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Price of Addiction
to Foreign Oil

A letter home to America

by Ed Iglehart
Palnackie, Scotland
January 2003       and a response

Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a
finite world is either a madman or an economist.
                --Kenneth Boulding

First of all, my heartfelt apology for lack of communication. It ain't a new thing between us, we've never been in the habit of spending all that much time on the phone, writing weekly letters, etc., just generally getting on with our individual lives, occasionally thinking of the other and knowing that in true crisis times we would be there for each other, and this has been true, for the most part.

Some of you are at me from time to time and say I don't communicate, and that you've written and emailed me with no response, and for that my heart goes out, but easy words don't come (give all others my best wishes and apologies). Some have nagged me to travel over to see you and sort out little things. I just can't say when. It hurts.

I seem to have a very strong resistance to leaving North Glen. An even stronger resistance to international travel - not from fear, rather from a realisation of how irresponsibly destructive it is and how easy and comfortable and cheap (for me and the earth!) it is to just stay home, where I have buildings and forests to play with, pub and shop within easy walk, and communication systems to keep me in touch - Irony intentional!

It's possible all of this is connected with some form of bereavement, but I don't know to what extent. You say you're feeling 'cut off' ; I feel I'm turning into a hermit of sorts, strangely not unwillingly, but the sort who will burn your ears off if you do get to his door. I remind myself of Thoreau, at times. I certainly agree with him on almost everything.

It's likely I could get a doctor's excuse due to clinical depression, were I humble enough to admit I could use some help, but I don't want bloody pills. If I were to date the onset of this condition, it would be remarkably coincident with (but not necessarily related to) the 2000 election fiasco, but has been intensified/modulated by the experience of months of semi-quarantine due to foot & mouth followed closely by 911, for want of a better name for such a signal event, and my compatriots' response of outraged violated innocence:

"Why would anyone do such a thing to us?"
"You want a list of reasons? Will a dozen do?"
"But we're the good guys..."

And then bombing the hell out of Afghanistan and its folk, leaving tenfold more dead innocents than in NYC, and putting the opium growers back in charge, all in the interests of 'democracy'. Never thinking such behaviour (however well-intentioned) might have something to do with why we're hated. For God's sake, America look in the mirror!

And now we seem set on another ghastly mistake - bombing the hell out of even more innocent civilians (having already starved them and deprived them of medical help through mis-targeted sanctions). Estimates of the situation vary, but it seems to me Iraq is a threat (if at all) chiefly to Israel, which is currently behaving almost as badly to those in territories it has occupied for two generations as Saddam ever has in the past.

Sharon hung Bush and Powell out to dry in public view (a master of humiliation, just ask any Palestinian) and is currently asking the good people of America to give him an extra $15 billion to help with the costs of the intifada... many Jews I know are as horrified (and feel as helpless) as I am, as we watch a state (the establishment of which, in retrospect, was probably a huge mistake) behaving like Nazi Germany.

We deplore far milder forms of such behaviour elsewhere, but Israel has abrogated almost every agreement, persists in 'settling' occupied territories in complete defiance of numerous UN resolutions (those not VETOed in our complicity), and daily, weekly monthly, kills and maims and humiliates the occupants of lands where they have no business to be. The behaviour of a small number of Palestinians is also horrific, but can you really blame them?

Over thirty years ago, I left America for reasons including a horror at our behaviour in Indochina, and now I find the country in which I have made a very comfortable refuge acting as cheerleader for even more evil madness - the irony has not escaped me.

It's also certainly coupled with studies in Human Ecology which reveal and confirm the full horror of our predicament (stuff I have long known, but chosen to 'consider some time later' - a form of denial?) I may have 'known it all along', but it seems certain that it's an order of magnitude worse than most of us want to admit - if we did, we might have to tighten our own belts! We show little sign of cutting back, quite the reverse.

All this goes hand in hand with deep love and pleasure and immersion in and identification with all living things. My location and surroundings are uncommonly rich and fortunate. , but I grieve at our headlong rush into disaster. These days I rarely go further than Palnackie, and even that is infrequent - the wide world of Nature beckons more strongly (or the internet).

And, when I look out from my ivory tower and rockingchair porch-in-construction, what do I see? Government bailouts for the aircraft industry (billions to boeing for warplanes) stupidly cheap flights from the airlines (can't let tourism fail!), average automobile engine size and percapita cars and mileage increasing every day in cultures which ought to (and often claim to) recognise the need to cut down, urban decay and the sprawl of supermarket culture while subsistence farmers worldwide starve, give up their attempts and migrate to exponentially expanding pots of urban shantytown misery in the hope of a sweatshop job so we fat, overfunded assholes can have stylish shoes, a bigger SUV, holidays,.... Soils in the American midwest are going downstream (sometimes more tonnes of soil lost than product harvested), kept alive with drugs from finite sources, transported around the world by burning the world - is it any fucking wonder I'm depressed?

On a matter which seems in danger of being overlooked, I wonder how many among us practice the giving of thanks as a reflective prelude to consumtion of food. I cannot remember the last
time we did anything of the sort in any "sophisticated" company, and I have observed a sense of faintly embarrassed amusement on the rare occasion it does occur.... Surely the eating of the earth's fruits, whether animal or vegetal, is a sacrament of the first order, regardless of one's belief system. Perhaps we are too sophisticated and modern to be bothered with such quaint practices anymore. Our Faith is in technology and global distribution of 'added value' goods.

Of course, in less sophisticated cultures, such practices abound and extend as well to soil preparation, seed time, harvest, ritual slaughter, and purification before the hunt. Perhaps we might chant silently as we gather the packets from the supermarket shelves? Or as we
key in our PIN at the checkout? Or give thanks for a packet of 'organic' food which has cost
far more non-renewable fossil energy than it contains to bring it to my hand?
--From an exchange on the internet

This stemmed from the observation that we have all become so divorced from the actual care, attention and intimacy involved in food, from seed or insemination to plate, that young folk (and many oldies!) have no direct experiential evidence that all food is Godflesh, for want, again, of a better term. It's just lumps of textured stuff that cost more than you think, come from a shop in a packet or out of a drivethru window, and leaves you wanting. That it was ever alive and growing need not occur to anyone. And this is true for many of the youngest children as they grow up in the shantytowns - they must think food is stuff from the warehouse - if they're lucky enough to have any!

If you want to see a cynical and really stupid attempt to displace responsibility onto the poor, and from Audubon, no less! The poor (80%) are eating us (20%) out of our (80%) share. Something'll have to be done to get their numbers down so we can carry on partying. Audubon, of all places! (they have since removed the offending article, so the original is a dead link, but the site is still a bit alarming.)

We thoughtlessly drive miles for small purchases, take two (or more) international holidays yearly, providing jobs in the tourist 'industry', the largest (and, after war, the most destructive) sector (10%) of the global economy, keep entire, almost empty, houses as hot (or cool) as midsummer, own two or more homes while many sleep under cardboard, and others had homes before we blew them up. We pay good money (a huge proportion of which is for oil-fired 'processing' and transport) for food and throw copious quantities into black plastic bags for landfill.

It seems most of us know we are going to have to live sustainably, but understanding just what that means is something we'd rather put off until tomorrow. If somebody threatens this profligate lifestyle, we blow them to Hell (if we can find them). As Shrub says, "The American way of life is not up for negotiation!"

"Well if not, it will have to be destroyed by other means," say the starving billions.

I seem to prefer to work at building myself a rockingchair porch using reclaimed lumber, vegetable growing (far too little), tree planting and harvesting, trading with near neighbours whenever possible, blowing a bit of glass, helping young folk enjoy time out of doors, studying the 'global problematique', and trying to save the world. These (concrete?) activities (displacement they may be) seem more gratifying than dealing with the abstractions of accounting and other paperwork or engaging in earth-destroying profligate living. I also watch some TV and listen to radio and internet, all three of which feed my dread.

Please tell me it'll all work out allright and we can keep on living beyond our means, but I'll take some convincing. I had thought a culture based on capitalism would never forget the prime directive: "Don't eat the seed corn!" Capital is invested for earning! Spend only earnings, but save some of them!

This principle holds even more relentlessly in matters ecological; Nature has no chapter 11, no concept of bankruptcy other than the desolation of a blasted and lifeless landscape. The persistent fallacy embodied in our behaviour is that that the economy contains the environment and that environmental matters are only addressable insofar as they are economically feasible. The reverse is true. As we will learn to our cost, but oh, what a cost! And oh, how deeply complicit each of us is in it all.

So you see why I don't write - don't want to let all this darkness and anger out - don't want to 'bring you down' - don't want to admit how close to the edge of despair our road leads - Don't worry about suicide, should you wonder, that's not my style, but it's probably a good thing I haven't the balls to be an assassin.

Fortunate beyond imagining, I'm in good (almost excellent!) health, mortgage paid, kids grown, folks, God bless them, gone to their reward, leaving me living in the Garden of Eden. I should be (and am in many ways) satisfied and happy.

As our siblings the (other) Semites say,
"Peace, God's mercy and blessings be upon you." ("And all of us!", say I.)
Assalaam 'alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuhu.
Innal hamdalillaah was-salaat was-salaam 'alaa rasoolillaah.
"in the name of God, the most merciful, the most compassionate."

Still alive and kicking (but very pissed off!) I love you all.

Brought into right relationships with the wilderness,
man would see that his appropriation of Earth's resources
beyond his personal needs would only bring imbalance
and beget ultimate loss and poverty for all.
        -- John Muir

and a response from home...

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