Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

Let's expose the structure of violence that keeps the world economy running.

Let's expose the structure of violence that keeps the world economy running.

With an entire planet being slaughtered before our eyes, it's
terrifying to watch the very culture responsible for this - the culture
of industrial civilization, fueled by a finite source of fossil fuels,
primarily a dwindling supply of oil - thrust forward wantonly to fuel
its insatiable appetite for "growth."

Deluded by myths of progress and suffering from the psychosis of
technomania complicated by addiction to depleting oil reserves,
industrial society leaves a crescendo of atrocities in its wake.

A very partial list would include the Bhopal chemical disaster,
numerous oil spills, the illegal depleted uranium-spewing occupations of
Iraq, Afghanistan, mountaintop removal, the nuclear meltdown of
Fukushima, the permanent removal of 95 percent of the large fish from
the oceans (not to mention full-on systemic collapse of those oceans),
indigenous communities replacement by oil wells, the mining of coltan
for cell phones and Playstations along the Democratic Republic of the
Congo/Rwanda border - resulting in tribal warfare and the
near-extinction of the Eastern Lowland gorilla.

As though 200 species going extinct each day were not enough, climate
change, a direct result of burning fossil fuels, has proved not only to
be as unpredictable as it is real, but as destructive as it is
unpredictable. The erratic and lethal characteristics of a changing
planet and its shifting atmosphere are becoming the norm of the 21st
century, their impact accelerating at an alarming pace, bringing this
planet closer, sooner than later, to a point of uninhabitable
ghastliness. And yet, collective apathy, ignorance and self-imposed
denial in the face of all this sadistic exploitation and violence
marches this culture closer to self-annihilation.

Lost in the eerily comforting fantasy of limitless growth, production
and consumption, many people cling to things like Facebook, Twitter,
"Jersey Shore" and soulless pop music as if their lives depended on it,
identifying with a reality that's artificial and constructed, that
panders to desire rather than necessity, that delicately conceals the
violence at the other end of this economy, a violence so widespread that
we're all not only complicit in it to a degree (e.g., if you're a
taxpayer, you help subsidize the manufacturing of weapons of mass
destruction), but victims of it as well. As Chris Hedges admonished in
his books, "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy" and the "Triumph of
Spectacle," any culture that cannot distinguish reality from illusion
will kill itself.

Moreover, any culture that cannot distinguish reality from illusion
will kill everything and everyone else in its path as well as itself.

As the world burns, as species die off, as mothers breastfeed their
children with dioxin-tainted breast milk, as nuclear reactors melt down
into the Pacific while the aerial deployment of depleted uranium damages
innocent lives, it is perplexing that so few people fight back against a
system that has horror as a reality for most living on the planet. And
those who fight back, who stand in opposition to the culture behind such
wholesale abuse and call it what it is - a genocidal mega-state
(especially if you believe that the lives of nonhumans are as important
to them as yours is to you and mine is to me) - are met with hostility
and hatred, scoffed at, harassed, even tortured. With so much at stake,
why aren't more people deafening their ears to the nutcases who preach a
future of infinite-growth economies? And why do so many people continue
to put "the economy" first, to take industrial capitalism as we know it
as a given and not fight back, defend what's left of the natural world?

"One of the reasons there aren't more people working to take down the
system that's killing the planet is because their lives depend on the
system," author and environmental activist Derrick Jensen told me from
his home in California when I interviewed him on the phone recently. "If
your experience is that your food comes from the grocery store and your
water comes from the tap, then you are going to defend to the death the
system that brings those to you because your life depends on them,"
Jensen explained. "If your experience, however, is that your food comes
from a land base and that your water comes from a stream, well, then you
will defend to the death that land base and that stream. So part of the
problem is that we have become so dependent upon this system that is
killing and exploiting us, it has become almost impossible for us to
imagine living outside of it and it's very difficult physically for us
to live outside of it.

"The other problem is that fear is the belief we have something left to
lose. What I mean by this is that I really like my life right now, as
do a lot of people. We have a lot to lose if this culture is to go down.
A primary reason so many of us do not want to win this war - or even
acknowledge that it's going on - is that we materially benefit from this
war's plunder. I'm really unsure how many of us would be willing to
give up our automobiles and cell phones, hot showers and electric
lights, our grocery and clothing stores. But the truth is, the system
that leads to these things, that leads to technological advancement and
our identity as civilized beings, are killing us and, more importantly,
killing the planet."

Even in the absence of global warming, this culture would still be
murdering the planet, bumping off pods of whales and flocks of birds;
detonating mountaintops to access strata of coal and bauxite,
eliminating entire ecosystems. All this violence inflicted upon an
entire planet to run an economy based on the foolish and immoral notion
that we can sustain industrial societies, all while trashing the
planet's land bases, ecosystems and life. And the fantastic rhetoric
those who insist on adapting to these changes promulgate - that
technology will find a fix, that we can adapt, that the planet can and
will conform to fixes in the market - is dangerous.

"Another part of the problem," Jensen told me, "is the narratives
behind this culture's way of living. The premises of these narratives
grant us the exclusive rights and privileges of dominion over this
planet. Whether you subscribe to the religion of Science or of
Christianity, these narratives tell us that our intelligence and
abilities permit us exclusive rights and privileges to work our will on
the world that is here for us to use. The problem with these stories,
whether you believe in them or not, is that they have real effects on
the physical world. The stories we're told about the world shape the way
we perceive the world and the way we perceive the world shapes the way
we behave in the world. The stories of industrial capitalism - that we
can sustain infinite-growth economies - shapes the way this culture
behaves in the world. And this behavior is killing the planet. Whether
the stories we are told are fantasies or not doesn't matter, what
matters is that these narratives are physical: the stories of
Christianity may be fantasy - let's pretend for a moment that God
doesn't exist - well, the Crusades still happened; the notion of race or
gender may be up for debate, but obviously, race and gender does matter
and this postmodern attitude drives me crazy because, yeah, race and
gender is not an actual thing, but it all has real-world effects -
African Americans comprise 58 percent of the prison population and
one-third of all black men between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine
are under some sort of criminal justice supervision; as for gender, well
real males rape females.

"Another example [of how things that truly aren't real still have
real-world effects]," Jensen continued, "is there was this serial killer
a while back who was killing women in Santa Cruz. Voices in his head
were telling him that if he didn't kill these women, then California
would slide off into the ocean. It's apparent this guy was delusional, a
total nut job and sick in the head, but his delusions still resulted in
real-world effects. Hitler too had the delusion that Jews were
poisoning the race. That delusion had real-world effects. And we can sit
around and discuss whether Weyerhaeuser truly exists, but forests still
get deforested. Or better yet, it's pretty clear that it's silly to really
believe that the world won't run out of oil ... and then it's suddenly
clear that it's not so silly - there is a physical reality. In the real
world, you can't have a nature/culture split, but in this culture you do
and it has real effects on the physical world. You can't live on a
planet and kill it at the same time."

You find the problem with an industrial production economy when you
unpack the word "production." As Jensen makes clear in his book "The
Culture of Make Believe," production is essentially the conversion of
the living to the dead: animals into cold cuts, mountains and rivers
into aluminum beer cans, trees into toilet paper, oil into plastics and
computers (one computer uses ten times its own mass in fossil fuels). To
go paperless is not to go green, or maybe it is, depending on what
shade of Green we're talking about here. Basically, every commodity one
comes in contact with is soaked in oil, made from resources, marked by,
as Jensen puts it, the turning of the living to the dead: Industrial

And with conflicts and wars that are waged or instigated by this
culture to access (steal) the resources needed to fuel this economy's
colossal machines, this culture winds up butchering entire
non-industrialized communities of people ... the elderly, children who
cling to their mothers as drones hawk over staggered onlookers ... the
innocent and vulnerable written off as "collateral damage." Himmler used
a similar epithet for Jews, Gypsies, Poles, Serbs, Belarusians, and
other Slavic peoples in a pamphlet he edited and had distributed by the
SS Race and Settlement Head Office: "Untermenschen."

This is an acceptable price we must pay it, so we are told.

In the US, more lives are lost weekly from preventable cancers and
other illnesses than are lost in ten years from terrorist attacks. And
the corporations this culture fights for overseas are the very
organizations culpable for these domestic deaths every week.

The list of victims whose lives are subject to violent assault and
extinction to feed this culture's "production" is as long and as diverse
as you want to make it.

"An infinite-growth economy is not only insane and impossible,"
remarked Jensen, "it's also abusive, by which I mean that it's based on
the same conceit as more personal forms of abuse. It is, in fact, the
macroeconomic enshrinement of abusive behavior. The guiding principle of
abusive behavior is that the abuser refuses to respect or abide by
limits or boundaries put up by the victim. Growth economies are
essentially unchecked and will push past any boundaries set up by anyone
other than the perpetrators. And a successful abuser will always ensure
that there are some 'benefits' for the victim, in this case, e.g., we
can watch TV, we can have computer access and play games online - we get
'benefits' that essentially keep us in line.

"Furthermore, according to the stories of industrial capitalism, this
economic system must constantly increase production to grow and what,
after all, is production? It is indeed the conversion of the living to
the dead, the conversion of living forests into two-by-fours, living
rivers into stagnant pools for generating hydroelectricity, living fish
into fish sticks and ultimately all of these into money. And really,
what is gross national product? It's a measure of this conversion of the
living to the dead. The more quickly the living world is converted into
dead products, the higher the GNP. And these simple equations are
complicated by the fact that when GNP goes down, people often lose jobs.
No wonder the world is getting killed.

"And if we take global warming into consideration here - oh and I
believe the latest study on global warming mentioned something along the
lines of the planet now being on track to heat up by 29 degrees in the
next eighty years ... if that isn't curtailed immediately, no one will
survive that ... And so all the so-called solutions to global warming
take industrial capitalism as a given. And here we see the same old
abusive behavior: the narratives are not only created around the
perceptions of the perpetrators, i.e. those in power, but are forced
upon us by them as well, so we come to believe the narratives and accept
them as a given. And, essentially, to take industrial capitalism as a
given when it comes to solutions to global warming is absolutely absurd
and insane. It's out of touch with physical reality. Yet it has
disastrous effects on the real physical world. If you force a planet to
conform to ideology you get what you get.

"A while back I had a conversation with an anarchist who was
complaining that I was 'too ideological,' and that my ideology was 'the
health of the earth.' Well, actually, the earth is not and cannot ever
be an ideology. The earth is physical. It is real. And it is primary.
Without soil, you don't have a healthy land base and without a healthy
land base you don't eat, you die. Without drinkable clean water you

And this is one of the problems with our culture: its lack of ability
to separate ideology - the kind that accommodates maximizing pleasure
and domination - from the needs of the natural world. And, so, if
solutions to global warming do not immediately address the basic needs
of the planet, well ... we're fucked.
"One has to ask," pressed Jensen, "if
hammerhead sharks could provide solutions, if the indigenous could give
solutions and if we would listen to the solutions they are already
giving, would these solutions take industrial capitalism as a given? The
bottom line is that capitalist solutions to global warming are coming
from the capitalist boosters, from those in power who are responsible
for exploiting and destroying us and more importantly, the planet."

By the 1940s, in Germany, Arthur Nebe's gassing van was in wide use.
Those who drove Nebe's death vans never thought of themselves as
murderers, just as another somebody getting paid to drive a van, to do a
job. Today, those who work for Boeing, Raytheon, Weyerhaeuser, Exxon
Mobil, BP, the Pentagon ... will always see themselves as employees, not
murderers. They will always see themselves as working a job that needs
to be done.

Those members of this culture who blindly go along without
interrogating the culture's narratives, who identify with the pathology
of this culture, will always see themselves as just other members of
society. For these people, the murder of a planet feels like economics;
it feels normal after having been pushed out of consciousness by
careers, styles and fashions; it may not even feel like anything at all
after being psychically numbed by pop radio, sitcoms, smart phones,
video games ... But at the other end of all these glittery distractions
is an unremitting array of violence, poverty, extinction, environmental

"I saw this right-wing bumper sticker the other day that read, 'You can
have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers,' but it's not
just guns: we're going to have to pry rigid claws off steering wheels,
cans of hair spray, TV remote controls and two-liter bottles of Jolt
Cola," cautioned Jensen. "Each of these individually and all of these
collectively are more important to many people than are lampreys,
salmon, spotted owls, sturgeons, tigers, our own lives. And that is a
huge part of the problem. So of course we don't want to win. We'd lose
our cable TV. But I want to win. With the world being killed, I want to
win and will do whatever it takes to win."

When Adolph Eichmann stood before the Jerusalem District Court and was
asked why he agreed to the task of deporting Jews to the ghettos and
concentration camps, his response was, No one ever told me what I was doing was wrong.
Today, 200 species have become extinct; another indigenous community
will disappear from this planet forever; an entire forest will be
removed; and millions of human lives will be forced to endure the
agonies of famine, war, disease, thirst, the loss of their land, their
community, their way of life. Not enough people have stepped forward to
say that what this culture is doing to the planet is wrong.

Well, here it is folks: What this culture is doing to our very selves,
what it's doing to the planet, is wrong. So damn wrong. And the sooner
we replace this economy, the sooner we can dissolve these toxic
illusions and their formative narratives. Only then, can we begin to
live the free lives we were born to live and win the fight.

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.


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