Tag Archives: Berta Cáceres

The Power of Language in the Anthropocene

“So we are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.” – Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

 

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” – Noam Chomsky

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

 

“Let us wake up, humankind! We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction.”  – Berta Cáceres, Indigenous and environmental activist, murdered by a rightwing Honduran death squad.

 

At a certain point reality crashes headlong into toxic naivety. It is inevitable. One can only go on so long in denial before it intrudes. This is also true of societies. As I write, several “unprecedented” deadly hurricanes, typhoons and tropical storms are literally swirling around the world’s oceans. One of them has churned through the Carolinas. But this is a place where analysis of the threat of sea level rise was forbidden by a state determined to erase any public discourse on climate change in deference to its moneyed industries. Another one, the strongest on the planet, has devastated swaths of the Philippines and Hong Kong. On the opposite end of the spectrum wildfires have scorched huge swaths of North America, Greece and Spain and floods have inundated villages from Italy to India. Year after year the broken records and damages pile up, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for even the most irrational or dimwitted to ignore the unfolding climate chaos. Yet still the language of the Anthropocene remains a convoluted mess of obscurantism and outright denial.

For those living on the margins of empire no statement can be too exaggerated when it comes to the existential threats they are facing. Along with climate change they are on the frontlines of a war waged against them by the forces of capital. Along sacred rivers in the American Dakotas, in the life drenched rain forests of Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, the poisoned wetlands of the Athabasca, the unforgiving, mineral rich deserts of Western Sahara and Afghanistan, the melting tundra of the Arctic circle, the carcinogenic corridors of the American Midwest, the sun baked Niger Delta, the sullied waters of the Flint River, and in the misery laden, blockaded and besieged shanty’s of Kolkata, Manilla and beyond, battles are raging against the poor and time is running out.

 

These are the forgotten of the earth. The ones whose lives or struggles don’t register in a corporate press beholden to profits and enamored by spectacle. Their tragedies, though measured in the hundreds of thousands if not more, don’t spur hashtag movements, or generate round the clock coverage on network and cable news, or even cause the Eiffel Tower to dim. Facebook doesn’t have an option for safety check ins on these kinds of catastrophes either. Their poisoned fields, flooded villages and dried out crops pass away to more scintillating news about salacious celebrities or idiotic tweets from the bloated narcissist in the Oval Office. But they are the first victims of climate change and the merciless cupidity of the global capitalist class. The 1% whose corporations ransack and pillage the world leaving countless bodies and shattered communities in their wake.

 

In their quest to maintain and indefinitely grow their coffers, they see all of these unfolding and looming catastrophes as economic opportunities. And if they do not employ think tanks to muddy the waters of public discourse with outright denialism, they use obscurantist language designed to rationalize the unfettered exploitation of capital. Dissolving ice caps are a strategic option for geopolitical and business advancement. Atmospheric warming gases are the chance to advance a scheme of carbon trading. Hunger and famine are economic and technological opportunities to litter the world with more profitable pesticides, chemically/genetically altered food, or factory farms. Flattened woodlands and fouled rivers become excuses for moving indigenous peoples into overcrowded, cordoned off corporate colonies for easier exploitation, social control, neglect and abandonment. They see the resulting unrest and political dissatisfaction as opportunities for technological advances in surveillance and security, selling arms and weapons to any faction or regime that is interested and can pay.

 

Sometimes it may be difficult to identify who they really are. And to some extent, we are all complicit in the destruction of the earth’s habitat, especially those of us in the global north. But we have been conditioned to perceive our world by the dominant culture of our time; and that culture is undeniably defined by the forces of capital. Historically, language has always served as a means for social control. Colonized indigenous peoples understand this all too well. One of the first actions by colonizers was to erase indigenous history. The next was to erase the language.

 

Today the 1% have imposed a culture of obfuscation and use language that is intentionally duplicitous. This isn’t that difficult to grasp when we are reminded that only a handful of corporations control at least 90% of the media. Their technicians are peddlers of meaningless, alienating or demoralizing jargon. And they are integrated into the highest precincts of power. The Pentagon and the Department of Defense have long dictated Hollywood propaganda, but now social media has emerged and taken it to a whole other level. Its algorithms are designed to prick neuro-signals that enable social control and conformity. It has been a boon to the surveillance state. In the meantime a parlance of pale, placating euphemisms numbs us to our own oblivion. And it is done with such staggering precision and ease that it has become ever more difficult to decipher and parse.  But in the end not even the most viral of memes or clever of hashtags will be able to eternally hide atrocity or cloak the stench of a dying world.

 

While there are cracks in the façade, the zeitgeist of the era still demands a kind of militant optimism and the denial of reality. One can see this in a simple test. Mention the words ‘climate change’ in the comment section of a report on a hurricane or wildfire on almost any mainstream news page and you will see a flurry of laugh emojis and comments of ridicule. Such coordinated assaults on reason have the fingerprints of denialist think tanks like The Heartland Institute all over it. But even many self-described progressives perpetuate a language that denies the lived reality of millions of people or pose solutions that do nothing to dislodge the failed and utterly corrupt capitalist paradigm. They insist on political solutions, even pseudo-socialist ones, within a bipartisan framework that has proven to be a sham. And how has this helped anyone? In the US most live in state of perpetual stress and distraction. Distracted by the demands of work, shrinking social safety nets and a political landscape that has merged with mass entertainment, the corporate surveillance state keeps the masses in line by neutralizing public opinion, policing thought and censoring dialogue. Many live in states that are destined to experience more and more catastrophic flooding or prolonged and entrenched drought thanks to climate change.

 

Hyperbolic? Perhaps to some. But in the global south, which often includes areas inside Western nations, dystopia is now. They inhabit capitalism’s sacrifice zones, places where ruthless exploitation, destruction and abandonment are considered acceptable. For them water is already scarce, food is already insecure, addiction is already an epidemic, cancer and other diseases are already the norm, and their homes are already sinking beneath the tide. They understand that denialism, false hope and language that cloaks reality only perpetuate the misery and maintains the status quo death march to extinction. They have taught us all how we must dissent to the madness of the Anthropocene. Thanks to centuries of massacre, exploitation and having their histories rewritten, from Chiapas to Sápmi, they have responded by nourishing solidarity and resistance. They have demonstrated to us that agency rests in a relentless drive to push back, build economies independent of the “free market,” foster independent media and journalism, create representative forms of governance despite cynicism, stand united against the violence of the state against the odds, paint murals that reflect the people’s history and speak in a language that boldly defies the ruling class narrative.

 

As a species we have either created, permitted or have been oppressed by an order that has been threatening our collective demise for decades in what amounts to a mere blip of geologic time. Indeed, it is this order that has already sentenced countless species to the halls of extinction, carpet bombed millions over the last century, justified slavery, devastated verdant regions, and enslaved millions of people around the world in for profit prisons, sweatshop fire traps, pesticide ridden fields and lung choking mines. But we should understand that the language of this era is no accident. It has been carefully crafted by the forces of capital to control the dominant narrative, condition our thinking, and dictate how we will act. It is designed to keep us distracted while they keep up their pillage. The beginning of dissent and resistance, then, lies in learning a different tongue.

 

Kenn Orphan   September 2018

Humanity vs. The Rule of Law

It was back in my early undergrad years when I first came to understand the broad reach of US foreign policy. I completed a social work internship in Los Angeles at a safe house in east LA in a largely immigrant community whose goal was economic justice and solidarity with working families. One morning I came down to the kitchen to find two sisters from the Missionaries of Charity sitting at the table with our house administrators. They had a similar home just down the street from us and they were well known for opening it up as a sanctuary for refugees. That day they greeted us with a choice.

A family of refugees from Central America were en route to LA and needed housing since the sisters home was already filled to capacity. Our house admins had already agreed to do this but we would be permitted to go to another program, without judgement, if we were not comfortable with this decision. This was the late 80s and providing sanctuary for people from certain nations in Central America was both controversial and illegal. We were nervous, but young and very eager to do something that seemed radical. Over the following month we learned that the risk we had taken paled in comparison to theirs. Nothing could remotely compare with the horrors they had endured or narrowly escaped; threats of rape, violence and being abandoned to die in agony in the desert, or the uncertain future they faced in a country hostile to their very existence.

I remember the backlash I and others received from several in my class. In their eyes we were subverting the rule of law. But what rule of law were they speaking of? Was it the one that informs virtually all of American foreign policy? The one that trains mercenaries at infamous places like the School of the Americas? The same one that fueled the genocide of 250,000 Mayans in Guatemala in 1954 at the behest of the United Fruit Company? Or the rule of law that created a brothel for US corporate interests in Havana? Or backed the genocide in Indonesia done by rabid fascists? Or supported coups that upended a democratically elected government in Chile? Or the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Or Iran? Was it the one that carpet bombed Cambodia, napalmed North Korea or tested nukes on US soldiers and the unsuspecting inhabitants of the Marshall Islands? Would that rule of law include Indian Removal? Or Jim Crow? Or state sponsored lynchings? Or internment camps for Japanese Americans during WW2? When it comes to the American Empire what rule of law is there outside of that which pertains to the rights of corporations, or the ruling Capitalist class, or the military industrial elite? How many crimes has the global north committed against the global south; and how many of them have been explained away using the sanctimonious parlance of the rule of law?

I fast forward to today and wonder what has changed? US foreign policy certainly hasn’t. It continues to punish Cuba and has not stopped its war mongering against Venezuela. It still promotes the racist “drug war” that makes life a misery for countless people. It still defends industries that pollute the waters and the soil that indigenous peoples depend on, like in the Amazon in Ecuador by Chevron. It still backs rightwing coups like the one recently championed by Hillary Clinton in Honduras which installed a government that terrorizes its population and is ultimately responsible for the murder of scores of Indigenous and environmental activists, like Berta Cáceres who understood well the reach, ramifications and scope of American foreign policy, especially its impact on the lives of those who live on the margins of empire.

And what has changed at the border? The same people terrorized by American foreign policy are still dehumanized, traumatized, deported and even murdered in cold blood when they manage to arrive there hoping for a better life. Even Hillary Clinton advocated for sending undocumented people back as a solution, and Obama is on record for deporting more immigrants than other presidents. But if there is anything that has changed in recent days it is the deepening depravity of such policies. Thanks to Trump’s inhuman policy of separation of children from their parents, the breathless cruelty of the US Border Patrol and ICE produce a virtual Sophie’s Choice every day. Even showing human kindness toward these children is grounds for termination from employment.

So the outrage I have today is not dissimilar to the outrage I felt years ago.  I still see the faces of those refugees I stood in solidarity with several years ago from Guatemala. And when I read about the migrants being detained and sent to cages with foil blankets or hear the recordings of inconsolable cries of children torn from their mother or father, I see their eyes peering through me. And I think of that “rule of law” argument waged by my classmates years ago. The same argument made by Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee-Sanders who then buttressed it with Biblical references. Such a rationale only exists in the minds of those whose humanity has long been gutted. It’s one that has been used generously by scoundrels throughout time to ignore their complicity in creating the turmoil in the first place, and then defending the cruelest of policies against the human beings affected by that misery. And my response to such barbarity remains the same as it was back then: to hell with their rule of law.

 

Kenn Orphan   June 2018

 

 

The Ones I Care About

Today I could not care less about who any American votes for or if they vote at all. Truly. I could not care less about the orange tinted megalomaniac or the Queen of Wall Street Wars. I could not care less about the corrupt duopoly or smug pundits. I could not care less about undecided voters or apathetic hipsters. I could not care less about celebrity festooned galas or rehearsed consolation speeches.

Today I choose to care about people like Berta Cáceres. She was an Indigenous Honduran environmental activist who was savagely murdered in her home by mercenaries of the right wing coup government that Hillary Clinton championed as Secretary of State and still defends to this day after scores of brutal murders like Berta, of Indigenous, environmental, LGBTQ and human rights advocates. She was almost wholly ignored by the US corporate media and virtually ignored by most of the so called progressive, liberal media, but I care about people like Berta today and every day.

berta-caceres-source-gristShortly before her murder Berta spoke these ominous words:

“We’re coming out of a coup that we can’t put behind us. We can’t reverse it. It just kept going. And after, there was the issue of the elections. The same Hillary Clinton, in her book, Hard Choices, practically said what was going to happen in Honduras. This demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country. The return of the president, Mel Zelaya, became a secondary issue. There were going to be elections in Honduras. And here, she, Clinton, recognized that they didn’t permit Mel Zelaya’s return to the presidency. There were going to be elections. And the international community—officials, the government, the grand majority—accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent. And we’ve been witnesses to this.”

When I see Clinton’s face I see Berta. When I hear Clinton speak about protecting and advancing the rights of women I hear Berta. And behind her I see millions of other women and others, mostly brown, black and red, who were slaughtered thanks to American imperialistic aggression or enslaved and impoverished thanks to American corporate pillage. I see sweatshop workers in Haiti slaving at their desks for Hanes where the US State Department under Clinton fought against a decent living wage. Or women in Libya attempting to hold their families together following the assault on the sovereign nation that Clinton championed against Gaddafi. The same “intervention” where she ghoulishly celebrated the aforementioned leaders gruesome murder at the hands of a mob. I see Palestinian women who have no voice thanks to decades long Israeli apartheid aided by the American taxpayer, a support which Ms. Clinton has vowed to increase in spades. I hear the faint voices of grandmothers at Standing Rock Sioux who are watching their children put in dog cages and shot with rubber bullets by a militarized police force, while Ms. Clinton remains silent.
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Why do I focus on Clinton? Why not focus on the racist, misogynistic narcissist whose penchant for authoritarianism is legendary? Because American Liberals have given her a pass because she is a woman, or by either incredulously ignoring her obvious and egregious record or for the lie of “lesser evilism.” And because it is Clinton who will most likely ascend the throne of American Empire. That is almost assured. And because her resume is splattered with the blood of neocon aggression and the tears from neoliberal capitalist exploitation. Her agenda has been pre-formed in a chasm of corporate chicanery with war profiteers and earth destroyers calling the shots.

Americans can vote for whomever they wish. I really could not care less anymore since I have made my peace long ago with the fact that the entire thing is a sham anyway. As Green candidate Jill Stein eloquently said, the choices between a “proto-fascist and a corruption queen” are outrageous. And the absurdity of all of this is only the first sign of a dying Empire lashing out and writhing as it succumbs in fits and starts. It is emblematic of a culture of profound pathology corrupted by materialistic consumerism and horrendously disconnected to the ancient wisdom of a now perpetually assailed biosphere.

No matter who is selected for the puppet throne the only way forward now is activism outside the sham and the spectacle and the blood stained halls of Washington. And I choose to look to Berta and my fellow comrades for my inspiration in that regard, rather than the dung heap that is the American political and social class.

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Kenn Orphan 2016