Monthly Archives: April 2021

Remembering LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard

“Standing Rock was a seed of knowledge about how we can live on the Earth again. This means understanding how to live with respect, how to listen to our mother.” – LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard

I am saddened to hear of the passing of LaDonna Tamakawastewin Allard, water and land defender, historian, founder of the Sacred Stone Camp and member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. She inspired a generation to join the struggle against ecocide and the destruction of our home and take a stand for what is sacred, our water, our land, our mother. May her journey to the ancestors be blessed.

Kenn Orphan April 2021

How the Pandemic Laid Bare the Cruelty of Capitalism

One thing this pandemic has demonstrated in stark terms is class struggle. Those people deemed essential, though often applauded in public, have been treated as expendable. In truth, they were always treated this way. But this last year has made this struggle visible for anyone paying attention.

The medical staff, grocery clerks, janitors, sanitation workers, transportation services, delivery people, all of them have been the ones on the front lines, not only of potential exposure to a lethal pathogen, but to abuse from privileged customers, clients or patients who feel their rights have somehow been violated for being asked to simply wear a mask. I can’t count how many videos I have seen of people (mostly white and middle to upper middle class) berating workers. And this often takes on a racist tone.

Over the past year we have witnessed people throwing groceries at workers, spitting at them, calling them names. In various states, from California to Texas to Florida, there have been mobs that invaded stores like Target or Home Depot without masks and carrying anti-masker and “Covid is Hoax” signs, even physically attacking other customers and workers. And in one recent instance in British Columbia an older white male customer was asked to wear a mask in a pizza restaurant. He answered angrily: “are you f**king Middle Easter or where are you from?” Concluding with “I’m worth $50 million, you’re worth zero.” He and his companion then went on to assault a teenage customer outside tearing his mask from his face.

How disconnected from reality could one be to think that being asked to wear a mask in a store is a violation of ones’ rights? And how privileged does one have to be to think dressing down a worker is somehow a noble expression of those supposed rights? And this gets to the crux of the problem: capitalism.

Capitalism is about class and status. The man who said he was worth $50 million and clerk worth $0 really believes it. And it is a system that posits the supposed “rights” of the individual over the well being of the community. But many of these rights are merely privilege and have little to nothing to do with liberating oppressed or marginalized members of society or protecting the most vulnerable or persecuted. It is the very opposite of cooperation and mutual respect. And it is an arrangement which always favors the wealthy and upper classes disproportionately over the poor and working class. This is because the list of “rights” seldom, if ever, include basics like housing, food, healthcare, education or meaningful work.

This is playing out most obviously in the ongoing strikes against corporations like Amazon and the fast food industry. But in the US, as well as some other western nations, liberals have found themselves alienated from these struggles thanks to years of political pandering to corporations. We should ask ourselves why these workers aren’t even asking for a good wage, they are only asking for a livable wage. “Livable.” And yet they work 80 or more hours a week yet cannot “live” on the pittance they get. All while there are people like Bezos and Musk who pay little to no taxes and make thousands of dollars a minute while they sleep.

The pandemic has laid bare how the systemic inequities of capitalism manifest in real abuse and contempt for low wage workers. Often this is compounded by racism and xenophobia. But it isn’t simply the tirades of entitled anti-maskers against people behind the counter making minimum wage. It is warehouses and other places of business that have put low wage workers at risk by exposing them to Covid-19, while providing them no paid sick leave or a “livable” wage. It is about a government that provides subsidies to corporations and the military industrial sector, while denying the public basic healthcare, good housing, free education and opportunities for growth.

But outrage at individual instances of worker abuse captured on TikTok or Youtube is not enough. The entire system is designed to inflict cruelty on the most vulnerable in society. And if we cannot see the machine behind this all, we will lack the most effective tools to dismantle it.

Kenn Orphan April 2021

Humans, Nature and the Illusion of Separateness

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the biggest lies that people in the global north were sold and have largely internalized is that we are separate from the biosphere from which we evolved and on which we depend upon for our very survival. Even as we stand on the precipice of ecological collapse, human supremacy over nature has been the unchallenged narrative. As a result, those who have taken up the struggle to protect this fragile arrangement of existence are often otherized. Their “cause” is treated as just one of many. The “treehugger?” The “environmentalist?” The person who “cares about the earth?” How noble. How non-threatening. It becomes just another cause in a myriad of causes.

The message here is that we ought not think of this in terms of human survival. In existential terms. That would be too hyperbolic. Too woo-woo. The corporations that derive every bit of their wealth from the true “commonwealth” of all species on this planet want nothing less than for us to think we are either above it all or separate from it all. If more make the connection that we need to stop the decimation of the natural world it will ultimately put a dent in their profit margin. If we are honest, that is what the current economic and political order cares about the most.

To be fair, capitalism cannot do anything but accumulate more and more capital. And capital is virtually everything that exists, from the raw minerals and petrol deep in the earth’s crust, to the fish in the sea and trees in the boreal range, to governments and politicians, to our own personal information and preferences. It has created a global arrangement of power that must use obfuscation as well as violence, or its threat, as a way of keeping the engine running.

But if we see this as truly existential we begin to realize that things like plugging in our single person vehicles, or replacing plastic straws with bamboo ones, or recycling our plastic water bottles are mostly window dressing for an unfolding catastrophe. They are intended to obscure one of the biggest crimes in human history, the wholescale destruction of life on earth for the profit of the corporate class.

None of this is meant to encourage conspiratorial thinking. It is not to imply that there is a group of evil villains meeting in a secret boardroom plotting the destruction of the earth’s biosphere somewhere either. But it does involve a sort of conspiracy at work. Just a few years ago we learned that the tobacco industry hired physicians to lie about the harmful affects of smoking even though they knew very well that it caused potentially fatal conditions like heart disease, emphysema and lung cancer. Plastic companies have been greenwashing the massive production of their products by promoting programs like recycling, which barely put a dent in the growing problem of plastic pollution. And we learned relatively recently that the fossil fuel industry did something similar regarding the danger of endless burning of fossil fuels and its acceleration of climate change. Corporate entities are simply incapable of grappling with the destructive affects of their mode of operation if it interferes with the endless growth and increased profit paradigm.

The danger we now face could not be more dire. World renowned political dissident and author Noam Chomsky has warned that “the future of organized human life” is imperiled by climate change. A recent piece from 17 scientists in the journal Frontiers in Conservation Science warned of “ghastly” consequences from ecological degradation if radical steps are not taken. And Australian scientists released a sobering report this year about diverse ecosystems in the region that are in a state of collapse, from the tropics to coral reefs to the desert and Antarctica.

Whether or not one believes these reports, there is ample evidence of massive ecological destruction throughout the global south which is a direct result of extractive and exploitative industries in the global north. Clear cutting forests, from Brazil to Indonesia, has exploded exponentially. Sub-standard mining practices have defiled waterways. Pollution from fossil fuel extraction continues to be a scourge, from noxious benzene plumes and effluent in the Niger Delta to open oil pits in the Ecuadorian Amazon to massive spills on coral reefs off Mauritius. Rubbish from the global north is routinely dumped in regions in the global south that are not regulated or policed. And the new “green” technology is threatening to destroy even more habitats with lithium mines and solar farms. This is what the corporate policy of “externalized costs” really looks like. It is also how the lie of separateness is made manifest. Corporations move from one sacrifice zone to the next, but on a finite world this Faustian bargain was doomed from the start.

We have been warned that there is a need for radical change. Unsurprisingly, the corporations that run the world’s affairs have incorporated much of this language into their mission statements and ethos. But we should understand that this is nothing more than another subterfuge. A way to maximize their profit from a dying world all while giving it a greenwashed face. They must maintain the current rate of extraction and growth in order to do this. But now they have been forced to change the language they use. To be sure, no real sacrifices will be asked from us in the global north who have largely benefitted from this untenable and unfair way of life. As George H.W. Bush famously declared: “The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period.” And by this he meant the American model of endless accumulation of capital and consumption for a few at the expense of the many and the living earth.  

Humanity is facing its nemesis. The thin layer of air and water that embraces the crust of this planet, and on which we are fully dependent, is imperiled like no other time in human history. And there is a clear cause for this. Corporations, with the help of the military and political sectors, are rapidly unraveling the fragile net that holds us. And they get away with it because most of us still think we are somehow separate from nature. Thich Nhat Hanh’s quote at the top of this essay might be taken as strictly spiritual in its implications by some. But I think it also has a very tangible application to where we are as a species. For too long we have allowed the narrative to be dictated by the myth of our separateness and dominance over the earth and all that lives here. And that narrative has led us to the brink of utter catastrophe. Dispelling this toxic illusion is imperative, therefore, for our very survival.

Kenn Orphan April 2021

Title painting is Ecocide by Carlita Shaw

9 minutes, 29 seconds

9 minutes, 29 seconds.

9 minutes, 29 seconds was how long Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck.

9 minutes, 29 seconds he ignored his desperate pleas for mercy.

9 minutes, 29 seconds he ignored the cries of outrage and despair of those watching it all.

9 minutes, 29 seconds he stayed where he was even as George lay lifeless, even as they checked for a pulse and did not find one.

9 minutes, 29 seconds.

Kenn Orphan April 2021

#JusticeforGeorgeFloyd #BlackLivesMatter