Greasing The Machine

Spaceshots only succeed because Americans use the grease of the crushed poor to power them. This thought is “common knowledge” in South America. White people came and took the oil and grease of natives, says an Ashaninca man to me, when we meet in a town in the Peruvian Amazon. “They take indigenous people and cut off their hands and feet, put hooks through their bodies and heat them until the fat drips off. The grease of indigenous people has the most force or strength: it’s the best gasoline there is and it is used for planes and cars and to build bridges. It’s worth a lot of dollars.” Anthropologist Nigel Bar-ley explains in Dancing on the Grave how it was told to him: “From the ritual murder of the Peruvian poor and the processing of their bodies, the Americans extracted the ‘grease’ that is essential for metallurgy, pharmaceuticals and the lubrication of the moon rockets.”

This is as literally untrue as it is figuratively appropriate; Western progress has always been bought at the expense of other people. Today, spaceshots are metaphorically bought through the crushing of the poor, as the money for the multi-trillion-dollar space industry is made available by refusing to spend money on welfare and health, and by squeezing money out of countries of the South in debt repayments. Anthropologist Philippe Descola in The Spears of Twilight says there is an old Andean belief that “attributes to some perverted whites an insatiable desire for the fat of natives” which “lubricates and fuels the gigantic machines thanks to which the whites have imposed their dominion over the world . . . this metaphor of rapacity that has become progressively more literal over the years.”

—Jay Griffiths, A Sideways Look At Time


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When I Worked

June 2010
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