Last night my dad called me, wanting to chat.
He lives in a warehouse in the countryside south of Portland, next to a major stopping point for trains, in a strange set-up we like to call the “batcave”. Sometimes he needs to talk to someone besides his neighbors, and we have good conversations. Mostly about how excited we feel knowing the state of the world. Like two magicians sharing techniques, we go on and on. Sometimes we disagree about how to come at a certain topic.
Last night he called with the news of the Supreme Court tossing out a tobacco trial verdict originally tried in Portland, Oregon. I myself belonged to the jury of a multi-million dollar tobacco trial back in…2002? Something like that. “the Estate of Michelle Schwarz vs. Phillip Morris USA”. My dad thought the news might have involved my trial, but no…it involved another multi-million dollar trial concerning a different dead smoker from Oregon.
Realizing the confusion did remind me of my experiences on the trial…I still have my little notebook full of detailed immaculate notes on secret documents, strange diagrams, expert testimony, etc.
It reminded me of how I felt back then…I don’t believe in an adversarial system to resolve conflict then, nor do I now. I only believe in remedy, the system humans used for uncounted millenia before civilization. “How do we make things right again among us, as best as possible? How do we heal the hurt?” Not “how do we find fault, make blame, and punish.” As much as a fascinating modern innovation this may appear to the general public, it does no more than insert an extra step between the injury and the healing of it. Usually it misdirects the social inquiry into the harm enough to cause everyone to forget that the healing still remains undone. Once you’ve killed the murderer, whew, that solves it, right? Oops. Forgot about the victim’s loved ones who may never recover, because they all believe the lie that punishment will resolve the damage. I almost want to say it sounds like a child’s version of resolving conflict, but that offends the sensibilities of my friendship with many children…more accurately, it sounds like an abused child’s version of resolving conflict.
All this to say, what do I care if Phillip Morris USA (in my trial) gets “pants-ed” or not? I decided to go along for the ride and judge as impartially as possible, without bringing any bias of “evil corporations” into it. So I played by their rules, looking for fault and blame.
In the end, the entire jury saw very clearly that Phillip Morris USA had a cruel and manipulative streak that spanned decades. A few still thought that a smoker should know better than to smoke, but no-one had any illusions that Phillip Morris USA had not done some profoundly sketchy things.
So hearing about this new case got me ranting about things, about people who think smokers should know better, about a corporation who realized that they only needed to create a little-doubt, an almost doubt, the tiniest of excuses to keep smoking. A tiny little crack in the door suffices for an addict. The gap in the door may only amount to a fraction of an inch, but that still means the door remains open, right?
But then the whole idea of that addict got to me. Addicts. How does that differ from consumers? Consumers have an addiction to the modern american lifestyle, to cheap goods, to cheap drugs, to cheap food. It reminded me of Derrick Jensen’s writings against civilization. It got me thinking. Americans, Europeans, whomever, they still just want that tiny little excuse that our civilization won’t destroy itself, that it could go on forever, that everyone can have their toys and numbing lifestyles.
And doesn’t civilization deliver? It just keeps that door open a crack, a fraction of an inch. A little doubt. You can watch our science fiction and see people in the future, flying space-ships. If we can write a story about living in the future, that means we could live there, right?
Science fiction can’t contradict the verdict of science, right? So our scientists must have just confused things. We’ll make it through climate change a-ok! Peak Oil just means we’ll switch to free, unlimited energy! It doesn’t matter about the evidence. Hell, even our scientists will find the avenue of inquiry leading to the abandonment of civilization an almost absurd notion. Because, look! See, in that movie…you can see us on other planets! That must mean something.
Every day of the week you can turn on the television and see snippets of the bright and shiny future awaiting us, just on the other side of this inconvenient worldwide catastrophe that has just begun to really gain steam. If we think 200 species a day felt uncomfortable, just wait! We can do better than that.
I’d say the door stands open more than a crack. We’ve managed to make this culture of addicts act like a bunch of creationists, saying “sure, we may have to change, but look how wide the door stands open…that leaves a lot of room for doubt in your theory…since you don’t have 100% proof, that means you don’t really know, do you?”
We all know (or might find useful to know, if we don’t yet) that Creationists differ from the supporters of Evolutionary theory in no more than that Creationists look for data to fit a story they already have, whereas the Theory of Evolution came about through the attempt to find an explanation to fit the data we already have. One started with data, the other started with a story. No big deal. Two ways to go about things. Two starkly different uses for information, in fact. The Creationists need to do the work they do, to continue to use their story in a meaningful way. No hard feelings. They have to look for data that fits their story, and ignore data that doesn’t, to service the story.
To look down on this practice, in fact, shows the hypocrisy in most modern folks…because what other explanation can you provide for the lack of activity in dissolving civilization? We have plenty of clear evidence for the inevitable collapse of civilization. But we don’t find it interesting, any more than an addict would to know about more reasons to quit smoking. We have plenty of information right now. We don’t need Al Gore to tell us. Simply looking out our kitchen windows has sufficed for decades to give us all the information we need.
Do you really need satellite photos of receding glaciers to tell you that something has gone terribly, terribly amiss? Did the disappearing frogs not tip you off? The exterminated native peoples? The poisoned, unswimmable, undrinkable rivers? The burgeoning generations of asthmatics?
I found Phillip Morris USA guilty of negligence, certainly, for attempting to manipulate Michelle Schwarz into leaving that door open a crack. But I don’t for a moment think that Michelle Schwarz didn’t desire for them to let her have that illusion.
Anymore than I think the billions of modern humans want someone to close the door on their illusions, on the possibility of continuing their addiction that will someday soon close the door on a vast diversity of life.
Punishment makes things so simple. Judging makes things so simple.
Remedy takes a lot of work.
Remedy forces you to look in the mirror and see what you need to do to make things right again.