Capitalism is Horror

content note: mentions of genocide and chattel slavery with some references to specific violent tactics taken by white settlers.

            A deep, gnawing hunger. A hunger so insatiable it rips through the skin and creates a noise of its own, a deep guttural growl that doesn’t so much exist in the air as it does thicken it. How hungry would you need to be to eat the still-warm, beating heart of a pig? Of a small child? Of your mother?

            What if, succumbing to that eternity of hunger, you eat the heart of your mother and your hunger still is not sated?

            Have you heard of the Wendigo?

            Why is the white man so afraid of the woods?

            Many settlers[1] on Turtle Island who are interested in the paranormal seem to have heard of the Wendigo, even reporting seeing the creature in frosted northern woods. A Wendigo is Indigenous folklore originating from Algonquin/Great Lakes/Anishinabe peoples. There are similar legends in other nations in the colder parts of Turtle Island, including my grandfather’s people. While exact characteristics vary, the general idea is the Wendigo is a powerful entity driven by insatiable hunger. Often, a Wendigo was once human: either transformed into or overtaken by a Wendigo if driven by deprivation or greed to eat human flesh. A Wendigo eats and eats and cannot be sated.

            There are obvious parallels to capitalism and settler colonialism[2] (Winona LaDuke, famous Indigenous activist, has written about the Wendigo as capitalism).

Under capitalism, growth at all costs is considered positive: when we purchase and consume, that is a sign of a “healthy” economy. Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man and founder of Amazon, saw his wealth increase exponentially under the pandemic (personally earning over 7 million every HOUR since March 2020), where stay-at-home orders saw more people ordering things online. But stay-at-home only applied to the white collar and middle class or above: as the union struggle growing out of Bessemer, Alabama shows us, the demand for 2-day shipping and Bezos’ greed meant Amazon workers are/were forced to work non-stop under punishing conditions for 9 to 12 hours, penalized for pee breaks (with ‘non-work time’ deducted from their paychecks). By the time I got this post out to publish, the union drive lost their first election in Bessemer thanks to Amazon shelling out millions of dollars to intimidate and confuse their staff – and engage in union-busting to the level of getting Bessemer to change its traffic light signals in order to stop union canvassing during red lights – but the struggle continues.

            It is not lost on me that Amazon refers to the lungs of the planet, which are currently being stripped, burned, and desecrated in the name of global capitalism.

            Settler colonialism, the brother of capitalism, is likewise an insatiable monster: gobbling up land, seeing ancient trees as only resources to be logs instead of brethren, killing buffalo only as a means to more effectively eradicate the people who were here first, willing to slaughter or forcibly assimilate any Indigenous who remain.

            In the United States, both capitalism and settler colonialism are taken as a given: maybe something to be tinkered with around the edges (raise the minimum wage, offer land acknowledgements before a talk), but never dismantled or overthrown (stop assuming the only way to structure a society is giving our labor in exchange for money required to meet our basic needs, give the land back). In such a culture, a Wendigo is just a monster, something to be experienced/consumed, the sighting of which is a collectible item. Settlers who think they see the Wendigo (which is to not discount that they saw something or that the Wendigo may literally exist) miss the point: the Wendigo is a warning against greed and acting only in one’s immediate self-interest against the needs of community. The Wendigo is a reminder that we are connected, bound up in one another.

            Not only are we connected to one another as members of the human community, but we are connected to all the world: the breathing trees, the bugs and birds, the weird deep sea, even the Sasquatch. Colonialism and its gross progeny whiteness (a social category made up to justify hierarchy, chattel slavery, and genocide) aim to separate humanity from nature, as if we are not a member of nature, and crown humanity as lording over nature. That hierarchy is what allows for seeing everything in nature as only a resource to be consumed – when in fact we are devouring our own flesh.

Wait though – the Halluci Nation said it better than me, and to a beat: “The Halluci Nation, the human beings, the people, see the spiritual in the natural, through sense and feeling. Everything is related, all the things of earth, and in the sky, have spirit – everything is sacred. Confronted by the AlieNation, the subjects and citizens see the material religions through trauma and numb. Nothing is related. All the things of the earth and in the sky have energy to be exploited. Even themselves, mining their spirits into souls sold, until nothing is sacred: not even themself.”

            Horror tropes perpetuate this destructive disambiguation: how many horror movies have you seen where the forest looms, dark and foggy, with some kind of music underscoring the fear of the woods? The Ritual (2017, directed by David Bruckner) sets a group of white men in Swedish woods where the woods themselves take on a persona of intimidation. The woods play a similar role in the lesbian murderer (yawn) flick What Keeps You Alive (2018, directed by Colin Minihan), and a pagan connection to the earth is the entire villain in the 3rd season of the new Sabrina. Often I feel it is taken for a given in horror that the woods and nature are somewhat alien and foreboding, but that is a cultural perspective – a harmful one.

            The white man (as my grandfather would call them) makes up all kinds of stories about specters in the woods, missing the entire time that he is the Monster.

[1] I define “settler” in this particular context as someone who lives in North America and is not descended from Indigenous inhabitants or from people who were kidnapped and brought to the Americas as part of the chattel slave trade. I recognize this is complicated – unsettling, if you will – because it implicates people of color, not just white people. While I think there are important differences for Brown settlers and white settlers, I still think it is important for every settler to think about their relationship to this land and the original inhabitants. I welcome other perspectives and pushback! Even as I write this, I am like, what about refugee and economic migrants? What do you think? An honest, not rhetorical, question.

[2] Settler colonialism is where people not originally from a land come to that land and seek to not only exploit the resources there, but also establish their own colonies there, typically seeking to erase, subsume, or control the original inhabitants. This is distinct from merely extractive colonialism, where colonists seek to extract resources from a colony but not create their own state there (although it still obviously has damaging impact on the people living there).

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