Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Kittens, Rex Tillerson, and Pipelines

(I took this picture years ago. Now I know what I was saving it for.)
For arguments sake, let’s say that a white man named Tex Rillerson had spent his career climbing up the corporate ladder of a company that makes stuffed kitten dolls. He was very good at his job and during his tenure at Kitty Dolls, the country became deeply reliant on his company’s product—to the point that most Americans, regardless of political leaning, would find it difficult to function on a daily basis without their Kitty Doll.

All of which points to Tillerson’s talents as a business person, which does require a certain amount of political ruthlessness to make money by abetting a culture’s crippling dependency on a particular product.

However, a talent with toy kittens—no matter how popular and necessary they are to the functioning of the country’s economy—does not necessarily translate into a solid grounding in the sort of international diplomacy and big-picture cooperation that I would expect of a Secretary of State.

Particularly if, say, there were large international supply chains that could get the raw materials for even more kitty dolls to the private companies that could then make up the alluringly necessary-for-life-in-the-United-States product, and make a healthy profit from the sale of these kittens. To set up the new supply line, there is a bit of international agreement that has to occur—and this would involve the Secretary of State, who in this scenario, has a lifetime of loyalty to the stuffed kitten industry.

It is hard for me to imagine that our friend Tex Rillerson would be able to exercise the sort of dispassionate diplomacy that could properly and thoroughly examine all the ins and outs of this new supply line of raw material for his former industry. In the long and short run, it would be very hard to be critically impartial and unbiased, and those ties to the stuffed kitten toy industry—or to any industry that the Secretary of State would expect to encounter regularly in our globalized world—makes me extremely leery of career businessmen and women in positions of high authority and power in our democracy.

Pretend with me that Rillerson’s stuffed kittens—indeed the entire stuffed kitten doll industry— turns out to be hugely polluting, that the dolls emit a miasma that alters the chemistry of the atmosphere, that the supply lines for their raw materials are extremely fragile, those raw materials are a hazard to drinking water when they leak out, and that, the CEO of Kitty Dolls knew for years that his toys were this destructive to both his customers and the planet and Rillerson helped to shush up the truth about his Kitty Dolls because he was more interested in making money than in anything resembling care for people other than himself and his company.

And then, let’s just go ahead and stop pretending and recognize that Rex Tillerson was the CEO of Exxon Mobil, and that his company has known about the correlation between their industry and product and climate change for years, and he is now slated to be at the helm of a department that will have a strong hand in the building of oil pipelines, including both the Keystone XL pipeline that felt like a battle won, and the Dakota Access Pipeline that feels like the most nightmarish conglomeration of all that is most shameful in America’s past and present.

The American people are—myself included—too reliant on fossil fuels. We are addicted, our culture has structured itself to feed and foster this addiction, and we are not so slowly irreparably damaging out planet and ourselves through this reliance. We need leaders—on every level—who will help us recover from this affliction, rather than leaders who will further enable our disease. We need Secretaries of State, of Energy, of Education and all the rest who look beyond the bottom line. A country is not a business, a country is full of people who are trying to do the best they can, a country needs leaders who will help lift everyone up, not just their friends and business associates.

The Dakota Access Pipeline represents all that is worst about the United States past and present. A multinational fossil fuel company is trampling on the sovereign rites of a Native American tribal nation. The Federal government is now backing a private business’s right to a profit above the rights of a people who have been on this continent longer than any white people’s ancestors and have been treated horribly since some illegal immigrants showed up from Europe in the 1400s.

With Keystone—a battle I foolishly thought was won, not realizing that nothing is safe or sacred—it is the same belief that a company’s profit is the ultimate goodness in this world. Certainly, companies provide jobs, and people need jobs, but not, I believe, at the expense of all other concerns. There are other jobs, there are other ways of being, and there are other leaders to be had than those who put their own private business interests and networks before all other things in this world.

Call your Senators and Congresspeople, frequently. Get your news from sources your grandparents would recognize. And do whatever you can to keep weaning yourself off fossil fuels—our reliance gives those in power too much power, and they are not worthy of us. If Rex Tillerson had really sold stuffed kitten dolls—even if he was a steely-eyed industrial genius—he would not be in the running for Secretary of State. Because he sold fossil fuels, he is powerful. If we reduce our reliance on his industry, we reduce his industry’s destructive power and influence. 

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