Saturday
May212005

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Most of what I have to present to you is predicated on Paul Wolfowitz’s comment that with regards to choosing a nation on which to launch a war to promote or preserve American interests overseas, Iraq was an obvious choice over North Korea because it “swims on a sea of oil.” I doubt this was a Freudian slip. Something genuine was revealed in this comment. As a leading architect of this war, his comment surely could not do anything but expose his real reasons for going to Iraq. Maybe he didn’t know he was being recorded. Saddam Hussein’s true crime, as seen by the neocons, is that he didn’t play nice when we wanted his oil, or our oil, as some would say.

I also base my comments on the belief that September 11, 2001 was a response, not an outright first strike attack on America. And the proper response would have been to address the fact that there were 15 Saudis among 19 attackers and perhaps that suggests where our real problem lies—at the heart of oil country, the biggest producer in the world, and one where public beheadings are part of law enforcement. Perhaps Saudi Arabia itself is not a good place to air greviences about the oppression that is a product of the royal family’s ironclad rule and the nation’s place as the world’s largest oil state with generations-old oil deals made with America, the “Great Satan” as they call us. Easier to put a spanner in the works by working within America than from within Saudi Arabia where dissent and rebellion are not tolerated. The Saudi petro elite realize they are in a bubble. Within their own circles, they have a maxim that comes up often enough: “My father rode a camel. I drive a car. My son flies a jet airplane. His son will ride a camel."

For those of you who are left after the unflattering reference to 9/11, let's begin.

Oil is a lubricant and fuel for most of us, but for repressive regimes it is a vice to squeeze the oppressed. It has always been so, but now that the sun is setting on the oil age, it could only be worse as every nation already enjoying the accoutrements of the industrial age and those who want to get in on the action all have to act in self interest to ensure their shares of the diminishing pie. Our present situation in Iraq is one such move, as was Saddam Hussein’s initial foray into Kuwait. Oil and water are some of the last forms of pure wealth and power in the world. But water doesn’t fuel industry. Oil fuels both economic growth and tyranny.

an example of the pathetic war on self-empowerment: a healthy looking youngish woman using a power wheelchair cart thing to go shopping at a store selling postcardsAds invite us to part with our own empowerment and freedom to be in the world, by substituting a commercially available product to do something we already do for freeBut this is too big a swath to cut for now. The project I am starting is one called EONS NOW which stands for “End Oppressive Non Sustainability now.” I have chosen to use a metaphor to illustrate my point. After watching the great movie The Corporation, and seeing how the filmmakers established the corporate citizen as a psychopath according to the mental health profession’s bible—the DSM 4, I reasoned that on a broad basis, the public is akin to a woman in an abusive relationship with a husband who is drunk most of the time. The drunken husband is the collective sum of the influence of corporate capitalism with its tentacles in the government and the media. Totally self absorbed, the drunken husband abuses his wife, telling her she won’t amount to anything without him, that no one will love her again, and so on. He chips away at her soul by feeding her unrelenting messages of fear and self-loathing. In a similar way, the constant advertising we are exposed to is always sending us the message that we aren’t good enough to live without the “help” of a product or service that will make us any of a number of things we supposedly are not now: smarter, happier, skinnier, sexier, more profitable, virile, etc.

So it raises the question, how in the world did people get through their days without all this propaganda? Well, it wasn’t too long ago that people used to live without this stuff. In fact, our grandparents who are still living were not hit with as much of this, even 60 years ago. 150 years ago, it was not but a fraction of what it is now.

My problem with this is not that these goods and services exist, but that they make us weak and dependent on a system whose resource base is fast becoming extinct. If our corporate/government/media structure is the abusive husband, then it is appropos to say that his own addiction is going to cause him to lose the job that pays the mortgage, leading he and his family into a spiralling collapse of debt and more desperation, which could only lead to more abuse. Similarly, the lust for power and profit is so addictive that no amount of reason will stop the system from failure because of its own greed. The matter that we will learn about tonight is one that is a product of this abusive relationship. Peak oil is the comeuppance from a century of unbridled addiction that has so far been made possible by the usually growing supply of fossil fuel energy, and by conditioning people over time to buy the stuff that is made and brought to market using that energy. A lot of it then is stuff that humans don’t need. In fact, as one peak oil writer says, the industrial economy is primarily one that turns petroleum into garbage. So, like a woman in an abusive relationship, we are conditioned to believe we must participate in the very system that brings on the abuse, or else the problems would be worse.

That, my friends, is what I call oppressive nonsustainability. No sane, free thinking person would choose to live that life. We’ve been conditioned into doubting ourselves. We doubt our ability to feed ourselves, entertain ourselves, clothe ourselves, shelter ourselves, or to even find and satisfy a mate! Relying on that insecurity, capitalism thrives. There is always something new to be sold to people who have doubts about themselves, and in our present economy, it is incumbent to find that “need” for a product and to fulfill that “need.” We reward this effort by revering the entrepreneurial spirit. This is an induced doubt, because once upon a time in America, people like you and I actually built this place from the ground up. Now we hardly trust ourselves to change the oil in our car, or to fix our plumbing, or to find a date. We turn that stuff over to the professionals.

If our economy is indeed one that is founded on people’s insecurities and their need to belong, then let me ask, do we want to keep on with the growth economy?

That might get an answer sooner than later, in the form of geological reality. Oil is estimated to peak on a global level in about 2006, with the peak oil optimists stretching it out to 2013 or so. The peak of oil production will be the death knell of the industrial age, the age of globalization, the age of capitalism run amok. So we have a problem ahead of us. Now that we have been in this abusive relationship for so long, how are we going to break out to reestablish our own identities as humans and not just consumers? We’ve been told we have no friends, no skills, and no hopes to survive outside of this relationship. We’ve accepted this abuse for a long time but somehow decided that we gained more than we lost in the deal. It has been repeated day in and day out. But the drunk is going to lose his job. His mistress is going to leave him. He’s going to crash his car, and the prospects are only going to get worse, and all of that is going to come home and take the form of more abuse. People who care have been telling us to leave the house, but we stay, and despite the usual refrain of “oh, baby, I’ll do better next time” this time maybe it really is time to flee.

My wife Kelli is about to enter seminary this fall, and just a short time back, the school sent a book about choosing peace through daily actions. In it I read of violence described as “anything that impedes one’s ability to flourish. It is the cause of the difference between the potential and the actual, anything that prevents you from being who or what you could be.” Would it be a stretch to reason then that our hypothetical marriage is one of violence because it is one of oppression? Does systematically making millions upon millions of people psychologically and physically “dependent” on your product not qualify as oppression?

Again, if our growth economy depends on increasing violence and oppression, is it something we should be demanding? I think it would be better of us to leave the relationship or at least put a new lock on the door while the drunk is gone. But that takes a lot of work. We are going to have to reacquaint ourselves with some old time virtues of hard work of the manual sort, making our own products to feed and clothe ourselves. We will have to fashion and maintain our own shelters. We will have to relearn that our own songs, plays, poems, and visual arts are far more satisfying and genuine than whatever is put out by media conglomerates—chiefly because it is simply not for sale. We will have to slow down and read more, tell more stories, work together more. We will have to trust our neighbor again, and not just in the spiritual sense. We will actually have to know and trust the people next door. We will have to be thankful for what it is that we do actually have, and what we still can do for ourselves. Our economy will be limited to meeting our needs, not all of our desires. But then it might also be one that isn’t founded on the inherent violence, oppression, and inequity such as we have now. We might have a chance to flourish.

Now, I know that this isn’t going to be anything but a dreamer’s vision, but once upon a time, people dreamt of great things that would take humans higher, get them there faster, and carry them further. But now I think is the time to dream of great things that restore in us the time-tested virtues and passions that make human life what it is. Every day almost we lament how hard we have to work just to keep up. We lament the spiritual void we feel. We experience depression. We feel cut off. We isolate. I refuse to believe it was always this way, and I have talked to enough people to know that in fact, this is new to humanity, and frankly, is a hallmark of the American experience of just the last 60 years or so. It isn’t too late to get back in touch with the things that mattered to our grandparents. If the present system is going to be on its way out because it is founded on non-sustainable practices, we don’t want to go down with it. But the world we know is one that is alluring and exciting. I can’t blame people for doubting what I say, but when people say that, it's only a matter of minutes when I find that they already realize the system is flawed, and that they have been longing for more time to spend with loved ones, or a cleaner environment, or opportunities for community service, or whatever.

Our economy makes us run to keep up because it sows the seeds for the failure of community, and the solution for the failures of community is often yet one more good or service that contributes to the problem, thus creating a feedback loop. The gross redundancy of the modern economy encourages people to not share because they can have their own widget. Cars are the gross offenders. Large houses are comparable. In a few decades, the American Dream of car ownership and a McMansion created tremendous redundancy of consumer products and infrastructure. Since then, we have abandoned successful and time tested living arrangements that still have the enduring appeal that modern suburban designs cannot match in terms of genuine livability. So instead of smart growth in high density urban development, we have gone the far more expensive and non sustainable route in the suburbs, using space and resources voraciously. Again, our economy consists largely of building these sorts of places and supplying them with their accessories and the things that such an arrangement demands. And, as you will find in the movie, this whole system is so overblown it's not even funny.

It is a common argument that suburbia was the result of the failures of the city. But some, such as James Kunstler, reason that it’s the other way around. Suburbia takes a lot of money out of its center cities in order to fix the problems of its own existence. Suburban development initially comes at the expense of the inner/older city which pays to have the newer areas and their roads built, which in turn suck the life out of the older regions as the economy of the area moves outward into newer developments as the earlier ones fall into decay in a similar way as the center city area did before them. The suburban layout is one that is designed to accommodate the automobile and residents who own them—essentially rendering these places useless in a carless age. But for the people without cars, they pretty much have to take their place in the second class of society. This is oppressive. But who tends to not have cars? The very young and the very old. And who is missing out on important interactions and life experience because they can’t drive, bike, or walk to the places of cultural value and social interaction? Again, the very young and the very old. And do you know which age ranges are host to the worst suicide problems? Suicide is nonsustainable AND oppressive. It is violent, regardless of the method used because it deprives the person of their potential. Drug use, as we know, is prevalent in the teenage population, but we would be kidding ourselves to limit it to that age group alone. I think the drugs are there for anyone with a spiritual and emotional hole in their lives. The cost of fighting our war on drugs is high because it does nothing to attack the root cause of the use of drugs. If we wanted to fight the real war on whatever it is that is ruining society, we’d need to fight a war on the violent, oppressive, nonsustainable economy that views people as human “resources” and not human beings. But, who among us expects that to happen? For those who are not the very young and the very old, the “lucky ones” as it were—those who get to drive everywhere, their problems are limited to the costs and travails of car ownership, long commutes in isolation that terminate in hellish parking lots, working long hours to pay a premium for a distant house, eating on the run, loss of family life, and all that good stuff. Some can’t keep up with that. We don’t call it the rat race for nothing. The rat race is oppressive and nonsustainable. Indeed. Where is our war on the rat race? Not gonna happen, I’m afraid, even if it would do the most good.

So watch the movie with an eye on the social implications of the dying days of the oil age. Consider the isolation and despair that goes with our everyone-is-an-individual ethos. Consider how much it takes to support that ideal, and how it separates us from our fellow man. And ponder what the alternative is should the system fold under the stress it created for itself. Our own Jerry Lawritson has said a culture of success will collapse under its own weight. The failure of our economy ultimately lies in the fact that is has tried to turn everything into a commodity that can be weighed and measured, bought and sold. The economy has no plan for when everyone has every sort of widget that can be made, or for when the resource base is depleted enough that there is nowhere to go but out of business. There is also no provision for what to do when people realize that their lives are more important than the demands of their pocketbooks alone. No, the human spirit can’t be bought and sold, and before long, people working together to make things of real worth, or working together to have experiences of real connection will be the way we do things, once again. The failure of the disposable economy is already manifest; we see it in decay each day. Murder, suicide, corruption, unemployment, homelessness, divorce, lies about the wars we fight. All this is the product of a century of abandoning the connection we have to our own well being, in favor of the quick fix, and the always-available option of throwing out yesterday in favor of tomorrow. The age of disposable everything from razors to pens to cars to houses to international treaties is over. In every case, we need to take the price tag off these things and just say, ‘sorry, it's just not for sale.’

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