World War Water
When my grandmother, Jiji, divorced my grandfather she left New York went back home to Sweden. She was a divorced mother of two in the 1950s looking for work as a preschool teacher. She felt ostracized and unwanted. She felt depressed. Her first summer in this new life she was told about a job she could take as a typist. For her labor, she would get room and board on an island that was at the tip of another island off the coast of Sweden. Here was the opportunity to be away from the judgments of society and to bike around a place with more sheep than people. She fell quickly in love with this island where people knew your name but didn’t say it because they were too busy sheering sheep and baking bread. She saw a life where she would go back every summer with her kids — getting jobs that paid her in a place to stay and the food to eat — or just live cheaply and go back to teaching in the fall. Two years later she met her new husband, Alf, who was excited to see this island of wonder. He had heard the stories of a place where there were sand dunes in the middle of the woods; where there were sculptures full of fossils from the crustacean period crafted by nature standing 20 meters high on the edge of the coastline; a place where the sun barely set, but if you just waited around and finished your glass of wine, you could watch it rise again. After their first summer as a family of four on the island, he was hooked. He whittled branches into knives. He fished for dinner. He smoked a pipe and watched sheep graze while my grandmother picked berries for that night’s cobbler, a cigarette dangling out of her mouth. My mother and uncle made castles in the sand and swam in the ocean. My family never had money, but here they were rich.
The next summer Alf wandered the coast looking for the perfect spot to build a cabin. He wanted to be on land where you could watch the sun set and rise, go fishing during the swells, and be so far from another person that you could spend the day naked playing your trumpet if you wanted. And he found it! He found a stone cabin that had been abandoned since the 1890s. It had been built to be filled with bunk beds that 6 fisherman would stay in through a storm. It was built with no windows, just a fireplace, because the idea was that the fisherman needed to be near the water when the storm subsided so they had quick access to pluck up the flounder that rose to play just after a storm. Alf walked until he found another house, and inquired about the little stone cabin. A bottle of whiskey, a game of poker, and about $50 later the deed was his and the house was his, and for the next 55 years my family went there every summer. Sleeping 5–7 people in a 10 foot by 5 foot cabin, building memories and an outhouse, having children and raising them to expect summers like this.
As the American cousin, I was only able to visit 5 times, but I did spent 3 weeks there the last summer we owned the cabin. We had always owned the cabin, but never owned the land that the cabin was on, instead leasing it each summer for a couple of hundred bucks. But in 1975, when Sweden passed a law that made it confusing and bureaucratic to build new structures within 100 meters of the shoreline, the owners of the land no longer had use to own the land that they had always dreamed of building their own cabin on. Our house was grandfathered on to the land. Had the law never been passed we would have had to deal with a neighboring cabin inhabited by neighbors, which would have forced us to be less naked and play less trumpet, but the new alternative was that the landowners began trying to evict us. They wanted to use our house since it was the only one allowed on the property. This island is where Ingmar Bergman summered and filmed his movies, and as he reached celebrity status the island became famous. In the 90s the island became a hotspot for the Swedish elite to summer. The landowner saw the possibility of renting our family summer getaway as a place near the water for tourists who wanted an “authentic” experience. Being the landowner and houseowner suddenly became necessary in order to pull a profit from his investment.
The “authentic” vision of Egypt is often credited to the imagination of Gustave Flaubert, a Frenchman who fetishized a world outside of his own. “Authentic” is a vision invented by the west in order to escape the west. “Authentic” is like a “Best Effort” award on your 6th grade soccer team, or a comment from a teacher who writes “great imagination — needs more facts” on your thesis, or a statement from a politician who says “universal health care would be great, but we have to fight for what we can actually achieve.” “Authentic” is a sweet medley of condescension and domination that empowers the inauthentic to be reality because it is “more realistic.”
Our version of realism is guided by measurement — a world dictated by a scientific method that defines truth as the repeated occurrence of the same thing over and over. Can you imagine a more boring way to define reality? Truth is simply monotony and predictability? This is the inauthentic world we’ve built, and we’ve built it on measurement. Houses cost a certain amount of money, land is a certain distance from shorelines, marriage is binary, ownership is binary, sharing is done through lawyers and paperwork, sadness is quantifiable, happiness is quantifiable. We have become defined by the resources we’ve hoarded.
We lost the house the year before my grandmother died. It’s sad. It’s okay but it’s sad. I think on some level I just wished that time wasn’t so linear and Jiji could have died when she died and we lost Stugan when we did but somehow she never had to find out, and we never had to lie. For a second there I thought that the Alzheimers was going to give us that non-linear respite, but instead I realized we live in a society that is so temporally-linear that Alzheimers just means that terrible news gets put on repeat instead of finding peace in the fleeting nature of moments.
I once asked my grandmother what was more true: the truth you felt in the moment or the truth you felt after spending the time to analyze. She looked at me, looked in the air at a point that seemed to always hover around her head where all the answers seemed to lie — a place that held her experience and therefore her answers — and they were always the answers that I was searching for because I was ingrained with her experience — her trauma, her joys, her laugh, her raspy cough, and her quiet melancholy. I was her descendent and had kept inside of me the questions she had all the answers to. And so I looked at her looking through this moment in space that held all the answers to all of my questions. And she looked back at me, and answered honestly: “I don’t know. That’s a good question. Do you want more coffee?”
I worry about measurement and time and space and how during colonization we lost ways of thinking because Europeans performed a cultural and human genocide on the people’s of Africa, the Americas, India, East Asia and the Islands of the Pacific. I worry measurement and accuracy are concepts created by imperialists for imperialism. I worry that linear time is a demand made by the commodification of humanity. I worry that owning land is now the only way we know how to exist on land, and we’ll never understand what it means to share space. I worry about it constantly. I’m not very fun at parties.
W.A. Rogers, a British officer in the Indian Civil Service once wrote that “[Railways] teach [Indians] that time is worth money, and induce them to economise that which they had been in the habit of slighting and wasting; they teach them that speed attained is time, and therefore money, saved or made.”
How do you save time?
Sundials are built to be positionally dependent — each sundial an expression of where on the planet you are asking the question: “What time is it?” The sundial becomes an way of examining the subjective nature of time, in that, in order to find some objective measurement we must be in control of the variables — we must put the numbers that tell us our answer in different places depending on our place in the world. The sundial changes its expression as the seasons shift. It is less loud on a cloudy day. And of course the sundial shuts down when the sun sets — the sundial tells us to relax, or at least go to sleep. There is no ticking second hand, or grains of sand running out — there is simply a fading into invisibility that invites us to experience the freedom of unconsciousness.
The other ancient forms of keeping time are measurements of time passed and time left. These forms of time tracking devices relied on the consistency of water dropping through a small hole or of fire burning down wax. These were meant to be watched, and maintained. They never told us our place in the seasons or the world, but how long we had waited and were to wait. They were used by Geishas to keep track of how long they had to be with a client. They were used to measure how long water was to be diverted to each farm from a centralized water source in Persia. Since the beginning, these clocks were used to mediate a quantity of time and relate it to our economy, but it isn’t until the invention of the mechanical clocks of medieval Europe that we see a conflation of the heliocentric vision of time with this economic understanding of time.
It is only Europe that dedicates their society to this conflation.
Henry Drummond’s Journey to Africa (1889): “Among the presents which I took for chiefs, I was innocent enough to include a watch. I might as well have taken a grand piano. .. the mere idea of time has scarcely yet penetrated the African mind, and forms no element whatever in his calculations.”
Clocktowers became a fundamental part of the architectural plans for cathedrals in every village in Europe. The center of town became a ticking second hand that standardized the days of its residents. The “accurate” clock became a point of pride as European “explorers” used it as evidence for their argument that their society was the only civilization. Without mechanized and standardized clocks the bourgeoisie imperialists point to the fact that these “savage races” have no way of standardizing the work schedule, and without that standard work schedule it becomes impossible to distinguish between work and leisure — which Europeans saw as the mark of a true civilization.
On the heels of the accurate clock by Christiaan Huygens, Europe sees the commodification of labor as a resource. Workers become a tradable commodity instead of people, and economists like Marx immediately begin fretting the idea of cheaper labor in the Orient undermining the working class of the Occident. The worries about jobs being shipped overseas is as new as hourly pay — which is to say that it is about 250 years old. Before the standardization of clocks, work was salary, or by the job — the worker had agency to choose their schedule, take breaks when they wanted a beer, and refuse tasks that seemed boring. We see job security as a battle of the worker, but it is management that desires a secure work system on which to depend. A labrorers job is no easier if they know they’ll have to be there tomorrow, but the managers job becomes simple if they can rely on labor as a resource that they can produce when needed. We can think of labor as before and after clocks. After clocks: labor was paid for by the hour, and the 9–5 was invented. And while the colonists were importing spices, minerals, crops, and culture, it was the 9–5 that was the integral export of colonists.
I have been raised in the Occident — in the Us part of Us and Them. I have been surrounded by propaganda that constantly re-establishes the assumptions that I have been taught to assume. It’s hard to leave the Occident. While I typically know the route to get from my house to wherever I’m trying to get by car, I always check with Google Maps because I trust the machine to understand efficiency better than me.
I am not alone, and I am not the first. I am a product of generations of colonization. After the railway is built in India, native Hindus showed up after the scheduled departure time and were surprised to find that the train had already left. They exclaimed confusion as to why the train wouldn’t wait for them if the machines were simply an invention of man. The British explained that that the train waits for no man because after Nietzsche declared that God was dead, Europeans invented the schedule and the second hand so that humans could still feel subservient to something. “You have to show up on time for the train, otherwise it leaves without you! We have no control over these devices, they are our Gods, they control us!” Said the British person I invented in my head. My imaginary British person is very unrealistic. Most British people didn’t have that much self-awareness.
Yet some did. I think this is the scariest part of studying the past, is the realization that there were always smart people saying smart things and predicting the problems that we are experiencing now, and we still did nothing about it. It’s hard to have hope for the future when people had good ideas in the past that meant nothing.
In 1829, Thomas Carlyle, ruminated on the focus Europeans had made on progress in mechanical sciences: “We can remove mountains, and make seas our smooth highway; nothing can resist us. We war with rude Nature; and, by our resistless engines, come off always victorious, and loaded with spoils.” While “the grand secrets of Necessity and Free-Will, of the mind’s vital or non-vital dependence on matter of our mysterious relations to Time and Space, to God, to the Universe, are not, in the faintest degree, touched on.”
The “enlightenment” period is seen as a moment where rationality and truth finally won — a time when people stopped harboring blind faith in childish superstitions and started using evidence. It is seen as the time when the nation state was born and with it the acceptance of “the people’s will.” I have a different take on that period. I think of it as a time where we stopped trusting our intuition, and started demanding that to be listened to you had to follow a series of rules that had been built by those in power. It was a time where community was replaced by individuality, and questions of a holistic in nature were replaced by questions that were able to be categorizable and answered — each separately and finally. It was a time when Kings and Queens were replaced with Propagandists and Economists, and with that replacement the bourgeoisie was finally given a place on a pedestal above the worker.
It is during this time that we began asking “How can we be more efficient?” and “How can we grow more?” instead of “What’s the purpose of efficiency?” and “Do we want to grow?” These are changes that are direct responses to the scientific method which is a direct response to the ability to measure time accurately.
At some point the British Army deployed more forces to stop the “destructive” forces of the Luddites than they did to stop Napoleon’s army on the Iberian Penninsula. In 1812 and 1861 the British government passed laws that made destruction of property used for purposes of business punishable by death. They hung between 60 and 70 people for breaking machines. Let me repeat: The state destroyed people who destroyed machines.
I was talking to my mom recently about her regrets in business. My parents owned a small health food store in rural Maine. She said if she could go back she would have paid her employees more and never grown into a second location. They weren’t regrets born out of altruism, but rather she said that she had underpaid her workers because she was trying to fit salaries into a cell on a spreadsheet that she had predetermined — she was saying that she had been focused on making “enough” money and in reality she just wished she had had “enough” time and worked less hard.
It is cliched because it is an integral disfunction of our society, but we end our lives wishing we had spent our time more wisely, not our money.
In 1890 after a journey to middle Africa to report on the building of roads, Henry Drummond remarks that “The natives flock from far and near, sometimes from long distances, to try this new sensation of work.” But he worries that in their attempts to “develop” Africa they will struggle because “it is found difficult to create new wants, and once you have paid your man a yard of calico and a string of beads, you have nothing in your possession to bribe him to another hand’s turn.”
Henry Drummond’s use of the word bribe to describe payment for work is refreshingly honest, and his discovery that it is difficult to “create new wants” is a clear peek behind the curtain of early stage capitalism.
I lived collectively with over 7 roommates for 5 years of my life. I often felt like I was doing an anthropological study on White people. Not because people who live collectively are White, but people who name things unnecessarily are White — and “collective” is the word most unnecessarily ascribed to a natural phenomenon in order to lionize the people participating, as though only through management and bureaucracy could we … share. I should be clear that I am a person who is White. But I try very hard not to be a White person. I’m not very successful at it. I still walk like I’m in a hurry to get to an appointment that doesn’t really matter. I still bring up experiences that victimize my experience despite being offered every opportunity. I still have nostalgic memories associated with the music of Ben Folds. But I try very hard not to conflate my needs and my wants. That feels like one white person thing I cannot abide by. I once heard a roommate say: “I just really need to be comfortable with the fact that I have a right to both my needs and my wants.” This, to me, is the whitest thing anybody has ever said. It is White because I am defining White as being an agent of colonization — and to colonize what we, as humans, need with things you want is the Whitest thing you can do.
We think of our definitive needs as food, shelter, and water. But water functions differently than food and shelter. Food and shelter are dependent on taste. The Portuguese attempted expanding their empire into India because they wanted their food to taste better not because they were running out of food. I envy other’s houses not because the Jones’ have shelter and I do not, but because their shelter is “better.” Yelp’s rating system was not built by people who were starving, and AirBnB was not created to give a respite from the storm. Water doesn’t match this. Water is not different from other water. Water is Hydrogen Dioxide. I would like to propose two types of needs. There are needs that become infused with taste and culture. These are food, shelter, clothing. These are things that we need, but the shape that they take is dependent on our upbringing and our tastes. They are needs that there is probably an app to acquire the version of that need that you want. Then there are needs that are devoid of subjectivity. These are time, space, and water. While you can argue that some land is more valuable than other land, these three concepts operate similarly. Without existence they still exist, but without time, space, and water, existence doesn’t exist. Without life, there is no one to notice the space that life is taking up, but it’s still there. Without life, there is no one to create time, but it still passes. Without life, water isn’t a resource, but it is still a sloshy liquid that’s taking up too much space. These are the symbiotic needs that need life to exist in order to have meaning. Food doesn’t become food without a chef, a farmer, or at least seed cultivation. Shelter doesn’t get built without beings to build it. Clothing isn’t necessary.
It is the commodification of the symbiotic needs of time, space, and water that I worry about. This worry also makes me not very fun at parties.
In 2008 Goldman Sachs came out with a report that water was “the petroleum of the next century.” Economists see water this way because it mirrors petroleum, which mirrors copper, which mirrors gold, which mirrors salt, which mirrors a long series of resources that certain people “owned” because they were under the ground of the land that those people had previously decided to “own.” It mirrors these resources in that they are sold not in the present but in the future. Typically commodity resources are sold in contracts — in other words: someone sells the rights to 10 pounds of corn 10 years from now. The contract to those rights becomes an item worth selling the second it is written. This was originally a way for Samurai in the 18th century to convert rice into yen, and to control the barter network for rice by creating a standardized price of the rice, but by the 19th and 20th century this becomes a common way to deal with grains, cotton, and edible oils. People would attempt to buy a product for the price it was being sold for now, but accept not getting it for years under the assumption that the price would actually be higher in the future. They were fortune teller gamblers, always worrying about how expensive things were going to be tomorrow. It is not a coincidence that this tool of economic manipulation is named after the west’s favorite third of the time spectrum. “Futures” became an infinite loop of economic schadenfreude in 1972 when the International Monetary Market invented a “currency future” — the idea that you could purchase an amount of cash from another country to be delivered on a future date. With the opening of that door, the future became a constantly self-fulfilling prophecy controlled by these fortune teller gamblers. Money, which is a quantifying of the dreams of future purchases, was now worth the amount that people felt it would be worth in the future. By building the ability to sell future currency we had really built a way to purchase future purchases and future labor — we had built the way to buy the future.
Water isn’t the next petroleum, it is the “time” of the next century. It is the unquantifiable, infinite resource that is really a concept that is being turned quantifiable in the name of finding ways to market and eventually restrict access to it.
But it is important to recognize that within our economic structures, oil and water do seem to mirror each other. It’s also important to remember that in 1990 Saddam Hussain moved troops onto the Kuwaiti border in order to fight back the “economic warfare” that was being committed by the Kuwaiti government by exceeding their OPEC quotas of oil production. When BP (a British company operating in Kuwait) exceeded the amount of oil they could drill according to the treaty they had signed with Iraq, Hussain, concerned that the price of his oil would be driven down, invaded. The US defended BP, and we’ve been in a war against oil barons in the middle east ever since.
In 1993 Argentina privatized their water resources, and in 1997 The Philippines used the same model to sell control of their largest dam to a private company that eventually became so indebted to the IFC (a branch of the World Bank) that they went bankrupt and sold the ownership of water in Philippines to the IFC and MPIC, an investment company focused on owning infrastructure, hospitals, and electricity. These are the same actions that caused the countries of the middle east to have “control” over their oil.
In 2011 CitiGroup economist, Willem Butler, excitedly declared: “Water as an ‘asset class’ will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based ‘asset class,’ dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.”
Asset Classes are built to allow investors to invest in a commodity or concept and not a company or invention. Hedge funds create these by building shares of stocks that are lumped together land resources, extraction resources, purification resources, and anything else dependent on the commodity or concept. The hedge fund managers then ask wealthy people to invest in the concept or commodity itself. Goldman Sachs, for example, will ask millions of investors to invest in “water,” but really they are distributing their money across investment in fresh water land, purification plants, desalination systems, privatized utility companies, water re-use technologies, etc. The result is that as water becomes “more expensive” all of these resources average a higher price and therefore the investor gets a higher return on investment.
When Salvador Allende socialized the previously privatized copper mines, distribution, and trade in Argentina, the CEO of ITT (The same company that won a $27 million dollar suit when they sued the allied forces for bombing the plant they used to build fighter planes for the Nazis) gave a speech to Nixon and Kissinger demanding the stop of this spread of communism. Less than a year later, the CIA had installed Pinochet as president and Allende as a martyr.
Right now, the companies that are supported by these hedge funds are staying afloat by selling the fresh water that they control to the highest bidder. The price that municipalities, like Flint, Michigan, can afford is much lower than the companies who are funding the Keystone XL pipeline. Fracking uses a lot of water. More than any food item. They need water so bad and can sell their oil for so much that they can afford to pay more than the farms of California or the local government of Flint, Michigan.
The companies that sell water to fracking companies defend it because they are beholden to shareholders. Their shareholders are hedge funds who are bundling wealthy people’s money with the intent of making it grow because… growth is good. Duh. Stop questioning that.
These shareholders have an incentive, and they are driven by incentive — it’s their favorite word, to drive up the price of water. Price rises because of higher demand (advertising), or lower supply. Unlike subjective needs, symbiotic needs do not have fluctuating demand — they cannot be affected by advertising. We can only affect the supply. They can only affect the supply. They are incentivized to limit supply.
In Jo-Shing Yang’s book Solving the Water Crises, he makes the argument that we, the people, can also affect the supply. As long as water is defended from fracking companies who might taint the resource, we can build irrigation systems in empty lots in cities like Detroit, Flint, and Carson City. Distribution is cheaper and easier if it is not done across distance, and water is a 100% renewable resource that our planet is dependent on creating. As long as we have a planet, we will have fresh water, and as long as we have fresh water, we have a planet.
Joseph Chailley-Bert’s Administrative Problems of India is a 590 page treatise on how “backwards” the Hindu people are for being “slaves to nature” instead of the other way around, pointing out “In Burma, a mother will throw away unharmed a scorpion that has just stung her child, and when the rivers flood their banks and withdraw again, fish which have been left in the field are put into jars and cast back into the water. When, some twelve years ago, plague began to spread over India, and rats were supposed to be a medium of infection, The Municipal Committee of Amritar offered one pice for each rat taken alive, proposing to keep them in safety and release them again when the plague should have passed.” This analysis of an “uncivilized culture” points to the view Europeans had on the human role in these symbiotic needs. Europeans saw land as something to be conquered, and time as something to be controlled. It should be no surprise that that same culture has given rise to the idea that water should be bought and sold.
Archimedes is credited with building the “first alarm clock.” The clock was a water based machine that dripped at a constant rate until it ran out which would cause a crow to make a large clanging sound and hopefully wake up the sleeper. Native Americans also had alarm clocks that they set before important hunts. It also involved water. They would drink large jugs of water just before sleep so that their body would wake up early to pee. The differences and similarities between them seem profound to me. The Greek’s alarm clock is based on objective accuracy — it is about truth and proof and thinks of time as this conquerable object that we seek to measure and control. The Native American way treats time as subjective and based on the body — the process trains the body to commune with time and allows for a holistic view of time as something we measure internally as well as externally. And both use water, as if to say that in the future the colonizer will attempt to measure and control water through logistical inventions, whereas in the future the colonized would have had a holistic and communal relationship with water.
My friend Ross and I like to play this game called World War III. We sit at a bar and try to predict the geo-politics that create our last war — the war that ends in apocalypse to the society we know.
“Ross, have you been paying attention to Duterte in the Philippines?”
“Oh that dude is gross! He said something like the only thing that made him mad about the rape and murder of that foreign journalist is that he didn’t get to do the raping because she was hot.” Ross has always read the same articles as me. I love having a friend who you know is coerced by the same type of clickbait.
“Yeah, the president. Exactly. He’s also super isolationist — like Trump. And his big enemy is Hong Kong, Indonesia, and used to be the US, but now he’s all buddy with us since Trump’s election. Plus he’s been getting funding from Putin and the Russian military to ‘defend’ himself against China.” The one healthy thing about the Trump presidency is that buddying up to the US post-Trump is easy shorthand to say: “I don’t trust that country.”
“This is the same dude that is outwardly asking people to become vigilantes that murder homeless people to maintain ‘law and order’ right?” A friendship is sometimes as strong as the shared articles you’ve read.
“Yes. But also,” I like starting my points with “Yes. But also,” it makes it feel like we are working together in this conversation, “Philippines has some of the largest fresh water land commodities and they are owned by companies controlled by billionaires in Hong Kong and Indonesia. Specifically The Salim Group who funded the genocide of communists and intellectuals in Indonesia by Suharto.”
“Oh, man, what’s your prediction?” Ross always knows when I’m really just leading into a WWIII prediction. And I’m always game to take it on.
“Duterte declares the government take over of the water resources, similar to what Allende did with copper in Argentina in the 70s. But this time it isn’t the US that is interested in protecting privatization, instead it’s China who needs the foreign companies invested in the Philippines water to stay afloat because China’s economy is linked to Indonesia and Hong Kong. Russia and the US see this as a moment to feign moral superiority and defend Duterte. Also great because it allows Putin, Duterte, and Trump to talk on the phone together and brag about sexual assault in order overcompensate for their inability to be truly loved by women.”
“Don’t get distracted, what happens to China?”
“Oh, right. China attempts to oust Duterte, Russia and the US come to his rescue — seeing the opportunity to tank the Chinese economy and not have to pay back our debts, as well as strike a deal that gives us control of the Philippines water, which we are in dire need of because the hoarding and damming of water in the Western US has caused an increase in water refugees from Mexico fleeing drought by coming north, and we’ve been fracking our own water supply for decades”
“How does Europe and the Middle East get involved?” He always keeps me on track with WWIII.
“Glad you asked. Yemen is already in a civil war because of water distribution being controlled by the rich. Right now over 4000 people are dying a year because of conflicts in rural Yemen over the land rights to water. Assad is now using similar tactics in Syria as the guerillas in Yemen in order to isolate water access to his supporters, as well destroying water cultivation areas controlled by rebels. The water hoarding guerillas in Yemen are being bankrolled by Saudi Princes who are bankrolled by the US and the UK. All of this is part of the massive migration of immigrants to Europe. This will cause infighting between nationalists and neoliberals of Europe, which is going to spark massive civil wars that end in the destruction of the Nation State.” My predictions of WWIII always end in the destruction of the Nation State. Our next war will be a plea for morality over bureaucracy that will manifest in religion over politics. I’m not sure how I feel about that prediction, it’s just the one I have.
My anger and hatred for nationalists is strong, but it’s easy to defend that hatred post WWII. The hatred I find harder to explain to people is my hatred of passports, birth certificates, and the bureaucratic technology of the neo-colonists of Europe and the US. The real reason Yemeni farmers have no water is because colonists taught them to change their system from rainwater collection to water drilling (which has proved unsustainable and has ruined the land on which they were farming).
When Portuguese traders sailed their ships down to India and excitedly attempted to trade wools, clocks, and the other fruits of labor from an “advanced civilization,” they were met with condescending scoffs. Hindus were unwilling to part with the deliciousness of pepper, saffron, and cardamom for scratchy hot sweaters, and a musical instrument that just ticked at a very boring pace. The Portuguese traders went back home empty handed, so the government told them to try again, this time with guns. They didn’t trade the guns, they just used them to convince the Hindus that trading a watch for mustard seed was a good deal.
This American Life reported on the refugee camps in Greece a couple of months ago. These camps were full of Syrians who were spending all day calling an agency that was dedicated to making sure their paperwork was done so that they could be allowed onto Greece’s land and get Greek jobs. The conclusion Ira and the rest of his team declared was that while this was far from a perfect solution, how else could we allow people into Europe without papers, how would we track them? I always think: If they had guns, we wouldn’t scoff. We would declare their paperwork all set. Luckily most Muslims in the 21st century are peaceful and patient because if they acted anything like the Christians of the 18th century, Europe would be praying 5 times a day.
The way a society organizes itself is often the most elucidating form of technology. Cities in the American West have wider streets, and further distances between neighborhood hubs; they are cities built in response to the car, and they reflect that assumption. Where the Roman Empire utilized a grid based infrastructure to make best use of their aqueducts and dedicate themselves to efficient travel between places, African villages organized themselves via fractals, and Native Americans demanded circular symmetry in their layouts. We see the same patterns represented in weaving and pottery made in those same civilizations, and it begins to make a lot of sense that the culture that invented the urban grid layout, and the Cartesian Plane conflated growth with expansion — pushing the boundaries of their empire by pushing outward in all directions. The fractal (a concept understood in African cultures for 5000 years that was named and declared “discovered” by a white dude in the 1970s) layout of Benin or other cities across pre colonized Africa forces the inhabitant to see growth as a simultaneous journey inward as outward. One sees symmetry between the inside of you, your house, and the village itself — it creates an awareness of self as members of society — it has hierarchy but coordination — and it has an inherent critique of linear time embedded into the mathematics.
Our modern “civilization” comes from societies that built clocks, railway schedules, factory labor, Calvinism, Methodist work ethic, the post office, and the regular office. It comes from a culture that thought that “Africans and Asians had to be compelled to be punctual, to work according to time clocks, and to learn that amusement was not to be mixed with work, that labor and leisure were distinct activities.” It is no accident that expansionist definitions of growth infiltrated economic structures, and predictive modeling created a system of people buying and hoarding societal utilities to be sold by individuals to other individuals who didn’t plan ahead. We are not so much entering the last breaths of capitalism as we are entering the last gasps of air from individualism — from rationalism. We are seeing the logical conclusion to the claim that each individual fights their own battle towards success, and that logical conclusion is that our money is funnelled towards hoarding water until it becomes worth more and then creating structures that heroize the hoarders and punish those without the resources and forethought to buy in early. Water commodification is not a sign of things to come, but rather the obvious end to where we’ve been.
I always wonder what’s so intoxicating to me about post-apocalyptic predictions. Is it that it allows me to surrender to my nihilism — assuming the worst of humanity and asking what do I do next? Is it that I’ve always hated the question “what do you do?” and I’ve always wanted my answer to just be “survive” and if we live post-apocalypse, that becomes a valid answer? Is it that if the worst happens, I want to at least be able to say “I told you so!”? It’s probably all of these things, but lately I’ve been thinking that it’s also that I’m eager to think differently, and I don’t even know how to think differently because I’m so ingrained in this post-colonialist society. Apocalypse literally means “an uncovering” and originally was meant to refer to “a vision of heavenly secrets previously hidden by earthly realities.” We’re ready for an uncovering of the heavenly secrets previously hidden by our current society.
I don’t want water to become the next petroleum. I don’t want to fight wars for water access, and I don’t want lines at the water pump. I don’t want some people who have water and some people who don’t. None of us want that. But to rethink the way we own water, we’re going to need to rethink the way we “own” hours. We are going to need to refuse labor as a commodity. We are going to need to stop counting seconds, and rethink the objectivity of time. I’m not sure what the alternative is, it’s not going to take a person raised in the Colonial States of America to think of that alternative, but it’s going to take listening. Listening and sharing. Definitely listening and sharing with any group of non-colonists who are calling themselves Water Protectors. Those are definitely the wrong people to be ignoring right now.
I’m always re-remembering that 95% of the Native Americans were wiped out by disease when Europeans landed on these shores. Whole societies disappeared without ever seeing a White person — instead just suddenly watching everybody get sick and die without reason. The Americas have experienced apocalypse. The problem was that “heavenly secrets” that forced themselves onto the continent were those created by puritans and bourgeois explorers who had a fetish for keeping time.
But then again, the man who invented currency futures is from Bialystock, the same small town in Poland that my great grandmother was from. His dad was a math teacher. So am I. My point is that I’m from a long line of morons destroying the earth, and I just wrote a fictional dialogue between me and my friend about my predictions. I’m so bad at living in the present that instead of actually having a conversation with my friend, I’ve attempted to predict and control my future conversations. You probably shouldn’t listen to me.