If you don't understand what's causing a particular problem, then it's pretty difficult to come up with an effective solution.
Author, commentator and longtime friend-of-the-site James Howard Kunstler returns to our podcast this week to discuss the importance of accurate diagnosis — in this case, of the scourge he sees as accelerating America's downslide into economic and social decline: Racketeering.
More associated with the organized crime bosses of a century ago, it's not a word used often these days. But that doesn't diminish in any way its relevance to and impact on our lives today:
The disorders in politics that we're seeing now are really expressions of the larger disorders in our economic life and our financial life. That just happens to be the avenue that the expression is coming out of. Another point I'd like to make is that the reason that people are against Hillary or dumping on Hillary or don't like her, is because she's a poster child for racketeering. I encourage people who are talking about our circumstances and people who are interested in the news and election, to use the word racketeering to describe what's going on in this country. You really need the right vocabulary to understand exactly what's going on.
Racketeering is just pervasive in all of our activities. Not just in politics but in things even like medicine and education. Obviously the college loan scheme is an example of racketeering. Anybody who has to go to an emergency room with a child whose broken their finger or something, is going to end up with a bill for $20,000. You know why? Because of medical racketeering. And so, these are really efforts to money-grub by any means necessary, often in ways that are unethical and probably illegal. Let's use that word racketeering to describe our national situation.
And let's remember by the way, the activities of the central banks is just another form of racketeering. Using debt issuance and attempting to control interest rates in order to conceal our inability to generate the kind of real wealth that we need to continue as a techno-industrial society.
Societies have a really hard time understanding what they're doing, articulating the problems that they face and coming up with a coherent consensus about what's happening, and coming up with a coherent consensus about what to do about it. Combine that with another quandary, the relationships between energy and the dead racket for concealing real capital formation. I like to reduce it to one particular formula that is pretty easy for people to understand. It's a classic quandary: that oil priced at over $75 a barrel in today's dollars tends to crush economies, and oil priced under $75 a barrel in today's dollars tends to crush oil companies. There is no real sweet spot between those two places. We're ratcheting between them and each one of them entails a lot of destruction. That's a terrible quandary that we're in and it's being expressed in banking and finance…and the people in charge of those things don’t really know what else to do except continue the deformation of institutions and instruments.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with James Howard Kunstler (58m:21s).
Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity podcast. I am your host Chris Martenson and it is August 10th, 2016. I am really pleased to have back with me today James Howard Kunstler, who is the author, extraordinary writer, blogger, you name it, all around guy, speaker...goes out and tells the world the things that I've been trying to say, in his own wonderful style. Of course, he's been doing it longer than I have. One of the very first books that I came across that really caught me and put the dots together in a way that I understood was the Long Emergency; just a fantastic read. And taking that tour of the data, as it were, that's in The Long Emergency, that explains the predicaments we face. He's also got another series of books in The World Made by Hand, which is a fictional account of what the world might or looks like once the long emergency gets under way. With that, James, really happy to have you back with me today.
James Howard Kunstler: It's a pleasure, Chris. You forgot to say that I bake cookies and make my own clothes.
Chris Martenson: Well...
James Howard Kunstler: And they come in nine decorator colors.
Chris Martenson: Yeah, your long underwear series, I hear, is just not to be missed.
James Howard Kunstler: That's next.
Chris Martenson: Where do we start on this? Jim, it's been a while and you and I have had some offline conversations by phone. I wish people could have been listening in, because you and I are out there doing what we can to interface with the world, and let it know what we think is coming, and to engage in the conversations. I'm discovering that people are getting nervous, that there's a little bit more ability to engage in conversations. Here's one quick example. Five years ago nobody would believe me. It was a very small crowd of people who understood these election machines are easily hacked and elections are easily stolen. In fact, of course they are. A few of them get away with something that has that much at stake...you're probably going to rig it. The data was always there. There wasn't a question of shortage of material, information, data, evidence...all of this could have been laid out prosecutorial and very easily; a very easy case to win. But people still weren't ready to go there, and now people are ready to go there.
Now more people are going: “Huh, I guess that might be true.” I'm finding that we're in this weird moment in time where people are at once both kind of worn down by the larger experience of life. Nothing really seems to be breaking. Maybe it's just going to go this way forever. And simultaneously, understanding that things are getting further and further off the rails, and that things can really go pear shaped. I'm finding that tension out there right now. Just now that I have you and the record button's on...I would just love to talk about your experience in that regard.
James Howard Kunstler: Well, the dynamics you're describing I think - for the most part, the financial and economic dynamics that we pay a lot of attention to. But if you want to see something that's really flying apart, all you have to do is look at the gruesome spectacle of the 2016 presidential election. What's happening with Trump is just unbelievable. I have to be clear that I'm not fond of either of these candidates. I'm very disenchanted and disappointed with both of the major parties and their candidates. Trump is especially, just an amazing case of somebody completely out of control who doesn't seem to get his whole lower half of his body out of his mouth. I am beginning to wonder...if behind the scenes, all these Republicans aren't running around with their hair on fire trying to find some device, some way to get rid of him; to do something.
My thought today is...an outside possibility that in desperation they might just turn to supporting the libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. But that's kind of a low percentage deal. But you never know. On the Hillary side, there are two things...three things about Hillary that I think are kind of salient at the moment. One is, this gathering question about her health. She seems to have some peculiar health problems. People are speculating about some kind of brain convulsion seizure problem. Who knows...that remains unresolved and deeply hidden and stuffed down. The other thing is that with all the noise about her email scandal, the one thing that we're not really getting a whole lot of information about - which I think is really the vital thing - is the connection between her state department email server activities and the activities of the Clinton Foundation in grubbing money from donors all around the world; especially donors in countries doing business with the State Department in one way or another. Getting approvals for arms sales and things like that. The dearth of reporting about that is really stunning and the dearth of inquiry from supposedly, responsible authorities.
Another thing that ought to be really troubling is the advocacy of major media outlets like the New York Times and CNN. There was one story today in the New York Times that was just stupefyingly weird. It was about the difficulty that Hillary and Bill supposedly had when Bill lost the governorship of Arkansas in 1980. He had served one term. They had two year terms. He got unelected, un-re-elected. And so, the New York Times story was, here are these two poor people who are coming out of government and they're using to living in the governor's mansion...and now all of a sudden they don’t have jobs and they don’t have any money. They have to buy a house in a crummy neighborhood, and isn't that sad? I'm thinking, okay...you have two Yale educated lawyers. One of them a former governor and they can't get jobs at a decent law firm somewhere in the South or anywhere else? It was preposterous that this sob story that we're supposed to believe they couldn't make a living. How many ex-governors... Ex governors can get seats on university boards of directors, corporate boards of directors...and get paid stupefyingly large sums of money just for doing nothing, or attending three meetings a year.
Chris Martenson: This was back in the 80s, right?
James Howard Kunstler: This was, the Times story about what happened in the 80s when Bill did not get re-elected.
Chris Martenson: Now, they should have just turned back to Hillary's extraordinary abilities as a cattle futures trader where she did turn $1,000 into $100,000. Wink, wink, we know how that happened...in the future's market. So, yeah...but your larger point... The sob story, we have to humanize these people, how do we make them just like everybody?
James Howard Kunstler: How credulous do they think their readers are. That we're going to feel sorry for them that they couldn't get a job? It's ridiculous.
Chris Martenson: There's an astonishing thing I'm noticing. For whatever reasons when politics get involved, it's like people resort to team sports. They're not aware that there's just a different uniform on one versus the other. Oh, no! The Jets, I hate the Bills. It's just this whole craziness. But I've seen a lot of people come out with this canard that Hillary's just getting a really bad deal in the press because she's a woman. That's what they're trying to show, but I'm thinking no, she's getting less than a bad deal because they're not actually talking about all the stuff she's done. If she's getting a bad deal at all, it's because those are the decisions and choices she made in life, to do some really awful things. And so, I really am very much against this whole idea of trying to say that sexism has a role in this or racism has a role. All these things which are just device of elements. How about we just talk about who the people are, what they've done, what their records are...and can we start there? Because she's got in my mind, a horrible record. Just horrible.
James Howard Kunstler: Well, two things about that. One is that to get back to the larger point we were on a few minutes ago. The disorders in politics that we're seeing now are really expressions of the larger disorders in our economic life and our financial life. That just happens to be the avenue that the expression is coming out of. The second point, or another point I'd like to make is that the reason that people are against Hillary or dumping on Hillary or don't like her, is because she's a poster child for racketeering, for political racketeering. I encourage people who are talking about our circumstances and people who are interested in the news and election, to use the word racketeering to describe what's going on in this country. You really need the right vocabulary to understand exactly what's going on.
Racketeering is just pervasive in all of our activities. Not just in politics, but in things even like medicine and education. Obviously, the college loan scheme is an example of racketeering. Anybody who has to go to an emergency room with a child who's broken their finger or something, is going to end up with a bill for $20,000. You know why? Because of medical racketeering. And so, these are really efforts to money grub by any means necessary; often in ways that are unethical and probably illegal. Let's use that word racketeering to describe our national situation.
Chris Martenson: Sure, let's absolutely do that. I remember reading this, probably back in 2011, an article about occupy Wall Street. They had just come up with some money and was at a party or some event, this person was like...isn't this ironic, those occupy Wall Street people are putting that money in a bank? He said, it's not ironic. They're not anti-bank. They're anti-corruption in the banking system. But the mean got out there that oh, these people must just be anti-bank and somehow the whole message gets corrupted. But really, this larger thing that we're seeing in the United States, we're seeing it in France, across big parts of Europe. If you hadn't been reading what's going on in Greece, what’s really going on there...average, ordinary people are getting squeezed and harder and harder. Forget all the headline statistics about oh, we had 200,000 new jobs created and wage growth has been fantastic. It's not fantastic, particularly not compared to the actual rate of inflation.
Here's my larger view of this...I think this holds well...is that, if you want to understand an economy you have to understand how much energy it's using. If there's a lot of energy flowing through it, of course you can have a dynamic economy. Who knows what creative people will do with all that energy? They'll drive to soccer games or build giant things. Who knows.
James Howard Kunstler: Well, energy that's affordable.
Chris Martenson: Affordable, but let's look at it in terms of energy per capita. How much energy do you have going per person? The United States had rising energy per capita up until about 1970 because we had all this petroleum. Then our petroleum peaked and ever since then, we've had declining net oil per capita or energy per capita. On a net basis even worse, because what we know about energy return and energy invested. Think...if this main thesis holds which says, gosh...just track the amount of energy going through and you will understand the larger shape and context of a culture...the United States by this model, we'd say, something in the average person's experience would have peaked around 1970-ish and would be going downhill ever since. I don’t mean in terms of Pokemon Go and wonderful smart phones and all that stuff. Obviously technology is advanced. But you could support a family on a single income in the 1970s. I remember because, not that I was supporting a whole household, but I was actually working for minimum wage, much lower on an hourly basis compared to today nominally. But I could actually put money aside. Today there would be no chance of surviving on minimum wage. In fact, two wage earners on minimum wage, forget about it. It's still almost impossible in most places...thoroughly impossible in many metropolitan markets.
James Howard Kunstler: Sure.
Chris Martenson: By this model we would predict that things are getting harder and harder. That's thrust one. I think that's in play. Affordable energy is on its way out the door and of course that's adding some pressures to this. Then you have to combine it with the racketeering that you're talking about, where the people in charge can't help themselves. Almost like the rats who can detect the ship about to sink. They grab everything they can. So, the thieving, the money grubbing that's going on...it's a hurricane force of vacuuming from the bottom to the top. The the gatekeepers, which is the New York Times, are busy trying to pretend as if this is just a thing that happens. Why are people so cranky? The truth of the matter is that the elites are overstaying their welcome. They don’t understand...the basics that there needs to be some fairness in a society for it to be livable. I think that's escaped them.
James Howard Kunstler: Well, it's a very demoralized society now. And that...I think, is one of the only things that might explain the failure of people of stature arising out of the elites, to make some kind of credible opposition to what's going on. Aside from Bernie Sanders...can there be only one guy, one figure in America who wants to take a stand against what's been going on? Let's remember, by the way, the activities of the central banks is just another form of racketeering. Using debt issuance and attempting to control interest rates in order to conceal our inability to generate the kind of real wealth that we need to continue as a techno-industrial society.
I actually do think the Human Project has the capacity to produce people of good will. But there may be a kind of sign/co-sign wave form that explains that at certain times in history...societies have a real hard time understanding what they're doing, articulating the problems that they face and coming up with a coherent consensus about what's happening, and coming up with a coherent consensus about what to do about it. The other quandary, which you are painfully aware of, is the relationships between energy and the debt racket for concealing real capital formation. I like to reduce it to one particular formula that is pretty easy for people to understand. It's a classic quandary and that is, that oil priced at over $75 a barrel in today's dollars tends to crush economies and oil priced under $75 a barrel in today's dollars tends to crush oil companies. There is no real sweet spot between those two places. We're ratcheting between them, and each one of them entails a lot of destruction. That's a terrible quandary that we're in, and it's being expressed in banking and finance...and the people in charge of those things don’t really know what else to do except continue the deformation of institutions and instruments.
Chris Martenson: We've been talking on our site at Peak Prosperity for a while about some of the ecological signs that are out there. One of the things that caught our attention for a while was talking about insects. My observation was that when I was a boy in the woody station wagon we would drive from Connecticut to upstate New York and across route 90 there - the New York State Thruway. I remember every time we stopped for gas, somebody would have to get out and just scrape the bugs off. You just couldn't see anymore.
James Howard Kunstler: Sure.
Chris Martenson: We just made the trip recently in July, and drove the whole way there and not a single bug on the windshield. Not one. Of course, there's all this data coming out of Germany and other places and the guy who does the soundscape, he's been dutifully recording very specific locations with high fidelity microphones for 30 years...and just saying there's this collapse of sound. He calls it the deafening walls of silence on his recordings now. This is all happening around us and it takes a minimal sort of awareness to A, notice that's happening and then B, say maybe we should look at that. That's actually an important sign, we think. This generalized loss of species. A rapture has happened, only it wasn't humans...it was insects, that got taken. That there's this general really big giant stuff happening ecologically, and we can't summon the attention for it, because we're just too distracted of maintaining the fictitions of our current environment...the happy motoring utopia. This is what I feel in the Hillary campaign, to a lesser extent the Trump campaign, but in other political movements...just this desperation to maintain the status quo because I think what's happening Jim, that will allow people to not have to confront what's actually happening. It feels like a last gasp at reality ignoring or something like that.
James Howard Kunstler: I think it's very, very hard emotionally. It's hard for me. I can barely stand to read stories in the press about what's happening to the oceans, what's happening in mass extinctions. You, I think especially as someone coming out of the hard biological sciences...you have a particular appreciation for this. You're probably more able to give your attention to it than me or some other ordinary person. I just find it so sad. I can barely think about what's happening to the oceans. I understand that other people can't, either. That's one of the things we can't grapple with at the moment and I'm not sure we're going to be able to do anything about it. Although, I do think that in the larger sense...reality always has mandates of its own and circumstances are eventually going to compel us to do things differently. They will change the situation for us. We'll probably be dragged kicking and screaming into the recognition of the predicament that we're in. But we're not going to let go voluntarily and there are ways of understanding that. One of my favorite ways is understanding the psychology of previous investment. The idea - that's also another way of expressing some costs. The idea that you put so much of your personal wealth or cultural, national wealth in a certain infrastructure for daily life, that you can't imagine letting go of it. That's kind of where we're at.
Chris Martenson: I completely agree and I have a confession to make...which is that, for all the time I spend talking about these giant predicaments, I actually love my own life. The life I fashioned for myself. I hope it's not a case of fiddling while Rome burns a little bit...but I believe I have to walk the talk, that I have to be the change I want to see. But more importantly, I actually really like gardening, building soil, and I like being in a relationship with all the insects...not just the bees and butterflies I plant for. I like to...I really think that this is the thing I've been wrestling with.
I did a lot of existential intersection over my summer vacation and here's what really came to me. It's that we had this set of institutions that served us pretty well for a while in the hunter/gatherer time. Then there was this big switch and we went into agrarian pursuits with mixed results and we'll see how that experiment turns out. Fundamentally, the institutions that arose during that time were extractive. I was just reading a book called Why Nations Fail and interviewed the author...great book. It deposited this idea that some nations are poor and some are rich, not because of geography, culture, none of that. It's because they had the right political institutions that were inclusive and the right economic institutions that were also inclusive. But if the political institutions were in any way marginalizing or exclusive to elites and the economic institutions were also that way...like you can imagine, Mexico.
Carlos Slim, the second or first most wealthy person in the world depending on which day we're counting...he got there because he got the telephone contract out of the Mexican government and he knew the right people. So, there was that lack of inclusively. There would be no way for an average Mexican person to compete against him and get a loan from the banking system there. It's not possible because it's not how it's structured. That was the explanation of this book...well, if you have these extractive political and economic institutions, you end up with poor nations. But look, you get these shiny, wonderful examples where you have these wealthy nations...that’s the United States, etcetera. It's an interesting framework, I like it a lot. But what's missing that - and I asked him this question... Yes, we have these inclusive political and economic institutions, but they're still extractive. They're just not extractive of humans...but still of the natural world.
And so, I think that as much as capitalism and inclusive political institutions, was the wave of one period of time. This next period of time, if we're going to make this next transition in any way, shape, or form... When the dust settles we're going to have new cultural institutions. I'm not talking about just buildings and things like that. New political, cultural, and economic institutions that are regenerative and relational. Where now it's fairly isolated and extractive. I don’t know how we get to that second stage, but that's really where my thinking is at this point. There's nothing salvageable in most of our institutions, because they're founded on a premise that's false...which is that we can extract forever.
James Howard Kunstler: Right and I will reiterate that. I think we will get there, but we'll probably be dragged there kicking and screaming against our will. We'll find ourselves there. I think one aspect of this that interests me and kind of amazes me, is the inability of thinking people...the thinking classes in our society and they're still there. Their inability to understand that the institutions of modernity were very special. They were extra special. And so many of these thinking people assume that these institutions are permanent. This is the whole amazingly weird thing behind the Tom Friedman idea that the global economy is a permanent part of the human condition. When in fact, it's obvious that it was the product of a set of very special circumstances, during a special time and place. Namely, the late twentieth century and the advanced nations of the world.
Two conditions that prevail, namely about 100 years of relatively, very cheap energy. And about 70 years of relative peace between the great powers. There was animosity and there was friction, but there were no great world wars for that period. That has allowed a series of economic relations between distant nations to play out, and the idea that these things are permanent, just strikes me as hilarious and preposterous, and yet that's what we're asked to believe by the avatars of Keynesianism, and the New York Times, the people who want to keep the rackets going.
Chris Martenson: Indeed. Even if things don’t collapse all at once, there's this idea of the institutional drift that happens over time. What you're talking about is first there were some contingencies that had to be in play. If for whatever reason we hadn't discovered oil - trust me, this is all a different sort of a world we're sitting at in this point in time. The thing that I took from this book as well though is that you have to guard the institutions you do have carefully in some respect because it really matters what's happening in them and whether they're adapting well to the times or not. Right now I can see as I add up all my little data points, our political institutions are being revealed as increasingly not inclusive. Right?
James Howard Kunstler: Ah huh.
Chris Martenson: This whole thing that happened, it really still shocked me to see Bernie toss in the towel...reading the reports I read that said, look...there was voter suppression, there was voter roll purgings, actual outright statistical evidence of vote flipping and the electronically rigged machines, tabulators that were giving erroneous results, and also vote tallies that did not match the exit polls. Just all this buffet of crud. That just says stolen election. For him to overlook that and say, yeah I know you guys have a lot of energy, but we lost fair and square...they stole it fair and square. It was a flat note in that. But what's really missing in that is that he missed on the point there in saying, once you've sort of rolled over and admitted that you have corrupt systems and that's just the way it is. That's actually a really far more important point than just saying: “Well this is bigger than just about me and I guess next election we'll have a shot at fixing this.” Once you institutionalize and accept that level of thievery - which happened in 2000 by the way...this is not about Bernie, it happened earlier. These are big moments. I think really big sweeping big fundamental things are happening to the fabric of our country in terms of privacy, the voting issues, the banking. All rackets. It’s just all rackets.
James Howard Kunstler: I think it's the essence of the demoralization that you're describing. We're in a period, really, where everything goes and nothing matters. You know, among the many proofs of that is the fact that the supposed guardians of our collective virtue, of right and wrong, are disabled. We have institutions like the Securities and Exchange Commission, and some of the duties of the Federal Reserve, and the Department of Justice... They were supposed to take actions. The FBI is supposed to make referrals to the SEC for the prosecution of financial misconduct. All of this stuff is missing. And of course, you can lay a lot of this at the desk of Barack Obama. A really kind of peculiar figure in our history, in our politics, because he seems to be a decent fellow. He's articulate, he’s calm, and suave...He seems to have personal characteristics that are admirable. And yet, he has done absolutely nothing to guard the sense of right and wrong in our institutional life. I think it's been hugely damaging. And the fact that nobody is able to recognize this, especially among what I call, the thinking classes.
In that wad of people, I come out of the old New York liberal, Democratic part of the wing of the thinking classes. That's sort of my heritage. I'm completely disenchanted with it. I wonder how other people feel about it. I don’t really see that disenchantment so much in other people. I see a more general sense of being discouraged and - Cynicism, which is merely thinking the worse of the human race...which is really not good enough. That's not enough of an emotion to get you forward; get you to anything better. That’s all I see. I don’t know what it takes to make this right. As I said before, I think it's one of the great abiding mysteries of the last dozen or so years...that no figures of stature have stepped forward to oppose this behavior. That is something that ought to make us very, very concerned, because it tells us that we're going to have to wait until circumstances really whack this society upside the head with a two by four, to get its attention and make some of the changes we're describing.
I do think that we will get to a new disposition of things. I think it's going to be very different from our expectations and very different from the comforts and conveniences that we've enjoyed in the last 50, 60 years. But I don’t think it's going to be all bad. I just think that people cannot imagine...we just have a national incapacity to imagine the sort of future that we're entering. The reset of economic life, especially.
Chris Martenson: This has been one of the longest stretches of economic ease, really. To the extent that somebody's poor in the United States, let's compare them to somebody living 300 years ago and it's just a king's life even then.
James Howard Kunstler: Oh, yeah. Flat screen TVs, all the cheese doodles you could ever want to eat. A lot of people who are supposedly poor are definitely not going hungry. We can tell that from the crisis we see of just the condition of American citizens. They are in the worst shape of people you can imagine. I went to Stockholm on a speaking gig in June. I got off the plane and I noticed I was in a city full of normal sized people. It was like a stupefying experience to all of a sudden be in a place where people actually looked like healthy adults. Whereas, now I live in the corner of the world...not too different from yours and we're not that far away from each other. But I live in kind of an old industrialized corner of the upper Hudson valley where there are very few good jobs and the remaining population doesn't have that much to do and doesn't get paid very much. They look terrible. You go into the supermarket and maybe 5% of the people in the supermarket are not grossly overweight, don't look terribly sick, or diabetic, or suffering from vascular problems...have to lean on some kind of a shopping cart just to walk up the aisle. It's a pretty scary thing to see.
Chris Martenson: Indeed. You can literally be starving to death while you're packing the weight on with the food that we have in this country. These are the kinds of things that people do to themselves when they're really just asleep at the switch. I don’t know where it starts. We did homeschool our children because I had some concerns about the...the indoctrination that I think public schools are forced to enforce at this point in time. Ranging from the idea that...I've used this anecdote before, but I was talking with somebody and he got in a bit of a tiff with his son's teachers because his son, who was nine or something, was with two other boys at the back of the recess yard throwing rocks at trees in the woods. They just thought that was violent and his son got in trouble. He was just mystified. He's like, think of all the things you learn by throwing. Every rock's differently shaped, you’ve got gravity involved, there's all this coordination. It's actually an important part of learning. It would be like saying to otters, no playing...or to puppies. No tussling with each other. It's a normal part of human development and we're like, we can't even honor normal anything at this point because we have lost... To me, if I had one phrase it would be common sense.
James Howard Kunstler: Well, you ask where it starts and I think that the general run of humanity really does need some kind of a coherent armature for daily life and that includes role models, who offer examples of behavior that will allow them to thrive rather than be defeated by life. They need a certain amount of discipline in order to fulfill the behavior that those role models show them. And they need some aspirations, the ability to aspire to...the products or results of leading a good life. A lot of those things are missing, especially in these unfortunately sort of disenfranchised, thrown away, forgotten, lower middle classes that we have in America. You can see it very clearly in my region, which was, as I said, a former thriving region of small, fact[tories] manufacturing...small factories, at least eight or ten factories around the confluence of the Hudson River where I am. A lot of these companies were paternalistic, but as part of that paternalism, they sponsored a lot of institutional activities for people. They had baseball teams, they had outings, they paid these people enough money to live decently and these people produced children who aspired to do better. And they were able to do better. They got a better education by the eighth grade in the 1920s, than people are getting now in grad schools.
All of this stuff has dissolved. You actually need quite a bit of built in structure in everyday life for society to thrive, and for individuals to thrive within it. That's not there and we don’t care about it. We just don’t care. We have eliminated most of the public gathering places in small town America. I live in a town that doesn't have a coffee shop, a bar, any place that somebody might go outside their home. There's the expectation that all of the "community" that you're going to be a part of is found on your TV set. Well that's just a lie and it's based on a very basic and almost universal misunderstanding in America, that the virtual is an adequate substitute for the authentic. That having relationships with made up people on TV is the same thing as having relationships with people who are really in your life. That structure for leading a good life is absent. We're seeing the results of this anything goes and nothing matters society that we've created for ourselves.
Chris Martenson: All very well said and if I can just piggyback on that and say if I had one wish for any family that would be a big, big boost to their lives...it would be to get rid of the TV. You can do worse than to start right there. Just getting rid of that box that consumes so many hours, but worse...it's a box that suppresses your own thinking , no thoughts necessary while it's doing the thinking for you...and they are very, very good at what they do with TV now in terms of how messages are crafted and inserted using the latest neurological understandings, wirings, programming, and all that stuff. Anyway.
James Howard Kunstler: But I think, Chris, I think it would take a tremendous act of will for ordinary people to do that. And many of them would be bereft because for one reason or another, they're out of the habit of reading. Even the newspaper which used to be something that working people did and they don’t do that. They're out of the habit of evaluating their own ideas, which gives them very little basis for even understanding what's going on, let alone developing a political coherent viewpoint about things. So, it's asking a lot. It doesn’t seem to be happening and I wouldn’t say that people are out there throwing their flat screen TVs away in any great numbers. The question is, what happens despite that?
Chris Martenson: I don’t know the answer to that, but I'll tell you, maybe if it's too much to throw the TV out, turn it off for a week or 28 days. That's all it takes. It's an experiment. These larger...it feels to me that hopefully we're at some sort of a nadir in terms of involvement. Whether people are politically involved, culturally involved or involved in their own health...moving around or locally involved, even involved in their garden out back. That level of involvement seems and hopefully, it's some sort of a low.
At a quick aside...the contrarian in me wants to derive the Pokemon Go craze and phenomenon but I'm seeing people go outside and interact with the outdoor world. Which, if it has to happen through their phone, great. I actually see there might be some benefit. I would bet that there's going to be more than a couple people that when that craze is over, is going to say you know what...I still like walking around outside.
James Howard Kunstler: Well, maybe but that kind of raises another issue which is something that I covered in some of my first non-fiction books back in the 90s, namely the Geography of Nowhere. Which was about the deficiencies of the human habitat in America and especially the fiasco of suburbia. I think the bottom-line is, the outside in America is such a degraded place in most places. Whether it's suburban Minneapolis or suburban Dallas...Long Island, Jersey, or the inland empire out in California. These are places where it's almost impossible for a human being to feel okay neurologically. They're punishing environments. They're psychologically and neurologically punishing. You're around these large machines that are moving at lethal speeds. You're around a tremendous amount of incoherent visual clutter that assaults your brain. You have to traverse these terrible distances, which, unless you're in a car...it's like going on the death march to walk from one mall to the other. Nobody except a person who has nothing...no other way of getting around will do that. We're kind of stuck with the human habitat itself, which is working very poorly.
You and I live in the northeast and we live in small towns. I think that's really going to end up being the place that gets rehabilitated first in our daily life. Largely because a lot of these places have a meaningful relationship with food production. Many of them in our area, I know here, have a meaningful relationship with hydropower. Even if you're not going to make electricity, you can do other things with hydro. I think those two things are tremendously important. I'm beginning to see the signs of what I think will eventually be an upstate New York economy much more focused on agriculture and the activities that support it. Right now it's not really based on anything except a lot of people driving 40 miles each way to be janitors in large buildings that probably can't be sustained in the future. That economy of 40 mile janitorial jobs, you can forget about that. That's toast. The question is, what is going to be the next economy in these places, and these are the places most suited I think to the next economy. The places that have some meaningful relationship with water and growing food.
Chris Martenson: I certainly agree with that. Through all of the...contrarianism and seeing the potential looming catastrophes, I do see a lot of the opportunities in this as well. I'm cheering them on. I really am looking forward to that future which is more regenerative and more relational and I already have a small manufactured facsimile in my own life. It's possible. I'm living that way and of course, someone would say...you got dealt the privilege card there. True. But I think this could be recreated anywhere.
James Howard Kunstler: Chris, let me give you an example. For the last 50 years the American public literally been under assault by chain stores. They have destroyed local economies, especially local commercial economies. Americans did it, they walked into that gleefully. I remember going to all these permitting hearings for Wal-Mart and other chain stores in the 90s and early 2000s where there would always be some group of people saying, we want bargain shopping. And they turned around and destroyed their communities by getting it. I think that people and listeners ought to be aware that probably that whole chain store economic model is very close to extinction. It's closer to the end of its useful life than to the middle.
One of the things I take a lot of comfort out of is the idea that there will be tremendous opportunities for young people to rebuild local main street economies. These are going to have to be fine grained sets of relationships with tremendous numbers of vocational niches and economical niches for people to occupy or reoccupy or reinvent actually...because so much of that matrix of commerce has been destroyed. But I'm convinced that it's coming and it's going to be...for kids who think there's nothing more out there for them but some job in a cubicle working for Old Navy's marketing department...they ought to consider getting into a local business, because that's really on the horizon.
Chris Martenson: Absolutely agree. I'm wondering how much of that thinking was part of, and came into your World Made by Hand series, which is in many ways, taking that thinking and just going further. When you've removed the basic support elements of a debt based economy in abundant energy and refashioned a future that makes sense, given those constraints. Let's talk about your most recent installment in that World Made by Hand series.
James Howard Kunstler: I pretty much completed the series. I had intended from the beginning to do one book for each season of the year. So, I wrote four of these books. My agenda really was to - first of all, I wanted to depict the conditions that I outlined in the Long Emergency book, a nonfiction book. I wanted to depict them in a way that would get to people through their senses and their emotions, so they could really feel what it might be like to live in that post-industrial, post-petroleum economy where the Internet is no longer a presence and we no longer rely on computer devices...the electricity is not running anymore. There have been a lot of problems like, epidemic diseases...things that we are kind of a part of the scene of the converging catastrophes that we face, and what the product of that would be.
So, I created this fictional village of Union Grove in the part of the country that I live in now, in upstate New York. I wanted to inform people that the human project would continue, we would be able to find joy in our daily life. Although, the sources of it might be different than TV and iPhones and Pokemon. That people would still find love, people would still get over the adversities that they face. And that also, we would kind of return to a lot of things that we've thrown away in our rush into modernity. Especially into this techno-narcissistic end game of modernity that we find ourselves in now. So, that was the whole idea. In the third volume of Made by Hand books, which was called the History of the Future, I kind of opened it up so that we could see what the United States was like, what condition it was in. My young character, who had gone off into the center of America, discovered that there was a new breakaway nation called the Foxfire Republic, which is my idea of a tea party fantasy of a right-wing authoritarian breakaway nation, run by a former country, western singer and TV evangelist who I like to describe as Dolly Parton meets Hitler. The third volume was concerned with that, and what happens in that place, and what's happened in America.
The fourth value, which was called The Harrows of Spring. It was just published by the Atlantic Monthly Press in July. Takes place back in Union Grove and we're back to the everyday struggles with the folks involved there. And the villains in this story are the social justice warriors who have come over from Great Barrington, Massachusetts to basically graft money out of my people and to try to exchange their paper murky bucks for the scarce silver that my people have acquired in the few years that post-industrial economy has been over. I had a lot of fun with that and in particular because I'm very concerned about this new rise of Maoism on the campuses. This whole idea that it's okay to shut down freedom of speech and the despotic nature of the kind of fake intellectualism that's coming out of the universities right now in our culture. I think it's terribly dangerous and I think it needs to be opposed.
Chris Martenson: Well, it's not easy to oppose that, because there's a buzz involved in that.
James Howard Kunstler: Reputations are destroyed, careers are destroyed. I think you and I are fortunate because we don't have to teach in college. We're not dependent on college jobs. We're not concerned about our tenure, losing that position. But there are an awful lot of people who are and it's had a terrible effect on the intellectual life of our country in the last several years. To some extent it's kind of destroying it. So, we need to oppose that movement and we need to get behind freedom of speech and understand that it is okay to talk about things that make us uncomfortable. I think one of the watch phrases of the period that we're entering is, get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Chris Martenson: Which is something I do in my own life on purpose, because edges are where growth occurs. I love to keep growing and changing. I will go further and say that having uncomfortable feelings, and experiences, and conversations is not just okay. They're essential.
James Howard Kunstler: I agree.
Chris Martenson: They're absolutely essential. So, really a lot of the so-called PC movement to me is about enshrining peoples' rights to have wounds that they don't want to look at and examine. Then you have to dance around those. Somebody saying, oh there's this thing that makes me feel uncomfortable so, you are now responsible for not bringing that up. That's flipped. That's exactly backwards, I think.
James Howard Kunstler: It ensures the failure of development of people from being children to moving into adulthood.
Chris Martenson: I agree. That's been a big part of my adulthood - owning my own reactions and discovering that when I do have a strong reaction to something, it doesn't mean necessarily that thing is a really bad thing that I should avoid. It means I have something to look at. Separating for me as I get older, learning to separate and parse out the difference between having a reaction to something and having a response to something. I feel like the PC movement pretends they're the same thing and they're not. You can have a reaction that's very different from your response. That's the essence of maturity. At least for me. I'm a boy, so we develop late anyway.
James Howard Kunstler: Well, that's true. I think it's been demonstrated that in boys, the part of the brain that controls judgment, really doesn't flower until they're about 25 years old. That was true in my case. I do think that your youth is a time when it's okay to flounder around. In fact, if you're going to do floundering in your life, you're better off doing it before you're 25 than doing it when you're middle aged or older. So, that's okay and that was the case for me. It took me quite a while to grow up and finally, I understood some things about life. I have what I call Kunstler’s law of social relations. Which is the idea...you can state it this way, that out of any room with 100 people, 99 of them think they're the only ones who don’t have their act together.
Chris Martenson: We're all frauds.
James Howard Kunstler: Well, not frauds necessarily, but that we're all insecure. A lot of young people go out in the world and they think, oh gosh everybody else is so much more confident than I am. They're all doing so much better than me. They've got that job. I didn’t get that job and they have it...they're okay and I'm not okay. But the truth of the matter is that when you really get down to it, just about everybody is insecure and that's the human condition. And so with that in mind, we go forward and we try in the best way that we can to overcome the adversities and hardships that we face. Everybody does that too. Everybody has a hard time in life. Even the movie stars, even the gazillionairs. Everybody has a hard time one way or another.
Chris Martenson: Absolutely and maybe the hard times if we can reframe that and say without a judgment saying it's a bad thing...sometimes out of the hard times, that's where you really blossom. Some of the most spiritual people had almost psychotic splits in their background, really awful experiences that led to the flowering of their consciousness. To me, whether PC is good, bad, right or wrong, all of that...if something is in the service of making us become more conscious, more whole, more engaged, more connected, more alive, I'm in favor of it. Sometimes those things aren't...it's not all rainbows, unicorns, and Skittles. Sometimes there's some hard times associated with that development. But growth isn't easy and that's really what I feel is that you're talking about that - I'm using this word carefully - that retardation of development or that arrested development. It's almost like entraining our rights to not grow up. It's like a Peter Pan play, being written out at this point of time. I'm opposed to that because I do think that this next period of time is going to really call on us to be as conscious and as developed as we can. Of course, the ability of demigods and other characters to sort of rise up and play on peoples' wounds and fears is going to be very large when the economic storm re-arrives in full gail force. And so, before then I think anything anybody can do for themselves, because that's the only thing you can control, to increase your emotional intelligence, increase your emotional maturity - which is fundamentally the process of becoming able to handle and tolerate wider and wider ranges of discomfort. Not avoid them, handle wider ranges of them. That's been my learning over the past few years. It's really starting to cement for me.
James Howard Kunstler: Well, I think it's even applicable on just the physical level. There's an idea, which I happen to believe, that if you expose your body to a certain amount of discomfort, whether it's the stress of using your muscles, or being cold for a certain amount of time in the day, or in someway, pushing yourself to the edge you described. That too, will help you develop into a stronger and healthier person. Of course, that's exactly what we don’t see in America, where comfort and convenience are absolutely the highest values. And we have a whole nation of people sitting on the sofa, scarfing down those cheese doodles watching the Kardashians on TV and that's not healthy. I do think we are going to go to a better place and that nothing lasts forever, including the deformations of our time. And we're going to get there together. I'm going to watch you go through it and you'll watch me go through it.
Chris Martenson: Fantastic. On that positive note, we have been talking with James Howard Kunstler, the author of The Harrows of Spring, the latest fourth installment in the World Made by Hand series. Rush out and get that, it's just a fantastic series. I have it right here on my bookshelf. Jim, thank you so much for your time today.
James Howard Kunstler: It's always a pleasure to talk to you, Chris. I admire what you're doing hugely.
Chris Martenson: Thank you.