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Economic Growth the Gilmore Way!
John Robb’s The American Way

Grant Wood, Spring in Town, 1942 [1]

Grant Wood, Spring in Town, 1942

4,585 words

John Robb
The American Way: The Lost Secret to American Prosperity and How to Get it Back [2]
HomeFree America, 2014

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work, or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth. Banks are going bust. . . . We sit in the house, and the world we live in gets smaller. All we say is . . . “Let me have my toaster and my TV and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.”

Well, I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest or riot. I don’t want you to write to your congressman. I don’t know what to do about the depression, the inflation and the crime. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad! You’ve gotta say “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!”

— Network (1976; written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet)

John Robb [3]

John Robb

Most of us probably know John Robb as the theorist of 4th generation warfare, the so-called “Global Guerillas” using open-source warfare in asymmetrical combat.[1] Apart from making sense of the post-911 world, it seemed to be a kind of weaponized, G. Gordon Liddy version of all that “temporary autonomous zones” and “global drift” stuff Hakim Bey and Erik Davis were promoting,[2] which made it even more interesting. I used to visit his site [4] a lot,[3] but got sidetracked a while ago (as so often happens with the internets) and I find he’s into something new [5]:

As a bit of background, I started Resilient Communities as a way to explore some ideas developed [6] on Global Guerrillas back in ’06/’07. Specifically, the idea that the best response to a global disruption (terrorism to pandemic to natural disaster) was to build resilient communities.

Since then, the idea of “community resilience” has gone mainstream and it’s finally getting much of the attention it deserves. Fortunately, I’ve found a new focus for my attention. Something much bigger than resilience. An idea that I could only explore in a new venue.

Thus, this book, The American Way. Robb, like many on the internets,[4] seems to have noticed that we haven’t recovered from the last economic crash; in fact, we’re worse off than ever in the postwar period: “Americans make less income and have less wealth saved today than we did forty years ago.”

There are as many diagnoses; it seems, as internet pundits. Robb is one that looks to the big picture, and he locates the problem in a multi-genrational shift: away from the American Vision, which is composed of

The value of economic independence, the moral basic of trust, and pragmatic optimism in the face of adversity.

These values — economic independence, trust, and optimism — made America’s unprecedented growth possible, by “orientating” our economic decisions. By orientation he means, I think, what Spengler called “physiognomic tact.”[5] This become clearer when he outlines what has disastrously replaced orientation by these values: a reliance on

Credentials, contracts, balance sheets, market dynamics, risk, interest rates, rates of return, job descriptions, bonuses, job titles, and regulation, and other measures [which are supposed to allow] us to make better economic decisions than messy cultural factors.

“Of course,” he goes on to point out, “in the real world these quantifiable ‘scientific’ methods don’t work that well.” As a result, we keep making bad decisions, over and over, and don’t seem to have any idea of why nothing works, and what to do about it.

The central symbol, and mechanism, of all this, is the American Home.

Prior to WW2, the American Dream was one of economic independence. That’s it. A simple goal. . . . Traditional economic independence was achieved by building home that paid for itself.

Such homes were

1. Debt free.

2. Able to produce food, energy and other items on the property to reduce costs.

3. Supportive of business ventures that earned extra income.

After WW2, the goal of the dream became ownership of a home in the suburbs and a corporate pension.

As a result, the self-supporting home that promoted independence was replaced by:

1. Expensive non-productive homes that provide a continuous drain of mortgage debt, high taxes, expensive utilities, and maintenance.

2. A job outside the home that is need to pay for the home

3. Speculative investments in stocks and bonds that we know nothing about. Gambles that are as likely to go down as up.

In short,

We have converted what was once an American economic virtue into an economic vice by removing the influence of our culture on our economic decisions.

The solution, of course, is simply to reverse course: “To return to success, we need to find a way to return to our American roots.”

For such a small book (really, a magazine article) it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Not a historian myself, I’m sure real historians would be able to question and pick apart everything here, but such a small compass is not the place for marshaling reams of evidence, and Robb is relying on his readers finding his brief to be intuitively sound, and based on their own experience.

One might say, positively, that he is relying on his readers possessing that “orientation” — Spengler’s tact — which he otherwise thinks we’ve lost; critics might say he’s relying on pre-Frankfurt School types of triumphalist history, or even cultural brainwashing along the lines of “American Exceptionalism.”[6]

That said, it does resonate quite a bit with my own memories of childhood, which, though taking place in the Mad Man era that was already heavily “corrupted” by Robb’s standards, was a bit anachronistic, given that my father was old enough to be, arguably, of an entirely earlier generation.[7]

As a union man (though ironically, for a Detroiter, not the UAW but the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen for the New York Central),[8] my family undoubtedly received many benefits of unionization that people extolling “the old virtues” tend to deplore, yet Robb’s story doesn’t seem to be one of Randian “rugged individualism,” since he specifically cites the kind of communities that would come together to, say, raise a barn, sacrificing some part of their own time and labor for what was seen to be a benefit to all.

Moreover, my father was no featherbedder.[9] Not only did he work extra shifts, up to 12 hours every damn day, we also invested in a small apartment building, and even rented out the upper storey of our house. As I was reading Robb, I realized that I had been brought up in exactly the kind of house-as-business he’s promoting.

Moreover, like the self-reliant yeoman of Robb’s America, my father belonged to the last generation that expected men, especially husbands, to be able to actually do things; and not just repairs, but full-scale projects: if shelves were needed, you didn’t go to IKEA, you bought lumber and made them.[10]

As a happy result, when the time came to flee Detroit, my father was not only able to buy a new house and a new car, but paid for both . . . with cash. Robb would have been so pleased![11]

So, I can testify by my own experience that yeomen like this did roam the Earth in those days. Can they live again?

As we’ll soon see, many think we may have no choice anyway; the continuing crisis of the real economy — the Greater Depression — as opposed to the rose-colored glasses, “green shoots” and pink unicorns of Obama’s Potemkin recovery, will force a return to self-reliance.

One might question specific examples, such as Henry Ford and his “wild wheel.”[12] Has the automobile been a net positive for society? Did it afford the rural yeomanry freedom to travel (and plough, don’t forget the tractors) and give citified folks to chance to get back to their roots, or did it speed up the urbanization and atomization of the folk?[13] Did not Ford himself come to question it, opening Greenfield Village to memorialize the small town life he had himself destroyed?[14]

Indeed, why not question the value of economic “growth” altogether? Actually, the people who do question, or reject it outright, like Charles Hugh Smith[15] or Michael Snyder[16] or the folks at The Automatic Earth[17] (to say nothing of cranky old Jim Kunstler, the stern gatekeeper who loathes cities and technology but makes sure none of those “fat NASCAR morons” ever get any ideas about settin’ things aright[18]), who daily present the same dour evidence and are more than likely to be entirely sympathetic to Robb’s diagnosis; here’s Jim, just today (he says the same things every week anyway):

Get this: nothing is more hazardous than undermining people’s trust in their money.

“Trust,” see, just like Robb; but Jim goes further:

All of this financial perfidy conceals the basic fact that the human race has reached the limits of techno-industrialism. There are too many people and not enough basic resources to grow more of them — oil, fishes, soil, ores, fertilizers — and there is no steady-state “solution” to keep that economy going. In other words, it must either grow or contract, and it can’t really grow anymore (despite the exertions of government statisticians), so the authorities are trying to provide a monetary illusion of growth, when instead we’re in contraction.

Jim would be happy to point out that however valuable the old American virtues were, and will be again, what really explains the unprecedented American expansion is: cheap fossil fuel. Take that out of the equation and what now?

Yes, contraction. The way out is to get with the program, shed the dead-weight and go where reality wants to take you. In the USA that means do everything possible to quit supporting giant failing systems — Big Box shopping, mass motoring, [Ford!] GMO agribiz, TBTF banks — and get behind local Main Street integrated economies, walkable towns, regular railroads, smaller and more numerous farms, local medical clinic health care, artistry in public works, and community caretaking of the unfit. All this surely implies a reduced role for the national government, and maybe the states, too. [No more regulations!] You could call it a lower standard of living, or just a different way to live.’ [19]

They seem to get to the same place;[20] why does Robb want to insist that the “different way of living” will by golly produce a higher standard of living once more? One wonders why Robb wants to preach to the growthers, who seem to be the patrons of most of the economic slight-of-hand in the first place. Perhaps “building bridges” to the “Austrians” and Randians, who never saw a forest that couldn’t be improved by a good bulldozing?[21]

Perhaps, being an American, he’s just an optimist, which is why he thinks we can storm the wheelhouse and re-orient the ship of state. There are, however, some problems with that.[22]

First, the big picture. We are, of course, in the Kali Yuga. Robb, of course, doesn’t deal in such metaphysical notions. In fact, his American Optimism is founded on the rejection of such “determinism,” as he would call it, if it came up at all. Discussing this “relentless optimism” he states, accurately, that

We believe that the future can be much better than today, and it’s within our capacity to make it better.

But the loss of the American Way is, ultimately, explicable as the relentless downturn of the cosmic cycle; this is what brings about the loss of “orientation” (“tact”) and the rise of symbols, formulas, and other abstractions. The Reign of Quantity requires the rise of what he calls “these quantifiable ‘scientific’ methods.”[23] And no amount of gung-ho American stick-to-itiveness is going to change that.

I’ve called the rise of first, mathematical economics in the academy, and then the replacement of a productive economy itself, as Robb describes, with what others call “financialization,” as being a “Talmudic” or even “Qabbalistic” economy, along the lines of a general rise of Judaic influence.[24]

Another aspect of that influence — unmentioned by Robb — is mass immigration, which is likely the biggest factor in the loss of trust:

Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam let slip this secret in a five-year study, concluding that rather than “enrich” us, ethnic diversity harms civic life. In the presence of diversity, “we hunker down. . . . We act like turtles. The effect of diversity is worse than had been imagined. And it’s not just that we don’t trust people who are not like us. In diverse communities, we don’t trust people who do look like us.” The least trusting place on Earth may well be the most multicultural: Los Angeles, California, Putnam found.[25]

But as Evola points out, contrary to the “conspiracy theorists,” the Judaic is not the cause but the symptom; cyclical conditions determine his rise to power, which affects everyone. And by the same token, we won’t be able to “take it back,” either; there’s no one to take it back from, and we can’t stop it.[26]

This is why “doomers” have been perversely disappointed for so long; they expect a system so obviously rigged and rotten to the core to be headed for a crash any day now; yet there are no riots in the streets, and the market keeps levitating. “What can’t go on, won’t” they scream; forgetting the equally true, “It can go on, until it doesn’t.”[27]

And at the same time, focusing now on the little picture, that very optimism keeps the other guys, the suckers, coming back to the game, no matter how many times the con is exposed. “This time it’s different!”[28]

But as Guénon notes, the process is not one-dimensional; there are, or can be, local counter-cyclical tendencies, which delay the inevitable, and can help preserve elements of Tradition to be passed on to the start of the next cycle.

We can, in short, “ride the tiger.” I think we can recuperate Robb’s American Optimism in just such a disillusioned, post-nihilist fashion.[29]

Here, Robb can serve perhaps to inspire individual efforts — I mean, local efforts, as most will involve some kind of barn-raising consciousness.[30] Ironically, New York City[31] has shown some leadership here. One example of how Robb’s self-funding housing has been replaced by mortgage-driven employment outside the home, also involving his plague of red tape, has been the plethora of regulations, at the state, city, and even neighborhood level, restricting the activities allowed in private dwellings.[32] New York City has recently relaxed regulations on home brewing and beekeeping, and both are flourishing.[33]

Other efforts are perhaps not so inspiring, and certainly don’t fit Robb’s model of economically rewarded moral behavior:

There are tens of thousands of homeowners who have missed more than five years of mortgage payments, many of them clustered in states like Florida, New Jersey, and New York, where lenders must get judges to sign off on foreclosures.

However, in a growing number of foreclosure cases filed when home prices collapsed during the financial crisis, lenders may never be able to seize the homes because the state statutes of limitations have been exceeded, according to interviews with housing lawyers and a review of state and federal court decisions.[34]

So, live rent-free for at least 5 years, and therefore get a free home. Sweet! See, sometimes the “legal quirks” can help the little guy. As commenters noted:

As long as you can just hold out long enough, all deadbeats will come out on top in new ‘Murka.

When the game is rigged, there’s no such thing as a deadbeat.

Still, there’s plenty of evidence that Americans can still respond to Robb’s American Way. Thinking along these lines, I began (as I perhaps too often do) to consider The Gilmore Girls.[35]

Now basically, I’ve always thought of the series (which I’ve called “a seven year long version of The Magnificent Ambersons)[36] as an instructively unselfconscious portrait of Boomer hypocrisy and self-entitlement, with a hefty dose TV-land anti-WASPianism.

Through Robb’s lens, however, I can see that many elements actually express a kind of curdled version of the American Way.

The pilot of Gilmore Girls sets up the premise of the show and a number of its recurrent themes as we learn that Lorelai became pregnant with Rory at age sixteen, but chose not to marry Rory’s father, Christopher Hayden. Instead, she leaves her disappointed parents in Hartford, Connecticut for Stars Hollow. Later episodes reveal that Lorelai and infant Rory were taken in by Mia, owner of the Independence Inn, where Lorelai eventually progressed from maid to executive manager. In the pilot, Rory, who is about to turn sixteen, has been accepted to Chilton Preparatory School in order to pursue her dream of studying at Harvard University. Lorelai finds herself unable to afford Chilton’s tuition. Desperation and determination leads Lorelai to her parents where she strikes a bargain. Her parents provided her with a loan to cover the tuition in exchange for an agreement that every Friday night she and Rory will join Emily and Richard for dinner at the senior Gilmores’. The interaction with Lorelai and her parents foreshadows many conflicts within the series.[37]

So let’s take up those three themes. Lorelei drops out of high school (rejecting Robb’s credentialed society) and takes up residence at a bed and breakfast — actually, the garden shed attached thereto. This is a version of Robb’s self-supporting home, and Lorelei, starting off as a maid, eventually becomes the owner of . . . The Independence Inn.

Ironically/hypocritically, Lorelei has been obsessed with getting her daughter into Harvard (largely to spite her Yalie parents), but Rory’s decision to junk journalism school to cover the Obama campaign for an online startup, which I considered nauseatingly NPRish at the time, can be re-visioned as another example of the rejection of credentials and secure corporate jobs in favor entrepreneurial optimism.

In the pilot we already see how debt leaves us at the mercy of others. But eventually, even her father, Richard (living WASP archetype Edward Herrmann) eventually tires of his corner office, quits, and starts his own boutique insurance firm (although eventually his old company buys him out).

Yes, if despite all the goodthinking PC intentions of the writers, three generations of Gilmores can still dredge up these themes, there’s hope for us all.[38]

This little booklet is supposed to be only a start, but I can’t find any subsequent installments. There’s an accompanying website, HomeFree America (http://www.homefreeamerica.us/ [7]); according to Robb [5],

It’s dedicated to a revival of the American Dream (it’s the dream that caught the imagination of the world). It’s still an early effort (early alpha, so the construction tape is still up and sawdust coats the floor), but it’s making progress. So, if you have been reading me for years, I think you will like this new site and what is going on there. If you are interested, join the discussion on HomeFree America [7]. I’m posting there almost every day. It’s a big challenge and I’d appreciate the help.

However, it doesn’t appear to have been updated since last October, so I’m not sure of the current status of the project, but what’s up there is worth checking out.

The optimist in me says he’s still around, working away behind the scenes. Perhaps bee-keeping is keeping him busy.

Notes

[1] Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization (Wiley, 2007).

[2] See my review of Davis’ Nomad Codes, “Ever Sacred, Ever Vexed: Getting Down with the Lord of the Codes”, here [8].

[3] “Global Guerrillas: Networked tribes, system disruption and the emerging bazaar of violence. A blog about the future of conflict.”

[4] We’ll look at some pundits later. This meme is not found in the legacy media or government, where people like Jim Cramer and Barack Obama seem to take victory laps every week or so, making George W.’s “Mission Accomplished” seem modest.

[5] See my discussion of ‘tact’ in “The Lesson of the Monster; or, The Great, Good Thing on the Doorstep” here [9] and reprinted in The Eldritch Evola … & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014). Spengler also found “modern” economics to be as corrupt as Robb does, and for the same reasons, precisely due to its substitution of formulas for tact: “For it had its start among modern Englishmen, with all their self-confidence and lack of psychological tact. It became their only ‘philosophy’; it corresponded to their sense of mercantile competition, success, and personal gain. With this purely English interpretation of economic affairs they have infected the minds of the Continent since the eighteenth century.” See “Prussianism and Socialism,” section 16, here [10].

[6] “They call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” — George Carlin.

[7] I’m the same age as Don Draper’s son, but my father would have been Bert Cooper (if my karma were better and he hadn’t had that accidental orchiectomy). For more background, if wanted, see Greg Johnson’s “Interview with James J. O’Meara,” here [11] and reprinted in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012).

[8] Behold, the “Ruins of Michigan Central Station,” here [12].

[9] “Featherbedding [13] is the practice of hiring more workers than are needed to perform a given job, or to adopt work procedures which appear pointless, complex and time-consuming merely to employ additional workers.[1] [14] The term ‘make-work [15]’ is sometimes used as a synonym for featherbedding.”

[10] Viewing the 1950s educational short, “Why Study Industrial Arts [16],” the MST3k boomers are flummoxed by the whole notion of boys learning how to make and fix things, attributing it to “Because you’re bad at math?” Real men, of course, shuffle digits all day and other important things.

[11] On the other hand, those not so provident were able to escape thanks to the loose lending and ruinous mortgages that Robb deplores, although by today’s PC standards, lending was “too strict” due to, of course, ray-zism.

[12] Garet Garrett, The Wild Wheel [17] (1952).

[13] Today’s brats, grown up on cheap, practically free air travel, must be reminded that “vacations” originally meant driving back to the farm to have the kids spend a summer of healthy farm livin’ (see the short “Uncle Jim’s Dairy Farm”) but then mutated into cross-country family treks, the comedic horror of which memorialized in films from The Big Big Trailer to National Lampoon’s Vacation. In between, the auto made possible such anti-social activity as Jack and Neal’s cross-country jags, and Marian’s absconding with the bank deposit before stopping off at the Bates Motel.

[14] See “Exploring the Origins of Greenfield Village,” here [18].

[15] Of Two Minds blog (http://charleshughsmith.blogspot.com [19]).

[16] His The Economic Collapse blog (http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/ [20]) provides an almost daily supply of lists, such as “10 Charts Which Show We Are Much Worse Off Than Just Before The Last Economic Crisis” or “7 Signs That A Stock Market Peak Is Happening Right Now,” or “10 Charts Which Show We Are Much Worse Off Than Just Before The Last Economic Crisis,” etc.

[17] Nicely summarized here: “The World According to The Automatic Earth – A 2013 Primer Guide [21].”

[18] I was recently banned from his site for suggesting that the curve of the American decline Jim obsessively traces is correlated with the rise of the influence of his own tribe.

[19] “The Way Out,” here [22].

[20] Otherwise known as Willoughby. The Twilight Zone episode “Next Stop Willoughby [23]” is the locus classicus of what I’ve called “liberal psychogeography,” the atavistic urge to return to small town cleansed of those annoying rednecks and hicks (see “The Gilmore Girls Occupy Wall St.”) and a clear influence on Mad Men.

[21] Here’s their version of the American Way: “America! A land where a man can live as he pleases, for what he pleases, fenced off from his neighbor, closed within his abode, not giving a damn about anyone. All you who hear me, all of you have gained in your lives either directly or indirectly from this great nation, all of you should take five minutes and give silent thanks before the fattest, greasiest hamburger sandwich you can find!” — Jef Costello, “Heidegger in New York,” here.

[22] As Constant Readers know, I oppose the circle (“To return to success, we need to find a way to return to our American roots”) and look to the spiral (“Ride the tiger”). As Kunstler says, “It’s not what most people think: a return to some hypothetical ‘normality,’ with the ghost of Ronnie Reagan beaming down like a sun-god under his lopsided pompadour, and all the happy self-driving GM cars toodling back and forth from WalMart-to-home loaded to the scuppers with new electric pop-tart warmers and 3-D underwear printers. (Or drone deliveries of same from Amazon.com.)”

[23] Part of the “solidification” of the world; related to this is the “fossil fuel bonanza” Kunstler references, the increasingly sinister (fracking, for example) methods of mining and other literally infernal activities.

[24] A frequent topic on the Occidental Observer site; see, almost at random, Edmund Connelly’s “The Wolf of Wall St.: The Book” here [24]. Robb would no doubt recoil from such suggestions, but he ingenuously describes his American Optimists as, inter alia, striving to become “better Christians.” How ray-cist!

[25] “Freedom of Association and the Right of Exclusion: The Rights Before All Others, Part 1” by Christopher Donovan, January 2, 2014, here [25].

[26] As I once said, Evola and Lovecraft agree: the worst thing possible has already happened. See the title essay of The Eldritch Evola … & Others.

[27] “”But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” Mark 13:32. But see “5 Charts Which Show That the Next Economic Crash Is Dead Ahead” by Michael Snyder, on March 30th, 2015, here [26].

[28] “Despite surging gas prices, terrible economic data, and dismal weather, March consumer confidence explodes higher.” — “Consumer Confidence Surges Higher As ‘Hope’ Trumps Reality,” here [27].

[29] See, of course, Evola’s Ride the Tiger (Inner Traditions, 2004). Robb mentions, as examples of Optimism, the American passion for “self-improvement,” and I have suggested at various times that the “healthy” (William James) movements of New Thought and Mind Cure (most recently, Oprah’s “Secret”) can be re-visioned as our home-grown Hermeticism, native Neoplatonism, and two-fisted Traditionalism.

[30] Even Galt had his Gulch.

[31] Cue the salsa commercial: “New York City!”

[32] Or even outside: in many developments, it is illegal to hang laundry outside: all must buy dryers!

[33] Here we see how the hipsters, so loathed by “conservatives,” may show the way. See my review of Rachel Haywire’s The New Reaction here, as well as my remarks on Portlandia in The Homo and the Negro.

[34] “Foreclosure to Home Free, as 5-Year Clock Expires” by Michael Corkery; New York Times, March 29, 2015, here [28].

[35] For background and my previous mediations on the Gilmore clan, see “From Groundhog Day to The Gilmore Girls,” here [29]; “The Gilmore Girls Occupy Wall St.” here [30] and reprinted in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012); and “The WinkleTwins Win One! Owen Wister’s Philosophy 4: A Story of Harvard University,” here [31] and reprinted in The Eldritch Evola.

[36] Most recently, here [32]:” Breaking Badge: Touch of Evil through the Lens of Breaking Bad.”

[37] Wikipedia, here [33].

[38] Yes it can be done! If you’d like to try, consider living life the Gilmore way [34] “. . . my humble quest to read all the books Rory Gilmore read and watch all the movies the Gilmore Girls ever watched. Or simply put, to become a true Gilmore.”