As I write this article the United States is moving toward a military strike on the nation of Syria. This article is not about the finer geo-political aspects of this decision, thorny and poorly-contrived as they may be. I assume that most readers of these words are well aware that we live in an empire and that empires cannot endure without instituting a state of perpetual war.
In the second decade of the twenty-first century, what is left of industrial civilization depends more heavily than ever on the acquisition of fossil fuels as Michael Klare argues in “Oil Wars On The Horizon” and “The Hunger Wars In Our Future.” Despite the assertions of those who insist that peak oil was a hoax now rendered irrelevant by the advent of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, Klare insists that the skyrocketing popularity and pre-eminence of fracking is due precisely to the reality of peak oil and is even more unsustainable than ongoing petroleum extraction.
There is little doubt that at some level, the next Middle East war will be conducted at root on the basis of resource acquisition. Only a few days ago, Guardian columnist, Nafeez Ahmed cited in his article “Syria Intervention Plan Fueled By Oil Interests, Not Chemical Weapons Concern” a quote from retired NATO Secretary, General Wesley Clark which confirms Syria and Iran as obstructions in the path of US control of Middle East energy resources. Ahmed asks:
So what was this unfolding strategy to undermine Syria and Iran all about? According to retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark, a memo from the Office of the US Secretary of Defense just a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans to “attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years”, starting with Iraq and moving on to “Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.” In a subsequent interview, Clark argues that this strategy is fundamentally about control of the region’s vast oil and gas resources.
Anyone who recalls the lead-up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the United States in 2003, just a decade ago, has to be experiencing a profound sense of déjà vu as Secretary of State John Kerry, warning about the perils of doing nothing about Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, seems to echo then-Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in her threat that if the United States did not intervene in Iraq, that nation’s “smoking gun” might be a mushroom cloud.
Let’s be clear: Industrial civilization by definition is required to function in a perpetual state of war in order to maintain a modern empire and acquire the resources necessary to fuel that beast while managing a consumer society in which its citizens refuse to alter their living arrangements. In the process, life on Earth itself is being annihilated and the planet rendered uninhabitable.
The Authentic Wars That Must Be Fought
At this moment in history, legitimate wars cry out to be fought, but they have nothing to do with fossil fuel energy or political triumph. Rather, they have to do with the termination of industrial civilization and its living arrangements and the acquisition of food and water on this planet.
In his brilliant September 4, 2013 Huffington Post article, “Responding To Killer Gas,” Craig Comstock argues that the more lethal “poison gas” now being released on the planet is not from chemical weapons in Syria but from fossil fuel usage across the globe:
A deliberate release of poison gas is meant to harm. In contrast, greenhouse gases have become known as an unfortunate, invisible side-effect of activities that have benefited us. The big problem is that greenhouse gases come, in part, from the use of energy that has built our civilization and on which we currently rely. The harm caused by these gases occurs not in minutes, as in the case of sarin gas, but accumulates slowly, over decades; is not restricted to a single locale but affects the entire planet.
Comstock asserts that we could make the economic transformations necessary to end global warming. However, from my perspective, in order for that to occur, our species would need to directly address the issue, admitting that climate change is both real and catastrophic, and industrial civilization would need to be terminated. The Deep Green Resistance movement exists principally to achieve the latter, but its impact in the face of formidable opposition is questionable. Furthermore, I believe we should have no illusions that nations will come to their senses, admit the devastating effects of climate change, and alter their lifestyles accordingly.
More effective in the effort to terminate industrial civilization have been recent whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and Julian Assange. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to deduce that one political reason for the current hysteria regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria is an investment in distracting public attention from the revelations of whistleblowers which are and will be devastating to empire.
Moreover, as empire is busily embroiled in terminal resource wars, its inhabitants are less likely to focus on catastrophic climate change or the massive doses of lethal radiation that hourly spew from the deadly Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant—the worst nuclear accident in the history of the world.
I believe that as individuals, we must conduct “wars” in our families and communities to radically alter how we live. More importantly, we must engage in the ongoing transformation of our psycho-spiritual awareness so that we are not just giving lip service to our desire to live in a new paradigm, but are actually embracing it and functioning in alignment with it. Curiously, the original meaning of the Islamic term “jihad” was not a holy war on anything or anyone external, but a holy war on one’s own psyche—a conflagration with unconsciousness that resulted in a profound spiritual awakening.
Likewise, the Shambhala Warrior in the Buddhist tradition “conquers the world not through violence or aggression, but through gentleness, courage, and self-knowledge. The warrior discovers the basic goodness of human life and radiates that goodness out into the world for the peace and sanity of others.” In fact, the “holy war” conducted within one’s own psyche and a commitment to becoming conscious is the most efficient procedure for eliminating external wars and the illusions of resource and other scarcities that the human ego has contrived.
A war conducted internally against the residue of the old paradigm, that is, the human shadow in the psyche, is where the most crucial “theater of battle” resides. This can only result in the cultivation of women and men who are authentic spiritual warriors as opposed to trained killers and sycophants of empire.
The Myth of Innocence
And, just as individuals carry shadows, so do nations as Barry Spector so impeccably articulates in Madness At The Gates Of The City: The Myth Of American Innocence. At times such as the current moment when murderous politicians love to pontificate about the killing of innocent children, one is left reeling with their hypocrisy in terms of the horrors that the United States has unleashed upon the children of other countries such as Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Simultaneously, the United States has institutionalized the neglect of children in our own country and appears incapable of noticing that its pillage of the planet is deluging millions of children and all living beings with one more spate of greenhouse gasses. “Idealization is the way we keep the secret that our culture is built upon the sacrifice of our actual children,” says Spector. “The killing of the children is the sacred secret—sacred because no one will speak its name—underlying all of our civilized values.”
Or as Don Henley would say:
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end,
This is the end of the innocence
Externally, the resources we most desperately need at this juncture in history are simply food and water. Empire is in the process of consuming every drop of water on earth, not to slake the thirsts of millions of human beings and animals, but to lubricate its profligate extractions of oil and natural gas. While we can grow our own food, we cannot “grow” our own water. What little is left must be carefully protected both in terms of quantity and quality. Make no mistake, resource wars are not simply about oil, gas, and rare metal extraction. They are also about water acquisition and water rights.
And the other war that must be fought, of course, is the war to feed our communities and families, particularly in the face of genetically modified foods and the agribusiness monsters who perpetuate them. But equally daunting is the threat of catastrophic climate change, its devastation of crops, depletion of water, and myriad weather extremes that result in the disappearance of food sources as a result of floods, hurricanes, and the disappearance of pollinators such as the honey bee.
Valiant warriors in the fight for food security abound, and they need our help. I’m reminded of Philip Ackerman-Leist, Professor of Environmental Studies at Green Mountain College in Vermont; Michael Brownlee, Co-Director of Local Food Shift, Boulder, Colorado; Will Allen, of Growing Power; Slow Money’s Woody Tasch; Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms; Fred Kirschenmann of the Leopold Center For Sustainable Agriculture; Vandana Shiva, Frances Moore Lappe, Alice Waters, Maude Barlow, and Marion Nestle.
Imperial resource wars dominate mainstream news and seek to distract our attention from humanity’s most daunting foes, but we must incisively see through them and their labyrinthine lies. Now is the time to discern which wars are necessary and which ones would deter us from the survival issues of our earthly existence and the spiritual awareness that transcends all human struggles. Once we know the difference, we are compelled to ally with the people and causes that support life and abundance on our planet and with them, become warriors of truth, consciousness, and discernment.