American Author, Social Critic, Public Speaker and Blogger
James Howard Kunstler
American Author, Social Critic, Public Speaker and Blogger
I switched on the television on the outside chance that something might come through. Nothing had been on for years. The local network affiliates withered away after the national network of cable channels went out, until there was nothing.
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.
There's real strangeness in this world of ours. Back in the machine times, there was so much noise front and back, so to speak, it kept us from knowing what lies behind the surface of things.
As the world changed, we reverted to social divisions that we'd thought were obsolete. The egalitarian pretenses of the high-octane decades had dissolved and nobody even debated it anymore, including the women of our town. A plain majority of the townspeople were laborers now, whatever in life they had been before. Nobody in town called them peasants, but in an effect that's what they'd become. That's just the way things were.
I'd been carrying [my Ruger .41 Magnum] so many days that I had almost forgotten it was there. This was the kind of world we now lived in.
One very plain and straightforward example at hand is the announcement last week of a plan to build a high speed rail network. To be blunt about it, this is perfectly f*****g stupid. It will require a whole new track network, because high speed trains can't run on the old rights of way with their less forgiving curve ratios and grades. We would be so much better off simply fixing up and reactivating the normal-speed track system that is sitting out there rusting in the rain -- and save our more grandiose visions for a later time.
This is what I think lies at the heart of the classical tradition -- it is not a collection of motifs, not a menu of styles. It is an attitude toward the project of civilization, which is based on the idea that we are poised between memory and hope; that we have come from someplace memorable and are bound for someplace hopeful, and that the present time we occupy ought to be endowed with grace.
Children? had sat in those very box buildings under buzzing fluorescent lights listening to their science teachers prattle about the wonders of space travel and gene splicing and how we were all going to live to be a hundred and twenty five years old in "smart" computer-controlled houses where all we had to do was speak to bump up the heat or turn on giant home theater screens in a life of perpetual leisure and comfort. It made me sick to think about. Not because there's something necessarily wrong with leisure or comfort, but because that's where our aspirations ended. And in the face of what had actually happened to us, it seemed obscenely stupid.
If it happens that the human race doesn't make it, then the fact that we were here once will not be altered, that once upon a time we peopled this astonishing blue planet, and wondered intelligently at everything about it and the other things who lived here with us on it, and that we celebrated the beauty of it in music and art, architecture, literature, and dance, and that there were times when we approached something godlike in our abilities and aspirations. We emerged out of depthless mystery, and back into mystery we returned, and in the end the mystery is all there is.
Ridicule is the unfortunate destiny of the ridiculous.
Waterford began its existence as the gateway to the Erie Canal system, the first stretch of which was built to bypass several waterfalls on the Mohawk River.
City-making is an art rather than a product of statistical analysis or social service casework.The future will compel us to change our way of life, to give up the fiasco of suburbia and all its revolting accessories and re-condense our living and working places into the traditional human habitats called cities, towns, and neighborhoods.
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.
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.
We all knew the apparatus of justice had dissolved.
Community is not something you have, like pizza. Nor 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.
I'm serenely convinced that we are heading into what will amount to a 'time out' from technological progress as we know it.
The 20th Century was about getting around. The 21st Century will be about staying in a place worth staying in.
We are never going to save the rural places or the agricultural places or the wild and scenic places (or the wild species that dwell there) unless we identify the human habitat and then strive to make it so good that humans will voluntarily inhabit it.
Could we even pretend the law still existed? Or was it something you made up now, as the occasion required?
In a world that had become a salvage operation, the general supply evolved into Union Grove's leading industry. When every last useful thing in town had been stripped from the Kmart and the United Auto, the CVS drugstore, and other trading establishments of the bygone national chain-store economy, daily life became a perpetual flea market centered on the old town dump.
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 if 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.
We lived more by the sun than by the clock, but I did own a clock. It was an eight-day windup console clock which I kept on the mantel in the living room, and it was the only timepiece in the house that worked anymore.
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 early twenty-first century farming had all but died out here. We got our food from the supermarket, and not everybody cared where the supermarket got it as long as it was there on the shelves. A few elderly dairymen hung on. Many let their fields and pastures go to scrub. Some sold out to what used to be called developers, and they'd put in five or ten poorly build houses. Now, in the new times, there were far fewer people, and many houses outside town were being taken down for their materials. Farming was back. That was the only way we got food.