Friday, January 15, 2010

This Land is [Not] Your Land

I woke up this morning to the news that a new nickel mine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has been approved, thus guaranteeing that another part of our state will become a slagheap, and that poisonous mine tailings will be leeching into the waters of the great lakes for many years to come. Moments later, I heard again that the power company, with the aid of the state legislature, is fighting hard for a new coal plant, thus guaranteeing that Michigan will continue to do its part to support blowing the tops off mountains and filling the streams with mud in Kentucky and West Virginia, helping to turn our planet into the overheated toxic bathtub it was apparently meant to be.

It made me remember some alternate verses I wrote to "This Land Is Your Land" when I was a kid:

As I have travelled across the nation,
it seems to me it's one big corporation--
it's all a resource for exploitation:
This land was made for industry.

You've got the soil rights, but I've got the oil rights,
where wolves ran barking, now it's for parking,
straight from the gas pump to the toxic waste dump:
This land was made for industry

At the time, these words were meant to be an exercise in bitter sarcasm, written as I watched them uproot the old woods next to the Mennonite church for a shopping mall. The euphemism of the time was that that stretch of road was being "improved," and I remember hoping in my ten-year-old mind that satire might have some kind of power to show what was really being done. Certainly if we opened our eyes to the ridiculousness of the whole enterprise, I thought, we could look at what we were doing and be ashamed.

I was wrong. We have no shame. Three decades later, the scale of the second phase of suburban sprawl in my town seems quite quaint, more like child's play. By now, the Mennonite church itself has been bulldozed for a drive-through beer store, and we've tipped so far into bizarro-world that even wild exaggerations meant to make a point about the excesses of the 1970's seem to be a statement of the obvious, more like an actual manifesto for unrestrained commercial development than an ironic inversion of our real values meant to prick our conscience. We've gotten used to feeling that the corporate juggernaut can't be stopped, even when all indications seem to be that the cost of that rampage is the very life of our planet. It's become the status quo.

Outrage doesn't seem to work, and satire has been rendered moot. Shall we go on living in complicty with this system, and take it as a given?

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