James Howard Kunstler: Change in the State of the Union that nobody believes in
The fog of chatter about Federal Reserve money-printing shenanigans, currency wars, fiscal intransigence, exchange rates, and alphabetized rescue operations conceals the central reality of the historical moment: that all industrial economies now face epic contraction, even rip-roaring China in its absurd and spectacular bid to become the latest drive-in utopia.
The so-called advanced nations of the world are all sliding toward something less than they wish to be, and the so-called developing nations will backslide further into poverty and anarchy where development will never happen.
The implacable contraction underway is the simple result of growing scarcity of cheap oil, the master resource. Thus, in a world where fantasy has replaced analysis, the propaganda channels brim with false news of America’s coming “energy independence” and the rebirth of domestic manufacturing, the coming electric car fleet, and space tourism.
There is also chatter among the paranoid that an imagined elite has deliberately engineered American collapse for fun and profit, with sideshows about the Department of Homeland Security promoting social upheaval in order to make a show of putting it down. This is all bullshit concealing the futile machinations of people so unfortunate as to hold political office in an unraveling they can’t control.
Where control is no longer possible, paranoid fantasies fill the vacuum of wishing for control.
One thing you can be sure of: the current sociopolitical weather will change. A front will blow through and sweep the fog away. So many circles of hazard are spinning around events that some fast-turning object will come off its axis and start smashing all the fantasies.
When that happens, it will be every community for itself, and where there are no real communities — for instance, the vast matrix of suburban noplaces that America emergently composed itself out of in a tragic quest to become its own televised fantasy — we’ll discover the dark side of the “liberty” that so-called conservatives endlessly invoke, in all its screaming eagle iconography.
Not since the Civil War (1861 – 65) has anything bad of this scale happened within the United States itself and the public is unprepared despite our total immersion in the on-screen ersatz heroics of avatars such as Dwayne Johnson. The terrible convulsion of the 1860s was preceded by a political time much like ours is now, with figures (calling them leaders is inaccurate) of no conviction backpedaling furiously toward strife.
Remember these things if you tune in to watch President Obama move his lips on Tuesday amid the incessant applause in the House chamber. He’ll speak the words “climate change” and the hall will rock with thunderous handclapping — but it won’t mean anything because both the president and the people have no intention of changing the way we live.
Mr. Obama will cheerlead for economic growth and he will be talking out of his ass. It’s the nature of this contraction that economic growth is absent. You can have plenty of economic activity — especially if you re-form (literally) the systems we depend on, such as farming, commerce, medicine, and transportation — but it won’t be expressed favorably in the GDP stats or the balance sheets of CitiGroup and Morgan Stanley.
At the core of this contraction is the disappearing act of real capital — that is, accumulated wealth — for the excellent reason that we are squandering what remains of it in the futile effort to keep living the way we do.
But it will be vanishing fast, contrary to the view of such fantasists as David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief of The New York Times (catch him on the current Slate political gabfest) who thinks that the Growth Fairy is about to land on the south lawn of the White House.
The State of the Union Address is happening in a peculiar quiet moment when all the financial brushfires of the time have been reduced temporarily to a smolder that conceals the full involvement of the roots under the surface. Our economic system is burning down. Nobody wants to talk about the system that will have to replace it, which I call a world made by hand.
The fortunate few will be those who have already established themselves in an authentic community of helping hands, who have some tools — and I don’t mean Adobe Photoshop or the latest iPhone app — and laid in some bits of silver and gold.