Sunday, January 29, 2012

First Nation versus the machine

I have been watching the Canadian pipeline battle with keen interest.  I don’t have much in the way of hope for a good long-term outcome when it comes to the environmental issues.  The corporate oil parasites are determined to suck the marrow out of the tar sands eventually whether this one pipeline gets built or not, especially now that China is firmly attached to the teat. But I do have some hope with regard to the insurrectionary potential: the stage is set for a potent indigenous uprising if this particular project is forced through.  We could be looking at the initial flicker of a future wildfire that could eventually spread south.

The corporate media seems determined to frame the indigenous opposition to having a giant toxic enema shoved up their ancestral forests in terms of a clash of cultural interests.  It’s a case of modern progressive civilization versus a bunch of tradition-worshiping “aboriginal bands.”

Let’s be clear, this issue has nothing to do with a difference of perspective between two cultures, the “moderns” versus the “primitives,” or even the colonizers versus the aboriginals. Oil corporations are not a feature of anybody’s “culture.”  Oil corporations are grease-coated planet-killing gears in the global machine, and modern capitalist global industrial civilization is not a kind of culture.

Culture is a way of talking about the meaning-rich organizational frameworks for the thoughts, activities, and interactive relationships that develop in groups of people over time.  Civilization is not a particular kind of human culture, or some broad amalgam of cultural practices.  Calling modern industrial civilization a kind of culture because, like culture, it offers a meaning-rich organizational framework for our thoughts and activities is like calling a nuclear missile a kind of packhorse because it allows us to transport things over a distance.  And I balk at calling civilization a meta-culture for reasons that should be already apparent.  Civilization does not serve as some kind of organizing principle for the coordination of disparate cultural traditions; it destroys them, eliminates them, and reduces any residual traces to superficialities of dress, diet, or speech.  Civilization is at best a quasi-culture.  Civilization is a machine that eventually makes all culture into a hollow shell, a superfluous appendage.  Culture, true culture, is anathema to civilization.

All cultures evolve in response to the demands and opportunities of specific environments.  That is, in essence, the purpose and function of culture: to facilitate environmental adaptation.  But civilization is not just a product of cultural evolution.  Civilization is the implementation of a pervasive and infiltrating mechanical power hierarchy that seeks to replace the need for culture.  Civilization doesn’t adapt to the environment.  Civilization is a way of altering the environment, forcing the environment to change according to the whims of those at the top of the power hierarchy—for the singular purpose of supporting the continued expansion of the power hierarchy itself.

Oil pipelines are not about cultural progress.  They are about power.  And when the people finally rise up against the corporate machine, it will not be as a clash of cultures, two self-interested groups of people vying for control over resources.  It will be a revolt of the oppressed against an inhuman oppressor—a slave revolt in which the master’s arrogant and effete wife (i.e., Corporate sycophants in the government) will finally get what she deserves. 

Hold tight to your petticoat Mr. Harper.


  1. Damn! I sometimes wish I could write like that. Very clearly and concisely said.