- James Howard Kunsler, The Geography Of Nowhere
Kunsler could be speaking about the Occupy/99% movement that is breaking out, when he talks about a new world view emerging, comprised of a mass of ideas, and then — perhaps — enough people moving toward one side of the raft, and it flips over.
His example — the growing awareness of the failures of Western ‘neoliberal’ capitalism — is happening right now: a convergence of a new world view in which the excesses of unsustainable capitalism will become anathema, and a new urbanist populism will drive the rebuilding of our cities and the rewilding of the great, horrible sprawl everywhere else.
Note that Kunsler suggests that rebuilding our cities will cost a great deal, but that investment might be the stimulus we need to create a new economy. However, we are going to have to accept an enormous write-down for all the strip malls, corporate campuses, and distant office parks that will need to be torn down, and recycled. As soon as we start moving toward a sustainable urbanism, those distant unconnected buildings will be worthless.
Living in places where nothing is connected properly, we have forgotten that connections are important. To a certain degree we have forgotten how to think. Doesn’t this show in our failure to bring these issues into the public arena? There is a direct connection between suburban sprawl and the spiraling cost of government, and most Americans don’t see it yet, including many in government. Likewise, there is a connection between disregard for the public realm — for public life in general — and the breakdown of public safety.
These issues will not enter the public discourse until something of a paradigm shift occurs in American society. By paradigm, I mean a comprehensive world view shared by a critical mass of citizens. At any given time, enough people agree upon a particular model of reality and do whatever is necessary to sustain it. Ideas themselves may evolve slowly or rapidly and credible proofs may lag behind hypotheses. But a collective worldview is made up of many ideas, all operating dynamically, and when the consensus about what they add up to is shaken, the result can be convulsive social change. Enough people move to one side of the raft and suddenly the whole thing flips over. The rapid demise of Leninist communism as a believable model of economic reality is an example.
When I suggest that something similar may happen here, I do not anticipate the demise of capitalism. Capitalism in some form is likely to endure, whatever its shortcomings, for it is the only way known for managing accumulated material assets. I do foresee a necessary change, however, in our effort to create a capitalist society appropriate to our circumstances — namely, a sustainable economy as opposed to our present exhaustive economy. And we can’t have a sustainable economy unless we build a physical setting to house it in. The physical setting we presently dwell in itself exhausts our capital. It is, in fact, the biggest part of the problem. The future will require us to build better places, or else the future will belong to other people and other societies.