What are we
making weapons for
Why keep on feeding the war machine
We take it right
out of the mouths of our babies
Take it away from the hands of the
Tell me, what are we making weapons for
- John Denver, Let Us Begin (What Are We Making Weapons For?)
Dystopian fiction is, and this is perhaps no surprise given the times we live in, increasingly popular. Witness series of young adult fiction like The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, or another one I recently read, Blood Red Road by Moira Young, which posits a future where lakes have dried up and vast tracks of America have turned into a desert. You might remember I, Robot, starring Will Smith (2004), set in 2035, where the scariest things aren’t robots but the dried up bed of Lake Michigan.
Dictionary.com defines dystopian “society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.” It can have any of these elements, and it can even have the opposite of overcrowding, as in the world no longer supports large populations. And you don’t have to have overcrowding to have squalor and oppression and disease.
Wikipedia helpfully points out that dystopia can also be a “repressive and controlled state.”
Unpleasant is the universal keyword. Dystopia means, after all, “bad place” (dys=bad, topos=place).
It’s as well that young people like dystopian fiction because the way things are headed politically and environmentally (we might add, with a nod to Captain Jack Sparrow, ecumenically), it’s probably going to be their future. Today’s Dystopian fantasy will become survival guides for our children.
Republicans, of course, call their vision, their quest to return to an oppressive and brutal past, Utopia. Similarly, the Nazis called their dreams of a Thousand Year Reich, Utopia. But one man’s heaven is another man’s hell.
I would argue here that for every generation after writing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, going back to a time before, a time our Founding Fathers were happy to be rid of, is not Utopia – it is Dystopia.
Add to the oppression of religious based bigotry the drilling of anything and everything, from Lake Michigan to mountain tops to the Grand Canyon and you can see America not moving forward but backward – it’s stealing our future.
Most people, I think, would not hold out the Inquisition, crusades, holy wars, burning people alive for not sharing your religious beliefs, as exemplars of Utopia, which entered our language with Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), meaning “an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect.”
Of course, for most people (if not Catholic bishops and a Nazi-generation Pope), More’s Catholic fantasy would be not Utopia, but Dystopia. On the other hand, who knows more about bad places than a guy condemned for treason and beheaded? Most would agree that the Tower of London meets the criteria of Dystopia.
So, by the way, does Kabul under the rule of the Taliban.
Republicans like to talk about stealing our future when it comes to taxes and the deficit – that’s their big argument – that we’re stealing the future of our children by creating this huge deficit. But our children are going to need more than a solvent government. They are going to need a solvent Earth, an Earth the GOP refuses to provide.
They want it all now. No alternative energy sources until we’ve mined our planet to its core and left desolation in our wake.
If we rape the Earth of all it has now, what is left for later?
Nothing. No water, no air. And no hope.
We need to do better than that. To say we need a new decision-making paradigm is to understate the case. Environmentally, we’ve already tipped the scales. It will take centuries to recover from the damage we’ve already done, say scientists. And that’s if we stopped today.
Which is not going to happen as long as there is a breathing Republican in Congress.
We will likely not have to worry about zombie apocalypses and robots running amok (however, see this) any time soon but the truth and consequences of existing technology and its misuse is far more terrifying.
Why should a debt scare us compared to an uninhabitable planet? Aren’t mountains without tops more frightening than an IUD? How can fracking be less terrifying than a food stamp? What good is money then? You can’t buy clean air or water once it’s all been polluted by mining. And it isn’t as if Republicans are actually all that interested in the deficit, since they are historically the ones who do all the spending.
Add to their disastrous environmental policies ruinous levels of defense spending and a penchant for starting wars and looking for the next one before the previous one is finished, and you have a recipe for disaster. The Washington Post reported in May that the Republicans, despite the wish of voters in both parties to cut defense spending, are determined to increase it, including the spending of $1 billion of our tax dollars “for Israeli anti-missile defense systems.”
How does adding a total of $3.7 billion to an already bloated defense budget (we’re spending six times as much as China, which is second on the list), going to reduce the deficit and save our children from our reckless spending habits?
We as a country, Moody’s tells us devote “20% of total annual domestic outlays (and more than half of discretionary expenditures)” and we need to increase this despite ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and beginning no new ones.
Can’t we spend at least some of that on the environment? On making sure people have enough to eat, have clean water, medicine, and access to medical care? That we can, I don’t know, cross a river without falling into it with the bridge under our wheels?
Apparently not. Reuters told us in February that even modest cuts put America at risk:
“By any objective assessment, the worldwide threats to our nation, our interests and our ideals are not diminishing.”
“And yet the defense budget before us would reduce the size of our force,” said McCain, Obama’s Republican opponent in the 2008 presidential election.
The logic here is troubling. Either the United States wasn’t spending enough while fighting two wars (because common sense tells us ending wars ought to save money and therefore reduce spending) or John McCain has a new and bigger war in mind that will overshadow Iraq and Afghanistan combined. McCain says he is being objective; perhaps he should try being specific.
It is time Americans started to think about consequences in a more organic and holistic manner. Everything is related; what we spend our money on reflects our nation’s values and pretending that one thing does not impact another represents a level of naïveté we cannot afford in an era when sustainability has become the most important word in the English language.
To paraphrase what Dennis said here last night, to save America from the GOP’s Dystopian dream, Democrats must vote.
Global Military Expenditures image from HuffPo