What Is the Future of Suburbia?

“The suburbs have three destinies, none of them exclusive: as materials salvage, as slums, and as ruins.”

There are many ways of describing the fiasco of suburbia, but these days I refer to it as the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.

I say this because American suburbia requires an infinite supply of cheap energy in order to function and we have now entered a permanent global energy crisis that will change the whole equation of daily life. Having poured a half-century of our national wealth into a living arrangement with no future — and linked our very identity with it — we have provoked a powerful psychology of previous investment that will make it difficult for us to let go, change our behavior, and make other arrangements.

Compounding the problem is the fact that we ditched our manufacturing economy for a suburban sprawl building economy (a.k.a. “the housing bubble”), meaning we came to base our economy on building even more stuff with no future. This is a hell of a problem, since it is at once economic, socio-political, and circumstantial.

Here’s what I think will happen: First, we are in great danger of mounting a futile campaign to sustain the unsustainable, that is, of defending suburbia at all costs.
In fact, it is already underway. One symptom of this is that the only subject under discussion about our energy predicament is how can we keep running all our cars by other means. Even the leading environmentalists talk of little else. We don’t get it. The Happy Motoring era is over. No combination of “alt” fuels — solar, wind, nuclear, tar sands, oil-shale, offshore drilling, used French-fry oil — will allow us to keep running the interstate highway system, Wal-Marts, and Walt Disney World.

The automobile will be a diminishing presence in our lives, whether we like it or not. Further proof of our obdurate cluelessness in these matters is the absence of any public discussion about restoring the passenger railroad system — even as the airline industry is also visibly dying. The campaign to sustain suburbia and all its entitlements will result in a tragic squandering of our dwindling resources and capital.

The suburbs have three destinies, none of them exclusive: as materials salvage, as slums, and as ruins. In any case, the suburbs will lose value dramatically, both in terms of usefulness and financial investment. Most of the fabric of suburbia will not be “fixed” or retrofitted, in particular the residential subdivisions. They were built badly in the wrong places. We will have to return to traditional modes of inhabiting the landscape — villages, towns, and cities, composed of walkable neighborhoods and business districts — and the successful ones will have to exist in relation to a productive agricultural hinterland, because petro-agriculture (as represented by the infamous 3000-mile Caesar salad) is also now coming to an end. Fortunately, we have many under-activated small towns and small cities in favorable locations near waterways. This will be increasingly important as transport of goods by water regains importance.

We face an epochal demographic shift, but not the one that is commonly expected: from suburbs to big cities. Rather, we are in for a reversal of the 200-year-long trend of people moving from the farms and small towns to the big cities. People will be moving to the smaller towns and smaller cities because they are more appropriately scaled to the limited energy diet of the future. I believe our big cities will contract substantially — even if they densify back around their old cores and waterfronts. They are products, largely, of the 20th-century cheap energy fiesta and they will be starved in the decades ahead.

One popular current fantasy I hear often is that apartment towers are the “greenest” mode of human habitation. On the contrary, we will discover that the skyscraper is an obsolete building type, and that cities overburdened with them will suffer a huge liability — Manhattan and Chicago being the primary examples. Cities composed mostly of suburban-type fabric — Houston, Atlanta, Orlando, et al — will also depreciate sharply. The process of urban contraction is likely to be complicated by ethnic tensions and social disorder.

As petro-agriculture implodes, we’ll have to raise our food differently, closer to home, and at a finer and smaller scale. This new agricultural landscape will be inhabited differently, since farming will require more human attention. The places that are not able to grow enough food locally are not likely to make it. Phoenix and Las Vegas will be shadows of what they are now, if they exist at all.

These days, an awful lot of people — the production builders, the realtors — are waiting for the “bottom” in the real-estate industry with hopes that the suburban house-building orgy will resume. They are waiting in vain. The project of suburbia is over. We will build no more of it. Now we’re stuck with what’s there. Sometimes whole societies make unfortunate decisions or go down tragic pathways. Suburbia was ours.

James Kunstler, the author of The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century,

Land of the Impotent

Does anybody remember Woody Guthrie? Or Pete Seeger? Does anybody remember the time in this country during the great union movement of the thirties when these guys organized the disenfranchised worker all across this country? Does anybody remember when men actually shoved their heels into their turf and told the massa, “Enough of the shit, we ain’t gonna take it anymore!”

They sang their protest songs, they took their beatings, they stood together with nothing but ball bats as hired company thugs attacked and beat them mercilessly. These men, mostly uneducated, mostly dirt poor, mostly afraid, had within themselves the gumption to stand tall against the established rule and ultimately they kicked his ass. They chose to fight back rather than sit and watch as the ribs appeared in the sides of their children.

Thus began the rise of the worker unions all across this country. And as they grew they became more powerful till at the height of their rein in America they had Boss Hog shivering in his boots at the first sign of a walkout and strike.

Of course history played the game out and the union, once the hero of the working class, has by now become an impotent side show because of their own version of back room dealings and capitulation. The generation of strong men who fought for justice retired on their hard won pensions while the spawn who followed grew lazy and complacent. They began to use the union as their own department of “Get all you can while giving as less as you can” and ultimately destroyed it.

It seems in todays world we are back to square one again, except this time it’s actually worse. This time Boss Hog has merely shoved his middle finger up our noses and with the help of his friends in Washington moved to Mexico. He bought labor from China, India, and had a zillion other ways of getting us back to walking on our knees. He even has us thanking him for his benevolence.

We have in essence become a very large and expanding bunch of winers that no one seems to have much respect for. We don’t even respect ourselves. We complain about the bullshit happening all around us, but are afraid to stir the waters too much cause well, you know, we don’t want to make the man angry with us. We put up with being robbed, suckered, punched in the face and kicked in our ass until we find a soft spot on the hard porch and just sit there complaining into our wine bottle. (why do you think they call it wine?)

Why do our women disrespect us? We don’t deserve any. Why do we send our kids off to fight George Bushes war in some patriotic rush when it was obvious from the very beginning the dope didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground and the whole world warned us of the fact?

Why did we listen to the bullshit and downright lies that ultimately got them blown to bits in some desert swamp amongst a people totally foreign and uncaring to our way of life or what we were supposedly doing for them? Maybe they just understood all along why we were there in the first place. Something a lot of people in this country still seem to have problems with understanding. Why did we allow all this to happen?

We were willing to fight for Boss Hog, willing to look the other way when he robbed us, even willing to bail him out. When he got caught going to far in his greed we said, “Oh we need Boss, we must bail him out.”

For this we get a peck on the cheek and the privilege of watching another mom and pop store bite the dust as a Chinese Walmart grows in our neighborhood. The impotence and ignorance of the men in this country today is astoundingly pathetic.

Where are the Woody Guthrie’s of this generation? Where are the people willing to take a stand against the robber baron, to take a ball bat to his face and tell him to fuck off, he don’t get no bailout.

Man, I am getting old. . . and discouraged. What will this country look like for my grandchildren after this generation of knee knockers gets done with it is anybodies guess, but I’m betting it won’t be pretty.

As to your personal survival in all this. The very first thing you must do if you plan to survive any of the stuff thats coming down the pike is to search within yourselves for the manhood that your forefathers bequeathed to you . . . and use it.

Quit with the whining and get on with the New Revolution. The pendulum needs a swing to the left again because in all life there is a waning and a waxing, nothing is stagnant …nor should be we. Life is breathing through the chaos. Don’t be afraid, you can too.

The Moral Law

The Moral Law

Sun Tzu said in ‘The Art of War” that a wise man or nation must think hard before he jumps because war taken lightly can, in many ways, destroy you in spite of good intentions. He then gives the five constants that must be in a favorable position before you begin. The first of these being The Moral Law.

How do we rate today when it comes to the moral law?

The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.

Let’s take a look at WW2, the last war we had when the majority of the country were in one accord. The Nazi’s and the Japanese were clearly defined as enemies and we were all out, no holds barred, dedicated to seeking their destruction by any means possible. This was our last true war when simply defined, goal oriented, victory only began after the enemy was utterly defeated. Simple and to the point. Everybody understood what was necessary, everybody knew what was expected of them and away they went creating the greatest war machine the world has ever known.

Sacrifice was in vogue. We rationed gas, grew victory gardens, bought war bonds. Rosie the riveter was born and the factories producing cars switched to tanks and Jeeps all because we owned the moral high ground. Everybody suffered, at home and abroad, and felt themselves to be a part of the war.

Our fighting men came from the farms and factories and cities all over the nation in droves. Many volunteering, some drafted, but all dedicated to stopping Hitler and Tojo. They fought hard and mean while absorbing huge casualty rates. We had the moral high ground and by damn when we took a piece of it we kept it. If we got knocked backwards like in the Bulge we regrouped and took it back. We kept moving and taking until we met up with our allies and the enemy surrendered.

We returned home in dress uniforms to parades and victory dances, partied hard and dispersed across the nation victorious. We built homes on the GI bill, had kids and began the greatest peace time economy the world had ever know.

We were proud, and we deserved to be because we did it simply and we did it right and everybody knew it. We owned the moral high ground in WW2.

Then in the era 1961 through 1975 we got involved in Vietnam. As the war escalated the light Westmoreland saw at the end of the tunnel was in actuality the implosion of America as we then knew her. Not all at once of course, it takes a while for a ship of state as large as this one to sink, but the moral issues and civil unrest arising out of them during our action in Vietnam has never been quenched. Today, some forty years later it seems as if it all happened only yesterday to those of us involved. The latter sixties was engulfed in chaos from so many angles that we have not yet fully recovered.

Question is: Had the people changed that much since WW2? Or had the moral climate changed? Were the college kids of the sixties all pussies as opposed to the kids of the early forties? Or had the moral climate changed to the point that they could no longer stand behind Johnson who escalated the war and Nixon who expanded it (after promising to end it)? Could it be the kids who opposed were more righteous than the leaders who propagated? I’d give the trophy to the kids.

These were the same kids their fathers had been. They merely realized America was having an identity crisis and didn’t want to be a part of it. They were intelligent enough to know that the country elite had forgotten all the promises they made to the world about being a bastion of truth, justice and democracy.

Instead our best and brightest leaders bowed to the golden idol being offered by a growing military/industrial complex and sold themselves and their offices to the devil. The US, blinded by their own power and position in the world, no longer cared about the . . . The Moral Law.

And the beat goes on . . .


The second constant in Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’, Heaven, signifies the broader environment of a conflict. Not only is it necessary to have the advantage in military strength before entering the conflict, you also must take into account the environment in which that conflict will be taking place, especially when it comes to conditions that will give advantage to the enemy. Take the Nazi invasion of Russia as an example.

Because of over confidence acquired during his easy tromp through Western Europe Adolph Hitler took no account of winter conditions in Russia when he invaded her on 22 June 1941. He figured his march to Moscow would be over by the time winter appeared and subsequently shot himself in his own foot by not having his troops prepared for a long winter campaign. In spite of overwhelming strength this fact alone would lead to his defeat in Russia, and ultimately the rest of Europe.

In Vietnam the fact that a lot of the fighting there took place in a jungle environment meant that the largest and most powerful nation the world has ever known was literally stopped in their tracks by conditions in the field. We tried to fight a conventional war while the VC were utilizing gorilla tactics.

Subsequently we ended up fighting small unit battles that rarely went beyond company/platoon sized units. Even when we attacked an area in battalion strength or larger, it was no different. The enemy picked an advantageous time and place, ambushed a smaller unit and disappeared before reinforcements could arrive.

Because of home field advantage and the experience obtained while fighting the French before us this put the VC and the NVA on an even footing with the American. We often claimed victory in battle, but actually, lots of times the NVA had merely gathered their dead and broke contact. On the whole Westmoreland, though a top notch commander in WW2 never got the picture and spent his entire tour swatting flies with a baseball bat.

Giap, who planned his fighting tactics according to the teachings of Sun Tzu can say he defeated us in Indochina, but in reality it was the environment and our inability to adapt to gorilla warfare as much as anything else. Those like Col. David Hackworth, who did adapt, did quite well for themselves and many times beat the VC at their own game. There just weren’t enough free thinking commanders to turn the tide and by 1975 we’d had enough and left Vietnam.

Today as we attack the huge mountain barriers in Afghanistan this new war is every bit as dangerous, perhaps even more so, than Vietnam was. I can’t help but think we have not learned anything of substance from that previous conflict at all.