What Now?

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What Now? by James Howard Kunstler

It must be exciting to wake up on a gilded bed somewhere in Riyadh and realize that you are Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, mover and shaker of Middle East order. Actually, exciting just to have woken up at all. Perhaps Prince MBS checks to make sure that there aren’t seventy-two virgins in the room before he rises to prayers, state business, and the prospect of World War Three.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has been a giant gasoline bomb waiting to explode for decades. It occupies one of the geographically least hospitable corners of the earth. Its existence as a modern (cough cough) state relies strictly on the reserves of oil discovered as recently as the late 1930s, that is, within the lifetime of people still reading this blog. The oil supply is in steep decline, and so, of course, is the stability of the kingdom.

Politically, it’s a super-medieval operation, an absolute monarchy tied to a severe religious order with the law floating precariously between the two, and old-fashioned customs such as the public beheading of criminals (for misdeeds such as “adultery,” “atheism,” and “sorcery”). The Saud clan has controlled the throne all these years, and its grip on power is slipping as the country itself slips into the prospective next era of its history, minus the endless gusher of oil that has made its existence possible — hence, a true existential crisis without the usual pseudo-intellectual bullshit.

How are they going to support the thirty or forty million people who will still be there when the oil exports dribble down? Most of the work done in the country is performed by foreign “guests.” The indigenous folk don’t even remember how to milk a camel, let alone run routine maintenance on a desalinization plant. (And what are you going to run the de-sal plant on when the oil runs down?) These are questions that must drive thoughtful Saudi royalty mad.

Hence, the Kingdom is going mad. The current king, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is the latest in a line of geriatric monarchs. His brother and predecessor, Abdullah, spent his last years in a limbo of medical life-support (virgins standing by), and Salman is reputed to be dotty. Crown Prince MBS has assumed more of the king’s duties by necessity, but the land is filled with thousands of other princes, many of them frustrated, angry, and jealous of the Crown Prince’s prerogatives.

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James Howard Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler says he wrote The Geography of Nowhere, “Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.” Home From Nowhere was a continuation of that discussion with an emphasis on the remedies. A portion of it appeared as the cover story in the September 1996 Atlantic Monthly. His next book in the series, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, published by Simon & Schuster / Free Press, is a look a wide-ranging look at cities here and abroad, an inquiry into what makes them great (or miserable), and in particular what America is going to do with it’s mutilated cities.