Hi there! You've reached the homepage of Ben Lavender! Ben is a computery person who partakes in many kinds of nerd tomfoolery, but mostly programming! You've found his home on the web, with the caveat that a lot his day-to-day stuff ends up on social networks, so this site makes him seem pretty stodgy.
Enjoy your stay.


The Long Emergency

14 Aug 2008

What drivel!

This one is just awful. The book is less a useful collection of information than a poorly-disguised rant about the author’s personal dislike for big box stores, shopping malls, and in particular, suburbs. It’s got all of the usual complaints I’ve come to expect from the anti-globalization crowd: wastefulness, ignorance, mass cultural disease. All at the hands of evil, autonomous corporations. All at the hands of insensitive American consumers. It’s your fault!

The author’s sole claim to fame appears to be a collection of writings bemoaning modern life. Here’s a gem from the ‘eyesore’ page’ of his site (the page is static html and appears to be updated monthly so that link won’t be accurate forever; this entry is labeled ‘August 2008’):

The [tatooing] activity taking place [in this shop], however, is a symptom of the growing barbarism in American life. Tattooing has traditionally been a marginal activity among civilized people, the calling card of cannibals, sailors, and whores. The appropriate place for it is on the margins, in the back alleys, the skid rows. The mainstreaming of tattoos (on main street) is a harbinger of social dysfunction.

If you want to say that, at least just say it. I’ll disagree with you and move on. This book, though, is worth stopping to mock. It’s a collection of pseudo-scientific claims proving the inevitability of the forthcoming disassembling of modern civilization, which the author is clearly looking forward to. The books subtitle is ‘Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century’. The book is 300 pages. Of those, 70 are devoted to ‘Living in the Long Emergency’. 40 more are devoted to a chapter on disease, water shortages, habitat destruction, and sundry other maladies. The rest are peak oil, done badly. He never really comes up with survival tips.

Huge portions of the book aren’t really saying anything at all. They are just long, rambling descriptions of history with a tone that reaches condescending whenever our hapless forbears make another short-sighted decision to move away from focusing their lives anything 15 feet past their farm doors (that they built themselves, of course). I almost put this book down in about 5 different places; as it is, I skipped large parts of it; my time is better spent elsewhere. When I saw him paraphrase other authors I’ve read, and do it such that he completely missed their main points, I about lost it.

The author’s personal plan for surviving the forthcoming apocalypse is to live in his upstate new york small town, with his woodworking tools and his buckshot, and to start a local newspaper. Life in the future without oil will be intensely local, you see, and he wants to be ready to cultivate that.

Of course he does. In fact, every one of his ‘the sky is falling’ dangers is accompanied by a prediction with a curious silver lining about community. Oil too expensive to ship clothes from China to Atlanta? Not to worry–the local textile industries will thrive again, even though they were already driven out of existence based on their own inefficiencies. We’ll all become farmers again, teaching us the lay of the land. Kunstler takes time to worry that we’ve lost our cultural knowledge for how to manage farm animals. Well, I can’t handle a horse, but I can read a book, and I’m sure someone has bothered to write it down. I’m sure I’m not well practiced, but it’s not like these ancient arts simply disappear. In fact, when knowledge does disappear, it becomes a devil in the mind of people who can’t stand the idea: a lot of people spent a lot of time recreating Damascus steel after it was lost, and we still haven’t figured out how they made chainmail (unless they did it the hard way). These are definite exceptions, not rules.

Kunstler, for one, welcomes our new peasant communities. Have fun with that; I’ll be in Switzerland, reading any book but this one.