems around us. Making matters worse, the leaders we assume are focusing on these issues aren't or are woefully out of their depth.
It's time for society to take a hard look in the mirror and be honest about the shortcoming it sees. Identifying them then opens the door to deciding what to do about them.
Without the courage to be honest, we condemn ourselves to a failing status quo that likely has little remaining time left:
What we’re seeing is the result of behavior of people who have no idea what they're doing. Most of the major systems that we rely on are entering a state of failure of one kind or another. And, of course, the larger problem is that they're interlinked, and that their failures will be mutual and self-amplifying.
These systems include the energy system that has powered industrial civilization, the oil and gas industries which you’ve talked about a lot and I think that our listeners understand pretty well — although the finer points of it, like the 'energy return on investment', is something that’s certainly not understood by the general public, or most of the officers in our government, and certainly not in the New York Times, Washington Post or other major media outlets. They just don’t get that.
That energy problem is reverberating through everything, including agriculture and our inability to use the oceans in some way that's not going destroy them. And the medical system. The education system. All these systems are blowing up. In the absence of being able to run them coherently in any kind of economic way, they’ve turned in to rackets — basically, people are trying to make a profit off of them dishonestly one way or another.
Because we’re immersed in comprehensive dishonestly in our culture, we no longer recognize what we’re doing or what the truth of our situation is. It’s pretty dismaying to see our culture flounder, particularly in trivialities and bad ideas(…)
My own guess is that the denouement to all this is going to involve disorder in the financial realm, because finance is the life blood of the techno-industrial society we live in. When that gets into trouble, the problems are going to thunder through all the other realms of our culture, and then we’ll be forced to pay attention. And I think that these financial disorders are not far off. When they happen, things are going to change.
You and I have been quite frustrated over the last eight years at the ability of certain authorities in our culture to manipulate prices and levitate markets and intervene in the physics of our economy. That just can’t go on forever. Even though it’s frustrating to watch, it looks to me like it’s climaxing. The disorders that are already present in our economy are manifesting now in our politics. And that to me is a pretty dangerous sign.
It’s like when you have a chronic metabolic disease that all of a sudden starts to present shocking and alarming symptoms. That should be an alarm to us that we’re really in trouble.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Jim Kunstler (54m:31s).
Chris: Welcome, everyone, to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host Chris Martenson, and it is August 22, 2017. And today, I’m really happy to welcome back to the program my friend, James Howard Kunstler. You know Jim as a well-known author, social critic, whose ideas have been extremely influential to myself and the Peak Oil and Sustainable Living Movements. His best-known work, for myself, is The Long Emergency, which really got me kicked off in many ways thinking about the things that lead to the crash course. And in that book, he argues that declining oil production will result in the reversal of modern industrialized society and compel Americans to return to smaller scale. So, he also wrote the book series that brings that concept to life that began with World Made by Hand, it’s sequel, The Witch of Hebron, and A History of the Future. And most recently, The Harrows of Spring, which used fiction to really entertainingly transport use in to what a future of less might look and feel like. And that, to me, is a world with less net energy.
He also wrote Too Much Magic, Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation which is just a – reads like a complete prediction of what we’re in today as we look around the world. And, of course, he continues to write regularly at his excellent weekly blog found over at Kunstler.com where he now writes and posts twice a week. Jim, really happy to have you back on as a guest, particularly with everything going on today.
Jim: Well, it’s a pleasure to be here with you, and let’s get to it.
Chris: Well, let’s get to it. So, I think we just have to start on the social side of all of this. We’ve had the incidents at Charlottesville and the left and the right, Antifa, the alleged rise of Nazi’s – I say alleged because I’m not sure that there’s more than there ever used to be, but the media is focusing on them. We just, if you remember, you have to think way back, like a month ago it was Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia. It was everywhere. Certainly, we were about to – this was the biggest danger ever – and then almost without skipping a beat, it was North Korea all over the airwaves. Everybody’s getting really freaked out, and then it switched right over to Nazi’s, and here we are today. And I got to tell you, I know people personally who didn’t skip a beat just flipping from one of those traumas to the next, and focusing on them fully. And what do you make of that?
Jim: Well, a couple of things. The failure of the Democratic end of the political spectrum is pretty spectacular. And I say that as someone who remains, even now, a registered Democrat. And I just find the implosion of what used to be the middle to be spectacular. And the adoption of really bad ideas by the remnants of the Democratic Party to also be just astonishing. We’ve got people in that major party now who are affecting to believe that freedom of speech is no longer important, and that the violence on the left has no equivalent to the violence on the right, which I happen to believe it does.
I was not a Trump supporter, didn’t vote for the guy, I’ve been dissing him continually in my own blog, but I think he was correct when he said that the misbehavior on both sides was pretty much the same. We may deplore the ideas and the ideologies of the Nazi’s, but the first amendment is all about having to tolerate ideas that make you uncomfortable. That’s the whole point of it.
And the idea that the left is no longer willing to be uncomfortable with other people’s ideas is very troubling. So, I’ve said for a while now that I thought that both political parties were going down the laundry shoot of history, and it seems like a neck in neck race between who’s gonna get there first. But right now, it’s sort of looking like the Democratic Party wants to get there first in terms of just sheer irrelevancy and incredibly bad ideas.
Chris: I totally agree. And I wouldn’t want either of those two sets of characters who showed up in Charlottesville hanging out in my living room. I don’t really like extremists no matter where they show up. One side intolerant for different reasons than the other side, who is also intolerant. You put two mixers of intolerance together and you probably have a volatile mixture. So yeah, I agree with all that, and here’s the thing. You and I both know that if we back out a couple of steps. We know that both parties are completely irrelevant because they're still talking as if we live in a world of infinite resources and all we have to do is tweak a few policies, throw a little more money into the markets, goose the stock market a little higher, we’ll get jobs going and everybody will keep just on with the program as is. And I haven’t seen anything from either of the two parties that even remotely begin to align with the reality of the world that we live in right now, which is where, if you have my eyeballs, you notice a lot of the ecology is diminishing. It’s like Mother Nature is retracting her web of life, and that’s disturbing.
You will notice that specific central bank policies specifically enrich the already rich who have financial assets at the expense of everybody else, because if we were honest either party could come out and say, hey, the Federal Reserve is not a wealth creating organization. They are a wealth redistributing organization. And they've taken it from the many and given it to the few, and they think that’s a good idea. Both parties are thumbs up okay with that. That’s a shock to the system. Of course, these young people who grow up knowing that if they take on student debt, which is a requirement now to get ahead in this country, you will be the proud owner of the only non-dischargeable form of debt in bankruptcy court. That’s how we treat our young.
And on the other side, my Obamacare premiums are slated to go up another high double digits this year. That’s just gonna keep going until it literally breaks the entire back of the middle to upper middle class. These are, Jim, to me these are just shocks, shocks, shocks, shocks. And the tragedy is that you have these people who don’t know where the shocks are coming from, but they can look around and they see a Nazi or they see an Antifa leftist and they point their fingers at each other, and they get all mad. Both they're like two rats in a cage who just can’t unravel where the shocks are coming from, so they fight each other, but they would do well to notice that these are systematically delivered shocks, and neither party is even remotely addressing anything about that, Democrat or Republican.
Jim: Well, I see that also, and I have a way of looking at it. What we have here is – our system dynamics that are in the driver’s seat and not personalities or offices. And what we’re seeing is that the behavior of people who have no idea what they're doing. And the system dynamics can be discussed, I think, pretty specifically. Most of the major systems that we rely on are entering a state of failure of one kind or another. And, of course, the larger problem is that they're interlinked, and that their failures will be mutual and self-amplifying.
These systems include the energy system that has powered industrial civilization, the oil and gas industries, which you’ve talked about a lot, and I think that our listeners understand it pretty well. I don’t think we have to rehearse that necessarily. Although the finer points of it, like the energy return of investment, is something that’s certainly not understood by you, the general public, or probably most of the officers in the government, and certainly not in the New York Times, Washington Post or other major media outlets. They just don’t get that.
But all of that energy problem is reverberating in things like agriculture and our ability to use the oceans in some way that is not gonna destroy the oceans. And the medical system, the education system - all these systems are really kind of blowing up. And in the absence of being able to run coherently in an economic way, they’ve turned into rackets. And that basically means that people are trying to run them and make a profit off of them dishonestly one way or another. And because we’re immersed in comprehensive dishonestly in our culture, we no longer really recognize what we’re doing or what the truth of our situation is, so it’s pretty dismaying to see our culture to flounder, and particularly to flounder in trivialities and bad ideas.
Chris: Well said. So, we really have a pretty significant metabolic disease going on here, where the significant force of motivation for our body, the thing that animates us, our very life blood, has diminishing returns as you just wrote about in a piece titled Diminishing Returns. So we have that happening, and we should be detecting that and coming up with coherent strategies for that. And instead, people ask me, hey Chris, how are you doing, I’ll say, oh, I’m fine. But if you get a little deeper, I’m disturbed. I’m really disturbed that this many years of what seems to be a fairly easily analyzed system failure problem, right, which is that we have a complex system that requires energy to feed it, and we have no comprehension at any level of the power structure that says, wow, we can’t run that model forever. In fact, if we look at if properly, we might say, hey, we’ve detected the early symptoms of system failure, organ failure here. And so what are we gonna do about that? And the answer is shriekingly, more of the same with an extra heaping of divided and distract divisive politics thrown in just to make sure everybody’s not really paying attention.
Jim: Well, it’s very easy to see how this moves thoroughly through all levels of the culture. And one of the examples that, I think, is most visible right now is the way we’re thinking about car culture and personal transportation. And the so-called solution to the problem of oil, the internal combustion engine pollution and climate change, the purported solution is electrifying the car system. And that’s something that’s seemed to be believed by people of all classes and the media and people in government. We’re all sort of striving to get to that point where the car system is totally electrified. That’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen for financial reasons, it’s not gonna happen for ecological reasons, but we never think about living in walkable communities. We never think about altering the living arrangement that we’re stuck with and that we’ve over invested in. And that’s really what’s going to – we’re gonna be compelled to do that whether we like it or not – to return to traditional living arrangements, but we’re not willing to think about it.
I just came back from France a couple of weeks ago, and I spent time in a small town about 60 miles from the Mediterranean. And it was a walkable community. You didn’t need to get in the car to get anything. They level of civilization there was demonstrably so much higher than anything you find in the United States. And the people, for all the troubles they may be having in Europe, the people generally seem better adjusted, happier, more content with reality and more likely to be able to continue living in the decades ahead. There was not even much of the visible pathology that you see in the flyover places that I live in. I live in rural, upstate New York, flyover America, where clearly more than half the people in the county are morbidly obese. You didn’t see that at all in France. Why is that? It’s because they don’t hop in their car 16 times a day, and they actually have to move their bodies around and they're not all going on 11-mile hikes or spending the whole day in the gym. They're just going about their daily life. But it hasn’t made them morbidly ill.
So, I don’t know. We’re really not able to think about any of the systems problems that we have. Agriculture is one of the more interesting ones because so much of our bad behavior in agriculture, industrial farming, mega farming, giant animal food factories, giant pig farms, all these terrible things are not sustainable, and they're heavily subsidized by the government. And nobody is really interested in the one thing that would do the most good, which is smaller farms, more localized agriculture done with more human attention, less mechanical intervention. And that’s where history is going to be taking us anyway, and it is pretty obvious. And we’re not getting any encouragement for the practitioners to get to that point, to go there. We’re just giving them incentives to stay away from that. So, I’m not very optimistic about the systems problems that we face.
Chris: That whole idea of we’re just gonna Elon Musk happy motor Tesla electric car our way into more brilliant future, I find that one really, really hard to swallow because all you have to do is literally spend ten minutes about the actual numbers involved, and you discover quickly it’s a delusion. And the ferocity with which most people cling to that delusion is telling. And so it feels to me like our country is really headed towards a mid-life crisis. And they talk about mid-life crisis as if it’s a bad thing. Crisis. It’s a crisis. But a good thing that can come from the mid-life crisis is you might wake up and go, hey, wait a minute, I’ve been doing everything I thought I was supposed to do, I’m not actually happy, I'm not actually healthy, maybe I should fix those things. I only have one life. Hey, maybe I should start leading it the way I want to.
So by the numbers, you talk about the number of morbidly obese. I recently wrote about the number of people – one in six, Jim, one in six – on psychoactive compounds in the United States. That’s a pretty high number. You look at how the opioid deaths have now overtaken auto accidents and gun deaths by both suicide and intentional homicide and things like that and accidents. So, it’s the number one leading cause, and there have been some – you know, this has been the market to me of a really sick culture. I think Trump said, oh, it’s an epidemic, and we’re gonna look at it. And various states and sort of said, oh, we have an opioid epidemic, but if you really peel that back, it’s very unsavory what you find under there. You find pharma companies that know they make a ton of money off opioids because they tend to be a lifelong addictive thing and you can make a lot of money selling them. And various companies that are in the business of manufacturing some of these drugs have specifically spent a lot of money in the anti-marijuana legalization campaigns in various states, because they know – the data shows clearly – when people have access to legal, very safe cannabis that they can get off the opioids. And this is all okay.
We live in a culture where it’s okay for a company that makes an addictive compound that kills people, to give money like that and nobody shames them and runs them out of the county club and they aren’t just pilloried as disgusting exemplars of humanity. Instead, I think they probably enjoy very comfy lives as genius executives of successful companies. And to me it just very emblematic of what’s going on here. But when you add it up we’re the most over medicated, most overweight, least happy by every measure, least satisfied, least content, so maybe a mid-life crisis would be a good thing right about now.
Jim: Well, the mid-life crisis is one model for understanding this, but there is probably another one. I have not really participated that much in therapeutic culture. I’ve never had to be a twelve-step program guy. I’ve never been a substance addict or anything like that, but it seems to me that probably a better model than the mid-life crisis is the model of the addict that has to hit bottom before they will make any changes in their life. And sometimes they don’t. In fact, probably more often than not, the morbidly addicted person just simply fails. They die, they lose their life, they're ruined.
But some people do hit bottom and find a way to bounce up. So what we’ve got, since I haven’t been involved in the twelve-step program, I do know a little bit about enabling behavior. And I think what we’ve got is enabling behavior that is combined with racketeering, which gives a tremendous amount of incentive to the enabling behaviors that you're describing in, for example, the pharmaceutical industry. So, those two dynamics form a kind of nexus of pervasive dishonestly in culture that can’t tell itself the truth about where it’s at.
Chris: But we’re number one in the United States. We know that.
Jim: Well, we’re number one in an awful lot of bad behavior that’s destroying our culture and destroying our economy. So, we can continue to believe that we’re number one, but it’s not gonna really help us get to where we have to get. It’s not gonna help us understand that the solution to our living arrangement problems is not gonna be more cars of a different kind, that it’s gonna be returning to tradition towns and neighborhoods, and that the solution to the agriculture problem is not gonna be bigger pig farms. It gonna be smaller farms distributed more equitably around the parts of the country where you can still do agriculture. And the solution to the medical problem is not going to be larger combined, corporate hospital chains and so-called provider services. But it’s probably gonna be more like local clinics with brave doctors who are willing to actually look at their patients and touch them and not spend their whole career buried in their laptop or dickering with insurance companies.
The solution to the college problem is probably gonna be that fewer people are gonna go to college, and that college is, once again, if it continues to exist at all, going to be a more or less elite experience. And we just have to understand that colleges may not be for everybody. That’s just a highly unrealistic idea, and there’s no evidence that sending more people to college is actually helping our economy. It’s only kind of furnishing a fantasy for politicians to hide behind while they try and figure out what else to do. And they don’t know what else to do. But a good thing would be if we were able to get regular trades going again in this country and revive local economies so that they had a finely grained, many layered system that there would be more jobs for people, that there would be more businesses that could be formed, there would be more social roles and economic roles that people could play.
There would be opportunities for kids to get into vocations that required something like an apprenticeship, so that they could learn from the people who are already doing carpentry, doing plumbing, doing things that are on the ground. Important things, rather than just getting into bureaucratic niches or marketing or shuffling paper or shuffling investment accounts or doing a lot of unnecessary and kind of dumb things that don’t really add anything to the economy. But we don’t want to do any of those things. We just want to kind of burnish this fantasy that if you just go to a community college you’ll come out and be able to work as a marketing drone for Old Navy. So our fantasies are really getting in the way of our ability to find a way to make the transition into whatever the next economy is gonna be. I think you and I would agree that it’s gonna be an economy of probably less stuff than we have been wallowing in for the last thirty years. But that might not be the worst thing in the world.
Chris: Well, let’s turn back to this college experience for a second. My wife and I, we homeschooled our children all the way up through high school, I guess, because they all went off to community college at the age of sixteen, each of them. But we did that because we looked at the way that the school systems were choosing to teach, and having read the books of John Taylor Gatto and really understanding that, school is, as it’s being practices, it’s oppression model, it’s very much designed to churn out people with a certain sort of bent with a certain amount of knowledge. And when you look at the way the do that and the various adjectives you would use to describe the creatures that come out of these public-school systems very often, or even good private school systems, they're obedient. They know that there are right answers and there are wrong answers. They’ve been trained to believe that what you have to do is prepare yourself to get a job. It doesn’t prepare you to be an entrepreneur necessarily although those are the people we look to most. Like, wow, look what Bill Gates did, or most of the people who we really look up to are entrepreneurial in mindset. And it really teaches a faith in authority. The right answer is at the front of the room, and you have to follow the rules and it does all that stuff.
So, it does all this wonderful, enculturating stuff that when my wife and I looked at it we looked at this future that you see, that I see, that many people see, and we go, wow, wait a minute. Some descriptors for that future might be that you want to be creative, adaptive, free thinking, really open minded in a lot of ways, and our belief, which is part of the home schooling belief system, is that learning is natural. School is optional. As long as you know how to learn, as long as your curiosity is there, listen, you can learn anything you want online. So you had some experiences going to colleges where I think you had a fairly successful, at least fairly full calendar, going and speaking at colleges, but that dried up on you at some point. And I think that’s, too, emblematic of a shift. Was it a shift in how colleges are operating, or was it an exposure of how they’ve been operating? And talk to us about that exposure.
Jim: Yeah. I’m not that special. I actually have a lecture agent, and I’ve been told that they're having a problem with many of their authors, especially their environmental authors, that the deans and the department chairs at the colleges just don’t want to invite speakers on campus who traffic in ideas that make the kids uncomfortable. Their experience with it has been so difficult and probably in some cases ruinous that they just don’t dare to do it right now. So people like me who are offering ideas that are not comforting, we’re just out of luck right now, and the kids are maybe out of luck too, because they're not hearing these ideas.
I do want to say something about a point you make a minute ago which is you kind of suggested there was kind of transect of work between being an entrepreneur and having a job. And that’s probably true. There are people who are absolutely self-directed and then there are people who are directed by others. But there’s something in between, too. It actually used to probably be, at some point in human history, and for a long time in human history, the larger group. And that is, there’s something called a vocation between being an entrepreneur and just having a job. And having a vocation means being something that you're interested in, that you're good at, that you worked to become good at, something that is of practical use to other people. And a dynamic relationship between you and the world that is comprehensible, understood, and productive, and allows you to thrive.
So, the real question for young people right now is what can you do that will allow you to thrive in the years ahead? And I think they have to ask this question in a pretty clear eyed and hard way. And it’s probably not gonna be just going to college.
Chris: Well, particularly if college is going to be preparing you for a job set that doesn’t really exist out there. When I look into the future I see a future of less, and I know you think our audience is pretty well versed in this, but let me just cycle back to it really quickly, because it’s a very dominant narrative, a piece of programming that even Donald Trump said, the United States is now an oil exporter, which is false. We do export some oil, but we import even more than that, so on a net basis not a net exported, so kind of a faux pas there, but it’s okay. The marketing has been so good on this point that, I believe in his 2012 State of the Union, Obama said the United States is now energy independent because they lumped all the energy sources together and came out on a slight plus side on a BTU basis which is meaningless when you're talking about energy.
But one of the more important charts I’ve seen showed that for the shale operators every single year from 2012 on one thing has always been true. The revenues they’ve gotten from operations have been less than the cost to run their business. And so even though they say, well, we’re drilling successfully for forty now, but the cost of operations is still fifty. And they're still getting forty-five at the wellhead, or whatever. So, you look at this chart and it says they’ve been losing money every single year they’ve been in business, and so that’s the law of receding horizons. Like no matter what the horizon is, well, we’ll make tons of money when oil is seventy. Yeah, but it’ll cost you eighty to get it out of the ground. It’s the magic of the business. Whatever.
And we can detect that so easily when you look at the absolutely skyrocketing debt offerings and equity offerings they’ve had to put forward to stay in business. And Wall Street’s continued to funnel that. And, of course, Wall Street makes money at this, because they all pitch all of this. They help do the equity offerings, they underwrite the debt offerings, and then they sell them off to hapless future victims. And it’s just astonishing to me, Jim, that we have very intelligent analysts that look at this. How can you look at a chart that says a business that has lost money every single year that it’s been in operation is one you want to throw hundreds of billions of dollars of new equity and debt into on a yearly basis? It’s just astonishing to me. But the main point is this. The shale business is a bust, it has been, it’s produced a lot of oil, it’s produced it at a loss, and that’s not a healthy thing. That’s tied into the EROI story at a deeper level. But it’s just astonishing to me how many people think that shale has now saved the world, saved the bacon, we can safely go back to sleep forever or maybe at least another three decades.
Jim: Well what you're describing really is not so much the effect of the shale industry on the national psychology, but the effect of advertising. And I don’t think we pay enough attention to the fact that America is a culture that pretty much gave birth to the industry of advertising as a kind of national enterprise. And we’ve been sucked into believing our own advertising which, in many cases, is just dishonesty and nonsense. So, we have a giant industry that is dedicated to producing to disinformation and nonsense, and we’re conditioned to accept that nonsense. And I think that’s a simple explanation for it. And there are a lot of people who are employed at it, and there are a lot of people who benefit from that, and I think as a political question, it’s gonna be a threshold issue where, eventually, we reach a critical mass of nonsense and then stuff just flips. And then all of the sudden you're in a new world.
It’s the old Schopenhauer model, which is that new ideas are first greeted with ridicule, and next they are violently opposed, and next they are accepted as self-evidently true. And the flip is just so complete. There’s no cultural memory of left of when you believed something that’s not true. And so I think that’s what is gonna happen. My own guess is that it’s going to involve the disorder in the financial realm, because finance is kind of the life blood of this techno industrial society we live in. And when that gets into trouble the problems are gonna thunder through all the other realms our culture, and then we’ll be forced to pay attention. And I think that those financial disorders are not far off. And that when that happens things are gonna change.
You and I, I think, have been quite frustrated over the last eight years at the ability of certain authorities in our culture to manipulate prices and levitate markets and intervene in the physics of our economy. And that just can’t go on forever. Even though it’s frustrating to watch it looks to me like it’s kind of climaxing. What to me is the tail of the whole thing is just the present of the existence of Trump as president, the election of Trump. And what that tells me is that the disorders that are already present in our economy are manifesting now in our politics. And that to me is a pretty dangerous sign. It’s like when you have a metabolic disease, a chronic metabolic disease that all of the sudden really starts to present shocking and alarming symptoms. And that should be an alarm to us that we’re really in trouble. And that it’s the economy stupid.
Chris: So then Trump becomes the yellowish orangish hue on the skin of a sclerosis victim.
Jim: But also, he’s in a peculiar historic situation because he’s also gonna be the guy holding the bag for all this when it begins to seriously unravel. And he was kind of – history or fate put him in office as the designated bag holder – I don’t have a whole lot of sympathy for him, but I do think that’s what’s gonna happen. And that’s how he’s going to be viewed. He’ll be left with this heap of smoldering problems and wreckage, and I think that’s how it’s gonna play out. I wouldn’t be surprised if it played out in the remaining five months of the year.
Chris: I don’t think he’s gonna make it through his whole term, obviously.
Jim: I don’t either.
Chris: He’s got the whole apparatus of the deep state against him. He’s got every major newspaper outlet. He’s got both parties. He really doesn’t have any allies that I’m familiar with at this point in time. And what’s astonishing to me is to just see the level of absolute hypocrisy – they're so transparent, of course – so we had John McCain come out and excoriate, like the president sided with Nazi’s, and I couldn’t find anything in Trump’s statements that said that. He said something that you harkened to which is like, hey, both sides got looks like they're at fault here. And I don’t know what he was supposed to say –
Jim: What he said – excuse me for interrupting – but what he said that was so obnoxious, especially to the mainstream press – was that there were “good people on both sides”. And you know there were Nazi’s on one side, and there were Antifa and Black Lives Matter and other players on the other side. And my guess is that there are probably a few people on the conservative side who are not terrible Nazi’s who had a sincere belief that the statue of Robert E. Lee ought to be allowed to remain in place for reasons that were not Nazi reasons, and there were people on the other side were people who probably had good intentions too. But there were a lot of other people who were interested in making trouble. But I don’t know. It was a hugely overblown conflict. And it’s, to me, just more evidence that this organism called the deep state really wants to run over Trump with the 25th Amendment, and they're pretty determined to do it. And they're just waiting for anything that he might possibly do to qualify him to be run over by the 25th Amendment.
Chris: And I’ll tell you so it’s somebody that has a slightly longer memory than the average, I guess. The person who really just sort of made this emblematic for me was John McCain. So John McCain came up and said, well, what the president said was the equivalency, blah, blah, we have to just condemn Nazi’s wherever they are, right. And of course, John McCain was the person who was seen in Ukraine in the fall of 2013 after Yanukovych failed to sign the association agreement with Europe, and it was only a couple months after that that Yanukovych was run out of town, hop, skip and a jump between Yatz and then now on to Poroshenko, and you have militia’s running all over Ukraine on the eastern side – sorry, on the western side – that are displaying opening waffen SS and swastika’s and the whole nine yards, right.
Jim: Yeah, but there are Nazi’s.
Chris: And nobody said boo about that. Not even the New York Times wrote one single article that I could find about that saying, hey, this is awful. We should condemn this whenever this arises, and is continuing to support the side that has open Nazi affiliations and with people whose prime hero on that side of the country, the Bandera, was a full-blown fascist Nazi kind of a guy. So at any rate, it feels to me like the thing that I find embarrassing about that is if you're a bully goes out and allows full Nazism somewhere else, and then there’s one tiny little rally by comparison in your own country and you flip a nut over that, you're the equivalent of the bully who says, only I get to throw punches, I don’t want any blowback, I don’t want anybody taking a swing back at me. I don’t want to experience any pain of my own. I just want to export pain. I don’t want any here.
McCain sort of symbolized that whole thing for me. He’s just an awful human being who has never seen a war he didn’t want to impose on somebody else, but then gets on his high, dunderous horse and really professes to be very upset when he sees similar things echo back home. Again, I think we need to take a good hard look that if you're gonna export this kind of stuff to the rest of the world you have to be aware that you're a violent culture and you got to look that in the face. You can’t say no, no, we only want peace, love and tolerance for all, and be who we are in the world.
Jim: It begs the question why we can’t examine that, why we can’t look at it. I think the answer is there are cycles in history and some of them follow sine, cosine waves of troughs and hills and troughs and hills. And one of the cycles I think we’re seeing here is that there are times when a culture or a nation or a people has a very poor sense of what’s happening to them, and has a very poor ability to articulate where they stand in history and the forces that are at work upon them. And that’s where we’re at. We’re at a low point in that sine, cosine waveform of a nation’s ability to understand what’s happening.
And there are times when countries have a better idea of what’s going on for various reasons. I think that we had a pretty good idea of what we were doing in the Second World War, and because of that we had a much firmer consensus about how we were gonna behave in society, and so people look back on the ‘40s and even the 30s, the period of the Depression, people look back on that, and they kind of marvel at the strength of the social consensus and the decency of the ordinary behavior of the people in the street and the social norms that existed then. And you look at our time and the social norms have deteriorated so badly and people don’t know have to behave in public and we clearly don’t know what’s happening to us.
As we started this conversation, talking about the systemic failure of all of the subsystems that we depend on, which are interlinked, I don’t think we have any understanding of that. We don’t have any understanding of the true picture in the energy scene, we have no sense of what we’re doing to ourselves with our terribly destructive industrial farming. We have no idea how we’re destroying the intellectual life of this nation in the universities with its Maoist, Fascist thought police and its antipathy to free thinking and free speech. We have no idea of the depths of depravity in the medical rackets that are going on. So, all these systems are in terrible condition, and above them all is the financial system that is full of corruption, dishonesty, accounting fraud, and racketeering. And we’re allowing all of these things to go on because we don’t know what else to do.
Chris: All the central banks can manage to do is just keep jamming the markets over and over and over again. And we know for a fact that you’ve got the Swiss National Bank, the Bank of Japan openly admitting that they step into markets and buy equities at key moments to make sure they always go in the right direction, which is up. And the level of pushback from the political class is zero around these activities, even though what’s happening is, what they're doing is, they're redistributing wealth aggressively and very, very rapidly to a very tiny elite.
And that’s not a good recipe for social cohesion and stability or even the primate, primal sense of fairness that’s really important for us to not be – a lot of this anger I see going on out there is really because we know – the people are right – is because it’s a deeply unjust system. I think they’ve misdiagnosed the cause. I think they’ve been a little shallow in their thinking. But yeah, this is a decaying, decrepit sort of a system, and we need to face that up. It’s terrifying to know you're in a rusted-out buckle bolt of a car that’s careening down a slalomy mountain course. That’s terrifying.
Jim: That’s why I said that Trump represents the political manifestation of all that discontent. And the apprehension, the recognition that there are things that are very wrong. And as I also said, having lost our ability to articulate what that is at this particular moment in history. I do think that the deformations and interventions of the central banks are eventually going to have a consequence. And I listen to a lot of financial podcasts, and what’s missing in many of them is the sense that any of that activity actually does have consequences.
And to me it pretty clearly points in one direction, and that is the destruction of currencies. And I do think that’s gonna be the next thing on board. It may initially manifest as a bond market calamity, or a bond and stock market calamity. But eventually I think it’s gonna manifest in people simply losing their faith in what passes for “money”. And money will lose its legitimacy, just as politics is now losing its legitimacy in the USA. So that points to two directions. One is a real global and worldwide currency fiasco and a great deal of political disorder. And they're not mutually exclusive. In fact, they're more likely to happen in concert than one or the other. So I think that’s pretty much where we’re headed.
Chris: And of course, all of this can go on a lot longer than we think because this isn’t just a bubble that’s popping. So bubbles go further than you think. There were railroad bubbles, tulip bubbles, real estate bubbles, you name it, and each of them had a certain arch and a trajectory, but this is the mother of all bubbles. It began with a delusion that was instilled in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, which was that we could grow our credit markets at twice the rate of our underlying economy. And it was a grand experiment. And everybody’s sort of participating at this point, and China really just roared into the story and said, yeah, man, we can show you how to really do this right. And of course, it’s a mass delusion because debts represent something that you have to pay back in the future or you face a currency crisis. Those are your options. And the whole world is now participating in this idea that somehow the world is gonna be able to meet the needs of a financial systems that really lost its moorings a long time ago.
And that’s a hard thing to swallow and it’s very, very difficult to give up the dream of the bubble because the root of a bubble, always, for humans, is not a financial thing. It’s a sociological condition and it says this: there is such a thing as a free lunch. You don’t have to pay stuff back. You can live beyond your means forever, right, and you don’t have to ever question if tulips are actually – what the intrinsic value of a tulip really is or any of that.
So here we are, and that’s why this bubble isn’t one just sort of began a few years ago. The so-called housing bubble, that wasn’t the bubble. It was a side bubble. It was a bubblette on the side of this credit bubble that has been going forever and ever. And so that’s the only delusion that needs to be pierced. People need to be able to square up to this one idea – can you constantly compound your claims on the future forever? The answer is no, it’s a finite planet. But can you do it even more rationally at twice the rate that your underlying economy is growing forever? The answer is no. But that’s the story that the entire financial market has been attempting to perpetuate and doing a reasonable job at it by the numbers, but a terrible job by any sort of logic in this story. We live in an illogical world where if you dare to think about it for a minute it falls apart pretty quick.
Jim: Well, I think what we’re seeing is more like the master bubble of industrial civilization, and that’s what makes it so dangerous and foreboding because it’s really the climax of about three hundred years of a particular phase of human history that seems now to be coming to an end. We’re going to be moving into something new. I don’t think that’s it’s going to be the Ray Kurzweil singularity era of transcendent machine intelligence and endless energy and expansion into all the parallel universes. I personally think it’s gonna be world made by hand. And by that, I mean a significant time out from our idea of what progress has been.
Whatever historical experience we had as a species for what preceded the techno-industrial fiesta and the things leading up to it has been kind of lost. So we really don’t – we can’t imagine that there’s any other way to behave. The debt bubble of the last 40 years, which is like a giant car bungle on the techno-industrial world was, at first, something that seemed like a good idea. But then something that seemed to be imperative to keep on doing because if we didn’t keep on doing, the system would collapse. And I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing with that. And that really has lost any kind of coherent reason other than desperation. So when desperation is the only thing that is propelling you forward, that’s not a very good thing. We don’t have a plan. We don’t even have mini-plans for the various parts of our culture that might even be fixable. And so we’re just sleepwalking into the future.
Chris: Very well said. And let me wrap this up by saying that I think that as a social animal that humans, like sheep that can smell wolves over the hill, we’ve detected something. And a lot of people are reacting to that. And that’s where I feel the anxiety and the energy and the emotional content is really coming from. And shame of the media for just running with that and whipping it into frantic, useless directions on –
Jim: It’s really tragic. It’s tragic. What we call the news media really, in the best times and in the best sense, has functioned as the sensory organs of our culture, giving us a clear picture of actually what’s out there. I personally think that it’s a manifestation of the diminishing returns of technology that now that we have all of this information supplied by the web and computers that we’re absolutely unable to make any sense about where we stand. And especially in those organs that are supposed to provide it, the news media. The failure is really epoch. So, that’s another tragic element of the diminishing returns of technology and another thing that – another system that we’re usable to pay attention to.
Chris: Absolutely. And the more you watch television probably the less well informed you are, particularly CNN and those other things. So, I don’t know what they're doing. Whether they are actually maliciously and perniciously horsewhipping people around just for sport or because of some other ulterior aim that’s provided by that.
Jim: I’ll tell you one thing that’s clear that’s going on. I can’t be the only one who’s noticed this, but have you noticed that the major cable news networks no longer have correspondents in the field? When you used to turn on Huntley and Brinkley or Walter Cronkite back in the 70s, the news was about what was going on in the world and in the nation. And they had people around the world and around the nation who, they would tune in to and they would report about what was going on. They don’t do any of that anymore. All they have are these panels of people who are giving their opinions. So every night CNN or FOX news says, and now it’s time to turn to our panel. After reading a couple of headlines. And that’s all it is.
They tried to downsize their operations so severely that there are no correspondents left and there’s nobody out there collecting real news. There’s nobody out there really observing it on the ground. So it’s no wonder that we don’t know what we’re doing and what’s happening.
Chris: I think that they also have noted their increasing irrelevance there over at CNN et al, and one response to that is to say, tell us what works. And the only spaghetti that’s sticking to the wall is the one where they basically inflame things. So, they’ve basically just become just like stage operators whose only job is to get any reaction they can.
Jim: Yeah, I’m actually surprised that a guy like Anderson Cooper is not ashamed of what he’s doing because he’s clearly not a stupid person. It may be the so-called Overton window of acceptable thinking that prevents him from seeing it, otherwise known as the echo chamber of received ideas. But it’s hard to understand why some of these people who are intelligent don’t get the nature of the echo chamber they're serving.
Chris: Well, we’ll probably see Anderson do one of my least favorite things. We’ll call it the reveal all retirement speech, you know. Now that I’m on the retirement dias giving my last speech let me tell you what I really think. Like, thank you very much. That would have been awesome years ago, but now you're irrelevant so shut up. I hate that particular speech.
Jim: Well, the thing is that this is essentially dishonorable behavior. And there doesn’t seem to be any interest in calling out dishonorable behavior is our culture. That’s something that has to happen. There had to be a general recognition or a consensus about what actually is decent behavior, what actually is okay. And the only things that we’re interested in right now are meaningless platitudes like you're a racist, you're a Nazi, you're a Fascist, you're this, you're that. And those things are no longer meaningful.
Chris: Good point. Well, with that, let’s direct people to your excellent website and blog so that they can read you and follow you if they don’t already.
Jim: My website is www.kunstler.com. Kunstler dot com. I actually have a new book out called A Safe and Happy Place. And it’s a departure from what I have been doing, but I wanted to do it. It’s a novel set on a hippie commune in Vermont in the late 1960s and it’s narrated by the 19-year-old girl at the center of the story. And I think it’s good summer reading. I’m a full-service writer. I like to do a lot of different kinds of things, and I wanted to write that novel, so there it is.
Chris: Excellent. All right. Well, with that, Jim, thank you so much for your time today.
Jim: It’s a pleasure talking to you, as ever.