Why You Should Still Become A Cascadian

by Paul Nelson

In the time since the article Why You Should Become a Cascadian was published, there have been developments in Seattle (& the U.S.) that I again want to pursue from the frame of bioregionalism. Mark Gonnerman is the author of a book on the most accomplished poet ever connected with Cascadia, Gary Snyder. The book came from a yearlong series of seminars on Snyder’s magnum opus, Mountains and Rivers Without End. It is, A Sense of the Whole: Reading Gary Snyder’s Mountains and Rivers Without End.

In a segment from Gonnerman’s introduction, you find the ethos of bioregionalism which Snyder has LIVED for 50 years or so in the Sierra Mountains of Eastern California:

If Mountains and Rivers has an overriding purpose apart from the aesthetic pleasures it provides, it is to engender a conversation in the heart-mind of the reader. The desired shift in this case is from identification with outmoded nation-state systems to participation in local community life, from centralized hierarchy to decentralized collaboration, from the stresses of competition to the satisfactions of mutual regard and cooperation, from modern monocultural monotheism to promiscuous ppostmodern polytheism, from consumerism to conservation, from fragmentation to a sense of the whole. This shift may begin in the very activity of reading . . . 

If you require more proof that the U.S. as a nation state is “outmoded,” remember who is in the White House, re-familiarize yourself with the Princeton/Northwestern study that in 2014 came to the conclusion that the U.S. is an oligarchy and not a functioning democracy and read Umair Haque’s article, Why We’re Underestimating American Collapse: The Strange New Pathologies of the World First Rich Failed State.

In it he cites school shootings, the opioid epidemic and people living in their cars, all uniquely American problems. Since he wrote that article in January 2018, there have been many more school shootings, including the one at Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the one at Santa Fe High outside of Houston, Texas, which prompted a call by that state’s Lt. Governor, to regulate the doors of such schools, but of course not the guns. Guns come in very handy in a failed state and, as Gil Scott-Heron once noted:

Everybody got a pistol, everybody got a 45 

And the philosophy seems to be 

At least as near as I can see 

When other folks give up theirs, I’ll give up mine.

In talking last night to the man most responsible for the notion of “Cascadia,” the person who coined the term for this bioregion, created the definitive map and natural boundaries taking cues from geology, David McCloskey, he said that because of Amazon, Seattle is no longer Cascadia, but is “a global city.” At first, this struck me as incorrect, or disturbing. I live here and have lived in King County since 1988. This does not sit well with me, but it’s true. Look at the hardball tactics Amazon has employed.

It is as if we owe them for bringing such “prosperity” to Seattle, and if we do not acquiesce to their demands, they will move to HQ2, their “second headquarters” which they’ve been shopping around like an NFL football team owner looking to blackmail the most desperate city for the best deal. Even CNN Money, a finance-oriented publication, says this is a “cautionary tale.” They cite (in another article):

Amazon arrived in the Seattle area in 1994. Now, home prices are rising more there than anywhere else in the country, according to the most recent data from S&P CoreLogic.

In July, home prices in Seattle increased 13.5% compared to last year. In Portland — the city with the next highest level of growth — home prices increased 7.6%. New York, known for its tough housing market, saw prices increase 3.9%.

“A few years ago, [Seattle] was one of the most affordable West Coast markets. That’s becoming less and less the case,” said Aaron Terrazas, a senior economist with online real estate company Zillow.

Of course Amazon does not care about Seattle. It is successful playing by the rules of casino capitalism, maximize profits by externalizing costs and internalizing profits. Externalizing costs means you and I pay. Would Seattle be better off without Amazon? The answer seems obvious if you are a person who loves this place and would stay here regardless of whether the “retail giant” is based here or not.

We love it for various reasons, the people, the natural splendor, mountains, lakes, islands, you name it. We love it for the local culture it developed, displayed in places like the Pike Place Market, the vibrant music scene that spawned Grunge and other movements, the food culture, the film culture and the literary culture. All of which is under attack thanks to the hyper-capitalism that passes for “conventional wisdom” in our time. Can Seattle be Cascadian again? It does not matter.

If you want San Francisco 2.0, simply do nothing, because that is where we are headed. If you don’t, see Gonnmerman’s take on the beauty of Gary Snyder’s writing. Snyder, who grew up in Lake City, would urge us to get busy HERE with projects that protect the ecology and the culture HERE. Time’s a wastin’. Either we accept the global financial culture that Amazon is forcing onto Seattle, totally disconnected from place, or we reject it in defense of a culture that rises out of a deep connection to here.


3 thoughts on “Why You Should Still Become A Cascadian”

  1. Thanks, Paul. I love the comparison to the NFL. Blackmailing definitely!
    How many people make “decent” wages but can’t afford decent places to live? What percentage of our income is property tax–not all taxes, property tax only?

  2. I’ve long been a fan of Gary Snyder, just for the reasons you cite, Paul. And I’ve told my elected officials that if Amazon does not want to expand here, that’s just fine. It’ll give us a breather, time to help the homeless recover, to build enough affordable housing, and to rebuild community.

    The article on “American Collapse” certainly hits home. Having studied escalating inequality and the rise and fall of empires, I know that we’re likely in for a lot more trouble, not less. The recent book by Walter Scheidel “The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality” lays it all out in gory detail: Historically almost the only cure has been war, or plague, or some comparable disaster. My best case scenario is that we avoid massive deaths by being prepared to launch a takeover of the government and the top corporations and banks by the people when the next crisis hits. But we’ll be lucky if it’s only a 2008-type financial crisis.