James Howard Kunstler, prolific blogger, novelist, and social commentator, has written a new book titled Living in the Long Emergency. You should read it. America's economy and social order are careening toward the abyss, and Kunstler explains why.
Living in the Long Emergency is an update of The Long Emergency, which Kunstler published in 2005. In his earlier book, Kunstler predicted the collapse of America's industrial economy due to the world's rapidly depleting supply of recoverable petroleum.
In Living in the Long Emergency, Kunstler reiterates his earlier thesis and explains why the so-called fracking miracle for extracting shale oil has not altered his predictions. Fracking is far more expensive than traditional methods of extracting oil, Kunstler writes, and is only viable when it can be financed through low-interest rates and high oil prices. Moreover, it is a short-term phenomenon that does not alter the fundamental reality of dwindling petroleum reserves.
As Kunstler summarized the matter:
The shale oil "miracle," therefore, was a very impressive financial and technological stunt. In practical terms, it provided a means to pull forward from the future the last dregs of recoverable oil, so the US could live large for a few years longer. As [an] independent oil analyst . . . put it: Shale is a retirement party for the oil industry."
Kunstler's new book also includes a brutal analysis of contemporary American culture, which our oil-dependent economy helped foster. His assessment of American life is unrelievedly bleak. A casual survey of American culture, Kunstler writes, "reveals shocking degrees of neuroticism, delusion, dishonesty, and functional failure in culture."
Suburbia, made possible by cheap gasoline, has "produced yawning ugliness on the landscape, an epidemic of loneliness, family dysfunction, and a dismal cavalcade of mass shootings in public schools." In America's heartland, what we now call flyover country, Kunstler sees traditional American values eroded by opiate addiction, suicide, obesity, and unemployment.
Kunstler is particularly hard on American higher education. "The thinking class," he writes, squanders its waking hours on a quixotic campaign to destroy every remnant of American common culture and, by extension, a reviled Western civilization . . . ."
I've spent a good deal of my life shuffling around in American universities, including a three-year stretch in Harvard's re-education camp (cleverly disguised as Harvard's Graduate School of Education). Kunstler's summation of American higher education is spot on.
Rather than try to summarize Kunstler's cogent analysis, I'll simply quote him:
It case you haven't been paying attention to the hijinks on campus—the attacks on reason, fairness, and common decency, the kangaroo courts, diversity tribunals, assaults on public speech and speakers themselves, the denunciation of science—here is the key takeaway: It is not about ideas or ideologies anymore. Instead, it's purely about the pleasure of coercion, of pushing other people around, of telling them what to think and how to act.
Kunstler's book includes a lot more provocative ideas and social analysis than I have touched on here. My brief review doesn't do it justice. But I fully endorse his fundamental conclusion, which I think is this: America has crapped in its own mess kit and doesn't have the money or the moral energy to repair the damage it has inflicted on itself.
A hundred years from now, I believe people will still be reading James Howard Kunstler's work to understand how America went so wrong. In my mind, he is one of the very few people who comprehend what has happened to us.