Our Deaths are Your Destiny

by Hanx Clawmachine

South Louisiana emerges from history as a place in which the human suffering underwriting American prosperity repeatedly strays into America’s gaze. Folksily, South Louisiana’s a corner of the first world where capitalism’s uglier chickens come home to roost, again and again. Bluntly, we keep getting fucked over horribly.

Our agonies and our deaths, while obviously momentous to us, are no more exceptional than the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico is accidental. art by Perry HolsteinOur deaths, the death of the Gulf, the unfolding toxic horror a foreign corporation inflicts upon us with the complicity of a bought-and-paid-for government– this is business as usual. It’s not new, only maybe new to us. This chemical warfare being waged against our communities and the numberless lives ruined are not merely a consequence or side-effect of the healthy, normal functioning of capitalism; they’re intrinsic to it. The BP oil flood is as necessary to capitalism as exhaust is to internal combustion.

“Tragedy,” they call every awful thing that happens to South Louisiana, awful event after awful event, but “tragedy” doesn’t convey the absolute inevitability that lies at the root of these crimes. This is the conflict between profit and human life. It’s not a possibility, it’s an actuality. Its consequences may not have reached you yet, but under capitalism, under scarcity, it’s not in question. Put simply, our survival is no longer cost-effective. We’re living America’s future.

Look– if you can find the bodies– at the New Orleanians raped, pimped, tazed, beaten, set on fire, shot in cold blood or killed in custody by the New Orleans Police & Sheriff’s Departments. What our pigs do openly down here, your pigs wherever you are could and will do to you as soon as economic priority, their commanding officers, or the pre-existing patriarchy that informs “policing” suggests it. It’s not an aberration you can guard against, it’s as natural as a rainbow after rain. The buzz-cut boy currently writing you a ticket for speeding will look no different, will give no warning when he backhands you, when he kicks you down and bloodily violates you with his nightstick. He will be the same police officer he always was, serving the same system. Only your place in the system will have changed, only your relationship to the privilege you thought protected you.

The New Orleanians abandoned to die by the Federal Government and drowned by the failure of the Army Corps of Engineers’ negligently constructed levees are all the proof anyone should need of even the most powerful government’s uselessness to its people. Note this is the uselessness of government, not merely the uselessness of the members of government. We keep replacing politicians, and government keeps being useless to us. Obama has left us to die as surely as Bush did, and with just as much sanctimonious speechifying and after-the-fact bullshit. This is a lesson some seem slow to learn: government is useless. We should already know better.

The rig workers murdered by BP’s greed for profits and the fishermen sickened by EPA-sanctioned exposure to Corexit and benzene are merely numbers in columns, at most a tiny, temporary tax-negotiated leverage shift in the endless tantric-sex seesaw between the intermeshed interests of government and business. Human suffering has only ever been a small factor in the industrial equation, minor math on shareholder tally sheets. The only number that matters is the bottom line, and nothing’s new under the green-and-white sun. Some of us in Louisiana, USA are learning from BP the same lesson residents of Akwa Ibom, Nigeria already learned from ExxonMobile. Corporations rule, laws protect them, people aren’t important. These facts aren’t new, only our experience of them.

The mass suffering of the world’s poor is necessary to the free market. That’s the dynamic of late capitalism: the privileged few get rich, a thin scrim of the globally comfortable get HDTV and diabetes, and the vast, mostly invisible mega-majority are worked to death, starve, and die poisoned manufacturing HDTVs… HDTVs which pacify with fatuous fairytales about the privileged few.

We in South Louisiana are not as disempowered as most of the worlds’ poor, not yet, and the question of whether we accept our victimization is still to be resolved. Will our suffering be visible to our fellow Americans in a meaningful way, or will we lie supine and silenced, another fait accompli for our attackers?

We’re a first-world bellwether, again, and again unwillingly. Will the current talk of “disaster,” of “accident,” the specious, cynical narrative of one-in-a-million whoops-a-daisy successfully occlude the larger truths of this horror? The government and media are working hard to cap & plug this ugly gusher of reality, this unambiguous demonstration of late-capitalist consequence. Will we let their lies carry the day? Every victory over truth emboldens the enemy. Will this oil war be a one-sided massacre, or will we fight back?