Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hard Times

The great thing about starting a new blog is chances are nobody's reading, so I can pretty much say whatever I want. Most everything I write is a disconnected ramble anyhow. It's been a few days since I posted anything here and I wanted to visit if nothing else to remind me that this blog is here as I try to figure out what I'm trying to do.

I get most of my news online these days. I seek out news, but there is so much truth in what psychologist Karl Jung observed: "people cannot stand too much reality" sometimes creeps up and that not being able to handle it creeps up at times.

Underlying the reasoning for this blog is that people alive today face two dire challenges to our ways of living: First is the down slope of peek oil and second anthropomorphic climate change. Obviously both are really big problems, but both are problems that our individual lives cannot but be affected by. I'm not ready. And it's not particularly a comfort to look around to see hardly anyone else is either.

James Howard Kunstler is well known for his book The Long Emergency which was influential in widening the awareness of the general public about the convergence of these twin challenges. This Rolling Stone article provides a synopsis of the book. I also read Kunstler's weekly posts at his blog.

Kunstler's writing can be quite acerbic and he adept at using the time-honored Internet tradition of ridicule. I like that in moderation, but too much is enervating. Something I've noticed is that as oil prices have skyrocketed and plunged over the past year Kunstler's tone seems to have mellowed a bit. His most recent post contrast two realities out in the public discourse: The dominant reality,The Status Quo view, where after this economic rough patch things will get back on track like they were. And the minority reality, which he handily calls, "The Long Emergency" where we've got to make radical adjustments in the way we do things and soon. I'm of the opinion that the minority reality is closer to the truth.

Kunstler writes of the minority view:
Since the change it 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. The dialectic between the two realities can't be sorted out between the stupid and the bright, or even the altruistic and the selfish.
Kunstler goes on to make predictions for 2009. It seems a an ordinary thing to do this time of year. So even in exchanging New Years greetings it's hard not to bring up the atrocities in the news as we do. I might think it's just me being a whiner, but I'm noticing that my friends can't seem to help themselves either. We all know we might be wrong in our predictions, but as never before I get the sense most of us really hope we're wrong.

Here's a prediction I'm make: President Obama won't get much of a "honeymoon." Political leaders are important, but it seems too much to try ot lay salvation in their hands. It seems the best we can do is to try to develop reasonable views of the situation as we see it and pull others towards what constructive things we can do. I believe gardening is one of those constructive things. Perhaps this blog can serve some good purpose in that arena.

When thinking about Kunstler's point about cognitive dissonance reinforcing the Status Quo view, I thought of the song Baltimore composed by Randy Newman on his 1977 album Little Criminals. It's such a great song that many performers have covered it. There's a verse that stuck in my head:
And they hide their faces
And they hide their eyes
'Cause the city's dyin'
And they don't know why
I love YouTube for music. But I'm often a bit shocked how videos there sometimes make me feel old. There are many renditions of the song I love. Nina Simone's is there, and there's a nice video of Newman performing the song at a 2006 concert in Stuttgart. One of may favorite versions was done by the reggae band Third World. There version hasn't been posted, but there is a great version by the Tamlins. In the wonderful YouTube tradition there's a response video which is Scientist--Taxi to Baltimore Dub recorded contemporaneously to the Tamlin's record at King Tubby's Studios. Listening to that it hit me that these records are almost thirty years old. Yikes! One consolation was then to watch a video of Sly and Robbie & TAXI Gang at a fairly recent concert in Seattle. The young people in that audience seemed to be able to Chant Down Babylon.

Ah, well the Scientist Dub video provided the picture of the taxi for this post. If you're a fan of Dub, be sure to check out Scientist Club at YouTube because they uploaded lots of great videos.

The picture is appropriate in an incompetent gardener sort of way. The Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions
has produced an important documentary How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. Well, the Cuban Taxi is somehow related. The video is available for purchase or can be viewed online. It's very important, and speaks to the fact that it takes some time to develop gardening skills as well as to get garden soils healthy enough for productive yields. The Community Solutions Web site is very worthwhile perusing as there's lots of great information there.

I know I can't take too much reality. Sometimes the news leaves me overwhelmingly sad. Music always seems to make me feel better, even sad songs like Baltimore. Efforts like Community Solutions make me feel better too. There is much we cannot change, but somethings we can. Much of what we can do, like gardens, music, parties, community building, are real and can make us feel good.

I predict hard times ahead in 2009. And I predict we can make some happy times and take joy too. I am an incompetent gardener, but there's much joy to be had not just in feeding hungry stomachs, but our hungry souls as well.

1 comment:

Linda Nowakowski said...

John, I wanted to see the video "How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" online but I can't figure out how to see more than the 2 minute teaser. Can you guide me? This was a significant part of the research examples I used in the paper I presented last year in Hungary.