Sometimes I try to imagine Chief Joseph, whose prophetic powers allowed him to see things hidden to ordinary men, tuning in to the state of life on the planet in the Year of Our Lord 2016: temperatures soaring to 128 degrees in Rajastan, lakes and riverbeds caked and cracking; crops failing in India, Africa, and Vietnam, promising certain famine; plumes of nuclear contamination reaching ever closer to aquifers; the inexorable spread of underground fires near St. Louis reaching the West Lake Land fill nuclear waste burial site; huge swaths of discarded plastics swirling in dead oceans. I wonder how he would feel about terrestrial life, whose existence has lasted 3.8 billion years to be wiped out by the White Man, inventor of superior technologies (starting with the steam engine) in less than 300 years.
Sometimes I think of Simone Weil, who as a child of six refused to eat sugar because she knew the troops of WWI were denied sugar, and who at the age of 34 refused to eat any more food than what was available to people living in France under Nazi occupation.
What would Western urban life look like if say, for one day, we were to apply the same degree of empathy to our own daily round. We would (for example) have to walk to the nearest public tap; draw water, carry it back home; stretch the quantity of water we drew to include all cooking, and cleaning activities; we would hav e to walk to wherever we needed to go. If our place of work was five miles distant, we would have to leave home at 8 AM to arrive at a punctual 9 AM. If our place of work was ten miles distant, we would have to leave closer to 7; and if our place of work was 20 miles distant, we would have to leave home at 5 AM. We would return after a full day’s work at 10 PM.
To eat, we would have to buy lunch from a pushcart offering hotdogs costing $20.00 a piece. If we packed a lunch, we would have to grow our own food, and bake our own bread, and we would have to do those things only during those hours not part of a regular employment day.
We would have to meet our obligations the following day regardless of how hungry, and exhausted the business of living the previous day might have left us.
Now multiply such a life style to last a week. Can you fathom it? You’re still strong, still reasonably game about the experiment, still toughing it out, convinced that you can hack it. Now how about two weeks? How about a month? Still with me? How about a year? Still there?
How about a life time?
Because that’s how at least half of the people on earth live. And nowadays, with global warming they’re still comparatively well off if their area still happens to be free of flooding, or free of severe drought.
Meanwhile, you have a car. There is adequate public transportation, but you use a car. Is it because you have always had a car? Is it because you earned enough money to afford a car? Is it because you are in a hurry to get where you need to go and want to save one-half hour by not having to take a bus?
Meantime, you retire two to three hours after you can no longer see with natural light. You also operate household appliances, cook using either natural gas or electricity. You use powered devices to entertain yourself, computers, television sets. Most of your energy still comes from burning fossil fuels, which causes freak weather events, such as floods, drought, sea level rise, and fires. And some of that energy comes from nuclear power plants, which generate toxic waste with no known technology to sequester it safely from the biosphere for the next 100,000 years.
Meanwhile you shop. At the supermarket you get to choose between 18 detergents; 14 brands of ice cream; 24 kinds of breakfast cereal. At Toys R Us you have to navigate a warehouse full of non-biodegradable plastic toys to provide your children’s birthday gifts. At IKEA you clock the mileage you need to walk between aisles filled with shelves; aisles filled with chairs; with sofas; and whole aisles filled with lamps. At Home Deport, there are so many plumbing appliances, you need to spend at least an hour and a half deciding which one to select.
In Palestine, no cement is allowed in to rebuild whole streets of buildings that have been reduced to rubble.
What would we have to do without to share our present-day apocalypse equitably with the great majority of all the other people living on earth?
How would we have to live to stop the deep insanity of our lives?