“People Cannot Stand Too Much Reality”


[ The Long Emergency back cover photo ]

James Howard Kunstler put that Carl Jung quote in the opening sentence of The Long Emergency, a copy of which I just bought on this first day of 2009. The book has gotten wide exposure since it was published in 2005, but in most “serious” intellectual circles, the post-petroleum scenarios Kunstler predicts tend to be dismissed as way over the top.

That has also been my inclination, but as the years pass, I’m getting the sinking feeling that he may be more on target than most of us would like to believe. And so I’ll read the damn book. Probably.

One corollary to “people cannot stand too much reality” is this: “people are drama queens.” Everyone loves a good doomsday scenario. The potential for imminent radical change brings passion to otherwise mundane lives.

Hence the Kunstler conundrum: is he just a talented drama queen appealing to lots of other drama queens, or are those who dismiss him simply in deep, self-destructive denial about the troublesome reality he describes?

And if you’re jonesin’ for the latest dose of reality according to Kunstler, read his relentlessly bleak Forecast for 2009. Right up front, he alludes to the source of resistance to his views:

“Since the change [The Long Emergency] proposes is so severe, it naturally generates exactly the kind of cognitive dissonance that paradoxically reinforces the Status Quo view, especially the deep wishes associated with saving all the familiar, comfortable trappings of life as we have known it.”

So on this New Year’s Day, that day of the year when we’re most inclined to stretch our minds both backward and forward in time, I ask: What next?

A painful long emergency, or a relatively smooth adaptation? Climate catastrophe or minor disruption? The worst economic crisis of the country’s history, or just a more-severe-than-average downturn in the typical business cycle? Collapse of a culture, or a door opening to a more highly evolved way of life?

It’s hard to imagine how anyone who’s paying attention couldn’t be imbued with the intuition that massive change is in the air. But we are handicapped by our temporal blinders — it’s nigh impossible to put the current situation in accurate historical perspective when you’re living in it.

And here comes 2009…

UPDATE:  Check out the eminently amiable Roger Ebert going off like he just drank a pitcher or two of Long Emergency Kool-Aid (via SLOG).

9 Responses to ““People Cannot Stand Too Much Reality””

  1. Matt the Engineer

    We live in a world where the simple problem of allowing banks to make bad loans has torn our prosperous economy down to recession levels. Imagine the impacts on this fragile economic system when we lose cheap oil – the transportation lubricant of the entire world.

    The next decade or two will certainly be an interesting time to be alive.

  2. Sivalinga

    Time present and time past
    Are both perhaps present in time future,
    And time future contained in time past.
    If all time is eternally present
    All time is unredeemable.
    What might have been is an abstraction
    Remaining a perpetual possibility
    Only in a world of speculation.
    What might have been and what has been
    Point to one end, which is always present.
    Footfalls echo in the memory
    Down the passage which we did not take
    Towards the door we never opened
    Into the rose-garden. My words echo
    Thus, in your mind.
    But to what purpose
    Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
    I do not know.
    Other echoes
    Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
    Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
    Round the corner. Through the first gate,
    Into our first world, shall we follow
    The deception of the thrush? Into our first world.
    There they were, dignified, invisible,
    Moving without pressure, over the dead leaves,
    In the autumn heat, through the vibrant air,
    And the bird called, in response to
    The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
    And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
    Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
    There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.
    So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
    Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
    To look down into the drained pool.
    Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
    And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
    And the lotus rose, quietly, quietly,
    The surface glittered out of heart of light,
    And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
    Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.
    Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
    Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
    Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
    Cannot bear very much reality.
    Time past and time future
    What might have been and what has been
    Point to one end, which is always present.

    ~ from ‘BURNT NORTON’
    (the first of the ‘Four Quartets’)
    by T.S. Eliot

  3. tres_arboles

    Just read the Ebert thing. Interesting commentary considering it comes from a movie critic. Who knew he was such a commentator? I didn’t. Thanks for the link, Dan.

  4. Matt the Engineer

    Wow. I never knew that Ebert rocks. Were there not 437 comments I might join in. But wait – he actually responds to hundreds of them.

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