Having recently finished reading The Harrows of Spring, the fourth and final novel of Jim Kunstler's World Made By Hand series, I couldn't help but compare and contrast his dystopian post economic collapse America versus our current warped egocentric pre-economic collapse America. His world made by hand is forced upon Americans who have survived some sort of conflict resulting in the destruction of Washington D.C. and Los Angeles by nuclear blasts.
The Federal government has ceased to exist. The nation has splintered and varied factions are vying for power in autonomous regions of the country, but the small community of Union Grove, New York has been left to fend for itself. The four novels detail the trials and tribulations of average Americans in a small rural town after the implosion of modernity, as the world is stripped of its technological oil based comforts, devastated by terrorism, racked by epidemics, and having endured the ravages of economic collapse.
Kunstler's dystopian future isn't as bleak as the dystopian visions of Brave New World. If dystopian means a world characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or a cataclysmic decline in society, then Kunstler's World Made By Hand series doesn't match that characterization. There is more humanity and hope in his novels than you would expect in a dystopian vision of the future. The novels focus on various types of societal segments who represent the different courses society could chart after a breakdown of modern social norms, enforced by central authorities. Living through a national catastrophe and stripped of the modern conveniences provided by cheap plentiful oil, the citizens of Union Grove see their community falling apart from neglect, natural decay, disease, and lack of hope for the future.
The setting for the story appears to be only a couple decades in the future and is entirely believable when you step back and observe our current unsustainable economic path, increasing threats from Islamic radicals, warmongering politicians beating the drums of war with Russia and China, disintegrating social fabric, increasingly fragile electrical grid, and our brittle just in time supply chain, dependent upon cheap and ample supplies of oil. The faultless community of Union Grove struggles to regain some semblance of normalcy after events beyond their control force them to confront a new reality. The way of life they had taken for granted, with its modern conveniences, technological wonders, and taken for granted luxuries, had suddenly faded away.
Wallowing in their depression and sorrow would only lead to further needless death and suffering. It needed to be replaced with a new found respect for each other and a pragmatic approach to creating a new future based upon the reality of their situation. Gone was electricity, oil based transportation modes (automobiles, trucks, airliners ships), mass produced anti-biotics, frankenfoods sold at warehouse stores, policemen and soldiers to "protect" them from bad guys, and politicians bribing you with debt financed entitlements for your vote. That paradigm was always unsustainable, but Americans preferred the illusion of sustainability to facing the reality.
For people unable to adapt mentally and/or physically to these new challenging circumstances, it was a frightening, undesirable dystopian existence. In reality, society had essentially reset itself back to 1850, before the discovery of oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania by Edwin Drake. The people of Unionville, New York were forced into a pre-industrial revolution existence without warning. But they were the lucky ones. Most of the people in urban and suburban America perished, as their existence was totally dependent upon technology, oil based transportation, and food supply from foreign countries.
In the foreseeable future, Kunstler's less than apocalyptic vision is entirely probable, with rural communities much more likely to survive a catastrophic collapse of our high tech, oil dependent, head in the sand society of delusional willfully ignorant consumers. Kunstler focuses his stories on the characters inhabiting Unionville, but he provides glimpses into the regional breakup of the country, with the United States becoming a fragmented shell of itself, with little or no central authority. With Washington D.C. and Los Angeles uninhabitable, various other cities served as the capital after the collapse. The south broke apart into three new countries - The Republic of Texas, Firefox Republic, and New Africa - which went to war with each other and the remnants of the original U.S. With the current state of party politics and racial divide, this type of regional break-up is not farfetched.
When you put Kunstler's History of the Future scenario in context with the current insane path we are racing along, it is entirely believable and preferable to even more cataclysmic outcomes. With $13 trillion of worldwide government debt with negative interest rates, central bankers on a suicide mission of debasement, delusional Americans using debt to live far above their means as their standard of living declines, politicians continuing to obligate their bankrupt countries to even more social welfare liabilities, saber rattling by leaders at the behest of the military industrial complex against Russia & China, the Middle East ready to explode in a cataclysm of Islamic mayhem, nuclear weapons in the hands of unstable governments, radical Islamic terrorism spreading across Europe and America, and a U.S. populace more divided by race, religion, social beliefs, wealth, geography, and political parties than ever before, some version of Kunstler's apocalyptic vision is inevitable.
I read the final novel in the series The Harrows of Spring while vacationing at the Jersey shore in Wildwood. I was struck by the contrast in Kunstler's future world made by hand and the world made by hand currently on display in this decaying, delusional, empire of debt. Kunstler's world made by hand is forced upon survivors as the country and world encounter a systematic failure with no possibility for a reboot. All the creature comforts they had been accustomed to, like central air, electric lights, cable television, refrigerators, big box retail stores, smart phones, SUVs, superhighways, jetliners, junk food, high rise office towers, McMansions in suburbia, 401ks, and central bankers printing fiat paper like candy, evaporated like a puddle of water on a hot summer day. They were left in a post-modern world where their survival depended upon their own two hands.
They had to grow their own food or utilize a particular skill (medical, carpentry, hunter, laborer) to acquire food. They needed to scavenge, hunt, fish, sew, raise livestock, trade, barter, and make due with less, in their new world made by hand. Life was somewhat brutish and hard, compared to what most had been accustomed. The slightest illness or infection could lead to death. Lack of modern sanitation led to outbreaks of disease and death. For those who refused or couldn't mentally adapt to a new reality, depression, anger, and bitterness filled their lives and slowly destroyed them.
Those who acclimated themselves to their new existence and accepted the hardships with the frontier spirit that originally built the country were able to survive and sometimes thrive in the Unionville, New York of the future. They became a community again, not trapped in that modern iGadget world, living like hermits in their hermetically sealed 100% financed McMansions, shuttling to and from paper pushing jobs in their leased BMWs to 50 story office catacombs in filthy decaying urban concrete jungles. The rat race had ceased. Kindling the stove for heat, preparing meals, tending to livestock and gardens, fixing what had broken, and looking out for your neighbor became their daily routine.
As you would expect, leaders naturally arose, but in a small community the power and control was disbursed. Some of the leaders were religious, others led by the example of their humanity and intelligence, and others by their willingness to fight and defend the community. Men started businesses, people began to trade among themselves and with other communities, new buildings were constructed, using hydro-power to generate electricity was reintroduced, and the community spirit was boosted by shows, music, and social gatherings. Bad men are always present in every society, but the community rallied to fight them off. Violent death was an ever present danger in the world made by hand. Amazingly, the world survived without bankers and computer generated electronic currencies, derivatives of mass destruction, or paper fiat. Citizens and merchants conducted their business using silver, gold or barter.
The world made by hand I observed in Wildwood, NJ was as far from Kunstler's world made by hand as humanly possible. Rather than using their hands to produce, create, fix, hunt, plant, or fish, their hands are busy tapping on their iGadgets - tweeting, facebooking, instagramming, texting, taking selfies, and videoing their experiences rather than experiencing them. The people ambling on the Wildwood boardwalk and shuffling across the land are addicted to these technological chains enslaving themselves in triviality, irrelevance, and egotism. The gadgets are attached to the hands of millennials and middle aged alike.
They were gazing at their gadgets as they rode bikes, jogged, or gorged their pieholes with fried oreos and funnel cake. Rather than relaxing and enjoying watching the tranquil sunrise over the Atlantic ocean as seagulls darted about over the deserted beach, the majority have their heads buried in their smart phones retweeting the latest Kanye and Kim scandal. No one reads a book on the beach anymore, as they are consumed by the trivial culture available on their iGadgets. Rather than experience the beauty of a fireworks display, they must record it and send it to all their friends to prove they are having fun. The American public has an almost unlimited craving for diversions. Reality and the truth are drowned in an ocean of irrelevance.
The other frightening aspect of our current warped world made by hand is the madness of the masses in having their bodies deformed and covered in hideous tattoos. And if there was ever a place to witness this mass insanity in all its putrid glory, it's Wildwood NJ. The Wildwood boardwalk has a tattoo parlor on virtually every block and they are generally packed with herds of non-thinking masses making insane decisions, guaranteeing they will never get a decent paying job in their lifetime. How can the low income masses afford this high priced ink? How do they afford those expensive iGadgets? What a stupid question. Debt of course. Thank you Federal Reserve.
As I observed young men, middle aged women, teenage girls, fathers, mothers, and grandparents sporting repulsive ink on their arms, necks, legs, backs, chests, and faces, I was reminded of a quote by Charles McKay from his book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds written in 1841.
"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."
With the proliferation of mass media propaganda in the last few decades, along with the dumbing down of the populace through public school indoctrination, vast swaths of the population are unable to critically think, reason, or understand the long term consequences of their actions and the actions of their political and financial leaders. The madness of crowds is being borne out by millions of Americans copying each other and imprinting pictures and words upon their skin to be special. This herd like behavior has been seen in financial markets, the fashion industry, and elsewhere in popular culture. These pathetic attempts to be unique are nothing but a cry for attention in a world where they are nothing but a cog in the machinery.
As their standard of living has steadily fallen over the last three decades and their lack of education has left them wallowing in near poverty, they are desperately grasping at straws to be noticed in this egotistical world made by hand. When the inevitable economic reset occurs, these shallow displays of narcissism will cease. Americans have gone mad in herds, but when they recover their senses their permanent idiot stamps will still be there - forever. Debt financed tattoo removal will not be available. The psychosis is so intense today that Wildwood holds conventions to draw the herds of cattle to voluntarily receive their branding.
There were two particular passages in The Harrows of Spring which captured the zeitgeist of our period of history and how denial of reality ultimately leads to collapse. The first passage describes the thoughts of a young character as she travels past the shattered remnants of modernity.
"She rambled past the intersection where the car dealers had battled for supremacy of annual sales, their vacant parking lots now miniature forests of poplar and sumac, the showrooms empty shells. The sight of these ruins and the monumental waste they represented made her momentarily angry. She knew that the people running things in the old times understood that their way of life was a dead end, and she could even imagine that they were so locked into their systems and habits that they were more or less trapped. What she couldn't grasp was their utter failure even to imagine another plan. So they took it as far as it would go and then just let it all crash. She remembered riding in cars, but they were all gone by the time she was seven years old, and then incrementally so were all the other things that had made life so comfortable. Yet she didn't especially miss it. She was used to the new ways and the new times, and ordinarily she didn't suffer from how it was now."
The description of vacant crumbling car dealer lots overgrown with weeds and trees is already a reality in the pre-collapse America of today. Driving along the pothole strewn roads of suburban Philadelphia, the landscape is dotted with dilapidated car dealerships, decrepit vacant gas stations, decaying deserted strip malls, empty moldy office complexes, boarded up industrial buildings, ramshackle residential properties, and a proliferation of Space Available signs. The urban ghettos of West and North Philadelphia resemble Dresden after the fire bombing. The road to ruin is pretty far along at this point.
The people running the show today know the country is on a burning platform of unsustainable fiscal, monetary, social welfare, and military practices which imperil the future of the nation. Wall Street/K Street oligarchs have financialized every aspect of our society, gutted the productive industries, indebted our grandchildren to the tune of $200 trillion, and outsourced the jobs needed to sustain our nation to foreign countries. The frantic efforts of the Federal Reserve, their minions in NYC & DC, and the propaganda press, to prop up this hollowed out carcass of a country are failing. The debt is too vast; corruption too entrenched; vital systems too damaged; populace too apathetic and distracted by bread and circuses; and leaders too feckless and corrupt to do what it would take to save the country.
Leaders willing to level with the American people and tell them the truth about the real state of our dire fiscal circumstances are virtually non-existent. Telling the truth is considered painting an unnecessarily dark picture of our situation. Everything is great according to the establishment, because it is great for them. Spineless weak minded politicians prefer platitudes, promises, and puerile happy talk, rather than the blunt truth when buying the votes of their constituents. The American people prefer willful ignorance, safety and security to liberty, freedom and personal responsibility, so they continue to elect feeble minded toadies as their representatives. Therefore, the country has gotten what we deserve - good and hard. The second passage captures the halting collapse as we squandered our dwindling financial resources fighting useless wars in distant lands.
"But the war in the Holy Land was far far away, and the situation was quite different. The nation was cracking under the weight of bloated modernity and all the patches pasted on to its excessive and malfunctioning hyper-complexity, and people were bewildered by the strange glitches, failures, and shortages. Going forward, nothing would really work anymore as it was designed to, yet the hope and expectation that it would all magically recover dominated the chatter in the rare moments when people could step back from their frantic lives and share a meal or drink."
We have wasted $2 trillion on wars of choice in the Middle East over the last fourteen years, while creating a police surveillance state of massive proportions at home. While recklessly pissing away our diminishing national wealth trying to police the world, and only stirring up Islamic fanatics, we are witnessing the slow disintegration of our hyper-complex systems of production, supply, energy, and finance. The ruling class pretends all is well and use their media mouthpieces to portray a narrative that is unequivocally untrue. We are consuming ourselves to death.
The non-thinking tattooed masses are unaware and apathetic, as their inability to think critically has left them trapped in the "all is well" paradigm peddled by their government keepers and their corporate fascist benefactors. But a growing minority of critical thinking individuals recognizes the desperate attempts of the elite establishment to cover-up the systematic breakdown of our degraded systems of commerce and finance. The alternative media proliferating on the internet is providing rational, fact based analysis of our true situation. That is why the establishment wants to lock down and control the internet.
The increasing level of power failures, electric grid blackouts, water shortages, drinking water contamination, droughts, oil price spikes and crashes, crumbling bridges, disintegrating highways, bursting water mains, train derailments, refinery explosions, aging nuclear plants and lack of capital investment by businesses and governments ensures an inevitable breakdown of our infrastructure. This structural decay is far outweighed by the frantic efforts by the Federal Reserve puppets and their Wall Street puppeteers to use their supercomputers and electronically created currencies to prop up this debt laden, insolvent Ponzi financial system.
The non-stop bubbles and subsequent crashes over the last sixteen years are a flashing red signal of vulnerability. The fragility of this house of cards built on a foundation of bad debt is extreme. At this point, any grain of sand added to the pile of debt could trigger the catastrophic collapse. And the "experts" will declare no one could have seen it coming, as their establishment employers strip mined the national wealth of the people until the very end. That the establishment disregards the warning signals is not surprising, as they live in an insular bubble reaping the riches of easy money and crony capitalism. The oligarchy is thriving in NYC, D.C. and Silicon Valley. They will take it as far as it will go until it all crashes in a heap of destruction, despair and death.
Kunstler's World Made By Hand is inevitable. It's just a matter of time. Today we only exist for the benefit of the state. Society does not have to be built for the benefit of an essentially criminal organization - the coercive state. There is nothing in human nature that makes it impossible to create communities of people that respect each other's natural rights and follow accepted moral standards for working out differences. Humans can collaborate, trade, exercise personal responsibility and create social order without the dictates of authoritarian government rulers. What binds communities together are not thousands of overbearing laws and a ruthless police state - it's basically peer pressure, moral suasion, and social censure. We interact with other humans every day, without some higher authority dictating how it should be done.
Despite the catastrophic conditions faced by the people of Unionville they never lost their integrity, humanity or sense of community. Hard work, kindness, generosity, intelligence, adaptability, courageousness and willingness to use whatever means necessary to survive are traits essential to living in the future world made by hand. Approaching every situation in a realistic, resolute mode and choosing to not deny the reality of your situation will be indispensable in a post collapse environment. There will be no time for the trivialities of tattoos and tweets in the world of the future. Survival of the fittest will replace checking in on Facebook from your favorite five star restaurant and posting pictures of your meal for all your friends and followers. I don't think we'll have an obesity epidemic in the world made by hand of the future.