Life at the Bottom Line

“The bottom line,” explains a County spokesperson in the morning Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. “Is that camping is not allowed.” The camping she’s talking about was the encampment of unhoused people destroyed that day by the authorities. City workers, backed by police and bulldozers, moved in to send the people packing. Packing, that is, if they could grab their few possessions before the bulldozers had plowed them into heaps of bicycles, tents, furniture and blankets and piled them into dump trucks. The “campers” didn’t know where they’d go next. Not to the shelters, declared a woman who had been sexually assaulted the last time she’d made that mistake. But “the bottom line is that camping is not allowed.”

The bottom line is all over the news these days. The bottom line determines that Haitian refugees – like their counterparts under bridges and in tent camps from Mexico to Greece – are a danger to national security, or public health, or racial identity. The bottom line was on glittering display this week amid revelations about the trillions of dollars hidden in plain view by the criminal elites of the world. But the bottom line is that they make the laws. Facebook’s bottom line was in the spotlight when word got out about how they buried their own studies showing their deadly impact on struggling societies and teenaged girls alike.

The triumph of the bottom line is washing up on the oil-stained coast of California, drifting above the charred forests of Oregon and Brazil, flooding the streets in Oman, India, and the US. The bottom line, you see, is that even survival is not allowed if it conflicts with the bottom line. And it does. Increasingly. The bottom line will be in charge, but ever so discreetly, in the upcoming Climate summit in Glasgow where diplomats and executives will again come together to earnestly lie about their intentions and pat each other on the back.

In our ongoing struggle to create, to remember, to summon a better world there is one line we are warned not to cross: the sacred bottom line. It’s the line at the bottom of quarterly profit and loss statements. It’s the line that separates a sustainable world in which people are fed and rivers protected, from the pathological appetites of capitalism. The line that keeps Mexico separate from Texas, private property from reality, body from mind. The one that is protected and enforced by “the thin blue line” of police violence.

That line exists only in the imagination. By agreement. Backed up with guns, yes, but mostly by agreement. Remember that. Decolonizing our minds means erasing the lines that separate us from ourselves, then from each other, then from all of life. When the greatest threat to our world is not even real the first thing we must do is stop believing.

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