A visitor from Mars could easily pick out the civilized nations. They have the best implements of war.
Herbert V. Prochnow
The second premise of this book is that, for obvious reasons, traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or sell the resources on which their communities are based until their communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their landbases to be damaged so that other resources—gold, oil, and so on—can be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they can to destroy traditional communities. This can be accomplished more or less physically, such as through the murder of the peoples and the land on which they depend, or more or less spiritually or psychologically, through the destruction of sacred sites, through aggressive and/or forceful proselytization, by forcefully addicting them to the aggressor’s products, by kidnapping their children (most often legally), and through many other means all-too-familiar to those who attend to the relations between the civilized and noncivilized.
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Resources for the civilized have always been more important than the lives of those in the colonies. A German colonial officer in South West Africa was more honest than many: “A right of the natives, which could only be realized at the expense of the development of the white race, does not exist. The idea is absurd that Bantus, Sudan-negroes, and Hottentots in Africa have the right to live and die as they please, even when by this uncounted people among the civilized peoples of Europe were forced to remain tied to a miserable proletarian existence instead of being able, by the full use of the productive capacities of our colonial possessions to rise to a richer level of existence themselves and also to help construct the whole body of human and national welfare.”
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Following quickly on the heels of the second premise is the third, that this way of living—industrial civilization—is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread exploitation and degradation. This includes exploitation and degradation of the natural world—for what is unsustainability except a fancy word for exploitation and degradation of natural communities?—and it includes exploitation and degradation of those who do not want us to take their resources (or, to another way of thinking, to kill and sell their nonhuman neighbors). It also includes harming those humans and nonhumans who will come later, and who will inherit a pauperized world.
A few months ago I received an email from an activist who wrote, “I’ve been inspired by Bucky Fuller’s vision for years. He says that we have enough of everything to give everyone on the planet a standard of living no one has known so far. But it will require taking all of our resources and technology off of weaponry and fully devoting them to ‘livingry.’ In other words, we can make it happen, but there’s no room for greed in the equation. His whole thing was ‘a world that works for everyone with no one left out.’”
Leaving aside the standard conceit that the civilized have higher standards of living than traditional hunter-gatherers (if you measure by some standards, such as the number of automobiles, yes; if you measure by others, such as leisure time, sustainability, social equality, and food security—meaning no one goes hungry— hunter-gatherers win hands down), Fuller’s is a powerful—and powerfully dan-gerous—fantasy, and an odd statement coming from someone living on land taken by violence from its original inhabitants, and using the sorts of technolo-gies—for example, industrial forestry, mining, smelting—that violently shape the world to industrial ends. Just because Fuller designed groovy structures like geodesic domes (the one at Expo ’67 in Montreal was way cool!) did not mean that violence was not done to the land—and to people—both there and elsewhere. Where, precisely, did Fuller believe these resources came from, and how did he believe he would get them without using force against both the “resources” themselves and against the humans who live in close proximity to them?
I enjoy railing against the absurdity of the U.S. military budget as much as the next sane person. I often marvel at the extraordinary amounts of money that are spent seemingly for no other purpose than to kill people, and dream of what good could be accomplished if those who serve life had the same easy access to cash as those who serve death. Corporate Senators and Representatives are fond of complaining, for example, that it’s too expensive to save species driven to the brink of extinction by the actions of the industrial economy, and that the corporations these men (and token women) represent must be allowed to continue their actions unimpeded. An industry front group calling itself the “Grassroots ESA Coalition” (a subgroup of the similarly deceivingly named industry front group “National Wilderness Institute”) has stated that total costs for “the ten species covered by the most expensive endangered species recovery plans are: Atlantic Green Turtle $88,236,000; Loggerhead Turtle $85,947,000; Blunt-Nosed Leopard Lizard $70,252,000; Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle $63,600,000; Colorado Squawfish $57,770,000; Humpback Chub $57,770,000; Bonytail Chub $57,770,000; Razorback Sucker $57,770,000; Black-Capped Vireo $53,538,000; Swamp Pink $29,026,000.” I’m not sure I trust their research, or, for that matter, their intelligence because even when trying to show how expensive implementation of the Endangered Species Act is, they left off more pricey efforts. Costs for projects aimed toward recovering salmon in the Northwest (or rather, projects aimed at providing the illusion of recovery while allowing business to continue as usual) were $119 million just in 1995. Not including land acquisition, annual expenditures for recovery efforts for all endangered species went from $43 million in 1989 to $312 million in 1995. Recently, the federal government made big news when it granted more than $16 million to twenty-five states to promote the conservation of such varied species as marbled murrelets, salmon, bull trout, aplomado falcons, Karner blue butterflies, Florida scrub jays, and the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse. This may all seem like a lot of money, but in fiscal year 2001 the federal government spent more than $5.7 billion on the physical impossibility called the Ballistic Missile Defense System (a.k.a. Strategic Defense Initiative, a.k.a. Star Wars, and most especially a.k.a. a black hole into which money disappears, to conveniently reappear on the ledgers of favored corporations). It spent $3.9 billion on new F-22 fighters, $3 billion on new C-17 Transport aircraft, $1.7 billion on new V-22 Osprey aircraft (which seem capable so far only of killing their own crews), $4 billion as a partial payment on a new aircraft carrier, $3 billion as a partial payment on a new submarine. Even prior to the events of September 11, the military received nearly one billion dollars per day during fiscal year 2001. Just in the last seven years, the military spent more than $100 million on airline tickets it did not use. The tickets were fully refundable, but the military never bothered to ask for a refund. The United States government spends $44 billion per year on spying. I used to often fantasize about using all that that money used for harm—real money, not the crumbs tossed in the direction of wildlife—to help salmon, spotted owls, Carson wandering skipper butterflies (listed as endangered only after having been reduced to a few individuals), Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits (of whom only fifty remain in the wild), Mississippi gopher frogs (of whom only one hundred members remain, breeding in one pond), Tumbling Creek cavesnails (down to forty individuals), and so many others. But the truth is that this will never happen.
The reason that my fantasies are nothing more than fantasies, and the reason that the same is true for Buckminster Fuller’s more well-known fantasies, is that the money must be spent on weaponry, and not on livingry. To believe the U.S. military does not serve an absolutely vital purpose is to have failed to pay any attention to the path of civilization for the past six thousand years. The importation of resources into cities has always required force, and always will. And that’s why Fuller’s fantasy is dangerous—as is my own, when I forget it is a fantasy—because it pretends that resource extraction can be accomplished without force and exploitation, thus diverting attention toward the outrageous and obscene military budgets and away from the social and technological processes that require them. If you need—or perceive yourself as needing—gold, wood, food, fur, land, or oil that resides in someone else’s community, and if this other community does not want to hand these resources over to you—and why on God’s green earth should they?—how are you going to get them? We have seen this process too many times to not know the answer.
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In late 2001, the United States military began bombing the people and landscape of Afghanistan, at a cost to the American public of approximately a billion dollars a day, or about four dollars for every man, woman, and child in this country (or more was spent in three hours than in all of 1995 ostensibly to save salmon). This amounts to about forty dollars per day for every one of the human targets, that is, every Afghan man, woman, and child. Based on Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, forty dollars is about twenty times their average daily income. It would, in a sense, be the equivalent of a government spending about eighteen hundred dollars per day per person in the United States to kill us here.
Much as I enjoy being the center of attention (I am, after all, a male), given the choice, I’d be willing to settle for a lot less attention were it given to me in the form of cash or foodstuffs, rather than bombs. No, thank you, I’d say politely, I don’t really want a bomb, nor even a “bomblet,” not even one as cool as a BLU-26 Sadeye, although I might be able to use a few of the hundreds of razor-sharp projectiles to cut some things around the house. Instead, a cow would be nice. And some chickens. And some native trees. You could buy all of that for me in one day. And then tomorrow we could talk about a bicycle, and then the day after that we could start thinking about a new well. Truth be told I wouldn’t even know what to do with eighteen hundred dollars every day, or its equivalent in the Afghan community. I’d probably give most of it away. But I still think I’d rather have a cow and some chickens than a bomb.
On further reflection, do you know what I’d like even more? To simply be left alone.