Attend an urban gardening potluck, and avoid the cannibal holocaust

Whenever I start to get a little too optimistic about the future, and I want to regain my foothold in the word of dystopian pessimism, I like to check in with author Jim Kunsler. Jim, for those of you who don’t know him, is the author of such books as The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. As some of you might recall, he also once called me an asshole, but we won’t hold that against him… So, anyway, whenever I find myself whistling Walking on Sunshine, and I need something a little stronger than a matinee of The Road to bring me back down to earth, I reach for my Kunstler. Well, today was one of those days, and Jim didn’t disappoint with his special New Year’s greeting… Here’s a clip:

2009 was the Year of the Zombie. The system for capital formation and allocation basically died but there was no funeral. A great national voodoo spell has kept the banks and related entities like Fannie Mae and the dead insurance giant AIG lurching around the graveyard with arms outstretched and yellowed eyes bugged out, howling for fresh infusions of blood… er, bailout cash, which is delivered in truckloads by the Federal Reserve, which is itself a zombie in the sense that it is probably insolvent. The government and the banks (including the Fed) have been playing very complicated games with each other, and the public, trying to pretend that they can all still function, shifting and shuffling losses, cooking their books, hiding losses, and doing everything possible to detach the relation of “money” to the reality of productive activity.

But nothing has been fixed, not even a little. Nothing has been enforced. No one has been held responsible for massive fraud. The underlying reality is that we are a much less affluent society than we pretend to be, or, to put it bluntly, that we are functionally bankrupt at every level: household, corporate enterprise, and government (all levels of that, too)…

…One wild card is how angry the American people might get. Unlike the 1930s, we are no longer a nation who call each other “Mister” and “Ma’am,” where even the down-and-out wear neckties and speak a discernible variant of regular English, where hoboes say “thank you,” and where, in short, there is something like a common culture of shared values. We’re a nation of thugs and louts with flames tattooed on our necks, who call each other “motherfucker” and are skilled only in playing video games based on mass murder. The masses of Roosevelt’s time were coming off decades of programmed, regimented work, where people showed up in well-run factories and schools and pretty much behaved themselves. In my view, that’s one of the reasons that the US didn’t explode in political violence during the Great Depression of the 1930s – the discipline and fortitude of the citizenry. The sheer weight of demoralization now is so titanic that it is very hard to imagine the people of the USA pulling together for anything beyond the most superficial ceremonies – placing teddy bears on a crash site. And forget about discipline and fortitude in a nation of ADD victims and self-esteem seekers…

I believe we will see the outbreak of civil disturbance at many levels in 2010. One will be plain old crime against property and persons, especially where the sense of community is flimsy-to-nonexistent, and that includes most of suburban America. The automobile is a fabulous aid to crime. People can commit crimes in Skokie and be back home in Racine before supper (if supper is anything besides a pepperoni stick and some Hostess Ho-Hos in the car). Fewer police will be on guard due to budget shortfalls.

I think we’ll see a variety-pack of political disturbance led first by people who are just plain pissed off at government and corporations and seek to damage property belonging to these entities. The ideologically-driven will offer up “revolutionary” action to redefine some lost national sense of purpose. Some of the most dangerous players such as the political racialists, the posse comitatus types, the totalitarian populists, have been out-of-sight for years. They’ll come out of the woodwork and join the contest over dwindling resources. Both the Left and the Right are capable of violence. But since the Left is ostensibly already in power, the Right is in a better position to mount a real challenge to office-holders. Their ideas may be savage and ridiculous, but they could easily sweep the 2010 elections – unless we see the rise of a third party (or perhaps several parties). No sign of that yet. Personally, I’d like to see figures like Christopher Dodd and Barney Frank sent packing, though I’m a registered Democrat. In the year ahead, the sense of contraction will be palpable and huge. Losses will be obvious. No amount of jive-talking will convince the public that they are experiencing “recovery.” Everything familiar and comforting will begin receding toward the horizon.

…The Long Emergency is officially underway. Reality is telling us very clearly to prepare for a new way of life in the USA. We’re in desperate need of decomplexifying, re-localizing, downscaling, and re-humanizing American life. It doesn’t mean that we will be a lesser people or that we will not recognize our own culture. In some respects, I think it means we must return to some traditional American life-ways that we abandoned for the cheap oil life of convenience, comfort, obesity, and social atomization.

The successful people in America moving forward will be those who attach themselves to cohesive local communities, places with integral local economies and sturdy social networks, especially places that can produce a significant amount of their own food….

Which reminds me… This Thursday, our friends at Growing Hope – the organization leading Ypsilanti’s local food production movement – will be hosting their first Community Potluck. So, if you’re interested in discussing sustainable communities, urban farming, and healthy food, drop by the Ypsi Senior Center (1015 N. Congress) at 6:00 PM on January 7, and bring a dish to pass. (The venue for these potlucks may change in the future (so check the Growing Hope website), but they will always be on the first Thursday of the month.)

Seriously, you should attend. And we Ypsilantians should strive to produce 4-times more produce next year than we did this year. Cannibal holocaust or not, it’s the right thing to do on a bunch of different levels.

Oh, I should also mention that the folks at Growing Hope will be giving monthly tours of their new Growing Hope Center on Michigan Avenue. Tours will be the first Wednesday of each month, which, this month will be January 6. Tours will run from 4:00 to 5:00 PM, and an RSVP is requested. (You can find contact information by following the Growing Hope link above.)

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  1. Brackinald Achery
    Posted January 4, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Not everybody is good at growing food; some people are just better at cannibalism. If we want to be a strong community, we have to utilize everybody’s skills in creative ways. We have to make up for police budget shortfalls. Like, “if you pillage our back yard gardens, we’ll sick our town crazies on you.” Of course, you have to make sure you feed the town crazies or you’ll lose that valuable resource to someone who will.

  2. Steve Swan
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I love James Kunstler, and, in fact, I’m working on an adult version of the Long Emergency. It’s called The Schlong Emergency, and I hope to have it done in the next few months. Post apocalyptic porn is going to be the new big thing. You can QUOTE ME on that.

  3. kjc
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    i’d love to know what people like Amanda think of Hantz.

  4. Steph's Dad
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    So cannibals are not welcome at this event?

  5. Amanda
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I’ll comment tonight or sometime soon about my views of hantz more extensively. I am willing to say now that people should should look at the AMAZING urban agriculture work that’s been done on the ground and in the ground by 1000’s of people in Detroit. There is an amazingly diverse group– race, age, background, etc– of people doing this work– yard by yard, lot by lot, acre by acre– who have figured out solid models for engaging people, for giving opportunities for individual and collective voice, and for making ways that Detroiters of all backgrounds can share in the rewards…. i.e. the Grown in Detroit label and collective booth at Eastern Market and area farmers’ markets, the Urban Roots training program, the *amazing* annual Detroit Farm & Garden Tour, etc. and

  6. Posted January 5, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Hatnz makes a valid point about creating scarcity. However, “growing systems designed to maximize productivity in cramped settings” absolutely don’t make sense in this setting, because one of the stated purposes is to use as much land as possible to create a land scarcity in the city.

    If land were expensive, this kind of verticality would make sense. If labor were expensive, a high degree of automation would make sense. But given the realities of Detroit (population decline and high unemployment), there should be an abundance of both inexpensive land and labor, which suggests that a low-tech might make better business sense.

  7. Posted January 5, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    I think you hit the nail on the head there, cmandler.

    As for the Kunstler stuff, I find it interesting that no one’s commenting on his projections. When I’ve quoted him before, I remember there being a lot of debate.

    For the record, I like Kunstler, and believe his voice is an important one to be heard as we discuss the future of our country. He’s right about peak oil, suburban sprawl, and all the rest of it. He loses me, however, with his hopelessness, which sometimes borders on gleeful. He, of course, is of the option that he shouldn’t sugarcoat the truth to make it more palatable to the masses. And I get that. But, at the same time, I don’t see us making it through – to use his term – the long emergency, without rallying a majority of Americans behind some kind of positive vision. People need hope, and not just fear.

  8. Posted January 5, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    If I link them together frequently on my site, I wonder if I can get “Growing Hope” to pop up first whenever someone searches for “cannibal apocalypse.”

    And I’d love, if there’s an opportunity, to maybe do a commentary track on the DVD version of the Schlong Emergency.

  9. Amanda
    Posted January 5, 2010 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    mark, i support your linking *if* you can get the search for cannibal apocalypse to automatically link to a $1000 donation page for growing hope. if it’s people thinking they’re donating to cannibalism, so be it.

  10. James C. Burtle
    Posted January 6, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Recently relocated to Ann Arbor with farming in mind. I have skills and time. Who has land? Maybe I’ll see you at the potluck.

One Trackback

  1. By Would the Hantz Farm be good for Detroit? on January 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    […] week, in the wake of a post on urban food production and how it might help stave off the impending cannibal apocalypse, a reader by the name of KJC asked what people thought about John Hantz, and his plans to create a […]

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