Zizek: Capitalism, Property and New Forms of Apartheid

This article appears online at lacan.com and is also available in video form. N3wday suggested posting it, saying there is value in examining  Zizek's “4 antagonisms” of capitalism that cannot be resolved under the system (ecology, private property, technological developments, and new forms of apartheid.) Kasama is posting this Part 1 for the moment. Part 2 is available on the Lacan site.

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"The communist hypothesis remains the good one, I do not see any other.

"If we have to abandon this hypothesis, then it is no longer worth doing anything at all in the field of collective action. Without the horizon of communism, without this Idea, there is nothing in the historical and political becoming of any interest to a philosopher. Let everyone bother about his own affairs, and let us stop talking about it. In this case, the rat-man is right, as is, by the way, the case with some ex-communists who are either avid of their rents or who lost courage.

"However, to hold on to the Idea, to the existence of this hypothesis, does not mean that we should retain its first form of presentation which was centered on property and State. In fact, what is imposed on us as a task, even as a philosophical obligation, is to help a new mode of existence of the hypothesis to deploy itself."

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Censorship Today: Violence, or Ecology as a New Opium for the Masses,  Part 1

by Slavoj Zizek

 

Marco Cicala, a Leftist Italian journalist, told me about his recent weird experience: when, in an article, he once used the word "capitalism," the editor asked him if the use of this term is really necessary - could he not replace it by a synonymous one, like "economy"? What better proof of the total triumph of capitalism than the virtual disappearance of the very term in the last 2 or 3 decades? No one, with the exception of a few allegedly archaic Marxists, refers to capitalism any longer. The term was simply struck from the vocabulary of politicians, trade unionists, writers and journalists - even of social scientists... But what about the upsurge of the anti-globalization movement in the last years? Does it not clearly contradict this diagnostic? No: a close look quickly shows how this movement also succumbs to "the temptation to transform a critique of capitalism itself (centered on economic mechanisms, forms of work organization, and profit extraction) into a critique of 'imperialism'."

In this way, when one talks about "globalization and its agents," the enemy is externalized (usually in the form of vulgar anti-Americanism). From this perspective, where the main task today is to fight "the American empire," any ally is good if it is anti-American, and so the unbridled Chinese "Communist" capitalism, violent Islamic anti-modernists, as well as the obscene Lukashenko regime in Belarus may appear as progressive anti-globalist comrades-in-arms... What we have here is thus another version of the ill-famed notion of "alternate modernity": instead of the critique of capitalism as such, of confronting its basic mechanism, we get the critique of the imperialist "excess," with the (silent) notion of mobilizing capitalist mechanisms within another, more "progressive," frame.

So what is the problem here? It is easy to make fun of Fukuyama's notion of the End of History, but the majority today is "Fukuyamaian": liberal-democratic capitalism is accepted as the finally-found formula of the best possible society, all one can do is to render it more just, tolerant, etc. The only true question today is: do we endorse this "naturalization" of capitalism, or does today's global capitalism contain strong enough antagonisms which will prevent its indefinite reproduction? There are three (or, rather, four) such antagonisms:

1. Ecology: In spite of the infinite adaptability of capitalism which, in the case of an acute ecological catastrophe or crisis, can easily turn ecology into a new field of capitalist investment and competition, the very nature of the risk involved fundamentally precludes a market solution - why? Capitalism only works in precise social conditions: it implies the trust into the objectivized/"reified" mechanism of the market's "invisible hand" which, as a kind of Cunning of Reason, guarantees that the competition of individual egotisms works for the common good. However, we are in the midst of a radical change.

Till now, historical Substance played its role as the medium and foundation of all subjective interventions: whatever social and political subjects did, it was mediated and ultimately dominated, overdetermined, by the historical Substance. What looms on the horizon today is the unheard-of possibility that a subjective intervention will intervene directly into the historical Substance, catastrophically disturbing its run by way of triggering an ecological catastrophe, a fateful biogenetic mutation, a nuclear or similar military-social catastrophe, etc. No longer can we rely on the safeguarding role of the limited scope of our acts: it no longer holds that, whatever we do, history will go on. For the first time in human history, the act of a single socio-political agent effectively can alter and even interrupt the global historical process, so that, ironically, it is only today that we can say that the historical process should effectively be conceived "not only as Substance, but also as Subject."

This is why, when confronted with singular catastrophic prospects (say, a political group which intends to attack its enemy with nuclear or biological weapons), we no longer can rely on the standard logic of the "Cunning of Reason" which, precisely, presupposes the primacy of the historical Substance over acting subjects: we no longer can adopt the stance of "let the enemy who threatens us deploy its potentials and thereby self-destruct himself" - the price for letting the historical Reason do its work is too high since, in the meantime, we may all perish together with the enemy.

Recall a frightening detail from the Cuban missile crisis: only later did we learn how close to nuclear war we were during a naval skirmish between an American destroyer and a Soviet B-59 submarine off Cuba on October 27 1962. The destroyer dropped depth charges near the submarine to try to force it to surface, not knowing it had a nuclear-tipped torpedo. Vadim Orlov, a member of the submarine crew, told the conference in Havana that the submarine was authorized to fire it if three officers agreed. The officers began a fierce, shouting debate over whether to sink the ship. Two of them said yes and the other said no.

"A guy named Arkhipov saved the world," was a bitter comment of a historian on this accident.

2. Private Property: The inappropriateness of private property for the so-called "intellectual property." The key antagonism of the so-called new (digital) industries is thus: how to maintain the form of (private) property, within which only the logic of profit can be maintained (see also the Napster problem, the free circulation of music)? And do the legal complications in biogenetics not point in the same direction? Phenomena are emerging here which bring the notion of property to weird paradoxes: in India, local communities can suddenly discover that medical practices and materials they are using for centuries are now owned by American companies, so they should be bought from them; with the biogenetic companies patentizing genes, we are all discovering that parts of ourselves, our genetic components, are already copyrighted, owned by others...

The crucial date in the history of cyberspace is February 3 1976, the day when Bill Gates published his (in)famous "Open Letter to Hobbysts," the assertion of private property in the software domain: "As the majority of hobbysts must be aware, most of you steal your software. /.../ Most directly, the thing you do is theft." Bill Gates has built his entire empire and reputation on his extreme views about knowledge being treated as if it were tangible property. This was a decisive signal which triggered the battle for the "enclosure" of the common domain of software.

3. New Techno-Scientific Developments: The socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in bio-genetics) - Fukuyama himself was compelled to admit that the biogenetic interventions into human nature are the most serious threat to his vision of the End of History.

With the latest biogenetic developments, we are entering a new phase in which it is simply nature itself which melts into air: the main consequence of the scientific breakthroughs in biogenetics is the end of nature. Once we know the rules of its construction, natural organisms are transformed into objects amenable to manipulation. Nature, human and inhuman, is thus "desubstantialized," deprived of its impenetrable density, of what Heidegger called "earth." This compels us to give a new twist to Freud's title Unbehagen in der Kultur - discontent, uneasiness, in culture. With the latest developments, the discontent shifts from culture to nature itself: nature is no longer "natural," the reliable "dense" background of our lives; it now appears as a fragile mechanism which, at any point, can explode in a catastrophic direction.

4. New Forms of Apartheid: Last but not least, new forms of apartheid, new Walls and slums. On September 11th, 2001, the Twin Towers were hit; twelve years earlier, on November 9th, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. November 9th announced the "happy '90s," the Francis Fukuyama dream of the "end of history," the belief that liberal democracy had, in principle, won, that the search is over, that the advent of a global, liberal world community lurks just around the corner, that the obstacles to this ultra-Hollywood happy ending are merely empirical and contingent (local pockets of resistance where the leaders did not yet grasp that their time is over). In contrast to it, 9/11 is the main symbol of the forthcoming era in which new walls are emerging everywhere, between Israel and the West Bank, around the European Union, on the U.S.-Mexico border.

So what if the new proletarian position is that of the inhabitants of slums in the new megalopolises? The explosive growth of slums in the last decades, especially in the Third World megalopolises from Mexico City and other Latin American capitals through Africa (Lagos, Chad) to India, China, Philippines and Indonesia, is perhaps the crucial geopolitical event of our times. It is effectively surprising how many features of slum dwellers fit the good old Marxist determination of the proletarian revolutionary subject: they are "free" in the double meaning of the word even more than the classic proletariat ("freed" from all substantial ties; dwelling in a free space, outside the police regulations of the state); they are a large collective, forcibly thrown together, "thrown" into a situation where they have to invent some mode of being-together, and simultaneously deprived of any support in traditional ways of life, in inherited religious or ethnic life-forms.

While today's society is often characterized as the society of total control, slums are the territories within a state boundaries from which the state (partially, at least) withdrew its control, territories which function as white spots, blanks, in the official map of a state territory. Although they are de facto included into a state by the links of black economy, organized crime, religious groups, etc., the state control is nonetheless suspended there, they are domains outside the rule of law. In the map of Berlin from the times of the now defunct GDR, the are of West Berlin was left blank, a weird hole in the detailed structure of the big city; when Christa Wolf, the well-known East German half-dissident writer, took her small daughter to the East Berlin's high TV tower, from which one had a nice view over the prohibited West Berlin, the small girl shouted gladly: "Look, mother, it is not white over there, there are houses with people like here!" - as if discovering a prohibited slum Zone...

This is why the "de-structured" masses, poor and deprived of everything, situated in a non-proletarized urban environment, constitute one of the principal horizons of the politics to come. If the principal task of the emancipatory politics of the XIXth century was to break the monopoly of the bourgeois liberals by way of politicizing the working class, and if the task of the XXth century was to politically awaken the immense rural population of Asia and Africa, the principal task of the XXIth century is to politicize - organize and discipline - the "de-structured masses" of slum-dwellers. Hugo Chavez's biggest achievement is the politicization (inclusion into the political life, social mobilization) of slum dwellers; in other countries, they mostly persist in apolitical inertia. It was this political mobilization of the slum dwellers which saved him against the US-sponsored coup: to the surprise of everyone, Chavez included, slum dwellers massively descended to the affluent city center, tipping the balance of power to his advantage.

How do these four antagonisms relate to each other?

There is a qualitative difference between the gap that separates the Excluded from the Included and the other three antagonisms, which designate three domains of what Hardt and Negri call "commons," the shared substance of our social being whose privatization is a violent act which should also be resisted with violent means, if necessary: the commons of culture, the immediately socialized forms of "cognitive" capital, primarily language, our means of communication and education (if Bill Gates were to be allowed monopoly, we would have reached the absurd situation in which a private individual would have literally owned the software texture our basic network of communication), but also the shared infrastructure of public transport, electricity, post, etc.; the commons of external nature threatened by pollution and exploitation (from oil to forests and natural habitat itself); the commons of internal nature (the biogenetic inheritance of humanity). What all these struggles share is the awareness of the destructive potentials, up to the self-annihilation of humanity itself, if the capitalist logic of enclosing these commons is allowed a free run. It is this reference to "commons" which justifies the resuscitation of the notion of Communism - or, to quote Alain Badiou:

The communist hypothesis remains the good one, I do not see any other. If we have to abandon this hypothesis, then it is no longer worth doing anything at all in the field of collective action. Without the horizon of communism, without this Idea, there is nothing in the historical and political becoming of any interest to a philosopher. Let everyone bother about his own affairs, and let us stop talking about it. In this case, the rat-man is right, as is, by the way, the case with some ex-communists who are either avid of their rents or who lost courage. However, to hold on to the Idea, to the existence of this hypothesis, does not mean that we should retain its first form of presentation which was centered on property and State. In fact, what is imposed on us as a task, even as a philosophical obligation, is to help a new mode of existence of the hypothesis to deploy itself.

So where do we stand today with regard to communism? The first step is to admit that the solution is not to limit the market and private property by direct interventions of the State and state ownership. The domain of State itself is also in its own way "private": private in the precise Kantian sense of the "private use of Reason" in State administrative and ideological apparatuses:

The public use of one's reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men. The private use of one's reason, on the other hand, may often be very narrowly restricted without particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. By public use of one's reason I understand the use which a person makes of it as a scholar before the reading public. Private use I call that which one may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him.

What one should add here, moving beyond Kant, is that there is a privileged social group which, on account of its lacking a determinate place in the "private" order of social hierarchy, directly stands for universality: it is only the reference to those Excluded, to those who dwell in the blanks of the State space, that enables true universality. There is nothing more "private" than a State community which perceives the Excluded as a threat and worries how to keep the Excluded at a proper distance. In other words, in the series of the four antagonisms, the one between the Included and the Excluded is the crucial one, the point of reference for the others; without it, all others lose their subversive edge: ecology turns into a "problem of sustainable development," intellectual property into a "complex legal challenge," biogenetics into an "ethical" issue. One can sincerely fight for ecology, defend a broader notion of intellectual property, oppose the copyrighting of genes, while not questioning the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded - even more, one can even formulate some of these struggles in the terms of the Included threatened by the polluting Excluded. In this way, we get no true universality, only "private" concerns in the Kantian sense of the term. Corporations like Whole Foods and Starbucks continue to enjoy favor among liberals even though they both engage in anti-union activities; the trick is that they sell products that contain the claim of being politically progressive acts in and of themselves. One buys coffee made with beans bought at above fair-market value, one drives a hybrid vehicle, one buys from companies that provide good benefits for their customers (according to the corporation's own standards), etc. Political action and consumption become fully merged. In short, without the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded, we may well find ourselves in a world in which Bill Gates is the greatest humanitarian fighting against poverty and diseases, and Rupert Murdoch the greatest environmentalist mobilizing hundreds of millions through his media empire.

When politics is reduced to the "private" domain, it takes the form of the politics of FEAR - fear of losing one's particular identity, of being overwhelmed. Today's predominant mode of politics is post-political bio-politics - an awesome example of theoretical jargon which, however, can easily be unpacked: "post-political" is a politics which claims to leave behind old ideological struggles and, instead, focus on expert management and administration, while "bio-politics" designates the regulation of the security and welfare of human lives as its primal goal. It is clear how these two dimensions overlap: once one renounces big ideological causes, what remains is only the efficient administration of life... almost only that. That is to say, with the depoliticized, socially objective, expert administration and coordination of interests as the zero-level of politics, the only way to introduce passion into this field, to actively mobilize people, is through fear, a basic constituent of today's subjectivity.

No wonder, then, that the by far predominant version of ecology is the ecology of fear, fear of a catastrophe - human-made or natural - that may deeply perturb, destroy even, the human civilization, fear that pushes us to plan measures that would protect our safety. This ecology of fear has all the chances of developing into the predominant form of ideology of global capitalism, a new opium for the masses replacing the declining religion: it takes over the old religion's fundamental function, that of putting on an unquestionable authority which can impose limits. The lesson this ecology is constantly hammering is our finitude: we are not Cartesian subjects extracted from reality, we are finite beings embedded in a bio-sphere which vastly transgresses our horizon. In our exploitation of natural resources, we are borrowing from the future, so one should treat our Earth with respect, as something ultimately Sacred, something that should not be unveiled totally, that should and will forever remain a Mystery, a power we should trust, not dominate. While we cannot gain full mastery over our bio-sphere, it is unfortunately in our power to derail it, to disturb its balance so that it will run amok, swiping us away in the process. This is why, although ecologists are all the time demanding that we change radically our way of life, underlying this demand is its opposite, a deep distrust of change, of development, of progress: every radical change can have the unintended consequence of triggering a catastrophe.

It is this distrust which makes ecology the ideal candidate for hegemonic ideology, since it echoes the anti-totalitarian post-political distrust of large collective acts. This distrust unites religious leaders and environmentalists - for both, there is something of a transgression, of entering a prohibited domain, in this idea of creating a new form of life from scratch, from the zero-point. And this brings us back to the notion of ecology as the new opium for the masses; the underlying message is again a deeply conservative one - any change can only be the change for the worst - here is a nice quote from the TIME magazine on this topic:

Behind much of the resistance to the notion of synthetic life is the intuition that nature (or God) created the best of possible worlds. Charles Darwin believed that the myriad designs of nature's creations are perfectly honed to do whatever they are meant to do - be it animals that see, hear, sing, swim or fly, or plants that feed on the sun's rays, exuding bright floral colours to attract pollinators.

This reference to Darwin is deeply misleading: the ultimate lesson of Darwinism is the exact opposite, namely that nature tinkers and improvises, with great losses and catastrophes accompanying every limited success - is the fact that 90 percent of the human genome is 'junk DNA' with no clear function not the ultimate proof of it? Consequently, the first lesson to be drawn is the one repeatedly made by Stephen Jay Gould: the utter contingency of our existence. There is no Evolution: catastrophes, broken equilibriums, are part of natural history; at numerous points in the past, life could have turned into an entirely different direction. The main source of our energy (oil) is the result of a past catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions. One should thus learn to accept the utter groundlessness of our existence: there is no firm foundation, a place of retreat, on which one can safely count. "Nature doesn't exist": "nature" qua the domain of balanced reproduction, of organic deployment into which humanity intervenes with its hubris, brutally throwing off the rails its circular motion, is man's fantasy; nature is already in itself "second nature," its balance is always secondary, an attempt to negotiate a "habit" that would restore some order after catastrophic interruptions.

With regard to this inherent instability of nature, the most consequent was the proposal of a German ecological scientist back in 1970s: since nature is changing constantly and the conditions on Earth will render the survival of humanity impossible in a couple of centuries, the collective goal of humanity should be not to adapt itself to nature, but to intervene into the Earth ecology even more forcefully with the aim to freeze the Earth's change, so that its ecology will remain basically the same, thus enabling humanity's survival. This extreme proposal renders visible the truth of ecology.

People in this conversation

  • Guest - N3wDay

    I think this piece is very interesting. It critiques the basic contradictions of the two world views regarding ecology. The first being the libertarian view which claims we may act in whatever way we please and that we will simply be able to find a new technological solution regardless of what new problems we cause. And the second which is generally the more liberal view (or in extreme form the primitivist view), which essentially sees nature as something separate from humanity, and that our interventions are merely outside antagonisms.

    I think the more liberal view, to the best of my knowledge, was popularized by John Muir, an environmental philosopher who was responsible for the getting the first nature preservations established in the United States. Not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing. But, his philosophy basically developed from an idealist and elitist view of nature. It was ironic because he called the tracts of land he sought to preserve as essentially virgin land untouched by humanity, when it fact it had been occupied and modified for many centuries by native populations who had been exterminated. (On a side note, it’s not surprising he believed this, early settlers were known to walk through orchards and farmland with massive amounts of crops growing, without ever realizing it, because of the lack of crop rows and monocultures!). It was also a view that was very grounded in aestheticism and self. That natural lands were something to be enjoyed in your time off, preserved for those in a position to take vacations and enjoy their beauty. It created an artificial barrier between humanity and nature, a divide that still hasn’t really been overcome. Basically excluding the notion that we adapt to nature and vice versa as part of one system, rather seeing our actions and operating separately from that system and simply causing damage to it as an outside source.

    In part two, Zizek talks about how, if the world were to simply stop industrial production, it would cause a massive catastrophic event to occur, because we are integrated into the system we call ‘nature’. Because it exists as part of our system, not as something separate that we merely intervene in, it has adapted to us while we adapt to it in a dialectical process. He also mentions Gould, who has had a lot of good things to say on these issues.

    A few quotes from “The Golden Rule”.

    “I do not think that, practically or morally, we can defend a policy of saving every distinct local population of organisms. I can cite a good rationale for the preservation of species--for each species is a unique and separate natural object that, once lost, can never be reconstituted…”

    “I think that for local populations of species with broader ranges, the brief for preservation must be made on a case by case basis, not a general principle of preservation (lest the environmental movement ultimately lose popular support for trying to freeze a dynamic evolutionary world in statu quo).”

    “We are trying to preserve populations and environments because the comfort and decency of our present lives, and those of fellow species that share our planet, depend upon such stability. Mass extinctions may not threaten distant futures, but they are decidedly unpleasant for species in the throes of their power (particularly if triggered by such truly catastrophic events as extraterrestrial impact).”

    I like these quotes because they speak to the false divide that has been constructed. Often preservation of biodiversity is viewed as something specifically done for the sake of the animals, and although that clearly should be part and an important part of what we consider, we also have to view this as something that our species has a stake in. And also that development doesn’t necessarily have to entail massive destruction (of the world), depending on how it’s conducted. Because after all species can often adapt to what we do, and vice versa. Hawks and pigeons have built niches in cities, the world has adapted to some aspects of pollution, etc. It’s not necessarily certain aspects of development but has to do with rate of growth etc, which because of rational (or irrational depending on how you look at it) can outpace the rate in which the world adapts to our actions. This cuts both ways to, in relation to development, or withdrawal of development.

    So, I’m going to conclude my long and rambling post here. There’s a lot more to talk about, and I’ve only barely touched on one aspect of the essay, but for the sake of semi-brevity I’ll stop now.

  • Guest - future's ours

    N3wday points out the very important difference between the so called libertarian view and the more liberal view. Both views belong to this capitalistic-imperialist system.

    I would ask N3wDay to post more on this subject. Thanking him, of course, in advance.

    But I would also insist that within our current imperialist system these problems cannot be solved. Not when fierce competition between monopolistic corporations for more and more profits is the order of the day. Only a communist system will be able to try to plan and programme taking into account the needs of all humanity and the preservation of Nature.

    I mean, when profit is not in the way.

  • Guest - N3wDay

    yes, i agree. 'free' market competition excludes the possibility of controlled growth and expansion, rendering the ecological problem a capitalist problem.

    I'd recommend a number of essays from the monthly reviews two recent issues on the environment.

    http://monthlyreview.org/081110foster.php
    http://monthlyreview.org/081124clark-york.php
    and to a lesser extent...
    http://monthlyreview.org/081103wallis.php

    and for a more science based discussions this issue was good.

    http://monthlyreview.org/julaug2008.php

    I'll comment more on Zizek's essay a bit later.

  • Guest - Adrienne

    N3wday:

    "I think the more liberal view, to the best of my knowledge, was popularized by John Muir, an environmental philosopher who was responsible for the getting the first nature preservations established in the United States. Not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing. But, his philosophy basically developed from an idealist and elitist view of nature."

    No, it was congress who first enacted the Forest Reserve Act which authorized presidents to preserve and protect forested land from the over-grazing and over-logging of greedy American capitalists. And it wasn't actually Muir who first popularized woodland preservation and conservation in the US, either.

    There were actually a lot of people who had an affect on the overall American attitude toward land management, conservation, and preservation -- which you're now choosing to call "the more liberal view." I don't see it that way, because the desire to preserve and protect nature seems to have been a concern that grew over many years and was shared by huge number of this nation's people, despite varying political stances.

    Even as early as the 1820's there was James Fenimore Cooper writing his novel, 'The Pioneers', with a character in it warning of:
    "-- felling the forests as if no end could be found to their treasures, nor any limits to their extent. If we go on this way, twenty years hence we shall want fuel."

    So this was something that early on began weighing on the minds of Americans -- and that's because they fully understood what had happened in European countries, due to taking a monopolistic and wasteful attitude toward nature. Rapacious deforestation utterly denuded, dried up, and destroyed the land in many areas all over Europe.
    Another writer of the 1840's, George Perkins Marsh, wrote a book called 'Man and Nature' that was very influential in this regard. In it, he described how in Greece, Italy, and much of the land surrounding the Mediterranean had once been extremely fertile and productive for farming, and home to dense forestlands. But then he told of how the land had been poorly farmed and misused, and the trees had been clear-cut, which caused the the soil to die, only to be replaced by vast tracts of the scrub and grasses. A bit of an early best-seller, this book raised a lot of awareness of what can happen when mankind only thinks and acts in short-term interests, rather than for long term interests.

    As for Muir, I think you're doing a great disservice here to label him as nothing but an elitist, because the real elitist was a guy by the name of Gifford Pinchot who was really the one who influenced silviculture and land management to a huge extent in America -- way more than did John Muir. Pinchot was a guy from a wealthy family who went first to Yale, and then attended a forestry school in France because there weren't any at that time in the US. He came back to manage the forests of the Biltmore Estate and ended up hobnobbing and influencing a bunch of the presidents -- especially Theodore Roosevelt.

    Pinchot believed that the purpose of forestry and watershed conservation was meant to serve the: "greatest good to the greatest number for the longest time." Sounds great, until you realize that Pinchot, though he was definitely concerned with preserving and protecting the land, was also philosophically much more on the side of those who were interested in the commercialization of nature purely for profit. He and John Muir were actually friends, until the day that Muir found out that Pinchot supported sheep grazing in forest reserves. Muir called sheep "hoofed locusts" and considered them creatures that were very good at destroying whatever land they were grazed on.

    While some of you may consider Muir rather too romantic or impractical a naturalist, the fact is, he stood adamantly opposed to human beings raping nature simply to make a profit. And before anyone reduces him to a mere elitist, everyone should understand that the man came from absolutely nothing, worked as an industrial engineer in Indianapolis where a factory accident damaged his eyesight, and after that went on to work as a ferry operator, a bronco buster, a sheepherder, and a sawmill operator before becoming what we know him as: the famous scientific naturalist strongly committed to preservation.

    This is a man who saw how miles and miles of old-growth redwoods had been and were being clear-cut, only to build mansions in San Francisco and make those all those rich men richer. He thought it might be a good idea to try to save some of that ancient forest before all of the redwoods were totally gone. Believing as he did that:
    “God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and
    floods; but he cannot save them from fools.”

    Personally, I think you can remove 'God' from that quote and replace it with Nature, and it manages to make perfect sense.

    I guess you can tell, but I'm a bit of a nature geek, and I've got a real soft spot for Muir. I'm totally glad he managed to save some of the redwoods so that we can still know what huge stretches of the California coast once looked like. I'm also glad that Yosemite Valley, one of the most beautiful places on the planet, isn't now in the hands of a private owner, or didn't end up being sold for a housing development.

  • Guest - N3wDay

    In relation to the nature reserves, thanks for the correction.

    I think you're reading a bit too far into what I wrote though. Criticisms shouldn't be equated to outright dismissal. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate Muir's contributions to the evolution in environmental ethic views, and certainly the practical ones he made. I've read some of his very poetic writings and enjoyed them very much. I pointed out what I did, not to say that encompassed all he is (simply an elitest), but to point out problematic elements in that viewpoint, which I believe (at least partially) to have developed into the trend I mentioned. Clearly, there were many people writing many things on the issue, and that cultural attitudes don't grow out of individuals. Point taken. But, I believe that view has roots in Muir-like thought (and so I used him as a convenient example that i was fairly familiar with in order to illustrate a point). Although I agree that people of many different flavors have held that view, I believe they generally (not absolutely) fall into the categories I mentioned (there's also the dominionist view which is held pretty widely by right fundamentalists, but clearly by others as well).

    I'll readily admit that perhaps my wording was a bit to harsh (I was rushed in writing that), but, is there any disagreement with the meat of what I said?

    btw - on Pinchot, total agreement.

  • Guest - Adrienne

    N3wday:

    "is there any disagreement with the meat of what I said?"


    Well comrade, I thought I was taking careful aim at where I did disagree with what you said. ;^)

    "I pointed out what I did, not to say that encompassed all he is (simply an elitest), but to point out problematic elements in that viewpoint, which I believe (at least partially) to have developed into the trend I mentioned."

    Perhaps I don't understand exactly what problematic elements or the problematic trend you're refering to here?
    I see Muir as a naturalist who tried his level best AFTER vast tracts of land had already been used, abused, and in some cases, destroyed (on behalf of the short-sited desires and grasping greed of American capitalists) to preserve a few portions from disappearing (in their more natural state) entirely.
    The trend that I see as growing out of what preservationists such as Muir started, and what they continue to call for is the idea that wealthy capitalists weren't going to be allowed to buy and own every damn square inch of America so that they could blindly, thoughtlessly, and unwisely misuse it however they want for their own personal profit.
    I mean, the few gains that have been made by preservationists in this country are really almost nothing when compared to the enormous amount of power that is held by wealthy landowning capitalists. They basically have almost complete unlimited control over what happens on this land, and to this land, you know? And it's not as though naturalists and preservationists and other garden-variety tree-huggers have long thwarted landowners by piling on with far too many pesky and/or extremist demands.

    As for the rest of the land that is currently owned by capitalists, you're not pitting yourself against the idea of this nations people demanding wise stewardship and thoughtful, responsible land management, are you?

  • Guest - future's ours

    First of all thank N3wDay for the links. I'll read them immediately.

    To Addrienne:

    I agree with your comment only up to a point. OK, it's not a black or white thing.

    You mentioned several people like James Fenimore Cooper and George Perkins Marsh, but they belong to the 1800s, a period the Marxists consider the bourgeoisie as still revolutionary.

    Do some green people of more recent times actually point their finger at the nose of specific corporations who are destroying our environment? Please explore a bit more on this matter, thank you.

  • Guest - Adrienne

    "Do some green people of more recent times actually point their finger at the nose of specific corporations who are destroying our environment?"

    Absolutely. There is a whole lot that goes on in the world of environmental activism. Some of it is strictly legal, and some of it isn't.
    If your interested, Grist is a pretty good source for daily green news.

    http://grist.org/

  • Guest - N3wDay

    Fair enough.

    “you’re not pitting yourself against the idea of this nations people demanding wise stewardship and thoughtful, responsible land management, are you?”

    Yes.

    Lol, just kidding. No not at all.

    It’s not the act of preservation that bothers me. I think it’s important that there are some areas free of major development.

    My disagreement lies with what I feel to be an idealistic viewpoint of ‘nature’. As you called it romanticism, which views the land as something, pristine, stable, and untouched by humanity. Which would be fine as long as “humanity and it’s hubris” (as Zizek puts it) would just get away.

    Those views are what I think leads to the stuff I mentioned in the latter half of my first comment. The false divide of humanity vs. nature, the view that natural systems are pristine and stable, etc. Without viewing everything we do as part of a major integrated system that’s always in motion (and hardly stable).

    I brought up native Americans because I think they really have a lot of lessons to offer in this respect, that we simply missed. They modified the land in major ways (major agricultural systems, seasonal burnings, tons of hunting etc) but by all outward appearances it looked as if they hadn’t touched it. When they were eliminated from the areas they occupied the land went through huge upheaval because of the mutual dependence that had developed.

    So I don’t oppose preservation and stewardship. I just the think the way it’s looked at, as part of popular culture, isn’t entirely correct right now.

    And when I say this stuff, I'm not saying it's Muir's fault. He really had very little way of knowing any of this. It's just something I saw in his thinking as a major figure which is still demonstrated today. So I used (or at least tried lol) him as an example.

  • Guest - future's ours

    Let me put forth two things to be considered:

    1. I see a lot of protests centered on the environment issues. But, aren't we human beings part of Nature too? If we get rid of this humans/Nature divide thing, aren't we human beings integrated with Nature into one single whole, one single mix? We are so to speak the ultimate development of natural evolution.

    So, shouldn't we care about the humans themselves? That is, since we protest against the misuse of Natural resources, shouldn't we protest, with stronger force, against the exploitation against the working classes? Shouldn't we equally protest against the exploitation in the third world countries? The distrimination against immigrants, blacks? The imperialist aggression in the world?

    Because I see a lot of support for the greens, but not on the other issues, equally pressing, or maybe more ...

    What I mean is, we cannot discuss about one thing without the other.

    2. I don't like that "stewardship" term. You steward something means you are basically in agreement with it, you just turn this way or that so it's better oriented.

    But this is a monopolistic capitalist system. This is a corporate ruling system, where profits are the sole objectives of those on top. Addrienne, I appreciate people like you who are trying to make this with a more humane nature, but imperialism with a humane nature doesn't exist.

    I know ecological people are doing a lot of work with congress and speaking out on green issues, saving and preserving land and animals etc. -Here in Peru we have similar struggles where there are mines poisoning the rivers, and the very issue of the gas piple of Camisea, actually here the government listens to the people much much less than in the US, but beware that in the US the ruling classes always act when they themselves consider it is on their interest-; but I really think you should have a larger perspective.

    The answer is the transformation of the whole system. You can stop them destroying the planet for one day, or for some time. But the nature of this system is destroying all for a profit, and today's crisis is a good expression of this.

  • Guest - Adrienne

    N3wday:

    "It’s not the act of preservation that bothers me. I think it’s important that there are some areas free of major development."

    I'm glad we can agree. And in my view, this is why I don't think socialists should start assuming that scientific naturalists are a group of opponents they need to struggle and contend with now, or in the future. Because their study is an encompassing of biology, zoology, geology and other sciences, these folks are often in a position to understand and describe exactly why an area or specific place is extraordinary, unique, and irreplaceable on this planet -- and should thus remain free of major development.

    "My disagreement lies with what I feel to be an idealistic viewpoint of ‘nature’. As you called it romanticism, which views the land as something, pristine, stable, and untouched by humanity. Which would be fine as long as “humanity and it’s hubris” (as Zizek puts it) would just get away."

    Well, you (and Zizek) may disagree or consider such a thing frivolous and unimportant, but I personally hold the view that most human beings need a measure of idealistic and romantic natural beauty to enjoy from time to time. Kind of recharges the batteries for some of us, so to speak.
    Have you had a chance to take a walk through Muir Woods? Or go hiking in the Yosemite Valley? Since I live in the SF Bay Area, I've done so many times, and every time I feel renewed by it, and very grateful that Comrade Muir won his fight to keep them free from private ownership.

    "Those views are what I think leads to the stuff I mentioned in the latter half of my first comment. The false divide of humanity vs. nature, the view that natural systems are pristine and stable, etc. Without viewing everything we do as part of a major integrated system that’s always in motion (and hardly stable)."

    Just because I think that some naturally beautiful places should be preserved from various forms of development doesn't mean that I consider there to be a divide between human beings and nature. In fact, I consider the very thought to be an utterly ridiculous one. This planet is our home. How can any of us be separate or somehow outside of it?

    "I brought up native Americans because I think they really have a lot of lessons to offer in this respect, that we simply missed."

    I couldn't agree more.

    "They modified the land in major ways (major agricultural systems, seasonal burnings, tons of hunting etc) but by all outward appearances it looked as if they hadn’t touched it."

    This is exactly what I mean when I use the term good stewardship. Native Americans respect the land they live(d) on. They learn from it, and try to understand it, even when altering or modifying it to suit their needs. Even when different tribes made war on one another, they never waged war on the land itself -- because even as enemies to each other, they realized that the land was their collective home.

    "So I don’t oppose preservation and stewardship. I just the think the way it’s looked at, as part of popular culture, isn’t entirely correct right now."

    I don't know what you mean by "as part of popular culture." Care to elaborate a little?

    Future's Ours:

    "aren’t we human beings part of Nature too? If we get rid of this humans/Nature divide thing, aren’t we human beings integrated with Nature into one single whole, one single mix? We are so to speak the ultimate development of natural evolution."

    Yes, we are. But the sad fact seems to be that we still haven't evolved enough wisdom to know, or often even care, when we're doing things that are destructive to nature.

    "So, shouldn’t we care about the humans themselves? That is, since we protest against the misuse of Natural resources, shouldn’t we protest, with stronger force, against the exploitation against the working classes? Shouldn’t we equally protest against the exploitation in the third world countries? The distrimination against immigrants, blacks? The imperialist aggression in the world?"

    Of course we should. And that's why we're socialists! :^)

    "Because I see a lot of support for the greens, but not on the other issues, equally pressing, or maybe more …"

    I agree. And this is an even sadder fact. Not only do human beings lack the wisdom to show respect for the planet that nurtures and supports us, but too many of us haven't even the wisdom to demonstrate respect for our own species.

    "What I mean is, we cannot discuss about one thing without the other."

    Exactly. Because we and our planet are integrally connected.

    "I don’t like that “stewardship” term."

    I explained what I meant by that to N3wday above.

    "You steward something means you are basically in agreement with it, you just turn this way or that so it’s better oriented."

    Yes. I want human beings to live in agreement and accord with this planet that so generously (and beautifully) supports us all, rather than destroy it through callous stupidity and ignorance. If we humans can find the wisdom, we will learn how to be better oriented so we can take good care of each other, and our planet.


    "But this is a monopolistic capitalist system. This is a corporate ruling system, where profits are the sole objectives of those on top. Addrienne, I appreciate people like you who are trying to make this with a more humane nature, but imperialism with a humane nature doesn’t exist."

    I know, but that doesn't mean that we should just stop fighting to protect the planet. In my view, socialists should not keep themselves at arms length from such a struggle, but should instead view it as part and parcel of our fight for the needs of the people.

    "I really think you should have a larger perspective."

    Can you explain exactly why you think my perspective too narrow?

  • Guest - future's ours

    One last thought to bother Adrienne once again.

    OK. We are socialists here.

    I am thinking that maybe one day, like in socialist China, the Party will tell us to flaten a virgin hill, or mountain, and farm on it to provide food for some needy villages nearby.

    Will you obey to that?

    What happens is that the green issues are always mixed with social ones, because class struggle is everywhere.

    It is not humans in general who are destroying the environment. It is the capitalist system with its super profit rationale which is doing the destruction. But someday, in socialism, the people will also need to use the land. And we can't just say no basing on some moralistic ecological view.

  • Guest - Eddy

    <BLOCKQUOTE>
    It is not humans in general who are destroying the environment. It is the capitalist system with its super profit rationale which is doing the destruction. But someday, in socialism, the people will also need to use the land. And we can't just say no basing on some moralistic ecological view.
    </BLOCKQUOTE>

    Point of information here.

    Ecology is not a moral system, it is the study of plant-animal interactions and of the relationships between organisms and their environment. All life on this planet exists in relation to and requires specific habitat, specific environmental conditions. There would be no terrestrial animal life without diverse plant life, for example.

    The revolutionary proletariat should be very active in its study and application of all of the sciences, including ecology.

    Juxtaposing human society and our environment is a false dichotomy. We don't need to clear the Amazon in order to feed people, while we do need to preserve the rainforest in order to have air to breath and climate that supports the biology of this planet.

    (And humans could actually do quite well with a lot less land devoted to the production of livestock feeds and bio-fuels.)

  • Guest - Adrienne

    Future's Ours:

    "I am thinking that maybe one day, like in socialist China, the Party will tell us to flaten a virgin hill, or mountain, and farm on it to provide food for some needy villages nearby.

    Will you obey to that?"

    I would hope I wouldn't have to. Before nature geeks like myself would ever obey such an unwise order, I'd would first ask the Party if they had ever considered using high density vertical farming and gardening, rather than waste natural resources, and so much of our comrades time and back-breaking labor on an effort that only destroys the natural environment -- unnecessarily.

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/04/vertical-diagonal-farm-in-new-york.php

    http://blog.valcent.net/?p=227

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/07/vertical-garden.php

    Eddy, very well said! I couldn't agree more.

  • Guest - Adrienne

    I previously posted this comment with several links, and got a message stating that it would have to await moderation. Since that can often mean it won't appear for quite a while, I'm going to repost my comment, and will follow it up with the other links separately posted.
    (If it later appears as I orginally wrote it, I apologize in advance for the double posting.)

    Future’s Ours:

    “I am thinking that maybe one day, like in socialist China, the Party will tell us to flaten a virgin hill, or mountain, and farm on it to provide food for some needy villages nearby.

    Will you obey to that?”

    I would hope I wouldn’t have to. Before nature geeks like myself would ever obey such an unwise order, I’d would first ask the Party if they had ever considered using high density vertical farming and gardening, rather than waste natural resources, and so much of our comrades time and back-breaking labor on an effort that only destroys the natural environment — unnecessarily.

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/04/vertical-diagonal-farm-in-new-york.php

  • Guest - Adrienne

  • Guest - N3wDay

    "I don’t know what you mean by “as part of popular culture.” Care to elaborate a little?"

    I just mean that I think the views that I mentioned (nature and humanity being divided, 'preservation' in a sort of idealist sense vs. stewardship/environmentally friendly integration). Stuff like that.

    Future's Ours sez,

    "What happens is that the green issues are always mixed with social ones, because class struggle is everywhere."

    There's also oppression that exists outside of class, relating to the environment; animal rights comes to mind.

    I think we need a non-moralistic (moralism being defined for me as ethical views based on dogma, religious, idealist, or otherwise), ethical view concerning our environment. And I don't think they can rest solely on anthropocentrism.

    I think we need to develop a deep sense of empathy and concern for all sentient beings if they have the capacity to experience suffering and loss. And we need to do our best to develop mutualistic, rather than parasitic relations with other living things.

    But this is a tangent. I was supposed to write a post on meat a long time ago, i think i'll work on that.

  • Guest - RW Harvey

    I was given a fascinating book entitled: "How the Rich are Destroying the Earth," by Herve Kempf (introduction by Greg Palast), which, although a bare 20 pages into it, appears to present a basic class analysis of the struggles concerning the environment.

    Kempf is the environmental editor of Le Monde newspaper and can be found by Googling Reporterre.

  • Guest - N3wDay

    That's interesting, do you know of any reviews of the book, or other article type documents that may lay out the basic view point?

  • Guest - future's ours

    I insist.

    When today's seas, rivers, mountains... are being desolated by corporations, it's a matter of class struggle, much more an urgent issue today.

    Ecological solutions, like the ones posted by Adrienne (thank you very much I appreciate it a lot), will not by themselves solve the problem. These are ecology as a technology, as a technical science.

    Technology by itself doesn't give you the direction where to go.

    The problem is in the sphere of decision making. Stewarding is OK. You are doing all you can. But humanity's future is much much broader than this.

    You can steward a rapist who is raping someone. You can follow chastity and never touch a woman. But the best way is to make love with a woman, because she will enjoy life too (a sense of living).

    I don't understand that "anthropocentrism" thing. N3wday please explain. But of course ecology is not just some moralistic predicate, it is much much more. And its potential will be even broader with a class struglle perspective.

  • Guest - Adrienne

    Future's Ours wrote:

    "When today’s seas, rivers, mountains… are being desolated by corporations, it’s a matter of class struggle, much more an urgent issue today."

    Yet, earlier in this thread you admitted that the two issues are inextricably linked. You said: "we cannot discuss about one thing (responsibly protecting the environment) without the other (class struggle)." And, I agreed with you about that. Because the needs of the people and protecting our planet from various forms of pollution and destruction are issues which are integrally connected.

    "Ecological solutions, like the ones posted by Adrienne (thank you very much I appreciate it a lot), will not by themselves solve the problem. These are ecology as a technology, as a technical science.

    Technology by itself doesn’t give you the direction where to go."

    High Density Vertical Farming is not mere ecologically sound technology divorced from the needs of humanity, comrade. Instead, it is a solution that directly addresses the needs of the masses in a highly efficient way AND also happens to be a highly efficient way to protect our planet. Thus, it is exactly the kind of thing that modern, forward-thinking socialists could be, indeed should be, conspicuously supporting. For it is not technology by itself, but altruism and practical common sense that would be guiding our direction.

    Did you look at the info outlined in my links above? We're talking about crops that can be raised practically anywhere, at less cost than field grown crops, and produce up to 20 times the normal volume. Even on non arable land, such as deserts, while using much less water, and no herbicides or pesticides!

    So to sum up, I firmly believe that socialists can be extremely practical and respectful of the planet AT THE SAME TIME.

  • Guest - N3wDay

    No time to respond at the moment, but anthropocentrism means a type of thinking that is entirely human-centered (in the way I was using it doesn't consider the suffering of animals / sentient beings other than humans as important).

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