Friday, November 27, 2015

Blood and Oil, Beauty and Use

(Goose print, with my compliments to Mary Oliver and her wild geese)

With the UN Climate Talks opening in Paris on Monday, and with Paris freshly symbolic of joyous resistance against terror, I have been trying to articulate the link between the two. Others, of course, have already found it and written and done magnificent work in highlighting the connection. But, never mind preaching to the choir—we are all part of the choir and singing out in our own times and ways and voices has certain merit in this necessary revolution on personal and global scales.

This morning, the morning after Thanksgiving, I found the most recent New Yorker hunkered down under the circulars and ads for Black Friday sales that came in the newspaper and mail. In it, Steve Coll writes: “The Islamic State is an oil-funded descendant of Al Qaeda in Iraq, a branch of the original Al Qaeda, which was formed in 1988.”

For years, Black Friday has made me spitting mad. That our nation goes to sleep full of gratitude and turkey and pie and love on the small and human scale that transcends politics, full from a day of focusing on the bone-deep values of our lives and national ideology and wakes up to shop until we drop…this makes no sense. And when what I believe to be at stake with this pressurized American overconsumption—merely the life of our singular and beautiful planet, the authentic vibrancy of our human relationships—is further threatened by the discounted, disposable merchandise produced in decidedly unclean conditions, built with the energy of heartbreakingly filthy power plants, well…I turn into a snarly Charlie Brown about the commercialization of the holidays.

But this year, knowing that more pointedly anthropocentric threats than climate change are also tied to the blind overconsumption of resources, I have a slim hope that the madness of Black Friday and absurd Christmas consumption can be reduced. If we are, as a culture, hugely reliant on oil, and much of that oil is purchased from governments and states that fund terrorists, then, aren’t we, through our energy misuse and selfish purchases, funding conservative zealots with dreams of suicidal jihad and fueling the storms and droughts that ravage everyone?

In 2001, President George W. Bush encouraged Americans to fight back against terrorists by continuing to live our ordinary lives. Taken out of context, this message was watered down to “fight terrorism by shopping.” Which is absurd. When we shop, when we consume without thought for the back story of what we are buying, without an understanding of where our hard-earned dollars will go—my suspicion is that not only do we contribute to the changing climate, but we may very well be funding those who would hold a hotel hostage, gun down a concert and any other number of acts against humanity.

Rather than that, let’s rebel against terror and slow our destruction of this lovely world by living more ordinary lives. We can live smaller and smarter, and in this, we will be more connected to the rest of the world. In being wise and humble and aware that our voices and choices and actions do matter in this world, we grow magnificent, we become limitless. Rather than scrabbling to reach some nebulous and hollow ideal of enough and what a good life looks like, we learn to live how it feels right. The Socialist and artist William Morris wrote “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

I love this. They seem like good words for living by, for revolting from normal destructive pressures and connections, for embracing the holiday season with, and saving the world through.

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