Why Are the Mean Girls Picking on _World Made By Hand?_

Sharon May 4th, 2008

Reading apocalyptic novels is always a weird experience.  They are compelling, often startlingly so.  And quite often, the “I can’t look away” quality of reading them has nothing at all to do with their being thoughtful, well-written, high quality prose.  That is, to put it bluntly, most of them suck, if considered as pieces of writing.  Except that they make you want to keep reading.

In the last couple of years, apocalyptic novels have moved out of genre fiction, away from “science fiction” into “mainstream literary” fiction.  In some senses this move isn’t really a novelty – much of what we now call “high culture literature” (which was often low culture literature when created) from Boccaccio’s _Decameron_ to Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus” and on to Shelley’s _The Last Man_ to was permeated by awareness of the possibility of either theological or biological apocalypse, usually by plague.  That, for a time, we moved our end of the world visions into a little box called “science fiction” doesn’t change the fact that this has been a preoccupation of literature as long as literature has existed.

 Still, as “literary” writers like Cormac McCarthy and Philip Roth have been picking up the apocalypse as a genre and making it “high culture.”  In some sense, this seems to be because the writers in question have no where else to go.  McCarthy, always a lovely but never a cheery writer has a natural affinity for the apocalypse – even his other novels always seem to end in disaster.  So perhaps a world where there are no shoes and babies are regularly roasted on spits and eaten is merely a step on.  And for Roth, who followed up _The Plot Against America_ with a series of books who could be best summarized as “Zuckerman gets old, impotent and finally, mercifully, dies” the end of things seems to be a preoccupation.

But more than that,  the idea that we have nowhere to go but towards some disaster simply makes sense – we are on course for some disaster.  There is no question that Global Warming is a disaster in the truest sense of the term, and that we are entering into an unknown place.  How could imaginative thinkers not try to conceive of where we are going?  We want to know, we want to be frightened and horrified, and also to be engaged by the fantasy that the world could change – in ways that might make us more powerful.  That is, underlying the disaster is the notion that all the things that make us feel powerless might fall away, and we might step out like the protagonist of some novel, and make things change.

That is what happens in James Kunstler’s new novel, _The World Made By Hand_, a book I’ve read, and have been trying really hard not to review.  The reason is that I’m ambivalent about it, both as a piece of writing and as a piece of peak oil advocacy.  For all that I often disagree with him, I think Kunstler is a wonderful writer of non-fiction – funny, smart, engaging.  And he has done more than any other writer ever to bring peak oil to the mainstream – none of the rest of us make Colbert or Rolling Stone. 

On the other hand, I thought _World Made By Hand_ wasn’t nearly as good as his non-fiction writing.  There were things I liked about it – I enjoyed his language, and the “American Novel-ness” of it – that is, Kunstler’s vision doesn’t just involve looking back to the 19th century, linguistically it feels like an American 19th century novel, and it has the same clarity of prose.  Unfortunately, it is also overblown and dull at times, also like many second-tier 19th century American novels – think _McTeague_ or something like it.   But perhaps that’s not fair – in comparison to other post-apocalyptic novels, Kunstler has written _Moby Dick_ – because it is such a difficult genre, and the competition is so bad.  Personally, I think both Roth and McCullers also wrote mediocre novels – and Kunstler’s can go right up there with the best of a weak (although fascinating) genre.

I wasn’t going to write about the book at all, however, but I find that I can’t resist, in part because Kunstler has gone on the defensive, telling us that the problem that some women readers have had with the novel and its gender issues is definitely their fault, not his. 

The Oil Drum has a link to Kunstler’s appearance on the Colbert show (which I’m dying to see, but I have dial up and no tv reception and certainly no cable, so I’m doomed until I visit somewhere with fast internet ;-) .  It also has quotes Kunstler’s response to those who have criticized his book on the grounds that all the women in it are passive fuck bunnies with no brains or interest in the future in any sense.  (Ok, that’s actually my analysis, but the quick skim of the amazon reviews I’ve seen has people making much the same case in slightly politer language.)  Here’s Kunstler’s answer:

“Complaints have come from many quarters that in my novel the feminist revolution appears to have been discontinued, or that my female characters are not sufficiently valorized. To me, these complaints show an impressive incapacity to imagine that social arrangements might be different under very different practical circumstances. In “World Made By Hand,” the corporate milieu no longer exists. Issues of “glass ceilings” and “equal pay” tend to be irrelevant. All the people in the novel are essentially working within their competence. But the divisions of labor are not what they used to be in the age of WalMart and Time Warner. The major female characters are treated sympathetically as real people with pretty complicated lives.”

One of the best rules of literary criticism is this: never trust an author’s claim that what you are seeing is really, certainly, definitely your fault, not the author’s. Now believe it or not, I’m in sympathy with Kunstler’s claims that women’s lives will not have much to do with the kind of capitalist version of feminism seen in the essay.  I’ve written on that subject quite a number of times:



That is, I do think Kunstler is broadly right, that the version of feminism that succeeded within global growth capitalism is unlikely to continue, and that, without making a strong effort to retain social changes, women are likely to lose social gains and protections as they get poorer.  I don’t have a problem with a depiction of a society that views women as more vulnerable to sexual assault, more subject to violence, and with less political power in some ways than we have now – all of those are real possibilities.

So this is not the part of Kunstler’s statement that I think is wrong.  The problem is that the criticisms I’ve read, and the ones I’m inclined to make have nothing to do with the loss of feminist gains and equal pay – Kunstler is waving a big old straw man about here.  The problem with his book is that it is completely untrue that “The major female characters are treated sympathetically as real people with pretty complicated lives.”  Or rather, they are, in their fractured limitation treated quite sympathetically, they just aren’t *people* – they are literary functions who exist to a. compete to have sex with the narrator and b. suffer and c.  serve meals.  

Despite Kunstler’s suggestion, I don’t think it is unreasonable for readers to want some of his women to be rich and complex enough to be actually called real characters, rather than a plot function, or to suggest that in the future, the occasional woman might have an area of competence other than baking and nudity.  Or that if they don’t, the reasons for that might actually be explored, or the characters might think about them, rather than simply assent to the idea that their world made by hand is the size of a pea.

There are people in novels, but those people have nuance, and subtlety, and complex motivations.  They have thoughts and feelings that get explored  - that’s how they get to be people in our heads, even though they exist only on paper.  We get caught up with them. It is not possible to do that with any of Kunstler’s women.  For example, we meet Jane Ann, one of only two female characters articulated enough to even distinguish from one another, when she arrives bringing bread and her body to the narrator.  She is the wife of his best friend, who arrives weekly to have sex with him, because she is depressed and her husband is impotent. 

Now there really isn’t anything wrong with the early characterization of Jane Ann, but the truth is that we never get more than this bit of surface and Robert (the narrator’s) speculation about her.  He is kind and unjudgemental about her desperate expressions of grief, which conveniently take the form of bringing him food and sex - he’s also not very interested in them, and clearly,  neither is the book’s author, because Jane’s non-existent interiority is never expanded upon.  We get a flash of jealousy here, a bit of suffering there, and she’s gone, left to occasionally send over meals.  She’s a plot function.  What is almost forgiveable about this opening sequence is that the narrator, Robert, is nearly as disconnected and resigned as she is.  The difference is that redemption, community and reconnection are for men, not women in Kunstler’s world. 

The only other female of note is Britney, the wife of a young man who is shot and killed early on.  And this, of course, begins the redemption of the otherwise apathetic Robert, as he involves himself in her life, eventually takes the 23 year old as a lover and now has “a family to look after.”  And that, we are told, in echoes of Frost, “…made all the difference.” Looking after her means protecting her from sexual assault, and reassuring Britney shortly after her sexual assault of the essential goodness of humanity.  One might not think that this would work, or even be a compelling bit of writing, but fortunately, Britney is always written much as other authors might write mentally disabled children.

“There’s goodness here too.

“Where is it?”

“In all the abiding virtues.  Love, bravery, patience, honesty, justice, generosity, kindness. Beauty too.  Mostly love.”

“I’m afraid sometimes that we drove all those things out of existence.”

“No, we carry them in our hearts.  They’re always with us.”

Welcome to the post-apocalyptic Hallmark Card.  Fortunately, most of the book is considerably better written than this.

The good thing (for the characters) is that the women apparently don’t *want* anything more than this – they just want to know that goodness and bravery and love are somewhere, residing in the good, brave, loving men who they cook for.  And having heard that, they can go back to making pie and getting naked – because they show no interest in the events of the town, in the struggles for political power or social power. 

It isn’t just that feminism has disappeared, it is that women as people have disappeared, and they are more deeply immured in their homes than the angel in the house ever was.  Even under the Taliban, women had secret lives and showed signs of resistance to their complete disempowering – these women just aren’t interested enough to resist or act.  They may have been raised in a reasonably equitable society, but the disaster has stripped them down literally, and all they want now is sex with the middle aged narrator, protection, sex with the middle aged narrator, to cook, and to have sex with the middle aged narrator. 

The thing is, novels are novels – they are speculative, and it isn’t necessary that they perfectly represent the world.  While I disagree at times with Kunstler’s vision, I respect his right to have it.  And the novel is essentially a piece of genre fiction – a western overlaid neatly on an upstate New York futurism.  From the riders galloping into Albany to root out corruption to the return home to root out corruption there, Kunstler has lifted a genre that historically treats its females a plot functions – there to get raped so that our heroes can go shoot the bad guys, there to serve up pie and remind us all of what we’re fightin’ for, there to get naked and remind us of the rewards of fightin’. 

What’s a disappointing is that Kunstler clearly could give us more than that – but he’s clearly not interested enough in the women in his story to bother. And since he’s not interested enough, I find it interesting that he’s bothered to mount a defense of them now.  Whenever authors start telling you how real and complex their characters are, they almost certainly aren’t.  And it is weaker novel because of it – frankly, Kunstler, perhaps because his lack of engagement with many of his characters, fails to engage many of his readers.  That these readers he misses are disproportionately female simply makes sense – it isn’t that women can’t identify with male characters, or don’t experience pleasure reading about them, but there is simply a dearth of people to identify with.

Ultimately, I think what’s perhaps most fantastic and speculative about the book may also be its weakest point.  As many writers point out, and I’ve discussed here: http://casaubonsbook.blogspot.com/2008/01/is-it-really-tough-to-be-guy-in-hard.html, historically when society collapse middle aged men have had the hardest time dealing with the complete reinvention of their world.  Stories from the Depression are rife with men who left to ride the rails or simply to get away from responsibilities they could no longer live up to.  Dmitry Orlov observes the same thing about Russian men during the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

Kunstler turns this historical convention entirely on its ear – the only functional beings are middle aged men.  The young men are bleak and angry, and without initiative, if they aren’t actually dead or missing.  The women are dead from the neck up.  All of the powers in the society are older men, who have expanded and consolidated their leadership positions – Brother Jobe, Stephen Bullock and the narrator.  The only ones who are able to survive and go forward in the new world are the old, mature powers.  This is both radical and unlikely.

It is hard not to see some of this as a wish-fulfillment fantasy.  But I also see it as something else – the recognition that peak oil is going to call into question our present gender roles.  I’m reminded here of a study I once saw (and can’t locate to cite) that suggested that children in homes where gender roles were not strongly differentiated were more attracted to things like Barbie dolls and GI Joe than kids who live in families with strong traditional gender roles.  The reason suggested was that kids at some point need to figure out what it means to be male or female, and that in the absence of some real definition of their gender identity, they go looking for what the culture has to offer.  The results of the study didn’t suggest it was better to have strong gender roles – just that it is a normal part of development to try and figure out what it means to be male or female.

And in a sense, Kunstler’s Western, I think operates mostly as a strong assertion that masculinity, post peak, like everything else, is going retro, and that maleness is going to be something important.  And its need to assert this seems something like the needs of those children to find some extreme to explain what it means to be a girl or a boy.   That is, when his character says that having someone to take care of has made all the difference, he is telling the truth – that this book is in part about finding a way for older men to live in the future as men, a future they are unlikely to navigate easily.  It is easy to mock, to say, “Go back with me boys, the women are young, nubile and always in shape, the food is hearty, there are guns and horses and the lines of power are always clear.”  And that is part of the truth. 

Another part of it is this – adapting to a radically changed world is going to involve people finding a way of understanding that world .  Taking away people’s maps of the world means giving them new ones.  Obvious, accessible maps with large print are good, particularly for those already in reading glasses.  That is, the more that we can say “the future will be like these familiar fantasies you like” the easier it is for some people to imagine going forward.  It is tough, however, on those who don’t usually imagine themselves as the guy with the gun on the horse.

I think the biggest limitation to Kunstler’s imagination, which generally is a potent and powerful force, is that his answer is always that we should use old maps, perhaps perfected a little.  Thus, Kunstler has a hard time envisioning a world that is a hybrid, with people simultaneously shaped by the high energy past and alive to the low energy reality.  Instead, Kunstler just erases from his world not just women’s power, or the effects of feminism’s changes on the culture, but women entirely, creating a bare world of men in middle age, working through their losses without the pesky intrusions of real female characters or younger men to press against them, adapt better, push their limits.

And perhaps that’s what it would take to fully integrate the older men to the newer world. 


115 Responses to “Why Are the Mean Girls Picking on _World Made By Hand?_”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Sharon,
    I found your blog through Carolyn Baker’s daily post…thank you for your lifestyle choice and for your willingness to talk about it.
    I devoured Kuntsler’s novel, hungry for something, anything to give me something to hold on to as I looked out in the abyss. Your critique confirmed my own thoughts and feelings…many of which I doubted as I read his novel, casting it off as my own critical nature, but reading your words confirmed a piece of the world I intend to create and bring to pass…my world looks very differently from Kuntsler’s.
    It seems that he, like many white men in the US have forgotten or are afraid to lose their privilege and power, as the needs of this unprecedented times call for women to reclaim the power that has rested in the hands of men for thousands of years…we are just at the beginning of this transition, yet the path of the feminine is clear and present.
    I’m wondering how will we walk together into this transition in community…
    In gratitude,

  2. Kati says:

    Ok. Unfortunately I’m running behind this morning so I don’t have all the time in the world to read this entire post. Suffice it to say I get the drift that JHK really did a botch job on creating realistic women in his new novel and you wish that his take on their/our lot in life was as more than housekeepers and sex objects.

    Have you read SM Stirling’s “Dies the Fire” series yet???? The first book is good, if a bit more gorey than I’d like. But he’s got some strong “main character” women in that set. If you’re looking for a post-apocolyptic series that shows the true potential for women (as well as acknowledging the fact that there will always be men wishing to relegate us to either bedroom or kitchen), I strongly suggest this series. I don’t think it’ll hold up next to “classic lit”, but for post-apocolyptic fiction, it’s a good read.

    I actually also like Pat Frank’s “Alas Babylon”, though it is somewhat less interested in the female world post-apocolyptically. Given that it was written in the 70′s (I think), it’s rather campy and somewhat chauvenistic, but also the few primary woman characters are treated fairly and given the capacity to think and work and hold up under pressure and outside the kitchen or bedroom. Also gives some almost-point-blank talk of the kinds of things we need to keep in mind when making preparations for non-electrically-driven society (lots of salt & canning equipment for preserving, needles & thread for clothing making & repair, etc).

    Just wanted to throw those two suggestions out there before I head out for work. Blessings.

  3. Susan says:

    Personally, I was neither surprised nor upset when Kunstler’s new novel turned out to reveal the author’s “trouble” with women. I read his previous fiction attempt, “Maggie Darling,” and was appalled by the depiction of the central female character as a weak, dumb, hysterical sort of person with whom it was impossible to be sympathetic.
    After I read “The Long Emergency” and Jim’s other excellent non-fiction books, I was delighted with him as an author –elegant cultural sensibility, yet bold, irreverent, iconoclastic, exceptionally brilliant, beautiful prose style, something I especially appreciate. I eagerly read all the (substantial at that time) autobiographical writing on his website. (I love his beautiful paintings too.) What I learned from Kunstler’s life story -to my regret –is that he is one of those men who had a really terrible mother. There was divorce in his prealdolescense such that his real father became almost completely estranged. The only slightly sympatico presence in his young life was the new husband of his cold, distant, harpieish mother. The unfortunate young man had to practically raise himself all alone through the hardest parts of growing up and finding a place in the world, which he did quite a good job of, considering the outcome –a productive adulthood making really valuable contributions.
    I felt much compassion for the lonely row he hoed as a young person, realizing also that he was probably one of those men who were pretty much ruined for healthy male-female relations. I’ve known other men like that. It’s just really unlikely that a man ever gets over early bad impressions of women. It’s a shame, but there it is. They usually get no corrective experience because like all of us, they tend to choose women they expect and are familiar with, reliving past experience. It’s a weakness and a blind spot and it’s tragic for the man. One expects quality people to get over their early conditioning, but I’ve found that most never do. It’s kind of like how, after childhood, it’s almost impossible to learn to speak a foreign language like a native.
    Not to excuse the insulting prejudices of an important author, but simply to explain them. Perhaps Kunstler should stick to non-fiction.

  4. Ani says:

    Glad to see this being discussed. I read WMBH- and promptly sold it! Have to say that I wasn’t too impressed- and the role of women bit was over the top …… I don’t know if Kunstler really thinks this way- or if it makes him happy to think this way(a sort of revenge driven attack on women perhaps??) but the notion that all of the advances women have made will be washed away and that they will retreat to the kitchens and the bedroom while the men run the world bit is not a vision of the future I’d want to entertain.

    As for other “post-apocolyptic ” novels- well as has been mentioned here previously, from Stirling’s “Dies the Fire” series- which while definitely testosterone riden and violent, I have really enjoyed AND he has developed strong women characters, to Starhawk’s “Fifth Sacred Thing”, to “The Parable of the Sower”-all have strong women as central figures.

    While I can see how it is true that if manual labor is paramount- then it is obvious that perhaps the wood splitting be done by the big 6 foot muscular guy while his petite wife does the canning let’s say- but that has more to do with purely physical strength. Who runs a community, has political power or whatever is NOT a function of physical strength. To imply that who has the muscles(or a penis) is once again going to determine who is in charge does seem like going backwards to a point in time in which half of our society was not able to have a voice or use their talents. We can’t afford to do that in this world-we NEED all of our voices and talents.

    Sharon- it would be interesting to discuss books- or movies as applicable. I rented the Frontier House DVD’s- found them fascinating in terms of the relationships between the family members between the other families, the changes in the kids etc. Am finally watcing the Jericho series on DVD-I don’t have a TV so am rather out-of-the loop in that respect. I find it fascinating to see how these sorts of things are depicted, whether in WMBH or Jericho, Stirling’s books, or even “The Stand”, or “The Postman”- hmmm- if we were to list all the post-apocolyptic novels we’ve all read………

  5. Rosa says:

    Kati – would you believe we read Alas Babylon for 8th grade language arts in my middle school? Looking back, that is so twisted – we couldn’t read an unexpurgated Tom Sawyer because of bad language but crazy postnuclear stuff was A OK.

    Ani, I would totally want to talk about Frontier House. Crunchy was going to run a discussion on that (maybe she did and I missed it?).

    and another postapocalypic book – Pat Murphy’s “The City, Not Long After” is one of my favorites, it’s plain beautiful and very short. And Delany’s Dhalgren, though it’s not so much post-apocalyptic as during the downfall. Or something. Gorgeous, though.

    Does anybody else find that their taste in literature makes other people take them less seriously when talking about environmental issues? My mom still pats me on the head and says “I remember the summer you read The Stand, honey. You just worry too much.”

  6. Ani says:


    I asked Crunchy about Frontier House recently- she is still planning to do it(a discussion).

  7. Lisa Z says:

    Now that I’ve finished the book, I think I can conclude that Kunstler is just not a very good writer. Or that his editor was a little too gung-ho with the editing pen. It’s not just women that he doesn’t “flesh out”–it’s a lot of things.

    I love a mystic element or two, but in this book those couple of elements went nowhere. Almost like they were just to add words. Or, the editor cut out too much if they did go anywhere in Kunstler’s original manuscript.

    Nobody criticized Margaret Atwood for envisioning an apocolyptic future in which women were severely limited, and even worse, in their roles. Instead women everywhere take that as a warning of what could happen. Scared the hell out of me! Kunstler’s book doesn’t scare the hell out of me, but I think he did paint a picture in which women’s roles are fairly limited. Whether that’s his fictional vision of an apocolyptic future or whether he just “forgot” that women could do more, we can’t know. I think he would be better off responding to criticisms of his females with a statement that this is how his imagination envisioned the future, rather than getting defensive that “well, the women in my book actually have pretty complicated lives”. Maybe in the background they do, but they never make it out of the background.

    Still, this was the story of the main character Robert. That Kunstler didn’t flesh out his other characters much is entirely the author’s prerogative. Of course, we can complain about it because that’s our prerogative!

  8. Student says:

    Ideas for the book club…In addition to all the classic apocalyptic novels like Earth Abides, Alas Babylon, Swan Song, On the Beach, A Canticle for Liebowitz and The Stand, here are some of my favorites with small blurbs:

    Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

    An apocalyptic novel that covers geographical upheavals, famine, cannibalism, human power struggles, lack of medical care, lack of power and fuel. A comet that nearly destroys the earth gives forewarning; some people prepare and some do not. Written in the 70s, it is still one of the best books I’ve read. It starts slow, however, stick with it while it introduces all the characters.

    Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

    This has been mentioned before. It’s excellent. Global warming, pollution, racial and ethnic strife, gangs of drugged-out crazies and other unnamed problems have caused civilization to crash. The main character is a young black woman who flees when her semi-safe compound in Los Angeles is flooded by murderous hordes and her family is killed. A road trip ensues, as she collects comrades and fights bad guys along the way. Her journal entries tell the story. Strong females.

    Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

    Sequel to Parable of the Sower; it takes up where Sower left off – a piece of land where the heroine and her friends try to build a better life. Both books deal with a political climate of religious extremism and a new spiritual philosophy that the protagonist has developed. This sequel is written through the eyes of the daughter, who was kidnapped at an early age.

    Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

    Don’t be put off by the fact that this book was written for young adults. It is written through the eyes of a teenage girl who grows up swiftly and painfully when an asteroid hits the moon. This causes earthquakes, tidal waves, eruption of volcanoes, and drastic, rapid climate change. The government falls apart in a rerun of Katrina writ large. This takes place in smalltown, USA and centers on one family as conditions worsens and hope diminishes along with fuel and food. There is a focus on the stress and psychological effects of in-your-face hunger, disease, cold and hardship. I won’t spoil this by hinting at the ending, but I still think about this book. It will haunt you long after you finish it.

    Into The Forest by Jean Hegland

    Another book about teenage girls – these two lose their parents in the midst of an unexplained decline in civilization. They live in a northern California forest, 30 miles from any town, while society slouches toward total collapse. First the power goes, phones fail, fuel disappears, their parents die and they are left alone in the woods to survive. Although the book lacks any explanation of the cause of the collapse, and it is not very realistic, that is not the point of the story. I’m sure we can all imagine a scenario. The strong points are the relationship between the sisters and between them and Mother Nature.

    Last Light by Alex Scarrow

    And last, but certainly not least – the first real peak oil novel. Although this story differs from the imagined scenario in that the entire crash takes place in one week – due to “terrorist” strikes at major refining and transportation hubs – it allows the ramifications to come about in a terrifyingly short time frame. It takes place in England and is primarily about the members of one family, who are all separated when the SHTF. Unfortunately, this book isn’t being sold in the US yet, but you can still get copies like I did – through the Amazon used book marketplace.

    If anyone has other suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

  9. Amelia says:

    Sorry I’m late getting back –

    My own suggestions for the book club:

    Daughters of the North (UK title: The Carhullan Army) by Sarah Hall, winner of this year’s Tiptree Award. Set in a near-future UK wrecked by resource depletion in which contraception is forced on all women of childbearing age and reproduction is controlled by government lottery; it explores the social factors that could drive someone to become a terrorist, anger and violence as expressed by women, and the concept that power is available to anyone, regardless of gender, willing to do whatever it takes to obtain it.

    Night of Power, by Spider Robinson. Chronicles a multiracial Canadian family’s efforts to survive race riots in a future domed and racially segregated New York; Robinson is working through a lot of white liberal guilt in this book, written early in his career, and it bogs down in places. But most of the primary characters are people of color — not overly common in this genre — and there’s some effort to examine how race influences POV and experience and interpretation of events.

    Always Coming Home, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Set well after the Apocalypse in a Northern California valley still dealing with the effects of pollution (the conception and full-term healthy birth rates among humans and higher mammals are very low, and there are words in the language Le Guin invents for neurological disorders caused by long-term genetic damage), the society is modeled on Pacific Northwest Native gift culture, in which one’s wealth is measured by what one can afford to give away.

    It examines gender issues — same-sex married couples and trans people appear throughout — disability, the cultural challenges experienced by mixed-race children, the effects of militarism on society, what medicine can and can’t do in a low-tech society . . . it’s certainly one of my Desert Island books, and I once spent a ridiculous amount of money to get a copy of the boxed set edition which contained a cassette of some of the songs.

  10. Amelia says:

    And my son has just reminded me of M.K. Wren’s A Gift Upon the Shore: two women on a subsistence farm on the Oregon Coast, in the aftermath of nuclear war, working to preserve what they can of Western culture by creating a book repository.

    Comes complete with conflict with the obligatory dominionist Christian survivalist cult — and if someone could suggest some books that deal positively with any sort of religion postCrash, particularly Christianity, I would thank you most sincerely.

  11. While there are physical issues that would push women into a domestic role in his world you have to question a level of passivity which is unheard of in any of the founding western cultures. This attitude might develop a couple of generations down the road but since the mature population are still children of the modern age there is no way short of physical abuse and cultist like programming you could have pacified women so quickly. Even in the most oppressive societies men might appear in charge publicly but still draw the line at home for domestic bliss. I think Kunstler’s jump to old language forms and old social stereotypes was both a botched attempt at showing devolution of civilization and a vast lack of understanding of relationships, now and in the past.

    The passivity however is not exclusive to the women as the sad state of the town shows, the mayor and constable were disinterested or dysfunctional, there was no sense the council met on a regular basis, there was no public works, no attempt to lay claim to the riches of the dump, there was no mention of schooling that I recall, etc.

    Jane’s personal depression could have passed as a representation of an overall malaise in society but when you only show women only as weak passive fuck monkeys (Jane, Brit and the young girl the preacher tempts the main character with) it must go beyond plot and represent a real belief of the writer.

    While women did get the worst of the literary treatment I did not find any of the characters adequately developed, he’s no fiction writer

    There is certainly a personal bias built into the book some of which is directly taken from his predictions in the Long Emergency and his Blog. He apparently feels its ok to judge peoples worth by minor life choices, agrarian folk music lovers, good, rock music loving ex car culture people, bad, and he even puts them in a trailer park despite there being a half empty town.

    He feels that a community cannot thrive without aggressive religiosity that the new preacher brings and apparently places limited value on women. The whole bit with the religious seer in the bee hive was just bizarre, I don’t know if he was trying to redeem the value of women or it was just more overt religiosity showing that god would directly interact with us.

    He has an obvious belief that a mixed race society cannot survive, hell even the main Character was a Jew passing himself off as Christian

    An aside

    In Kunstler’s world where birth rates have dropped dangerously I would think that the power of fertility would increase women’s value and that a matriarchal system with open marriages to ensure children would be the end result.

  12. Avoid the movie which is a joke, but David Brins the Postman is a good post crash book showing the power of a symbol to reunite and stimulate a fallen society. It has an interesting twist as a group of women decide that it’s women’s responsibility to cull their mistakes and strike down those men who should have been allowed to grow up and become monsters. It’s only a side line to the story but certainly a image of powerful women.

  13. Amelia says:

    GAB, some of us who read The Postman adopted the unofficial subtitle “Why Oral Hygiene Is Important”. :-)

  14. mad mike says:

    i named kunstler, “the curmudgeon of armageddon”.
    a prophet of doom who is in it for the profit.
    JHK sez the only thing that will save uhmerika is the railroad. then he promptly jets around the country rents a car and settles into a big city hotel. he mocks folks who conserve,”anything you do will be useless”. at his website CFN, i read the same thugs posting there over and over. it’s like an old boyz club. um… i post there a lot also.
    so dont sweat it. JHK is a grumpy old man making a buck. i figger he will be the first to go when the collapse he predicts comes about. no doubt one of his blog posters will visit him clunk him on the head and steal all his food. or, maybe when the collapse
    comes he will have a heart attack and no recourse to high tech medical assistance. HOO-RAY!

  15. grog says:

    well i read his book. and i thought it sucked.
    compared to the long emergency and geography of nowhere it definitely suckethed.

    i have lived with farmers. dairy farmers in upstate new york over by herkimer. they are so busy keeping things going that they dont have the time nor the energy to fornicate. both sexes.

    in a return to no tractors and combines and harvestors there will be twenty four hour work days for everyone.

    thank god for that. people get too much time on their hands and they become candidates for the laughing academy.

  16. Gail says:

    Hey! He’s a guy! Male fantasy elements. It’s all made up. Only one version of the way things might turn out. Things are going to change. Will they go retro or not? It depends on how bad it is.. really and whether or not women have choice about reproduction or not. Think about life without choice.
    All of my great grandmothers were pioneer women on the Great Plains. They had nine, ten, eleven, twelve children. They lost babies too. They lived in shacks and soddies . A homestead is a partnership.They worked in the house and the barn and the dairy and the church. Without electricity or gas and without driving anywhere they cooked and did laundry and put up food from the garden and made quilts and raised all those kids. They are the strongest role models I can think of. Most of them lived into ripe old age.

    An unrelated comment is: Will feminism survive peak oil? Can we possibly survive if we don’t team up?

  17. Kerr says:

    Thanks for reminding me of Always Coming Home, Amelia. That’s just the book for me to reread right now.

  18. todd says:

    I don’t have time to read all the comments up thread but as a male who likes survivalist fiction, I found the male characters to be a bunch of brain dead losers so it isn’t just the female characters.

    It’s simply a rotten book.


  19. Bench says:

    Thank you for the excellent, albeit reluctant, review, Sharon. WMBH seems to be just the latest expression of Kunstler’s, um, gender issues. Here is a recap for those unfamiliar…

    One of his favorite gripes about architecture is that buildings have lost all “feminine” qualities, whatever the hell that means. Oh, wait. Here it is, in _The Geography of Nowhere_, _The Long Emergency_, many of his blog posts and, most recently, in his latest Eyesore of the Month (http://www.kunstler.com/eyesore.html). It’s a lack of “curves” and “ornaments” that bothers him.

    In his infamous Y2K screed (http://www.kunstler.com/mags_y2k.html) Kunstler wrote, “Y2K is a bitch-slap upside the head of American culture.” I am not aware of anyone calling him on it at the time (the oppressive language directed at women, that is; plenty of people have since raked him over the coals for his Y2K predictions).

    It turned up again in 2005 when he used the phrase in the title of one his posts (http://jameshowardkunstler.typepad.com/clusterfuck_nation/2005/04/a_bitchslap_ups.html) in which he tells the story of using the phrase “bitch slap” at one of his talks and another anecdote about buildings’ lack of curves and ornaments. His responses to the “wrathful female[s]” who dared question his language indicate his utter ignorance about gender as a system of power and *why* such statements are harmful.

    I can understand the desire for a meme to describe what I, too, would like to see happen — a mass awakening of the populace from our “sleepwalking into the future.” I’ve been trying to think of one for some time now. The closest I have come is something along the line of a splash of cold water in the face. But, I digress.

    Stan Goff and De Clarke wrote an excellent response to one of his posts last year about Hillary Clinton (http://www.insurgentamerican.net/2007/01/31/kunstler-latoc-and-misogyny/), dutifully echoed and riffed upon at Life After the Oil Crash, connecting (rightly so) these attitudes and gendered language to the conquest of nature and women, which is entangled with the popular concept of masculinity.

    Kunstler has a special place in my consciousness as the person out of whose mouth I first heard the words “Peak oil.” Too bad it’s been mostly downhill since. I think we are well past Peak Kunstler.

  20. Vegan says:

    I’ll be reading “Always Coming Home.” Le Guin’s interest in philosophical Taoism is very appealing. I love her translation of the Tao Te Ching.

    Today I finally got the courage to get through the first 70 pages of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” Beautiful and sooooo sad …


  21. MikeL says:

    I wonder how many of the harshest critics here have ever tried living a much more basic life. I have. Having planted myself, from our pampered twisted mishmash upbringing of the wannabe liberated – but really still stuck in the role playing, boomer society, into an experimental life of building and digging and lifting and hauling and wrenching and fixing… well you get it. Guess what happens to the gender role models. Those that built forts and go-carts and fixed cars and went hunting and fishing were able to build things and cut wood and dig holes and haul heavy things. Those that couldn’t did the rest, much of which they had luckily been taught to do despite the sometimes distracting battles being fought to right the worst of the injustices.

    Let’s let go of the fantasies that we are all so damned liberated and just work together using whatever skills we have to contribute to the greater good. If Kunstler has anything right it is that we are still too trivial to survive if we think that any real emergency will allow us the luxury of endlessly debating how life should be instead of quickly learning how to live it during really different circumstances. Spending much time at all on something as trivial as critiquing one vision of a possible outcome when things fall apart rapidly at a given moment in time should only happen after one knows everything there is to know about how to cook and sew and grow food and cut wood and build buildings and kill and slaughter and defend yourself. Do you think you have time for more?

    Let’s get real and quit living the phony life of the pampered. That and more will indeed go away unless we get very serious very soon.

  22. olympia says:

    ^MikeL- While I’ve lived adult life in a decidedly conventional manner, I grew up off-grid. It was there, off the grid, that I learned unconventional gender role models. Granted, my father was a disabled vet whose mangled hand rendered him more capable of changing diapers than, say, chopping wood (although he did both, and frankly, I’m amazed to see so many fathers who are clueless to change plastic diapers when I witnessed my father change cloth diapers- with pins!- one-handed). Still, I think you’re making some presumptions here. You’re also giving a lot more credit to Kunstler’s silly novel than it’s due.

  23. Kiashu says:

    Let’s not play the old Internet OneUpMan game, Mike L. Whatever you’ve experienced or done, someone’s had it harder or nastier. Forget that bollocks.

    As I read it, people’s complaint about this book are not the roles Kunstler gives women, but rather that they’re empty blanks. It’s not that his writing is offensive, but that because the characters are so empty, it’s boring.

    A writer can commit no greater sin than to bore their readers. I can be bored without spending a couple of days reading, and paying A$54.95 for the hardback.

  24. MikeL says:

    Both good comments. Plenty of people, men and women, have lived rich lives and contributed much. The book was a silly novel. It didn’t claim to be more.

    What pushed my button, and tapped frustrations left over from coming of age in the 70′s, was the notion that this “silly little book” should have covered in depth many things that perhaps it couldn’t. If Kunstler had tried to develop complex female characters he would have been just as likely to have been jumped all over for being so arrogant to think that he actually knew what it was like to be female in this world run by men. Or whatever slogan you wish to insert.

    After growing up with women struggling to identify themselves as radically different than their mothers and getting beat up for decades for simply being male no matter how hard we tried to be supportive I have tried since to understand why most of those women ended up just like their mothers, or worse.

    He is a man, writing from a male perspective that developed through some set of unique experiences growing up in our messed up society, and he wrote from there. Maybe his characters were like women he knew. Maybe the violent and shallow men he portrayed were like men he knew.

    This silly little novel did nothing more than explore some possibilities with a very small set of players. To expect it to do more is maybe asking a great deal.

  25. MikeL says:

    Let me try a different approach.

    What Kunstler did a little bit of was explore what traits might come out of us when faced with extraordinary change and hardship in a short span of time. This is the part I found worthwhile and I think is what we should be writing more about. I would love to see more fully developed explorations of that including from a female perspective.

    What I find intriguing about that is that it will most likely be quite different than most of us can imagine. It will bring out the best and the worst in human nature. The glimpses that we got in New Orleans and elsewhere (all of which happened in isolation with relative normalcy all around) show us how very poorly prepared we are.

    Kunstler can be very harsh and he is often very tough on groups he feels are not living up to his expectations. Including groups repressed by a number of cultural or just bad luck circumstances. It can be hard to take but he may have something there. If anyone expects to be lifted up out of bad circumstances in these times by the good graces of someone else handing them hope they may be sorely disappointed when things get tougher. There are many faces of inequality. It is built deeply into the way things have always been. The vast majority of humans over time have survived only because they picked themselves up and started building a life for themselves despite the odds stacked up against them. We are likely headed for times mostly based on that kind of natural selection. Cooperation and cultural advances may shrink to a smaller role not because they should but because we aren’t very good at it.

    I hope that a few folks take their frustration with what WMBH could have been, but wasn’t, and turn it into better examples of both vision and writing.

  26. MEA says:

    Mike L. Call me a pampered phoney with too much time her hands, but it really is possible to write a novel that is’t a silly little book. I also labor under the illusion that a society that attempts to adress inequality and obression of any sort can also be a functioning one. If, for example, one saw slavery base on any criteria, coming back, would one just say, it’s a shame, but doing something about will take too much time from hoeing my beets?

    And my annoyance isn’t that K. drew a world in which women have withdrawn from the political area, it’s that the reason for it is a thow away 1/2 sentance about about survival putting an end to any interested women had outside the home.

  27. Sharon says:

    Mike, I’m just not buying the “it had to suck” bit. Nor the idea that we automatically regress to gender roles – some probably, but not nearly as much as you suggest. Kiashu’s right, of course, that the one upmanship is bullshit, but I can’t resist just a little.

    You see, Me, I run the farm here – and I mean I run it. My husband does his share, but there isn’t much he does that I don’t do. Moreover, he has a full time professorship, so when we were first doing this, all of spring planting and fall harvesting was pretty much mine during the days. We had for several years a 20+ member CSA, done entirely with hand tools. And I was pregnant a lot of the time – when you’ve run a farm that feeds 26 families plus the food pantry all with hand tools while 8 months pregnant and breastfeeding a toddler, then we’ll talk ;-) . Until then, I’m going to stick with what I know. ;-)


  28. MikeL says:

    I see I pushed a few buttons too. Thanks for all of it. In general I am a bit cynical but not nearly as much as Kunstler. Way more hopeful actually. Probably for the same kind of reasons you allude to Sharon – you’ve done it and know what is possible. It doesn’t have to suck.

    If I was as cynical as JHK I’m not sure I would put as much into every day as I do to create something better. I know what is possible physically. I struggle with the prospects of what happens from the human side of things if everything we know changes drastically and so very many people are not ready to participate fully. No group excluded here. I am actually, in a realistic way, one of the most hopeful people I know. I have become very realistic though.

    There was a three day power outage a year or so ago here and we live on a large hill looking over a pretty big area. As we looked out the window one night and pondered the darkness my partner asked “I wonder what they see looking up here”. What they saw were lights on in one lone house. I inventoried what else we had. A shed full of wood, a warm house, more food than most probably both in the garden and in the kitchen, a lot of good useful tools. And, God help us, my lovely partner who I am not equipped to protect from roving mobs of testosterone poisoned men any more than she could herself.

    It doesn’t have to suck but we certainly know that it can if we ram on forward without a plan for how to organize and civilize huge masses of hungry, angry screwed up people if the unsustainable support system that allowed us to breed so many of them falls apart. That is what we are doing.

    There are a lot more of them than there are of us. I just cannot escape the thought that the rules we think we know may not be relevant for all that long.

  29. no1uno says:

    Why would you expect a man to understand women any better than women understand men? PLUUUU Leazzzze!

    I read the book, and enjoyed it, perhaps because I was not looking for a particular political perspective – black, female, asian, male, oung, disabled… there are many more perspectives than upper crust, educated, white femanists…

    My suggestion to the femenists lambasting Kuntsler: Write your own book, and imbue the charachters with a mindset from your perspective!

    Sharon, I assure I will be one of the FIRST to read yours! I am looking forward to it with GREAT anticipation. Perhaps a passage about revenge for the female victim of sexual assault – that is, enjoying the revenge herself, rather than her male kin… or a matriachal society of people of African decent. That would make a good story line and would make sense considering the number of female headed housholds with children in America… Not every one is White, Rich, Jewish, and Educated at Vassar or its equivalent. Perhaps you could write about the experiences of desperately poor women in inner city neighborhoods…

    And if you don’t like JHK’s WMBH… by all means! Dont buy it!

  30. MEA says:

    It’s not that men can’t write women, and women can’t write men. I think to give K that excuse is a cope out.

    I also think telling people if they don’t like a book is rather pointless. Writing a decent novel isn’t that easy. Standin up on one’s hind legs and claiming to have done is much easier. (I used to be an editor, and a not too successful writer.) I think informed critism is a better response.

    Personally, I’d rather read a novel about a woman who is raped, gets on with her life, and works to reduce sexual abuse that one who straps on a gun and shots her rapist before her menfolk get to him. But just becuase that’s my vision of empowered, it doesn’t mean it is someone else. However, while I don’t think I’d enjoy the plot of the 2nd, I like to think I could reconize if it were well written. Likewise, the 1st, poorly written, wouldn’t engage me.


  31. What it will come down to is those who are organized, strong, skilled and adaptable will thrive regardless of sex, race yada yada. By all accounts this should be a socitety of the most driven capable people yet they are uninspired droids until the rable rousing religious influence arrives.

    Not all readers of this book will know of Kunstlers other work so I think he missed an opportunity to at least educate a little and bring people into our culture of doom.

    The mention of slavery came up in the tread and I totaly believe in a society described there would be slavery in addition to serfs or share croppers. Criminals, malcontents, and captured raiders will join debt slaves in bondage to do jobs other do not want.

    This of course will depend on the extent of the depopulation, if there are too few people for the land available,labour’s scarcity and the need to control the above people will encourage slavery. A glut of people vs. land available would result in wages for labour being bid down making slavery uneconomical. In both cases however society will not be afluent enough to pamper prisoners, the criminal class either take over, be killed off or enslaved.

  32. Matt says:

    It appears that you are so irritated at the lack of a heroine that your judgement is completely unbiased. Kunstler has painted a very violent world, particularly outside of the town, and one that would have little room for feminism.

    Also, your comparison of Soviet men to American men is completely devoid of validity. The two cultures are so vastly different that you cannot base your assumptions of one group’s actions based on the other.

    You might want to think about writing your own version from a female perspective. You can fill it with all sorts of Amazonian dominatrixes who use puny men for sex and digging ditches.

  33. Amelia says:

    It’s not every day I get to break out my modified “How to Suppress Discussions of Racism” bingo cards — oh, wait, yes it is.

    Let’s see, we have:

    2. Attack the person, not the argument: we have “whining”, “spoiled”, and “upper-crust, educated white feminists” (this one’s actually a trifecta, giving us assumptions on the part of the author about the race, class and gender of the people posting. Whee!).

    4. Deflecting attention from the original criticism: “It’s just a book!”

    5. Sexism, however ugly, is better than the alternative: “Even if it’s not the best representation of female characters, it’s better than no female characters!”

    6. Prove your opponent has mistaken some other quality for sexism: “It’s not sexism, it’s just a fantasy!”, “It’s not sexist, look how the male characters are treated!” and the one that’s turned up most often in this thread, “Go write your own book, then!” Same square on at least three sexism bingo cards!

    Sharon, just so you know: I will be dropping coffeeandink a note letting her know that I’ve linked to her original post — I can’t promise you won’t get a whole lot more traffic (and have the two more vocal posters above been here before? There’s a faint whiff of energy creature coming from somewhere around here . . . ).

  34. MEA says:

    Matt, please define feminism as you are using it.

    Otherwise I think we are going to be talking in circles.


  35. no1uno says:

    Was I suppressing a discussion on racism? Or were you not talking about me?

    I rather think not. I WAS pointing out that of those posting it would seem that not a few would be: 40+, feminist (or leaning that way, whatever that is), white, from an upper middle class/professional class family, more than 2% would be Jewish (the U.S. population is 2% Jewish, and for the most part this is not a minority group that suffers poverty disproportionately), and well educated. This would not lend the group to the experience of an inner city minority from a sub working class family, or rural white (the only group that can be publicly excoriated for their peculiar ideosincracies are members of the much maligned “white trash”. I recently heard a “joke” on the radio that a group of people were crowding around something like “white trash around a block of Velvita”. Being “white trash” I very much resented the remark.)

    Writers write from their peculiar perspective. Kuntsler is a man, and he is not married. Perhaps he had little or no relationship with a mother figure… the point is:

    who knows why JHK developed his story and characters the way he did, and;

    Is the absence of an “acceptable” heroine really that big of an issue?

  36. MikeL says:

    So, if I may, I’d like to point out the anger and division that came out of a mere discussion about a book. Imagine how we’d get along in a scenario anything like the one painted in Kunstler’s imaginary world. Do you think we’d join hands and circle to the left?

    This is an important point. We live, at the moment, in the highest level of luxury and convenience ever know to our species. And yet the fangs come out between folks that should be on the same side. Over a book.

    It doesn’t look good for us if things get really tough and theory goes out the window because we are very hungry and very angry about it. Not to mention whoever the hell is lurking in the shadows out there.

  37. Two well-written futurist novels with women at their core: Octavia Butler’s _Parable of the Talents_ and Jean Hegland’s _Into the Forest_. The latter is lyrical–about gentle self-reliance in the face of a rapidly changing world, while the former is about great strength and hope in the face of great violence. Both are explicitly feminist in rather complicated ways. Both are highly recommended. (But don’t read Butler if you’re already feeling too frightened to go on.)

  38. MEA says:


    It’s not the lack of an accepable “heroine” that’s the problem. It’s that K. has written characters that lack depth, motivation, personality — and when challeged doesn’t say some like, see p. 38 where X does Y for Z reason, and so lets the astute reader understand A,B, and C.” He just says, in effect, “did too, and if you don’t like the way I show what women’s role will be, too bad.” You know, he could have written a world in which women had their feet bound and were married at age 8 to the hero while all male infants except those born to his household were castrated, and if he could make it work in terms of how such a social arrangement came about, I say that was a bit a good writing, even (or esp.) if it make me puke to read it.


    Do you real think we can only survive in a world in which theory (by which you seem to mean social justice) goes out window? Without cheap oil do we have suppress others in order to live?

    I don’t buy the idea that we can’t express our ideas and disagree over them in print and on line, because to do so will endagner our survival.

    I can’t speak for you, of course, but a number of other people can and do pull together with neighbors who don’t like their taste in literature, who have the audicity to argue that Jane Austen is a better writer than George Eliot, or that woman and people of color could or could not have won sufferace at the same, or that the town council will or will not fall apart if a certain person isn’t elected.

    Some years ago a friend ran for town council on a platform I couldn’t support. I told him I was sorry, but that I couldn’t put a sign for him in my yard. He said, no problem. I kept feeding his cat when he and his wife went away weekend after weekend to help his mother and dying father. When I was in gradschool with 2 small children, they brought over a hot meal once a week. You can have community without consus on every issue.

    And I, for one, find it much hard to engage in a monatous task with another person present if we can’t chew the fat over questions such as is the ended of Adam Bede a copy out? Is it racist to ask someone if she or he considers him or herself a member of a particular group (the key work here is consider). Why will cotton only spin in direction?

    One group with an long and proud tradition of helping others within the group are the Jews, and certainly you’ve heard the old joke (told me me serveral different ways) you ask 2 Jews a question, and you get 3 opinion. Disent isn’t death.

  39. Kiashu says:

    The rebuke, “if you don’t like the book, don’t buy it!” doesn’t work, since in order to find out if you like, you have to buy it and read it. I suppose you could stand there in the store and read it, but that wouldn’t be as much fun as reading in the park, at home on the couch, or whatever.

    When people spend money on a book, and more importantly, spend time reading it, they want it to be good. Many of us have walked out of a cinema or put down a book or away from a bad date saying, “damnit, there’s three hours of my life wasted.”

    Now, our time is generally not as precious as most of us like to make out. Nonetheless, it’s time and effort wasted. Which disappoints us. If someone promises a lot then gives up less, we’re disappointed and angry.

    So here we have a collection of people who are concerned about peak oil, climate change, and all these sorts of issues which they believe will drastically change the world. And these people – us – are looking about desperately for visions of what the world will be like after all these crises come to a head. They can be negative visions, or positive visions – but we like to look at a comprehensive picture of the shape of things to come.

    And all too often it turns out that picture is very much black and white, or is a caricature – it’s a distortion of plausible reality the writer has done to make a point.

    Now, if that point is an interesting one, we don’t mind. But if that point is just, “heheh, cool, when the Collapse comes middle-aged balding white guys like me will get fed and fucked by lots of women!” well we’re a bit disappointed.

    But we can’t know that until we’ve spent fifty bucks and a day or two reading the damn thing. Which is annoying, and which is why I said, thanks, Sharon, for the review. Sharon is an intelligent woman with a good dose of common sense, a down-to-earth feminist. She’s no academic feminist with abstruse theories which mean that no matter what anyone anywhere says they’re going to offend someone, but a real woman working and producing things. So if she says the female characters in this book are boring blanks, then I believe her.

    And then I whack myself on the head because I already knew Kunstler was racist, so that sexism comes along naturally with that, and I should have expected it. Me slow.

  40. Vegan says:

    Kiashu, thank you for articulating so well what many of us feel.

    I’d like to add that as a thinking and spiritual person (female), Kunstler has betrayed the essence of my being and has betrayed the cause (peak oil, etc.). As an “authority” in peak oil, etc., Kunstler has squandered a wonderful opportunity to articulate in friendly and realistic terms to the media and the world (1/2 of which are females) a vision of a post-collapse world.

    Now he has lost credibility among many — females and males. Kunstler really had a moral obligation to get it right.

    If he is indeed a racist, well, there is not much one can expect. Too bad he’s giving a bad name to those of us promoting awareness of peak oil, climate change, economic collapse, resource depletion, etc.


  41. Richard in Albany-> Troy says:

    Long post–I can really get going, sorry. But I really enjoy how this conversation has grown to include race as well as gender. And I yearn to be able to reach across the various chasms that our society manifests from the Caesarian consciousness of “divide and conquer.” It extends to our spirits and our souls, and as I heal my own spirit and soul connections, I become more acutely sensitive to these free-floating feelings and their undue influence on all our affairs.

    For some reason I feel the artificial but rigidly scrutinized racial divisions acutely “for a white fellow.” I’m a caucasian mutt, but in working with ancestral guides, I’ve discovered that all 4 of my great-grandmothers were to some extent working earth magic and were “witchy” if you will. My great-grandfathers certainly weren’t involved in any of that as they were pressed into service to be the breadwinners of their respective families and the pressure kept them from much contact with the land–even in the rolling hills of North Dakota! And I can’t speak about my grandparents’ experiences much either. It’s like I have this indigenous identification with the struggle of native peoples the world over that stirs amidst the DNA and the hemoglobin coursing through my veins, which are those of God Herself.

    I take the Mayan notion “I am another Yourself!” as a de-facto Truth. Why would I want to discriminate against you because you’re a person of color, from a different ethnic background, a different gender and sexual/affectional orientation or depending upon your economic class or education or “sectual preference” (Presbyterian, Reform Jew, Cult of Kali, Pepsi-kid) or inside whatever distinction may be used to separate individuals into “us” and “other ________” based on a toxic diabolism (the linguistic opposite of “symbolism”)?

    I’m usually the one to check “Other ________” on various forms. (In fact my poetry is published in Albany Poets magazine Other: ______!) To look upon you as Other for any uninformed and unreflected notion I might have is to try and kill off myself–not that sometimes “I” don’t need to die every once in awhile. My “Free Will Astrology” for this week (Pisces) said that I should question anything in my life that doesn’t rot. What is rotting in my life right now? Lozzta compost here! Still that is something worked out in partnership with others I trust, and they can run the gamut of all these possibilities. I’m even open to working with Republican white Christian heterosexual males from the upper classes, provided they see the psychopathic offerings of hate bubbling up from within their quarters and pray those energies directly back into the ground where Gaia can transform them into marvelous mana for the trees and the squirrels.

    All this feels so rudimentary to me, but at the same time, some people seem to be in need of the remedial, and it’s not mine to judge.

    And others are “constitutionally incapable of being honest [and loving] with themselves [or others]–they are not at fault, they seem to have been born that way.” (from Chapter 5, “How It Works”, The Big Book of A.A.) I’m intrigued about the mention earlier of David Brin’s Postman book. I’ve ordered it from the library. From what I have read about the psychopathic, it doesn’t just affect our species, btw. The monstrous lion who would try and kill more than his fair share of wildebeest will either be banished or attacked by his/her own pride of lions who have an innate understanding of their role in the circle of life. We live in a Pathocracy right now or what I like to call “the vEmpire”–the empire of vampires. Brin’s and the lions’ way are but one way, but what others exist, I don’t know.

    This is an element in our psyche that has been around for quite a long time. I read Paul Levy’s website (www.awakeninthedream.com) and he talks about the transformation of ourselves and of our images of God and Not-God. He can get quite heady, but I like that he focuses on the fact that all of us are involved in this shamanic transformation going on in and through and on top of and underneath and all around us. Things can change, but they depend on how much we want them to. In all honesty, I don’t know what to do about those who, from a place of contempt prior to investigation that would keep them and others forever militantly ignorant (aka “evil” in Scott Peck’s definition of the term), point their fingers and judge other’s efforts as deficient or threatening or project their own evil onto their worthwhile efforts.

    Anyway, I wanted to add this link from Speaking Truth to Power for this discussion. It seems relevant to the direction this exploration of Kunstler’s book has gone. As someone alluded to earlier, this is going to be hard work. Yet models exist where everyone can have a voice. http://carolynbaker.net/site/content/view/474/

    People might avail themselves of open AA meetings–that’s just a suggestion. As people who have been assigned nationalities, we are all candidates for Al-Anon, if you ask me. Nationalism is as pernicious a disease as sugar addiction or codependence. It might as well be called “Nation-anon.” But whatever, that’s my jaundiced view.

    Looking forward to see if this goes anywhere, though I sense that my post will probably be the cap. (I pray it isn’t so, but it’s up to the Goddess…)

  42. MEA says:

    Try the earlier version of The Postman, IMO it’s much better.

  43. Sharon says:

    This is an entertaining discussion. Personally, since I have most of a Ph.d in English Literature and taught the subject for some years, I think getting excited and even angry (although, honestly, I don’t think there is that much anger) about books and the ideas they contain is completely appropriate – or at least about good books, which this isn’t particularly. Stories matter – to the culture at large, to the society as a whole – the stories we tell ourselves about the future we’re entering will inform us. That we could care about them isn’t a bad sign, it is a good one.


  44. HW says:

    Vegan wrote:

    If he is indeed a racist, well, there is not much one can expect. Too bad he’s giving a bad name to those of us promoting awareness of peak oil, climate change, economic collapse, resource depletion, etc.

    Personally, yes, I do think he’s a racist. I’ve read the last chapter of The Long Emergency-in which he takes black people to task for not assimilating enough (he also uses the oft-heard line “But I have black friends”), uses Samuel Huntington’s ‘work’ to support his idea of Mexico re-invading the US (a perennial favorite of many who dislike Mexicans). Furthermore, as if presenting worries of the black and brown peril wasn’t enough, he also introduced the trans-Pacific yellow peril in terms of the idea of pirates crossing the ocean from Asia to attack the Pacific Northwest.

    I don’t read his blog for the most part. For that matter, I didn’t even buy his book as much as I read it in the bookstore and was glad I didn’t give any money to him-but I do think that his support of Barack Obama excepted, he also tends to use a lot of ‘code words’ for white racism in his work as well-particularly issues like “trouble in the inner cities” or similar phrases (caused by who-he lets most readers fill in the blanks there)?

  45. Hi Sharon,
    I really enjoyed your response to World Made By Hand – which I am trying to read. As Mark Twain said, it’s a book very difficult to pick up once one has put it down. I just don’t find the characters engaging (and there are too many of them) the plot believable or any uplifting thoughts or dialogue. It’s horribly sentimental – Hallmark card as you said. I am sad to say these things, because I like Jim Kunstler (even went up to see him a few years ago) and think he has gifts for essays and nonfiction.

  46. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been rereading Anne Of Green Gables after 30 some years, and I’m totally disappointed. The beloved story from my childhood just does not hold up… There is not a single male character in the story, just a couple silly plot devices! Second rate garbage, if I’ve ever read any.

    As far a Kunstler goes, his vision of the future cannot possible be on the mark. I mean get real, how can he possibly discount bicycles in one measly sentence. What kind of misanthrope would make us live in a future without bikes??

  47. Kris says:

    I thought the book was interesting, in its way, but very, very badly written. It was mostly interesting to me for what it revealed about Kunstler’s fantasies.

    He seems never to have known that women who were part of the westward movement of the 19th century often fulfilled roles other than wife and mother. Take Wyoming, for example, where women participated in politics long before the right to vote was granted nationwide. Yes, women ran boardinghouses and cooked for bachelors, but there were also women who worked for the railroad, were cowgirls, mayors, business owners, etc. They herded cattle, plowed land (ever read My Antonia?), and did whatever needed to be done. When Kunstler imagines some sort of return to essentialist roles for men and women, it tells us much more about his fantasies than it does about what sort of map we might look to.

    Funny that in WMBH there is a female nurse, but not a female doctor or dentist, when so many doctors today are women … Funny that women in WMBH don’t even WANT to be part of running the town and making decisions about the community’s well-being. Nope, women get to run a laundry and have a basket-making business, but that’s it. The big, important decisions will be handled by men, don’t you worry your pretty little head about it. Apparently this is what Kunstler is hoping will happen after the collapse. But if you look at the history of our own nation, you will see that women have participated in many, many occupations, and that especially in a setting where there were few rules, a lot of women opted to behave differently than their assigned roles according to the Kunstlers of the world.

  48. Irony says:

    The irony of my life, is that I found out two days ago that my husband is having an affair and this morning he gives me this book for mother’s day. Yea, happy mother’s day. I don’t know if I should read it, return it or hurl it across the room. Thanks for the review, without it, I would have read the book.

  49. Monika says:

    I enjoyed reading your review of World Made by Hand. I think you hit the nail on the head. Kunstler’s female characters are not fully developed. They function as plot devices. Kunstler does not care about what is going on internally with his female characters. I also think this book is written to reflect the values of a Kunstler. It is his fanatasy of what the world will look like for older men. Young women will want to hook up with them. Women will cook, clean and have sex with them. Hmmm…. It kind of reminds me of the 1950s.

    I would have thought there would have been at least one enclave where women would have banned together to survive. Think convents in the middle ages.

  50. nika says:

    Can I just say that the LAST thing I would want in post-apocalyptic chaos is SEX because the truely very very last thing you, as a woman, are gonna want to be PREGNANT and give birth with a collapsed society.

    Its not just a lack of epidurals, its the high likelihood of losing babies and then having to breastfeed 100% etc etc.

    We modern women are prepared for many things in some ways and VERY soft in other ways. It takes an extended family in the blush of life to carry, give birth to and raise thriving children.

    So, sex would not be on the mind of a rational woman, no matter how feminist or not she may be.

    There are many levels on which Kunstler is not in touch with the possible female realities (and perhaps those we live now).

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