Since Stewart posted a terrific video about the death of bee colonies from “TED,” I thought I’d post my own favorite from that site – a devastating and hilarious jeremiad against suburbia by James Howard Kunstler.  I assume most readers of our musings here on the Front Porch are familiar with Kunstler, but if not, you should check out his books – particularly The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency, as well as his weekly postings on Cluster F**k Nation.  A self-declared man of the Left, he spends a great deal of time extolling the wisdom of culture, the necessity of limits and the need to change our behavior.   If that’s the Left, tell me where I can sign on.  Enjoy:

15 COMMENTS

  1. JHK is one of the few people actually taking the time to ponder a world where the wheels flew off like post Empire Rome when the greatest city of the Western world became a salvage quarry. He does it with a scathing humor and a jazz love of characters and wordsmithy. He makes the cogent connection between our current generations lack of aesthetic literacy and the larger erosion of culture. He’s a lefty of the best kind, the ones who are scrappy as hell…”a place not worth caring about”. Nobody hoists the petard of our current sprawlodystopia like JHK. The mainline media…. and the NY Times who he has written for…. tends to treats him like a crazy uncle which is about as good a proof of the truths he presents as anything.

  2. I would love it if FPR could get Kunstler and Bill McKibben, two localists on the left, to either become contributing editors, editors at large, or at least guest commentators.

  3. [W]hy am I not a member of this “Left”?!

    Possibly because (as I’ve argued with John Schwenkler about before) many of the conservatives waking up to the importance of localism, limits, and a properly understood Luddism, nonetheless have an unfortunate libertarian affectation that they find hard to shake, but which keeps them on the “right,” broadly defined.

    Seriously, I would insist that some of the strongest defenses of community are today to be found amongst socialists and progressives on the left. They–unlike so many so many modern liberals–have never lost an awareness of the material (including cultural) basis for their ideas about equality and justice, and thus are working, whether through the slow food movement or through zoning laws which prevent sprawl or through local drives to support public spaces, etc., rather than allowing themselves to rest easy with the confident belief that liberal judges and cheap oil will eventually bring everyone around the their way of thinking. When I looked around at my fellow DSA members last week, I heard a lot of talk about NAFTA and globalization, and it was coming from the mouths of people who garden, people who teach in local churches, people who support their community farmers markets. I don’t imagine to make many converts to “left conservatism” soon, but I’m hopeful that, step by step, the lines which are preventing left-leaning localists and right-leaning ones from listening to and learning from each other are breaking down.

  4. One of the reasons I harbor a steadfast skepticism of the State as a vehicle of equitable solutions is that it has a dismal record for SUSTAINED support of community. Generally, it degenerates into cannibalism and uses rhetoric, nationalism and cant to prepare the meal. I have an awful lot of left friends and I find common ground with them in the enumeration of better expressions of community but when they continue to see the State as the vehicle to husband the more equitable aims….after the stark evidence of the 20th century is so clear and being made clearer in this new century….well, it strains the intellect. Stances on the part of my libertarian friends can be equally confounding.

    Obviously, the species is ill-equipped for anarchism. We’re a hive organism and attuned to a very long history of power plays. Actually, I don’t think it is more equitably an either-or proposition. I think we need both left and right. When one is all powerful, the other’s weakness begins to infect the powerful and the pendulum swings. The framers left us a discursive political system with a separation of powers that is uniquely suited to the separation of powers and discursive quality of the human brain. We have yet to use it effectively for anything more than short bursts because we have surrendered to zero-sum, power politics and not revered the discursive life of honest principle debated fearlessly.

    Right does not respect Left and Left does not respect Right and so the nation created cannot remain respected by either. Negation is the dead crop we are left with.

  5. “Seriously, I would insist that some of the strongest defenses of community are today to be found amongst socialists and progressives on the left.”
    They’re fine with localized economic power, but as soon as you suggest localized political power they freak out.

  6. They’re fine with localized economic power, but as soon as you suggest localized political power they freak out.

    That’s a bit of a simplistic caricature, Empedocles, but admittedly not a fundamentally inaccurate one. Liberals in America–sometimes followed by and sometimes following “the left,” broadly conceived–have often been a great friend of preserving localities in a socio-economic sense; much less so when it comes to political or cultural matters. In that level, they have too often been defenders of an indistinct, homogenized, nationalized individualism, enforced by the state, and dismissive of their own best sensibilities when it comes to the material basis for liberty.

  7. I share Mr. Fox’s lament over the “libertarian affectation” of many conservatives. I have followed Lew Rockwell.com for the past year and I think their critique of the modern state is penetrating and all too accurate: Rockwell says, “the state is a looting and killing machine.” Well, if we’re speaking of the U.S. government, how can we argue otherwise? Nonetheless, it has become clear to me, only recently, that we–myself and the Austrian school–are not really pursuing the same goals; that is, my vision of a healthy society and the good life is quite different from the libertarian ideal.

    Mr. Fox,

    Since you know these leftists, progressives, and socialists, what do they generally think about the American Empire? Are they closer to Gore Vidal and Bill Kauffman or Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?
    See, this is the rub. The empire must end. There can be no compromise on this point. But most leftists hear this and they think “right-wing nut,” “militia,” or “clinging to guns and religion.”

    From the one day–and last day–I spent on Matt Yglesias’ blog, I came away with the impression that almost all of those on the so called progressive left are focused on: 1) restoring the economy to its former greatness (most made fun of the idea of an economy based on home econmics, thrift, scale, and locality) 2) extending the Rights of Man to all the oppressed and downtrodden of the world 3) making fun of middle Americans because they own and like guns and hold some kind of religious faith.

    I was truly depressed at what I saw there.

  8. But to get back to Patrick’s point: pay some attention to Kunstler, especially the titles PD mentions. I heard Kunstler at The Land Institute (Wes Jackson’s incomparable project in Salina, KS) two years ago and hosted him here this year. Students in my environmental lit class, most of them suburbanites, read _Long Emergency_, which is unrelenting in its insistence that suburbia is the “greatest misallocation of funds” in history. This gets their attention, let me tell you. JHK knows how to address an audience and he’s pretty good company. _World Made by Hand_ isn’t a great novel but does a good job of imagining what things could look like in the not-too-distant future. I recommend it for that reason.

  9. Not to quibble Russell, but why would libertarianism be an “affectation”. This seems to be a rather broad dismissal for a liberty-loving creed …as though it was entirely a pose with more liberal instincts bearing a more genuine and hence principled sentiment.

    Then again, as a Recovering Republican born in Utah and finished in more rural Yankee precincts, I have often referred to my Republican sympathy as being “an unfortunate genetic proclivity”.

    The current state of the debauched and deranged GOP has , of course released me from any confusions relating to genetics and the nature-nurture folderol. Now, I affect a Libertarian sentiment that is fast going to seed as Militant Agrarianism due to a loud contingent of Cork Agitators in the DNA.

    As to Kunstler, another added thought…his “Home from Nowhere” and “City in Mind” complete the trilogy started by “Geography of Nowhere”. they urge people to really look at the constituent parts of the built environment and become discerning of better place….something we seem to refuse to do as a people.

  10. For the worst I.M. Pei building–and worst city hall in America, see http://www.galinsky.com/buildings/dallascityhall/index.htm

    Notice how the building overhangs the square so that the bureaucrats can look directly down on the people. Standing beneath it you get a sense of dread, like the building is about to fall on you; the heavy weight of gov’t presses down on the mostly empty square. Inside, the building is all bare concrete walls, except in the best offices.

    Or perhaps this is Pei’s best work, his satire on government, and the civic leaders of Dallas were just too stupid to realize they’d been had.

  11. Patrick…thanks so much for this post. I too saw this video back in 2009 and It has been nagging at me ever since to help make a change in my community..(I live in a small agricultural community in Vancouver) . Today one of the local media reached out to our community for stories and I thought of this video and it let me to your site. I thought you may also enjoy this talk I saw today by David Korten http://youtu.be/f3QJJcgAwi4

    Thanks again

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