Wednesday, May 7, 2008
More old times and what I'm reading lately.
When I was young I worked in several big old fashioned industries. The scariest was a steel mill in Chicago. People get killed in steel mills all of the time. Workers can follow every safety procedure and still find themselves engulfed in a bubble of carbon monoxide. "They're dead before they hit the ground", everyone agreed.
The thing is that the modern world is built out of cheap steel and plenty of it. Steel workers have to die all of the time to reproduce the world as we know it. Sometimes the language of steel production reminded me of the language of alchemy. It was all about vessels and crucibles and lances and behind the language was physical force and fundamental transformation.
I have stood on top of a pipe, thirty feet wide, while superheated carbon monoxide rushed through it to turn red dirt into steel. I was hundreds of feet above the ground while the pipe bucked and roared bouncing me up and down. I have seen slag poured off from a furnace when it hit standing water. Explosions shook the ground and balls of molten metal went flying in all directions. I never stopped watching everything around me and I did some serious running for my life.
There's a folklore of death that came out of those mills. I heard dozens of stories about workers dying heroic or supernatural deaths, crushed by machines or turned to a puff of gas as they fell into the metal. If you're interested, read Richard Dorson's 'Land of the Millrats'.
I heard most of those stories from workers. I didn't know they were "folklore". Everyone claimed that their uncle was there when it happened.
After a while, I began to think of steel making as a black magic ritual that involved human sacrifice to complete the process. I wasn't being metaphorical. Just because the conscious mind of society denies some social reality, it doesn't mean that children aren't being thrown into Moloch's belly. Shit, I have denied some fairly horrific realities myself.
So, today, I'm reading a book called "Electronic Civil Disobedience"
and I come across the following:
"Our western propensity for repressing the disturbing aspects of existence means that we are not likely to have a visible institution of sacrifice; at any rate, the legitimizing spectacle that religion would otherwise provide for the practice has melted away under the heated process of rationalization. However the social functions that human sacrifice once provided must still be fulfilled. Bourgeois society, never content to discard any social action that can either generate profit or maintain social order, allows sacrifices to continue at the margins of (in)visibility. Rather than eliminate the institution, society has driven sacrifice into the under-economy of taboo social relationships and bad objects that should never be brought to mind, viewed or even named. This realm is the foundation on which the capitalist empire of excess is built."
Yeah, like that, except we thought we were making an honest buck.
Posted by Your driver at 8:20 AM