Jan 112011

A few of us are excited about planning for a Transition from a cheap energy powered way of life to a more localized and slower existence. Others have an interest or perhaps a curiosity about what the future might bring. Most, however, cannot or won’t contemplate the possibility that life as we have known it will change dramatically over the next one to five to twenty years.

All of us suffer from what James Kunstler calls, “The psychology of previous investment.” That is, we are used to things as they are, have spent heavily in time and money on creating whatever life we have and have no intention of seeing it changed. Kunstler’s thesis goes pretty  much like this, “…as a species we are reluctant  to abandon any path we’ve set down, once we’ve made the commitment to set down the path.” It is the law of inertia. In Mr. Kunstler’s case he was talking about his favorite subject— the horrible (in his opinion) societal investment in suburbia and its unsustainable nature. Suburbia is unsustainable in Kunstler’s view because of the cost of energy to get back and forth from work and services and the lack of infrastructure to support suburban populations if it turns out they are unable to get back and forth.

Oil fuels suburbia and our frenetic lifestyle. We need the oil. Here’s a little Kunstler rant from 2005 to give you a flavor of what I’m trying to get across: “If the American public could stand the truth, we would stop calling it the Iraq War and rename it the War to Save Suburbia. Of all the things that Bush and Cheney have said over the last six years, the one thing the Democratic opposition has not challenged is the statement that “the American way of life is not negotiable.” They’re just as invested in it as everybody else. The Democrats complain about the dark efforts by Bush and Cheney to cook up a rationale for the war. Guess what? The Democrats desperately need something to oppose besides the truth. If they would shut up about WMDs for five minutes and just take a good look around, they’d know exactly why this war started.
     When the American people, Democrat and Republican both, decided to build a drive-in utopia based on incessant easy motoring and massive oil dependency, who lied to them? When tens of millions of Americans bought McHouses thirty-four miles away from their jobs in Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Dallas, who lied to them? When American public officials adopted the madness of single-use zoning and turned the terrain of this land into a tragic crapscape of strip malls on six-lane highways, who lied to them?  When American school officials decided to consolidate all the kids in gigantic centralized facilities serviced by fleets of yellow buses that ran an average of 150,000 miles per year per school, who lied to them? When Americans trashed their public transit and railroad system, who lied to them? When Americans let Wal-Mart gut Main Street, who lied to them? When Bill and Hillary Clinton bought a suburban villa in farthest reaches of northern Westchester County, New York, who lied to them?”

The psychology of previous investment says that “The American way of life is not negotiable.” On Lummi Island we can see the ferry issue as the epitome of what Kunstler is talking about.

A couple of generations ago the island had an economy with farming and fishing and had self-sufficiency several degrees above what we find today. The same demographics that affected small communities across the county impacted the island as people moved to big cities and as businesses centralized, merged, acquired and tried to super-size themselves one way or another. Lummi Island evolved from a focused community into a suburb with a large population of part-timers who are naturally not as invested, except as their real estate is affected, in the island.

Lummi Island was able (is able) to work as a suburb of Bellingham because of cheap and readily available oil and, in our special case, first class ferry service. As long as this continues there won’t be too many people who get excited about an uncertain future. Trying to maintain a job or some kind of income will be priority number one. For the more affluent, more of the same will suffice, thank you very much.

So, while a few of us get excited about the idea of Transitioning to slower, more local future, don’t be too surprised or disappointed if our group remains fairly small. It’s the psychology of previous investment at work.

That said I feel compelled to create a family refuge for a worst case scenario and to encourage other like-minded people to work as a community, ready to assist each other and the greater population if necessity requires.


  5 Responses to “The Psychology of Previous Investment”

  1. Yes. It is exciting to watch it all unfold, and see Lummi Island return to where it once belonged.

  2. In the meantime OUCH! Or as Dr Suess would say, “Don’t cry that it has ended. Smile that it happened.”

  3. We do evolve. Usually it’s economics which make that happen. There have been many advances in alternative energy. Germany is powering cargo ships with kites and designing modern zeppelins. Even Bush of all people installed regulations for offshore wind power.

    Unfortunately most people don’t change unless they have to. It was clear in the early 70’s what new infrastructure needed to be created, for instance electric freeway lanes (to utilize wind/solar without toxic battery production), but nothing was done back when the resources for such change were more readily at hand.

    Every aspect of American life might run on big oil now, but plastics are now being from plants. With some forethought though, life could transition more smoothly. Gone are the FDR era institutions which could build hydroelectric dams. Metropolitan areas will have to triple their interstate power lines, and I’m not sure who will foot that investment.

    However, when R&D/production investments are small, and there is at least an independent consumer market, new technology like LED lighting and 12v-120v power inverters which synch to back-feed into the grid get produced for cheap. Same old capitalist culture, new environmental demands.

    Aside from not living next to natural disastor threats, I’m not sure there is evidence that we really do have to think generations ahead. We may find out the hard way though, depending on how this global warming thing turns out. Bumblebee and blue butterfly extinctions sure concern me.

    In theory our planet could actually support a population a million times greater, into perpetuity, by surrounding ourselves with a 1200 floor insulated shell, and recycling every subatomic particle which isn’t lost to magnetic radiation. Conversely we could fall into another dark ages, unable to secure our future.

    The problem with securing our future now, as I see it, is that we have lost democratic control of all things which most affect our lives. Jefferson warned against the rise of corporate power, and if his sort were around today, every boardroom today would be part of a fourth house of governmental checks and balance, by the people, for the people.

    ‘Community’ is the keyword. Part of our reliance on depleting resources is caused by every home on the street owning it’s own lawnmower, sewing machine, and router. Even those concerned with self-sufficiency don’t see the big picture, that individual self-sufficiency never was, and never will be possible. Everyone requires clean access to the river, not just the guy at the top. ‘Community’ is what we need to rethink. It’s absence has been relatively short anyhow, a few decades over billions of years, and it is apparent that it’s absence has taken it’s psychic toll on society. Some meaning of life is hard to find living alone in a video game.

    The way to help the greater population now is to become an example of how much better it could be with better sharing of social and physical resources. “Fruit trees in unfenced yards” has been a slogan of mine for many years now.


    Geisel (Seuss) was awesome. He’s my favorite ‘Metaphysical School’ artist influence. The lessons of his Sneeches, the Lorax, and such were indispensable.

  4. Kristal Rose . . . ? The phrasing, style and content are very familiar . . .

  5. I use the same name on other forums, i.e. Survey Central. Kristal Rose Phoenix McKinstry.

    I’m a big fan of educational debating. I have to restrain myself here from plunging into a dozen methods of water desalination techniques, without knowing for certain if I can get a place there. I just discovered the possibility when searching for homes in town, and it seems like the answer to all my orchard, goat, bee, windmill, eagles perch view, active artist community, sort of concerns that places like Sudden Valley seem to entirely discourage.

    I’ve wanted to launch a campus facilites style commune corporation, where everyone acts like an independent contractor to provide each other services, but only the community corporations exports get taxed, and that’s after deductions for all the metal shops, stained-glass foundries, kilns, trampolines, swimming pools, and other equipment the corporation needs to invest in for it’s ’employees’. Any geographic group with an inkling of interest in communal self-sufficiency is a lot closer to that dream than what I’m doing now.

    I imagine other lateral deep thinkers (Rennaissance types) have similar style and eventually cover the same turf, though perhaps not from an engineering perspective, when they’ve returned from the astral plane. I can’t say I’ve quite met one yet though.

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