Friday, February 12, 2016

Automation and SJWs: A Conversation with James Howard Kunstler

Here is a transcript of my conversation with James Howard Kunstler for C-Realm Podcast episode 498: Everything's a Racket.

KMO: You're listening to the C-­Realm Podcast. I'm your host KMO and I'm joined once  again by James Howard Kunstler. Jim, welcome back to the C-­Realm Podcast.

James Howard Kunstler: It's a pleasure to be here with you, KMO.

KMO: We're running out of C-­Realm Podcast, actually.

JHK: So, I hear.
C-Realm 498 cover art
Detail from The 4th of July by James Howard Kunstler

KMO: It's not gonna end, but it's going from 52 episodes a year to 12. So, the real estate is about to get precious.

JHK: Well, you've carried on heroically for the past, I don't know, five, seven years. How  long has it been?

KMO: I started in 2006.

JHK: Yeah. Well, you've done a yeoman service for all of us and I thank you for it.

KMO: Well, thanks for appearing on the podcast. I don't remember the exact date of your  first appearance but it probably would have been in 2007 or 2008.

JHK: Yeah. Somewhere after The Long Emergency came out.

KMO: Yeah. I remember, I had checked it out from the library and somebody else had a  hold on it, and I hadn't finished it by the time it was due back. So, I've never actually finished The  Long Emergency.

JHK: Well, that's alright. The Long Emergency is gonna finish us, so.

[laughter]

JHK: There you go. [chuckle]

KMO: Well, you recently published your annual longer than usual blog post for your  review of the year gone by.

JHK: Well, it's my forecast really.

KMO: Your forecast. Well, it starts there with a look back, doesn't it?

JHK: Sure. You're right.

KMO: Yeah. And then your look forward... And I don't have it up in front of me, as I tend  not to look at web pages while I'm talking to people. But well, what to say about this past year,  'cause back when I first started talking to you in 2008 or so, it really seemed like The Long  Emergency was coming down on us fast. And it was a good time to stock up on camping supplies  and such.

JHK: Yeah. I think what happened was that a certain brand of authority in our culture  managed to levitate what remained of our economy and many of the institutional functions in it.  And they just managed through legerdemain and chicanery, especially in the financial realm, to  levitate this leviathan, so that it would just keep on existing for a while. And it did for the last eight  years, and it was quite a feat. It was mostly smoking mirrors. I think it had a lot to do with share  momentum, and the size of our economy, and the complexity that our civilization had attained.  There was a certain amount of inertia connected with it that assisted the authorities in their efforts to levitate things. And they did. It seems to me that, just in the first week of 2016 that the wheels are  really coming off in a pretty serious way globally. But as far as the past year, the past year was a  topping process, not just in finance, I think, but really in our faith that these things could continue.  And I've said many times in my own blog and in my books that we depend on a number of complex systems to make up this meta­system of complexity. And the system that is the most fragile is the  financial system because it's the most abstract and it's the one that is dependent most on faith and  our belief in its credibility. And lately, that has translated into the... Our credulity that central banks  can keep on artificially propping up economies.

KMO: I do wish I had your piece up for one sentence because it was really well worded,  and it packed in a lot of meaning into a short space, but it was something to the effect of an  economy that is based on debts that will never be repaid back is not long for this world.

JHK: Well, that's exactly... Well, pretty close enough to what I said. And we're in a  peculiar situation that... I suppose the main device that the cabal of business, the Federal Reserve,  and the government used was the manipulation of interest rates in order to conceal the fact that we  had attained peak maximum credit or debt, and that we had reached the point that we really couldn't manage it anymore. And by that I mean, we could no longer manage the interest payments and the  servicing of all that massive monumental debt we'd racked up. And we had racked it up in the first  place to borrow from the future to keep all our systems running in the present. And by that, I mean  our trade systems, our manufacturing systems, the huge government systems that make payouts to  both their employees and the various people who don't do anything who get paid. We reached the  end of the line with the debt. And from my mind, a lot of it had to do with the relationship between  energy and the economy, and that whole story got very, very confused especially over the last five  years with the rise of the shale oil effort.

JHK: I published a book in 2012 called, Too Much Magic, and the subtitle was, Wishful  Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. And it was strategically, as a writing professional, it was an unfortunate move because I wrote a book about wishful thinking just when the nation  entered about a five­ year period of extreme wishful thinking. And the last thing they wanted to hear  was a criticism of wishful thinking. But at the center of a lot it was the shale oil, the so called  miracle, which persuaded people that the Peak Oil story was false, and that we didn't have a problem with the primary resource that we needed to run industrial economies. That is turning out  to be violently untrue now as the shale oil industry starts to shake apart. First, financially, and soon  to follow in terms of productivity.

JHK: But that allowed people to think that we didn't have a problem, and that we would be able to continue all of the rackets that we had rigged up. And I think that the term racket, and the  idea of racketeering is also very central for people to understand what has happened to us. And a lot of the activity that goes on in our economy now and in our culture has turned into racketeering. And by that, I mean, to be precise, the unethical and criminal pursuit of money grubbing.

JHK: And you can see it in endeavors, like medicine and education where racketeering  used to be the last thing that they would be interested in doing or able to do. These were professions that really relied on the cardinal virtues of humankind, on duty and diligence, and honesty, and  qualities like that. And they've become among the most dishonest industries in our culture right  now. You don't have to go far to understand the college loan racket and how it has changed  education. Or anyone who's tangled with the medical establishment in recent years knows what a  dishonest racket it is, and how untransparent the cost of this stuff is and how absurd the charges are. I mean, you go to the emergency room with needing five stitches in your scalp, and five weeks  later, you end up with a bill for $7,000. This is a very common thing, right?

JHK: So, racketeering has taken the place of honest endeavor. And it's one of the side  effects of living in a culture that engages in continuous lying and pretending. And when you're  constantly lying about everything, you've unfortunately entered a place where anything goes and  nothing matters. And that's the bottom line.

KMO: Well, Smedley Butler, a US Marine Corps General, famously said in his  autobiography in the first half of the 20th century, that war is a racket.

JHK: Oh, yeah.

KMO: And rackets, they don't seem to be new, although particularly with the medical  establishment as you just mentioned, it's grown to an unbelievable level. A couple of years back.  Well, it's been a few years now, but in 2009, I had sinus surgery.

JHK: Oh, you had your brush with the medical industry?

KMO: Yeah. And I had a job at the time with medical insurance, so it was mostly all good. But when I came out from one of the anesthesia, I basically couldn't pee. The anesthesia had made  my prostate swell up so much, there was just no passing urine. And so they kept me, just basically  for observation and catheterization overnight. And just basically having a bed, I wasn't... This is not  the cost of the surgery. This is just the cost of staying in the hospital overnight was $10,000.

JHK: Oh, hey dude, I had a hip replacement in 2013, one of many. And I got a one line bill from St Peter's Hospital in Albany that just said, "Room and board, 36 hours, $23,000." Say what?  All they really did was take my blood pressure 20 times and my pulse. $23,000?

KMO: Yeah, exactly.

JHK: Hello?

KMO: Yeah, so that doesn't seem like it can last. But you mentioned, debts that are unpayable.

JHK: Yeah.

KMO: And a few years back, David Graeber published his book, Debt: The First 5,000  Years, which is really an amazing read. And people in power figured out how to control other people with debt a long time ago. And there is always a perpetual moral hazard. There's always the temptation to create more debt than can actually be paid back. So, this has happened many times before. And typically, what happens is, and this is what's different from us, typically in the past, the  debts have been owed to the sovereign. And eventually, the sovereign realizes they're unpayable.  And he just says, "Okay, jubilee, we've wiped the slate clean. We're starting to accumulate new  debts starting today." And that basically fixes the problem. And we're in a situation now where the  debts aren't owed to a sovereign or even to a government that can declare jubilee. And as long as  the system is running, the moral hazard is in place to just keep cranking up the debt overhang.

JHK: Yeah. Well, there are some differences. And I think it has a lot to do with the fact  that the techno­industrial economy and civilization that we developed has some slightly different  rules and procedures. And one of them is that... And we saw an early example of that was, what  happened in Weimar, Germany in 1923 which is that, you manufacture a jubilee by other means,  namely, hyper­inflation. They didn't mean it to go that far, but it got out of hand. And what's  happened in the USA for the last couple of decades is an attempt to inflate just enough to eventually erase the debt and the magic number is supposedly like 2% or 3% a year which doesn't seem very  much but if you do it over time, you end up not having to pay back an awful lot of money in dollars  that are worth the same as what they were originally borrowed at.

JHK: But that's exactly what the Federal Reserve has tried to do, especially since the crash of 2008. But they've been completely unable to do it through all of their chicanery. They haven't  been able to manufacture a 2% inflation rate. And instead, what we find ourselves in, is a  compressive deflationary environment. And that the reason for that is, because as debts are not paid  back, and as loans are not repaid, and as interest is not repaid, money actually disappears from the  system. And as money disappears from the system, there's less of it and that's a classic deflation.

JHK: So we're not gonna get that kind of jubilee that you got in an old monarchical society in the olden times. What we're gonna probably get is either, or probably both, first a tremendous  compressive deflationary bust, followed by desperate attempts to reflate the economy and then,  ultimately destroying currencies.

KMO: Well, you mentioned that the financial aspect of the current economy is the most  abstract, and a few years back Dmitry Orlov wrote his Five Stages of Collapse essay which he then
expanded into a book, and one of his arguments is, there are different types of collapse, and collapse can precede in different orders and the financial system can collapse without the rest of the  economy collapsing. And at our present state of debauchery, that would probably be a good thing, if the financial system were to collapse.

JHK: Well, yes. Although, I would argue that, I think Dmitry did actually intend them to  be sequential. His classic view of it, there would be a sequential progress from financial to  commercial to social to cultural collapse, etcetera, etcetera. But what's happened here is like what  happened in Cuba when the Soviet Union fell apart. You and I probably get a lot of notes from  people who are always saying, "Look how well Cuba managed its transition from being a vessel of  the Soviet Union to being a world made by hand economy," right? You've heard that, right?

KMO: Oh, certainly, yeah.

JHK: Yeah. But the thing that they never take into account is that it happened against the  background of a world that was still humming along in the background; they were still functioning.  And in particular, what was happening was, the Cubans were receiving remittances from the people  outside of Cuba, namely, from a lot of Cubans who had move to the United States, who were living  in Florida, and they were sending money back to Cuba. So, if that happens against the background  of a world that's still largely intact, there's a cushion there. To a certain extent, the same thing might be said of the Soviet Union collapse that, yeah, it was a mighty fall and it had some pretty terrible  resounding consequences, but when all was said and done, the rest of the world was still humming  along, and they could, for example, depend on Jeffrey Sachs coming over from the USA and trying  to retool their economy into a capitalist economy. And they could depend on the fact that the global  economy was actually building up at the very time that the Soviet economy was falling. And that  was a cushion for them that kept them from going all the way to cultural and social collapse where  nothing works and you're living, basically, in a anarchic society with no law or no safety. So, they  didn't get all the way down.

JHK: This time, the whole global system is wobbling, and there isn't gonna be the cushion  for any of the players. When the United States gets into the trouble that it's now entered, all of the  other nations will be going through a similar thing. And all the trade relations that we depend on to  keep this behemoth going, they're gonna get in trouble, and they won't be there for us anymore, and  we'll be thrown back on our own devices. And what it basically means is we're gonna have to reset  to a much lower level. And of course, the major question is, how do you make that journey without  a lot of destruction and without a lot of social disorder, and hardship, and cruelty, and all the bad  things that come with a badly upset culture?

KMO: And that's a question I don't expect we will answer in this podcast but I think,  experience...

JHK: No.

KMO: Will show us the answer, over time.

JHK: Well, it's an emergent process, and it will be a self-­organizing thing, and there isn't...  I think that there are clues and historical cultural roadmaps that can inform us about what we face,  but it's an emergent process, and it's gonna be full of weird surprises. And for example, who would  have thought that a buffoon, a dangerous buffoon like Donald Trump would emerge as a serious  possibility for winning the nomination of a major political party? Like I said in my forecast, I  consider Trump to be Hitler without the charm or the brains. But the fact that, so many people  actually take him seriously is to me a huge danger sign. And who would have expected that? And  you can predict other things arising out of that. Now, I'm inclined to make wild­-ass guesses about  things, and I do that in my forecast, sometimes just to be cute, and sometimes because I also really  mean it. But one of the things that seems plausible to me is we end up in a situation where Donald  Trump, for one reason or another, gets elected, and I think that there would be a serious effort by  other authorities in America to remove him from office, after not a very long period of time. And  that would be sort of farewell to our constitutional system, or a welcome to a constitutional crisis.

JHK: And it's not unthinkable, countries go through political crisis, and we've had a good  run for about 230 years as the constitutional USA. But if a clown like him were to get in office, a  guy with very poor impulse control, [chuckle] and some rather dangerous ideas about how the  world works, I can see a bunch of Pentagon generals kicking back and saying, "You know, we're  patriots and we just can't let this happen, we gotta get this guy out of there." And who knows,  maybe they'd say, "Okay, we're gonna have a new election in eight months and we'll start all over  again and this time Trump won't be a candidate and we'll try to find some better people." That  might happen too. But that's just an example of the weird things that will, or could, emergently pop up.

KMO: Science ­fiction author David Brin is fond of saying that the George W. Bush  administration demonstrates just how resilient the professional governmental bureaucracy is, in the  United States, that a president that catastrophic could sit in the White House for eight years and not  destroy everything just bespeaks what a solid foundation the US has in terms of it's professional  bureaucratic class, and I could imagine the US surviving a Trump presidency, as well. What I find  really interesting about Trump is that he is already making signals that he wants to be buddy ­buddy  with Vladimir Putin, and I've been very disturbed by the Obama administration's steady creep back  into a cold war doing everything they can to stoke old cold war animosities and provoke Putin at  every turn.

JHK: Yeah, me too. No, I completely agree with you about that. And there have been many times in the last couple of years where Vladimir Putin seemed like the only grown up in the room  full of world leaders, and he explained himself actually very well in his speech to the UN General  Assembly last fall, where the question of Syria had come up, and he basically said, "It's not a good  idea to go around destabilizing all of the institutions of a society," which is what the US did in Iraq,  and Libya, and Somalia, and all kinds of other places. And he said, "Actually, we probably would  be better off if we could support some of these institutions, so these people could govern  themselves." And that's the kind of thing that oughta get the attention of intelligent people.

JHK: I'm not necessarily reassured by the fact that Donald Trump feels similarly about that because there are other things about Trump that I just find odious, but it must be said that, above all, Trump does represent something that's really going on in this country and that is a real revulsion
against the establishment, and a revulsion against the elites that have been running things. And I  think that's legitimate. I'm just sorry that Trump ended up being the one to represent that consensus.

KMO: There is another candidate who seems to be doing well, who also seems like  somebody that would never have been a serous candidate in the past, and that is Bernie Sanders, so  what are your thoughts there?

JHK: Well, I think Bernie has... He's really an admirable figure in so many ways. It's  interesting 'cause I interviewed him about 20­ or 25 years ago for a Vermont newspaper called 'Seven  Days', and I spent a day with him in his office when he was Mayor of Burlington, and I was pretty  impressed with the guy, just his energy and his charisma. And I think, we should all be glad that  he's been there, mainly because he's opposing another odious character on the scene, Hillary Clinton, who I can't stand because I think that she's just thoroughly corrupt and dishonest. And  that's not an original idea, but it's an idea that's shared by a certain part of the population.

JHK: I happen to be a registered Democrat, although not a very enthusiastic one in recent  years, and I object to her being the candidate for president. I'm glad Bernie's there. I think, Bernie  has been a heroic force as an independent senator, and really kind of a great figure of our time. My  problem with Bernie is that, I think that he's basically an economic redistributionist. Being the self­-proclaimed socialist that he is, I'm afraid that he would be interested in creating larger schemes for taking people's money and choices away from them. And another side effect of that would probably be increasing the size of the government.  Now, it happens to be my belief that we're in a situation where government is going to get smaller,  whether people like it or not. It's already become hugely ineffectual and impotent at carrying out a  lot of its basic functions. And the things that it does do well now, are things that are not very  encouraging, like spying on people and collecting information about citizens. That's something that  we don't want government to do.

JHK: So, when all is said and done, I'm afraid that what Bernie would support would end  up being an attempt to keep big government big and to keep on giving free money to people and  endeavors that really ought not to get it. I would not really be happy about voting for Bernie, but I  do appreciate his independent voice and his heroism. Does that make any sense to you, KMO?

KMO: Sure. And if it came down to a choice between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump,  I would think that would be a no brainer.

JHK: I'd vote for Bernie Sanders.

KMO: Yeah. Although, apparently...

JHK: Yeah, no question about it.

KMO: Apparently, if you select the poll questions right, there's a significant percentage of  Democrats who would crossover and vote for Trump before they would vote for Hillary Clinton.

JHK: That's what I hear. That's what I read in what used to be called "the papers."

[chuckle]

KMO: Do you still subscribe to a daily newspaper?

JHK: Well, I subscribe to the New York Times. I find the New York Times to be  enormously annoying. It just bugs the hell out of me the way they cover stuff and fail to cover stuff. But I do subscribe to it as kind of a vestigial duty.

KMO: Well, you mentioned that in relation to Bernie Sanders, the phrase, I think, "Giving  money away" or "just giving people money," and...

JHK: He's a redistributionist.

KMO: Well, I've been talking to a lot of people about this notion of technological unemployment because the big digital companies that are displacing the old companies are doing so with a lot fewer... They can service a larger customer base with far fewer employees. And so,  there's a lot of jobs that are being destroyed by technology that are not... That that technology is not  creating new jobs in equal numbers, and a lot of people are saying, really the conservative response  to this is to basically cut everybody a check every month and give the people who don't have jobs  money to go shopping; it keeps the consumer economy going.

JHK: Yeah. I believe Finland is one of the first nations to actually propose that concretely  in their legislature. And yeah, I've certainly heard that. I think, it's gonna play out differently  though. I think that the diminishing returns of that trend of replacing human labor and human  thought with just machines and computers, I think it has tremendous diminishing returns and  unintended consequences. And one of the more interesting ones is that, among other things, it  alienates customers hugely, and we can see that and how things have gone for that last 20 years  where corporations have off loaded a lot of their former responsibilities onto their customers by  making their customers' lives more difficult. For example, instead of making it easy to contact  somebody at a company that you need to do business with, like Apple, or Microsoft, or really any  company, they've used the internet not to communicate but to erect a firewall between their  customers and them, so they won't be bothered by them. And they offload their own problems by  doing things like making you wait 45 minutes to have your call answered on a phone queue.

JHK: And after a while, you get enough of that and people just sign off and say, "Fuck it. I
don't wanna be involved with this company." And I don't think that it's going to work as smoothly  as people fantasize about. I think that process of replacing human work with robot work is gonna  basically trip over itself and make our... It'll be like an idiocracy of robotic business, and it's not  gonna work. At the same time, I think that in reality something else will be happening in the  background. And probably, pretty loudly and pretty rapidly, and that will be our journey to  becoming a Neo­medieval society where a lot of the things that were provided by corporations  won't be, and they'll have to be replaced by actual people doing skilled work that requires real skills, like, growing food locally and then finding ways to distribute it locally as things like national chain  shopping and supermarkets start to fail, as their supply lines stop working.

JHK: And I think, it's gonna work out hugely different than people fantasize about. In fact, I would put the robotic work society idea in the same folder that I would put the idea that we're  going to continue the happy motoring system by electrifying all the cars, 'cause that ain't gonna  happen. But it's an amazingly popular and commonly accepted idea that of course that's gonna  happen. We'll just have electric cars and that will solve all the problems. Not only that, they'll be  self driving. And that's not gonna happen for a lot of reasons. One of the reasons by the way is,  something that most people are not paying attention to, and that's the fact that the effect of the crash of the financial system on the way that Americans get cars. Americans are used to buying cars on  installment loans. That's how we buy cars, we make payments on them. But what's happened is, the  collapse of the middle class has left far fewer people who qualify for car loans and we're going to  enter a period of capital scarcity as the debt deflation moves on, which will provide far less capital  available for people to get car loans.

JHK: So, the whole motoring thing is gonna probably fail on the financial end before it  even fails on the fuel end. Although, those two things could converge fairly rapidly. And what's  happened in the last several years is that the smoothies on Wall Street have taken the same model  that they used for creating janky mortgage loans and bundles of mortgage loans, like the  collateralized debt obligations that went bad in 2008, and they've applied the same principle and the same model to auto loans. So now, they've securitized a lot of really bad auto loans, like six year  loans to people who have very poor prospects of making their car payments.

JHK: And we're gonna see exactly the same thing happen with that, those bonds are gonna fail. But as that happens, of course, we're gonna see a whole lot of damage in other parts of the bond world. And it's already happening in the margins of the so called 'junk bonds' or 'high yield bonds.'  A lot of those high yield bond were put out by the oil companies and the shale oil companies in  particular. They have no prospect of servicing them, paying the interest, or paying their bond  holders back, and they're going bad. And in the whole chain of bonds out there, the securitized auto  loans bonds are, they're right there behind all that crap, and they're gonna go bad too.

JHK: And the thing after that that we probably have to worry about is, what are the  derivative consequences of that? The hedges that these sharpies put in to get paid even if their  bonds went bad. And there's a whole lot of wreckage out there waiting to happen. But anyway,  getting back to the robotic thing, I put that idea in the same folder as the idea that happy motoring  will continue.

KMO: Well, I can certainly see a fairly short ­term scenario where, because of the reasons you just described, most people can not afford to get a new car and they will either be like me  driving a twenty year old car, or they will be dependent on ride-­sharing services like Uber, which  are about to get a whole lot cheaper 'cause they're about to fire all their drivers and replace them  with self­-driving cars. Those drivers have basically been training those cars for the past few years.  And self­-driving cars are not science fiction, and they are not anything that is projected to be  developed. They exist today. They travel the roads today and the only thing keeping more of them  off the roads right now is regulation.

JHK: Well, I take your point, although, I think, there's room to argue that it's not gonna  work as smoothly as people think. For example, there was a similar idea about 10 years ago, or so,  that we were gonna have so called 'intelligent highways.' It was, for practical purposes, the same  idea as the self­-driving car but they had vested the technological part in the roadways themselves.  And the idea was, you'd be on board with your computer, and just the car and the road would have a conversation, right? And all these, you'd be able to cram more cars into the limited space of, let's  say, the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, and the traffic would move more smoothly because the  computers and cars would all be having this conversation.

JHK: Well, the thing is when you really think about it, right now in any given place in  America, lets say 7% of the people driving out there are only pretending to have insurance, right?  What happens when you're in a situation where 7% of the people are only pretending to be in cars  that have a computerized smart car stuff? It assumes that absolutely, all the cars will be capable of  doing this, but in fact, it won't be the case. There will always be some rogue cars out there with live  humans in them who are capable of making mistakes, especially in a system that's overly  computerized that is based on the idea that there will be no mistakes. So, I don't see it happening. I  think we're actually gonna leave happy motoring behind. I could see that there could be much more  of a ride­-sharing thing in the short to medium ­term that that could be a way of getting around the  fact that fewer people will be able to own private cars. That makes a lot of sense, and it's really no  different from, or little different from the jitney arrangement that you find in third world countries,  where just a lot of people operate in formal taxi services with vans and things. That's what you see  in Mexico a lot. So, I think it could easily go to that but I don't think we're gonna have like a George Jetson automatic car system.

KMO: Well, the future I was describing is not utopian in the least. As long as those cars,  those Uber cars are still running and they're still making money, there's no real reason to do any  unnecessary maintenance on them. I could well imagine you've summoned your next ride and it  shows up, of course it's driver­less and the door opens up, and you can tell that the last occupants in  this car were having sex in it or shooting up.

JHK: Or they threw up.

KMO: Oh, yeah. Exactly.

JHK: When I drove a cab, like every week some drunken guy would throw up in my cab.  That was about 30 years ago, by the way.

KMO: But your cab had a driver who could stop and clean up the barf.

JHK: Right.

KMO: But if that car doesn't have a driver and can just go to its next destination and it's  going to get paid regardless of the state of the cab then it will. I'm not describing a George Jetson  future at all, I'm just saying that automation isn't going away and because of the financial incentive  to get rid of human labor whenever possible, I think we're gonna see a lot more automation before  things are done.

JHK: Well, I think that we can have a valid difference of opinion on this and just kick back and see how things work out. I'm more inclined to think that we should all become more interested  in mules, for instance. But we'll see how it works out.





C-Realm Vault subscribers can hear the remainder of the conversation in C-Realm Vault Podcast episode 180.

KMO: Awhile back, you had an experience where... you do a fair amount of speaking at  universities. It's kinda your day job, right?

JHK: Well, yeah, I have over the last 20 years. I've done a lot of lecturing for colleges, and conferences, and stuff like that, yeah.

KMO: And I can use the terminology with you 'cause I know we have a book in common  we've both read. Last fall, you had an experience with college campuses and SJWs, and I would  invite you to speak on that for a little bit for the people who don't read your blog and don't know the details.

JHK: The Social Justice Warriors. Well, my experience converged with what turned out to be an interesting movement or blow up of a movement. I had a gig at Boston College, and I  basically gave my Long Emergency/Too Much Magic lecture, which is a warning to people that a  lot of the things that they're counting on for continuing our way of life probably aren't gonna be  there for us and we have to make other arrangements. So, that was the content of the lecture. And I  had dinner with a bunch of faculty members from Boston College after the lecture, and it turned out to be a really interestingly uncomfortable situation.

JHK: Three of the people at the table, there were probably seven people, maybe seven or  eight people at the table, and three of them were English faculty who specialized in race, gender,  and privilege studies as they styled themselves. I mean, that's how they put it. And of course, that  raised the interesting question for me, which was, "Does Boston College really need three lit  professors specializing in race, gender, and privilege?" I didn't like come out and give them a hard time about it, but I was wondering. Anyway, because they specialize in those issues, we started  talking about race, gender, and privilege issues, and I made the point that I thought it would be a  good thing for our country if primary and secondary education made it a main mission to teach  disadvantaged black people how to speak English correctly. I said I thought that that would have  tremendously beneficial effects on that part of the population that has been struggling. These people went ape shit. They couldn't believe I said that. It was just so insulting to them. And they didn't  really argue about it in any kind of coherent way, they just insulted me and told me that I was a  racist and... It was amusing to me in a way because, here you have a table full of professors who're  essentially arguing against educating people, and specifically, educating them to speak the dominant language of their culture.

JHK: Anyway, the next day, it turns out that I got flamed on social media by another  professor at Boston college who had not been present at the table, who heard about what I said and  wanted to flame me as a racist on Twitter and Facebook. She was a black professor of, I think of  black studies. That's what happened.

KMO: Her name is Rhonda Fredrick, right?

JHK: Rhonda Frederick at Boston college. And all of this happened just two weeks before  the scene exploded at the University of Missouri with their big fracas that got the chancellor of the  university system fired or resigned. And then, at Yale, and at Princeton, and at Amherst, and all  these places where the students rose up inveighing against free speech and demanding safe spaces  against ideas that would disturb them. Anyway, that's what happened to me. I think it's amazing that what I said generated such ferocious and incoherent opposition. And I'm not quite sure what it says  about our culture. What do you think it says about our culture?

KMO: Oh, nothing good.

JHK: I mean, it's just something inherently bad about suggesting that we should teach  disadvantaged people how to speak the language of their culture?

KMO: I don't think so. It's demonstrated that black people, when they are around white  people, speak differently than they do when they are around black people. And largely, if they don't  know how to put on the white dialect, they fail in their efforts. So it doesn't...

JHK: Yeah, they try but they don't always succeed at doing it because they're not coming  from milleu where that is done. They're not good at.

KMO: Right. So, teaching them various tenses and the things that you mentioned would  just give them more options than they currently have, is how I see it.

JHK: Exactly.

KMO: Actually, I mentioned that I don't typically look at web pages while I'm talking to  people but in this case I have called up your blog, because you've printed the entire text of the email that you got from Rhonda Frederick, and she...

JHK: I haven't looked at it in months.

KMO: Well, this is what really strikes me. "This is what I posted on my social medias." She wrote, "I am sharing with you and your agent. Yesterday novelist, journalist James Howard  Kunstler was invited to give a talk at Boston college," and then she says, "At the post-­talk dinner,  he said, quote." And then, she goes on to quote something that she didn't actually hear you say but  she says, "At the post-­talk dinner... " When I read your account, it sounded like you went out to  dinner with some people after the talk, but the way she presents it, it sounds as though you were  continuing in your official capacity as an invited speaker and making official comments, maybe  standing in front of a group of diners. What was the dinner situation?

JHK: Oh well, we left the campus and we went to a restaurant in Brookline. There were  seven or eight people. I don't remember exactly how many. But we took two cars, we drove to a  restaurant in Brookline, and we were sitting around a big round table.

KMO: So there was not an official second part of the evening's festivities that was "the post-­talk dinner?"

JHK: No, it was just sort of a courtesy to take the visiting lecturer out for a meal and  schmooze.

KMO: So, you mentioned the unusual. Not unusual, but the strange timing of your  experience with this because it came just before all of these other high profile campus events. And it was just on a personal level for me, an interesting matter of timing 'cause I had just finished reading SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police by Vox Day. And in that book, he describes the pattern of attacks that usually  take place around these issues on campus, and something that I was really pleased to see you had  done was that you hadn't apologized, and in fact you had taken an aggressive stance to defend  yourself. Because in the book, as he describes repeatedly how the Social Justice Warriors pick their  targets based on perceived vulnerability, and if you apologize, they just see that as confirmation of  your vulnerability and they go in for the kill. For example, the chancellor at the University of  Missouri apologized, and that was just before he was forced to step down. And I noticed you didn't  apologize, and as far as I can tell, they've decided to leave you alone.

JHK: Well, what I said explicitly at the... I wrote a blog, I have a regular Monday blog,  comes out every Monday morning, it's called Clusterfuck Nation, and I've been writing it for 15  years. And after that experience, I wrote a blog about it. And at the end of the blog, I basically stated that I am their enemy. I am the enemy of this kind of behavior explicitly. And I felt a little  bit lonely in that capacity, but basically, they picked the wrong guy to fuck with.

KMO: Right. And because you have demonstrated convincingly that you are not the target they're looking for, they have moved on. Obviously, they found new targets because if you are  searching the internet for evidence of their activities, it is replete with it. Although it doesn't...

JHK: Well, yeah. I wasn't a very big fish for... I was just one among many people who got  caught in that maelstrom. But what amazed me about the whole thing, and which I subsequently,  you could see in all the other incidents, was how cowardly the faculty and administration are in this  situation. I wrote a letter to the guy who had invited me, he was the head of the committee that invited me to speak. It was a foundation actually that brings speakers into Boston College, some  kind of endowed lecture. And I wrote a note to him the day after Rhonda Frederick wrote that thing, and I said something like, "I don't think it's very nice for you guys to try to defame people on social  media after you invite them to speak." And I never got a reply from the guy. He was such a coward, he never even spoke to me again. And nobody in the administration did anything to challenge  Rhonda Frederick, who wasn't present either at the lecture or the incident in question. She just wanted to grandstand for her particular Social Justice Warrior benefit. And a lot of this, of course, is careerism of a certain type because the Social Justice Warrior culture has so completely taken over  the university that the more grandstanding you do for it, probably, the higher status you accrue in  that world.

KMO: Exactly. I wonder what your thoughts are on the entirety of SJWs Always Lie by  Vox Day.

JHK: Well, I wish I remember the particulars of it better. I think he understood the dynamic very well. I think he understands exactly how it works, and I would actually define it as being more a low grade Maoism, really. But he really got it. Now, he's a peculiar figure himself  because he's coming from the gaming industry, the video gaming industry.

KMO: And science fiction.

JHK: And science fiction. And he's a peculiar character himself. He is, to some extent a  professional controversialist and he really, really relishes mixing it up with characters like this. But  I think, all of us are engaged in a battle against a very pernicious dynamic, and it isn't that much  different from what you saw in the cultural revolution in China in the 1960s, Maoism, where you  get a bunch of really hysterical people behaving in a crazy way. And it's a kind of thing that I  suspect just burns itself out and people get sick of it, and then its internal contradictions become  self­-evident and abhorrent. You saw the same thing in the Salem witchcraft trials in the 1690s, in  New England, where you have a lot of people are persecuted and treated very badly, and executed,  and hanged, and pressed under stones for this delusional idea that the devil is walking around  Salem, Massachusetts. And they end up being so appalled at their own behavior two years later,  that they can't believe what they did. And of course, history doesn't forget it either. But it's a similar  thing with Maoism, neither of us are culturally Chinese, but imagine how embarrassed people are  who went through that and who stood by and did nothing.

KMO: Well, at the time, intervening could get you killed, but...

JHK: Well, true.

KMO: But that's not the case here. With the book, SJWs Always Lie, if anybody were to  read it, I would suggest reading only chapters three, seven, and ten. The rest of it is really very self-absorbed, it's largely about what happened to the author, Vox Day, and how he took a lot of stuff personally. And the chapters I just mentioned contain good information that would be useful to  anybody who has to interact professionally in the university system or in the Silicon Valley culture.  But to say that he's a controversial character is to really understate it. I mean, he is deliberately offensive to self-­identified leftists, so much so, that I can't imagine many strongly self-­identified  leftists getting through the book because they would be so angry at the author. And even if they did  get through he book, they would probably be in such a state of agitation and indignation that they  would miss the advice that he has on offer and towards...

JHK: I don't think that they're his audience...

KMO: No, they're not.

JHK: I think that there is a broad swathe of reasonable people out there, who see through  all this nonsense. He's trying to explain the dynamic for them and encourage them to battle it. I  don't think he's trying to persuade the SJWs themselves to change their ways.

KMO: No, he's not.

JHK: 'Cause they're not gonna.

KMO: He's certainly not trying to persuade them, but I think the advice he gives would be  useful to a lot of people who are not gonna read the book just because he is such an odious  character. But at the end of the book, he says that if an organization isn't explicitly conservative,  then it will become liberal over time. So, it is your mission, if you are part of an organization, to  make sure, not only that the SJWs don't work their way into your organization, but that you identify the liberals in your organization and use every underhanded SJW tactic against the liberals to get  them fired. Lie when possible. Take things out of context as you need to. He suggests, just after  describing at book-­length all of the dirty underhanded tactics of his self-­declared opponents, he then says to his compatriots, "Now go and do everything they do," which I think is terrible advice.

JHK: Yeah. Well, it's not cool, and let's hope that there are enough rational, reasonable  people of good intention out there who wanna take back their culture and not persecute other people and not be unfair to them. I think you and I represent that group of people who are not that crazy,  and I think there are a lot more of us out there. But they've certainly made it difficult for people, for  example, in the university setting itself, to function. They've made it so dangerous to be a  reasonable, rational person, that many of the people who might oppose this behavior, end up ruining their careers or losing their positions, and it's a terrible thing.

JHK: So, I don't know. But the scene itself was pretty interesting and amusing out there  and you wonder how far up its rear end the culture has to put its head in order to get to this place.  For example, part of the fall uproar this year was at Princeton University, where a sort of "Black  Lives Matter" kind of allied group went to the president of Princeton and said, "We want you to  take Woodrow Wilson's name off of everything, off the buildings and the foundation letterhead and  everything because Woodrow Wilson was an arch segregationist. And by the way, we wanna have  our own black student union." How can...

KMO: No irony there.

JHK: How can the president of the university not burst out laughing in his office at those  demands? Or how could the New York Times not underscore the idiocy of that? But this is not  happening in our culture. We've lost our critical faculties, and people like the president of Princeton have lost their balls. They just don't dare challenge these obvious idiocies. That's the kind of thing  that happened. And I was heartened to see how the woman at Yale [Erika Christakis] comported  herself. She was the lady who responded to a memo sent out by the Yale administration. Probably  one of the diversity deans sent out this memo by email to all the faculty, and all of the house  masters, all through the college system. And it said, "Don't allow people to dress up in Halloween  costumes that might offend anybody. Don't dress up as Indians, or pirates, or certainly not in black  face, or really nothing that would offend anybody." So, this woman, who was a faculty member and also one of the house masters, a faculty member who resides in the dormitory and manages things  there, behavior there.

JHK: She wrote a memo back and sent it out to the faculty saying that, "This is a  university where the kids oughta make up their own minds about what they do with their Halloween costumes, and then they'll be responsible for the consequences of the choices that they make." So,  she was visited by some mob of inflamed Social Justice Warrior students, and she ended up  resigning her class assignments for the year. And her husband, who was also a co-­house master at  this residential college at Yale, he also stopped teaching that year and went on sabbatical. So, they sort of drove them out of their regular duties, but they didn't make them resign. And I think, she  showed a lot of spine and a lot of courage in dealing with the things that were happening to her. But most other places they don't. Most other places they just cave, and when they cave, of course, they  really get mistreated.

KMO: Well, Jim, that's about all the time that we have for this conversation but I have  really enjoyed it, and I look forward to visiting you in, it's Greenwich, right?

[chuckle]

KMO: Greenwich or...

JHK: Greenwich, [pronounced with a long E sound] we call it.

KMO: Greenwich, okay.

JHK: And the high school football team is called the Witches.

KMO: Uh­ oh.

JHK: Go figure that.

KMO: For how much longer, I wonder.

JHK: Yeah. Well, until the Social Justice Warriors make them change it to the Warlocks.

[laughter]

KMO: I don't know, I think both could be considered prejudicial against Wiccans.

JHK: There you go, yeah. Well, let's hope that just doesn't happen.

KMO: Yep. Well hey, it has been fun. And as you like to say, we will ride again.

JHK: Well, thanks for calling and give me a shout when you land up here.

1 comment:

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