Life versus Capitalism

Dahr Jamail (The Morning Star)

If someone broke into your house, pinned down your loved ones and began pouring poison down their throats, would you stop that person?
What if someone poured crude oil all over your crops and livestock? Would you try to stop them from doing it?

Pointed questions like these come from a man named Derrick Jensen. They provide a lens through which to view the havoc that corporate capitalism is wreaking on our planet. They are meant to jolt us into the awareness that we are watching life being annihilated and to challenge us into thinking about what form our resistance to this should take.

“I think what we need to do is to stop deluding ourselves into believing that those in power will do what they have not done and they’ve shown no inclination to do, which is to support life over production,” says Jensen, an author and environmental activist who lives in northern California.

Lewis Mumford, a US historian and philosopher of science and technology, writes: “The chief premise common to both technology and science is the notion that there are no desirable limits to the increase of knowledge, of material goods, of environmental control – that quantitative productivity is an end in itself and that every means should be used to further expansion.”

But how can unlimited growth and productivity be possible on a planet with finite resources? Simple answer – it cannot. Yet we are all being pushed at breakneck speed toward a future that promises catastrophic global climate change, depleted natural resources, environmental degradation and human chaos and suffering on an apocalyptic scale. One hundred and twenty species of life are erased from the planet each day. Ninety per cent of all the easily caught fish in the oceans are gone. The Arctic ice cap is vanishing before our eyes as global temperatures continue to rise.

This is happening not because any of us want it but because those in power, answerable only to their corporate sponsors, are playing out their mantra of “every means should be used to further expansion.”

Mumford says a change in this mindset of perpetual expansion is only likely to happen with “an all-out fatal shock treatment, close to catastrophe, to break the hold of civilised man’s chronic psychosis.”

We have already had many of these “fatal shock treatments” – the Exxon Valdez spill, the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, Chernobyl, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Agent Orange, Love Canal, Three Mile Island, the Seveso Italian dioxin crisis and the Baia Mare cyanide spill. These are just a few. The list is long. And now we can add the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP’s oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded in April and for 36 hours its flames released immeasurable amounts of toxins into the atmosphere before the platform sunk.
We now know that the vast majority of the oil that gushed from the well was intentionally submerged by BP with heavy use of dispersants at the wellhead so most of the oil is floating around in giant undersea plumes – one of which is 10 miles long, three miles wide and 300 feet thick. They are like “oil-bergs” – what we see on top of the water is a mere fraction of what lies beneath.

If independent estimates of the amount of oil released into the Gulf are correct, as many as one Exxon Valdez-load of oil – 250,000 barrels – was released into the Gulf of Mexico every two-and-a-half days. That’s 8,700,000 barrels of oil or 34 Exxon Valdezes released into the Gulf of Mexico.

Conversely, what actions have been taken to bring BP to account? Will the CEO spend time in jail? Government officials and institutions that have colluded with BP – how about them being brought to justice?

When the Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989 the incident was considered to be among the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters in history.

Even after the surface oil is cleaned up in the Gulf of Mexico, scientific studies already show, as they have shown in Prince William Sound, that oil can remain trapped in the seabed for decades continuing to contaminate and kill fish, shrimp, crabs and bird life. To date a maximum of only 14 per cent of the oil spilled in that disaster has been recovered. As you read this, BP is scaling down the response efforts to the current Gulf disaster.

Meanwhile, as the so-called free market that allows unchecked corporate powers like BP to pollute and destroy our ecosystems with impunity continues, another oil platform has exploded in the Gulf, this time 80 miles south of Louisiana.
Jensen believes that expecting those in power to do what is right for human beings, much less the planet, “is delusional.

“Their function in a democracy is to give us the illusion of power, but the truth is that they do what they want,” Jensen explains. “Why is it that cops are always called in to break strikes but not help the strikers? When the function of the state is to support the privatisation of profits and the externalisation of costs, what kind of state is this?”

Jensen summarises the situation we face. “The point is that when a gold-mining corporation spreads cyanide all over the mine and this hits our groundwater and wells, and destroys ground waters in Montana, they are not called a terrorist, they are called a capitalist.”

The same can be said for BP, Exxon, Monsanto, Bayer, Dow and Lockheed Martin. It’s a long list.

“If it was space aliens coming down and systematically changing the planet would we appeal to them through lawsuits, take off our clothes and make peace symbols, petitions?” Jensen asks.

Jensen believes that we are at a point in history where the existence of the very planet upon which we live is at stake. If the perpetual growth, corporate capitalist industrial machine is allowed to continue, we will die. Thus, it must be stopped by any means necessary.
To illustrate what might be possible by taking a militant approach Jensen points to Johann Georg Elser, the man who attempted to assassinate Adolph Hitler in 1939.

“Everyone agrees that if Hitler was killed in 1939 the war doesn’t happen,” Jensen explains. “The point is that I want people to think like members of a resistance. The first thing that means is to start thinking away from being part of a capitalist industrial system and away from this government that we all acknowledge serves corporations better than us, and toward the land where we live.”

Many are concerned that the approach Jensen advocates will generate extreme government crackdowns on activists working on topics across the political spectrum, that the use of violence to promote change is a bankrupt strategy and one that is doomed to failure.

“We need a wide range of tactics, which can include fighting back and attacking the infrastructure. I don’t know what is so radical or incendiary about believing that living oceans are more important than a social structure. The culture as a whole suffers from insanity, one form of which is that this social structure is more important than the living planet.

“I don’t believe you can suffer the delusion that you can systematically dismantle a planet and live on it. It’s very simple to me. Life is more important than capitalism.”

Read more of Dahr Jamail’s journalism at His new book The Will To Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan is out now published by Haymarket books.

The Morning Star


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