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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape (1993),
- Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century (1996),
- The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition (2001),
- The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Cent (2005),
- Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation (2012).
For More Information
Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.
- Should we despair, giving up on America?
- The bitter fruits of our alienation from America.
- Despair: so common these days, so good for the 1%.
- Why doomster stories are so popular: we want to believe America is doomed.
- Andrew Bacevich looks at America’s political rot and describes solutions.
- A story about monkeys explains our grifter nation.
- Important: The 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.