The Era of Bad Feeling

SUBHEAD: It is nothing like the TV ad fantasy of a lone luxury car plying a coastal highway in low, golden light.

By James Kunstler on 15 September 2014 for -

Image above: An illustrated magazine ad for a 1961 Oldsmobile F-85 cruising a coastal highway. Is that adman Don Draper and secretary Joan Halloway in the car? From (

There are times when events are in charge, not personalities. The unseen forces that hold the affairs of nations and economies in equilibrium dissolve, particles fly out of the many centers, and things heat up toward criticality.

Glance in the rear-view mirror and say goodbye to the Era of Wishful Thinking. This was the time when the USA was inspired by its Master Wish: to be able to keep driving to Wal-Mart forever. Looked at closely, the contemporary idea of Utopia was always a shabby package.

On one side, all the pointless driving. For most Americans it was nothing like the TV advertising fantasy of a lone luxury car plying a coastal highway in low, golden light. More like being stuck near the junction of I-55 and I-90 in Chicago at rush hour in July in an overheating Dodge Grand Caravan with three screaming ADD kids whose smart phone batteries just died — plus your fiercely over-filled bladder and no empty Snapple bottle to resort to.

On the other side, there’s the Wal-Mart part: the unbelievable cornucopia of insanely cheap plastic goodies, like, somewhere in the 1990s America became one giant loading dock for nearly free stuff. Wasn’t that fun? Now, everybody has got the full rig, from the flatscreen to the salad shooter, but we’re tired of seeing Kim Kardashian’s booty, and nobody really liked salad, even when you could shoot the stuff into a bowl.

The thrill is gone, and so is the paycheck that was your ticket to the orgy. It’s especially gloomy over in the food department, where the boxes of Lucky Charms are suddenly half the weight and twice the price. And that was going to be the family dinner! Must be Nature’s way of telling you it’s time for a new tattoo.

In this weird liminal time since the so-called Crash of 2008 leadership has depended on lies and subterfuges to prop up the illusion of resilience. One biggie is the shale oil revolution, kind of a national parlor trick to wow the multitudes for a long enough moment to convince them that their troubles with the national energy supply are over.

Even people paid to think were hosed on this one. Wait until they discover that the shale oil producers have never made a buck producing shale oil, only on the sale of leases and real estate to “greater fools” and creaming off the froth of the complex junk financing deals behind their exertions.

Expect that mirage to dissipate in the next 24 months, perhaps sooner if the price of oil keeps sinking toward the sub $90-a-barrel level, where there’s no economically rational reason to bother drilling and fracking.

The lies, frauds, and cons run between the axis of Wall Street and Washington had two fatal consequences with still-lagging effects.
  1. They destroyed the capacity for markets to establish the real price of anything — rendering markets useless.
  2. They disabled capital formation to the degree that we might not have the money to rebuild an economy to replace the “financialized” matrix of rackets that currently pretends to function. 
 A lot of observers like myself have been waiting for the moment when the fog of pretense lifts and exposes all the broken machinery within. We may be so close now that you can smell it.

Change is in the air, literally, as we wake this still-summer morning with the thermometer so low you wish the furnace was prepped and ready to run. Much is in the air, too, where the news of events near and far provoke swirls of transformation in the disposition of people, nations, and affairs. Who would have guessed a few years ago how nervous Scotland would make the whole Western world?

The sharpies at the Pentagon, and the White House, and the CIA may be waiting with indigestion and palpitations for the next ISIS decapitation video, but maybe you have to wonder instead which of five thousand shopping malls across this land will be visited by black-flagged desperados armed with automatic rifles and RPG’s.

Finally, there are the people themselves of this sclerotic polity: too dumb and distracted to help themselves, full of inchoate grievance and resentment, tending ever deeper into darkness. Welcome to the season of the witch in the Era of Bad Feeling. Somewhere “out there” there is a light of virtue waiting for us, but we are a long way from finding our way to it.


No comments :

Post a Comment