Miner Problems, Major Paralysis

Coming Unglued Will Not Help Us Get Unstuck

Today is sunny and warm where I happen to be, with a light breeze, perfect for riding bikes with the dogs, enjoying a cool swim and eating lunch outside under the trees. But for thirty-three Chilean miners trapped more than two thousand feet below the earth’s surface since August 5, it’s been fifty-odd days since they’ve seen sunlight or taken a breath of fresh air. Alive and uninjured, they can now communicate with their families and get food. But they are trapped.

Rescuers say it may be Christmas – three more months – before they can drill a hole wide enough to pull the men one by one up to the surface. Three simultaneous drilling operations are under way, attempting to rescue the miners sooner. Some of them appear emotional on camera, irritable and rebellious. When their request for wine was refused, the miners complained. Some are reportedly riding mining machinery “recklessly” in the tunnels. It’s hard to blame them.

Not long after falling rock trapped the miners in Chile, motorists heading into Beijing on a major highway from Inner Mongolia became snarled in a monster traffic jam that lasted ten days and stretched sixty miles. Truckers hauling coal from Mongolia crowd the G110 Highway because it has no coal checkpoints. So they don’t need to bribe inspectors to ignore their illegal loads. A few accidents and breakdowns helped create the longest traffic jam ever (so far). The trapped truckers had to pay roadside entrepreneurs nasty marked-up prices for their survival staples of noodles, cigarettes and amphetamines, a capitalist coup. Anyone who has ever spent a motionless hour in commuter traffic can only sympathize with the horror of a ten-day stall.

Before you shake your head and say, too bad for them, at least it’s not us… Wait. We may not be hung up in a Chilean copper mine or a Chinese traffic jam, but we’re stuck just the same in our own intractable dilemmas, like Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama claims the fifty thousand U.S. soldiers still on the ground in Iraq are “non-combat” troops. But that only proves we’re still stuck with public officials who will say anything, true or not, despite the rhetoric of “hope” and “change.” Mission accomplished again? Same mission, equally accomplished.

Every occupation of Afghanistan has failed, but the U.S. feels exempt from history. Exceptional. We’ve been there nine years already with no end in sight, Since we lack any defined goals, we have no idea what “victory” in Afghanistan might look like. So year after year we kill more Afghani civilians and sacrifice more American soldiers for… what, exactly?

We are stuck with a militaristic foreign policy. We pursue global military dominance as our tattered social safety nets fail to relieve the desperate conditions millions of our citizens must now endure. We are stuck with an unworkable capitalist model. But the tiny percentage of the ultra-wealthy who control our media and our government like it this way. They’re doing better despite the widespread suffering. To consider another economic system is Unimaginable! UnAmerican! Our dysfunctional “freedom from government” is tops in the world. No?

Nobody – rich or poor – wants to pay taxes so public services are deteriorating and disappearing. Our roads are bad. Our schools are worse. Our libraries and police departments are underfunded. Occasional acts of billionaire noblesse oblige – Zuckerberg donates to Newark! Gates pledges billions against AIDS! – make headlines and substitute for sustainable public policy planning. California spends more for prisons than for education. That’s criminal.

The State of Virginia recently executed a retarded woman, though hundreds of studies show the death penalty does not deter capital crime. On the contrary, state sanctioned murder only adds to the climate of violence in our country. But God help anyone (except He won’t!) who dares challenge the right of citizens to carry concealed assault weapons in church.

No mass rebellion is likely. We are too wired up to act. Oldies watch the CBS Evening News. Kids are plugged into Play Station. Everyone in between is attached to their Blackberries, I-phones and myriad digital doodads. Recent research shows that unless you unhook from your techno-fix sometimes you cannot process the information you’re receiving. We are too addicted to our gizmos to understand or evaluate what we know.

Even adults like to believe there must be some responsible person somewhere who can clear up traffic jams, rescue lost miners or attend in a rational way to the disappearing American middle class. But as our shrill, primitive political rhetoric demonstrates, nobody wants to be the grownup in America. Public officials and political players prefer to point fingers and call each other names than to grapple with problems in an honest, pragmatic way.

That’s much easier of course, though utterly unhelpful. Coming unglued will not help us get unstuck. If our species goes the way of the dinosaurs it will be because we failed to grow up. Christine O’Donnell may be right about evolution after all.

None of our problems is inevitable. But we show no sign of gearing up to liberate ourselves from any of them. Instead we double down, hoping to grab what we can before the whole show folds, which all but guarantees that fold it will. Our fate resembles that of the trapped Chilean miners, forced to endure a long, excruciating survey of their potential demise. Is this our grave we see before us? Except no one is coming to save us. It’s up to us. So if you feel moved to pray for those trapped miners, you might also spare a few words for the rest of us.

James McEnteer is the author of Shooting the Truth: the Rise of American Documentaries (Praeger 2006). He lives in Quito, Ecuador. Read other articles by James.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. John Andrews said on September 25th, 2010 at 11:50pm #

    “Except no one is coming to save us. It’s up to us. So if you feel moved to pray for those trapped miners, you might also spare a few words for the rest of us.”

    If no one is coming to save us, if it’s up to us, what is the point of prayer?

    I’m just asking the question. I agree we’re on our own, so it’s actually not helpful to suggest that prayer might provide a solution. It won’t.

    But things are not quite as bleak as this and plenty of similar articles portray. The writer is completely wrong when he says: ” nobody wants to be the grownup in America.” It isn’t helpful to criticise people for something they’re almost powerless to change. The one and only hope there is lies in the people: ridiculing them is not constructive. The one and only power the elites truly fear is the people, so that power needs to be nurtured and educated, not sneered at.

    The pathetic turnouts at general elections, despite the relentless propaganda that props up and polices our non-democracies, is a fairly clear indication that a sizeable chunk of the population know exactly what’s going on, and know their participation is irrelevant for any reason other than perpetrating the sham of our so-called ‘democracy’.

    Be kind to the people. Educate and support. They are our only hope.

  2. Deadbeat said on September 25th, 2010 at 11:55pm #

    Nobody – rich or poor – wants to pay taxes so public services are deteriorating and disappearing. Our roads are bad. Our schools are worse. Our libraries and police departments are underfunded.

    Yes that right blame the poor for not wanting to pay taxes while Capitalism continue to rob from the poor to feed the rich.

    That line must have been thrown in to make sure we actually read the article.

  3. Don Hawkins said on September 26th, 2010 at 4:36am #

    Am watching you friends at Fox New’s and you just said the American people are speaking out. Speaking out ok how about this the best kept secret of all time and how can anybody speak out on something that’s never heard?

    What had become clear was that our planet is close to climate tipping points. Ice is melting in the Arctic, on Greenland and Antarctica, and on mountain glaciers worldwide. Many species are stressed by environmental destruction and climate change. Continuing fossil fuel emissions, if unabated, will cause sea level rise and species extinction accelerating out of humanity’s control. Increasing atmospheric water vapor is already magnifying climate extremes, increasing overall precipitation, causing greater floods and stronger storms.

    It becomes clear that needed actions will happen only if the public, somehow, becomes forcefully involved. One way that citizens can help is by blocking coal plants, tar sands, and mining the last drops of fossil fuels from public and pristine lands and the deep ocean.
    However, fossil fuel addiction can be solved only when we recognize an economic law as certain as the law of gravity: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy they will be used. Solution therefore requires a rising fee on oil, gas and coal – a carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies at the domestic mine or port of entry. All funds collected should be distributed to the public on a per capita basis to allow lifestyle adjustments and spur clean energy innovations. As the fee rises, fossil fuels will be phased out, replaced by carbon-free energy and efficiency.
    A carbon fee is the only realistic path to global action. China and India will not accept caps, but they need a carbon fee to spur clean energy and avoid fossil fuel addiction.
    Governments today, instead, talk of “cap-and-trade-with-offsets”, a system rigged by big banks and fossil fuel interests. Cap-and-trade invites corruption. Worse, it is ineffectual, assuring continued fossil fuel addiction to the last drop and environmental catastrophe.
    Stabilizing climate is a moral issue, a matter of intergenerational justice. Young people, and older people who support the young and the other species on the planet, must unite in demanding an effective approach that preserves our planet. James Hansen

    Now just on the off chance Hansen is correct and about 95% of the other best minds we have today unless that can happen and yesterday would have been good well let’s read this and maybe Beck can put it on his blackboard.

    The crucified planet Earth,
    should it find a voice
    and a sense of irony,
    might now well say
    of our abuse of it,
    “Forgive them, Father,
    They know not what they do.”

    The irony would be
    that we know what
    we are doing.

    When the last living thing
    has died on account of us,
    how poetical it would be
    if Earth could say,
    in a voice floating up
    perhaps
    from the floor
    of the Grand Canyon,
    “It is done.”
    People did not like it here.
    — Kurt Vonnegut

    Not fair and balanced oh yes it is and that’s the problem now isn’t it.

  4. Don Hawkins said on September 26th, 2010 at 4:52am #

    Oh I forgot now just on the off chance the 95% of the best minds we have today are correct and the 5% are not that seem to have the same fair and balanced agenda as you all at Fox that just doesn’t seem all that fair and balanced to me. Money talk’s does it.

  5. Don Hawkins said on September 26th, 2010 at 5:02am #

    Darn I just can’t help myself you all at Fox just did a little talk about education in America well again just on the off chance the 95% are correct my kid’s and there kids and everybody else’s kid’s are going to get an education all right in the art of survival. Can you tell people that?