Dakota Pipedreams

On September 17th, the DC Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals halted construction of the Dakota Pipeline following two weeks of protests by Sioux tribes complaining that the pipeline encroached on their lands, joined by myriads of the usual suspects mobilized by means of social media.

Is it possible to turn a spade of dirt anywhere west of the Mississippi without being told you’re desecrating land sacred to Indians?

Is there any land that is not sacred to Indians? Think about the words sacred and desecrate, words that carry a scent of religion, of holiness at risk. Do these Indians really believe in the animist spirits that make every wasteland holy? We palefaces barely blink at paving our forebears' graveyards to build a new Costco. So why should we go full Iron-Eyes-Cody over a desert with Indian bones buried in some corner of it?

But let's put those questions aside. The pipeline hoopla isn't really about Indians. It's really about a certain species of social-media user whose sympathetic clickings turned this story into front-page news.

It's a ragtag group of aging hippies, wine-and-cheese ladies in Volvos, and earnest collegians still smarting from the defeat of Bernie Sanders, still sad over Cecil the Big Fluffy Lion. Someone among them saw an obscure report about Indians and a pipeline and said, hey, now there is an issue for us. Out went the call to arms. To most people, the twitterings that followed were just an annoying distraction. But to President Obama, a tsunami of Facebook posts from the tattoo-and-piercing set is an order from God. Obama heard, and he obeyed. 

The faith that the pipeline's builders reposed in courts, rules, and due process is quaint, even touching, in its civics-class naivete. The builders patiently navigated the labyrinth of procedures specified by our laws, obediently sought permits from all the necessary agencies, met their every demand, plotted the pipeline's route adjacent to existing, established lines, repeatedly consulted the affected tribes, kissed the rings of tribal elders whenever those elders bothered showing up, changed the route 140 times to accommodate tribal whims, installed every safety feature anyone could think of, and, when all this still wasn't enough, got a green light from a judge, appointed by Obama, who weighed the tribes' objections and found them wanting. The builder followed all the rules and, if rules mean anything, earned the right to build the pipeline.

But following rules is so 20th century! Today, that's not the way we roll. Due process, they tell us now, is just a game for suckers. Every poli-sci prof assures us that every agency is corrupt, every legislator on the take. And everyone knows that courts aren't as good as getting at the truth as enraged, internet-driven wikis are. Trayvon and Michael Brown proved that. Right?

So forget votes, laws, and judicial decisions. In our groovy new wikiocracy, what matters is what agitates the people who click on online petitions. And the most avid clickers are sophomores who've been fed environmentalist dogma since before they could toddle. All they care about is that it's a pipeline for oil, that oil is bad, and that stopping it is a swell opportunity to do the civil disobedience stuff they've always read about, a great chance, in the phrase drilled into their heads nonstop, to "make a difference." And, dude, it's been scientifically proven that an increase of one ten-thousandth part of CO2 in the air means the end of the world, so we've just got to stop the pipeline. See?

While the rising generation of Peter Pans fill Facebook with their freakings-out over the awfulness and carbon-ness and whiteness of it all, we grownups have a country to run. It's a country with lots of fridges, cars, and furnaces that all need energy. Some of those fridges are in homes with money to spare, homes that can absorb the higher costs of boutique energy from solar and wind and the vagaries of dependence on Saudi gasoline. But a lot more of those fridges are in homes with a single, one-legged parent and thirteen children, homes barely squeaking by, homes that need a higher energy bill like they need a hole in the roof. The Dakota pipeline and others like it would give those homes a lower bill by connecting Bakken gushers with the teeming millions in America's Midwestern heartland, and by taking a lot of expensive, diesel-belching tank trucks off our highways in the bargain.

But now the pipeline may never be finished. And even if it does get finished, it may well be the last pipeline. After ANWR and Keystone, this Dakota pipeline fracas makes the pattern for the future all too clear. A lot of soon-to-be-dead white males may think that the rule of law requires governments to evict trespassers and to enforce court orders, but the ranks of people who think that way are getting thinner all the time.

On September 17th, the DC Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals halted construction of the Dakota Pipeline following two weeks of protests by Sioux tribes complaining that the pipeline encroached on their lands, joined by myriads of the usual suspects mobilized by means of social media.

Is it possible to turn a spade of dirt anywhere west of the Mississippi without being told you’re desecrating land sacred to Indians?

Is there any land that is not sacred to Indians? Think about the words sacred and desecrate, words that carry a scent of religion, of holiness at risk. Do these Indians really believe in the animist spirits that make every wasteland holy? We palefaces barely blink at paving our forebears' graveyards to build a new Costco. So why should we go full Iron-Eyes-Cody over a desert with Indian bones buried in some corner of it?

But let's put those questions aside. The pipeline hoopla isn't really about Indians. It's really about a certain species of social-media user whose sympathetic clickings turned this story into front-page news.

It's a ragtag group of aging hippies, wine-and-cheese ladies in Volvos, and earnest collegians still smarting from the defeat of Bernie Sanders, still sad over Cecil the Big Fluffy Lion. Someone among them saw an obscure report about Indians and a pipeline and said, hey, now there is an issue for us. Out went the call to arms. To most people, the twitterings that followed were just an annoying distraction. But to President Obama, a tsunami of Facebook posts from the tattoo-and-piercing set is an order from God. Obama heard, and he obeyed. 

The faith that the pipeline's builders reposed in courts, rules, and due process is quaint, even touching, in its civics-class naivete. The builders patiently navigated the labyrinth of procedures specified by our laws, obediently sought permits from all the necessary agencies, met their every demand, plotted the pipeline's route adjacent to existing, established lines, repeatedly consulted the affected tribes, kissed the rings of tribal elders whenever those elders bothered showing up, changed the route 140 times to accommodate tribal whims, installed every safety feature anyone could think of, and, when all this still wasn't enough, got a green light from a judge, appointed by Obama, who weighed the tribes' objections and found them wanting. The builder followed all the rules and, if rules mean anything, earned the right to build the pipeline.

But following rules is so 20th century! Today, that's not the way we roll. Due process, they tell us now, is just a game for suckers. Every poli-sci prof assures us that every agency is corrupt, every legislator on the take. And everyone knows that courts aren't as good as getting at the truth as enraged, internet-driven wikis are. Trayvon and Michael Brown proved that. Right?

So forget votes, laws, and judicial decisions. In our groovy new wikiocracy, what matters is what agitates the people who click on online petitions. And the most avid clickers are sophomores who've been fed environmentalist dogma since before they could toddle. All they care about is that it's a pipeline for oil, that oil is bad, and that stopping it is a swell opportunity to do the civil disobedience stuff they've always read about, a great chance, in the phrase drilled into their heads nonstop, to "make a difference." And, dude, it's been scientifically proven that an increase of one ten-thousandth part of CO2 in the air means the end of the world, so we've just got to stop the pipeline. See?

While the rising generation of Peter Pans fill Facebook with their freakings-out over the awfulness and carbon-ness and whiteness of it all, we grownups have a country to run. It's a country with lots of fridges, cars, and furnaces that all need energy. Some of those fridges are in homes with money to spare, homes that can absorb the higher costs of boutique energy from solar and wind and the vagaries of dependence on Saudi gasoline. But a lot more of those fridges are in homes with a single, one-legged parent and thirteen children, homes barely squeaking by, homes that need a higher energy bill like they need a hole in the roof. The Dakota pipeline and others like it would give those homes a lower bill by connecting Bakken gushers with the teeming millions in America's Midwestern heartland, and by taking a lot of expensive, diesel-belching tank trucks off our highways in the bargain.

But now the pipeline may never be finished. And even if it does get finished, it may well be the last pipeline. After ANWR and Keystone, this Dakota pipeline fracas makes the pattern for the future all too clear. A lot of soon-to-be-dead white males may think that the rule of law requires governments to evict trespassers and to enforce court orders, but the ranks of people who think that way are getting thinner all the time.