Thursday, August 30, 2012

Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation, James Howard Kunstler

I have been a long term fan and reader of Kunstler, and felt that this was sadly his weakest book yet.
He covers much of the same territory as he covers in The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, which is a wonderful and eye-opening book, but Too Much Magic is very much a rehash of those same topics.
Kunstler's blog, [...] has long been an interesting read, but I can't help but feel he has lost his way somewhere.

In The Long Emergency, Kunstler neatly and concisely brought together a number of themes- unsupported development, unsustainable lifestyles, crumbling infrastructure, climate change, and so on, and predicted a future that will resort to a kind of agrarian feudalism in many areas. In his novels, World Made By Hand and The Witch of Hebron, he takes those themes and creates a bleak future scenario, with some very dark scenes, and some disturbing twists- in his novels, women are relegated to a status of breeders, and men control the society. In his novels, that is one thing, but in Too Much Magic, he starts to respond to criticism about that issue, and then trails off into ranting, without fully explaining his view of the roles of women in his imagined "long emergency".

He also left this reader worried, when he started talking about how the Moon landing left him terrified and suspicious of technology- it is one thing to be aware of and alarmed by the limitations of technology, and to be worried about energy supply, but it is quite another to come across as a frightened luddite, cringing from images of mankind's achievements.

Another source of MAJOR frustration is that for Kunstler, there is apparently no middle ground- he writes about trying to live with a smaller footprint, but admits that he is (as are most Westerners) responsible for much of the damage and destruction he discusses, but then contrasts that with living with the Kalahari bushmen, as a solar-society transplant, and concludes he would be useless in the Kalahari. I feel like his (understandable) addiction to his own creature comforts is hindering him from seeing a less dichotomous choice- and that by positing the Kalahari bush-men experience as the guilt-free option, he is deliberately being obtuse and ignoring the many more accessable ways we can lessen our own impact on the world.

Truly disappointed in this book, and unfortunately, this bad experience has left me questioning the validity and worth of his previous works.

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