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Cowardice and heroism

December 16, 2008

I’m inspired to express my opinion on different subjects from two different online articles today, but I do see a commonality of some sort between them.

First, the latest post from Jim Kunstler. (He’s another writer I’ve never read anything by except online material, but I kind of keep up with him. Sort of. Until mid-summer I used to do the same with Derrick Jensen, but I eventually read Strangely Like War and, most recently, A Language Older Than Words.) Most of the post seems to be more of the same: the peaking of oil production will erase the economy we now know, things are going to change in ways most people wouldn’t have imagined, we’re going to have to localize and say goodbye to driving everywhere, and we should really put some effort into reviving this country’s rail system! If I didn’t like his posts I wouldn’t read them, but unfortunately they often reiterate the same things.

But the thing that got me is that he brought up immigration. I found this to be a breath of fresh air and something I wasn’t expecting, but really happy to see. Since it was brought to my attention that immigration in the United State might be a problem for reasons other than “They’re taking our jobs!” and complete xenophobia, I’ve only seen the issue talked about by a select few (John Feeney and Al Bartlett being notable ones). But now I can add Jim Kunstler to the list of people actually admitting the issue, and being an author of books versus just articles, and someone I’ve actually seen on TV talking about the ideas he writes about, he probably even has a larger audience.

The economy we’re evolving into will be un-global, necessarily local and regional, and austere. It won’t support even our current population. This being the case, the political fallout is also liable to be severe. For one thing, we’ll have to put aside our sentimental fantasies about immigration. This is almost impossible to imagine, since that narrative is especially potent among the Democratic Party members who are coming in to run things. A tough immigration policy is exactly the kind of difficult change we have to face. [Emphasis mine.] This is no longer the 19th century. The narrative has to change.1

He then goes on to criticize the President Elect and others for throwing around the word “growth” and explaining that what we need is a “managed contraction.”

I’ve recently come across criticisms of those who claim things are taboos (in the cases I’ve seen them it’s been people saying population issues are not taboo), but among most leftists saying immigration even might be a problem is still quite taboo. In my life I see signs of this everywhere: punk bands and friends of mine saying things like “Fuck the border,” shirts that show American Indians with rifles and say “Homeland Security,” etc. I’d only even become aware of the numbers-only side of immigration issues earlier in the year, but I’ve been terrified to bring up the topic among friends. That fear was only strengthened after someone told me I was suggesting ethnic cleansing as a method of reducing population. (I wasn’t.)

I think part of the reason it’s such a taboo is that many activists and politicians on the left hold conflicting values that cause them to get mixed up. I hate that so many environmentalists are actually social justice advocates in disguise who care more about ending poverty than true ecological issues, even though poverty is created by the same super-capitalist money economy that is destroying the environment—A.K.A. two symptoms of the same disease. One of those symptoms, however (ecological damage), is so severe that it’s a real risk to all of us, impoverished or not. (Think of having both a cough and a headache. The headache isn’t bothering you too much, but the cough is so rough and brutal that you’re coughing up blood and your throat is being destroyed.) The key is, of course, curing the disease, not the symptoms.

I don’t like the idea of imaginary borders, either. In fact, since the Southwest used to be Mexico, I’m usually of the opinion that we should let the Mexicans take it back. But not for the wrong reasons, and not if they’re coming to America to take a bigger chunk of the standard-of-living pie. My thoughts on the issue basically mirror those of John Feeney: “In my case, in my heart, I don’t like the idea of immigration restrictions, but from an environmental point of view I see no way around the issue.”2

So there has been this severe dissonance within me whenever it comes to the things I think are important. I still try to appear as if I don’t give a shit, that I’ll speak my mind no matter what because certain things need to be talked about, but that’s in stark contrast to the me that holds back when I know I’ll be met with opposition by the people I’m somewhat close to. I’ve kind of come to realize that this is one of the things that makes so many people in our society neurotic: none of them know what to do or how to behave.

What many people do know, however, is that they don’t like they life they were handed, and so they act out. Late this summer I came across ExiledOnline.com and read an article about the Georgia-Russia war. I added the site to my feed reader not long after and I’ve come across a handful of other articles from it that I’ve really liked.

The latest War Nerd post, from yesterday (Dec. 15), was one that I kind of did, but kind of didn’t like. It seemed intelligent enough and pointed out a few inconsistencies with the scare-mongering of news sources, but one particular paragraph/sentence got me:

What’s probably happening with these Somali idiots is that they’re joining the long, long line of American kids who got bored with being rich and living the easy life and decided to go get themselves killed for a bunch of treacherous bandits fighting under a fancy name with “freedom” in it, off in some godforsaken part of the world where all the locals would sell their firstborn for the chance to live in the cushy American neighborhood these idiots left behind.”3

The problem I have is that, or so it seems, Brecher is defending the boring, rich life as if there is nothing wrong with it. Immediately I drew a parallel to when I watched VBS.tv’s documentary on black metal/interview with Gaahl. In the video descriptions is a small Q&A with some of the guys involved with putting it together, and one of them (who is afraid for his life at one point in the video) makes the following comment:

Gaahl really believes in this whole ideology behind what he’s doing; he’s not just some rockstar fronting a band. The thing with Black Metal is, in Norway, everybody is exactly the same. There’s nothing to rebel against, because everybody’s really well off. It’s one of the richest countries in Europe. There is no lower class, it’s like middle-class white kids everywhere. No one has anything to complain about. [Emphasis mine.] And he’s this sort of eccentric figure amidst this sea of contentment and sameness. The way I see it is, in America you have guys like 50 Cent who are supposed to be the “villain.” Kids like him cause they’re parents hate him, and that’s basically what Gaahl is. He’s their musical villain so to speak. But there’s a lot of different sides to the scene.4

(The comments are pretty bad too.) The thing that both the War Nerd post and the guy in this video seem to be missing is that there are people out there who don’t like this world of easy comfort and sameness because they know it’s fake. The world of money is imaginary. An easy life of comfort you don’t have to work for makes you bored. Everything that sustains us is invisible. All of it breeds neurosis and drives us crazy; we’re disconnected, lost, we hate the lives we’re living, so some of us rebel.

I wouldn’t say I’m neurotic, but I’m definitely a lost soul and a person completely displeased with the situation I was born into, even though my survival is not at risk and I could probably go through life easily and comfortably with just minimal effort. But I don’t want to. If there was a war worth fighting, a cause I believe in that required me to take up arms and fight, I would do it. I don’t believe in Jihad or any of these wars fueled by ideological differences that will never be reconciled, but if there was something I believe in, I would make war for it, even though I know war is not enough to make significant, lasting change.

And for these reasons I can also see why black metal exists, while Rob (the guy from VBS) doesn’t. The things he notes as good, and as reason for not rebelling, are the very things to rebel against. Metal is condemning the sameness, the sheepishness, all of the middle-class white kids with nothing to complain about, because they know this life is fake, that it’s ruining real life, and that it’s destined to fail. Comparing Gaahl to 50 Cent has no meaning because 50 Cent, too, is that sameness, a symbol of that world in which the middle-class white kids with nothing to complain about exist.

Notes and Links

  1. Change You Won’t Believe at jameshowardkunstler.typepad.com.
  2. John Feeney interview at corrupt.org
    For more on numbers-only immigration issues, please see Roy Beck’s Immigration by the Numbers video and Al Bartlet’s example of Boulder in Arithmetic, Population and Energy (you can just ctrl+f Boulder and read the surrounding paragraphs of the first instance, if you like).
  3. Minnesota to Somalia: The Kinko’s Crusade at exiledlonline.com
  4. True Norwegian Black Metal at vbs.tv
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