by Martin Murie
(Swans - September 22, 2008) You're walking across sage/grasslands, or an abandoned lot, or far north regions. Looks like dirt, but it isn't. Dirt is a swarm of interconnected life. In desert regions that haven't been trampled by bikes, off-road vehicles, or heavy boots this swarm takes the form of a crust that forms slowly over years and years, slime threads holding tiny soil fragments in a network that absorbs water slowly and stores it, provides nutrients and stimulants for plant growth and has photosynthetic abilities: Cyanobacteria, once known as blue-green algae. Cyanobacteria and associated mosses and lichens need sunlight; that's why crusts tend to be thin, easily destroyed. Other crust inhabitants are slugs and snails -- who also provide slime, various species of fungi, green algae, and bacteria. Fauna of crusts vary, depending on latitude, climate, rainfall, and so on, but they exist from northern regions to hot deserts.
Topsoils, deep or shallow, were once protected from erosion and loss of nutrients by crusts, now gone from vast, over-exploited crop areas. Farming in these areas is now possible only by injection of phosphates, nitrates, and other nutrients as well as herbicides and pesticides.
We depend on plants. So do all the other animals. Herbivores are used as food by carnivores; omnivores depend on plants directly or indirectly, and vegetarians of our own species rely exclusively, with some exceptions, on plant food. So, whether we like to think about it or not, we are enmeshed, without alternatives, in the drastically altered food systems of the world. These systems operate by each organism feeding on other dead or living organisms. We all eat other life. Baleen whales eat small critters, plant or animal; they don't care, as they strain sea water through their fine-haired baleen lip structures. Other whales, Blue, Sperm et al., eat squids and whatever else they can catch with their carnivorous teeth. Inhabitants of ocean waters, ice sheets, tundra, taiga, temperate plains, desert plains, and mountains, lakes, and rivers take part in a global food frenzy.
When wandering in the outlands or on the dirt of a car-crusher or used parts dealer or back precincts of stores where dumpsters are kept, stay alert. You might be crushing thousands of lives. Why worry? Because we are not a full citizen of the world until we catch on to the food system's enwrapment of us all, no exceptions. The basic principle is: all creatures, carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore, depend absolutely on plant life. We humans gobble it in huge quantities, indirectly by way of T-bone steaks, New York Strips, yogurt, ice cream, et cetera, or directly by way of commodified food taken straight from plants: chips, pizza, salads, hot peppers, salsa, you name it.
Why am I ranting about this? Because I am convinced that one of the revolutionary changes in our Western way of life that awaits us must be a deep awareness that we are not commanders of this good earth. We take its "resources" and brag of our superb technology. That's not enough. That's not nearly enough. Without an honest facing of the facts of life we will be trapped in the webs our leaders spin. We will fail to launch a people's movement that is immune to blandishments from the top.
Which brings me to the top-of-the-food-chain's consumers, our rulers. These people do not know the ache and pain of hard work though they preach it constantly; or if they once knew those aches and pains they have put them back in the dark regions, bringing them out only on politically-drenched occasions. The bottom reality for these people is to keep us happy enough to endure the lies essential to keeping us away from revolutionary changes in our overextended way of life.
Now that is a big claim, but the current frenzy in the political scene is proof enough; it is more of the same old merry-go-round, donkeys and elephants bobbing up and down, spewing lies and evasions.
Can we learn from the past? Not if the monopolistic/craven/scared media keep us free of the past. But there are rich findings there in those half-hidden times and the present-day cleverly hidden struggles. There we find true heartbeats of democracy, from Tom Paine and Henry Thoreau to Frederick Douglass, Emma Goldman, Gene Debs, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Dennis Kucinich and the grand host of unsung patriots who stayed true to the promises of 1776 and the world we actually live in.
The War Against Terror, as so many of us know, is simply an integral part of keeping us transfixed on patriotism and confusion and, finally, acquiescence. How do we break out of this? One component of the breakout is to look at the dirt under the tires of our vehicles, without which we could not survive, or the tires of dirt bikes, mountain bikes, four-wheelers.
One of the anti-war protesters here in Franklin County, New York, carries a sign reading, WHAT HAVE WE DONE? Think about that. What have we in fact done?
We know some of that history, by living it in the present and sometimes by being curious about where we came from and what we have done. That's our legacy; we have to recapture it, bring it to life with all of its triumphs and disillusions, its racism, sell-outs, and mistakes.
I am reading, slowly, letter-by-letter, the English version of the book by Tiziano Terzani, Letters Against The War posted by Swans. In the Letter From Orsigna Terzani writes,
. . . if we want to understand the world we live in we must see it whole, not just from our point of view. We cannot understand what is happening if we only listen to what the politicians tell us.
And Joel Hirschhorn, in his rant against Neo-Progressives, hits the nail squarely:
Neo-Progressives make themselves blind to the deficiencies of the Democratic Party and its candidates. They refuse to accept the reality that the Democrats as well as Republicans are beholden to many special economic interests (so evident this year by their massive presence at the Democratic and Republican conventions), both are criminally corrupt and dishonest, and when in power both do not seriously pursue what were historic progressive and populist values.
These are some of the reasons I am talking here about dirt. Seeing the world whole has to include dirt, and much more, of course. It has to include attempts to keep developers off the last habitats of the flower-loving fly, the only fly on the Endangered Species list. Just as there is no such thing as half a war, or even a tenth of a war, there can't be a truly serious attempt to save species if we confine our attempts to the charismatics. Kissing or petting caged killer whales simply lowers us to the low life of accepting "things as they are."
So, harkening to Terzani's words, let's see the world whole, not just from our position on the food chain. Let's get down on our knees and study dirt and its inhabitants, the visibles and the invisibles, the mosses and lichens, worms and fungi, green algae, mole tunnels, whatever we find there. Our lives might, sooner rather than later, depend on it.
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