Thinking for Ourselves
Early this week people in and around Wayne State University were evacuated because of a gas leak. Across the campus and in nearby residents, the smell of gas was overpowering. The leak was caused by a construction accident. By Friday we were told all is well, classes reopened and people returned to homes. No one was injured. We are back to normal.
This week the Great Lakes Water Authority will begin the shut off process for more than 17,000 homes with outstanding water bills. We are told not to worry, most people will find a way to pay up before the shut off, or within a few days of living without water.
The city of Livonia is recovering from a water main break. Officials said don’t worry about the low water pressure. Water is safe to drink.
Each of these instances is treated in the mainstream media as a temporary, disconnected problem. They are presented as minor inconveniences, the result of systems that sometimes break, but can be repaired quickly. We shouldn’t worry. Everything can be fixed. Everything is under control.
This way of thinking obscures a very real truth. These are the warning signs of a system near collapse. They are not isolated, small glitches. They are the marks of a culture imploding. We are coming to the end of the earth ‘s capacity to bear cultures based on the extraction of resources that are toxic to all life.
Warning signs are everywhere. For more than 300 years, we have been developing ways of living that depend on extracting and using elements of the earth that we know are poison. Yet we persist in believing that our technologies will somehow keep the air we are polluting clean, the water we are poisoning safe to drink, and regenerate the resources we need to continue lives of consumption. In spite of all we have witnessed, all we have endured, and all that we know in our bones, we continue to live as though we can dominate nature. As though domination was our right, especially if we are white, wealthy, and think we can protect ourselves.
This way of thinking, embedded in the settler colonial cultures of this hemisphere and wrapped into the logic of capitalist, industrial production is killing us. As commentator Paul Stoller observed, “The culture of extraction has led us to widespread economic and social inequality and frequent warfare — often over access to extractive resources. It has led to widespread human insensitivity and to the development of societies — like our own — that tend to reward competition as an example of dominant strength and castigate cooperation as an example of timid weakness.”
Across our city and our country people are resisting this extractive, industrial culture, finding new ways to live with one another, new ways to power and empower our lives. In Detroit, as people plant gardens, construct wind mills, find ways to share water and imagine new futures based on care and compassion, a new culture is being born. It is urgently needed.