James Howard Kunstler -- World News Trust
Feb. 26, 2013
"The Fed can afford to lose money because it can simply print more."
--The New York Times
One striking but little discussed element about the new Netflix Washington political drama series, House of Cards, is that every time a character picks up a cell phone, something bad happens. The character's phones shadow them at every turn like evil twins, giving the impression that the U.S. government, and everything in its orbit, is run not by human beings but by cell phones. The people attached are merely puppets of the phones.
I don't think this is a sign of the rumored "singularity," the point at which human and machine intelligence supposedly meld into a shimmering synthesis of silicon masturbation fantasies. Rather it's just another demonstration of the diminishing returns of technology -- or how thinking you're so smart actually makes you stupider. Surely we are a stupider nation politically than we were before the age of texting, drones, and high frequency trading.
I have no predictions about what exact effects the so-called Sequester might bring about when its dreaded hammer rings down on Friday. But something that works as a bitch-slap upside this nation's tattooed head is apt to be salutary, if only to demonstrate to the apathetic masses and its grifter leaders that anything which can't go on forever, eventually won't.
What disturbs me, a non-right-winger politically, is that the U.S. government should not try to replace a functioning real economy of volitional exchanges, especially if necessity compels that economy to change. That is what our government has been attempting by stealthy increments for decades and now with reckless abandon in the new era of a permanent contraction that no political figure can fathom. Lately, this trend has been ramped up under the wishful hypothesis that some magical new technology or financial "secret sauce," will eventually bring back a return to the nirvana of techno-industrial boom times, if only we can be "smart" enough. The wishing is evident in such con-jobs as the shale gas bubble ("We'll soon be energy independent") and the idea that a few new Apple fabrication factories, staffed largely by robots, will save the remnant American blue collar class from their fate as tattooed convenience store layabouts.
Of course there is plenty of real work to do around the USA in transitioning to the next phase of history, but we're not interested because it might violate our narrow comfort zone. We need more people to start working at local farming. When agri-biz fails it will happen hard and fast because of its seasonal nature, and the familiar distribution networks (supermarkets) will fail with it. American political leadership won't inform its citizen-subjects about this beforehand, or shift policy supports away from their ag-industrial client-patrons. To be fair, American citizens can't see themselves working in the crop rows, either. They will choose to starve rather than do what they've seen Mexican migrants do for a couple of generations -- and they will starve, eventually, too, even with The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills playing on the flat screen in the background.
If we weren't such a stupid people in thrall to our "smart" phones, we'd be rebuilding the U.S. passenger railroad system for the day, not far off, when the grand entitlement of Happy Motoring rather suddenly vaporizes for a significant chunk of the population. The lack of interest in that project is really something to behold. Politicians who systematically "de-fund" the rail corridors, which is the case here in the Northeast, do it because they are as clueless as their constituents about what's really coming down. Rather, both the politicians and the public place their bets on "self-driving cars" powered by an as-yet-to-be announced sovereign replacement for liquid hydrocarbon fuel. The net effect of that stupidity is that your children and grandchildren will lead lives in which they rarely travel more than 10 miles from home.
What also gets me about the aptly-named tele-drama House of Cards is the way all the leading politician characters are seamlessly conveyed around Washington D.C. by chauffeured limousines, even two-bit congressmen from states where people don't eat with knives and forks. Cossetted in their air-cooled back seats, they relentlessly romance their smart phones, making more trouble for themselves and for everyone in this sad-ass feckless country. What a tragic conceit for the nation of dunces we have actually made of ourselves.
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