02 November 2016

What are we conserving?

The necessity of a confluence between a conservative politics of rootedness and radical politics of conservation is growing painfully evident and urgent, particularly in the Standing Rock standoff. Such a confluence, with an Orthodox theological bent, has been suggested of late by Father Kaleeg (Hainsworth) here. The slogan used by the Water Protectors that ‘water is life’ is one that has profound resonances with Orthodox thinking and iconography – the image of Christ on the Cross, His side pierced, with blood and water flowing from His wound is the one which comes immediately to my mind, as indeed is the celebration of Theophany which Father Kaleeg mentions. As I have said before, the pipeline’s construction has involved grave acts of sacrilege that disrespect both the bodies of the dead and the Sabbath duties of working-class people who are involved in it; whereas those who are involved in non-violently protecting the resources they rely on to survive - not just American Indians but small farmers and homesteaders as well - are in fact engaged in a sophic, shepherding work. Our society’s economic praxis is at war with the demands of conscience for all too many of us, to the point where we cannot move forward without having a serious discussion of values. What exactly is it that we are invested most in conserving?

Is it indeed idealism or pie-in-the-sky fantasy to note that clean water and clean farmland are needed for our survival? Have we lost sight of the fact that we need to drink and eat to live? Do we not realise that even in our factory-farm to supermarket monocultural food-industrial system (a topic for another rant), a great bulk of what we Americans actually eat – particularly our corn – draws precisely from the Ogallala Aquifer, the Missouri and Mississippi basins which water our heartlands, and which this corporate boondoggle of a pipeline directly jeopardises? Do we not understand that what happened these past weeks in Pennsylvania and in Alabama may yet happen again? Are we so tone-deaf both to history and to the demands of future generations that we will trample down some of the few remaining survivors of the conquest of the American interior, simply for the right to turn a quick buck on the global fossil fuel market? Are we so wedded in our disembodied political phantasia to these idols of Progress and Interest and Capital Investment and Global Trade, that we will cling to them to the bitter (I use the term literally, not merely as a cliché) end?

Do not mistake me: I’m neither a Malthusian nor a primitivist; I have no desire at all to see the end of American industry. But even a healthy American industrial base depends, first and foremost, on clean water and clean food. Even by the cold logic of American interest (a logic I’m not averse to, by the way), any economic benefits from a pipeline that pumps oil out of the ground, in part for shipment overseas via the Gulf (not even so Americans will benefit locally!), are temporary and contingent at best, whereas the costs are all too probable and all too grim. And it hardly takes a genius to note that a ‘path forward’ that cannot recognise the primacy of the brute demands of biology and geography over the demands of a disembodied idealised market, is a path which leads straight off of a cliff.

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