Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

John Detwiler: Cautionary Tales of Hubris

A life-and-death fight isn’t polite. We shouldn’t expect such a battle to be bound by the Marquess of Queensberry rules – or any other code of ‘civilized’ behavior.

A few days ago, a squirrel fell from a high branch of a tree in my yard – a sight which, squirrels being squirrels, we had never witnessed before. The animal was alive when it hit the ground, but we found its body awhile later. Then the cause of its fall was obvious: its eyes had been torn out, apparently by a bird whose nest the squirrel had invaded. While the squirrel had merely been hungry, the bird was fighting for its life, and for the new life in its eggs.

In many parts of the world, people are fighting for their lives, and for the lives of future generations. They are threatened by famine, drought, flood and disease: all consequences of runaway corporate capitalism. The breadth and intensity of this conflict are no longer news to anyone who’s paying attention. So far, however, these desperate people are still behaving in a remarkably ‘civilized’ fashion.

But it’s not the human combatants that have seized my attention. Rather, it’s the corporations on the other side of the fight. They have realized, before most of us humans, that their survival is at stake. They are standing together, fighting for their own existence and for their progeny. And they’ve taken off the gloves.

How else can we interpret the surveillance, the SLAPP suits, the corruption and the killing? What other explanation for their incredible lies and their staggering payoffs? The Western ‘system’ that we have built is fighting for its life – fighting us, its creators. How is that possible? What ‘machine’ would hold such aspirations?

The old ones knew. Maybe it has all happened before, or maybe their imaginations were simply more limber than ours have become. They left us the stories:   Dr. Frankenstein, and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Before that, we had ‘The Fall.’ Tales of human hubris, of the Creature who usurped the role of Creator.

The Citizens United ruling isn’t an isolated incident, but it will do as a vignette of our folly. Having built an artifice of words, numbers and bricks, we decided to give it “life.” Without ever comprehending our own humanity, we gave away that humanity to a row of digits with a dollar sign. Once our creation had come to ‘life,’ shouldn’t we have expected that it would defend its existence?

I see us in a life-and-death struggle. It may not require us to adopt more vicious weapons and tactics than our adversary; but we need to consider that, for one of us to live, the other may need to die. If we cannot contemplate the more favorable outcome, we may be faced with the other.

Copyright 2015 John Detwiler

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