Monday, June 27, 2005

Burning prose and the price of oil

Jim Kunstler is my favorite doom-sayer. He is now happy as a clam with the price of oil approaching $60. His latest rant is here.

He is one of the left-wing equivalents (he has a blog, unlike his counterparts) of the survivalists who used to stop shaving and take their families to Utah or Montana to hole up at the end of an illegal road in a national forest with a garden, some chickens, a couple of pigs, and a lot of guns. The trajectory of the right wing survivalists was that they would (very few, actually, and not recently) either get killed off by the FBI in armed stand-offs, or (much more often) starve out and go home, especially after the wife gets fed up with home-schooling 4 kids (or not schooling them at all) with no money and takes the kids back to her parents' house in Kansas City, or else they would grow old and even more strange back in the woods. Some are still out there, solitary and unfriendly.

Anyway, Kunstler is a terrific dystopian writer, who mixes blog-style invective with a vision of a world collapsing in disorder because of--peak oil.

Peak oil?

With Kunstler we have an underlying vision reminiscent of the one the survivalists used to have, of roving bandits and machine-gun fortified gardens, but an altogether different mechanism for its arrival. One that nobody understands. The price of oil. But he makes a good case for it.

But he has a different vision of a future world--self-sustaining, communal farming villages--to take the place of the present one, than the survivalist guys going crazy in the woods have.

Anyway, I think Kunstler and the other people talking about peak oil are probably right that it is either here, now, or very close.

Kunstler, though, thinks that our civilization is kind of--delicate, and that, at some point, due to energy scarcity, some critical part will fail, and it will all come crashing down. I suppose I'm inherently more optimistic.

My worry is very different from Kunstler's. He believes what we call civilization will simply collapse soon. (Actually, I am creating a straw-Kunstler--here and there in his message you hear an occasional outburst of the preacher shouting "fools, you still have time--change your ways now, and you will be saved!")

My fear about the economic emergency he foresees is not that it will lead to chaos and collapse--I think we are resourceful enough for that not to happen, or at least to deal with it when it does-- but that it will be used by Republicans the same way that a terror attack has been used, to inflame people's emotions toward the end of creating a new kind of America, one ideologically narrower and uglier, more unequal and unjust.

Bush has proved to be an expert at using catastrophe to further bad causes.

But maybe people are beginning to see what Bush is up to. The latest poll I read, over the weekend, showed that both democrats and independents had exactly the same view about Bush. Three fourths of them think he is doing a bad job. Not unexpectedly, 84% of Republicans think he is doing a good job. We have two Americas here, but those who think Bush is going in the right direction are a distinct minority.

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