Running On Fumes: A Journey To The End
August 20, 2005
By Phil Rockstroh
The graphic for this article is by Angela Tyler-Rockstroh.
rising price of gasoline troubles Americans, because it threatens
our sustaining, cultural illusion of our freedom of mobility --
a commercial con job that, over time, has served to transform us
from the citizens of a sprawling republic into de facto slaves of
the corporate classes. 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, large numbers of Americans
continue to see themselves as cowboys -- as, all the while, they
allow themselves to be 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
dependent existence has dehumanized us all. For example, any situation,
as is the case with interstate highway travel, in which, to momentarily
stop, or even to 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 of sense of the mystery, the option of
exploration, nor the possibility of serendipity that travel once
offered. Travel has been reduced to a tedious ordeal, whereby our
inchoate longings to escape the quotidian prison of our economically
circumscribed existence are mangled and suppressed -- only to rise
as the hollow appetitive of reflexive consumerism and the ineffable
sense of psychic unease, so evident in the troubled American psyche.
When visiting a service island, we remain 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. Yet 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 interstate highways 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 -- we Americans, the supposed beneficiaries of
it all, have been left spoiled, stupefied, and alienated -- both
from the banality and garishness of our nation's commercially tortured,
community-devoid landscape as well as from our own inner-most longings.
We Americans 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 negations of the human heart, begot by interstate travel,
are manifold: Traveling upon interstate highways delivers emptiness
and desperation, because the act conjures the seductive illusion
of unfettered mobility, novelty, and freedom, rousing within us
a yearning to throw off the soul-defying yoke of our mundane, commodified
existence -- but, instead, it, only serves to hurdle us from one
meaningless, mundane, time-sucking, commodified sensation to next.
Ergo, what is more mundane than a commodified human being ...
one whose spirit has been broken, heart caged, and instincts harnessed
almost exclusively to labor and reward ... labor and reward? Thus,
we corporatized animals are conditioned to fear life outside of
our economic cages -- and, as is the case with many unfortunate
animals, confined for many long, dismal years within a cage, we
come to believe the confines of our cage comprise the whole of existence.
And, in those rare moments when the caged animal's heart begins
to awaken and its fighting instincts begin to arise -- its keepers,
as is the case with our economic overlords, 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, our freedom will arrive by way of our continued
mindless surrendering to the dictates of our proto-fascistic, corporate
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 feasible 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 ... an even closer look would reveal that our
motor vehicles are not only a cage that moves at 70 miles an hour
plus -- but it is 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 ... apropos, and the
same applies to those faster moving cages that jet thousands of
feet overhead. Never before have a people been more in a hurry to
arrive at the same old shit.
The ethos, accoutrements, and detritus of the interstate has 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. Moreover, 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.
Worse yet: The damage interstates have inflicted, both upon the
landscape of our nation and upon the dreamscapes of our inner realities,
we are now inflicting on a global scale ... creating dead zone after
dead zone ... as, day by day, beneath it all, the strain, borne
of suppressing the knowledge (and the concomitant sorrow, guilt,
and shame) of how our careless, empty, self-absorbed deathsyles
are engendering the rapidly accelerating rates of plant and animal
extinction on our planet, grows within us.
Our lies (personal and collective) have grown so enormous in order
to shield 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 our delusional sense of infinite entitlement.
Because the fact is: The empire cannot sustain itself: it's running
low not only on oil and loot -- but also on raison d'Ítre. As George
W. Bush has said, "It's hard work": He's right on this account:
brute force and bribery are enervating tasks; such activities leave
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, at home, the parasitic people
to whom the system gave birth 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 about as of much consequence
to the long-term order of the universe as 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 suck the life and soul out those we love.
The hour is late; therefore, we can no longer afford the luxury
of remaining in denial of the prevailing degradation of our lives
and the approaching danger that our oil-sustained culture of obliviousness
and entitlement has wrought -- and of our choosing to call our willful
ignorance -- our freedom of choice ... Accordingly, It's time we
lost our enchantment for being a society of preening phonies, who
are oblivious to history and impervious to reason, but, who are
as preternaturally aware of trend and fashion as Herman Melville
was to the minutiae of whaling ship rigging and gear ... Personally,
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 in which a massive garage has
been constructed, in the spot of foremost prominence, 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 usurped by the dreams of machines, and, as a consequence,
our nation 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 connecting it
to 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, our American "way of life" is a terrorist's suicide,
car bomber attack, assembled, carried, and detonated by our greedy
and arrogant sense of entitlement to the world's dwindling oil supply
that reaps death and carnage, every moment of everyday, not only
in Iraq -- but across the globe.
Phil Rockstroh, a self-described, auto-didactic, gasbag monologist,
is a poet, lyricist, and philosopher bard, exiled to the island
of Manhattan. He maybe contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 worked with Flickerlab on the animation "Bonanza" sequence of
Michael Moore documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11.