James Howard Kunstler on the inability of technology to save us

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I have been a fan of Kunstler’s since I first saw ‘The End of Suburbia’ in 2005 (documented here in an article in Seattle Weekly).

In his latest book, Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation, Kunstler zeroes in on the central narrative of our time: that we are a highly evolved and technologically sophisticated civilization that will use our ingenuity and engineering expertise to come up with a solution to all the problems we face, from the end of cheap oil to the arrival of extreme climate change.  In other words, we’re not going to collapse into the dust bin of history like the Mayans or the Easter Islanders, because we have iPads and antibiotics.

In Kunstler’s view, this is a childish fantasy. “I’m serenely convinced that we are heading into what will amount to a ‘time out’ from technological progress as we know it,” Kunstler, who is 63, told me from his home in upstate New York. “A lot of these intoxications and deliriums and beliefs about technology are going to run into a wall of serious disappointment.” In short, Kunstler believes we are living on borrowed time – our banking and political systems are corrupt, our fossil fuel reserves are dwindling, the seas are rising – but we’re still partying like it’s 1959.  “Reality itself is very uncomfortable with fraud and untruths. Sooner or later, accounts really do have to be settled.” [my emphasis]

Kunstler echoes what is now a familiar theme for readers of this blog (and environmentalists everywhere), namely Ernest Callenbach’s Four Laws of Ecology, reproduced here yet again because there’s no shortage of people who could benefit from internalizing them:


Accounts indeed have to be settled, and we’re running out of everything: ideas, money, and time.

The thing I identified most with was his use of the term ‘magic’ to describe the fantasy life in which many Americans live about energy, technology, and our ability to save ourselves with ‘more’:

Why Is your book called Too Much Magic?
It’s part of the ongoing story of what’s turning out to be a crisis of civilization.  I tried to describe the first part of the crisis in The Long Emergency.  Since that time, it has become self-evident that we have a range of very difficult problems facing us, and we are taking refuge in wishful thinking, telling ourselves a story that we can continue to live the way that we’re living now.  We desperately want reassurance that we can keep this hyper-complex engine of an advanced American Dream economy going – despite all the signs that are telling us that we probably have to make new and different arrangements for everyday life.

When it happens in my life I refer to it as ‘magical thinking.’ It’s what I told my type 1 diabetic daughter we couldn’t do with regard to her condition. It is the willful abrogation of our connection to the real world. To a Buddhist magical thinking is created by attachments: desires, fears, delusions.

Read more of Kunstler’s article here. Learn more about Ernest Callenbach here.


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