The Landscape Of Despair: How Our Cities And Towns Are Killing Us

The Landscape Of Despair: How Our Cities And Towns Are Killing Us by James Howard Kunstler for Daily Caller

The incoherence of the debate in the public arena becomes especially stark whenever a mass murder ignites the news wires — which is dismayingly often these days. But the understandable wish to make sense of these horrifying acts, and how our society seems to provoke them, leads to walls of mystification, psychobabble, and the dogmas du jour of the activist class. Some maniac guns down twenty people in a shopping mall, the news media lights up for a week of inconclusive hand-wringing, and then the discussion subsides back into uncomfortable, confounded silence, until the next maniac comes onstage to gun down as many total strangers as possible in his desperate bid for catharsis, and we go through the motions again, along with the pitiful ceremony of setting up the candles and teddy-bears at the crime scene.

By the way, I say “his” because overwhelmingly these spectacle shooters are men, often but not always young men under twenty-five (one recent exception being Tashfeen Malik  who, with her husband Rizwan Farook, shot up a San Bernardino, CA, social services agency in 2015). Something is going desperately wrong with the development of young men in this land. Many of the forces at work are pretty obvious. But what is uniformly overlooked about the current scene is the physical arrangement of daily life on the American landscape, how it affects us in unreckoned ways, and what a tragic fiasco it has become.

I refer to the everyday human habitat known as suburbia, the matrix of single-family home subdivisions, arterial highways and freeways, chain stores, junk food dispensaries, and the ubiquitous wilderness of free parking — the last of these implying just one insidious side-effect of this template for living: mandatory motoring. Though a variety of economic interests were served richly by the colossal project of building suburbia, and took full advantage of its perversities, no claque of evil geniuses cooked up the idea in a lab. It was an emergent phenomenon, the coming together of many historical forces, innovations, and opportunities. The emergence of suburbia comports with my New Theory of History, which states that things happen because they seem like a good idea at the time. The trouble is, circumstances change and what at one time seemed like a good idea turns into a debacle of unintended consequences in another time — which is where we are now.

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