Swarovski at Paris CDG


I'm at the airport, the capitalist fantasy prefigured. Rolex and Royal Quartz ahead of me, Swarovski behind and to the right. Hundreds of glittering jewels in every case.

Sierra Leone, one of the places I'm liable to work in the next few years, slogged through a brutal and bloody civil war for a decade starting in 1991. My colleagues say that when you ask around among Sierra Leoneans, they'll generally tell you it's unclear what the war was about. That it was a mess of violence, but definitely, clearly, that it was fueled by diamonds. A one-way flight from Sierra Leone to Paris CDG runs about three months of median Sierra Leonean salary. Good luck with a visa.

I'm reading Drug War Capitalism by Dawn Paley. Paley advances the thesis that the system of events, actors, and violence in Mexico and Colombia commonly referred to as "the war on drugs" doesn't really cohere when read as a war on drugs. She suggests that we understand it rather as expressions of power and interests, mostly of the extractive industries. It's about a month of median Mexican salary to get from Tamaulipas to Paris CDG. Or you can get tear gassed at the US border, if you prefer.

Since Paley's book is so brutal and dense, I'm taking a little break with Walking with the Comrades by Arundhati Roy. In it, Roy describes the lives and struggles of Maoist rebels in central-eastern India. Against them is a complex of state, paramilitary, media, and bauxite mining companies. This complex is mobilized to clear people from their land and homes, which are located inconveniently with respect to the metal in the ground. If you plan ahead, you can get from Jharkhand to Paris CDG for about six months of median Indian income.

But here is a temple of pure commodities, clean, precisely arranged, abstracted entirely from the context which produced them.