On Friday (May 30), I went to the Chevron refinery in Burnaby to show my support for the three activists that had secured their necks to a gate with D-locks. The police were getting ready to cut the locks and had moved us back from the gate by 20 paces. While the sparks were flying and people chanted I asked one of the police officers, “How does it feel to be on the wrong side of history? To be complicit in 500 years of colonialism?” I asked not because I was naïve enough to think that I could convince him it was so, but because I wanted to know his reasoning. His response was immediate, “You can say whatever you want. It doesn’t matter.” A simple statement from a simple mind, no doubt, but the attitude behind the statement is absolutely indicative of this current moment in history.
It doesn’t matter because it’s better now, they say. It doesn’t matter because we are happier and healthier than ever; life span is increasing and so is the average quality of life. History happened, and now we must move on in the name of a better future, they say. It doesn’t matter if better is defined in material terms, and that these better material circumstances are absurd distractions bought with violence and the destruction of the Earth. It doesn’t matter because this is the law. These are simply the facts of life and we must trudge on toward the Great Future. They say we are economic animals.
But at what point do we acknowledge that material progress does not make up for the atrocities of the past and present? When do we recognize that many of the things that we call progress are in fact frivolous distractions that have been rendered meaningless by the realities of residential schools and poisoned water? We are enamored by our comfort and dominated by our fear of losing what basic comforts we have. But we forget that only humanity, not the economy, makes our lives meaningful, and that we sacrifice our humanity in the name of the economy.
What is the Great Future toward which we head? The goal of this future is certainly not freedom or happiness; the gap between the rich and the poor continues to increase as police are becoming more and more militarized to repress the inevitable revolts, and even the rich are miserable. No, the goal of progress is simply more progress, more production, more efficiency, more profits. There is no end to this cycle in sight. Even the threat of environmental collapse is not enough to stop it. It will continue to go on because we are so enamored by the meager comforts granted to us, because we are unable to see that the so-called luxuries of this society are mere slop in a trough, and we lap it up greedily.
The battle to save the planet and end colonialism will not be a comfortable one. We need to begin asking ourselves the difficult question: of what value are these comforts? Most of us are willing to point out the absurd ways we spend free time, the hollowing out of culture, the constant stress that comes with always almost being on the brink of poverty. Yet most of us will militantly defend this miserable existence when confronted. No one wants to admit to themselves that at the end of the day they will, if they are lucky, spend 10 years in impoverished retirement, and only after their body is worn down and their lust for life depleted. No one wants to consider that these sacrifices do not even come with the promise of a better future for our children!
The chances of future generations having oxygen to breathe and water to drink are diminishing rapidly. Every single one of us is in crisis, faced with the real potential of not only living our lives in a state of constant stress, that what we stress over is ultimately a meaningless life, and that we face the prospect of death on a global-civilizational scale. Our children are going to ask us why we stood idly by, why we chose Game of Thrones over a clean future and shitty leased cars over human decency—if they even know what that means.
We are at a critical moment in history, a moment in which our very humanity is in question. What is a little risk for the sake of humanity? Many people have lived their lives choosing comfort instead of facing the challenges of their times. The only question now is who will be able to look back on their life knowing that they met those challenges.