Thursday, October 05, 2017

Las Vegas: A Layer Cake of Crazy

The mass shooting in Las Vegas, gruesome and horrific, is just the top layer of a cake made of crazy. Increasingly, acts of insane mass violence play out within a culture whose version of normality is itself profoundly destructive and, like the killers themselves, ultimately self-destructive. We mourn the dead in Las Vegas, but that grief is felt in the context of a daily and deepening mourning for a larger extinguishment, playing out day after day, global in scope.

That larger extinguishment of the world we cherish is being carried out not by the attention-grabbing men who spray bullets or drive trucks into crowds, but through the collateral damage of what passes for normal everyday life. The proliferation of guns and other armaments is scary, but it's the chemical warfare that we have all been enlisted to participate in that is driving the most profound and destructive transformations. Society itself has been weaponized, not only with guns, but with vehicles and homes armed with exhaust pipes and chimneys, whose emissions of climate-changing gases are no less destructive for lack of drama or ill-intent. Though an exhaust pipe is discreetly hidden under the back of a car, it is aimed at the future, with nature and ultimately us the victims of its emissions.

The peace we seek in a return to normal is an illusion. Las Vegas, in the size of its massacre and the conspicuousness of its unsustainable consumption, is a steroidal version of the giant gamble that haunts normality worldwide. How does a city like Las Vegas return to normal? By turning its fountains back on, in the middle of the Mojave Desert. In Las Vegas, normal is just a different kind of crazy, a glamorous void into which people pour their dreams and money.

Las Vegas, in a country where many pretend that climate change is a hoax and corporations are people, is a city that pretends to be anywhere but where it is. There, along with opulent fountains, you can find giant versions of the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canal of Venice, the Colosseum, the statue of David, the Statue of Liberty, and the pyramids of Egypt.

The Mandalay Hotel, from whence the unhinged gunman's bullets flew, is named after a sentimental Kipling poem, longing to return to "Mandalay, where the flyin' fishes play." During construction, the hotel was found to be sinking, as is much of the Las Vegas area, as water is sucked from aquifers below, so that fishes and people can play in the driest desert in North America. The city spent $1.5 billion to bore another giant straw closer to the bottom of the nearby damming of the Colorado River called Lake Mead, so it can continue sucking water from the reservoir as it too drops, already down to 40% of its original capacity due to recurrent droughts made worse by climate change. In part due to Las Vegas' thirst, the Colorado River runs dry before reaching its ocean outlet. Billions more may be spent to build a pipeline to raid groundwater 250 miles to the north. Contrary to a false headline that made the rounds in 2016, the city does not run on renewable energy, but powers its glitz and gambling with fossil fuels, thereby contributing to its own future desiccation.

So we have a crazy gunman in a gambling city in a country that gambled on a president who, like Las Vegas, offered glitz and glamour, and a void for voters to pour their last ditch dreams into--the voting booth just another slot machine. Consider the possibility that the giant gamble with climate change that infects the core of normal has laid the foundation for a layer cake of crazy.

No comments: