Disposable People, Disposable Planet
We’ve rounded the corner to the end of the year, and, like many people here on Medium, I’ve taken a look back at my writing. Unwittingly, I seem to have followed a theme in much of my political and cultural commentary: disposability. I never used the word or even discussed the concept directly, yet it was there lurking behind many of my essays. I made a commitment to write more about climate change, and I believe that’s what shook the realization loose.
I’m not an environmentalist, but I’ve always tried to be responsible about my impact on the environment. I hate living anywhere driving is mandatory. Traffic, of course, can be enraging, but thinking about all the harmful emissions makes my back hurt. I prefer cities with mass transit systems or walkable towns. I’ve always been aware of environmental issues and deeply bothered by the careless management of the planet’s natural resources, but it honestly wasn’t an animating force in my life. When I began writing about climate change, I realized how much of the unease and fear about the issue I’d packed away and wasn’t thinking about. I had to confront the truth: The climatic conditions required for human survival are being destroyed, probably irreversibly. What should have been an intellectual exercise became a deeply emotional one.
What’s being done is evil. Is there any other word for the scale of the destruction that is befalling the planet in the service of the greed of a handful of people? They’re willing to destroy us all. That is becoming clearer by the day.
I write a lot about politics, race, and capitalism. Here in the New World, they are inseparable from the genocide of Indigenous peoples and the chattel slavery of people of African descent. These crimes, which are so great they have no proper redress, are the source of much of the wealth propping up the West. This wealth continues to be withheld from the people it was stolen from. The continued accumulation of this wealth outstrips every moral imperative. The savagery, the brutality, the immense cruelty of this system never really receives the examination it deserves. It stops short, because Christianity wasn’t the only ideology Europeans forced the rest us to accept at the point of a gun. The refrain, “We are all capitalists,” echoes throughout most of the world for a reason, and that reason was the threat of annihilation for failure to accept and live by this gospel.
The impending climate disaster is following a familiar script of massive, industrialized destruction that devours anyone and anything in its path to fill the coffers of a “job-creating” owner class. All the while, a revisionist history claiming the destruction isn’t merely harmless, but a net good for society, is being written. The propaganda masquerading as education so many of us received set the table for people to fall for this con job.
Genocide was necessary and good. Slavery was what was best. Destroying the planet is sensible. The balance sheets say so.
What is it going to take for us to extricate ourselves from this madness?
The history of suffering, death, and exploitation that underpins life in the Americas has never been addressed. No real attempt has been made to redress it. Most of our nations are out from under the thumbs of our colonial oppressors, but all the wealth is still being extracted and hoarded by a few, income inequality is scandalous, poverty is endemic, and crime is rampant in many cities. Our lives are unstable. Our countries are unstable. This includes the United States. The 2016 election and its aftermath have gotten the rest of world to stop pretending otherwise.
Disposable people. We’re what empires are built on top of. We’re also who gets scrubbed from history.
The grotesque, posthumous sanctification of George H.W. Bush by much of America’s establishment media and the erasure of the people he harmed when in power is the latest unsurprising example of this revisionism. His friends and family are responsible for eulogizing him, not the institutions tasked with creating the historical record. The refusal to give an honest account of his public life is an abdication of the duties and responsibilities of an independent press.
George H.W. Bush ran his first Senate campaign on opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the face of Black Americans being brutalized by White supremacists, attacked by police dogs, pelted with high pressure water from fire hoses, and their leaders being assassinated. Disposable people. As President, Bush ordered the invasion Panama to capture former C.I.A. asset, Manuel Noriega. Panamanians reported civilians being bombed without warning and “buried like dogs” — bulldozed into mass graves. Disposable people. During the first Gulf War, over which Bush also presided, U.S. forces killed more than 400 civilians seeking refuge at the Amiriyah shelter. Disposable people. During his presidency, Bush said, “I will never apologize for the United States — I don’t care what the facts are.” He made this statement after a U.S. warship shot down a civilian Iranian airliner, killing all 290 people on board, including 66 children. Disposable people.
In 1989, the D.E.A set up a sting in a park across from the White House that led to the arrest and conviction of a Black teenager for selling undercover agents the drug. A few days later, Bush used the seized drugs as a prop in a nationally televised speech from the Oval Office, in which he highlighted the brazenness of selling the drug so close to the nation’s seat of power to launch his draconian drug policies. This and other political stunts helped ramp up mass incarceration — the late 20th century incarnation of the Jim Crow policies Bush had fought to uphold during his Senate campaign. These tools of de facto Apartheid have devastated Black Americans, their families and communities. Disposable people.
There was also the chilling way Bush sat on his hands as A.I.D.S. ravaged the gay community, killing off almost an entire generation. Disposable people. These are only some the atrocities that we know about. What else happened under cover of darkness?
The whitewashing of the legacy of George H.W. Bush is only the latest chapter in the book of nursery rhymes America’s political elites pass off as the nation’s history. There is a straight line between all the disposable people who get thrown away during these editing sessions and the throwing away of a disposable planet. Shrugging off all that horror, all that death, all that premeditated devastation and human tragedy breeds nihilism. Dressing up the orchestration of crimes against humanity as humble public service readies the soil of political and civic life to nurture and grow fascism. Is it not the ultimate expression of the fascistic impulse to destroy the planet for the benefit of a chosen few — those “strong” and “smart” enough to have ensured the mercies they otherwise decry as “socialism!” for themselves while the rest of us are crushed by an unforgiving capitalistic system we didn’t choose?
“Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rise Like a ‘Speeding Freight Train’ in 2018.” That was a headline in yesterday’s New York Times. The disaster is ever-nearer, and its architects are scrambling to hoard as much gold as they can before our inevitable rage against them gains full purchase. They think they won’t be held accountable. Given much of the American press’ disgraceful hagiographies of George H.W. Bush over the past week, they may have made the right bet.