It is one of the most compelling videos I never saw. It was described to me, as I recall, as a commercial of some kind that aired years ago in Canada.
The scene is a crowded escalator in some busy store or subway station that without warning clanks to a stop. For a few moments the crowd simply stands there, staring straight ahead, waiting for the escalator to start moving again. Then they begin looking around and at each other with rising anxiety, until a few of them at first, then virtually all of them, begin calling loudly for help.
There simply is no better way to visualize what is happening to us in this new American century. We are trapped on an escalator. We have forgot how to walk.
We have accepted as our due the blandishments of industrial technology. With an elan that would make Marie Antoinette blush we diddle the switches around us to make sure our air temperature stays at 68 degrees, humidified or dehumidified depending on the season, the texture of our ice cream is just right, our bath is steamy and our instant dinner microwaved just so. And we give not a thought to what we have lost.
In this we are exactly like the Native Americans who five hundred years ago joyously accepted from white men the gifts of iron pots, steel knives and firearms. They were not gifts, of course, they were token payments for the furs that were making the white men rich. A generation or so later, when the fur-bearing animals were all dead and the gifts were withdrawn, the People did not remember how to hunt, grow, prepare or cook their food. Helpless in a land of plenty, they were herded onto reservations to live out their lives on welfare.
The gifts of our technology are not gifts, either. They have made a lot of people rich. And those people have used their wealth not only to live well — after all, we all do — but to distract us from the fact that our counterparts to fur-bearing animals, our oil and potable water and agreeable climate and sources of electricity, etc., are nearly all gone, and our gifts are about to be withdrawn. They don’t arrest us native Americans and make us live on reservations any more, it’s a lot easier to give us television to watch, filled with comedies and murder mysteries and reassuring messages about how the largest corporations are creating jobs for us and making sure the planet is going to be OK.
When the TV screen flickers off and the microwave won’t wave any more, are we going to sit helplessly in our leather recliners and cry for help? When the super-grocery-mart is empty because the trucks and planes can’t move the mangoes from Asia and the lettuce from California any more, are we going to wander the barren aisles, yelling for help? Will we remember anything we all once knew about hunting, growing, preparing or cooking food?
Or will we be marooned on an escalator, waiting for rescue?