It means a necessitated return to a simpler, more localized, more agrarian way of life — and an end, once and for all, to the materialistic extravagance that's characterized our existence for as long as most of us can remember. As that seismic shift occurs, it may well mean upheaval, riots, and starvation. "What I would call this period is a severe transition characterized by discontinuity," says Kunstler. "That is, a break in many of the habits and practices and customs that we have come to regard as normal."
The Phoenix reached Kunstler at his home in Saratoga Springs, New York, to speak about his bleak — but, he insists, ultimately hopeful — vision of the future.
We've just said goodbye to a trying decade. How do you see the coming years?
I think we're in for a period of hardship. A transition out of the industrial economy — into what we do not know, but it will be characterized by the downscaling of all our important daily activities. And by that, I mean the way we grow our food, the way we do trade and commerce, the way we make things, the way we do transportation, the way we inhabit the landscape, the way we acquire and deploy capital for useful purposes.
Most Americans are going to have quite a difficult time accepting this new state of affairs.
Well, tough noogies! This is one of the central delusions of the current period — that all of this stuff is a matter of choice. There's a great deal of hoping and wishing that we can maintain our standard of living. Obviously, that comes from our recent experience of extreme affluence. But we're faced with what I call the mandates of reality. And those are going to compel some outcomes that are fairly obvious at this point.
Is it hopeless, this? Is there anything we can do to correct course, or at least ease the transition?
There's a lot we can do. But we're bending all of our efforts to sustaining the unsustainable. For instance, we desperately need to recreate walkable cities, communities, towns, and some form of public transit between them. But instead of doing that, we're putting all of our efforts into desperately seeking some new way to keep all the fucking cars running! We're not gonna keep the cars running. But we just can't believe it.
If we'd taken what remains of our dwindling capital and began to reconstruct just the existing passenger rail service in this country, we would have created something that in the long run would have been far more beneficial to us. There are all these things we could be doing in terms of downscaling and relocalizing and transforming the American economy to a very new and different state — from one of dangerous hypercomplexity into something that has been resimplified and made a lot less fragile and a lot more resilient. But we're not doing these things.
What are you personally doing to prepare?
I'm not up here hoarding an arsenal. I'm not a survivalist in this sort of cartoon sense of what it means. I've taken some measures on my own that I think might protect me a bit. I own a certain amount of gold. I don't own stocks. I have the New York state handgun permit. I've been gardening for years. But otherwise, I'm not that well insulated against anything that's gonna affect other people.