by Jonah Mix
Henry Ford is a shining example of two great American traditions: Amoral, hardheaded industrialism and unapologetic racial hatred. He hated Jews; his pamphlet The International Jew was singularly responsible for the anti-Semitism of Hitler Youth Leader and mass murderer Baldur von Schirach, while the Holocaust’s chief architect, Heinrich Himmler, praised Ford as a “great man” and “one of our most valuable, important, [and] clever fighters.” He hated the disabled; along with John Kellog, Andrew Carnegie, Woodrow Wilson, and dozens of other illustrious Americans, Ford openly advocated for the obligatory sterilization and involuntary imprisonment of the mentally ill and retarded, as well as unwed mothers and criminals with brown skin. I’ll let the reader guess how he felt about immigrants, homosexuals, and people of color; let’s just remember that Hitler proudly proclaimed in 1938, “I shall do my best to put [Ford’s] theories into practice in Germany.” This might be a good time to mention that I’ve now written two essays that mention Henry Ford – the first was in seventh grade, when I picked his name off a sheet of potential subjects in my history class. It was labeled “American Heroes.”
Henry Ford hated a lot of people – Jews, women, the poor, immigrants – but that didn’t stop him from utilizing them as easy fodder in his factories. He often paid black teenagers half wages to work on steel presses, partly because it was easier to unleash crooked cops on them if they tried to form a union. Unwed mothers who escaped sterilization and imprisonment often performed menial labor, both on the factory floor as cleaners and outside as unofficially corporate-sponsored sex workers. Men who had lost limbs, either in the war or in Ford’s own steel presses, occasionally worked for slave wages. Ford’s corporate website refers to this history as one of “diversity and inclusion.” When Henry Ford died, he was worth 188 billion dollars.
Where did Henry Ford’s hate end and his business sense start? Derrick Jensen once said that hatred, if felt long enough, just feels like economics. Wherever the line between the two falls, one thing is certain: a vicious practicality underlies both. The famously industrious anti-Semite undoubtedly hated people of color, and his hatred almost certainly allowed him to rationalize to himself and others their continued exploitation – but mangled hands and broken limbs also objectively cost less when they were brown instead of white. Ford had a deep personal hatred of labor organizers, but simple pragmatism was all that one would need to call for the savage beating of unarmed men and women, as he proudly did at the Battle of the Overpass in 1937. Sustained brutality and intimidation was the best way to keep his factories running smoothly. These choices were as much business moves as his later decision to move away from ethanol and towards gasoline. Gasoline goes into an engine because that’s the best way to make an engine run. Young black bodies get destroyed by steel presses because that’s the best way to get steel made. Indigenous people die of cancer when toxic waste is dumped into their rivers and forests because that’s the best way to get rid of toxic waste. The planet is ripped apart and hollowed out because that’s the best way to get at what’s inside.
Hate, whether expressed in on the New York Stock Exchange or the front yard of a black family, has a goal. It has an agenda. Henry Ford was not stupid, or uneducated. The common understanding of racism – or, for that matter, misogyny and homophobia – as a symptom of ignorance, a vestige of an older time, is not only false but lazy and destructive. Rape, abuse, mass incarceration, police brutality, the denial of education, housing, and healthcare – these things are not driven by illogical prejudice or senseless bigotry. They are strategic political actions, and they are incredibly effective. The ones who are truly running this genocide systematically abuse, exploit, disenfranchise, imprison, and murder for one reason and one reason only: Because it helps them achieve their goal, and that goal is universally resource extraction. Henry Ford’s goal was resource extraction. Columbus’ goal was resource extraction. Hitler’s goal was resource extraction.
People of color, the indigenous, and women are all fuel in the engine of civilization, and civilization subjects them to this brutality because brutality is the most efficient method. By definition, this system requires the unsustainable importation of resources through an unrelenting campaign of ecological cannibalism. The horrors that follow – patriarchy, white supremacy, anthropocentricism, colonialism, and militarism – are not unintended side effects but instead logical strategies utilized by the dominant culture to ensure its survival. Mass incarceration and miseducation has allowed for the theft of billions from minority communities while creating modern-day slave plantations providing free labor and preventing successful political organization among people of color and the indigenous. Rape and sexual violence protect a structure of power that allows for women to be continually exploited for their resources. There is no ignorance involved. Our civilization is a vampire, and it is a pragmatic vampire. It does nothing for fun, for pleasure, or for personal gratification. It only acts to feed its insatiable hunger for blood.
This system will never stop on its own accord through moral appeals or edification. When hate makes economic sense, no amount of education will stop it. Education may win us supporters, and even soldiers, but the social structures that perpetuate this violence will not come down until the process they protect – resource extraction – is disrupted. As long as the system can benefit from rape, abuse, mass incarceration, police brutality, and economic disenfranchisement, these horrors will continue. A wrench must be thrown into the engine itself. The process through which civilization feeds off its victims must be disrupted.
All options must be considered in our quest to render exploitation unprofitable, but the uncomfortable truth is that sustained militancy is a necessary part of any effective approach. Patriarchy will collapse only when credible threats of resistance make sexual violence, the sustaining pillar of male supremacy, impractical as a strategy of oppression. White supremacy can only be dismantled by disrupting the systems that subject people of color to brutal, indiscriminant abuse and exploitation – and the parasitic thieves who depend on that exploitation to survive will not stop until their previous tactics are rendered ineffective by organized and violent opposition. The victims of these hierarchies must band together and organize while their white male allies must work tirelessly as saboteurs.
So long as the dominant power is at all capable of turning human beings, other animals, and the living Earth itself into fuel, there will be hierarchies in place to legitimize and protect that process. Only by removing civilization’s ability to survive through exploitation will the exploitation end. We must cast off the pernicious illusions that portray these structures of domination as the product of anything but rational, dispassionate self-interest on the part of the oppressor class. Remember: Their actions are strategic and their efforts are political. Ours have to be as well.