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Show 117: James Howard Kunstler

Jim Kunster, author of the recently released book Too Much Magic: Wishful thinking, technology and the fate of the nation, joins Chuck Marohn on the podcast to discuss his new book, the state of the economy, politics, energy and a host of other fascinating topics. 

Show 117: James Howard Kunstler (98 MB)

Reader Comments (4)

Great podcast, very entertaining. Yet in the middle of loving it, I have to say. . .

"There you go again."

It's not constructive, or strategically sound, to assume that someone asking for solutions is only seeking an excuse to try to sustain the unsustainable. Sure, sometimes it might be that. Maybe a lot of times. So address that in your response; but then, try to answer as though it *is* a sincere question. At least don't blow it off.

Let's say my doctor told me, "I have bad news--you have a terminal illness, and I can't say how slowly or how rapidly it might progress." Is it unexpected or illogical for me to follow up by asking, "Is there anything I can do that will increase my chances that it'll be the slow version--so I can have more time with my family? Are there things I can try that could help me retain as much health and function as possible?" That's not denial or looking for a magic bullet. It's a very human desire to want to take some action, to feel that it's in one's power to do something that could modify the eventual outcome in some way.

If the doctor's response to my question is, "No; it pretty much sucks to be you," you can see why that might be unsatisfying.

If I'm in the room with you and JHK, listening to your conversation, and halfway or three-quarters of the way through I say, "Stop! Stop!! You're right! You've convinced me. So NOW what?", this does not necessarily indicate an inability to think and act independently without being told what to do. It's not irrational or far-fetched to think that someone who correctly diagnosed an illness might have something to offer in the way of a prescription. It's not wishful thinking to look for a treatment, even if there's no cure.

I understand that there's no one answer, but to respond to a desire for solutions, suggestion, ideas with a shrug and a "We all have to figure it out for ourselves" is clearly not going to get people moving in the direction that we as a society need to go. And it's no wonder one gets dismissed as Chicken Little when one just as quickly dismisses others as "looking for excuses".

So, you (we?) societal changemongers are failing if all we do is hold up a sign saying "The end is near." That's only half the story, and almost none of the battle. If we can't offer even the sketchiest and most tentative of possible approaches, or suggestions for ways to analyze a situation and prioritize actions, all we've done is either increase the rate of depression in the general population, or set the stage for Adolf Hitler, or both.

I'm not okay with that. Are you?

November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTracy Davis

Great conversation Chuck, I'm glad you finally got a chance to talk with Jim. Tracy's comment is excellent too. Jim really has fallen into a rut with some of his discourse (he's brought up the Aspen environmental conference lots of times, as well as the whole "solutions" thing, among many others). Of course he's using the parts of his spiel that work, but for those of us who've listened to all the Kunstler Casts it does get awfully repetitive.

I'll say again though that Tracy is spot on. Sure some people asking for solutions are looking for a way to keep everything running the way they're used to, but there's also plenty of people who simply don't know what alternatives are are available, and they want to see if maybe they could do some of them. Maybe the problem is using the word "solution" in the first place, which suggests a single magic bullet. Still, I bet many of those sorts of questions are framed along the lines of, "so what can we do?" which Jim would interpret as asking for a solution and which he feels should be brushed off.

To those who would ask what we can do, Chuck would say we need "rational responses" to the situation at hand. That's a perfectly valid answer, but it is always going to be followed up with the question, "like what?" Examples of those responses are few and far between either from Jim or Chuck, though I'll give Chuck credit for bringing more of them out into the open over time. Those would be things like reviving the passenger rail network as Jim has often pointed out, no longer funding infrastructure projects in places that can't pay for them, changing zoning ordinances to allow for development that provides a positive rate of return on infrastructure investment, including the reduction or elimination of parking requirements, and changing the tax code to encourage rather than discourage development. There's plenty more I'm sure, but they need to be put out there as a sort of master list that can be referenced and expanded upon, while at the moment they seem to be rather hard to find and are mixed in among many other topics.

November 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeffrey Jakucyk

Another great podcast.

Tracy and Jeffrey have a point about Mr. Kunstler, but I grow tired of cheerleaders for a bright shiny future after a while. Sometimes I enjoy a good old fashioned curmudgeon.

When it comes to "solutions" I find myself halfway between the hippies and the survivalists - and mocked by both camps. I live in a compact mixed use walkable bikeable neighborhood with great public transportation. I have an absolute minimum amount of debt (modest mortgage in an expensive city) which I'm rapidly paying down. I keep at least a years worth of food and plenty of water and supplies on hand. I built a mortgage-free cottage out in the country which is great for vacations and might be my retirement home someday, but it could also serve as a place of refuge in a crisis. I keep a years worth of cash on hand just in case. I keep a big veggie garden and keep planting more fruit trees. I keep honey bees. I learn new basic practical skills all the time. But most importantly I continuously cultivate relationships with as many people as possible because we're all going to need each other sooner or later - even if the world doesn't ever come unglued.

But that's just me and my "solutions".

At the same time, I fully expect things to get pretty ugly because the vast majority of the population isn't interested in even having this discussion. In the end personal and societal survival all comes down to luck.

November 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn S.

Been a fan of Kunstler's for a while, does a great job of diagnosing problems. Not sure if things will collapse as far as he thinks they will but I agree that things don't seem like they can go on the way they are indefinitely.

One thing I never really got with him is his obstinate stance on social issues. He seems to discount gay marriage as something like a congressional proclamation that ice cream is delicious. Not so. There are real, serious, and pragmatic concerns here that affect a number of people.

What I would agree with is assessing issues in terms of aggregate impact. Police brutality against brown people is bad for brown people but crop failure and famine is bad for everyone. Reducing police brutality is a worthy goal but is a poor win when everyone is starving.

Marriage equality should not be a crowing achievement, it should be an "Oh, yeah, we also did this in addition to solving all these huge problems; you're welcome." I do agree that these social issues become a sideshow attraction to distract us from the larger problems.

Kunstler's approach on the topic does sound a bit like "Gynecologists? I don't have a vagina and it doesn't affect me so why should we have them?"

November 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjollyreaper
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