In another time and space, the great-grandfather of hip-hop, Gil-Scott Heron, said these words: “Americans no longer fight to keep their shores safe / just to keep the jobs going in the arms-making workplace / and then they pretend to be gripped by some sort of political reflex / but all they’re doing is paying dues to the military-industrial complex.”
That premonition has only become more and more prescient. Heron’s target was the first Persian Gulf war, but it applies to a much wider scope of military actions that are sold to the public as crusades for freedom and democracy. A fearsome, swarthy tyrant also makes for a worthy adversary, even if he was an asset last week. He may be a sonofabitch but he’s our sonofabitch, like the liberal Democrat F.D.R. once famously said; he was describing Somoza, the Nicaraguan dictator. We would not want him to be someone else’s bastard, eh?
“The only problem with peace,” Heron adds later on in the song, titled “Work For Peace,” is “that you can’t make no money from it.” This is doubtless the case. There is no such thing as a peace-profiteer, or a humanitarian-industrial complex. Civil society groups are vastly underfunded and understaffed, especially when compared to the various problems they work very hard to address. One looming threat among many to be faced in the near future is a global food and water crisis, which is not a matter of supply but of distribution. Water itself, though, may ultimately be about supply; only a tiny fraction of the world’s aqua is drinkable. Let’s hope for widespread and cheap desalination. If people thought the blood for oil trade was bad, and it is, just wait for blood for water. Nothing is more basic to human survival. Privatization attempts, say in Latin America, were responded to with massive popular uprisings that put a stop to the privatizing schemes. How dare multinational corporations try to put a price on water, anyway. Of course, another focus is on the demonstrators: how dare they resist.
The next shift in consciousness will arrive when people stop discussing national security and begin talking about human security. It will not take too long, since there are imminent—in geologic time, that is—climate shocks that will force the issue. One report in Scientific American suggests that the planet, according to the recent and most alarming yet report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “will cross a threshold into environmental ruin by 2036.” Another way of putting that is there is still time to act, but not much, and serious action needs to happen now. The real controversy is not whether reality is real, but rather that the reality does not seem to spur enough to act in order to try to avert the worst probable scenario, in which all of humanity “will be exposed to potentially irreversible climate changes.” There is no point in panicking or despairing at such news. This is the challenge of our age. It is not too late, and there is no time to waste.