In Greek mythology, Cassandra was a character who was given the gift of prophesy and foresight, the power to see the future. A little mythological actor drama ensues, and she is cursed: from then on, she will have the ability to foresee the future and prophesy, but the curse is, no one will believe her.
She even has a blog named after her, Cassandra’s legacy, by Italian chemistry teacher Ugo Bardi. He has a nice little summary note in the side column there, explaining-
Cassandra tried, in vain, to warn her fellow Trojan citizens about the dangers ahead. They didn’t listen, but she was right. Today, we still prefer a reassuring lie to an uncomfortable truth. It is the Cassandra legacy.
And while I’m at it, it’s a good time to point you to the latest entry on that blog, Peak oil debunked? The mechanisms of denial at work.
This character from Greek mythology has real meaning today, and I’m not somebody who nomally pays much attention to ancient mythology. I still don’t. It’s just this particular character has relevance now, more than any time in my life, at least. I don’t see myself as being in the position of being a sort of Cassandra character, except in a removed sense of finding myself pointing people to people who are. I’ve mentioned many of them previously.
These people are not so much visionaries, blessed with some clairvoyant images of the future, as much as they are something that is fairly simple to define. They know the past, they pay attention to the present, and they can think things through maybe a little better than most of us. Crucial to all this, most importantly, they look at things as they are, and think things through to where they are likely to go, not lost in what somebody would like to believe, or wish.
There’s a new interview of Jim Kunstler, interviewed by Chris Martenson, online now. In it, Martenson asks Kunstler about his new book, asking him what its title Too Much Magic is about, with Kunstler explaining:
Well, it is referring to this period of time, this weird, peculiar period in American History when the delusional thinking has just risen to astronomical levels. Predictably, really in response to the stress levels that our society feels. And it is expressing itself as sort of waiting for Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy to deliver a set of rescue remedies to us so that we can continue running Wal-Mart, Walt Disney World, Suburbia, the U.S. Army, and the Interstate Highway System by other means. That is the great wish out there. It is kind of understandable because that is the stuff that we have, and people tend to defend the stuff that they have in any given society. And the systems, the platforms that they run on, but it is probably a form of collective behavior that is not really going to benefit us very much and really amounts to simply wasting our time, and wasting our dwindling resources, and even our spiritual resources when we could be doing things that are a lot more intelligent.
That covers a lot. The basic essence is right there; in America in the present, the delusional thinking has just risen to astronomical levels. We have to get over this, like, right now, and this isn’t something to keep to yourself, either. Go wake up your family, friends, and neighbors.
Some people are aware of the problems we have facing us, fortunately, I think many of them are probably paying attention to some of the same people as I am. It’s back to that “subculture of real” idea I wrote about not long ago. It’s about seeking people with some clues and credibility hooked into reality, when it seems that a much too large portion of the American population has detached from reality and just gone profoundly, if somewhat subtly, nuts.
Some people are gradually becoming more aware of the circus of what has happened in the world of banking and finance, even as baffling as it is to try to get your head around all the specific details, which are still far from being clearly revealed anyway, never mind the complexity. All sorts of lunatic hubris and misbehavior created loads of “wealth” that turned out to be some sort of massive illusions of wealth that seem to have disappeared in great quantities, because it’s becoming more and more apparent that it never really existed, and the illusions were maintained by massive and incomprehensible and obscure accounting frauds.
People talk about “recovery”, and wonder what it takes to make the economy healthy again. The first thought that comes to mind is that the economy in reality hasn’t been healthy for a while. That’s one problem, methinks. A lot of what some people seem to have in mind as “econoomic recovery” is a notion of rewinding to a point where things were really not all they were cracked up to be even then, and were in fact leading to an inevitable implosion of the house of cards of theoretical wealth and endless clever transactions and “financial innovations” that were detached from actual real value and useful productive work.
I’ve talked before about the reality of the destructive effects, as opposed to the supposed wonders, of globalization, which should be obvious by now, should have been obvious long ago, and is obvious to some people, even while some people still haven’t got the memo from reality. There are, still, somehow, people stuck in some incredibly simplistic reflex platitudes about “it’s good for the economy, because it means lower prices for consumers, and better profits for the corporations involved, for success and prosperity, what’s wrong with that, you silly people?”. Look around. How’s this working out?
It’s not about just “we need jobs here in America!”, although that’s true to the point of stating the ridiculously obvious. It’s about functioning. It’s about having a functional society. This includes work getting done that needs to be done, even work getting done that makes life better, with people getting paid reasonably well for their work, so they can live and even have a decent life worth living, and pay other people for their work, and onward.
This isn’t a difficult concept to understand. What part of this do people not get?
And a very, very fundamental, absolutely basic factor is staring us in the face. How much of present day commerce revolves absolutely, completely, fundamentally around assumptions of endless, limitless, and cheap petroleum fuel to shuffle things long distances, even from the furthest distant areas of the planet, and regard these hauls as trivial?
What happens when the flow of cheap shit from China starts slowing up, and even stops? What then, consumers?
But getting into all of this, as basic and fundamental as it is, gets us into running smack into all kinds of different phenomena involving people around us, or even ourselves, avoiding a conscious grasp of reality, sometimes with fierce, even malevolent and ugly determination. That gets into touching another aspect of this ugliness.
It’s not always other people. That’s a big part of the problem. I’ve been talking about this, too. We’ve got all kinds of ugliness and dysfunction happening, revolving around the tendency of way too many people to get a superficial and shallow hint of something where some problems dwell and instantly, like a reflex, launch into squawking about some group of The Others and how they’re the problem. We’re members of the right club, and our club is doing it all right, but those Others are in the wrong club and doing it all wrong and messing up our pleasant and perfect little world! In a word; bullshit.
That might be our single biggest overall kind of meta-problem. Nobody wants to look in a mirror. And so it goes. But let’s step away from that for a minute.
How about a forecast? Life is going to get much more local, or at least regional.
I’m not exactly going out on a limb here, even though there’s no doubt in my mind, none at all, that there will be people who think this is a bit much, if not just absurd. There is quite a large group of people who think, well, hey, globalization, baby, that’s the way now, this is how the modern world works now, and that’s how it is and will be forevermore! Until it isn’t.
I’ve written about this before, in addition to what I just said above. The diminishing returns of petroleum are simply going to gradually, but surely, take ideas of distance as being trivial and negligible and erode them more and more until distance is definitely not trivial anymore. To be a functional civilization, we have to face that, now (we’re already way past due facing it), and get on with changing things accordingly.
The destructive effects and repercussions of becoming a nation that makes less and less and maintains and repairs less and less (because we just throw it out and buy more new crap we don’t make) are obvious, although being obvious doesn’t necessarily mean people face this. Even if this was somehow alright, as is, the increasing problems coming from the diminishing returns of petroleum fuel for transportation, something cheap and effectively unlimited and regarded as assumed and normal for decades, is going to make that sort of thing severely problematic. We’re well along the way into this realm of problems, and we aren’t changing things as we need to in order to function accordingly.
From the Chris Martenson interview of James Howard Kunstler-
Jim Kunstler: Well here, is something that I have sort of detected as I travel around the country. There is a clamor for “solutions.” Everywhere I go, people say do not be a doomer; give us solutions. And I discovered that the subtext to all that is they really want solutions for allowing them to keep on living exactly the way they are living now. To keep on wanting Wal-Mart, and keep on running Suburbia, and keep on running the highway system, and the whole kit of parts. And what that really means is that they are looking for ways to add on additional complexity, to a society that is already suffering from too much complexity. So I am trying to propose something a little different. Rather than so-called solutions, I am proposing that we use the term “intelligent responses,” which is not so grandiose. It does not come with a whole grab bag of promises that life is actually going to work out exactly the way you wish. A lot of the intelligent responses that we could be making to our predicament would have a lot to do with decomplexifying and with simplifying. But we do not want to do that; we just want to add more complexity, and that is what some of the wishful thinking and vanities about technology are all about.
I think what Kunstler is talking about there does a pretty job job of capturing a kind of basic essence of part of our problem (and it is our problem). This is really the big overall problem I’ve been writing about a bit repetitively, because it really needs to get some wide consensus and attention. We have substantial, basic, serious problems, but the overall problem is how many of us are so completely avoiding even being aware of it all and acknowledging things, never mind getting to a point where people are getting in gear and working the stuff. Even where you can find some vague awareness and a hint of acknowledgment, still, very few people are really getting to grips with it. Reactions and attitudes vary. Sometimes it’s regarded as something for some vaguely defined “somebody else” to solve. Sometimes you find a kind of fatalistic and apathetic dismissal, some notion that this is just “The System” or “the powers that be” and there’s nothing to be done, so “just deal with it” (without actually dealing with it). And sometimes you get differing versions of somebody’s vague (and probably uninformed or misinformed) ideas that there’s some magic wand solution that somebody can whip out and fix things right up, easily and conveniently, and everything is supposed to carry on just like it has been, only slightly different and better.
I’ve discussed this kind of thing over and over, because I’m seeing it virtually every day, as I do my best to keep abreast of what’s happening. You find the chronic sickness of the ridiculous binary-switch mental modes of bipolar political games, where, given anything mentioning “energy issues”, people think you’re supposed to pick your team, and depending on that, your team chant is supposed to be either “just drill, baby, drill!” or “eliminate fossil fuels and replace them with green renewable energy!”, and it feels like an exercise in futility for reality-based humans to stand aside from both mobs and say “I’m sorry, but neither bunch here is doing their homework and thinking anything through; in simplest form, neither bunch of you knows what the fuck they’re talking about!”. People think you just have a bad attitude or something.
But part of our larger problem is also addressed by this, from the Question Everything blog of George Mobus:
It is hard to believe that universities give people PhDs for learning how to ignore reality. That seems to be the case in economics and political science. These “soft”, social sciences have no use for physics, chemistry, and biology. They have everything important to say about political economy wrapped up in neo-classical economic theories.
Given a lot of things including the above, it’s no wonder that it seems like not many people seem to quite realize what needs to be done, in the things I’m talking about. It’s looking pretty evident and obvious. We are going to be getting much more local, however this works out, exactly, whether we’re choosing to go that way or if it just lands on our heads as necessity.
There are people trying to tell us about it. It’s tough for them to get through to people. I’m trying to do my bit, to point them out. But the Cassandra syndrome seems to be in effect, heavily.
I certainly don’t have some kind of great master plan all figured out for the world, telling it to follow. Sorry. I do know that some things are going to change.
We are going to learn to get back to doing things with an economy that’s about getting useful work done of actual value, with people getting paid to do it. We are going to realize what an extraordinary, tragic squandering of money and resources the experiment of perpetual outward suburban sprawl has been, and rebuild the functioning hearts of cities with functionally integrated layouts that don’t require travel over miles to live and work and do all we do. We are going to relearn to do what we do using much less energy. That probably means not doing some things we have come to assume as normal. We are going to live and function much closer to home, locally and regionally.
These things will happen, whether we choose and plan them, or we just stumble through it, or get dragged into it with no idea what we’re doing as we go, because too many people just didn’t want to believe it. This isn’t about wishes or fantasies or some crystal ball clairvoyant visions. This is about necessity.