World Made by Hand

Prophesying the coming apocalypse has become something of an American pastime, so excuse me while I endulge in a bit of wild speculation. There is talk, and not just among conspiracy theorists, that peak oil has already been reached. I’m no expert in statistics, so I have to take other people’s word for it. So the big question now is, what happens next? What of our oil-based economy? What of our endless highways and suburban sprawl?

Yesterday, I was walking through Barnes and Noble past the best sellers shelf when I noticed a book with a compelling title: “World Made By Hand.” Written by cultural critic James Howard Kunstler, the novel depicts life in a post-oil American community. I bought it, been reading it non-stop. I’m about halfway through it. The highways are silent, reliable electricity is long gone, and people struggle to live locally again, growing their own food and fashioning by hand any simple “technologies” they may need to help them with the day-to-day (like iron rimmed, wooden-spoked wheels and manually pumped wells). Without TV, internet, or radio, people are unsure what is happening even a town away, much less around the world.

It is a chilling scenario… I hope it is just gloom and doom, but we should at least be aware of the possibility. Reading this book has made me realize that the biggest problem we face in the near future is not religious fundamentalism or even climate change (what with oil soon to run out anyways), but figuring out how to live together in local communities again. I have a feeling that religion (hopefully of a more integrally aware shade) will come to play a bigger role in people’s lives as the myth of progress and technological utopia begins to fade into history. When the earthly situation no longer leaves much room for hope, people look beyond it for solace. How are we going to organize the Jamestowns and Plymouths of America’s energy-scarce future? I hope we haven’t forgotten the self-reliant spirit of our ancestors…

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