Occasionally I find it necessary to explain my values, and the values of my local Food Not Bombs chapter to others, and now is one of those times.
I have made an outward commitment to not using cars and to not buy food that comes in packaging, and so have many other members of our community.
Let me explain.
The nation state of Estados Unidos, the “U.S.”, per capita consumes far more than the average person in the world, by many multiple times more, ratio’s like forty to one compared to people living in countries being forced through development, and many times far above levels that are sustainable. To do this we fight constant wars of aggression, invading countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, and dropping bombs from drones in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and others. Since the beginning of the first war against Iraq, we have killed over a million people, including the lives of five hundred thousand children who died from sanctions. This is for no other reason than to control the governments of these countries so we can dominate their economies and extract whatever resources they have onto the global market and force them to consume and produce in the same neo-liberal fashion we do, basically forcing them to use our system. This is not new. You can go back to the founding of the country if you want, but I find it more illuminating to just go back to the beginning of the 20th century when all the major world wars were fought with modern technology, and compare the number of civilian deaths in “U.S.” wars to those of other tyrannical regimes. The fact that the “U.S.” is a “democracy” doesn’t seem to make it any less competitive when it comes to racking up a death count. When you add up the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars, with the current “covert”, which I think is better described as overt, drone bombing campaigns, with Vietnam, the Philippines, and countless other “covert” operations in South America, our millions of deaths stack up quite nicely if you’re proud of such nationalistic rankings.
On the home front the battle over fossil fuels is different. Having long since past peak oil we have now entered the technology phase, where all our problems are solved by fraking and mining tar sands. The damage being done to the environment take on two major forms. The first is the continual release of CO2 into the environment, which is on schedule to increase the temperature of the earth by 3-6 degreed Celsius or 5-10 degrees Fahrenheit. This is already taking effect, glacier and ice sheets are melting at a rapid rate, and weather patterns are changing to a degree that is increasing natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and droughts. The effect has gone beyond reversible, and has entered the mitigating phase only. The second effect is the polluting of mainly the water supply, but also the air that we breath. Massive amounts of water are required to frack oil and gas, and to process bitumen tar sands, not to mention their direct risk to water wells and tables where they are mined and pipped across. The damage that we are currently doing to the environment is destroying the climate that we depend upon to grow food, and the water we drink to sustain life.
The good news for us personally is because we live in a rich country, and can afford to finance our unsustainable lifestyle based on our privilege alone, we will likely be the last to starve as long as our monetary system doesn’t collapse and our government is able to continue financing by far the world’s largest and deadliest military force; and of course as long as we’re willing and able to accept wage-slavery within that system and maintain income that can afford us plenty of bottled water and packaged food, and maybe even access to nice neighborhoods where excess shipped food goes to waste in garbage cans and compost bins when they’re not locked.
Since I have been volunteering with our local chapter of Food Not Bombs in the spring of 2010 I have made an outward commitment to not use cars. This has been by far the most liberating thing I have experienced in my life. I do not require a license, registration, insurance and I do not have to work at a job to pay for fuel acquired by means which violate my conscience. I live a life that has real meaning everyday. I have a very difficult time remembering what it was like before I achieved this level of independence.
Now I marvel at the pathology of both our collective society and individuals I encounter in my daily life. Our society sends people to the very end of a pipeline to chain themselves to heavy equipment to block it’s completion, yet drive everyday in their normal lives without ever making the connection between the effect their individual actions have upon the ultimate outcome. Let me tell you something. The pipeline does not start at the tar sands. The pipeline starts in our driveway and at the fuel pump. The pipeline starts when we use fossil fuels, which sends a demand signal to the larger economy to produce more. The same can be said for the bombs that get dropped on poor countries to secure the economic regions where fossil fuels are currently and have historically been extracted (along with most other commodities for that matter.) When we use fossil fuels we are dropping bombs on poor people and destroying our own climate and water.
This is a time of year when lots of people are talking about “magic” and using “magic” to heal the earth. Let me tell you something else. When we are talking about real magic we can’t just focus on the ceremony committed at the final end of the losing side of an utter and completely devastating conquest. We also have to be aware of the manipulative and alchemical forms of magic that got us to the ceremony, that we empower by our complicit engagement in their use, such as our cars and fuel produced by oil companies that power them. All forms of modern technology and science come from the magic of alchemy, and the common adoption of their use is reinforced by the manipulative magic of advertising. I am not advocating primitivism, and by all means recommend using the same technology against our foes when required to block their final aggressions. At the same time though, if we fail to recognize the need to change our daily lives then it is all for nought. It is not just to no affect, it is actually to a negative affect to engage in primitivist forms of magic while depending on the same much more powerful alchemical and manipulative forms of magic used by the fossil fuel industry that we are supposed to be fighting against.
The failure to make the connection between our own use of fossil fuels and their wider effects, can be diagnosed as nothing less than schizophrenic at best, for both individuals and the collective psychology as a whole. Let’s stop being schizophrenic. Let’s start living according to our values. As “Food Not Bombs” our values should include not engaging in the consumption practices that cause war and environmental destruction, which includes driving. I don’t want to snub my nose at anyone who drives. I want to shock the shit out of them so they wake up from the schizophrenic and suicidal nightmarish reality that currently exists and is being perpetuated by their own actions.
There’s a guy I admire and always point to when I make my own point about not driving, and that is S. Brian Willson. This guy is an ex-marine, who lost his legs fasting on a railroad track to block arms shipments to Nicaragua in the 1980′s, because the military train engineer decided to speed up, instead of slowing down and stopping, when he saw Brian on the tracks. The engineer knew Brian was on the tracks, but sped up because Brian represented a threat to his superior officer’s ideological identity as a “capitalist” and a “nationalist.” They didn’t just want to kill Brian, but also wanted to kill what Brian represented, an alternative to militarism and aggression. Now Brian is in his 70′s and rides a hand powered bike with a sign on the back that reads “Pedaling to stop Oil Wars.” I would like to add to that in our post-peak world to “stop oil wars and environmental destruction”, such as tar sands, pipelines and fracking as well. A couple years ago Brian rode all the way down to San Francisco from Portland on his hand powered bike to share the book he had written on his life. If a 70 year old guy without legs can ride a bike we can. If an ex-marine can change their lives to support mutual aid and solidarity instead militarism and aggression we can. Our lives can have real meaning right now as long as we start living them according to our values.
Let’s stop being schizophrenic about our consumption behaviors relative to our activism and values, otherwise we can be described as nothing more than racist and elitist at best. Let’s start speaking up to everyone around us, at least once- we don’t have to be a nag, but let’s tell everyone we know and come in contact with what are values are, and why and how we live by them. Let’s communicate to each other what we know is okay to engage in and what’s not. Let’s not judge each other as if we are lost causes that can never change, but rather judge our behavior as either life sustaining or not, and use protective force in our own lives and the world around us to live our lives in a constant state of permanent revolution- a permanent general fucking strike- between every political action and demonstration, until we achieve real culture change.