by Martin Murie
Martin Murie, Seriously Insistent, 2003
(Swans - October 22, 2007)
To make machines, money, wealth and war successfully entails a trivial exercise of the intellect compared with the wisdom required to meet the problems that machines, money, wealth and war bring to society. (1)
That's where we are now, tinkering with machines, money, and war while lives of penguins and polar bears intersect our species in a worldwide crisis. War for oil and war against the earth's peoples and war against the earth.
Hey, wait a minute! You can't say that. The way we treat the earth is not war. Yes, I can. We capture tigers and wolves and jaguars, even gorillas, and put them into restricted places, maximum security zoos where they pace up and down until they die; undeclared chemical warfare against thin-skinned amphibians has been underway for decades; the pesticides and herbicides that kill or maim amphibians and unknown useful or neutral plant and animal species are the very same chemicals infesting fields where farm workers labor for long hours, little pay, minimal or zero health care. We can name the chemicals, Atrazine is one, but nothing is done. Why? We all know the answer: profiteering infests our economy, lays down the rules.
A majority of Americans consider themselves environmentalists of one sort or another and many contribute money to Big Green outfits. They get in return a tote bag or earth-friendly mug or fuzzy animal replica and a feeling they've done their duty. Later, they might wonder why things haven't changed for the better.
We don't really mean it, that's what's wrong. Trapped inside a system that demands at every turn an adherence to business as usual, we are, along with our captive wild animals, condemned to a life of restless pacing and raging. Environmental campaigns against pollution, unregulated power plants, faulty technologies, secret understandings between governments and corporate powers are routinely loaded with fiery rhetoric. I wish they really meant it. Those flaming sentences are fund-raising ploys. They want you to think you will be contributing to a real ruckus, but too many varmental executives, overpaid and tame, settle for addiction to "the art of the politically possible," which is just one more dodge in the land of lobbying and lawyering.
And now, to cap these insults, a new slogan: "Protecting the environment is not only good for the earth, it's good for business." This sentiment, expressed in various ways, crops up all over the place, part of the populist rhetoric of our times. Here's one specific example, from Jim Stiles's "Take It Or Leave It."
According to an August KCPW public radio story, "Scott Groene (Director of Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance) says being eco-friendly isn't just for activists like SUWA. It's also good business. It's why, with a heavy heart, I spell it 'wilderne$$'." (2)
Why get upset about this? Can't big business make super profits and at the same time go all-out to care for the earth and its peoples? Maybe. I'd like to see a genuine, well-documented example. Typical greenwashing trumpets recycling, rehabbing buildings to make them less energy dependent, composting, etc., while with the other not-so-public-hand, elite managers fit the organization into the dollarizing of America where workers are treated as replaceable components of productive machinery. As always, in ecological situations, and our plight on this planet is definitely an ecology situation, the system is much bigger than any one corporation. Criticizing one or a few huge conglomerates is necessary for analytical purposes, but the solutions lie at another level: action on the whole shebang, the corporate/government/military thing, that elephant in the living room.
If we ever get up on our hind legs to save ourselves and the earth we would act as passionate partisans, insiders, members of the Earth and all its tribes and clans and societies. Partisanship, an integral part of membership; these two go together like a horse and carriage. Of course, coalitions like that require a lot of negotiating, as anyone who understands horses and carriages can attest, but they give each living species a union card: entitlement to adequate habitat and the right to defend themselves against disease, predators, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, all those creations that are as much a part of nature's ways as any other.
Mountains are not chivalrous, one forgets their violence. Indifferently they lash those who venture among them with snow, rock, wind. (3)
The catch is that we have to mean it, in gut and heart and mind. The basic, deeply-rooted snag blocking such a shift is the approved, generations old, double vision of nature as a place to visit for spiritual regeneration as well as a resource store for our exclusive use. Those visions don't cut to the survival imperative. Of all creatures on earth, we have foolishly turned our backs on that imperative, relying on our cleverness, our technological prowess, a power so impressive it has us mystified, hobbled, open to all sorts of persuasions and maneuvers by those whose job it is to keep us happy trekking to the malls.
The insider code has been around for millennia, among humans who have lived in the depths of nature's violence and its gifts. Let's dig deep, rediscover the code, find the right turns and combinations. Then we can get down to action, embrace dignity and justice for all citizens of every nation. We would most naturally and happily include in that embrace the prairie dogs of South Dakota, Wyoming toads, Mexican wolves, Asiatic tigers, black rhinoceroses of Africa, snow leopards of Nepal. Insiders all.
The bear and I had walked together for five minutes at most. It took me a lot longer to return to my wits, and when I did I found them in a mess. It dawned on me that I had done something fairly foolish. It was also obvious that I wanted to tell everyone about the elation that foolishness had produced. But who would listen? I thought of the large numbers of my countrymen who hold strongly that the Almighty has elevated man a mile or two above all other creatures. Very few of them would want to spend time hearing about a short walk behind a mere animal, whatever the color. (4)
A caution: Nature does strike back; it springs surprises too. Latest reports from sober scientists give us hardly any time at all to meet the challenges of a swiftly changing earth. Decision time is now. And if we decide to build a civilization that fits this planet, we have to mean it, body and soul.
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