Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Spoils

We're Americans. We came, we conquered, we pushed into the endless West by the sweat of our brow and the fire of our rifles, and even though we ran out of endlessness long ago, we still believe we can bootstrap ourselves into our own individual clean water and roads and schools and self-defense, all 320 million of us. 'S long as we don't get sick or nothin'. No socialism for us!

But oh, capitalism. Why do we love it so, and so uncritically? It's the engine of prosperity, that's the dogma--the idea that the means of production are in private hands, that profit accrues to the victors, that everyone comes out better, that we go on growing forever and together. If only there were any evidence that it's true, and not that a whole lot of people are doing the work and a tiny fraction is accumulating the profits, and that it's not possible to grow forever! Something doesn't add up.

Used to be people did for themselves and traded for what they could, and mostly people were on the same level. Maybe not for the last few hundred years, but for a million more before that. And they managed to thrive. What's happening, now that having far more than one needs has been elevated to a virtue?

Ask my friend Julie. Julie Zickefoose is a naturalist, exquisitely educated in the splendor of this, our first and last planet. She is observant enough to behold the whole fabric, to know what will come undone when the threads are pulled. She knows what sustains us. But she has to pay for that intimacy. Because, more than those of us who allow advertising to instruct us what we should crave, she experiences every day the thumping joy of natural abundance, our true wealth. And with it, the freight of sorrow that comes with knowing what we've lost, and have yet to lose.

She's counting her losses now. She's got eighty natural Ohio acres she calls a "sanctuary," because it's the losses all around it that define it. And just down the road, she is watching a wooded wonder come crashing down, tree by tree, and she knows every creature that depends on it, bird to bat to bobcat. She'll be the one who remembers where the newt pond used to be. She is watching a tapestry being degraded to burlap. Because someone was willing to part with it for a dab of cash to put an oil well in there. Soon the birdsong will be crushed under a constant roar, and a flaming stack will steal the dark from the night.

She and many of her neighbors have not signed away their mineral rights, but a patchwork of natural poverty is blooming all around her, scored by a drumbeat of machinery. When the patches overwhelm the original fabric, the threads can't hold it together.

Lord pity the people who have the misfortune of living on top of something like the Marcellus Shale. When coal is to be mined, or copper, or diamonds, or shale oil, everything that stands between capitalism's victors and their money is called "overburden." That would include your forests, your carbon sinks, your newt ponds, your topsoil, your water, your last planet's own means of production. And all of us: we're overburden too. Coal miners are nothing if not expendable, but so is everyone else who counts on the genius of the living world to sustain us, even if we don't know it. We are to be tossed aside as the money is siphoned to the top and we will be left with less than we started with. Much less.



It's not a coincidence that extraction piracy is so often inflicted on indigenous peoples. In some parts of the world, they are sitting on the last unmolested acres, so they must be subdued. In America, the First Nations were allotted the unloved bits, the pieces with no obvious value to the conquerers, and now that it turns out there's black gold in them there barren hills, why, it's time for them to knuckle under again. In North Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux are holding their ground against the capitalists. The oil comes from elsewhere, but the pipeline is to be routed in a way that threatens their sacred sites and their water. Life, in other words. Lest these concerns seem quaint and primitive, know this: the pipeline route has already been changed to accommodate the needs of the good white people of Bismarck.

Only a false economy considers the profit of a few to be a fair swap for a devastated, discarded landscape and a ruined atmosphere. The balance sheets are off. The costs have been hidden.

The Standing Rock Sioux understand what is sacred on this last planet, and they're standing against its destruction. Who will stand with them?

40 comments:

  1. Oh Murr, my heart is breaking and I am so full of rage---and I need your permission to share this post with my friends and family that are racists and ignorant beyond bearing.

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  2. Murr, I come here on occasion to read what is being said among the smug about the hicks...
    something the smug may want to consider...
    http://www.vox.com/2016/4/21/11451378/smug-american-liberalism

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    1. Thanks Brig. It's a great article and I agree with most of it. I thinkI'm at a loss why this particular blog post led you to link to it, although I've had my smug moments. (They are occasioned by genuine anguish.) I think social media have lubricated the machine of mutual mockery. I will not back down from my observation (not made in this post, but stay tuned next Wednesday!) that a considerable portion of our population is being fed actual lies as a steady diet. I generally do not engage with these people because there seems to be no way of bridging differences when we are not operating from the same base of facts. Kind of miss good ol' Huntley and Brinkley...

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    2. I wonder if all the facts have been considered in your post, just a thought, a little due diligence is needed on my part. And I should have posted by first comment on another part of the blog, mia culpa.

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    3. I am always willing to reconsider positions, given new information.

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    4. Yeah, we lib'ruls have gone from sarcastic to snarky to smug, something of a natural progression. But I can't for the life of me figure out what that has to do with this beautiful article lamenting the destruction of natural beauty of America.

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    5. Thank you, Jimmy. I appreciate it. I wish it were just the beauty. That's just the outward manifestation of a healthy planet.

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    6. Of course you're right. It might've been more apt to say "the destruction of nature."

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    1. I think there will be much opportunity and need to demonstrate our resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the near future.

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  4. Yet another version of the obscenity which is 'collateral damage'.

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    1. Most of what is wrong with the world economy is that all the costs are not figured in. I'd be all for a free enterprise system if we had to pay for what we break. We don't. Not even close.

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  5. Thanks for the link.
    I'm remembering May of '70, the clash in the park blocks with Frank Ivancie's storm troopers, seeing the pictures of the last couple days in Portland. If you had told me that one day in my 'twilight' years we'd elect someone that'd make me nostalgic for Nixon....

    Not that it's my business or blog, but frankly, the 'hicks' can kiss my smug ass.

    Cheers,
    Mike

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    1. You and Dave were probably inches from each other.

      Most of us here are real sorry about the rioting and destruction. I read a disturbing defense of it by an anarchist in the newspaper today, but it does not persuade. It's an immature argument.

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    2. Ask Al if he's heard or remembered these names, buddies of mine then:
      Maybe erase this, didn't ask them.
      Sam Stitt
      Al Took
      Tom Murphy
      All buddies at the time, lived in SW.

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    3. Good lord, I meant 'ask Dave', not Al. Apparently the 71 years are having their effect.
      Mike

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    4. Good, I was having a hard time getting Al on the phone. Dave is six years younger than you and grew up on the east side (Grant). Probably didn't know those people, but I'll ask.

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  6. Corporate (and individual) greed pulls the same stunts over here.Usually dressed up as providing jobs.
    Faux News is a far cry from Huntley-Brinkley!

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    1. At least now I have the second movement of Beethoven's Ninth going through my head. That's an improvement over what has been in there for the last few days.

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  7. Next thing you know someone is going to notice that the peasants are revolting. Oh, yes we are and in so many ways. There is an indigenous guy down the road that is gathering up donations of money, food, and camping gear for the Standing Rock Sioux. He was overwhelmed with support within 24 hours of his request.

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    1. I figure money works easiest but it's all good.

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  8. Capitalism has now been proven to be unsustainable and to profit a few at the expense of the many. And it is one of the main reasons our earth, or at least that part of it we call nature is on the cusp of death. This death will come even faster if Trump's promised policies come into fruition. And of course the poor will suffer the most as the land is laid waste around them and as processing plants are built in their neighborhoods, and waste is stores, making their air and water toxic.

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    1. Yep--it's been a long slog to this particular point of our evolution, but the end of the graph is going up like a bottle rocket.

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  9. "the pipeline route has already been changed to accommodate the good white people of Bismarck"
    I think that's just disgraceful, why should "the good white people" miss out on all the fun of being inconvenienced? The "fun" of HAVING to move elsewhere and resettle? Until someone discovers something worth harvesting in your new area of course (*~*)

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    1. Mind you, I have no problem whatsoever with the concerns of the good white people of Bismarck--my tribe, basically. I think everyone deserves clean water and environment.

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  10. "The love of money is the root of all evil." If not all evil, pretty close. The love of power is right up there, too, I guess.

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    1. Oops, didn't realize that's from the Bible. Oh well, a truth is a truth, no matter what the source is.

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    2. I'm willing to concede the Bible has its truths. Most of them in the Sermon On The Mount!

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  11. Thank you, Murre. Abashed at being your poster child for loss, but I'm a strong contender of late. I'm taking backroads to and from town now, because it's getting too cold to drive by the oilfield with my left hand out the window, middle finger defiantly high. It's also too hard on the heart. Remember when the Wicked Witch of the West asked, "How 'bout a little FIRE, Scarecrow??" It's kind of like that around here. xoxo jz

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    1. And yet we need poster children.

      We're going to have to stand together against this machine, more and more all the time. It's not getting better.

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  12. Many of my friends are scientists. They mourn the loss that generations who follow do not know it is creeping crud because they never saw it without the crud.

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    1. This has been one of my observations about the whole climate change fiasco: most of us have only the perspective of our own short lives, and since we believe everything has "always been this way," we can't imagine that it's possible we've wrecked the whole train in a hundred years. No, we've "always" been able to move our bodies from coast to coast in six hours, and flick on the air conditioner to sweater temperature. We have no concept what an unusual and profligate time we're living in. We think we'll go on and on.

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  13. Heartbreaking, enlightening, inspiring straight talk.
    Thanks for this. We too joined the folks at last nights rally in downtown Portland - reading your well-measured comments was a much appreciated footnote. Even if I struggled to hear many of the speakers I felt comforted by the proximity of like-mined humans. And yes- I know that's the last thing we need (to be comfortable)- we need to pay attention, stand up and get more involved than ever before. Thanks for the stellar writing. I'm subscribing for more...

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    1. Thank you. Fair warning, ordinarily this is a humor blog. But every now and then I like to (or have to) shake it up. I appreciated that our little mob was well-behaved and cohesive and peaceful. I think we need a lot of that, and that when we allow these things to degenerate and attract violence and, heck, even block too much traffic, we're undermining ourselves. Huh! I guess I've become an OLD hippie.

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