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“in a word”

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I’m a regular reader of Jim Kunstler’s site where every Monday he unleashes a new blast about America’s rush towards towards a disastrous collision of peak oil, poor urban planning, and corporate and governmental malfeasance. The posts are stirring reads, really great rhetorically and in the details… but they are often enough marked by insanely bad “big picture” moments, where Kunstler hauls the load of shit he has collected up to an entirely unlikely and unhelpful location. For instance, while I’m not going to go into detail, but in the earlier days of the Iraq War he was particularly bad in spots, playing out a counter-productive “sure, the republicans are nuts, but those pansy liberals want to drive their big cars and not fuck with Iraq!” – as if it were ever possible to believe that bringing cheap oil to the homeland was ever the point of this adventure. But since I don’t have time to link you to his posts from this period, I’ll just leave it at the level of a brief mention… It is as if there is something (the professional freelancer’s need to make hay? plain old political perversity?) that makes him skew his otherwise decent stuff in unreasonable directions.

Today’s post is emblematic of Kunstler’s problem, albeit in a less offensive way than usual. Here’s a paragraph from the middle of the piece:

By the way, I believe the stunning failure of responsibility actually can be accounted for, though my theory may not be to everyone’s taste (especially the science hard-asses out there). In a word: entropy. The US has enjoyed unprecedented energy inputs and the result is unprecedented entropy outputs. The protean force of entropy then manifests as degradation in just about everything around us from the immersive ugliness of a landscape overbuilt with WalMarts, Pizza Huts, and vinyl houses, to the sexual perversion available on the Internet, to the surrender of standards and norms by executives in the financial sector. It’s as simple as that. Entropy rules.

“Entropy,” is it, or a very specific and describable, if complex, brand of political economy? What does it mean to blur the finance sector presentism that comes of deregulation and a crisis in profits, the inefficient and corrupt distribution of energy resources, housing speculation and the long history of American resistance to urban planning and transit investment, and (ugh) “sexual perversion” under the sign of “entropy” rather than, say, laissez faire deregulatory capitalism? Even if there is something “entropic” about all that it is going on, Kunstler needs to go a few more steps to tell us how it is so in solid terms. Throwing the metaphor out as if it itself is an argument just turns everything pointless, leads you to flip the page and move on to the next thing.

Further, Kunstler’s tic is such a vividly American gesture – perhaps the most American gesture there is – to construct a thorough and largely accurate representation of all that is wrong with everything everywhere and then to caption this representation with a phrase drawn from the metaphysical (or pseudo-scientifical-metaphysical) rather than the blander, though more operable, phrasebook of political economy? Think of “the war on terror,” just to start. And to take it to a more personal place, think, if you’re ready to squirm a bit, about the form that American academic engagement generally takes, filling the hole where the argument needs to be with decorative, metaphorical stuffing – engaging in a general critique of everything that is always automatically defanged and rendered comfortable inhabitable by a lapse into poor poetry when self-aware purposefulness is the order of the day.

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 30, 2007 at 10:21 am

Posted in america

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