Time Travel Gone Bad

Petrochemical agriculture is a program that uses statistical risk assessment to balance the need of farmers to extract a capital profit out of farming commensurate with the profit to be extracted from oil-based industries (which severely damage or even destroy the land in order to produce that profit, at least in Canada), the need of people for food, and the need of the rest of the earth to remain alive, in the web of relationships called “life”. In this model, farmers produce food for international export, using imported labour and imported capital, on local land and water (with minimal local employment). Much of this “food” languishes on supermarket shelves or gets turned into juice, which isn’t any good for anyone, as its sugar content is too high for it to be healthy. It becomes only a form of caloric investment. These are, however, the products that a capital-intensive model can support. What it means up close is this:   P1800912You’re looking at a farmer spraying highly-engineered poisons toxic to insects (and birds and humans) on a dwarf cherry orchard, to produce oversize hormonally-manipulated cherries for a speciality market in China. Millions of dollars are involved per farm. Local people don’t eat these cherries, and, frankly, they are only good to look at. Unfortunately, just a few hundred metres away, this red-winged blackbird …red… and his family need those insects. Deeper into the reeds, the yellow-headed blackbird needs them as well. yellow Risk assessment calculates the relative safety of these chemicals, in respect of their toxicity to both humans and wildlife, such as the red-winged and yellow-headed blackbirds above, but it does not calculate the risk of alienation that this approach makes permanent. The humans who share this environment with the blackbirds, the insects, the cherries and the poisons, for example, see “nature” as a reserve area, some place separated from exploitation. That’s understandable, given the social context in which humans today are embedded by their general failure to address the kind of exploitation made evident in the factory farm above. From this social stance,”nature” is an area in which certain human activities are curtailed (but not the general reduction of available insects for birds), rather than a space with its own energies and requirements. Indigenous ways of thinking set aside reserved areas for human habitation, which makes more sense. The reason for this turnaround is that humans are such terrific predators, prone to such insane violence, that in large enough populations, supported by large enough surpluses of excess petrochemical energy, only through a carefully-maintained and carefully-worked-out system of balances can they be prevented from trashing the whole joint. Here is a view of the blackbird’s (and turtle’s and blue heron’s) environment, complete with abandoned boat, four-lane highway on rich wetland, mini-storage, equipment yard, and the ruins of vegetable farms and orchards stretching up the former grassland hill. It might be green, but it’s a ruin, and scarcely productive, although 150 years ago it was a rich source of food. P1800918 This land above Swan Lake in the North Okanagan Valley was originally alienated by men who grazed 4,000 years of human care down to dust in a decade, to support cattle for which there was little market, most of which died in cold winters due to lousy farming practices, leaving the Indigenous people, the Okanagan Indian Band, poverty-stricken. This (illegally) alienated land was then alienated further before World War I by men who were attempting to invest Belgian rubber money (derived from genocidal rubber extraction policies in the Congo), and alienated yet again by a collapse of local farming under the pressures of industrialized farming in the American section of the watershed, which alienated most of the water and the life-producing potential of an entire Canadian province, British Columbia, in exchange for the expanded industrial capacity of the American Pacific Northwest. Layer upon layer upon layer upon layer, land has been treated as a commodity, and the basis of a capital-based economy, when, in fact, it operates on a different principle. (Well, actually, it’s not land, but a web of mutually-supporting interest, but that’s a story for another day.) Here’s a muskrat, living in his world of checks and balances. If there are too many muskrats, they starve. P1810044 If there are too many humans, they build capital-based economies, to borrow capacity from the future, which then lead to the discovery and exploitation of capital-based energy sources, such as oil (Canada) and hydro-electric power (Washington, USA). Both of those are energy sources which draw down natural energy in the same way that the rubber-based land development of the Okanagan, and that of the cattle barons which preceded it, drew down a culture in which people lived in a sustainable way on the land — not because they didn’t have the smarts to exploit it and draw it down but because they were smart enough not to. The trick with borrowing capacity from the future is that it changes the future. Time travel, a fantasy literary genre, proposes that a person travelling into the past will change his present in such a way that it will be impossible to travel into the future. It works the other way in real life: cashing in on the future changes it so that it will never arrive, except in a form representing that cashing in. It’s not, in other words, that nature is a field of chance and random activity, but that capital, and the energies which represent its force, has created randomness out of order. P1810073 To define the living world as “nature”, and to define that as a field of chance operations, is to grow ever more distant from it, as illustrated in the picture of the hillside above. You will never experience it by this route, and it will, ultimately, die. Here’s what death looks like on the grassland hillsides. This is cheatgrass. It will be dead in a week or two, and then for half a year nothing will grow here, because cheatgrass has broken the water cycle. V0000076 It is one of the gifts of the cattle barons. Even insects can’t survive here, and if insects can’t, then the whole chain of life can’t, and that includes, sorry to say, humans. The alternative will be to produce increasingly technological crops, including genetically-modified crops which embody the principles of randomness created by capital-based energy and its theft of the future (which includes theft of the earth-based energy productive capacity of webs of life) for non-earth-based capital objects representing its energies, such as this: door This is an alley in Vernon, BC. It could as well be the hillside above. This is what the past productive capacity of the land has gone into, generation after generation. It is an artwork, certainly, and a representation of human bodily and social space, in many complex ways, but it speaks more of people just trying to survive in the little street space left outside of privatized human space rather than social health, while balancing that with a need for private space within the capitalized environment. Other than those drives, there is nothing alive here, though. That is not meant to be a value judgement. It is meant as an observation that this is the end of the process that began with the capitalization of the land from 1858 to 1893. Against this energy, life has to be put in reserves. I’m arguing that those reserves look the same as this. We have jailed ourselves. P1790236 Within this drawn-down future (now our present), we are nothing more or less than those weeds.

5 replies »

  1. I am deeply grateful to you for writing this. I voted Green in the UK election last week, not because I thought my candidate had any chance of winning but because I wanted my vote to register in the national tally. Crazily, the economic system that you describe so accurately here, does not even benefit the vast majority of humans, even in the short-termist manner that you describe. Most of us are housed in boxes, are forced into steel traps that transport us to joyless workplaces along crowded highways and are then fed on the scraps that the super rich throw us from their tables to keep us from asking too many questions. The majority of my fellow citizens last week were like battery animals voting for their own and their children’s slaughter.
    I could be sanguine about this and blithely say that we will all have to pay the price soon and perhaps that is all we deserve except that it is my children who will have to pay that price. All I can hope is that there will be a window of time long enough in which voices of sanity like yours will be heard before it is too late to do anything about it.


  2. Harold, thank you so much for raising your voice, and posting the photos, about these things. There is little if anything that’s more important than continuing to speak out about the crap way we live in the C21st.

    Like Stephen above, I voted Green; and I notice that – at last! at last! – more people are starting to vote with their hearts and less with tactics, because, in the end, that’s what will change our current crazy ‘value’ system. As poet Chase Twichell said about poetry: it’s not about cleaning the windows, it’s about breaking the glass.

    I never thanked you for the poetry books. A joy (3 joys). Thank you.

    All best from Devon.


  3. Very eloquently expressed as usual Harold. There seems to be some sort of waking somnambulism within our society now; that or hopeless despair as a reaction to the awareness of this dynamic you point out. There doesn’t have to be though.

    Something I’ve learned which has helped me, came from a couple of first nations elders; one was Gilbert Walking Bull, a Lakota Holy Man; the other is an Aleut elder named Larry Merculieff. Both of them expressed in their own way that to move things in a positive, regenerative direction we need to support the energies in this world to do that. How we do that is to hold a positive vision in our mind of where we want to go and send that intention out. It’s a subtle but very powerful difference than looking at where we are now and trying to move away from it. They both said that holding a “moving away from” energy supports and sustains the negative energies that are already in place because we continue to feed that energy by focusing on it.

    We can see this with all of the laws and legislation our society has put in place that try to stop destructive behaviours, but those behaviours continue to escalate. It’s because no energy is being put towards something different; it’s holding those things in place by still focusing energy on them.

    And as your blog points out, many destructive behaviours are still lauded as positive things. That’s a paradigm that needs changing and I’m glad there are fools and jesters around like yourself that point them out for us.

    This world is in desperate need of storytellers, artists and all those that continue to hold creative, regenerative energies. Our world needs cultural creatives to reawaken marginalized or forgotten practices. I’m blessed to be immersed with folks that are caretakers of traditional cultural practices that reconnect us with ourselves, with each other and with our place. These are the treasures that must be promulgated once again to provide hope for those who are yet to come. Hope is the one good thing that was given to us by Pandora and it’s the one gift I want to keep from that box.

    Keep on keepin’ on my friend.


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