Let Somebody Else Fix It While I Grab a Salad
Sad lot that we are as a species, not everyone is a moral pig. Millions of individuals, some governments even, are unnerved by what is happening. In America the best among us are outraged, and protest that officialdom has failed us. Unfortunately, we are officialdom, indirectly as that may be. Because we are mankind and mankind is all inclusive, organically and forever – forever having turned out to be rather shorter than we thought. If officialdom has failed us, it is because we have failed ourselves, and in many respects, our official governments provide us with a collective excuse not to act personally.
Mainly, though, aware Americans are watching and waiting for someone else to make an important move. Guts are nonexistent in Americans these days, programmed out of us during the posh captivity of the “cheap oil fiesta” that drove our grotesque and brief civilization. Still, if ever there were a time to show some guts, it’s now. Not by protesting – which has become a security state supervised liberal pussy sport – but by giving up the material life, the consumer life. Damned near all of it. Including all those leftie and alternative books from Amazon – sitting on our asses reading and drinking green tea just because we can afford to is just another type of inaction and consumerism. It’s the only real act of protest possible by the prisoners of our consumption driven monolith. True, you’ll be just one iPodless and carless little guy throwing a single stone at the United States of Jabba the Hutt. But assuming you’re still capable of any kind of life after the stellazine mind conditioning we’ve all been administered for past 40 years, I’ve got folding cash that says you will own your life in a way that seemed previously impossible. Hanging onto or chasing the bling is over with anyway, as dead as the economy. The Olive Garden and Circuit City are still open, true, but only because the hair and nails still grow on Jabba’s corpse. Would somebody please quit pretending he’s alive and yank the feeding tube?
Scoffers abound, those lurching, undead cud chewers whose best lick is: “Aw, if things were really that bad somebody would be doing something about it.” Asked who that somebody might be, they usually come up with “the government.” Or science or the stupidest of all, the Free Market Solution. In other words, they haven’t the slightest fucking notion other than that there is some great governmental or commercial force that governs their destiny – one so vast that, like god, they don’t have to understand it, just swear by it and trust it, even if they don’t know exactly what the hell it is. What it is, of course, is good old fashioned pillage. But Even Alaric the Goth limited pillage to three days with an extra day of rape thrown in if it had been a particularly good siege.
The Cheeseburger Ethic
In Hopkins Village, one can find examples of everything that is both destroying the world (scarcely a villager here would not live the America lifestyle given half a chance) and good about the world (this morning I took a bath in the sea at dawn, then ate fresh papaya with one of the kids now supervising my pedicure.) Americans constitute 5% of the world’s population but consume at least 28% of the world’s resources. This is a primary contributor to the fact that the kids around me, Kirky, Lian, Ebony, Dennis and the rest have no future. Is that our fault? You and I are but two of 300 million Americans. Yet, just because one’s contribution to global misery seems small, it does not mean exemption from responsibility. If I took part in the mass stoning of a child, would I be less guilty because the stone I threw was smaller than the rest?
Compassion figures somewhere into all this. Or is supposed to anyway. Without it, we are lost. Being born American, I have as little as anyone else. Last week a young Garifuna woman in our village, a neighbor and friend, lost her baby son in a terrible truck crash. That night, with neighbors gathered round her in the dim light of her shack, her grief was beyond grief. Unable even walk, she lay on the bed issuing a low feral gurgling howl. And as I stood there packed in among the black faces I felt nothing, except a strong sense of looking at a National Geographic documentary. Exotic dark people mourning in a strange setting. That’s what American media does to human consciousness – it provides inhuman reference points in the brain/mind to replace experience and feeling. As a people who demonstrably show no guts and even less compassion about the rest of the world, we are in real trouble.
Comfortable as we have been in our plenitude, and confident as we have been in our providence – or perhaps because of these things – we Americans are now at the most critical and terrible moral and ethical juncture in our history. Do we care at all about anybody but ourselves? Is the reader, who has never met Ebony, Lian, Kirky or Dennis, responsible for accommodating any kind of future for them? Are we responsible that they be fed adequately, full well knowing that the world has far too many babies anyway?
Not many Americans would eat a cheeseburger in front of a starving African child. But is it OK to eat the cheeseburger behind the child’s back, out of sight of the child? How far must we get from the starving child to make it OK? What if we worked very hard to buy that cheeseburger? Does hard work justify everything? What is our responsibility? Or are we just helpless in the face of such things?
That we look to other people, politicians, police, and supposed experts to solve our problems demonstrates that we have learned to be helpless – learned helplessness. None of us is helpless. The fact is that at any given moment in any given day, we can do something to help eliminate world misery and disparity. As any Third World priest can tell you, this is done mostly face to face, people helping people one at a time. But America’s strictly enforced and fearful class lines prevent us from even associating with those we can actively help. The single mother, the felon just released from prison, the Mexican with four kids who empties your office waste basket at night
Americans and people of the developed world are in an unusual position. We can help by doing nothing. Simply by sitting on our asses and not buying stuff, not driving to the Gap or the organic market, not turning on our televisions, which is the ultimate act of protest, since it both denies access to our minds by corporate interests, and denies media monoliths that all important sea of eyeballs. We can refuse to consume. By not consuming we can create our own economic cutbacks. Otherwise, economic cutbacks are not going to happen and endless war is the inevitable outcome. People will be killed so others survive. Advanced nations with sophisticated weaponry will kill off the people from weaker nations so as to grab their land and resources. It happens. And if we let it get that far (well, much farther, since we’re already doing it) Americans will be in favor because we live here and not in a poor country. Evil as it sounds, we will have no choice because it is human to prefer to see others die and our own families survive. Morals never get in the way of ultimate survival. In the end, there is no other way except universal legislation to push our bloated material standard of living back three generations. Clearly democracy cannot make this happen – unless it is the democracy of the human heart, that internal thing that seeks justice.
Overcoming our worst instincts is hard enough. But we also have an array of genuine enemies lined up before us, many but not all of our own making. Being the toughest kid on the global block, we long ago chose a geo-strategic struggle for dwindling energy resources rather than conservation. Simply because we could. The richest, strongest among us, the global schoolyard bullies, the ones with the power and holding all our national wealth (they hold the wealth, we hold the debt) are seeing the same thing coming down the pike that we see, and are building their forts around the planetary neighborhood, consolidating as much wealth and power among as few people as possible.
Yet, no one is much alarmed by this because they are incapable of being alarmed by anything except what the state message tells them to be alarmed about, mainly terrorism, which is a form of chickens coming home to roost. America is moreover a nation of state supervised zombies. This used to scare the piss out of me, but now they have so long been the national furniture, they are merely depressing. Especially considering that, despite the Republican historical rewrite of the era, we, meaning my generation, had a real crack at turning this thing around during the Sixties. And we failed. We failed ourselves, failed our children. And as if that were not enough, we failed the planet and humanity itself. Fucking up doesn’t come bigger than that. I spent at least a decade nailing the bling. The only excuse I can offer is that I didn’t know any better. And I didn’t. But somehow that seems so lame.
I’m trying to atone. Yes, that is the right word here, atone – for my part in this unholy mess. I try to live on about $4000 – $5000 a year and come close to pulling it off. I share the rest with the world’s needy, almost never drive, refuse to own a cell phone or anything else that requires earth killing batteries other than the laptop that now provides my livelihood, yada yada you know the drill. Lest I sound holier than thou, let me confess to my continuing part in fucking up the earth’s food chain due to a love of pork. But on the whole, I’m not too ashamed these days of my role in the ongoing disaster called America, though there is more I could do. Almost weekly I seriously consider refusing to pay income taxes as an act of personal resistance. But I ain’t Joan Baez and this ain’t the Sixties, and I’m scared shitless of going it alone. (Work with me here people!) Besides that, my wife is unenthusiastic about the idea of her geezer playing dressups in the Big House. The relatives would talk.
Thus, I am moreover just waiting it out. Either I’ll watch my sorry assed species walk right off that cliff, or I will croak first. Crappy set of choices. Meanwhile, on a good day I realize that I’ve still got horses to break, ball games to fix and beer to drink.
Joe Bageant lives between Hopkins Village, Belize and Winchester Virginia. He is the author of Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches From America’s Class War. More of his essays can be found on www.joebageant.com