On Children and Water17 Feb 2017 tagged in anthropocene
A few interconnected thoughts.
At the Grammy awards on Sunday, Beyoncé performed the song “Love Drought” from her album LEMONADE. You know the song, you know the album, you know the performance, but let’s go ahead and watch it anyway, if only as a healing practice.
A week or so before this performance, Beyoncé announced on Instagram (with characteristic grandeur and withholding, a master of the modern art of the image) that she is pregnant with twins. It is an image that as many have pointed out, deploys pointed references, mediated mostly through the element of water, to maternal deities in Yoruba spirituality. The official video for “Love Drought” does the same.
Twenty minutes before I wrote this post, the United States Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He is most well-known for his deep ties to the petroleum industry and his frequent lawsuits, one of which he is the current plaintiff, against the E.P.A. with intent to destabilize and destroy it utterly.
This is not a surprising move from the Trump Administration and the Republican Party more generally, who have dedicated themselves to weaponizing the idea of dramatic irony. Appointees like Scott Pruitt and Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education, he types wanting to vomit on his keyboard) are ideologically opposed not only to the missions of the agencies that they run but of these agencies’ rights to exist in the first place. Such appointments are part of a broader right-wing tactic not only to shift capital from the poor to the rich, but also to rig the game in favor of their own ideological opposition to the idea of government: make the government so broken, so dysfunctional, so useless and shattered, and then step back and declare that government simply cannot work, and free enterprise must step in to take up the reins.
But what I’m thinking about is water.
There have been more takes on the Women’s March that followed Trump’s inauguration than I care to read, and I spend most of my time getting Mad On The Internet. So I’m not offering a take beyond the idea that mass mobilization against the Republican Party, whom I regard as does Noam Chomsky a domestic terrorist organization, is in aggregate a good thing.
But one thing that gave me a tremendous amount of hope, and that I hope continues to stay at the core of any resistance or revolution to come, hashtagged or not, was the repeated attempts on the part of the March organizers to center indigenous voices, indigenous women’s voices, those people who are on the front lines of absolute central fights over neocolonialism, the right to sovereignty, the imbricated nature of ecological and racial justice, and so much more. The #NoDAPL cry that water is life seems to me to need to be a central organizing call across all registers.
Growing up, my mother always said that she never imagined that she would have children. She didn’t see herself as the kind of person who would settle easily into motherhood. So as not to then make me think that I was unwanted (as well, not joking now, to communicate a shift in her thinking that I believe is completely genuine), she would tell me that that all changed when she actually had children. When they were hers, she said, she came to understand the fierce, complex love of a parent, of a mother.
Later, when I was an adult, and when the epistemological question of having children of my own, of then being the same age that my parents were when they started to consider seriously the question of having children, raised its head, I had a conversation with my father in which we talked about nuclear war. In the 80’s, he said, the common refrain was that there was no point in having children, how could one justify having children in such dark, horrifying times, when the prospect of annihilation was just around the corner? And yet (a conservative moral that nonetheless belies a deep ethics of love, and self-preservation, and desire, and fear, and still love), they did anyway, because that was what one did, not just out of ideology, but out of compassion and a desire to see things made right, to imagine a future for the species.
I do not have any children. Like my mother, I do not consider myself the kind of person who has any business being a parent. Like my father, I have a hard time seeing a world in which any children of mine, or anyone’s children, can rely on clean water, clean air, clean soil. These needs are elemental, and we are undermining them. Or more properly, we are overmining them, taking too much from them and giving nothing in return. We are not stewarding. The United States of America currently runs on the principle of maximum extraction. These reasons are deeply ideological and arise from a complex web of settler colonialism, Evangelical and prosperty Christianity, and plain old capitalism. But I think about the agents at the center, even as I see them within a web of forces. I cannot pretend to understand what goes through these men’s minds at night, in the dark, when their children are asleep and they are trying to sleep. Perhaps they think (or they know) that they can buy clean water, clean air, clean soil. They can go outside the world they are making. Perhaps they will go to Mars.
I gone on the record at parties as saying that I think that the end of the world is very much upon us, or has in fact already happened. (I am not very fun at parties.) When I say this, I do not mean catastrophic apocalypse, although certainly the conditions could be right for that at any moment since the Trinity Test. I mean this on an ontological level: that certain actions occur in history that make the continuance of a certain set of assumptions about what the world is and how it works impossible. And that we are living through such a time. The world has ended many times over, and other worlds have emerged. This is not to say that one should accept the results of such a process, or imagine that the conditions of apocalypse under which we live are irrevocable or immutable. If the world is going to end then we should at least have some say in what that ending means and what a possible beginning can be.
I suppose this is also why I think that a resistance or revolution that does not center indigenous women, Black women, refugees, those who know firsthand what it means to live through the end of a world and what conditions must be not to simply survive but to thrive, is useless.
I suppose this is also why I think a lot about children and water these days.