Kalahari Capitalism

November 6, 2010

I read a news story earlier today that really illustrates my problem with this capitalism we let run our lives. In Botswana, in southern Africa, there is a community called the Kalahari Bushmen. They have lived in the area for 20,000 years, longer than any world empire, longer than we like to admit civilization has ever existed. Now, because of the discovery of the world’s richest diamond deposits on their ancestral homelands, these people are being pushed off their land by the government, which, oh, by the by – is in negotiations with Gem Diamonds, a global diamond mining company. (they call them production, but come on now – these things come out of the ground: you didn’t make them – you cut and polished them.)

The Botswana government is actively pushing the Kalahari out of their homes, capping off wells, taking away water distribution trucks, removing storage tanks and water pumps. The Kalahari Basin is mostly desert, and the people there depend largely on underground water to survive. Without access to water, people and livestock die, and so the people there are slowly migrating, abandoning their ancient culture for the benefit of their government and a giant diamond conglomerate – how much of the $3.3 billion dollar payoff will ever reach the disenfranchised Kalahari people? How many of those diamonds will come here, be sold to American young men to give to their loved ones? It staggers that anyone could do the calculus of diamonds against human and animal lives and come out in favor of this destruction. It requires a dishonest and myopic view of the exchange going on, one which does not value life, which does not value humanity, or history, or culture.

Let’s do that math right here – the government of Botswana stands to gain $3,300,000,000 dollars, or roughly 11 million $300 iPhones. The remainder of the diamond deposit, which surely is valued far about $3.3 billion – else why would Gem Diamonds bother to excavate it? – will go to a London-based Diamond group with no interests in Botswana. Aside from mining jobs, the company will not be putting money into Botswana or the hands of the Kalahari Bushmen, rightful owners of the diamonds being poached out from under them. Look at those mining job pictures; don’t you want to do that? It sure worked out well for those Congolese.

Let’s go a bit more into that math – $3.3 billion dollars is still a good bit of change. There are 2,029,307 people in Botswana, as estimated by the CIA. That means the government stands to gain approximately $1629.17 per person in this deal. Is that impressive? Would you stand by and let one of the most ancient living cultures die out for $1629.17? How many thousands of dollars will it cost the government to throw the Kalahari off their land? What will become of these people, these ranchers, once their livelihood is taken from them? Won’t they become beggars, nomads, a burden on the system they now are forced to survive within? In all likelihood, the government of Botswana will spend much of their ill-gotten gains dealing with the problems arising out of the destruction of a people. Already, they have had the most costly court case in their nation’s history – how many more will there be? Then there are the costs of mining – polluted land, destroyed water tables, demolished ecosystems – generations off damage, all outside the calculation. Thus, does it not seem the calculus of government and corporation is flawed here – they give no value to the damage they do, and thus even from an economic perspective, this is no good deal for the people of Botswana, or for the people of Earth. We are all poorer for the loss of people different than us, for the loss of good land, for the destruction of life.

Capitalism is worthless in determining true values – if the calculation does not include suffering, environmental damage, human and animal loss, culture, art, language, or history, then the value being cited is accepted only through ignorance or conscious malice. Are $3.3 billion in imaginary value and a lot of shiny stones fair compensation for valueless true wealth and beauty? Capitalism says yes, but intelligence, emotion, and honestly will say no.

Yet here it is, in naked violence – a people, the ancient caretakers of their land, are forced by the thousands out of their homes under threat of death by thirst, all so that a soulless corporation and a corrupt government can dip their beaks. A culture is destroyed, a way of life forever shattered, so that people in the richest nations in the world can buy price-inflated rocks they’ve been programmed to need through manipulative advertising. The irony? Diamonds, these supposed gifts of love, would be so common if not for the market manipulation by companies like Gem Diamond that there would no impetus to mine to mine them in Botswana at all. There you have it – naked greed, supply manipulation, open robbery, corruption of government, destruction of true value for artificial, all to fill an demand that was created by the diamond companies themselves within the past 80 years – I can think of no better epitaph for the whole corrupt crony Capitalist system.

When the supposed libertarians and capitalist sympathizers of the world talk about freeing business from government, they are romanticizing the encounter. They mistake who is in command. Capitalism is war, fought by different means. It is the pursuit of profit at the expense of every other value humanity has ever held dear. It is the religion of the libertarian that the government which does not interfere with business is the best sort, but in this world the problem is not governments fighting against or blocking corporations from their actions, but instead from massive multi-national corporations so powerful that they can buy governments and surpass them completely. A land of free capitalism is a land where life does not matter, where profit is God, where all value ceases to exist save ability to money. Money has no real value. You cannot purchase love, you cannot have a life-changing conversation in exchange for any amount of it, and once it becomes the standard of value, then all life becomes valueless.

We are not the first people to have discovered the terror of capitalists run wild, but ours is the first generation to have to deal with the deathless global amoebas of the modern corporations. The governments we have today exist because our ancestors created them – the regulations on business exist because unregulated business creates a feudal state, ruled not by divinity-claiming monarchs, but by the profit motive itself – in the end, everyone loses. There will always be a better competitor, a more efficient, less human method of creating that good or providing this service, and as the dollar signs pile up, so do the bodies. The impoverished classes swell – we have never had more poor on this planet than today. We have never had more wealth on this planet either. The tiny ruling classes of each society shrink, as the very highest among them crush the others to rise ever higher. The actions of all humanity have never supported fewer so well. The bonepile grows, and eventually the last Capitalist will succumb, the final victim of the system we created and which grew to consume us all.

I hope mass consciousness will turn against the cancer we have set loose upon ourselves. I hope that we will stop this suicidal run before Earth is rendered unliveable, before all human life becomes slave to profit. Today it is the Bushmen, tomorrow it will be another people who cannot defend themselves, and one day soon it will be your and my time as well. I will leave it here, with a man who knew what we are dealing with all too well. Benito Musselini -“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power”


“If you’d like to let Gem Diamonds know how you feel about their business dealings, here is their contact page. Here’s the Botswana US Embassy’s info also, but I’m not sure they want to be involved in this sort of thing.


The Daydream

February 17, 2010

I’ll spend a lot of time missing this if I’m not careful – lying in a hammock, music in my ears, banana trees swaying softly off my right, beautiful mountain vista ahead. I could, and some days do, spend hours upon hours lying here in silence, thinking, dreaming, letting mind and body wander freely. It’s not something I was used to before this life, but now I question how I ever went without it. A break, siesta, a time for me, my needs, my wants, for my spirit to rest and recover. It fits so well with everything, and yet I know it will interfere with a more traditional American life – who takes an hour break after lunch these days? Only hippies, weirdos, and other dangerous sorts, I’d wager. It’s a pity too, because after a short lounge I find myself a whole lot more motivated and ready to face the world! Well, face this world anyway – I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to face that other one again.

What sort of world is this? Well, here’s today – wake up before anyone, yoga on a big flat rock overlooking the city below, playing with the ants and practicing my balance, then a cup of strong coffee and another of fresh orange juice. We fly midmorning to just past noon, playing on the thermals with the chulos (vultures) then drive back up to the launch site house where we all live for coffee, tea, or beers depending on who you are. I cook something easy – beans, onions, peppers, and perhaps a couple eggs – while the rest of the family takes off to eat at a little comedor in town. I’m broke past any sense of a budget, and I can cook 4 or 10 meals for the same cost as anything I can get down there. Plus, cooking is meditation. Eat, hook up the computer for some tunes, then it’s hammock time, writing, reading, or napping.

After watching the clouds a bit and relishing in the pure joy of a life lived simply, we’ll fly again around 4 or 5:00, wind depending. Some days it rains and we’re grounded, others we soar for hours, riding the ridges up and down – it’s magical, almost, with the almost coming in whenever my lack of experience leaves me in a shit spot, fighting for altitude and space, hoping not to crash into a tree. With a dozen flights and the nickname “K of the Jungle” one might say I’m not doing so well on that last part. Still, it’s a beautiful sport, and I’m finally living a lifelong dream of flight – no engine, no enclosure, just me, wing, and sky. It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted, and I can feel this sport taking over my life already – I want nothing more then to learn to see the wind like the expert gliders can, to make the whole world my playground, to get into the air and soar like an eagle.

Nights we spend alternatingly crashing into tire walls at the Go-kart track in town or sitting around drinking and telling stories. The Canadian friends have their wild flying tales, Alex her scuba stories, Jake the crazy Alaskan his entire life, and I my hitchhiking and bad decisions. It’s a great group, conversation flows with the shit talking, ebbs with the early night. By ten or a bit most people have retreated to bed, and those of us remaining shift to late-night email on the cranky wifi, or just sit out and watch the skies. I try to end my night by pissing off the cliffside launch, inky blackness over the neon city. It’s primal, the feeling of power that comes from such a stupid act., but you won’t catch me complaining. After that, with the world seething awake below but my tiny corner fast asleep, there isn’t much to do aside pass out, and dream of another day the same as the last.

My question really is this – how can I spend as much of my life doing exactly this? There must be some way, be it working at a launch site, bank robbery, or inheriting some grandiose fortune, where I can live like this forever, right? I don’t feel I’m looking for too much – just a bit of peace, quiet, and good company. Given those, I think I could live quite happily. The only parts that trip me up are the debt, the needs of others, the gossamer strands of past that still yank across distance, time, and space. I’m not truly free of their world, much as I try to hide and deny it – I still need filthy lucre, still must contribute something of “value” in order to live, and believe me, writing, poetry, advice, companionship, and camaraderie are grossly undervalued in this economy, unless you’re telling people what they want to hear. No, truthfulness doesn’t sell, doesn’t satisfy, doesn’t get you ahead – if I could just get more into lying and conniving and scheming I could probably be filthy rich enough to do anything I want!

Yet I’d be miserable then, because the ends quite clearly do not justify the means. If I want to be a writer, to create something beautiful, then a trashy novel will not suffice regardless of how well it sells. I could be a therapist, tell the richest of rich twats what they want to hear about themselves, be a friend-for-hire, but that won’t make me happy if I want to be the best confidante I can. Better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig blissful in shit. Better to live by and die doing what I consider irreplaceably valuable than to cower before the painful difficulties that keep most people trapped in lives they do not want. No, I cannot bow before the altar of global capitalism, cannot suck off the golden teat, because the source is something I cannot agree with, and as such, I’ll always have to live around the edges.

Perhaps then, it is best that the things I’m interested in are so marginalized – hitchhiking, paragliding, camping, living in hostels and on beaches and mountains. For me, and for those who feel like me, the margins of society are the best bits. We don’t have to hide here, conform to social pressures to act, live, breathe, behave a certain way. We don’t have to pretend we’re like the unhappy people we’ve been trying to get away from in the first place. We don’t have to guard ourselves, swallow our desires, keep mouths clamped tight to avoid offending people who don’t know any of the things they hold like precious truth. How do you know I’d be better off if I lived like you? You don’t know I was dying when I tried that, you don’t even know me anyway! No, best to get away from that, to stay up here, out there, far from the great vacuum of suck in the middle.

There’s nothing in the center, no value, no soul, no heart, nothing! This isn’t to say that there’s no value in finding your own personal center, no, quite the opposite – what I’m trying to convey is that the supposed middle ground isn’t what they say it is. If I try to be all things to all people, what am I truly left as? I become a chameleon, a poltergeist, a shadow then, representing nothing, holding nothing, not being me, and at that point I have become meaningless. Like pop art, like the music on the top-40s station, like television commercials and the people in movies – I’ll have become just more meaningless drivel, oatmeal for the toothless man. I’m not bland enough, not flexible enough, not stupid or weak enough for that – I actually care about life, live like it means something. My values make me strong, not weak. I am not a coward or an idiot when I say that I will not help destroy the world to propagate one species – my position isn’t based on hysteria or fear or misinformation – I just happen to like the natural world and know that paving it over will eventually kill us as certainly as we kill it.

Yet the pavement spreads, and the fields shrink, the fences go up and the wild world slides down, down, down into the shit. The garbage dump fills day by day, the packs of SUVs roam the concrete jungles, as the real jungles burn, and the packs of real animals are devoured by the mechanical ones. When are we going to have enough? When there isn’t enough left to grow any further? When the world can’t sustain us? What then? It’s madness to build your society around production with the goal of more production when your space and resource pools are both limited. What happens to all the cars when there isn’t any more gasoline, and we can’t make enough fertilizer? Who gets to eat and drive then, and who doesn’t and must die? Am I out of line for noting that we’re going to have to make that decision sometime soon? That we’re making it now? Do we kill the African so that the American can keep driving another few years? We’ve certainly decided that Iraqis and Afghans must forfeit their lives when it suits us!

We have the biggest guns right now, so at the moment these decisions remain ours, but what happens when the people who finance our wars see their interests splitting from our own? The Chinese won’t be content to sit and let us run the world forever, you know? Certainly not while they have us by the balls, producing everything we use, buying our ever-ballooning debt – whenever they’re ready, that bill comes due, and then who makes the decisions? The next biggest gunslinger, and after that the next, and the next, and the next, until someone with the wrong values and his finger on the trigger starts seeing the appeal of mass nuclear warfare. Perhaps I exaggerate, or maybe I don’t understand humans, but I don’t see anyone in power giving it up willingly! No, as the resources dry up, as the starvation and disease and desperation of poverty grip white people instead of only brown ones in far away lands, then the leaders will be pressed – protect us, save us, coddle us, keep us safe. I don’t want to be around when that happens.

The best solution then, as I see it, is not to play – don’t try to get ahead, don’t try to beat them at their own games, don’t fight the crushing hand of dying empire. Emigration seems better, to a place with real communities and people who know their neighbors. A place like here, on the mountaintops, away from the cities, away from the crush and consumption that can’t go on forever. And it can’t go on forever – don’t pretend at such thoughts, comforting as they are. When the oil runs out, when the ships can’t sail around the world, when the trucks full of groceries can’t make it to the supermarket, as the combine sits rusting in fields laid fallow for lack of fertilizer, where will you be then? I hope I’ll remember times like these, the ease, the convenience, the extraordinary complexity that makes life seem so simple.

At least there will still be hammocks, open porches, and banana trees – perhaps if we’re smart we can keep the paragliders around. Actually, this is not a bad place to be in such a time, since the people here still remember life without modern clutter, can still cook and grow crops and work with their hands. Where the average American would be staggered by the thought of growing their own food, the Colombians still have their gardens and orchards, still have the open land and knowledge to feed themselves, the animals to work with, and the community spirit necessary to make such projects succeed. They still know the value of lying back and dreaming, of thinking forward toward what may come instead of rushing blindly toward it, phone to ear, steering with their knees as they eat their fast food. Perhaps here they won’t hit the wall, will slow in time. I just wish I had the same trust in the United States, and in the people there.

Until then, this is my siesta, my stream of consciousness, my worry, my goal, and now I need only to find a way from here to there and back to here. There’s a lot to get to know – sustainable farming, building without depleting scarce resources, community governance in the face of societal collapse, how to play the harmonica, much more about medicine, plumbing, renewable power sources – the list goes for days, but at least I’m getting started! I’d advise others to think about what they’re capable of doing without fossil fuels, without factory food, without the resources and conveniences of industry – they can’t last forever, that’s just a brutal truth you’re going to have to accept! If we don’t have some new fuel source, new pile of resources, new reality-changing moment, then this lifestyle is not sustainable, and we’re going to have to live without most of what we take for granted today. Where will you be? What will you want to keep around? What do you know how to do?

Do you see why I’m going to treasure these moments in the hammock?

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