Bon Appetite! or Cannibalism at a Distance

2010 August 20
by Carl Watson

I spent a recent weekend watching movies about eating. One of these was Julie and Julia based on two books, one by Julia Childs, and the other by Julie Powell. The other was The Road based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy. On the surface they seem unrelated, however, they were, if at a distance, and that relationship is based on appetite. In the case of Julie and Julia, the primary appetite was for French Cuisine, or what such a cuisine could obtain for he or she who partakes of it—besides the aesthetics of taste there is, of course, ego gratification and fame. In the case of The Road the primary appetite (although not that of the protagonists) was for human flesh, a cuisine that merely kept people alive. In Julie and Julia we watch people who seem to have no end of means to buy whatever foodstuffs they desire, all trucked or flown in from wherever on the globe that desire is registered and paid for. In The Road we see people eating insects, old canned goods, and each other. Whatever they do eat they have to walk long distances and fight to get it. We might say fighting replaces money in the latter instance. Julie and Julia takes place in contemporary America where people have been propagandized to believe they deserve to have anything they want at the precise moment they want it—i.e progress.  In The Road there simply is nothing to have—i.e. regress.

Julie and Julia takes place in media res in the Western epic of appetite gratification. The Road takes place in a world “after appetite,” or we might say AA. (The designation AA would thus be analogous to AD or After (Christ’s) Death, which now has the PC terminology CE or Common Era, which is really no less biased toward the Christian perspective. In any case we can’t get over the idea that we are using a medieval dating system. Other possible, less Christocentric, alternatives might be: ABB (After the Big Bang), or AFTU (After First Tool Use, or AC (After Consciousness). But I digress.

Anyway, the point of this essay is to make the claim that what relates Julie and Julia to The Road, is the same thing that relates the BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, to the Mexican drug gang violence that has become such a major news story. These seemingly different contemporary “issues” are related of course by their Gulf of Mexico Locales, but more important they are related by appetites, specifically American appetites for 1) drugs, and, 2) oil. We could also say they are related by their shock & arrogance factor. The public is shocked and disgusted by the arrogance of the drug lords who kill politicians and, in fact, anybody they wish, to gain their profits. The public is also shocked and disgusted by the arrogance of the BP executives and their cavalier disregard for the environment in order to gain their profits. Yet for all this shock there is a large measure of truth to what one of these arrogant BP execs said, and I paraphrase: “If you drive a car or heat your home with oil or gas, then you are partially responsible for our arrogance.” And, in fact, this is true. It is also true that no one is willing to give up the energy they believe they deserve no matter what the consequences. As long as it doesn’t pollute our own beaches Americans are fine with oil spills overseas. You didn’t see anybody up in arms over the massive oil spills elsewhere in the second or third world or even first—Persian Gulf, Norway, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, Ubekistan, Genoa, Angola, Tobago—just to name a few.

One result of the shock and arrogance is that we now have an army of the morally outraged, the pontificators on both sides of the economical fgence.  Some of these people tell you that you have to exercise personal responsibility in your “choices” and if you chose wrong it’s your fault.  They are referring of course to investments.  No one asks whether or not the career they chose is “socially responsible”  Responsibility doesn’t enter into it, but “rights” do.   Suddenly everyone believes they have a right to their way of life: fishing, sunbathing, selling suntan oil—and they want to be compensated. We could for instance say a lot of these people chose the wrong careers fishing next to oil derricks, or selling suntan oil on likely-to-be-polluted beaches, and that it’s their own fault if they lost their job. Some of the worst morally outraged are the New York restauranteurs who daily have fresh fish and shrimp shipped up to them on oil-powered ships and planes to serve customers who assume it is their right to eat food from any region on the globe.

Speaking of New York, Senator Chuck Shumer, ever quick on the soapbox, came out in a political display of moral outrage demanding that BP stop paying dividends to its shareholders.  Seemed like a good idea.  He got his way too, and gloated to his driver as they drove off in a gas guzzling limo. Little did Shumer or any of his fellow raging heads (note: talking heads are now raging heads) realize how many people depended on those dividends, people who have nothing to do with BP. They are merely retired people. But apparently these retired people should have exercised moral choice and not bought these stocks. (But wait a minute they didn’t buy the stocks, their retirement funds did.) In response to said dilemma, a republican bloviator was soon heard blaming those people who should have known where their retirement funds are invested and if they lost money on BP it is their responsibility. Well is it also the responsibility of the shrimp fishermen to know that the oil rigs off shore are a danger to their way of life and that maybe they should be otherwise invested, or should have protested the oil rigs to begin with. But I said that already. Ah, the wheel of responsibility and blame turns and turns. Eventually NY State discovers that a large percentage of its own retirement funds are wrapped up in BP stocks so, also in moral outrage, they decide to sue BP for not paying the dividends that they just forced them to stop paying. Things get complicated indeed. And what about all the outraged citizens of America, who now want to blame The British for fucking them over. Damn arrogant Limeys, they say. But then it seems these morally righteous people continue to fuck themselves over: driving on the thruways around New York you don’t see any decrease in car traffic or gasoline consumption. Nobody is turning off their air conditioners.  One would think that if you really want to protest Big Oil this is where you should start: Stop driving. Stop buying things that have to be transported great distances to satisfy your appetite. Stop air conditioning your buildings. Stop going to the movies. Stop making movies. Ban the fashion industry.  Stop traveling.  Turn off the entertainment barrage.  The list of things to stop gets so long most people drop off the morally righteous bandwagon and go back to wanting stuff, which is the most comfortable position for them.

Similarly in the Mexican drug wars: not only is it the American appetite for drugs that causes the deaths of thousands of Mexicans, but it is American guns that fuel the violence south of our border. Of course we blame those low down Mexicans for supplying the drugs, we don’t blame ourselves for using them.  But what the hell, we make money both ways and that’s our right. It’s also our right to bitch about it, which has come to be our favorite national past time. You get a grudging admission of all this from certain politicians who weigh in hesitantly that well yes maybe it is our appetites that are fueling this trade, but it is still not our fault because Americans believe in supply-side economics which states that supply creates its own demand, or to put it another way, demand is secondary effect of supply. So it must be their fault (the Mexicans and BP) if we want this stuff. We base our foreign policy on this kind of philosophy going to war with people who supply (or refuse to supply) our potential demands.

Here’s a message from the Ayotollah and his republican friends in Washington to all the cool coke freaks, ecstacy children, and pot smokers (once thought to be the most benign of intoxicants): Every time you get high, someone dies in Mexico and terrorists come a couple dollars closer to blowing up the future Freedom Tower (if it is ever completed). In the same vein that we don’t seem to care too much about foreign oil spills, we don’t seem to care much that whole nations are destroyed to maintain our pleasures: Mexico, Columbia, Afganistan, Iraq, Cuba, etc. We rack that up to their third world status and their inability to make money in legal ways, i.e. ways that would benefit us. This last statement illustrates the bias of this essay: that morality is directly related to appetite. In fact, morality is the protector of appetite. Back in the dim history of our species, we concluded that if I didn’t kill you while you were eating dinner than I could enjoy my dinner without the fear of you killing me.

In the animated cartoon in my head I see a picture of an American family at the dinner table, consuming vast quantities of resources: food, oil, plastic products, whatever they want, when they want it, as so many ads tell us-asap is not soon enough!  (Why should I have to wait for what I want? Give it to me now!)  This adolescent cry of the typical American (and eventually the world) consumer is blind to the scenario taking place all around him or her: wars across the globe, mass starvation, the demise of the rainforests and other ecological catastrophes. In fact the world and its human inhabitants exponentially shrivels, shrinks and dies of malnutrition and disease, while the American family feeds on the worlds resources. This is what I call “Cannibalism at a Distance” which is kind of like a term they use in physics “Action at a Distance” except that instead of describing the interaction of two objects which are separated in space with no apparent mediator of the interaction, Cannibalism at a Distance refers to the consumption of human flesh and well being across space and time, by the wealthy (meaning primarily Americans) with no visible connection or mediation between the eater and the eaten. Thus when you see dead men lining a Mexican city street or a blasted Afghan village or the newly destitute residents of the Gulf Coast, not to mention the wild life soaked in oil you don’t “see” the connection to you, or me, and our means of seeing it. Cannibalism at a Distance then is a kind of priviledged version of The Road, before it became The Road, and may even be why it became The Road. In the movie we never know exactly what the catastrophe was that brought about the destruction of all life. I am of the opinion that the catastrophe was utter wasting of the environment by human appetite. (ps. Don’t think you’re any different of better because you live in Williamsburg, Berlin, or San Francisco or some other supposedly “liberal” enclave. You are as much a consumer as anyone in suburbia, you are only consuming products that tell you that you are different from them.  That difference alone, which makes you feel good about yourself, actually massively multiplies the amount of stuff that must be manufactured and transported—thus difference equals ecological destruction.   The huge amount of energy that goes into producing the things that make you different, things you love and take for granted—fashion, indie bands, large concerts, hip packaging, cool electronics, and the electricity to run them, awards shows—is equal to or greater than the power burned by a hundred thousand mini-vans.

Bob Dylan, a man who uses a lo of energy himself, once wrote a song called You Gotta Serve Somebody, but I want to update that to You Gotta Blame Somebody, which leads me to wonder if I can sue Apple computers for the loss of my Proofreading job back in the 90s. Hmmmmm?  If I made enough money off the lawsuit I could get back to contributing to our economy by shopping for things.  Remember shopping beats terrorism.  By this reasoning Apple Computer is partly responsible for inability to fight terrorism.  So don’t fall into this trap in which I find myself floundering,  get out there. The Road awaits. Bon Appetite!

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