Voracious capitalism vs human and eco-communities

Posted November 15th, 2011 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Voracious capitalism vs human and eco-communities

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Today from Margaret Swedish:

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I have good reason for finding capitalism to be a voracious, often cruel way of human economy. Something about greed, or the ‘gold rush’ phenomenon, when a certain commodity suddenly becomes so valuable that it wipes out everything in its way, destroying lives and communities.

Kind of like what the railroads did to the continent, the way that the greed that accompanied the settling of the West meant the destruction of indigenous communities living on this land for thousands of years, of animal species, and of the nature of the land itself, cut and built and dammed and developed during incursion after incursion until what was left had been reshaped into a commodity, product, profit delivery system for booming corporations and financiers.

That’s a fairly unkind view, but one repeated in history over and over again. Think about what the gold rush did to California. It built financial empires, got a lot of people killed, created enormous pools of impoverishment and misery, destroyed large swaths of forest and polluted untold numbers of rivers and streams. It helped build San Francisco.

We valued the commodity; we did not value the wasted land, the human beings savagely exploited by mining companies or lost to their false fantasies of riches. We did not value nature itself and hence the permanent loss of so much natural beauty.

Think the early oil boom in Texas and Oklahoma. Or how we are ripping open the earth for rare earth minerals needed for all our high-tech toys and communication devices.

Think new technologies for oil and gas drilling…

Think North Dakota… because this story is tragic: Oil boom raises rents in ND, pushes seniors out. This story, my friends, as much as any I can put my hands on right now, says everything you need to know about what this economy, this culture, we as a people, value. Seniors on fixed incomes whose home is actually North Dakota? Well, not so much. They are being shoved out of their residences, and in many cases shoved right out of the state, to make way for the latest voracious, insatiable commodity boom. North Dakota has oil, lots of it. And the new drilling technologies are making it possible to extract it at a pace akin to the gold and oil rush eras of old – with similar results: ecological devastation, crass indifference to real human beings who live there, an economy run amok with the greed of fossil fuel companies and those pouring into the state to take advantage of the jobs.

Because we lamentably cannot think of another way to live…

These seniors are just part of the detritus that capitalism leaves behind when it strikes a rich vein to be extracted in exchange for riches – for the few.

Here’s a local story: developers win, farmer loses: Last New Berlin dairy farm to give way to development. It’s not because the farmer wants to go out of business, it’s because he surrenders. The sewer pipes are already going in. This is an area impacted mightily over the past 2-3 decades by the movement of white affluence out west of the City of Milwaukee. It is another example of near-in farmland being consumed, destroyed forever, by developers and those who drive their businesses.

One day we will so regret the loss of this near-in farmland. But the drivers behind this way of doing things since the railroad companies first drove their tracks across the continent, since the steam engine and the factories, since the industrial expansion after two world wars, since the creation of the myth of an American Dream that would expand and enrich itself forever and ever – those drivers remain powerful, and they still tend to run roughshod over everything in their way.

Oh, and the farm? Was in the family since the 1860s. 150 years. Doesn’t matter to the developers, the local politicians eager for an enhanced tax base, or the affluent who can afford to live in communities like this one. Just more inevitable change; just more loss of what we once valued and cared for.

Friends, we need to re-create the human community, not continue on like this. But for me the question is fundamental. Within the logic of the capitalist system, especially this more voracious version that rebirthed itself in the 80s and 90s, there is no way to stop this kind of heartlessness and habitat destruction. We are on a drive now to exploit in most savage terms wherever in this country there are fossil fuels to keep this industrial civilization going for a little while longer, whether oil, natural gas, or coal – until the inevitable collapse. If we collapsed it now, deliberately, thoughtfully, with justice, compassion, and an unleashing of enormous pent-up creativity, we could get through this with certain vital realities still intact, resilience still woven into our living systems. If we decide to let it collapse of its own logic, we will arrive at that moment in a much-diminished earth that may or may not still have enough resilience left to support the creation of a new way of life.

The measure of us will be in whether or not we allow the ‘market’ to work its will on human/earth communities. The measure of us is and will be in whether or not we believe that economies must be subservient to people like these N. Dakota seniors who in their elder years are being dislocated by voracious capitalism, or whether we believe it right to sacrifice their peace and happiness on the altars of these profiteers and our energy intensive way of life.

Really, that is what is going to tell us what we really believe, what our values are, what kind of human beings we are. This is the great moral challenge of our generation.


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