“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Monday, April 06, 2009

I've stopped reading James Kunstler

Yes, I've done it. James Howard Kunstler, for those who don't know, is a journalist who's written for Rolling Stone Magazine, among others. As always, the most authoritative source of information about him can be found at Wikipedia, the source of all truth (or truthiness), here.

Kunstler's schtick, and I use the word quite intentionally, is that we're headed to hell in a hand basket. He covers so much ground that a small post such as this really can't do it justice, but fundamentally suburbia is a waste of resources, he doesn't care for fried foods, strip malls are appalling, big box stores worse, the automobile is doomed, airlines will be history, stocks worthless, the U.S. dollar not worth the paper upon which it's printed, "big agriculture" is doomed, NASCAR fans have low IQ's, nearly everybody is shallow and self-indulgent, etc. Most of these things are are either symptoms or causes (or both) of peak oil and living on credit.

Fundamentally, Kunstler's complaints are always the same, or at least extremely similar though a little topical, and his recommendations are few and simple. We need to rebuild our intercity rail transport system, abandon suburbia and the automobile, farm close to where we eat with dramatically less "inputs," and let broken things (the banking system, the so-called "warehouse on wheels" system, the capital allocation system, the airline system, among others) crash and burn. He's written several fictional and non-fictional books on these topics, such as "The Long Emergency," "The Geography of Nowhere," and "World Made by Hand."

Now, please don't misunderstand, I agree with many of Kunstler's positions and quite a few of his recommendations. As regular readers will know, I've expressed views along these lines and still hold them. But I do reject his strident tone, his incessant badgering and finger pointing, and the repetitiveness of his screed. There's a place for that but it's not everyplace.

To impart the flavor of his writing, Kunstler's column is entitled "The Clusterfuck Nation Chronicles." He uses "Cheez Doodles," the "Banker Boyz," Salad Shooters, and NASCAR as his metaphors for the descent of the nation into hopeless and mindless consumerism and rampant something-for-nothing thievery and grift. He comes across as smug and self-righteous, and clearly thinks he's the smartest guy in the room, no matter the room. He has quite a following, he's often quoted and most people in the peak oil community know of him and read him.

Kunstler also made similar predictions of catastrophe for Y2K and, as I wrote, Y2K WAS a disaster. It just wasn't the kind of disaster he anticipated. As usual, he rationalizes the reasons.

I also detect just the slightest whiff of hypocrisy; he's recently blogged about his trips to Aspen, CO and to Johannesburg, South Africa. He didn't bicycle to Aspen or take a sailboat to South Africa. But I'm sure it was for a good cause.

OK, I get it. We're short sighted, narrow minded, selfish, lazy, arrogant, self-indulgent fools. That's what Kunstler has taught me. I think I've learned all I can from him and I'm moving on. Anyway, John Lennon said it better.

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