if there were no computers, the process of engaging in war would be much more drawn out, with a lot more time for human beings to change their minds or seek alternatives. It is only because computers do exist that a virtually automatic, instant worldwide war, involving total annihilation, even enters the realm of possibility. [Jerry Mander: In the Absence of the Sacred]
Being constantly aware of details like these, I sigh as I walk out through the shop’s front door. I used to buy a lot of sweets and crunchy stuff before I decided to reduce my dependence on money and to prevent the production of plastic garbage. I buy only bread and spreads. The bread comes in a compostable paper wrapping, which is a rather revolutionary feat in a world gone crazy for petroleum-containing plastic packaging. But paper has issues of its own, from the consumption of forest ecologies to the poisonous chemicals needed to produce the stuff, and a lot of those chemicals end up in rivers and aquifers – or in your compost pile. Perhaps the paper is
made of 150-year-old Engelmann spruce and Cariboo fir from British Columbia. Cooked into pulp in a stew of sodium sulfide. Bleached with chlorine dioxides that exhale deadly dioxins. Printed with petroleum-based resins from California, carbon-black from oil drilled in the Gulf of Mexico, colored inks produced in the industrial suburbs of Seattle. Delivered in a van fueled by gasoline from Saudi Arabia. Bound by a petroleum-based rubber band made in Hong Kong. Sheathed in a polyethylene bag from New Jersey. [Chellis Glendinning: Off the Map]
|by Maggie’s Camera on flickr.com (cc by-nd 2.0 generic)|
The spreads – peanut butter, mixed fruits jam, and chocolate cream – come in glass jars. The glass itself is recyclable, but its production and recycling requires high amounts of fossil fuels. The lids are made of composite layers of rubber, tin, and paint; hard to separate, if at all possible. The peanuts have been harvested from a degraded landscape denuded from all kind of vegetation but hectares of monocrops. They are local, though, meaning, I save pollution from transportation, and receive only the poisonous industrial chemicals residing in soil, air, and water just about everywhere on the planet. Same goes for the jam and the chocolate spread. The latter is nagging my conscience a little more, since I don’t know what the fatty ingredients consist of, the chocolate comes from one or two far-away continents, and has likely been produced by grossly underpaid wage slaves and children. Let’s also not talk about the sugar in there, a legal drug that I have become addicted to already when drinking my first sweetened tea as a baby.
Anyway, one has to eat. When I was born I have been one of about 3.7 billion hungry mouths. Today I share the planet with more than double this amount, 99.99% of which belong to the same culture: global industrial civilization.
So I cycle home, carrying my purchase in a certified-organic cotton bag. That the shop doesn’t provide plastic carriers any longer helps them cater to the image of ‘green’ business. Yet, as a matter of fact, you cannot trust the certificate because the providing agency needs to create surplus which means, they need to satisfy their customers… and you can’t keep your customers happy when you ruin their businesses by attesting them bad practice. One lesson from AAA ratings for defaulting crap papers could have been, to take a closer look at all kinds of certificates, from safety guarantees for electric devices to organic labels for food. The more convenient path, though, is to confide in the neat-looking logo on the package, lest you would inspect the global supply chain leading from resources extraction through materials processing to assembly, packaging, transportation, and sales systems. I prefer to have a life. That means, I buy as little as possible, and when I do I don’t give a bleeding damn about what the label says; it’s a lie anyway. Which brings me back to the cotton bag I carried along: at least part of the cotton is genetically modified, Glyphosate-treated stuff, with a high likeliness of having been grown in a place where one or more farmers have killed themselves because they couldn’t repay their loans after the chemically annihilated fields refused to produce as much as the Frankenseed company promised. But at least I may reuse the bag a few more times before its weak seams sloppily tailored in a Bangladeshi sweatshop disintegrate and I have to buy a new one.
Once you start looking a little closer at how you live, what you use and who you interact with, you will notice without effort that exactly everything contributes to polluting the planet, to the destruction of habitat for all life forms including humans, and to causing the disintegration of communities, violence, death, extreme injustice, spiritual impoverishment, and decrease in human capacities. This is not because you were especially focusing on negative aspects, or that I was a defeatist, nihilistic, miserable-minded cynic. What you see is real. Do not, for one second, believe in human ingenuity being able to create a techno-fix for it. The “Digital age,” for instance, will not result in a well-informed unified activists front prevailing over the destructive power of the Megamachine. Jerry Mander writes,
This society upholds a fierce technological idealism. We believe we can get the best from a given technology without falling into worst-case scenarios of the sort described above. We maintain this idealism despite the fact that we have no evidence of technology ever being used at an optimal level, or even being sensibly controlled. This is certainly true of automobiles, which have virtually destroyed the natural world; and of television, which creates a common mental denominator; and of electrical energy generation, which is vastly overdeveloped to the detriment of the planet.
What is romantic is to believe that technological evolution will ever live up to its own advertising, or that technology itself can liberate us from the problems it has created. [Jerry Mander: In the Absence of the Sacred]
I find both Mander’s and my own considerations echoed in another paragraph from Glendinning’s book “Off the Map” in which she reflects,
This white linen shirt. Constructed in a sweatshop in Indonesia. Or Lithuania. Or Saipan. Everything of this world. Shoes made of Brazilian cattle whose grazing lands were once rain forest. Eggs on the plate: they come courtesy of hens buckling in boxes not twice the size of their bodies, shot up with antibiotics and hormones. These petrochemical lawn chairs. Earl Grey tea. Everything. The raw materials of our lives mean one thing as we obtain them glistening at the mall, via the Internet, in mail-order catalogs, as gifts from friends. They mean something else in the naked sober world of their origin. They are literally made of the oppression, pain, grief, sacrifice imposed by the global economy.
Or I could have opened Derrick Jensen’s “The Myth of Human Supremacy” at pages 178/9 where I find a similar notion expressed by an author who is “just” sitting in a wooden house, on a winter day, with a computer on, snacking from a plastic bag of cashews. I trust you to play through the implications of that by yourself.
Often times when I talk to people, they use to respond, “O well, this means you cannot trust anybody, cannot believe anything written, cannot buy, eat, or touch anything.” And this is exactly my point. When it comes to our culture/ society/ economy, everything is tainted because everything has been created from matter violently ripped from the Earth, with no respect for ecosystems or living beings. Everything runs through a poisonous process of transportation, chemical treatment, packaging, insincere labeling, and finally trashing, all of which is performed by a planetary network of wage slaves who get alienated from the produce of their hands by division of labour, and who sell their lifetimes in exchange for fiat currency that creates more and more extreme social disparity. Everyone has become violently selfish from having to survive in a violent and greedy society, everyone’s traumatized, everyone has been turned into a zombie, or a jerk, or a victim.
Just look at us. Everything is backwards, everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, psychiatrists destroy minds, scientists destroy truth, major media destroys information, religions destroy spirituality and governments destroy freedom. [Michael Ellner]
In today’s world where every square inch of the Earth can feel the impact of our culture’s activity there is no escape from the Empire of Evil. There is no such thing as walking away, no such thing as dropping out. Our minds have been programmed for functioning in the context of this Empire. We are civilization, and civilization is who we are. You can’t walk away from yourself.
Does that mean we have to give up trying? I don’t believe so. Nature – and that includes humankind – possesses a tremendous capacity for self-healing. There is a real chance that once we brought down the physical manifestation of the system – or it collapsed on its own, which is more likely, given our current state of mind – the Planet, and humanity, will quickly bounce back to their former degree of aliveness. (Well, perhaps not.)
To unburden oneself from the acculturated need for things may not suffice to fully liberate the mind from its ties with our civilized upbringing. Independent of whether we’d be able to achieve anything tangible I see it as a morally necessary step, though, a step which also helps us reconnect with life how it truly was meant to be. We need to empathize with the sickness within ourselves, we also need to have patience with each other.
And maybe (just maybe) life still has a chance of blooming and spreading once again – after our sick culture has vanished from our minds and its practices are discontinued for good.
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