Tuesday, June 15, 2010

curiosity and loathing

Standing amongst this immense complex of wires and shining pipes, water is dripping into the red sand where I stand and the brightest white steam pours from stacks into the gleaming Florida summer sky. A high-pitched mechanical whine fills the air, taking away all ability to have thoughts, and so the time passes quickly in a state of perpetual escape. Get away from this. Not a conscious thought, but burning inside me as if it's the energy that keeps my heart beating.

I am filled with a strange battle between immense curiosity and loathing. I want to see this infrastructure, I want to know about it, to truly feel the hideous face of all that I hate so that I may never come to love it again. But I really hate being exposed to all that I most oppose.

I almost feel like anthropologist Colin Turnbull, who attempted to spend some time with the Ik tribe in Africa, whom he calls The Mountain People, who are probably the most hideous people ever documented. They laughed when others got hurt, they disowned their children when they turned 3, they hid and stole food from one another, they were compulsive liars, manipulative, deceptive. I wonder how long you can live amongst such ugliness without being affected by it. How much repulsiveness can one experience in the name of inquiry, thought, knowledge?

military-industrial complexity in trucking

With trucking, more than probably any other career I can think of in the entire world, you are exposed to the very depths of the sinister military-industrial complex that our prescient president Eisenhower warned us about so many years ago.

We are at the crux of the most consumptive group of people in the history of the planet, and our job is to haul around the shit these people consume.

I am starting to get the idea that what an individual, family, or nation chooses to consume not only says something about who they are, it makes them who they are. And by 'consume' here I don't just mean what you eat. It is what you buy, how you spend your time, what you prioritize, what you hold most dear, the little actions that add up and as a whole are your life.

Thinking this has lead me not only to an extensive examination of my own consumer habits, but has thrust me to be deeply curious about the habits of others and what it means both for the individual and process that made that consumption possible for them.

Strangely enough, trucking has provided a little peephole into this masked side of our economy. Every time we haul something, I get to ask the shipper what the commodity is, where it's coming from, what it's used for, where it's going.

We picked up sand that was being mined - er, dug up and bagged - in Florida and brought it to Mexico. They need sand in Mexico? We visited a plant in Northern Michigan that processes - um, grinds out of limestone - a chemical called calcium chloride, a chemical used in many facets of our little world you don't think about - it goes into food, on roads, in pools. In a less complex transaction, we brought potato chips from Massachusetts to KMart in Florida. Brought engines for 18-wheelers from a plant in upstate New York to Mexico so it can be assembled into a truck by cheap(er) Mexican labor and then brought back over to the US to be sold.

It is the sum of all these little interactions that make what we call the economy.  And we take part in it everyday. We've heard this before. But do you really know what it means to consume what you're consuming? Where did it come from? How was it made? How did it get here? How many lives, places, things are destroyed so that you can enjoy that cheap product?