O Captain! My Captain!
Meanwhile, there was a growing sense in the country, because of the recession, the lingering wars, and everything that could be seen as the aftermath of Bush/ Cheney that change was inevitable and ever more imminent. I participated in street demonstrations the night Obama was elected, and I’ve seen such a collective exhilaration few other times, and nothing like that. People poured into the streets with their kitchen pots and pans to just outdo the noise that erupted less than moments after the networks had called the electoral college contest. The intersection outside the bar we were in was completely blocked by revelers before we could even race out to it ourselves. After an extended period of general exuberance the street rolled into a rhythm begetting hours of dancing and chanting in the street to make your hair stand on end. First the trolley train came along on its tracks, and the conductor blew on his horn. Was it a confrontation? No! He was just as happy as we all were. We could see him laughing as he continued through, tooting, as we made way for him. Then the police arrived. They too joined the fracas and turned on their siren in celebration. But what were we celebrating?
Click here to hear what I’m talking about: obama chant
I never expected Obama to fix everything so I am not one of the ones who are now shocked and disappointed two years out that much of the old system remains. I think it is beyond the ability of a single president to fix what needs to be fixed in the world- and that is what people are asking for, for the problems of the world are America’s problems. Think about that. America is without the shred of a doubt the nest of an empire- an empire that is not truly American nor located in any one place, as by definition it cannot. It is wherever it exists in the world. Does it have a capital? No, not really- let’s just say it has hubs that integrate as needed. Let’s take a case in point: British Petroleum, or BP as it is now known. I assure you I don’t have the expertise to fully analyze this vertically integrated “supermajor” oil company, but what do you need to know? It is neither completely British nor American and for all I know has national components from elsewhere equally vital to its interests. As we all now are aware, if we weren’t before, BP has been extracting oil from the Gulf of Mexico and may have destroyed the area completely for uncountable stakeholders. Would that it all wash away, but the point is this- we all rely on such multi-national super-monsters for our daily life. Forget about the absurd rhetoric awash in the American political scene- I actually live in a socialist republic at the moment, Vietnam, officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, a country that chased out American forces culminating in the “Fall of Saigon” on April 30th 1975, and I assure you, they love their petroleum. If you want to make Saigon fall again, figure out a way to disable motorbikes, such as by cutting off the supply of gasoline, and the city will stop dead in its tracks. Sure, maybe the Vietnamese would stage a remarkable adaptation, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The point is, without British Petroleum, and Exxon and so forth, life as we know it in a socialist republic, and in America, which is not a socialist republic, would cease to exist. I think we often reward people with fame for stating the obvious; in an interview with Noam Chomsky I recently read he said something along the lines that commuting in hours long traffic in a mammoth air-conditioned Hummer is hardly the pinnacle of existence. I suppose I much prefer the pliant school of fish that is the Ho Chi Minh City mode of commute, but that too has its drawbacks. I’m sure the asthma rate would support this. My bet is that it will be discovered that the key that could have prevented the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was a refusal to take routine maintenance of safety equipment seriously. There are devices and systems designed to react to the events that took place. I think it has already been discovered that they were neglected, rusted and jury-rigged. The suits in the Houston and London offices had their eyes on the ticker and snubbed out the cries of the ant-like Marlboro men on the platform about safety practices. Now many of those platform men are dead with countless dolphins, plankton, sea turtles and so on and so the suits and the American president have to suffer a few beads of sweat under the collar.
Don’t forget the collapse of the capitalist system as it existed in its past 25 years or so incarnation (Financial Crisis of 2007-2010) and its anxiously awaited resurrection. Is this all something a heroic president could and should fix? I am not cynical enough to think that it doesn’t matter who our leaders are- this is why I voted for Obama and continue to feel it was the right choice. Although I would support electoral reform, I do not agree with friends of mine to the left of Obama that Ralph Nader, for instance would have done a better job. To really engage that discussion would take too much time, and basically doesn’t matter except for this: there is a paradox in American politics that needs to be resolved: any successful opposition is no longer a third way. It is now dominant, facing an opposition. Everything rallies around to co-opt anything that emerges with strength. Once you win, you are the system, though merely a figurehead. Then, those with countering views are splintered or united. So, for any other party other than the Democratic or Republican party, such as the Tea-Party, the Libertarian Party, The Greens, and so forth, in order to establish any policy as the executive, or in the legislature, they must become the majority. It’s the winner takes all ethos, probably a defining American characteristic as a historic movement- hopefully not true of all Americans or all American achievements.
The consume and grow model has taken a hit with recent events- it’s starting to sound too much like cancer. Ideas like this, critical of the big boys have always been around, but now it is an international trend, like espresso, to position yourself within the wave of all that is, dare I say it, “Green”. I’m sure BP’s marketing is all green now, probably was green before now, and will remain “green” for its surviving days. But again, let’s not be entirely cynical. The movement towards “green-ness” begins not with a deceptive marketing campaign.
It’s been going on my entire life, to be sure, though I hesitate to present any historical explication. The organic movement, for instance, is a move away from petrochemicals, and rather than being an arch novel approach, is the way food has been produced for the entirety of human history up to the recent past. Of course oil products are used as fuel for powering machinery (including through electricity) and also in countless industrial applications and of course, for delivery, but not spraying petrochemicals on the food itself, or using as a fertilizer is an important step forward, if only a baby step. The Community Supported Agriculture movement is partially a response to the excesses apparent at your typical organic food Supermarket. A CSA sells subscriptions ahead of time for locally grown food that members pick up at intervals, perhaps once a week. This and other local farming models, like the explosion of farmer’s markets in urban America addresses the waste inherent in delivering food thousands of miles or more (including from overseas). Perhaps we are developing within these movements the necessary components of a food-delivery system that can withstand a peak oil event.
Some of my friends in Philadelphia, at least, take these ideas seriously.