Swans Commentary » swans.com May 9, 2005  



Running On Fumes
A Journey To The End Of Empire


by Phil Rockstroh


Graphic by Angela Tyler-Rockstroh



Pic: "No Food. Our Gas. Imperialist Lodging" - Graphic, © Angela Tyler-Rockstroh 2005. All rights reserved. (Please, do not steal, inline, or frame this picture.) - size 47kb

"No Food. Our Gas. Imperialist Lodging," by Angela Tyler-Rockstroh; a Phil Rockstroh conception
© Angela Tyler-Rockstroh 2005. All rights reserved.



(Swans - May 9, 2005)   Rising gasoline prices terrify Americans because they threaten our sustaining, cultural illusion of our freedom of mobility...a commercial canard that has turned millions into corporate slaves. Our masters have the mobility -- we have a long commute.

How, in any way, shape, or form, are American freeways free?

A commuter has as much liberty languishing in a traffic jam, as does a cow in a cattle drive. Incongruously, a large number of Americans continue to see themselves as cowboys -- as, all the while, they allow themselves to be treated and prodded along like cattle...though they may see themselves as rugged individualists riding over the expanse of the open prairie -- their corporate cattle masters see them as mere commodities on the hoof whose hides and hinds only exist for their value on the so-called open market.

Interstate travel is emblematic of the manner by which an oil-dependant existence has dehumanized us all. For example, any situation, as is the case with interstate highway travel, in which, to momentarily stop, or even slow down is to risk death, should be regarded as an affront (if not absolute anathema) to the mind, heart and soul. When the landscape, through which we pass, is reduced to a meaningless blur -- our lives grow indistinct as well. We are incessantly told, and, sadly, far too many of us have been convinced, that the same disastrous fate will overtake us if the engines of global capitalism were to slow down even a bit.

When stopped at an anonymous interstate service island or some off-the-exit-ramp retail strip -- those inhospitable, soulless nether regions that evince a paradoxical mix of sterility and toxicity -- the permeating odor of exhaust fumes and indigestible processed food makes us woozy. These places, only distinct for their ugliness, reek of how soul-numbing and joyless travel has become...a task now nearly devoid of any mystery, any sense of exploration, nor the possibility of serendipity that travel once offered. Travel has been reduced to a tedious ordeal whereby our inchoate longings are mangled and suppressed -- only to rise as the hollow appetitive and the ineffable sense of psychic unease so evident in the troubled American psyche.

When visiting a service island, we are as isolated from human warmth and contact as we are within our enclosed motor vehicles. Mindlessly, we hurdle from one sterile, impersonal location to the next sterile, impersonal location and then on to the next...As massive, forbidding trucks, loaded with the cargo of extinction, bear down on us, we grip the steering wheel...we know to stop is to risk death -- so we continue onward, believing we must drive and consume in order to live...but the knowledge nettles us just below the surface of our harried minds, that to continue down this road of ceaseless consumption will, in turn, cause the world to die...

Riding American interstates one feels the confluence of so much contemporary madness and tragedy...so much barely-submerged fear and aggression...Yet, through it all, the yearning to see what lies over to next horizon remains in our hearts. Even though, sadly, what lies over the next horizon has become as sterile, inhospitable, ugly, and inhuman as what was experienced at the last. Here: The realities of global capitalism are displayed, in stark relief: it's all based on oil -- sustained by brutal imperialism and the wholesale destruction of the natural world -- and, for all our self-impressed proclamations that these things are the progenitors of freedom and human advancement -- they, nevertheless, have left us Americans, the supposed beneficiaries of it all, spoiled, stupefied, and alienated -- both from the banality and garishness of the our nation's commercially tortured, community-devoid landscape as well as from our own inner-most longings.

One should feel a sense of jubilation regarding the coming end of an era where oil and its attendant imperialist politics have come to define the lives of multiple generations. Maybe as our dependence on oil recedes, our human thirst for the water of life will return.

The interstate's negations of the human heart are manifold: it delivers emptiness and desperation, by creating the seductive illusion of mobility and freedom -- but, in fact, it only delivers greater emptiness and desperation -- because it usurps the human heart's endless yearning for release from mundane existence by the promise of novelty. Instead, it only serves to hurdle us toward the next meaningless, time-sucking, commodified sensation. And what is more mundane than a commodified human being...its spirit broken, its heart caged, and its instincts harnessed almost exclusively to labor and reward...labor and reward...The human animal is thus conditioned to fear life outside its cage -- and, as is the case with many unfortunate animals, confined for many long, dismal years within a cage, they come to believe the confines of their cage comprise the whole of existence. And, in those rare moments when the caged animal's heart yearns and its fighting instincts begin to arise -- its keepers have a dire need to convince us pitiful, corporatist-whipped creatures -- generally by means of coercion and bribes -- that our release will come, not from emancipation from our confinement but instead, in some inexplicable way, will arrive by way of our continued mindless surrendering to the dictates of our keepers -- the very bastards who put us hapless beasts in the cage to begin with.

We commodified beasts should ask ourselves this question: How is it possible that our emancipation from our cages could arrive by ever more labor and consumption? Taking such a route to freedom is about as sensible as a masochist believing he can be tied to a bedpost and then whipped into a sense of self-worth.

Questioning such absurdities might free our minds from the counterfeit mystique of freeways...a closer look would reveal that your motor vehicle is merely a cage that moves at 70 miles an hour plus -- a cage that connects a series of larger cages holding the whole menagerie of economic animals held captive in this joyless zoo known as global capitalism...and the same is true with those faster moving cages that jet thousands of feet overhead. Never before has a people been more in a hurry to arrive at the same old shit.

Goddamn it! I'm not only tired of freeways and all the attendant inhuman implications that they inflict. Worse: The ethos and accoutrements of the interstate have come to define American life: hideous off-the-exit-ramp types of food are now the stable foods of the empire; the smell of exhaust fumes are our pheromonal musks; and reptilian brain reactions such as road rage and our deference to over-sized pickup truck/SUV/Humvee bigness are the lingua franca of our political discourse and foreign policy.

In addition, the single, isolated passenger-per-vehicle idiocy of the American commuter is mirrored in the everyday American cretin-on-the-street iPod-insulated obliviousness of the larger world...the prevalent "personal style" of so many of the empire's children of empty entitlement. And I'm beaten down, day by day, from bearing the sorrow of news of how such careless, empty modes of (non) thought are engendering the rapidly accelerating rates of plant and animal extinction on our planet. What the interstate has done to us -- we are inflicting on a global scale...creating dead zone after dead zone...

Our lies have grown so enormous in order to occlude the increasingly obvious from our anxious minds. This self-deception is embodied by the afore mentioned oversized pickup truck/SUV/Humvee mindset of American consumers...those grotesquely ugly machines are looming emblems of our massive denial of the reality of the world's finite and rapidly dwindling oil resources. To admit the truth would not only be an admission of our powerlessness before larger orders of reality -- but would, as well, call into question the entire premise of Americans' delusional sense of infinite entitlement. Because the fact is: The empire cannot sustain itself...it's running low not only on oil -- but also on raison d'être -- not to mention loot. Brute force and bribery are exhausting work: it leaves the practitioner empty, stupefied, and vulnerable -- because, after a time, the predatory proxies created by an empire to do its brutal biding abroad will turn on it and the parasitic people the system gave birth to at home will devour it from within.

On our car radios, in the few seconds that our commercial overlords allow for even corporately sanctioned news, we might hear of the declining profits of GM, or rising oil prices, or the latest pronouncements from Alan Greenspan (all of which are of less consequence to the long-term order of the universe than a gnat fart in a windstorm) -- and we feel a sense of rising unease...

Perhaps we should pull over at a Rest Area, as the storm gathers on the horizon before us, and we should contemplate the things that are of consequence to us -- here and now. And, if we are honest, our sorrow would swell, as the awareness arises within us of how the mindless demands of the corporate state sucks the life and soul out those we love.

Conversely, I've had it with those folks who choose to remain in denial of the prevailing degradation and approaching danger -- and of their calling their willful ignorance their freedom of choice...I have little patience for conversations with preening phonies who are oblivious to history and impervious to reason -- but who are as hyper-aware of trend and fashion as Herman Melville was to the minutiae of whaling ship rigging and gear...I cringe when I recall the hopelessness and dread I feel when entering a home that is devoid of books...a house constructed in the popular, contemporary suburban/exurban style of having the garage placed at the front of the home. In such actions, we can see where our cultural priorities lie -- and to where those priorities have led us...to the creation of an ugly, vicious empire where our essential human aspirations have been supplanted by the dreams of machines and as a consequence is dying from its unquenchable thirst for oil.

This brings to mind that militarily (and morally) indefensible six-mile stretch of roadway that runs between the fortified and bunkered Green Zone in the occupied city of Baghdad and the Baghdad Airport...a stretch of highway that has been dubbed the Road of Death. This road is the defining emblem of our empire: for the Road of Death begins at our individual driveways and connects every American commuter on every road, street, and freeway spanning the length of the land, linking every American driver to the killing zones of Iraq.

All and all, the so-called American "way of life" is a terrorist's suicide car bomb attack, detonated by our greedy and arrogant sense of endless entitlement to world's dwindling oil supply, that reaps carnage and death, every moment of everyday -- not only in Iraq -- but across the globe.

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Internal Resources

America the 'beautiful' on Swans

Patterns which Connect on Swans


About the Author

Phil Rockstroh on Swans (with bio).

Angela Tyler-Rockstroh is a Broadcast Designer/Animator working with major Networks such as Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, HBO Family, PBS, etc. She also creates satirical graphics for Phil Rockstroh and has recently worked with Flickerlab on the opening animation of the new Michael Moore documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11." When life does not squeeze too much out of her, she finds time to produce and design a high-end line of coats and party dresses for small dogs.



Please, feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, please DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Phil Rockstroh 2005. All rights reserved. The graphic is copyrighted, © Angela Tyler-Rockstroh 2005. All rights reserved.


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This Edition's Internal Links

"Un-American" Questions - Richard Macintosh

Will The Withering Shrub Recover? - Philip Greenspan

American Diktat, Russian Polls: The Presidential Press Conference - Jan Baughman

Mommy, Is Aunt Sally In The Rice Puffs? - Don Fitz

Remembering James Connolly - Joe Davison

Workers, Socialists, And Democrats: Reflections On Strategy - Julio Huato

Wearing Two Hats: The Director Takes On The Critic - Charles Marowitz

John Lukacs's Democracy and Populism, Fear and Hatred - Book Review by Milo Clark

La Muerte de Nadie - Poem by Gerard Donnelly Smith

Blips #18 - From the Editor's desk

Vietnam, A Retrospective - (May 2000)

Letters to the Editor

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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art11/procks46.html
Published May 9, 2005