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James Howard Kunstler, "Happy Birthday, America"

Happy Birthday, America
James Howard Kunstler

Do you, too, sense the dread abiding in our annual celebration of
national wonderfulness? Outside today's barbeque bubble the dark shapes
of wild events loom, exciting primal fears of unresolved woe and
travail. Yesterday, I saw a man on a back street of a small town with
spider webs tattooed on his elbows and a screaming skull on the back of
his neck. America, meet your new normal: a citizenry of exterminating
angels. Our political exertions mean nothing to them. They think Ronald
Reagan was the offspring of John Wayne and Minnie Mouse and the House of
representatives is a reality TV show about home improvement. Once they
are on the loose, even Rush Limbaugh and other like-minded jingo creeps
of the airwaves will despair.

Old Allen Ginsberg got it right fifty years ago: "America, go fuck
yourself with your atom bomb", he said. Even back then, in the age of
purple people eaters and the weird neutered figure of Ozzie Nelson
lurking in kitchen with nothing to do but drink endless cups of coffee,
all was not so well. Freedom to cruise for burgers turned out to be a
pretty trashy thing, considering all the blood and sacrifice that
preceded those days of fun in the California sunshine. Look at
California now: Nathanial West Meets Aztlan (coming soon on home video).
Who put that locust in my burrito?

Do you ever wonder what Mr Jefferson would think looking around Virginia
today? All those farms of his sturdy yeomanry turned to tract McHousing
for lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry; the Beltway traffic at
Tysons Corner; the Richmond International Speedway. I'd like to take ole
Tom to Nascar on the Fourth of July to meet the futurity of 1776, put
him on a seat right behind the crash barrier, stick a long-neck in his
left hand, a cheese-steak in the other, and one of those hats crafted of
flattened beer cans on his philosophy-filled noggin. What would he make
of the celebrity drivers in their logo-covered jumpsuits, not to mention
the activity to which they dedicate their youthful energies: roaring
around an oval circuit in flame-spewing carriages. There was no analog
for this is Tom's time, except perhaps the alter-pieces of Hieronymus
Bosch – and there was no color lithography in those days, so he may well
never have actually seen that particular depiction of hell. I'm sure the
speedway spectacle would drive him batshit. Five minutes into a Sprint
Cup heat, Tom runs shrieking to the piers of Norfolk in search of a
passage to France …

Science knows: not all experiments come out the way you expect. Here you
have the North American continent, filled with untold natural riches,
splendid waterways, six feet of loam on the trackless prairie, timber
galore, gold, silver, borax, buffalo, passenger pigeons innumerable
darkening the skies! All in all, a pretty high-percentage deal. And it
took only a couple of hundred years to turn it into a set of
interconnected parking facilities, that is, to fuck it up royally (even
though we are officially opposed to royalty). Too bad none of the
Founding Fathers was a traffic engineer. He might have advised against
recent developments.

And now the experiment is foundering. It's been nice not thinking about
it so much for a day or two. I spent one afternoon canoeing down a local
trout stream called the Battenkill. Even this will be impossible in a
few years, because you need a couple of cars to do it – one at the
put-in and one at the take-out. So it is not that far removed from
Nascar, really. And the darn canoe itself is made of some rubberoid
petroleum derivative So shame on me. All I can say is they weren't
selling cheese steaks and beer can hats along the bank and the ospreys
do not wear the Budweiser logo on their under-wings. It was shockingly
beautiful along the river. I thought about all the people battling their
way hopelessly on the I-30 freeway through Dallas, or the I-405 in L.A.,
or the I-85 in Atlanta and almost squeezed out a few crocodile tears for
them. When "this sucker goes down", in the immortal words of a recent
former president, we'll all fall pretty hard, wherever we may live. I
wish I knew what the hell we are really celebrating today.

Surely many in this nation see an approach to an abyss. I wish we could
get our heads together before it gets here or we get there. There is so
much to do besides what we are busy doing now, keeping a set of stupid
rackets spinning just because they are our rackets and we're used to
them. Among other things, in case you haven't noticed, money is going
extinct. The distant roar you hear today is neither Nascar nor Niagara.
It's the sound of institutions crashing. I guess, like Scarlett O'Hara,
we'll think about it tomorrow. Happy Fourth of July everybody. Happy
birthday, America.

Mr Kunstler's books are available at all the usual places.

His biography is at http://kunstler.com/bio.html.