19 July 2008

Look Away

My life partner and I sometimes take out DVDs from our local library here in Grand Forks, North Dakota. These disks are in appalling condition, full of scratches, gouges, congealed gunk, and a wide sampling of malodorous particles. It is true that these materials get used a lot, but certainly no more than the rentals from local video stores, which rarely suffer from the same kind of calamities. As we try to repair the carnage visited upon these disks so they will play in my computer, we try to visualize what people must be doing to ruin the materials. We envision Frisbee-type tossing that degenerates into even less advised drunken household stunts; we even imagine folks using the disks as mini plates from which fork-worthy victuals are carelessly tined.

Why all the respect for rentals and not for the library loans? The first thing that pops to mind is that we might be held accountable for rentals but that library stuff is free. Pushing it slightly further brings us to this: we respect what we have to pay for. Paying for things is our sacred duty, and we take this very seriously. Forget that libraries are funded with our taxes. That concept contains a distance that separates us from the expense.

Creating distance is vital to us and always has been to those sitting atop any hierarchy of destruction. It is the same distance that separates the killing of people far away from a job we may have in, say, a munitions factory or on Wall Street that trades shares for that factory or in some unrelated job that has a pension fund containing shares from the company that thrives off the profits of the munitions factory. We may be half a world away, occupied all day with what seem like mundane, peaceful activities, but our involvement in state murder in Iraq or Afghanistan or Viet Nam or East Timor or any other place we try to control through violence is linked to what we do every day, and to our very way of life.

This separation is so important that we use denial and anger to maintain it when we are faced with the truth about the way we live. A biased media, owned by the global corporations that benefit from the destruction of the planet and its inhabitants, aid us in this endeavor to distance ourselves from our complicity. As a result, and since we are surrounded by people in the same situation as ourselves, we feel pretty good about our claims that we are not complicit in the many atrocities that are committed around the world by “We the People.” We might even re-label such actions as “spreading democracy” or “insuring freedom” or even “self-defense.”

This distancing and denial is so powerful and automatic that as soon as this article jumped from a vapid discussion of something safe, like damaged library materials, and skidded into territory that might cast an aspersion towards the reader, I probably lost the majority of my audience. We look away if we aren’t complimented or made to feel good. If you did not stop reading, you might have experienced at least an urge to do so, most likely an unconscious one. It might have even manifested itself with a physical distancing of your body from these words, or an actual removal of attention to some distraction, a phone call or an email, perhaps. Don’t feel bad if this is so. We are programmed to do this by our corporate masters.

Sound crazy? Am I a conspiracy theorist or an ecology nut? Now that I have been labeled as such, should I not now be dismissed and forgotten, along with my ideas?

One of the TV series my life partner and I have been watching is “The X-Files.” We both have noticed that whenever Mulder presents evidence concerning a mutant or a UFO or whatever paranormal thing he investigates, that he is immediately rebuffed and labeled as crazy or as a conspiracy theorist or whatever other pigeon hole that allows him to be comfortably dismissed. Of course, this is because the notions Mulder describes in those shows lie outside the accepted confines of the assumptions of the culture, so he is thought to be crazy, even if he has very convincing scientific data like in the case of that liver-eating guy, the mutant Tooms. No one would listen to his evidence, compelling or not. It isn’t because they disagreed with his facts. It isn’t because they had a better explanation. Mulder wasn’t heeded because the listeners are part of the paradigm, and they will not shift from their position because then where would they be? They would be living in a world they could not understand. They would be lost.

One doesn’t have to talk about mutants or UFOs to get dismissed as a kook in our culture. Simple truths about the way the world works suffices. The distance from our own place in the world is there because without it we would be lost. Who would we be? What would we do with ourselves if we knew that we are participating in a system that commits violence against others of our own species to keep the our paradigm of economic growth in place, that chokes non-human species into oblivion, that destroys the very state of the planet that allows us to survive?

If you are still reading this, you might be wondering exactly what our complicity is. That is simple. We see ourselves as consumers. Instead of realizing that consuming wreaks havoc upon the world, we prefer to believe that this is a good thing to do. We are told this by people who insist that everything boils down to money—not life. Ours is a toxic relationship of codependence with global corporations that control our government and, hence, its military, global corporations that exploit workers here and especially overseas to externalize costs, global corporations that rely upon the inability of reductionist science to prove environmental harms, thereby allowing them to continue to pollute and tear up the world, unregulated. As a result, our economic juggernaut crashes onward, aimed at life’s total destruction. Meanwhile, we are told that low prices and an obsession with fancy gadgetry is all there is to life. Since we prefer not to see ourselves at the apex of this pyramid of mindless destruction, since we prefer to distance ourselves from the costs we impose upon other life and the planet, we continue operating within the paradigm, looking up occasionally from our texting or our pointless phone calls to shake our heads at the tragedy of it all as the world burns down around us.

About Paris

At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) marked the first inter...