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Excerpt from Welcome to the Machine

Identity Theft (p. 143)

From chapter "Nothing to Fear"

We spoke earlier of two forms of identity theft: the common usage of that phrase, the theft of one’s financial information; and the more important form of identity theft, getting us to identify with the machine instead of our own bodies, our own lives, and our landbases. But an even more pernicious and destructive third form of identity theft pervades our culture. We not only rob ourselves of our identities, but we rob everyone else of theirs too.

Consider our conceit that nonhumans do not have lives all their own. Reading this book, did you blanch when I wrote of a dragonfly asking me to not yet take its picture? Did you think I was speaking metaphorically, or projecting? Perhaps you thought, Nonsense, everyone knows that only humans have volition, only humans speak, only humans communicate, only humans can express that they do not wish to have their pictures taken(not that, inside the Panopticon, refusing to have your picture taken means anything to those at the center, except, perhaps, that you have something to hide).

Do plants have identities? How about rocks, stars, rivers? How about watersheds? Do they have desires all their own? Do they make choices and have existences and needs that may have nothing to do with what you want (or say or think you want, or have been convinced by the machine you want, or that serve production, or that serve the deathly ends of the machine, insofar as there is a difference between these latter)? Does a rabbit in a laboratory have a reason to exist apart from having caustic chemicals put into its eyes? Does a chimpanzee in a laboratory have a reason to exist apart from being infected with HIV? Does a redwood tree have a reason to exist apart from being dollar bills on a stump? Does a river wish to be dammed? Does your landbase wish to be covered with asphalt?

Or more to the point, does it matter to you what the rabbit, chimpanzee, redwood, river, or landbase want?

In machine cultures, even the most open-minded of cogs perceive listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to the way the world really works. Indigenous people listen to their nonhuman (and human) neighbors (and to their own bodies), knowing that their nonhuman neighbors are individuals with lives worthy of respect. They do not steal the identities of their nonhuman neighbors by pretending that these neighbors have no identities at all. They do not grant personhood to corporations while denying it to living beings who share 99 percent of their DNA.

I hate the word resources. Resources do not exist. Salmon are not a resource. They are salmon people. They are fish, with lives as distinct from each other’s as mine is from my sister’s. My dictionary defines resources as “a natural source of wealth or revenue,” or “computable wealth.” I don’t think salmon would agree to define themselves as a source of revenue or computable wealth. Nor would redwoods, rabbits, or rivers. Nor would human beings, at least those who have not already bought into (been sold) the myth of the machine.

I hate the word ecosystems. Ecosystems do not exist. The hummingbird looking in through the window perhaps reminding me I have not filled their feeder is not part of a system. Nor is the phoebe who sits on a branch overlooking the pond. Nor are the redwood trees reflecting sunlight from their needles. Nor the bear I heard breaking branches last night as she ran through the forest. Nor the slugs I see eating scat on the forest floor. System: a regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole; a group of interacting bodies under the influence of related forces (a gravitational system).

This is the language of the machine. This is not the language of relationship. This is not the language of individuals working together in communities. Community: an interacting population of various kinds of individuals in a common location; a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society. The machine is a way of perceiving and being in the world. We may perceive that we are living inside of machines, but that is wrong. I do not live inside of a machine. I do not live inside a complicated system of flowing resources, items interacting under related forces. I only pretend I am a cog, a resource, inside this system, inside this machine. But the truth is that whether I acknowledge it or not, I am an animal member of a vibrant and living community composed of people—some with wings, some with leaves or needles, some with hearts of stone, some who flow to the sea—all conducting their lives according to their own desires, intents, and volition.

I am not a cog. I will never be a cog. I refuse to be a cog. I am a living being.