James Howard Kunstler: The Dangers of the Age of Delusion

It’s characteristic of the time that we’re living in that there simply is no sense of consequence. And that’s exactly what you get when you have a Federal Reserve that’s out of control and a public that is filled with technological narcissistic visions of Santa Claus delivering rescue remedies on demand. And so there’s no general sense that when you do things, bad things can happen

James Howard Kunstler is concerned. Sure, he still has the same issues with the West's highly energy-consuming suburban lifestyle that he famously brought to light in his books The Long Emergency, the World Made by Hand series, and Too Much Magic. But beyond our decaying fundamentals, he's distressed by society's unwillingness to be honest with itself about the issues it's facing.

Instead, we are embracing a narrative based in "magical thinking" (e.g., prosperity through the printing press, energy independence through domestic shale) that assures us everything is fine. That we'll be able to enter the future without having to make any changes to our manner or standard of living, despite our massive debts and depleting resources:

History is very peculiar in the sense that sometimes cultures and societies go through very strange periods of their history, and we’re in one of those now. And I characterize this as the “great period of America lying to itself.” And the way that it’s really carried out as a practical matter is that accounting fraud is now the basic mechanism for running most of the important things in American life. Accounting fraud is now the basis for banking and finance, and it’s certainly the basis for government, and certainly for its fiscal role.

So I think what you’re seeing is a kind of deformity of the consensus. And of course, the most striking feature of our current times is this inability of the country to construct a coherent story about what’s happening to us, and therefore the inability to construct a story about what we might do about it.

And the sad thing is there is much we can get busy on to address our situation. But to get started, we first need to engage in an eyes-wide open assessment of our true state:

What's really happening in reality, in this moment in history, is a comprehensive contraction in economic activity, because there’s a connection between the energy inputs into an economy and a culture and your ability to accumulate wealth of the kind that we’re used to, produced by industrial activity. And that’s coming to an end, and there’s no way around it.

Now, there are plenty of things we can do. And the terminology that we use, I think, the way we deal with this – for example, using the word “growth” incessantly is, I think, very counterproductive rather than using the term “activity”. Because you can have a lot of activity of the kind that we need without necessarily having the kind of industrial growth that we’ve experienced in the past. For example, we have a tremendous amount of work to do in this country to reform and downscale and re-localize and reorganize the major activities of American life, whether it’s agriculture – which is going to have to get smaller and more local and finer and be done by more human beings than machines, and be done by more human beings than energy slaves – or commerce – which has got to be reorganized from the Wal-Mart level of twelve-thousand-mile supply lines and warehouses on wheels, depending on all of the tractor-trailer trucks running incessantly around the interstate highway system.

So that’s a huge test that faces us. We basically have to rebuild the Main Street economies – and not just in an intellectual or conceptual way, but actually in the bricks and mortar. We’ve got to go in there and refurbish our downtowns. We’ve got to change the transportation system, because the airline industry is failing and the happy motoring industry or way of life will be coming to an end, probably sooner rather than later.

Yet if we continue to cling to our magical, no-consequences narrative, Kunstler fears we will likely burrow deeper into our delusion:

It comes back to the unfortunate condition of a nation that is so frightened of the consequences of what it has been doing that it cannot really face reality, and so it just spins one story after another.

I think Jim Rickards put it pretty well the other day when he said that this kind of monetary policy exists in what he referred to as a critical state dynamic. In other words, you can’t just dial up free money and then dial down free money when you seem to be getting into an inflationary problem. The control, the toggle, just doesn’t work that way. And what happens, in fact, is that things go critical because it is a critical state dynamic.

And what’s been going on is that we’ve been trying to compensate for the lack of capital formation with this imaginary money. And by capital formation, I mean the ability to accumulate real wealth from real wealth-producing activities. And creating credit card money on a national level is not real wealth-producing activity.

I think the closer we get to this point of criticality, the more delusional we’re liable to become about it. So this is just a subset of that larger dynamic of, the more distressed the society gets, the more delusional it gets.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with James Howard Kunstler (46m:59s):

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/james-howard-kunstler-the-dangers-of-the-age-of-delusion/

…planting, propagation, and designing by your own visuals your yard, and garden. You do this for the visuals, you do this to attract bugs, bee's, birds, and all this to help everything else in your yard to be pollinated, and add beauty and sustenance. Nothing beats this. The joy of working, showering, and rocking on a favorite swing with beverage of choice, looking to make sure every blade of grass was clipped, with wondering eyes, and the sound of a ball game, with your dog at your feet can match this inner and spiritual peace. Yard work is my greatest pleasure, hands down. Sharing this with my Lady. Priceless.
So Chris, if this describes your feelings then I agree 100%.

Kunstler is a Man's, Man. I enjoy him, and read him, and have a sense that we would get along just great. 

BOB 

"Let me put this another way. I think it’s characteristic of the time that we’re living in that there simply is no sense of consequence."
There is a profound lack of consequence to every aspect of current society, from the corporate world right on down to individual accountability. A lack of consequences enables continuation of the same behaviours, be they illegal, immoral, unethical or whatever. Without consequences there are no failures. Without failures, there are no lessons learned, no price to be paid, and therefore no reason to change.

As long as TPTB continue to perpetuate and encourage the self-defeating/destructive behaviours that got us into this mess there will be no movement at all towards real problem resolutions.

Our challenge is to not succumb to crisis fatigue, to live well based on what we know to be real, with a sense of consequence for who we are and what we do. At the very least this will make us part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem.

Jan

Thank you for having Mr. Kunstler on Chris, I thoroughly enjoyed listening.

"Our challenge is to not succumb to crisis fatigue, to live well based on what we know to be real, with a sense of consequence for who we are and what we do. At the very least this will make us part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem."
No other comment necessary.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrWNTqbLFFE
Head pounding here Folks

BOB

Thank you Chris and Jim.  I've been using quotes from The Lond Emergency in presentations to Main Street audiences since things turned south in 2007, e.g., "Big cities will be in trouble. Small towns will be where the action is - they will be resilient, particularly if surrounded by agriculture."(approximate quote)  Chris, I came across The Crash Course after participating in "Architects of Transition" with John Petersen of the Arlington Institute and have incorporated elements of the Three E's in the same presentations. 
I just spoke to my brother about his experiences with six rural towns and 30 businesses in KY over the past two weeks, and I'm embarkng next week on a swing thru  official Nat'l Trust Main Streets and other small towns in MD over the next few months.  Small business owners are indeed suffering from crisis fatigue as they struggle to hang on in the face of fewer customers, smaller, less frequent transactions, and increased competition from Big Boxes.  Many audiences don't want to hear about the current state of affairs, they just want to know what to do.  And, Jim speaks of rebuilding our bricks and mortar in the downtowns. My question to you both is:

What would you say in front of an audience of small town business owners desperate to keep their doors open?

Community in all its forms is the path I see ahead, from local capitalization, i.e. investing elsewhere than the NYSE,  to the sharing circles that have been discussed on this site.  The Great Transition will be arduous but will result in a quality of life full of reward and blessing, as you both testify.  If you travel to the D.C. area, we invite you to stop by, or crash at, our "Urban Oasis" and our Main Street here. 

Doing our best in Takoma Park.

c.

 

 
Being highly opinionated,what am I to say if all my opinions are expressed for me?

I can offer Jim an opinion as to why Germany went nuts, I have both Jewish and Prussian blood in my veins.

The Germans saw the Jews as parasites and not really of the Volk. (A Profound lesson there!). It was easy for the German psychopaths to deflect the population’s anger at the state of the nation onto the Jews. We all know where that led.

I am so in love with the fruits of civilization that I clutch at straws. Call it magical thinking if you must. I call it creative desperation.

when Kunsler stated that he voted for Obama again. I remember from an earlier podcast with Chris how dissappointed he said he was in Obama's performance. 
Maybe it's magical thinking, or more likely just Einstein's definition of insanity.
SS

You said, "I am so in love with the fruits of civilization"
I think this thought so often... my life so does not suck in its current incarnation.  Took my daughter to MIT today on a campus visit.. such a bundle of potential she is.. and such a wonder of a school MIT is.  Had dinner in downtown Boston with all the energy of life and prosperity flowing around us.  Life is good in the matrix for some.. and I admit .. for me.  My lament is that I know we cannot, will not, find our way to a more sustainable future that at least retains some semblence of this civility.  Have I given enough as gifts to others that I live the future I would like to see?  Time will tell.     

 
Interesting discussion. A few excerpts perked up my ear: 1) JHK's fear that as things fall apart, the population will resort to superstition and 2) his brief discussion about Germany and how it was that one of the most developed and sophisticated countries of the day could devolve into the Nazi years. Both of these observations go hand-in-hand. It has always been a simmering fear on my back burner that if/when things fall apart, most people won't understand what happened or how they got there and they will turn to delusional and dangerous answers. 

There is a book, which I just happen to be reading now, that was written in 1966 by a Jewish-American   journalist of German descent. He went to Germany and befriended, in the real meaning of that word, ordinary Germans to find out just what the hell they were thinking during the Nazi years. He did not tell them he was Jewish. As you can imagine, the pedestrian accounts of and excuses for those years are chillingly familiar. But the author’s account in Chapter 13 ("But Then It Was Too Late") of a conversation he had with an educated and thoughtful German who understood what was happening – and what was about to be – frightened me. The book is They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45, by Milton Meyer. I strongly recommend it. At the very least, read Chapter 13, which is so disquieting to our time that you will find it posted in full all over the Interwebs just by googling the name of the book and chapter 13. 

Chapter 13 will certainly propel any thinking, compassionate, and aware person to speak up and speak often.

 

[quote=anexaminedlife] 
The book is They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45, by Milton Meyer. I strongly recommend it. At the very least, read Chapter 13, which is so disquieting to our time that you will find it posted in full all over the Interwebs just by googling the name of the book and chapter 13. 
Chapter 13 will certainly propel any thinking, compassionate, and aware person to speak up and speak often.
 
[/quote]
Here is a link to an exerpt from chapter 13.  This is chilling. We must speak up now.
http://www.junkfoodforthought.com/long/TheyThoughtTheyWereFree.htm

…this was a beautiful visual. I think we all feel this way, have prepared in this way, and are just waiting, ready, and will just do what we must. Very nice seeing you with your baby girl (their aways our babies).Very touching Jim
Do wish you well
BOB

Stand up. Speak up. Start now.

…I humbly submit that I will do that. I will represent. Respectfully
BOB

[quote=RJE]…I humbly submit that I will do that. I will represent. 
Respectfully
BOB
[/quote]
How appropriate that "anexaminedlife" brought this thought forward. To "stand up"  and "speak up" requires a real gut check. It will become increasingly more dangerous to voice an opinion contrary to TPTB.

…is true then 40% of the economy's dependence on foreign profits is about to have its impact here in the U.S don't you think?. That can't be good but then again the markets will most likely reach all time highs.
http://theautomaticearth.com/Finance/deflation-arrives-in-the-eurozone.html

"James Howard Kunstler: The Dangers of the Age of Delusion"

We are delusional indeed.

Everything has its consequences.

BOB

Jim's blog Clusterf@#k Nation of a regular basis, the sarcasm and wit are certianly enjoyable.  Back in 2005 when The Long Emergency came out, it was certainly nice for those of us struggling with these issues for a long time to read confirming thoughts.  But after a while the negativity got to be a little much.  I think it was telling when Jim said that he was afraid that we would become somehting worse than Nazi Germany.  Fear is not a good foundation for a new narrative.  Beneath the decline of current paradigm, there are the undercurrents of a new beginning which are daily growing stronger.  These will as a matter of course be under reported in and by the main stream political and media entities, which are trying to save the status quo.  This is pretty self evident, lets get over it already.
I do agree with his assessments about many things, though I think that corruption rather than incompetence has a bigger role play.  This is a fairly minor quibble, but I think that when the right awarenes comes to bear, it will mean that we will be more affective a dealing with our problems than would be otherwise the case.

I know that seeing the pierced and tattooed youth hanging around convenience stores can be disconcerting, but we all here at this blog may have more in common with them than the well trimed ivy league graduate headed off to Wall Street to make a killing.  Those young people who have became disaffected with society in its current construction may be more sensitive and aware at an intuitive level about what is going on than we are.

I think that Rob Hopkins came to an important realization after years of environmental campaigning.  You don't win a lot of hearts and minds by telling people how horrible things are and how much worse things will be if we don't snap to.  A better world is in the offing, the current exploitive societal model is corrosive to the natural world and the human spirit, presnet events are the midwife for a new and amazing future. Those who have been given the gift of clear insight, IMHO have an obligation to avoid indulgences in fear and negativity and lead with a clearer vision of a better future.

 
Treebeard wrote:

You don't win a lot of hearts and minds by telling people how horrible things are and how much worse things will be if we don't snap to. 
I completely agree with that statement and no doubt, it is the reason we hope for the best and keep our mouths shut about the rest. 

Treebeard wrote in the same post:

 A better world is in the offing, the current exploitive societal model is corrosive to the natural world and the human spirit, present events are the midwife for a new and amazing future. Those who have been given the gift of clear insight, IMHO have an obligation to avoid indulgences in fear and negativity and lead with a clearer vision of a better future.
That statement represents a wonderful dream, but in my opinion, has little no basis in reality. We might one day see that vision, but as I see things now, I don't know how we are getting there. 

I wish I could have Treebeard's optimism about the future. I don't. I have no idea how things will play out; there are many very insightful and knowledgeable thinkers out there who don't see a bright future (Chris Hedges comes to mind, there are others). 

My concern revolves around the vast numbers of people  in this country who depend a great deal on the system even for their daily sustenance.  While we can already see fall-out of a kind that may reach our shores in Greece and Spain, we don't see the evident rise of a evil Fascist power in those countries. But as the book , They Thought They Were Free, clearly lays out, the rise of Hitler was many years in the making.

This is not to at all say that we could be facing a Hitler in this country; it could be, and likely would be, something entirely different. As an aside, the swift erosion of our civil rights in the past decade is disconcerting. One thing I do believe is that the fruits of growth we experienced in pervious years are over and now we are going to pay the piper somehow for continuing to live it up as if we still had the same growth. If the common people experience a slow diminution of fiat  largess, then I believe we could be spared a sudden dislocation and the resulting ugliness. If things fell apart more quickly (e.g. hyper-inflation or a severe deflation cycle), I think we could face something much worse. 

As treebeard observes, getting too negative only serves myself; no one wants to hear it. That is, in fact,  the underlying theme of Chapt 13 of the aforementioned book. That leaves me with something of a dilemma. How much do I speak up? I have decided to only speak up about facts, that is, to inform people about things like NDAA and other incursions on our freedoms and civil rights. Otherwise, my "speech" to others consists of my own quest to establish a resilient lifestyle. 

And, because I have little influence or credibility anyway, I very much appreciate this site and the speech of others that get the word out. As more people sense things are changing, I believe more people will disconnect from the mainstream and start paying attention to this site and others like it… so thanks to all. 

(Yikes! Sorry for the long post but I think this is a very important topic.)

Edited to acknowledge PP and others. 

 

I have the same feelings for TreeBeard's optimism… while beautiful in concept, I think that expecting some kind of mass awakening of spirit is naive, for the reasons you describe.  That does in fact leave us all with this dilemma of how or whether to oppose what is happening.  One who has written extensively on this same topic of our slow descent into Facism and tyranny is Paul Craig Roberts;

Americans who have no experience with, or knowledge of, tyranny believe that only terrorists will experience the unchecked power of the state. They will believe this until it happens to them, or their children, or their friends.

source:  http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2013/02/14/while-left-and-right-fight-power-wins-paul-craig-roberts/

One important step in my awakening process was to see the videos of Occupy protestors in NYC (and later in Oakland, CA) feeling the Jackboot of our militarized police forces.  The thought ran through my head of what I would want to do to a rogue agent of Gov't power like Anthony Bologna if it were my daughter he had maced in the face, unsuspecting, while otherwise being help in a pen already.   

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/occupy-wall-st-pepper-spray-anthony-bologna-loses-10-vacation-days-violating-nypd-rules-article-1.964929

Relating to Chapter 13 - While war was the proximate cause for finally dropping the hammer based on all the past incremental gathering of tryranny in Nazi Germany;

    "Once the war began, the government could do anything 'necessary' to win it; so it was with the 'final solution of the Jewish problem,' which the Nazis always talked about but never dared undertake, not even the Nazis, until war and its 'necessities' gave them the knowledge that they could get away with it. The people abroad who thought that war against Hitler would help the Jews were wrong. And the people in Germany who, once the war had begun, still thought of complaining, protesting, resisting, were betting on Germany's losing the war. It was a long bet. Not many made it."
It should be very clear to anyone reading this that the proximate cause of our final downfall into tyranny will be the culimination of the financial crisis.  (sorry about being stuck in the font from above.. I don't know how to turn it off).  Just change the words above from "war" to "financial crisis" and "win" to "solve".  Same playbook exactly.  And who will be walked down the gangplank then, certainly financially, if not literally?  Why me, of course.... the guy who has the bulk of his life savings in Gov't tax deferred savings plans (IRA's, 401k's).. just sitting there waiting to be stripmined via exchange for special Gov't bonds.