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The Fate of the Turtle

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Mitch
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation November 10, 2014

Anybody truly interested in government, and therefore politics, should be cognizant above all that ours have already entered systemic failure. The management of societal affairs is on an arc to become more inept and ineffectual, no matter how either of the current major parties pretends to control things. Instead of Big Brother, government in our time turns out to be Autistic Brother. It makes weird noises and flaps its appendages, but can barely tie its own shoelaces.

The one thing it does exceedingly well is drain the remaining capital from endeavors that might contribute to the greater good. This includes intellectual capital, by the way, which, under better circumstances, might gird the political will to reform the sub-systems that civilized life depends on. These include: food production (industrial agri-business), commerce (the WalMart model), transportation (Happy Motoring), school (a matrix of rackets), medicine (ditto with the patient as hostage), and banking (a matrix of fraud and swindling).

All of these systems have something in common: they’ve exceeded their fragility threshold and crossed into the frontier of criticality. They have nowhere to go except failure. It would be nice if we could construct leaner and more local systems to replace these monsters, but there is too much vested interest in them. For instance, the voters slapped down virtually every major ballot proposition to invest in light rail and public transit around the country. The likely explanation is that they’ve bought the story that shale oil will allow them to drive to WalMart forever.

That story is false, by the way. The politicos put it over because they believe the Wall Street fraudsters who are pimping a junk finance racket in shale oil for short-term, high-yield returns. The politicos want desperately to believe the story because the background reality is too difficult to contemplate: an American living arrangement with no future.

The public, of course, is eager to believe the same story for the same reasons, but at some point they’ll flip and blame the story-tellers, and their wrath could truly wreck what remains of this polity. When it is really too late to fix any of these things, they’ll beg someone to tell them what to do, and the job-description for that position is dictator.

It’s certainly remarkable that the years since the troubles of 2008 have been so seemingly placid and uneventful, at least here in the USA — not so much if you live in the Middle East or Ukraine, or in the decaying economies of southern Euroland, or the septic failed states of Africa. The many formerly-middle-class Americans living in economic ruin apparently blame themselves when, for instance, they’re billed tens of thousands of dollars for some routine surgery performed “out of network” by a bureaucratic happenstance. They must be punch-drunk with cable news, or over-medicated. Don’t expect this national mood of paralysis and surrender to last indefinitely.

What troubles me at the moment is that when that mood snaps, it will be for a bad reason in the wrong way. Ferguson, Mo., is still sitting there like an unattended back-pack on the courthouse steps. Before Christmas, some kind of grand jury decision is going to come down. All the reality-based chatter points to the probable exoneration of Darren Wilson, the policeman who shot teenager Michael Brown. I expect the trouble arising out of that to be a lot worse than most people currently suppose, and then we’ll literally be off to the races. If that happens, it will be a huge and tragic diversion from the things that really matter to keep the project of civilized life going. In a way, it will be the true beginning of the end. The end of what? Of pretending that the people in authority know what they are doing.

If you think that President Obama is lonely and bereft now, just wait. Some excuse will be found to try an impeach him and then the nation will spend another two years conducting a three-ring circus while the shale oil “miracle” crashes and burns and the banking system melts away to nothing. It’s been fun watching Mitch McConnell get ready to preside over all of this. History could not have found a less sympathetic patsy.

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

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