By Max Wilbert
Mar 10, 2016
Modern society — industrial civilization — is built on violence.
This violence goes largely unnoticed. When it is noticed, it’s often seen a series of isolated incidents, rather than a fundamental part of the dominant culture.
Here is an average morning inside of this culture.
First, you wake up on top of a foam mattress offgassing toxic VOCs that will not biodegrade in 10,000 years. You sit up and put on your clothes — all with tags reading “Bangladesh” and “Puerto Rico” and “Dominican Republic.” These clothes were made by virtual slaves.
You walk downstairs and fill a glass with water from the tap. The water comes from a local river that was dammed 127 years ago. Ever since, native species in the watershed have been in decline. You drink the water.
You pour yourself a bowl of cereal. The cereal is made of wheat and corn grown in what was once the tallgrass prairie of the eastern Great Plains. Ninety nine percent of that habitat – millions of acres – was plowed and utterly destroyed to grow those crops. The soil is gone now; your meal is only possible through fossil fuel fertilizers.
You add milk; it comes from a factory farm nearby, where cattle are packed in next to each other in squalor and pumped full of antibiotics and rBGH (genetically modified growth hormone) to increase production. The cows are in pain; their imprisonment is fouling the land around them. The cereal tastes good.
It’s almost time for work, so you walk down to your car. You’re somewhat environmentally conscious, so you’ve bought an electric car. It makes you feel a lot better. The car has 1000 pounds of lithium-ion batteries under the hood. The lithium for those batteries was strip-mined in the Peruvian desert; the pollution and land destroyed by the mine has devastated local people’s traditional livelihoods. You get inside the car and start the engine. It’s a push-button startup system; there is a fancy LCD screen inside. It’s modern and sleek; you pull away from the curb.
You drive on paved streets to your destination. Under those streets are indigenous burial grounds. There used to be thick old-growth forest here; now it’s a trendy, up-and-coming neighborhood. There are a few run-down houses here and there; the poor people who used to live in this neighborhood and are being forced to move, many after generations here; it’s just the latest set of refugees that have walked through this place.
You pass a police officer. The precursor of the modern police force was the slave patrol in the antebellum South. This is not a rumor; it’s the factual origin of this institution. They continue their mission of terrorizing black and brown communities today. Many people live in constant fear of them. The fear is justified. They beat, rape, and murder everyday.
It’s cold outside, but inside the car you’re warm and happy. You’re listening to the radio; the transmission towers are responsible for a few hundred thousand bird deaths a year. The radio is on a news station. The news person is talking about the latest bombing campaign your government is conducting. It’s taking place far away; you don’t think about it too much.
You’ve arrived at work. You work at a hospital. The hospital is on a hill. Before the concrete and buildings, there was a meadow here. It was full of flowers in the spring. Insects came from a long way away to eat from the flowers. It made the flowers happy. Many people walked through the meadow in those days. There was a good view from there. Sometimes lovers would walk there to be alone. That all changed when the settlers came with their earth-movers and road-builders.
You park your car, then walk inside. The sun is shining. It’s a nice day. You pass the gardeners working outside, spraying herbicide on the weeds. It wouldn’t do to have weeds. The gardeners have brown skin. They came from Mexico. They used to grow their own food and sell the rest in the village down the road, but after the free trade agreements opened them up to competing with Cargill, they couldn’t stay anymore. They became refugees and crossed the border. Technically, they’re in the country illegally. The land they’re on was part of Mexico before the war.
Inside the hospital, there are people waiting to be seen for appointments. They’re reading magazines. Most the magazines have pictures of women in them. The women aren’t wearing many clothes. They’re being used to sell products. A girl is reading one of the magazines. She looks about 10 years old. The leading cause of death for girls a few years older than her is eating disorders.
Another woman is hoping to have an abortion. She is only 19 years old. The hospital has Catholic roots; she won’t be allowed that level of control over her body and her future.
You walk past them, past examination rooms and surgical rooms and recovery rooms. There are receptacles everywhere for gloves, needles, and other medical waste. All the garbage from this hospital is shipped to an incinerator; it’s illegal to send it to a landfill. The incinerator is located in the middle of a poor neighborhood two states away. The smoke that comes out of its smokestack contains some of the most toxic substances known to science. There is a school a block away from the incinerator. They keep their windows closed and keep the kids inside when the smoke is rising from the facility. It doesn’t help much.
You get to your office. You touch the door as you walk in. It’s made of dense chipboard. The wood in the chipboard used to be an old-growth boreal forest. Formaldehyde and other chemical glues hold it together. Like the light switch, the computer, the examination table, the chairs, the desk, the floor tiles, and the light fixtures, the paint on the door is made from oil. The oil used in these specific light fixtures and floor tiles came from Saudi Arabia and Niger and Texas and Canada.
You sit down and get to work.
This was a very partial description of the violence in modern society. Make no mistake: this is a war.
When we are honest about the level of violence in this culture, not resisting becomes a sickening thought.
But false solutions abound; almost all of the solutions put forth to solve these problems of violence continue it in another form, or simply displace it to another area of the world or a new type of impact.
True solutions undermine the ability of industrial civilization to continue its destruction. A longtime military maxim has been that victory requires removing the ability or will of the enemy to continue their fight. This is a situation of planetary self-defense. All options are on the table, from revolutionary law-making to strategic non-violence to coordinated sabotage of industrial infrastructure.
If you’re contemplating entering the fight, remember what Andrea Dworkin famously wrote: “Resist, do not comply.”