" ... what is really going on, what's sort of behind the insanity of this, is the very strange and mysterious collapse of the intellectual class in America. ... you’ve got a class of people in the media and academia, highly educated people, the permanent bureaucracy in the government who now believe in crazy things and are proposing dangerous things and seem to have just completely lost it."
The author is a prominent American social critic, blogger, and podcaster, and one of our all-time favorite pessimists. We carry his articles regularly on RI. His writing on Russia-gate has been highly entertaining.
He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed 'The Dystopians' in an excellent 2009 profile, along with the brilliant Dmitry Orlov, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.
You can find his popular fiction and novels on this subject, here. To get a sense of how entertaining he is, watch this 2004 TED talk about the cruel misery of American urban design - it is one of the most-viewed on TED. Here is a recent audio interview with him which gives a good overview of his work.
Author and commentator James Howard Kunstler returns as our podcast guest this week for an update on where we are in The Long Emergency timeline.
In this wide-raging discussion ranging from the pervasiveness of propaganda in today's media to the risk of nuclear war, Kunstler also re-news his warnings of a current secular economic slowdown.
After too many years of market interventions, magical thinking, racketeering, and bleeding the 99% dry, he warns that our culture and economic system will soon reach a snapping point:
The important story is what happens in the financial sector and how it effects the economy in the next twelve to eighteen months. As we know, the financial system is the most abstract and fragile of all the systems that we depend on because the other systems can't run without it. The trucks won't make the food deliveries to the supermarkets unless the finance system works. The gasoline won't get to the pumps at the stations.
Nothing's going to move if the financial system cracks up. People no longer trust each other to transact, to get paid. And so they stop transacting.
We're talking about a falling standard of living and getting used to an economy of "less". It sounds kind of Ebenezer Scrooge-ish to suggest that people may have to do with less rather than more, because more has always been the expectation in our lifetime. But that's probably a fact. And as I've said more than once, reality has mandates of its own. Circumstances are going to inform us about how this economy is emerging and where we need to go with it. And we can either pay attention or just sit there with our fingers in our ears.
What we're talking about here is the armature of our culture and economy that people hang their lives on. And that armature is crumbling. There are fewer things that people can hang a life on in a meaningful way, or a way that even ensures that they can have a little bit of security looking into even a short-term future.
For example, I had a day yesterday that felt like national Murphy's Law Day. I got a screw in a tire. The screw was in a place where, under New York State law, they're not allowed to fix the tire if the screw is near the outside of tread. So I had to buy a brand-new tire. And then I was going to take the trash to the dump in my old pickup truck, which I keep around for that purpose. But the battery was dead. So I had to go down to the auto parts store and buy a new battery, and bring it home and put it in.
Now, I'm among the lucky people in this land who can actually buy a new tire and buy a car battery. But probably some enormous percentage of the population, like 78% or 84% -- I'm not quite sure what it is -- they don’t have enough money to buy a new car battery if their car dies on some god forsaken freeway shoulder 38 miles from home. Imagine how crazy-making that is. I can easily, because I was a truly starving bohemia until well into my 40s, struggling just to pay the light bill while writing book after book. So I know what it's like to live day after day in that kind of financial anxiety.I imagine that the financial anxiety out there right now is just so extreme that there's a whole mass of people who are being pushed to the limits of their sanity.
Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with James Howard Kunstler (57m:11s).
Jim, of course, is well know author and social critic who hardly needs and introduction to me audience. His best-known works include The Long Emergency, in which he argued that declining oil production will result in the reversal of modern industrialized society and compel Americans, at some point, to return to smaller scale, localized, semi-agrarian communities. He also wrote the book series that began with World Made by Handand sequel, The Witch of Hebron, A History of the Future, and most recently, The Harrows of Spring which uses fiction to really entertainingly transport us into what the future of less might look and feel like. Welcome, Jim, it's so good to have you back.
Jim Kunstler: It's a pleas to be here, Chris, and you make me blush.
Chris: That's not easy, I've heard.
Jim Kunstler: It's a white privilege thing.
All right, Jim, two things I want to ask you about this. First, the nearly hysterical attempts, and I didn't mean that in a funny way. I shouldn't have laughed right then. The nearly hysterical attempts by the mainstream media to ignite a war with Russia. And second, people's reactions to your pointing this out – I will note for everybody listening – this is kind of risky area for both Jim and myself to be discussing because we might as well be saying that we think the whole Communist under every bed narrative is overdone at the heights of McCarthyism. That's how it feels to me, right. Never the less, let's begin with the war on Russia, Jim, which is being actively promoted by the largest media interests being somehow in our collective best interest. War with Russia feels wildly dangerous to me, and it the prime reason I rejected Hillary Clinton as a candidate in 2016. She openly advocated for immediate war with Russia which I, I think for very good reasons, considered and still consider both unnecessary and insanely dangerous. Tell us what's going on here in your mind?
Jim Kunstler: I think what is really going on, what's sort of behind the insanity of this, is the very strange and mysterious collapse of the intellectual class in America. Now, you’ve got a class of people in the media and academia, highly educated people, the permanent bureaucracy in the government who now believe in crazy things and are proposing dangerous things and seem to have just completely lost it. It does demonstrate something about the madness of crowds. Some things, in a way, are beyond the rational reach of analysis. You know, you're just in kind of unchartered territory of group herd emotion whether it's wildebeests or lemmings or people on the upper east side of Manhattan setting their hair on fire.
I think the real question you have to ask is what happens to a society when the thinking class can't think anymore? To me, that's the most dangerous thing. And the mendacity they are showing is amazing. The New York Times did another amazing thing about ten days ago. They published a lead editorial by David Leonard, and the headline of the editorial was an interrogatory which went as follows: Still Don’t Believe in Russian Meddling? Okay. Now, the curious thing was this was the only editorial on the op-ed page that day that didn't have a comment section. Okay. So they pose the interrogatory, and then they really don’t want to hear any answers about it. Because I would have been happy to write in and say, no, I'm among the 1,416 people who actually think this is an overblown farrago.
Chris: So this is interesting because I'm a data guy, and I love evidence, and I'm pretty well read. I've not yet personally read a single piece of evidence that I would consider compelling that says Russia has meddled anymore than IPAC meddles or gosh, actually a thousand-fold less than that, or France might have meddled or any other country that has an interest. But I haven't seen the data yet except I'm supposed to believe from the Mueller that indictment came down that 13 Russians operating out of a crack little house were somehow an existential threat to this thing called the United Sates. My comment there, Jim, might be that if that's true, if they posed a threat, we're in really bad shape.
Chris: And isn't that kind of fascinating?
Jim Kunstler: Oh, it's weird. The weirdest thing you can imagine, but luckily, I have a sturdy enough sense of the universe and my place in it that I'm not running around with my hair on fire about it. But it sure provides me a lot of weird material to write about.
Chris: Well, before we more on to that really rich territory, I just want to close up this idea that there are active interests that are attempting to promote war with Russia, and I'm confused. I have the opportunity to talk with people who are very well read or who have held senior positions in various places or whatnot, and I can't find anybody who's been able to answer affirmatively in any way that I understand what exactly is it that Russia has done that's so against US interests? Because everything Russia's done so far has been a reaction to something the US already did. Russia didn't create an issue in Syria. They had to react to it after the United States, France and the UK went in in 2011 and started stirring stuff up and funneling arms to really dangerous, unsavory characters. They didn't annex Crimea until after Western interests had come in and completely destabilized the entire country through a coup, and on and on and on.
So they’ve been reacting, and more recently, Putin came out with what I think should have been front line, top, above the fold headlines in this country which is, he came out and said, I need to remind you all that we have these really dangerous weapons, and you are playing a very dangerous game. And, by the way, please stop deluding yourself, you cannot protect yourself from these things. There is no such thing as a winnable nuclear war. My God, do we have to revisit the concept of mad?Jim Kunstler: Yeah, I think that was a very clear message to the USA to remind the permanent bureaucracy and their handmaidens that nuclear war is unthinkable, so please stop thinking about it, and please stop talking about it because it ain't going to happen unless you want to blow up the world. And somehow The New York Times and the State Department needs to be reminded about that.
Chris: Where is that coming from?
Jim Kunstler: What's the that?
Chris: Where is this urge to go to war with somebody? Is this just, I mean, listen I'm in America so everything's a racket from renewing my car license to getting healthcare. So is this just sort of a Raytheon McDonald Douglas wish list saying gosh, we think terrorism is a marketing avenue sort of run its course, it's hard to really expand budgets. By the way, we have a new class of weaponry that terrorists can't really complete with. So we need a new marketing foil. Is this a Madison Ave campaign being run for the defense industry, or is it, what's happening here? I don’t even understand it.
Jim Kunstler: I'm inclined to not think that it is just a straight out military industrial intelligence complex conspiracy to keep a permanent enemy in view. I do think that it is just more of, you know, it represents a kind of psychotic fugue state that an organism, in this case a country rather than a person, you know, the fugue state that they enter when they're under extreme stress and distress. And I would say that the source of the stress is something that you have been talking about for the last several years which is the trouble that we have with the equation between our energy supply and our energy inputs and how that affects our financial system and ultimately the economic system.
The financial system, when we say financial system, it kind of suggests we're talking about the one tenth of one percent who just cream off, or asset strip, rents and stuff in the economy. Basically, kind of a giant rip off. But the economy is different. The economy is all those millions of people who no longer have the wherewithal to go in and even buy a car on an installment loan. The economy is the supermarket in my town full of hopeless, overweight people subsisting on pepperoni sticks and having no purpose that they can find in everyday life at every level, you know, at the practical level and really quite at the existential level. I think what we're seeing is kind of a typical reaction that a person or a collection of persons go through when they're under extreme stress and they start to sort of abstract their world in the collective imagination. And that's what's happened.
But, you know, you're quite right about Russia. We have done nothing but antagonize them for the last ten years. We told them back in the early 90s we promise Yeltsin that we were not going to expand NATO, and here we are with NATO running clear up to the Russian border with the Baltic States. And NATO putting tanks there and running war games right next to their border. We have the takeover, not the takeover, but the coup that we engineered in Ukraine which was certainly much more overt than anything that 13 Russian Facebook trolls might have done in the American election of 2016. We have all the sanctions that we slapped on them to make their economic life difficult, like depriving them of participation in the SUISSE system of financial clearances that most of the rest of the world has to use in order to send shipment of ores here and there and do all the other large scale international transactions. So you know, we're just pushing their buttons. Plus we're calling them names. And the most remarkable thing to me is how even-tempered Mr. Putin has been in response. And yeah, I'm not a Russian agent.
Chris: Well, listen, I think people need appropriate context here. It was last year, because you mentioned those NATO so called war games, and they aren't games, by the way. They seemed deadly serious to me. But United States move an entire mechanized brigade into Estonia, right up at the Norva border there, putting it less than artillery range away form St. Petersburg, second largest city in Russia. So we put hundreds of artillery pieces right within range of the second largest city and called it a game.
Jim Kunstler: And by the way, how stupid is that to the Europeans who really have to depend on Russian exports of natural gas in order to heat their houses? Do they want to spend the next untold decades just freezing to death?
Chris: You know, I can't even begin to account for the stupidity of the Europeans in all of this. Brussels is somehow coopted. I don’t know what happened there, but clearly their own interests are not aligned with the United Stated in terms of antagonizing Russia for that one simple reason. If Russia turns off the gas taps for any reason, particularly in winter, all of Europe suffers badly and instantly. Why would you do that? Again, but what has Russia done that's that bad? What have they done? Did they falsify intelligence and attack and entire nation and kill a million people? What did they do?
Jim Kunstler: My view is that, and this, maybe this is hopelessly naïve, I don’t think so. My view is that after the communist regime fell and after the early 90s when they finally kind of shook off the worst of the chaos that they were going through in their transition, I think their main desire was to simply be treated as a normal European nation, you know, after three quarters of a century of being this kind of abnormal monster on the fringe of Europe. And I think they wanted very deeply to be regarded as a normal European nation, as a normal European trading partner, and we have done everything we possibly could to frustrate that. And maybe there was some feeling over the last twenty years that if we allowed that to happen that their influence over Western Europe would somehow eclipse ours. I mean, that's a hypothetical, and I don’t really know. But otherwise, the reason for our antagonism remains pretty mysterious.
Chris: So I want to turn now to this concept of psychological operations, or PSYOPs. So first, a definition. Psychological operations, or PSYOPs, are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives and objective reasonings and ultimately the behavior of governments, organization, groups, and individuals. And so I got a quote here from a recent piece by Kaitlyn Johnstone in medium.com. The piece is title "The US Empire is Acting Like a Despite Cornered Animal Because that's what It Is". And the quote is. 'I insist that American's are generally good hearted human beings who just happen to have a lot of ideas swimming around in their heads which benefit their governments war machine and ruling oligarchs. Indeed, American itself could be described as one gigantic, ongoing PSYOP infecting 323 million otherwise healthy homo-sapiens. Propaganda is one of the most under appreciated and overlooked aspects of human experience. The way those empowered use media to manipulate how people think and vote affects every significant issue in a truly massive way. Yet it rarely even comes up in conversation. Americans are some of the most aggressively propagandize people on our planet, and the mass media machine keeps acting stranger and stranger."
That resonates with me. That comports with how I view things at this point. What's your view here?
Jim Kunstler: Well, I noticed the other day, and not for the first time, that whenever NPR talks about Russian meddling, which is actually incessantly, they never say alleged Russian meddling. They always discus it as though we should take it for granted that it's been proven, and the evidence is there. But you know, I don’t think that the people in the media, for example, are that different from my educated friends just in my community who are not in the media who also seem to believe the same things. So again, I would attribute it more to a consensus of delusion rather than necessarily a PSYOP.
I think that one of the more obvious PSYOP aspects of this was the way that John Brennan, the head of the CIA, seems to have engineered the release of the 17 separate US intel agencies stating that Russia had interfered in the election. That happened in January of 1017. And that seems to have been the spark that ignited this hysteria. And if that was a PSYOPs, it wasn't a very complicated thing. And they didn't have to do much to set off this popular consensus of delusion. And of course, as we know, there really wasn’t any, there was no fact in that brief that was leaked to The Washington Post and other newspapers. You know, but somehow people took it almost instantly to be established fact.
So probably, I mean, this also might sound outlandish, but I don’t think that we can over estimate the trauma of Hilary losing the election to that class of people. They just haven't gotten over it. And then, you know, there's the added problem of Trump himself being an extremely unappetizing person who behaves impulsively and appears to be a dangerous character, an impulsive childish character with no decorum. And one of the things that saved Barrack Obama's reputation and presidency was the fact that he presented himself with tremendous decorum despite the fact that he was doing some pretty bad, or at least inept things, like, for example, not organizing any kind of legislative challenge to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that opened the flood gates for all of this bad money coming into politics. He could have done that.
Of course, the executive doesn't legislate, but he can organize his majority in Congress to redefine what the personhood of a corporation is vis-s-vis political expression and money. He could have started that process very easily. And he could have gotten a national consensus of the voters and the population and his supporters behind that because it was such a bad thing. But he did not a darn thing. But he presented himself with such decorum that people simply liked having him as the face of the American government. And so he got away with it. But Trump, Trump is a boorish, clownish character who – you know, there are a lot of people who don’t like the fact that he's president, including myself. But I resent even more the dishonestly and the mendacity of the people who used to be my political allies.
Chris: I think that that's the greatest sin to the intellegentsia crowd is that not only is Trump not part of the intellegentsia crowd, but he wears that proudly.
Jim Kunstler: He wears it exuberantly and flamboyantly and boorishly.
Chris: He doesn't even want to be part of their club, and it's just so insulting.
Jim Kunstler: Well, he's this mad bull waving a red flag at them. And what does that do to the bull? It only makes the bull crazier. And so we're seeing increasingly crazy behavior from the thinking class who should know better in this country.
Chris: Right. Well, I want to get back to this idea that you said that it's established fact now about Russian meddling. There's no word alleged in front of the NPR pieces or elsewhere. So I have nine questions, a series of nine questions. See how many you can answer with a yes or no, and we'll just sort of get to the end of them, and see if we can connect a few dots, okay.
Jim Kunstler: Do you want me to answer as you go along?
Chris: Yes. Just either yes or no if you can. If you need to mort [PH], that's fine too. So question one. Jim, have you personally seen any evidence offered that Russia hacked the DNC servers?
Jim Kunstler: No.
Chris: Has any evidence been offered that Russia released the Podesta emails?
Jim Kunstler: No.
Chris: Did the DNC and Podesta emails reveal active collusion within and by the DNC to derail the Bernie Sanders campaign and to elevate Hilar Clinton?
Jim Kunstler: Established fact.
Chris: Has there ever been any evidence offered that whoever leaked the emails might have fabricated them or altered them in any way?
Jim Kunstler: Yes, I think we have plenty of reason to believe that.
Chris: That the emails were fabricated or altered?
Jim Kunstler: Oh, the emails. Excuse me. I'm sorry. You mean the Hilary and Podesta emails?
Chris: The Podesta and Hilary emails. Has anybody ever countered and said these were fabricated or altered?
Jim Kunstler: No. Nobody has ever made the claim that they were not what they were presented to be. That is, authentic emails from Podesta and Hilary and the DNC.
Chris: So these emails, however they came to light, reveal evidence of corruption and collusion within the DNC?
Jim Kunstler: Yes.
Chris: And, next question, has evidence been offered that the Clinton Foundation took money in large sums from Russians?
Jim Kunstler: I think that's already been proven. And I think that the amount is above $100 million.
Chris: So, yes, is it not true, as reported by The New York Times in 2015 that the Clinton Foundation took in $145 million from interest linked to Uranium One?
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. Apropos of what I just said.
Chris: Yes. Exactly. Did any of those Russians have strategic or financial interests they were seeking to advance that they were then successfully carried out?
Jim Kunstler: The answer to that is duh.
Chris: Yes. Last question. Has any evidence been offered of Trump collusion with Russia been offered yet?
Jim Kunstler: No. Not to my knowledge. There was kind of a weird, feckless meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russia lady lawyer in New York that seemed to amount to absolutely nothing.
Chris: This is where I get, so as an outside observer, again, I'm not a Trump fan. I'm not an RNC, I'm not a DNC. I'm like pocks on both houses kind of guy. I'm just relentlessly agnostic when it comes to politics. But I do love data, and I like to connect dots into coherent narrative. So help us. How do we connect those dots into coherent narrative that says Trump is the one that needs to be investigated for potentially damaging national security interests? Shouldn't there be at least wo investigations going on?
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. Perhaps even three, or two and a half. I'm still waiting for the Justice Department to do something about the FBI officers who were misbehaving in the last eighteen months around these investigations. We had Mr. McCabe. We have Bruce Ohr and his wife who seem to have been doing side dealings on their own with the people who were pushing the dossier. And of course, the famous Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and others. You know, we haven't heard a peep about what the Justice Departments interest in their behavior might be. And you know, they seem to have left a broader and more obvious trail than anybody else.
Chris: Right. So the way I add all these dots up, and the reason I pulled up this whole idea of a psychological operation or at least psychological things being in play, this feels like, in psychological terms classic projection. The DNC, to point a finger at one of the sets of parties here, really screwed up very badly. And they got caught. And it was ham handed and really inelegant, and they've been sued by people who donated to Bernie Sanders who found that those monies were actually used against him, not for him, and they thought that was a breach of something. And in defense of that, I love how their lawyer argued this for the DNC and Wasserman Schmidt and all those people. He said, hey, this is a first amendment right. This is their free speech. That's just them exercising free speech as a way to sort of dodge this. But instead of saying wow, we need to look in the mirror, we did some things, let's fix this, let's rebuild our party base, they said, oh, Russians.
Jim Kunstler: By the way, I'd like to point out a strange phenomenon that I think is very largely responsible for the hysteria level that we're seeing and the delusional level. You know, many of us turn on the cable news now and again, maybe even every night for a little while. And I wonder how many people notice this major change that is taking place. You know, 20 years ago when you turned on Walter Cronkite or Tom Brokaw on the network news, they would go to their correspondents in the field and you would get a half an hour of people reporting from Beirut and people reporting from Paris and people reporting from Lagos and Rio de Janeiro, and that was how the news was reported from people who are actually reporters. And now, there are no reporters left on CNN or FOX News or MSNBC. What they do is they say, and now we go to our panel. So all we're getting night after night are gangs of competing kibitzers. We're not getting news. And I wonder how many people have noticed that profound change in the way most Americans are getting the so- called news, which is no longer news.
Chris: Yep. Well, it's certainly interesting that what's passing for content these days is really devoid of context, and it's one of the reasons I've actually enjoyed reading through sometimes when Putin gives a press conference it might be four hours long. So when he was asked a couple years ago about the Crimean thing he rewound to the year 1724 and started there. There was all this context, you know, and in that larger sweep what he was saying made perfect sense. And for most, I think, consumers of US news, Crimea just sort of appeared out of the mist, and Russia seized it inappropriately. No context around the voting or they're all Russian speakers or they used to be part of Russia as recently as 1954.
Jim Kunstler: Or, the fact that is the site of their most important warm water naval bases and ports. The whole melodrama over Ukraine was insane, and it was just another angle on the delusional politics that we're sinking in the quicksand of delusional politics that we're in.
Chris: It feels to me a little bit like what's happening here. Did you see the movie Trading Place? Eddie Murphy. A long time ago, right. These two old white trader guys and they make this bet that they can elevate this shoe shine boy up to exalted status and then ruin him just for fun. And they trade a dollar at the end. Ha, ha, Mortimer, I told you I could do that, right. And of course, twist at the end he ends up outsmarting them which was fun. But I really feel like what's happening here are that there are groups that are, particularly in the media, that are very interested in keeping everybody divided, focused on the wrong things, providing no context because context only muddies the narrative they're trying to put forward, and I think it's convenient to have so-called people on the left and the right at the street level fighting each other when if fact the real threats they're facing are not the people they're pointing their fingers at. Not even close. Right.
The real threats in this story are the people who are sucking this country dry. They’ve been running a scheme and a racket for a long time that was okay as long as you could exponentially expand the economic pie forever, but that's not happening anymore. And it can't seem to happen. And there's all this debt, and of course we have the resource issues, all of that. And so something really uncomfortable is lurking under all this. But what most people are focused on and venting their anger towards and pointing their finger at isn't the real threat in their lives. Not even close.
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. And a lot of the people, especially people in the media, belong to the former middle class. Because the newspaper racket and the news media in general is kind of a collapsing industry full of people who can barely make a living anymore. so you'd think that they would be at least sensitive to that angle of that matrix of rackets that our country is turning into. But they're not. If you ask yourself whether people believe this stuff, and it's a broad spectrum of strange beliefs that we're now immersed in, and they range from the war mongering and Russia hating of certain groups on the left to the identity politics issues which, you know, I think a lot of people sincerely believe in what they're saying and doing in identity politics, but I don't think that it's a good thing for the country. And yet, those people sincerely believe that they're doing a good thing.
So I think what really going on there is just a frantic amount of virtue signaling of people desperately trying to demonstrate that I'm a good person. I'm a good person because I believe this. Please give me brownie points. And it's really kind of very basic human status seeking which is such a fundamental human group behavior, or the behavior of a human within a group. And so in the absence of other kinds of meaning in our culture, people are just grabbing for that brownie point gold ring on the merry-go-round of identity politics.
And to some extent, Russia hating has become incorporated into that as just part of the boiler plate of that personality. It's so incoherent and unreal that I think you're going to see the collapse of a lot of kind of individual world views at a certain point. And it's going to be a kind of pathetic spectacle when people like, I don't know, Charles Blow of The New York Times discovers that the things that he's been believing for the last ten years are mostly figment. So I continue to see it as a group psychological problem. And now incorporating certain kind of fashion trends and a certain reward system for making people feel good about themselves in the absence of an economy that can make them feel good about themselves.
Chris: Well, I think you're touching on something really important here which is. to bring out my compassionate side, is to say rather than seeing all of this as people being naively misled that underneath that what we're finding is that the American experience of life is so devoid of meaning and purpose, that to be offered something that offers the energy of purpose and direction, however scant, is still snapped up because that's the energy in the story. We live in such a bereft culture that, according to Sebastian Junger and the study that he did for his book Tribes, of the 22 veterans committing suicide each day in America, 11 of them never saw combat. They just find that the Esprit De Corp and the sense of belonging they had when they were in unit is so perversely missing when they come that they'd rather check out than stay part of that. I can't think of a more damning indictment of culture than that.
Jim Kunstler: When what you're experiencing in wartime is more meaningful and important to you than anything you that you can find when you come home, that's pretty grotesque. And what we're talking about here really is what is the armature of culture and economy that people can hang their lives on. And that armature is crumbling. And there are fewer things that people can hang a life on in a meaningful way or a way that even ensures that they can have a little bit of security looking into even a short-term future.
I had a day yesterday, for example, for me it was like national Murphy's Law Day. I got a screw in a tire. The screw was in a place where, under New York State law, they're not allowed to fix the tire if the screw is near the outside of tread, so I had to buy a new tire. A brand-new tire. The tire was two months old. And then I went back, and I was going to take the trash to the dump or transfer station in my old pickup truck which I keep around for that purpose, and the battery was dead. And I had to go down to the auto parts store and buy a new battery, and bring it up and put it in. So I am among the lucky people in this land who can actually buy a new tire and buy a car battery.
But probably some enormous percentage of the population, like 78, 84, I'm not quite sure what it is, you know, they don’t have enough money to buy a new car battery if their car dies on some god forsaken freeway shoulder 38 miles from home. Imagine how crazy-making that is. I can easily imagine because I was a truly starving bohemia until well into my 40s. You know, struggling just to pay the light bill writing book after book. So I know what it's like to live day after day in that kind of financial anxiety. And I imagine that the financial anxiety out there is just so extreme that you know, there's a whole other group of people that are just being pushed to the limits of their sanity.
Chris: I complete agree. To think about those poor formerly middle-class journalists struggling to both crank out articles explaining that Russia is the greatest threat we face, and then banging out the next article that says 42 percent of people are retiring with less then ten thousand in savings. And then banging out the next article that says oh, look, consumer credit hit a new all-time high, that much mean that people are feeling positive about things, and not being able to connect those dots into a different narrative which says people are borrowing money because they have to put the new battery on the credit card. That's a mark of survival, not confidence, or something like that because the larger narrative that has to be told here is that the systems are crumbling, and that makes us all nervous.
In The New York Times, last week, there's an article that just, you know, gut punches me that no white whale bred last year. None of them bred. Like okay, and wait, 80 percent of insects are missing from Germany. And hold on, 100,000 orangutans have been lost in the last seven years. They just come out daily, right. And you know, so I think the funniest, quippiest way I saw that captured was a picture on Twitter where somebody had noted, they said, we're spending billions trying to find life on other planets and spending trillions killing the life on this one.
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. That's analogous to Elon Musk's Mars project. He wants to ramp up this gigantic Mars exploration program and colonization program when we haven't demonstrated we're capable of colonizing the Earth successfully yet. A lot of what we've been saying over the last ten minutes or so points to what I think is really probably going to be the important story, and that is what happens in the financial sector and how it effects the economy in the next twelve to eighteen months because, as we know, the financial system is the most abstract and fragile of all the systems that we depend on because the other systems can't run without it. You know, the trucks won't run, the trucks won't make the food deliveries to the supermarkets unless the finance system works. The gasoline won't get to the pumps at the stations.
Nothing's going to move if the financial system cracks up. And by crack up, you know, there are many features of that, of course. One of them is that people doing transactions no longer trust each other to transact, to get paid. And so they stop transacting. Another feature of that which I know you’ve talked about with John Rubino and Charles is the short-term destiny of the dollar and whether it's going to have any value.
Chris: Let me just riff on that for a second because as were' talking here, just last night, the Commerce Secretary, Cohn, took avail [PH], and so just the revolving door of the Trump administration had another hit. So the idea there is that Trump's going to get to activate his trade wars. There's only two ways he can actually get what he wants. One is trade actually going into some sort of tailspin because everybody's doing tit for tat, retaliatory, Smoot-Hawley style trade stuff. That's a possibility. The other is he gets a weaker dollar. Either way, I think he's happy with that. And so, of course, today, S&P futures opened, they were down nearly 30 at one point, the S&P's very close to going green on the day right now, just relentless buying from the open buy "somebody", and of course, gold is down.
These are the two ways that the system signals that all is well, don’t worry. You know, and to me I just find it hysterical because to think about gold going down here is to say that somehow that news wasn’t dollar unfriendly. So it feels like, I can hear them straining from their little cubicles. The whole system is just so perverted. I can't help but feel like I know exactly what 1911 felt like. It wasn't the Arch Duke getting shot that caused World War I. It was the giant bon fire with all the dry tinder and the fuel poured on it that needed a spark. And this just feels just horrendously, grotesquely imbalanced worldwide, everywhere from geopolitical standpoint, financial, everything, all courtesy of activist Central Banks who thought a committee of people could set the prices of everything and that would somehow work out.
Jim Kunstler: And at the moment, I think that the markets signals that you're describing are particularly incoherent. Obviously, the gold signal is incoherent. But I think all the signals are a kind of noise at the moment. And the bottom line is that in order for the economy, so called, to evolve or emerge this bottleneck of trouble that we're going through, it has to be so severely reorganized that it is almost impossible for the people who run the current economy to imagine what that would be. It would be everything from the replacement of a chain store system of commerce back to a much more regional and local Main Street form of commerce. And you can describe what that's like fairly simply. But the difficulty of getting from point A to point B is just unbelievable. I mean, you're talking about reorganizing just about every supply chain and manufacturing and trade relationship that there is.
Chris: Well, moving from a position of living well beyond your means to living within your means.
Jim Kunstler: Yes. And we're also talking about a falling standard of living and getting used to what you started at the very beginning of the podcast referring to it as an economy of less. And you know, I mean, it sounds kind of Ebenezer Scrooge-ish to suggest that people may have to do with less rather than more because more has always been the expectation in our lifetime. But that's probably a fact. And as I've said more than once, reality has mandates of its own, and circumstances are going to inform us about how this economy is emerging and where we need to go with it. And we can either pay attention or just sit there with our fingers in our ears going la, la, la, la, la. And that appears to be the choice for now because the journey that we have to go on is just too difficult for people to imagine.
Chris: So let's talk about sane or coherent responses to an incoherent set of signals in a system that seems bent on careening into a brick wall at a very high rate of speed. Your response has been similar to mine which was to move to a more rural-ish sort of location to begin to enjoy a more direct connection with your food, be that through chickens, a garden fruit trees, things like that. My diagnosis and prognosis for a lot of this is that our nature connection is really vitally important to us and being connected to the rhythm of life is really important. And if people want more meaning and purpose, it's not going to be because Elon's company invents a better app, and Google helps you AI your way to happiness through better shopping. It's that we slow down. What I want to advocate for, in the minutes we have remaining, this discussion of how less is more in this story possibly, right.
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. And I find that, you know, I have done a similar thing, as you have. I've basically created a homestead in a small town. I found a piece of property that was literally a five-minute walk to Main Street, and yet I'm on the edge of town, literally the edge of town. And that stuff is all working out pretty well. My garden is working out well, and fruit trees are now about six years old. But I find that the most difficult thing is the construction project of forming people around you of people that you can rely on and people that have some sympathy with the project that you're undertaking and why you're doing it, and the things that they're doing themselves. Because a lot of the people in my community – I have friends that are manual laborers on local, boutique farms around here. And they're not typically blue-collar people, they're people who actually went to college. And they're struggling to the degree that's it's very hard for them to build up their own module of self-sufficiency. They’ve gone, to some extent, straight to serfdom.
And so it's not clear to me how the town that I live in, for example, is going to reorganize itself, although I'm quite sure that it will because human societies do. They are an emergent phenomenon. That's the only way that they really go from point A to point B or make whatever journey they have to make from one way of life to another. But I find the social component is something you really have to work at very hard, maybe even more hard than planting the trees and planting the garden.
Chris: I would agree, and it's part of the reason that I have some hostility towards these PSYOPs because I think they set back that enterprise. I think it's more difficult to engage people in that real conversation about the what's and the why's of responding coherently to this world as it unfolds. I just find that a harder prospect when people are distracted by, and consumed by, things that have no bearing on that discussion, really.
Jim Kunstler: Yeah, well, the other weird thing is that you and I both live in a milieu, having made a choice to move to a small town in rural New England. But you and I also venture out and to fly over America. And when you actually see the way people live in suburban Dallas, Texas and Albuquerque and Minneapolis and Nashville and Atlanta and you just see the worrying, blurring incoherence of this life of constant motion and noise it's even easier to understand why people can't think, and particularly why they can't think about their future. And any change in their daily life because it's just too overwhelmingly – it just produces to much cognitive confusion.
Chris: Well, if there was one piece of advice I would give to somebody, regardless of whether they were in Albuquerque, Nashville, Atlanta or wherever is I would say, get rid of your TV. I cannot believe how exquisitely good the programming is, and I use that word very carefully, the programming, is in order to insert ideas and to establish fact by reputation rather then evidence. And I don’t know how you could possibly – I'm not saying I'm better than these people because I can resist that sort of programming – I'm telling you I can't, it's that good, so I don’t have a TV in my house that operates with that programming on it because it's astonishing how good it is.
Jim Kunstler: Well, yes, but what we're also confronting there very directly are the diminishing returns of technology which are biting us back all over, and we are not paying sufficient attention to it, maybe no attention at all. This is what happens when you have cable TV and social media and the internet and people plug into all that stuff all that time. It has blowback, and apparently the blowback is pretty simple. It makes people delusional and stupid. And it may be no more complex than that. And that perhaps human beings can't really cognitively tolerate that much intervention in their brains everyday to have to think about this stuff. It's probably much more important to think about the thing on your workbench that you have to fix in order to make a water hydroelectric turbine work. Or what kind of crops you're going to plant in this planting bed, or something directly related to reality. But living in a mediated reality as much as we do has got to produce pretty bad psychological kind of entropic blowback.
Chris: I think we're about to tune in, turn off and drop out I guess. I don't know.
Jim Kunstler: Well, there's a lot to be said for that.
Chris: It is overload, and that's part of running a successful racket is to make sure your marks are unable to sort of spot the movement of the hands, you know, to figure out where the pea is under the cups. But just to me, to battle every year, to figure out what happened to my healthcare coverage, and making sure that I'm not accidently dropped because they just send the letters along with the other stream of letters they're sending you with nothing special on the outside to say, oh, by the way, we just changed your coverage or dropped you or whatever. Just to keep up with that alone is a pretty full-time enterprise. Don’t get me started on how extraordinary taxes are, and on and on and on. So I think it's just overload. And so when you have people who can't manage the flood of things that you have to manage. I mean, you just had to manage the idea that you had to confront that somebody somewhere had decided that it was illegal to fix your tire.
Jim Kunstler: Yeah. Right.
Chris: Everywhere you turn you will discover there's something like that, but what's consistent is wow, I have to open my wallet again.
Jim Kunstler: And a great part of what you're describing is actually very cruel. Especially the medical racket because not only does it fail to get people well, but it really torments them and antagonizes them and makes them feel small and threatened just by the prospect of having to go into he emergency room. Nobody wants to get three stitches and be charged ten thousand dollars for it. so that's pretty scary.
Chris: Well, I totally agree. So with that, we're out of time here for today. Obviously, you and I could do this for a long time.
Jim Kunstler: There's a lot to think about out there.
Chris: There is. This is very interesting. It's getting super interesting right now. And I guess my closing remark is I sincerely hope that if I had to pick one thing over the other, I would rather have a financial market correction that we then have to pause and think about than a war with Russia, but that's me.
Jim Kunstler: I absolutely agree with you, and I've been actually saying the same thing on my blog for the last six months that the most likely outcome, and probably the thing that we need most, is for the financial system to whack us upside the head with a two by four and say wake up. Within five minutes that would put and end to all this sort of Russia hallucination and other nonsense. So that, to me, is I think probably the likely place that we're going to. And of course, Mr. Trump is going to be, as I said a year ago, he's going to be the designated bag holder for that. Okay. He's a good bag holder. Let him be the bag holder.
Chris: Agreed. All right, Jim. Tell people how they can follow you and your writing.
Jim Kunstler: I publish my blog Monday and Friday. I put it up before 10:00 in the morning. It's at kunstler.com. K-U-N-S-T-L-E-R.com. And my books are all available at Amazon and other places. I would urge you to go to your local book seller. There are very few of them left out there, but if you have one go to them.
Chris: All right. Well, thank you so much for you time today, and we'll talk again soon.
Jim Kunstler: A pleas, Chris.