Review of "Too Much Magic"

SUBHEAD: A review of Kunstler's view on wishful thinking, technology, and the fate of the nation.  

By Juan Wilson on 19 July 2012 for Island Breath -  

Image above: How fun? High techno-narcissism in LilyPads - an architectural solution by Vincent Callebaut in response to global warming - floating cities for the age of climate change refugees. It will probably be more like "Waterworld". From ( (

I first I ever heard of James Howard Kunstler was in an interview with him title "After the Oil is Gone" by Katharine Mieszkowski in on 5/14/2005 (

And then soon after in an a article by Ragnar Carlson published in the on 5/16/2005. Both discussed the theory of Peak Oil and Kunstler's newly published book "The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change and other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century".

The book is an overview of the political, economic, cultural and economic impacts that the end of cheap oil will have on our lives. Kunstler is a journalist and novelist with a wicked sense of humor and a wordsmith's craft. I was a relative newbie to Peak Oil at the time. My son, John, had been influenced by studying with Richard Heinberg and discussed it with me. I even wrote an article about Kauai and KIUC in a future without cheap oil titled Good to the last drop! 8/26/2005, but the interviews with Kunstler led me to read his book.

"The Long Emergency" simply changed my life. How prescient was Kunstler when he was writing "Emergency" in 2004? Kunstler described where we are now regarding Peak Oil.
"Looked at closely, the peak will resemble a kind of bumpy plateau because the price and demand data would appear to wobble inconclusively for a while, perhaps several years... The global peak period will be a time of both confusion and denial... Eventually economic growth as conventionally understood in industrial societies will cease.”
Many of the issues I had been worrying about became focused and then connected: growth, development, sprawl, car culture, healthy food, population, pollution, environment, oil wars, imperialism, etc. I became a weekly reader of Kunstler's Monday blog "ClusterFuck Nation".

In the last seven years we have published many of his pieces on Island Breath. Since writing "Emergency" Kunstler has written two seasonal novels of a four part series: "World Made By Hand" (summer) and "The Witches of Hebron" (Autumn). He has also written a play "Big Slide". These works examine, in fiction, the details of lives in the aftermath of the collapse we are experiencing now. The play tracks the closest to what I think might well happen to some Americans as hunker down during a collapse of the American Dream.

The novels on the other hand have created a genre of their own I call the Eastern - as opposed to the Western in fiction. There's adventure, romance, horseplay, gunfights and more set in a near future of a gasless society. There are a few subjects on which I vary from Kunstler's conclusions; mostly regarding details of race and gender relations and aspects of his position regarding Middle East politics. But I've been so impressed by Kunstler's thinking on most issues that I have visited with him twice in upstate New York haunts.

Rather than a curmudgeon I have found Jim to be friendly and sweetly humorous in person. So, I have been looking forward to "Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation" since learning Jim was writing it. His publisher recently sent me a copy for review. The book fills in the response (or lack thereof) of America over the last six years since we actually reached peak oil production.

The book shows the breadth of his thinking on issues from architectural construction and city planning to financial operations and media exploitation. He paints a picture of a world in denial. A world trapped in addiction. A world awaiting a "Hail Mary" pass in the last seconds of the game. The world and particularly Americans are caught in a dream of either techno narcissism, or spiritual delusion. Each case is based on magical thinking about the future.

A few chapter titles will give you an idea:
Chapter 2: Farewell to the Drive-In Utopia
Chapter 4: The Dangers of Techno Narcissism
Chapter 6: Going broke the hard way - The End of Wall Street
Chapter 8: Insults to the Planet and the Planet's Reply 
...and finally: A Systemic Misunderstanding of Reality.

For those who have read the "Long Emergency", followed his weekly blog and listened to some of the hundreds of podcasts he has recorded in the last several years you will likely find many points in this book will be familiar. You will be more or less up to date with his thinking. "Too Much Magic" is the place he brings it all together - on paper. I recommend you read this book because it demonstrates a way to look forward without fear:
My auditors often call me a "doomer", a label I reject. I'm actually a pretty cheerful person, considering the things I feel compelled to write about. I think the human race has many more innings ahead, but I am convinced that the terms for daily life can change sharply, and have historically, and will again. If you are inclined to despair about being alive in this world of mystery, you could find plenty of reasons to sulk even if we weren't in for the rigors of climate change, peak oil, resource scarcity, geopolitical conflict, and a crashing standard of living. Plenty of Hollywood stars have been miserable in their hermetic luxury, and lots of lowly peasants have been infused with the light of gratitude for being…

I certainly believe in facing the future with hope, but I have learned that this feeling of confidence doesn't come from outside you. It's not something that Santa Claus or a candidate for president is going to furnish you with.The way to become hopeful is to demonstrate to yourself that you are a competent person who can understand the signals that reality is sending to you and act intelligently in response. We once were exactly that kind of people: brave, clear-eyed, resourceful, resolute, competent and confident. Generations will soon come into their power feeling differently about themselves thane do now, and in their reenchanted lives they will wonder about us and we did to their world and what we thought we were doing.
See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: National Hocus Pocus 7/17/12
Island Breath: Good to the last drop! 8/26/2004
Island Breath: Future of Cheap Energy 5/14/2005
Island Breath: Review - "World Made By Hand" 3/16/08


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