The United States of Ravnica, Part 3

If Ravnica has oceans deep beneath the city, what does that say about the plane? What kind of platform hosts this metropolis? It could be an overladen Gaea—the ultimate survivor—or something from which buildings grow as naturally as plants. Life-sustaining resources circulate regardless, filtering through avenues and pipes. The biosphere of Ravnica sings or it groans like no other world.

Forest by John Avon

This is the final entry in The United States of Ravnica, a three-part comparison of the guilds and American society. Part I discussed the Orzhov, Dimir, Azorius, and Boros in terms of American politics; Part II explored technology’s role in culture through the Simic, Selesnya, and Izzet; and now Part III looks at issues of consumption through the Golgari, Rakdos, and Gruul.

Golgari, Consumerist Rethinking

Deathrite Shaman by Steve Argyle
“Let the rest of Ravnica sneer. One way or another, they all end up in the undercity.”
Golgari Charm

1950s mass production anchored value in the new—the plastic and the packaged. Secondhand anything became lesser than, a symbol of one’s depth on the economic ladder. Obviously today, this holds less true, but traces of the prejudice still linger in our culture: Used goods are for the poor, and we’re doing just fine, thank you.

As ecological concerns became more mainstream, the need to better process what we trash grew clearer. We admitted that we can’t keep making gadgets and throwing them in holes—the materials are finite, costly to acquire, and functionally immortal. We give to them an artificial life that doesn’t, as all life should, decompose. They violate the natural cycle by not relinquishing their form.

The American Golgari is the assertion, at least in theory, that commercial manufacturing should close its own loop. It’s the acknowledgement of unilateral consumption as abhorrent and of the responding social movements: recycling, thrift stores, slow food, etc. It accepts the end of human artifacts as inherent and inevitable, embracing—despite implications of our own mortality—that everything must die and thereby fuel new birth. “Our waste isn’t going away,” it says, “so why not force the process? Why not take the old and put it back into the new?”

Just as the rest of Ravnica looks down on the Golgari, American environmentalism remains at the periphery. It doesn’t matter how loudly we preach if our kitchens are full of plastic grocery bags and disposable containers for olives. It’s very hard to live within the grid and actually consume responsibly, which means the most successful and committed are the ones who withdraw. America’s true Golgari live in communes and cooperatives, as distant from society as Ravnica’s undercity. Mainstream America scorns them, as Ravnica scorns its “rot-grovelers” because renunciation implies critique. In this case, it shows us our priorities in contrast to our rhetoric.

Rakdos, Heedless Hedonism

Act of Treason by Matt Stewart
“Life’s too short to not do the things you love.”
Launch Party

What could be closer to America’s heart? We give zero fucks, reaching for what sparkles, and we celebrate the attitude. I contend a peacock should be our national bird over that scowling, muscular eagle—a greasy peacock, corpulent and wasted with a cigarette. Show me something noble, and I’ll point to what we spend on porn.

Not to divorce myself from porn, or anything—I’m a glutton, too—but the industry’s success highlights our priorities: We love stimulation. We want to feel, taste, and otherwise vibrate with whatever looks fulfilling. This is often self-destructive, but our reaction to that awareness is often indignant dismissal, nowhere more explicit than in our radio pop: While Ke$ha may be a caricature whom nobody takes seriously, her singular message, repeated ad nauseam, exemplifies the spirit of the times. “Nothing but this party matters,” she tells us, like a faux-glam Dionysus, “not even the rest of your life.”

Ironically, #YOLO could be the motto for both teenagers and the 1%—the former ignoring their own futures while the latter ignore everyone else’s. The flack environmentalists take for hindering economies implies a clear priority: It asks, “Why would you trade money for something so intangible? You only live once—gather what happiness you can.” Then it turns to the rest of us, while dumping pollutants in rivers, and says, “You can all eat cake if you can find it.”

Gruul, Seeds of Demolition

Gruul Turf by John Avon
“Behold nature’s answer to the problem of society.”
Rust Scarab

Unlike the Golgari, content with their departure, the Gruul would see the modern order fall. “This was a mistake,” they say, “a misguided effort from the start. You’ll thank us when the fire goes out.”

America’s most committed environmentalists don’t necessarily advocate, as do Ravnica’s Gruul, a return to tribal society. They do, however, suspect that no meaningful reform of ours can happen from within. The legal structures in place protect established capital, which, in America’s case, castrates environmental action. The options for those seeking change appear extreme: Spend your efforts languishing in ineffective lawsuits or reach out for the jugular of industry. The ones that choose the latter are our Gruul.

To spotlight a key player, the Tar Sands Blockade is on a national campaign to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline’s probable construction. The proposed infrastructure would carry, per day, 830,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil across 1,179 miles of American soil to refineries in Texas and Oklahoma, resulting in both “the significant growth of crude oil production in the United States,” as its owner TransCanada applauds, and “game over for climate change,” as opponents collectively lament.

The Blockade’s actions have been civil disobedience—nonviolent resistance that only flirts with illegality. This is distinctly un-Gruulish, but conflict in America is rarely as physical as fantasy settings permit. Eco-terrorism is a rare and daunting commitment. America’s Gruul still adhere to certain values that keep them in society’s scope. “There are things here worth saving,” they believe, “although that list is thinning. Let’s try temperance first.”

How long will that last? How long will tree-sits and mock funerals feel meaningful as environmental stakes grow higher? The seeds of demolition are alive in fertile soil, and every broken oil well is rain.

Transguild Promenade by Noah Bradley

That’s it for The United States of Ravnica, which GatheringMagic was kind enough to publish. I appreciate everyone who stuck with me through what was often only tangentially related to our game. I hope you found these articles inspiring, informative, and indicative of what America could be. If you’re engaged in these issues, follow me on Twitter and reach out—let’s have a conversation.

Works Cited

  • "How Long Does It Take for Garbage to Decompose?" The Greenest Dollar. N.p., 2009. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
  • "Keystone XL Pipeline Project." TransCanada Corporation. N.p., 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
  • Mcalpine, Dennis. "Interviews." Frontline: American Porn. PBS, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
  • "A Proposed Oil Pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska." Keystone XL Pipeline. N.p., 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
  • "U.S. State Department Review of KXL Impact Is Deeply Flawed." TckTckTck. N.p., 4 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
  • Williams, Clint. "Off-the-grid Communities: 5 Places Carving a Sustainable Path." Mother Nature Network. N.p., 28 July 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.