Concerning Sotoligarchy

What happens when the rich and powerful rule the stupid? It's called America.

This is not the exclusive logic of corporate capitalists, although it was certainly the logic of factory trawlers when they stripped the Atlantic of cod from Nova Scotia to the Chesapeake, a grave crime against the cod (but who the hell ever thinks about what the ugly-mug cod need?), humanity, and the future. This is also the logic of Brazil's left-wing government led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Brazil's deforestation of the Amazon increased by 40 percent last year alone. To be sure, President da Silva's rationale involved the importance of a cash crop to feed the urban poor. "The Amazon is not untouchable," da Silva told The New York Times. This, obviously, places the burden of feeding the poor squarely on the backs of parrots and leopards. Meanwhile, Brazilian agribusiness kings like Blairo Maggi make conflict of interest a virtual requirement for governance. Not only is Maggi owner of one of the largest soybean production and export companies in Brazil, he is also the governor of the state of Mato Grosso ("dense jungle"). Thanks to the "prosperity" he brings, the Amazon will soon be just another fantastical postmodern location, so familiar to North Americans, where the names of places no longer have any relationship to what's actually in them. Mato Grosso will refer to a place that is no more than a factory for exchange value in a soybean monoculture, just as Illinois is a "prairie state" with 1/10 of 1 percent of its original prairie remaining. Of course, once the original plant/animal/human inhabitants are gone, we wax sentimental. The things we slaughter become our heritage. We wear feathers in our hair and go to summer powwows.

The jungle or the prairie, parrots or bobolinks—none of them ever have the opportunity to argue their own value as beings, things that deserve respect simply because they are. This reveals a grave spiritual flaw in their masters, the governors, developers, and agribusiness kings of the world. The ruling order has no moral right to rule because it makes its multiform daily purpose the defeat of the future. The logic that concludes that our "interest" is about "profit" assures a future defined by cruelty (usually rationalized as "collateral damage" or "incidental take"), but in the long run it will be understood as self-defeat. (No big deal. That's why CNN and the Weather Channel specialize in disaster. When our own defeat comes, we'll be able to redeem it as something "interesting" and "entertaining." Fun for the whole miserable family.)

National self-interest is indistinguishable from global legalized violence aimed at humans, the natural world, and ultimately being itself, before which our captains of state stand with all the wonder of a gourmand before a steak. They're going to eat it up. What if our kindness-defeating self-interest is only, from the perspective of the future, the repeated application of a rapacious and self-defeating logic? Love America? How could we ever learn to love something that understands its interests in these ways? Not even the ever forgiving Marcel Proust, for all his desire to find kindness common among us, could possess the generosity of spirit to love or forgive such a stupid thing.


Curtis White's new book is The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don't Think for Themselves (HarperSanFrancisco).

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