|Culture Change e-Letter #47
Peace and the U.S. petro-city
by Jan Lundberg
Like an animal leaving the safety of the forest - which describes me - the sight of San Francisco skyscrapers, all lit up in the darkness as the Greyhound bus hurtles over the Bay Bridge, frightens and revolts me.
At one time, I felt impressed by the engineering marvels and sophisticated people buzzing about "The City." Despite the fact that almost half of them are smart enough to have voted for a progressive Green candidate for mayor December 9, this time I felt disgusted and sad for the rats-in-a-cage scurrying around polluting with or without their cars.
This is a fairly recent feeling. Since I began to make a home in the redwood forest - enjoying having very few material things, being almost at one with all the creatures - I've felt less affinity for cities and their toxic filth and strained social relationships. The feeling is getting stronger as I look about any U.S. town's streets with their lifeless, oily, hard surfaces, seeing the alienated members of society busily working to survive. People's interactions and city dwellers' relation to the land appear stranger and stranger to me as the grand goal seems to be to fulfill artificial needs created largely by unnecessary competition.
The artificial environment is foreboding and evil, with all the cold steel, concrete, glass and miscellaneous substances and structures. Dreams are as limited as the freedoms there are to walk freely and think with an open mind. I have a name for most U.S. cities I've frequented: the admittedly liberal city snobbily referred to as "The City" - never "Frisco" - I call Sham FranPsycho. The place deserves it especially when the whole metro area is compared favorably against smelL.A., unfairly so, when both are sprawled-out disasters.
Compensating for fear
Urban acts of kindness are infinite, bestowed as constant therapy, as much for the giver as the receiver. Meanwhile, diversion and short-term gratification are industries to compensate for the disunity and slavery that are predominant. A city tells itself there is nothing greater than the art created and that's displayed usually for a price. Unless the art speaks to us of truth, it serves to distract and tranquilize.
Progress has the biggest price, and some of us who don't work hard enough or who are substance abusers just don't make it. Homeless people, therefore, are a significant part of an ever-scarier cityscape. Not surprisingly, nothing is offered by society's big-moneyed rulers to eradicate the root causes of homelessness.
The populace is controlled significantly through fear. Our recent report on brain control via pollutants covered some issues regarding the limiting of mass behavior including propaganda and commercialism. Fear-mongering and terrorizing the citizenry are alive and well in America as essential components of propagandizing: When the population is alerted by the mass media to, for some examples, lurking serial killers who are Moslem or the possibility of a "terrorist attack" or a rash of kidnappings, this conveniently diverts people from dealing with real threats that the mass media do not bother with: corporate polluters causing cancer and war. People are kept off balance through new fears and alarming reports, which squelches the organizing necessary to change society rationally.
Hence, a caged city. The omnipresent walls and fences attest to privatization driven by fear and greed. Besides locks for every gate and door, there are always more security measures - often high-tech with potential for abuse, courtesy of non-accountable corporations and government agencies.
As reactions to fear and paranoia intrude on almost every aspect of life, friends and families lose cohesiveness. For example, someone in need in an emergency is shockingly not assisted by a person normally assumed to be counted on. It may be because there is the chance of credit-card fraud in providing emergency assistance using telecommunications. So much for society's vaunted techno progress and the added shopping convenience foisted on us for our busy, modern lives.
Some blame the police for most of their unhappiness, but it is only logical that police would be inevitable, and arguably indispensable, for a large population. People are too numerous and in close quarters for some tribal-village code, and to their credit city dwellers are fairly nice almost always. They increasingly sense that they should stay in line, and look the other way when protesters are met by militarized robocops who all too often stomp on civil rights and lie in court. The police, like the military, are bound to increasingly become tools of the state which mainly exists for the rich. One shouldn't focus so much on the police as the actual agents of reaction, but instead should remember that an overpopulated "Nazi Babylon" is not able to be a grouping of eco-villagers surrounded by their cultivated and wild land. Well, actually, let's try that, and anticipate its development on its own in due course.
Cities on oil
Did I mention petroleum? Like a vampire, the city wickedly guzzles its fill and knows no moderation in sucking the world's collective life-blood. Others must die that it may live. This is not intended, as much as petro-domination is a consequence - of "progress" and the justifications of corporate profitability and U.S. national security. Iraqis, Columbians, Mesoamericans, Afghanis and Nigerians die every day at the hands of the U.S. petroleum machine and blessed consumerism. Whether the petroleum consumption is by a corporation, a farm or an individual, oil and natural gas usage is a diet based inextricably on killing people and driving extinct countless species. The fact that the red, white and blue flag is waved and stands for freedom (for moneyed citizens) excuses the unbridled waste of resources for modern convenience and material wealth.When the red, white and blue waves over oil refineries across the bay from cities such as San Francisco, chemical emissions (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons, particulates, and heavy metals) are released into the air to soil the fluttering flag. This aspect of the city is left out of the postcards and our mental image of our great cities, as if nearby refineries are off in Timbuktoo. Paying the price, residents near the refineries' airborne toxins frequently develop breathing difficulties, asthma, and lung cancer. Since these residents are lower income and/or African descent, their medical conditions are more easily ignored. A refinery bringing the citizenry today's common conveniences and luxuries is a link in the exploration, extraction, export, byproducts and production/sales of the multicorporate ((Halliburton, DuPont, Exxon, et al) petrochemical complex of the US empire.
The lumbering giant, the petroleum-mainlining USA (United States of Asphalt), is about to fall. While that sounds unthinkable or bad, conservation and good ol' 'merican ingenuity will see us on though to a sustainable society - after, uhh, a massive die-off due to the failure of petroleum-agriculture/distribution in a collapsing petro-economy.
As the average North American city today has an ecological footprint of 25 acres per one acre of actual city, we can picture this suddenly becoming a one-to-one eco-footprint through urban gardens that lack petroleum for still reliable food production/distribution - much like Havana, Cuba today. Sorry, but the 50%-less energy-use level in Western Europe is not an available option for the U.S. This is because the prime energy glutton of the planet has, for too many decades, squandered its chance to plan for and bring about a manageable transition to an efficient economy. So, shouldn't we prepare, starting now, for a softer landing, eh? This is the main point of these essays.
Christmastime for death culture: just shop!
"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." A can of foam is sprayed on the bus station glass doors around the sides to resemble frost. How cozy and toxic. An apartment next to the freeway beams its electric Christmas tree out of its little window, reminding us of what - gifts wrapped with what will join millions of tons of trash? or homeless Semites giving birth in mangers? or greenhouse gases from pointless fossil-fuel use?
In the distance, the fancy houses on the hill beam their global-warming beacons, reminding us that one can enjoy life as long as there is money.
There's room at the top they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
- Working Class Hero, John Lennon
When one person is robbed of nature and of freedom (the two losses are often one and the same), everyone is robbed and infringed upon. To create material wealth, the idea is always to rob many, not just one person. The theft and exploitation of our bodies, land, water and climate have been in full swing for so long that our culture is all about it. Nowadays, even families prey upon each other, typically in the most "advanced" of the civilized nations: the USA. Even if without obvious theft and oppression, the simple, happy worker "getting ahead" who's living life to the fullest - ingesting carcinogens and having no time to pursue dreams - is still surrounded by pavement and technological systems of coercion. Swarms of drones try too hard to get through each day.
This false bill of goods is sold to over a hundred million hapless U.S. citizens who are often at best products of a public education system that supports the status quo. All this is becoming clear to more and more of us. Whether one is houseless and has thereby contemplated the economic system's unseemly wonders, or one has erected a little fortress of consumption (cutting oneself off from most of humanity and the universe), the paltry rewards of materialism are evident. But one is allowed to drive! In the stress of the motorized city, that which is painted as pleasure tends to become transparent as a grinding imposition, whether it is an intercity trip to see family or the creation of family as in sexual love. It is for naive children and young people that myths of attainable joy and fulfillment are promoted and sold. False values help sell, for example, the frivolous pursuits of enjoying a popular derrière, whether one's own or someone else's.
Peace if you really want it
Before one's life is half over, if not first slaughtered by war, car or cancer, one senses that the demands and pressures of city life render the metropolis to be somewhat less than it's cracked up to be. We often marry for awhile and, if we're advantaged, we have a mortgage (the root word of which is death), but the dream rapidly deflates. So we seek extra meaning - such as having an affair or losing oneself in an obsessive hobby. Meanwhile, the real cures are considered unrealistic or too radical.
Living in peace with our neighbors, doing as we please each day in a creative, cooperative fashion, and having a society that serves all its members equally, have lately been unpursued except by the occasional do-gooder nuts. Fortunately, these folk often find each other and their common cause, lending one another support. With the power of culture truth, they are not under many illusions.
Many of us are thinking outside the U.S. box of consumerism. We take some action, as we are stimulated in part by the perhaps imminent collapse of the petro-cities. We're all coping the best we can, whatever our viewpoint or awareness. The quest for intermittent sanity is often undertaken amidst dwindling nature reserves. This is laudable and necessary when cities reject the wild. Unfortunately, cars and petroleum are main companions in venturing out of the caged cities of oblivion. This individualistic choice is justifiable during the absence of a major urban movement visibly active every day. Yet, let us pay heed to creating human-free wilderness preservers. For my part, I will keep my car-free vigil from my vantage point outside the privatized fortress called town, and keep sharing my thoughts and songs.