Kunstler points to a source of America’s problems

Summary: Slowly the nature of America’s problems become evident. Not the superficial ones that dominate the headlines, like those of past and future ages, but the deeper ones washing away the foundations of our society. Here are two essays illuminating our peril and pointing to the solution. The clock is running.

The Future in our hand
© Siri Wannapat | Dreamstime.

Beyond Cynicism: America Fumbles Towards Kafka’s Castle.

By James Howard Kunstler in The American Conservative, 21 December 2017.

“A sense of gathering crisis, which I call the long emergency, persists. It is systemic and existential. It calls into question our ability to carry on “normal” life much farther into this century, and all the anxiety that attends it is hard for the public to process. It manifested itself first in finance because that was the most abstract and fragile of all the major activities we depend on for daily life, and therefore the one most easily tampered with and shoved into criticality by a cadre of irresponsible opportunists on Wall Street. …

“With the election of 2016, symptoms of the long emergency seeped into the political system. Disinformation rules. There is no coherent consensus about what is happening and no coherent proposals to do anything about it. The two parties are mired in paralysis and dysfunction and the public’s trust in them is at epic lows. Donald Trump is viewed as a sort of pirate president, a freebooting freak elected by accident, “a disrupter” of the status quo at best and at worst a dangerous incompetent playing with nuclear fire. A state of war exists between the White House, the permanent D.C. bureaucracy, and the traditional news media. Authentic leadership is otherwise AWOL. Institutions falter. The FBI and the CIA behave like enemies of the people. “

“Bad ideas flourish in this nutrient medium of unresolved crisis. Lately, they actually dominate the scene on every side. …”

Kunstler provides a long list of vivid examples. Both Left and Right have their own lists; both are accurate. I see these as symptoms of some underlying national aliment. Much as the syphilis bacterium manifests itself as a wide range of seemingly unrelated symptoms. We have to understand what is happening with us for to have any hope of reform.

His essay is well worth reading. Another of his essays is even more speculative and perhaps more important.

Holiday Doings and Undoings.

By James Howard Kunstler at his website, 23 November 2018.

“Somehow I doubt that this Christmas will win the Bing Crosby star of approval. Rather, we see the …the social fabric tearing from persistent systemic political dishonesty. It adds up to a nation that can’t navigate through reality, a nation too dependent on sure things, safe spaces, and happy outcomes. Every few decades a message comes from the Universe that faking it is not good enough. …

“On the social and political scene, I sense that some things have run their course. Is a critical mass of supposedly educated people not fatigued and nauseated by the regime of “social justice” good-think, and the massive mendacity it stands for, starting with the idea that “diversity and inclusion” require the shut-down of free speech? The obvious hypocrisies and violations of reason emanating from the campuses …have made enough smart people stupid to endanger the country’s political future.”

This situation was predicted long ago by Yeats in his most famous poem. He was writing in the aftermath of WWI, entering into the tumultuous days before the Great Depression, WWII, and the Cold War – a long roller coaster ride, repeated brushes with disaster. Yeats uses Christian imagery of the end times to describe the decay of civilization – the washing away of its foundations and the inexorable rise of chaos. Many people feel it, in many different ways. We need to look deeper than the usual policy-specific problems that have quick fixes.

The Second Coming

By William Butler Yeats (1920).

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. …

Whatever the cause of our problems, we are the weak link in America today. Since it is a Republic, we are responsible for America’s evolution. And we are the only potential cure. Our growing awareness of our situation puts us one step closer to a cure. Problem recognition is the first and often most difficult step. Recognizing a problem can break us out of our apathy.

James Howard Kunstler
Photo by Charlie Samuels.

About James Howard Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler (Wikipedia) worked as a reporter and feature writer for a number of newspapers, before working as a staff writer for Rolling Stone Magazine. In 1975, he began writing books on a full-time basis. Kunstler is the author of 12 novels and has been a regular contributor to many major media, writing about environmental and economic issues. He is a leading supporter of the movement known as “New Urbanism.”

He has lectured at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell, MIT, and many other colleges. He has written five non-fiction books.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  For more about these matters, see Reforming America: steps to new politics and especially these …

  1. Should we despair, giving up on America?
  2. The bitter fruits of our alienation from America.
  3. Despair: so common these days, so good for the 1%.
  4. Why doomster stories are so popular: we want to believe America is doomed.
  5. Andrew Bacevich looks at America’s political rot and describes solutions.
  6. A story about monkeys explains our grifter nation.
  7. ImportantThe bizarre but easy next step to fixing America – more about problem recognition.

Two books about our situation

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History by Walter Isaacson.

American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony by Samuel P. Huntington.

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History
Available at Amazon.
American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony
Available at Amazon.

13 thoughts on “Kunstler points to a source of America’s problems”

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “but somehow we go on.”

      Complacency is one of the most dangerous of vices. In the past we have “gone on” because we recognized problems and aggressively responded to them. Failure to do means senescence – and regime failure. That’s the grim lesson of history.

    2. > I doubt anyone has had their beliefs changed by the vast amounts of information I present.

      Not true. Can’t speak for anyone else but your writing has definitely changed my mind on a few topics.

      On a sadder note, most if not all of my American friends either ignore or dismiss all of your writings, irrespective of their political beliefs. OTOH my European friends are far more interested in what you have to say.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        Thank you for that good news!

        “most if not all of my American friends either ignore or dismiss all of your writings, ”

        This is America. People tend to respect only teller of tribal truths. Smart website operators see this and act accordingly.

        Oddly, pointing to the long list of accurate predictions here, unlike the tribal sages (neocons about the WOT, activists about climate change) does not impress them. Fidelity to tribal beliefs “trumps” clear vision. This is why we have Trump as President, and why the Left will try to elect someone equally daft.

        It took me a long time to understand that in the Crazy Years any reasonably accurate forecaster will be like Cassandra: the more accurate, the less often believed.

  1. I think that this “persistent systemic political dishonesty” is impossible to “fix” in the given environment. The population of “the West” and particularly of North America was treated with sophisticated propaganda (more like Brain-Washing) for too long and the “education system” has geared it to dependency on New-Speak narratives (including “Fake News”) and the “truth” became a vague term of transient contents. IOW, there may not be enough competent and willing people and not enough time to make the required changes…
    This pessimism isn’t unique to our situation — most empires go from frivolity to pessimism and then to despair. The “revolutionary charge” is all drained and until people become “hungry” again, there’s no chance of recharging it!
    I don’t doubt FM’s honesty and genuine desire “Reigniting the spirit…” but I just can’t see how to “Build a wall from s**t” (loose translation of Samo ~620CE, who, BTW, did build that wall = beat Huns etc.)

    I often wondered why some people, who reply to these articles, would become offended by FM’s rebuttal of their ideas. I also found, that some of the points sometimes resurface within similar context in more favorable light after being dismissed just a few days ago.
    The rebuttal: “…bizarre fondness of both Left and Right these days for apocalyptic dreams”
    I never saw the coming econ-social collapse as an apocalypse nor being that something I’d have ever wished for, rather “the long emergency” will, IMHO, likely take place and, I’m afraid, we may be in the very midst of it right now.
    My point?
    I realize that running this kind of website (with open access to reply) isn’t a trivial endeavor and the Editor must keep off certain “undesirables” (nuts and chaff), but sometimes the brashness and harshness would hurt/fend-off authentic and well meaning contributors.
    OTOH — I, for one, enjoy a “slap” for being sloppy;)

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “This pessimism isn’t unique to our situation”

      True. People, foreign and domestic, have considered America to be doomed since the Founding. At every on every one of our major crises, smart people have bet against us. Many of them bet big against us, and paid the price.

      “I often wondered why some people, who reply to these articles, would become offended by FM’s rebuttal of their ideas.”

      Most websites are tribal, where anything – no matter how outlandish – gets applause. People venture into an enviroment more interested in truth than tribal lore, and they are bewildered and hurt.

      “I never saw the coming econ-social collapse”

      There is little evidence of such a thing.

      “as an apocalypse nor being that something I’d have ever wished for,”

      People love to read and see horror stories. That does not mean that they “wish” for it to happen.

      “sometimes the brashness and harshness would hurt/fend-off authentic and well meaning contributors.”

      After 56 thousand comments, my tolerance for nonsense is low. My fellow authors would be far better at responding to comments, but are too smart to bother. It’s a waste of time by any rational standards, accomplishing nothing.

    2. Larry Kummer, Editor


      A follow-up to your comment.

      Your comment was well balanced and expressed. Here is a bit more context.

      I believe that people should be able to express questions and concerns about material presented here, as well as rebuttals and additional information (pro and con). It’s a matter of principle.

      But in my experience this is a waste of time, info-tainment. Much of these debates are about simple facts. I doubt anyone has had their beliefs changed by the vast amounts of information I present. Much of the rest is about values and opinions about the unknown or unknowable – and debate for entertainment. Again, not much point to it.

    3. America was “doomed” since its founding — an inevitable consequence of creating any “empire” — there is nothing to be ashamed or proud of, just a natural passage of time or history, if you will.
      No evidence for the collapse — I truly wish you were correct right now — as fellow retirees, we won’t be able to recover from coming losses easily…
      Wow, 56k comments — may I ask how much time of a day does it take to handle this project?

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “America was “doomed” since its founding”

        All that lives, dies. But we live in defiance of that.

        “an inevitable consequence of creating any “empire” ”

        America was not an “empire” in any meaningful sense until the Spanish-American war. We’re not an empire today in the most meaningful sense: extracting wealth from foreign lands. We have a mad “empire”, intervening in foreign lands at great cost for the benefit of special interests.

        “may I ask how much time of a day does it take to handle this project?”

        Too much. I’d spend it more productively if I could imagine any better way to help America.

    4. We’re out of sync a bit, but I have to disagree with at least one aspect of you follow-up — your work provided me with enough insight to many issues I was not, or fully, aware of. Does that not constitute a change in beliefs?
      Thank you!

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “Does that not constitute a change in beliefs?”

        Getting “insights” is not the same as having a “change in beliefs.”

  2. Larry,

    “Too much. I’d spend it more productively if I could imagine any better way to help America.”

    You are doing a fine job by the looks of it. I’m new here and catching up. Just an old retired auto mechanic with time on my hands.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      The internet overflows with info-tainment. I’ve little interested in adding to the supply, unless someone pays me to do so. The FM website project runs at a loss, even with the occasional donations. It is too controversial to get useful amounts of advertising income, so I turned the ads off (the existing ads fund Automatic, who runs WordPress).

      The goal is to motivate people to action. I’ll settle for any political action, on the assumption that involved citizens as a group make a better America. After 15 years of this, I can say with confidence that I have not learned how to do so.

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