Extraction and Sacrifice

After attending Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges’ talks during the Lannan Symposium, I was struck by the ideas of extraction and sacrifice. Ms. Klein described her talk as being a story of extraction because our culture has developed into one that extravagantly takes and uses resources without thinking about giving back. She used the island of Nauru to exemplify the destruction that comes with this mindset. Nauru is a small island in the South Pacific that had very high levels of pure phosphate lime, a very valuable commodity. The island was striped of its phosphate, and eventually of its life, by colonizers who understood the harm that they were causing the island. Nauru was seen as a sacrifice that needed to be made in order to “improve” society. This idea of sacrifice reminded me of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Cry of the Children” in which she argued that the lives of children were being sacrificed for the “betterment” of society writing,

“How long,” they say, “how long, O cruel nation,
Will you stand, to move the world, on a child’s heart,– (lines 153-154)

At what point does the sacrifice become too great?

In his talk, Chris Hedges referred to areas in the United States that have been sacrificed and forgotten by the rest of the country. Examples of these zones of sacrifice include areas like Camden, NJ, the most dangerous city in the United States that recently got rid of the city police because of pay cuts, and Pine Ridge, SD, a place that has the lowest life expectancy in the Northern Hemisphere apart from Haiti. Klein would argue that it is human nature to be willing to sacrifice these peripheral areas because if you can’t see it, it is easy to tell yourself that it does not exist. While it may be easier to push these uncomfortable thoughts from our minds, Hedges warns us against this because we will be the next sacrifice if our society refuses to change.

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