Money and Morality: The Parallel Between Energy and Slavery
by Robert Koehler
Step on the gas, step on a man . . .
Writing recently in The Nation,
Hayes points out that the movement to end dependence on fossil fuels, drastically reduce carbon emissions and reverse global warming faces a financial hurdle of staggering proportions: ". . . the total amount of known, proven extractable fossil fuel in the ground at this very moment is almost five times the amount we can safely burn," he writes. Possession of this unexcavated carbon is claimed by global corporations: It's theirs to pull out of the ground, and it's worth . . . uh, somewhere between
But there is, it turns out, a precedent for divesting rich and powerful people of a comparable amount of wealth, Hayes says. It was called the abolition movement.
By the time of the Civil War, some 4 million human beings were in bondage in the South -- "owned," for God's sake: legally possessed and controlled to the last heartbeat. The precedent of slavery goes back to the beginning of human history, of course. Before the industrial era and the releasing of the energy of fossil fuels, the relatively privileged gained control over their environment by putting animals and other human beings to work for them. The moral and legal justifications for doing so accompanied the practice.
In 1860, the South's 4 million slaves, Hayes writes, "represented about 16 percent of the total household assets -- that is, all the wealth -- in the entire country." In today's economic terms, that would be in the nature of
Speaking of the eerie parallel between these two vastly different moral dilemmas -- slavery and ecological devastation through unchecked extraction and consumption of fossil fuels --
"During the nineteenth century, slave societies were known for their moral carelessness, brutality and indolence. In a strange sort of way, cheap oil has given us the same sort of frailties and vulnerabilities once associated with slave owners. Nineteenth-century slave holders didn't have much insight about the moral consequences of their dependency on slave labor. Nor do we."
It took a monstrous war to end slavery in
This is humanity's moral maelstrom: Doing what's right, in a simple, pragmatic sense -- securing survival and connection with one another -- almost always, at least in Western civilization, gives way to doing what's righteous. Righteousness is an instrument of power, an enabler of domination. Righteousness can be gamed.
Our legal system is permeated with righteousness. Consider:
"Somebody figured out, once again, how to build a machine that can quantify the life of an African-American man and make money off him," writes
What the U.S. prison system -- private and otherwise -- lacks in integrity, you can bet it makes up for in righteousness. But there's money to be made and the prison population of
I make note of all this with awe, but not with answers. The money system we live under, as
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Article: Copyright © 2014, Tribune Content Agency.
"Money and Morality: The Parallel Between Energy and Slavery"