James Howard Kunstler quotes and sayings
October 19, 1948
As a long-time registered Democrat who started voting in the year of Watergate, I resent being taken for a ride to the place where anything goes and nothing matters. And especially where nothing matters less than clear thinking and straight talk.
Of course, the toxic bullshit of incessant advertising and show biz for nearly a century has stripped us of cognitive abilities for dealing with reality that used to be part of the normal equipment of adulthood - for instance, knowing the difference between wishing for stuff and making stuff happen. We bamboozled ourselves with too much magic.
The newspaper headlines may shout about global warming, extinctions of living species, the devastation of rain forests, and other worldwide catastrophes, but Americans evince a striking complacency when it comes to their everyday environment and the growing calamity that it represents.
It's self-evident that we are going to have permanent problems with oil and gasoline and the prime resources that are needed to run the American suburbs. And we're just not going to be able to run them. You know, it's just unfortunate, it's tragic, but it's the truth.
Everything we do these days - our lust for ever more comfort, pleasure, and distraction, our refusal to engage with the mandates of reality, our fidelity to cults of technology and limitless growth, our narcissistic national exceptionalism - all of this propels us toward the realm where souls abandon all hope.
American cities are not scaled to the energy diet of the future. They have become too large. They're over-scaled.
The fortunate and successful New Urbanists will be the ones who can find local infill projects in small towns and small cities associated with farming, water transport, and water power. I do not believe personally that we will retrofit much of suburbia in the way many people wish we might. The capital won't be there, and I'm rather convinced that the population is headed down - though this will be a lagging effect, because even starving people have sex.
History is moving the furniture around in the house of mankind just about everywhere but the U.S.A. Things have changed, except here, where people come and go through the rooms of state, and everything looks shabbier by the day, and lethargy eats away at the upholstery like an acid fog, and the walls reverberate with meaningless oratory.
On top of the insult of destroying the geographic places we call home, the chain stores also destroyed people's place in the order of daily life, including the duties, responsibilities, obligations, and ceremonies that prompt citizens to care for each other.
In my view, suburbia in general has very poor prospects. I think it will only become devalued and probably more dangerous. It's chief characteristic was that it represented a living arrangement with no future - and that future is now here.
Suburbia represents, after all, the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. We built it during our most affluent period of history, and in the decades to come we will be comparatively destitute collectively. In short, we will not have the resources to retrofit most of suburbia.
Black America surely faces an existential crisis, but not the one imagined in the condescending news media - of somehow getting non-black America to be more just and generous. The truth is, we've already been through that, and there is nothing left to do. We're out of 'affirmative actions' of all kinds.
I think that Obama's failure to reestablish the rule of law in money matters is the most damaging thing that he's done - and perhaps the most damaging thing that has happened in American politics in my lifetime. Because once the rule of law is absent in money matters, then anything really goes in politics.
Human settlements are like living organisms. They must grow, and they will change. But we can decide on the nature of that growth - on the quality and the character of it - and where it ought to go. We don't have to scatter the building blocks of our civic life all over the countryside, destroying our towns and ruining farmland.
I have a new theory of history, which is certain things happen because they seem like a good idea at the time. And suburbia seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was a special time and place in history, with special dynamics. And now, we're going to have to live with the consequences of that. And the consequences will be tragic.
We have created thousands and thousands of places in America that aren't worth caring about, and when we have enough of them, we're going to have a country that's not worth defending.
The aggressive incoherence of our common surroundings can be described as entropy made visible. The way we have disposed things on the landscape leads us in the direction of disorder and death. They are categorically evil. These dispositions are destroying our only home-planet and other organisms that share it. They defeat our need to care about where we are and the things in place there. They prompt us to feel that civilization is not worth carrying on. They rob us of our identity and our will to live. These things are not about personal taste or style.
The twentieth century was about getting around. The twenty-first century will be about staying in a place worth staying in.
I won't deny the polemical elements in my work, but they are less in the service of attempting to reform human behavior than the delighted exercise of my rather malicious sense of humor - especially vis-a-vis the horrifying everyday environment we have produced for ourselves. These mall-scapes, burb-scapes, urban wildernesses, starchitect stunts, and other toxic contexts for our daily lives express about every human vice, stupidity, and blunder that it is possible for a society to make. It all leads, really, to a psychological place where only comedy or despair make sense.
Anyone who studies the energy predicament understands its connection with the operations of capital - and by this I do not mean capitalism as an ideology, I mean the behavior of acquired wealth and its deployment for productive purpose.
I think a lot of things will be self-correcting, even in America. After all, human societies are essentially self-organizing emergent systems. The catch is, how much disorder will we have to endure while this re-self-organizing process occurs.
I generally avoid over-population arguments. But there's no question we're in population overshoot. The catch is we're not going to do anything about it. There will be no policy. The usual suspects: starvation, war, disease, will drive the population down. There's little more to say about that really, and it's certainly an unappetizing discussion, but it's probably the truth. In any case, we're in overshoot and we face vast resource scarcities.
The claim that Israel seeks to annihilate the Palestinians is simply a lie. Israel seeks to stop rocket attacks and tunnel invasions, and as long as Hamas is dedicated to those actions, they can expect a forceful Israeli reaction.
We have to grow our food differently because industrial farming will soon end. That means growing more food locally on smaller farms with more human attention.
Parallel parking is desirable for two reasons: parked cars create a physical barrier and psychological buffer that protects pedestrians on the sidewalk from moving vehicles; and a rich supply of parallel parking can eliminate the need for parking lots, which are extremely destructive of the civic fabric.
I'm convinced that the Great Lakes region will be at the center of an internally-focused North American economy when the hallucination of oil-powered globalism dissolves. Places like Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit will have a new life, but not at the scale of the twentieth century.
It is true that we need a consensus to go forward with restoring passenger rail in America, and often a consensus is formed by political action, via government. That is all true. But we have no such consensus, and no one in government or politics these days has the will or the force of personality or perhaps even the understanding of the situation to get on with job of forming a consensus supporting rail.
We will have to make new arrangements, or revive bygone ones. We may, for another example, see the return of the boarding house.
Despite the obvious damage now visible in the entropic desolation of every American home town, Wal-Mart managed to install itself in the pantheon of American Dream icons, along with apple pie, motherhood, and Coca Cola.
In the decades to come, the successful places will tend to be the smaller traditional towns and cities with viable farming hinterlands.
Government at all levels in the USA right now is engaged in a quixotic campaign to sustain the unsustainable. We're determined to run WalMart, Disney World, the Interstate Highways, suburbia, and an imperial military by other means than oil. We'll squander a lot of dwindling resources in the process.
I do all I can to maintain good health. I eat mostly plants, as Michael Pollan would say. I get a lot of exercise. I lead a purposeful daily life. I stay current with the dentist. I made the formative decision of where to live over thirty years ago when I settled in a 'main street' small town in upstate New York.
Painting allows me to use other portions of my brain pleasurably. Irony plays no part in what or how I paint. I paint the particular subject matter not to make polemical points but because I am interested in the human imprint on the landscape. I paint the landscape of my time and place with the stuff in it.
The increment of new development will be the single building lot, if we are lucky, and most of the codes that are now enforced will be ignored because the redundancies they mandate will not be affordable.
We're living in a culture that doesn't believe in decorating buildings, or proportioning them properly. And they don't know how to do it anymore because they haven't been doing it for, you know, the better part of the century.
We might hope that the law as a profession does not vanish, because justice may vanish with it - but we could probably do with far fewer lawyers. Since I think agriculture will come back closer to the center of life, I think there will be many vocational opportunities there - especially with the so-called 'value-added' activities associated with food production. That's a windy way to say more local wine and cheese-makers - and probably fewer giant factories producing cheez doodles and Pepsi Cola.
Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work. A land full of places that are not worth caring about will soon be a nation and a way of life that is not worth defending.
I abhor the word "consumer." Consumers, unlike citizens, have no implicit duties, obligations, or responsibilities to the common good. It's a degrading term. The use of it degrades the public discussion.
We don't need gold plated highways. We don't need zoning commissions which penalize offices at home and promote car commutes.
The public realm in America has two roles: it is the dwelling place of our civilization and our civic life, and it is the physical manifestation of the common good. When you degrade the public realm, you will automatically degrade the quality of your civic life and the character of all the enactments of your public life and communal life that take place there.
Ever-busy, ever-building, ever-in-motion, ever-throwing-out the old for the new, we have hardly paused to think about what we are so busy building, and what we have thrown away. Meanwhile, the everyday landscape becomes more nightmarish and unmanageable each year.
The ideas of Le Corbusier that actually found their way into practice were deeply destructive - for instance, the tower-in-a-park, which mutated into the vertical slums of the late 20th century.
The faltering of our suburban living arrangement is probably certain. The response of suburbanites is not. Will they elect maniacs who promise to make America just like it was in 1997? Will there be a desperate attempt to sustain the unsustainable by authoritarian measures? Will the institutions of order and justice fail in the process?
We're still promoting stupid wasteful behavior in agribusiness - everything from ethanol production for cars to genetically modified crops. In commerce just about everything we do politically is in the service of WalMart and the systems tied to it. In transportation, we could, for instance, have compelled General Motors to produce railroad rolling stock as a condition of their bail-out, but we didn't do that. Instead, we're chasing the phantom of electric cars - and, believe me, we are going to be mortally disappointed how that works out.
The popular story is that America was built by immigrants and that, therefore, everything about immigration is good and leads to a more successful society. This narrative is so devoid of historical context that it should embarrass anyone beyond a second-grade education.
It pays to remember that societies get what they deserve, not what they expect.
Ahead now, I think you'll see the big nations shrink back into their own corners of the world. I'm not saying we'll see no international trade, but it will be nothing like the conveyer belt from China to Wal-Mart that we've known the last few decades. And the prospects for conflict are very, very high.
Suburbia is not going to run on biodiesel. The easy-motoring tourist industry is not going to run on biodiesel, wind power and solar fuel.
There is not going to be a "hydrogen economy," and no combination of alternative energy systems or fuels will allow us to continue the suburban pattern. It's finished. We will, however, desperately need to grow more of our food closer to home, and so the preservation of agricultural hinterlands is of great importance. But don't expect the fiesta of suburban construction to continue more than a few more years.
Phoenix and Las Vegas have grim long-term prospects. On top of oil-and-gas problems, they will have terrible problems with water and the ability to produce food locally. I suppose it shows how delusional the public is, and how our institutional controls have decayed - for instance, lending standards.
I don't like talking about 'solutions.' I prefer talking about intelligent responses.
In short, chronological connectivity puts us in touch with the holy. It is at once humbling and exhilarating. I say this as someone who has never followed any formal religious practice. Connection with the past and the future is a pathway that charms us in the direction of sanity and grace.
The American house has been TV-centered for three generations. It is the focus of family life, and the life of the house correspondingly turns inward, away from whatever corresponds beyond its four walls.At the same time, the television is the families chief connection to the world. The physical envelope of the house itself no longer connects their lives to the outside in any active way; rather it seals them from it.The outside world has become an abstraction filtered through television, just as the weather is an abstraction filtered through air conditioning.
Community is not something you have, like pizza. Now is it something you can buy. It's a living organism based on a web of interdependencies- which is to say, a local economy. It expresses itself physically as connectedness, as buildings actively relating to each other, and to whatever public space exists, be it the street, or the courthouse or the village green.
My beef with the alt-fuel people is not the renewable or alt-fuel ideas themselves. Sooner or later, there's no question we're going to have to rely on them. For me, it's an issue of scale.
I think water transport will see a revival. However, we're not going to replay the 20th century. The industrial city of that era will not be revived. Our cities are going to contract. Many of them will contract as a whole but densify at their core.
We're not going to reform our moronic land-use laws, which mandate suburban sprawl one way or another. They're simply going to be ignored when it becomes self-evident that we cannot build stuff that way anymore.
One of the problems with the fiasco of suburbia is that it destroyed our understanding of the distinction between the country and the town, between the urban and the rural. They're not the same thing.
Americans are suffering so much from being in unrewarding environments that it has made us very cynical. I think that American suburbia has become a powerful generator of anxiety and depression.
Consider how badly-built suburbia is. Many business buildings are not designed to outlast their tax depreciation periods, and the McHouses are made of particle board, vinyl siding, and stapled-on trim. A lot of suburbia will simply become the slums of the future. Most of the rest will be salvage or ruins.
We have to do commerce differently because the WalMart system of big box chain retail will soon die. This means rebuilding local main street economies.
The two elements of the suburban pattern that cause the greatest problems are the extreme separation of uses and the vast distances between things.
Under the current high energy / high entropy regime, sustainable development is a joke.
I think the deeper truth is that the Kyoto Protocols will not be followed by anyone really and that, in effect, nothing will be done to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions.
Ridicule is the unfortunate destiny of the ridiculous.
Two decades from now, I doubt that the home building industry, so called, will even exist as we have known it.
I believe most of suburbia is unreformable and will not be fixed.
The earth is a fickle place for all life, not least the human project of civilization.
Generations will soon come into their power feeling differently about themselves than we do now, and in their re-enchanted world, they will wonder about us and what we did to their world, and what we thought we were doing.
Saudi Arabia is, of course, the keystone of OPEC. Saudi Arabia has had the distinction of remaining stable through all the escalating tumult of recent decades, reliably pumping out its roughly 10 million barrels a day like Bossy the cow in America's oil import barn.
I'm not against Kyoto. I just think it's a fantasy, especially considering China's energy predicament and their coal supplies.
We could do some household and neighborhood or town wind energy. But even this will run up eventually against the problem of needing an underlying fossil fuel economy to fabricate the hardware. Same with photovoltaic energy. We're going to be disappointed by what these things can do for us.
Most of suburbia will end up in three ways: ruins, slums, salvage yards for materials.
I believe we are deluded about alternative energy. The key is, whatever we do, we're going to have to do on a very modest scale. It's all about scale. We're not going to build giant wind farms with Godzilla-sized turbines all over the place. That's a fantasy.
Detroit right now is virtually abandoned at its core to the degree that a lot of what had been slums thirty years ago are now wildflower meadows. The rebuilding of Detroit will occur a much smaller scale. It remains to be seen what will become of Detroit's vast suburbs.
The cities of the future will be much smaller than they are today.
We have to make some things for ourselves because the conveyer belt from China is doomed . We have to do transportation differently, because mass motoring and even commercial aviation will soon be over. We have to inhabit the landscape differently because both suburbia and the metroplex mega-city will be obsolete, so we will have to return to a more traditional disposition of things in smaller urbanisms associated with productive agricultural hinterlands.
My own opinion is that the suburban project is over. We are done. We don't know it yet. For about five years or so the people who deliver all that crap - developers, realtors, various money people - have kicked back waiting for the system to get going again, to resume all their accustomed behavior. They wait in vain. They just haven't figured out that we face a new disposition of things.
For instance, the most common type of "affordable housing" in the world comes in the form of apartments over stores.
In our current frame of mind, or paradigm, or whatever you want to call it, we like to think that marshalling government policy is the way to get things done.
America does not want change, except from the cash register at Wal-Mart.
My skills are not of the highest caliber, but I know a thing or two, and I occasionally produce a painting that contains passages of truth and beauty.
The Long Emergency will be chiefly characterized as a "time out" from technology. It could plunge us into a dark age of superstition. My guess is that we will lose a lot of knowledge and skill. But I also believe the human race desperately needs this "time out.".
White America is tortured by black America's failure to thrive, and all that guilt and anxiety has only gotten worse as a substantial quota of white America loses its own footing in the middle class and plunges into the rough country of joblessness, hopelessness, and government dependency.
I'm serenely convinced that we are heading into what will amount to a 'time out' from technological progress as we know it.
If the Internet exists at all in the future, it will be on a much-reduced scale from what we enjoy today, and all the activities of everyday life are not going to reside on it.
Cities like Detroit exist because they occupy important sites. In the case of Detroit, it sits on a river between two great lakes - very important and strategic.
People don't like railroad tracks near them? We'll see how they feel when the percentage of U.S. citizens who can afford to drive a car goes way down, as it will.
Henry David Thoreau
C. S. Lewis
J. K. Rowling
George R. R. Martin
F. Scott Fitzgerald
G. Campbell Morgan
Dick Van Patten
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