The online Urban Dictionary gives three definitions for this ancient jive phrase: first, similar to saying “It’s all good,” or “everything is going according to plan;” second, similar to “It is what it is;” and third, from the teachings of the Nation of Islam, “Comes from the Supreme Alphabet, a system of interpreting text and finding deeper meaning. ‘E’-Meaning ‘Equality’, to knowledge your knowledge, you will deal equally with everything within your cipher, which gives birth to wisdom that is showing and proving.” Okay.
Recalling the use of the phrase by hip jazz musicians in the 1960s, I had always assumed it meant a Buddhist sense of the radical interconnection among all phenomena. Here in brave new 2010, that’s the definition that still makes the most sense to me. Take the exploded BP oil rig off the Louisiana coast. Things in the Gulf are definitely not all good, and certainly not going according to plan. Resigned acceptance of the status quo, “It is what it is,” won’t cut it either, as an entire generation of fishermen in four or five states wait to see if they will lose their livelihoods. As for a wisdom that shows and proves, I think we need a wisdom, even at the risk of simplification, that reaches for a new level of connection between apparently separate events.
On a small planet, everything is everything. Back in the 1970s, with oil prices spiking, lines lengthening at the gas pumps, and President Carter moralizing disagreeably on TV about a fundamental need to change our profligate ways, the visionary futurist Amory Lovins advocated for a “soft energy path” – cutting our dependence on foreign energy by putting solar panels on our roofs and decentralizing our whole energy system. The corporate powers-that-be would have none of it, even to the degree that Mr. Reagan pointedly took down the solar panels that Carter had installed on the White House roof.
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Carter himself had articulated a doctrine of protecting by military means if necessary “our” oil sources in the Gulf (that other Gulf, over there – but it doesn’t matter, because everything is everything, it’s all one ocean). The size and scope of our bases in places like Saudi Arabia, site of Islam’s most holy shrines, engendered a horrific Pushback – Osama bin Laden and 9/11. In the mother of all vicious circles, this justified a strong U.S. military presence anywhere and everywhere on the globe, for an indefinitely extended time, because terrorists can take root anywhere near or far. Supporting all this military activity without a draft required the Pentagon to contract out more and more support services, up to and including providing intelligence and security, to civilian businesses. Paying for the involvement of all these people in two separate but related wars, wars that seem to be equally about terror and fossil fuels – everything is everything – left us with a debt crisis that will last for generations. And it spurred investment banks to invest in the failure of mortgages rather than in the success of projects like the Pickens plan-building wind towers in the Midwest that would put people to work, lighten our carbon footprint, and lessen the need for a heavy U.S. presence in the oil-rich Middle East.
The power and reach of corporate culture, especially its fossil-fuel segment, (the reach extends deep into our Supreme Court, who ruled that money is free speech and corporations must remain free to speak) ensured that Lovins’s soft path would continue to be a road not taken. Instead, with the global oil supply peaking, companies like British Petroleum had to reach miles down onto the sea floor for their oil, in a stretch of technological prowess equal in risk to going to the moon. They promised that what now has happened couldn’t possibly happen, convincing even Obama, until disaster struck, that more deep water offshore drilling could be part of a safe integrated energy program.
The circle of interconnection between terrorism and war and oil, sketched out all too briefly here, is almost complete. It lacks only one segment to be an adequate descriptor of the ties between everything and everything else-what it lacks is you and me, the ones who drive the cars and turn the thermostats that burn the gas that comes from the Saudi oil protected by our military in one Gulf, or the oil too riskily attained in the other Gulf.
It is our own ethics, our buying power, our involvement, our votes, our holding great powers accountable, that is the only possible key to redressing the present dysfunctional imbalances-imbalances between impersonal corporate power and the well-being of shrimpers and shrimp in the one interconnected ocean; imbalances between our getting and our spending, imbalances between the human and the living system without which the human cannot survive. Because everything is everything. And that ain’t no jive.