Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Best of how Deep is Deep Ecology.

Bradford calls his approach Deep Social Ecology.

George Bradford, "How deep is deep ecology: a challenge to radical environmentalism," Fifth Estate, Fall 1987.This book’s principle essays first appeared in slightly different form in Fifth Estate newspaper.

George Bradford, "Toward a Deep Social Ecology," in Environmental Philosophy.

George Bradford, How Deep is Deep Ecology? is brilliant.

Some Quotes:-

"In opposition to “humanism” (defined rather simplistically as the ideology of human superiority and the legitimacy to exploit nature for human purposes), deep ecology claims to be a perspective taken from outside human discourse and politics, from the point of view of nature as a whole. Of course, it is a problematic claim, to say the least, since deep ecologists have developed a viewpoint based on human, socially generated, and historically evolved insights into nature, in order to design an orientation toward human society. At any rate, any vision of nature and humanity’s place in it that is the production of human discourse is by definition going to be to some degree “anthropocentric,” imposing as it does a human, symbolic discourse on the nonhuman. "

"But deep ecology’s “intuition... that all things in this biosphere have an equal right to live and blossom” is the same projection of human social-political categories onto nature — a legalistic and bourgeois-humanist anthropocentrism itself. Ecology confirms the animist vision of interrelatedness, but when expressed in the ideological terms of this society, it denatures and colonizes animism, reducing it to a kind of economics or juridical, legal formalism. Neither animals nor primal peoples recognized or conferred abstract legal rights, but lived in harmony and mutualism, including a mutualism of predation of other species to fulfill their needs and desires. Human subsistence was bound up with natural cycles and not in opposition to them; people did not envision an alienated “humanity versus nature” dualism (which, whether one takes “nature’s side” or “humanity’s,” is an ideology of this civilization), but rather “humanized” nature by interacting mythically and symbolically with it."

When ecological “antihumanism” (justly) rejects technocratic resource management, it does so for the wrong reasons. The dualism of its formulation takes the technocratic reduction of nature to resources for an undifferentiated species activity based on supposed biological need. While human beings and institutions that actively engage in the destruction of nature must be stopped by any means necessary and as soon as possible, it should not automatically be assumed that they are acting out the biological destiny of the species; that would be to take at face value the corporate and state rationalizations for exploitation (“we do it all for you”). The human social context that produces this aberrant destructiveness is not readily explained by ecological analysis.
Deep ecologists err when they see the pathological operationalism of industrial civilization as a species-generated problem rather than as one generated by social phenomena that must be studied in their own right. Concealing socially generated conflicts behind an ideology of “natural law,” they contradictorily insist on and deny a unique position for human beings while neglecting the centrality of the social in environmental devastation. Consequently, they have no really “deep” critique of the state, empire, technology, or capital, reducing the complex web of human relations to a simplistic, abstract, scientistic caricature.
Thus humanity as a species, or a voracious human self-interest acting through “humanism,” is blamed for ecological degradation by most (if not necessarily all) deep ecologists, particularly the American adherents close to Earth First!. This formulation, shared by many people in the U.S. conservation movement, tends to overlook the fact that preservation of wilderness and defense of natural integrity and diversity is essential to human survival also. There is no isolated “intrinsic worth” but an interrelated dependency that includes us all."

" Speaking of the unintended consequences of technology, they refer to the agricultural crisis in California’s Central Valley, where the agribusiness “which claims as its goal, ‘feeding the hungry of the world,’ is now creating an unhealthy, almost unfit environment for many human inhabitants of the Valley.” Here they seem to take corporate propaganda at face value, so that technological short-sightedness and the “humanist” goal of “feeding the world” become the cause of the problem, rather than capitalist looting, which degrades the natural integrity of the valley not to feed people but to line the investors’ pockets. "

"Anthropocentrism or not, humans are the only beings in a position to wage effective war against the empires and articulate an earth-based culture and a renewal of the land."
  • I agree. So humans are unique in that sense.

"Population growth is certainly a cause for concern, perhaps even alarm. More than 900 million people are presently malnourished or starving, and hunger spreads with the rising numbers. But Malthusian empiricism sees many hungry mouths and concludes that there are too many people and not enough resources to keep them alive. Scarcity and famine are thus explained as natural phenomena, inevitable, irrevocable, even benign. The pseudo-objectivity of scientific ideology is probably nowhere more profoundly expressed than in this Malthusian model. If, astonishingly, it is still necessary to argue against Malthus a century and a half later, it is because people know so little history. "

But of course it is not so clear at all. If carrying capacity has been exceeded and there isn’t enough to go around, why are crops systematically dumped and destroyed? Only a critique of the system that turns food into a commodity can make sense in such a context. And his numerical mystification fails to note that “per capita” energy consumption includes the urban megalopolises, the glut of industry, transport, the military, and the frenetic form of life specific to industrial capitalism. To identify biological carrying capacity with such figures is patently absurd.

There is no doubt that the present form of existence is destructive, and increasingly destructive as population grows. But to argue that “even our most normal and non-reprehensible ways of using resources to support human life and pursue human happiness” are destroying the environment is to forget that it is the form of culture in industrialism and the manner in which pursuing “life and happiness” is organized that is destroying life, not necessarily sheer population numbers. The toxic wastes produced by industrialism are not “unavoidably created by our life processes,” they are the result of capitalist looting and a pathological culture. People need neither vast energy consumption nor toxic-waste production to be kept alive; in fact, we are being steadily poisoned by them.

The notion of carrying capacity is trivialized by reduction to absurd statistics. No one really knows what the earth’s actual carrying capacity is, or how much land we need in order to live in a renewable manner. What have megatechnic projects, freeways, asbestos, nuclear power, armaments production, or the automobile to do with biological carrying capacity? What have they to do with anything except the inertia of investment, technological drift, and capital accumulation? Catton’s ecological paradigm reduces everything to numbers and mechanistically applies its analysis to society, rendering it blind to the actual forces leading to extinction. When this methodology compares, for example, statist wars and imperial rivalry to the territorialism of animals, it imposes the (current) scientific description of one highly complex order onto another, unrelated one. This is pseudozoology at its worst"

"Even gardening is a “violent activity.” This viewpoint is not much of an option for the majority of us, and it’s hardly going to be pursued. (In any case it is the old alienated dualism operating, that denies humans any place in nature, denies what we have evolved into; it’s like decrying the mammals for eating dinosaur eggs."

"The deep-ecologist argument, based on Catton’s carrying-capacity theory, is that there is no longer enough to go around in anything resembling a renewable, sustainable manner. Any suspicion that starvation might presently be the result of distribution and other social conflicts alone, rather than natural limits, is considered a “humanist,” “anthropocentric” (and probably Marxist) fantasy. (Perhaps other deep ecologists, such as Arne Naess, would not agree with such views, but few if any have criticized them or explicitly and forcefully distanced themselves from them.) "

"Despite some shortcomings in their views (a marked social-democratic, pro-development stance, and a lack of criticality concerning industrialism as a system and socialist countries like China, in particular), their arguments are very persuasive and bring together a critique of industrial agriculture and the global market that would help deep ecologists to ask deeper questions about hunger. [10] The notion that present scarcity is generated by overpopulation cannot be substantiated, they argue; not that there are no natural limits, but that “the earth’s natural limits are not to blame.” The world is presently producing enough grain to supply everyone’s caloric and protein needs. (A third of it goes to livestock.) And these figures do not include the many other nutritious foods available, such as beans, nuts, fruits, vegetables, root crops, and grass-fed meat. The Malthusian argument “is worse than a distortion,” they argue, since it shifts the blame to “natural limits” and to the hungry in a world where “surplus” food stocks are dumped like any other commodity to increase their profitability. Boring, left-wing humanism notwithstanding, the refusal to understand that food has become a commodity is to mystify the modern shredding of the sacred food-web. "

W"hat are the causes of hunger? We should remember that, historically, colonialism, bringing with it an emerging capitalist economy and the wage system, destroyed the traditional economies in most countries. By substituting cash crops and monoculture for forms of sustainable agriculture, it destroyed the basic land skills of the people whom it reduced to plantation workers. With the traumatic destruction of indigenous cultures came a desperate acceptance of and desire for the industrialized goods of Western commodity society. Contrived by colonialism, this recipe for disaster accounts for the world crisis we are now witnessing. "

"Harrison’s study confirms LappĂ© and Collins’s argument. “Much of the best land that should be used for domestic food production in the developing countries is growing cash crops for the West,” he writes, and “five of the most common, sugar, tobacco, coffee, cocoa, and tea, are not doing the West much good either.” Cattle production for consumption by the imperial metropolises also undermines local subsistence, Harrison observes. “’Sheep eat men,’ the peasants displaced by enclosures of common land in England used to complain. Cash crops eat men in much of the developing world.”

"In this scenario not even increased food production serves to help the hungry. As Lappe and Collins demonstrate, “the increase in poverty has been associated not with a fall but with a rise in cereal production per head, the main component of the diet of the poor.” So the image of Green Revolution technology (drawn for example by Catton) as causing a population increase and subsequent destruction of carrying capacity is a fiction. The Green Revolution is utilized by large landholders to produce for the global supermarket, not to feed people locally. It increases hunger by bringing the industrial revolution to agriculture, thus destroying subsistence as well as agricultural and genetic diversity, and by creating dependence on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and machinery — and the corporations that produce them.
Nor is toxic-chemical agriculture a result of population pressure. The U.S. uses one billion pounds of toxic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides annually — some 30 percent of world consumption. A good part of the applications are simply for cosmetic purposes, with as much as a third going to golf courses, lawns, parks, and gardens. Lappe and Collins estimate that, despite a tenfold increase in the use of such agents, the crop loss to pests in this country has remained at around 30 percent since the 1940s. They argue that if such chemicals were eliminated altogether, losses would increase by about only 7 percent. In the meantime, in addition to the ecological destruction pesticides bring about, their residues are considered by the Environmental Protection Agency to be “the nation’s third worst environmental cancer risk after toxic chemicals in the workplace and radon gas in the home.” [15] Half of all pesticides produced, some of them illegal in the U.S., go to the Third World, but they come back to haunt us with our morning coffee and cantaloupe.
So toxic agriculture is not a function of subsistence but of corporate profits. To link the two in a Malthusian argument is to line up indirectly with the Wall Street Journal, which argued that the disaster at Bhopal was unfortunate but a necessary risk in order to feed people. Bhopal wasn’t only a horrifying example of a technological civilization completely out of control, it was a corporate crime. It is those sorcerer’s apprentices, the capitalist corporations, we might remind these careless deep ecologists, who turn scarcity and starvation in one place into luxuries somewhere else. And where people resist the operations of this “economic freedom,” the armed might of the state, complete with covert and overt operators, steps in to make sure that things remain just as they are and that business goes on as usual.
Under increasing attack, squeezed from all sides, the world’s poor are having large families in a desperate attempt to get support in their old age, to obtain cheap labor power on their plots or in the labor market, and to overcome high infant-mortality rates. In much of the world, another child is an economic benefit and will bring more income to the family than will be expended in the child’s upkeep. [16] Yet there are also many indications that large families have an adverse effect on their members, who tend to be less nourished and in worse health than those of smaller families. Furthermore, as Harrison observes, this short-term survival strategy has long-term social costs for the community and the country in land fragmentation, erosion, poverty, and urbanization. The poor of the Third World are courting “long-term ruin to avoid immediate disaster.” "

"Both views see a renewal of local subsistence and self-reliance as key, and both call for radical, sweeping land reform. This does not mean a simple redistribution, however, but the creation of cooperative, participatory, and egalitarian societies aimed at helping the people at the very bottom. LappĂ© and Collins write that their perspective “is not a simple call to put food into hungry mouths.” In fact, they oppose food aid because it does not reach the hungry, undermines revolt, and destroys local food production. They insist, rather, that “if enabling people to feed themselves is to be the priority, then all social relationships must be reconstructed.” This amounts to a call for agrarian revolution.
First and foremost, such a revolution must liberate women. They are “the poorest of the poor,” as Harrison says. They constitute “the largest group of landless laborers in the world,” since even in cooperatives and land redistributions, they are frequently shut out. Industrialization and urbanization also hurt them the most, destroying their handicrafts and worsening the unjust division of labor to “the notorious double day” of wage work and household work. If they have fewer children, they suffer for lack of labor power; if they have more, they are overburdened and their health undermined."

"The population question can never be addressed until having fewer children can become a reasonable option. That means freedom for women from male domination, and an agrarian social transformation that reunites agriculture and nutrition, renews self-reliance and subsistence, and creates equality. If deep ecologists can recognize that these social questions must be resolved in order to reconcile humanity with the natural world, that a whole earth vision must be grounded in the social, they will make the leap that they desire in their understanding and practice. Human liberation is integrally bound up with the liberation of nature, and therefore is truly “deep ecological.”"

It is a tenet of deep ecology that nature is “more complex than we can possibly know” (Sessions and Devall). In that case, deep ecologists should refrain from blanket statements about human populations, since no interpretation can presently be substantiated in any absolute terms. (So glib remarks about someone else’s “die-off” only come from a preference, not a recognition of natural necessity. In such a case “theory” is nothing but mean-spirited ideology, with fascist implications — and helps, by the way, neither bears nor whales nor rainforests.) Catton says there are already too many people; Sale, on the other hand, argues that the entire world’s population could fit into the U.S. with a density less than England’s, and in the fertile agricultural regions with a density like that of Malta. The statistics, to back up arguments, grow exponentially.
Meanwhile, practical steps must be taken to stop the process by which the world and everything in it are being reduced to money, and finally, to toxic waste. “Letting nature take its course” by consigning people to starvation is not a solution even within its own terms, since the deteriorating situation described so vividly by Harrison and others won’t go away when a few million — or many millions — die. The earth will continue to be gouged and the forests leveled, and society’s capacity to bring about change will be diminished. Such Malthusianism even violates deep ecology, since it neglects the totality of the habitat destroyed for all species in the wake of the famine and doesn’t recognize that environmental desolation in one place affects natural integrity everywhere.
In The Conquest of Bread, Peter Kropotkin raised the issue that remains central today for social and ecological transformation. Bread, he said, “must be found for the people of the Revolution, and the question of bread must take precedence of all other questions. If it is settled in the interests of the people, the Revolution will be on the right road; for in solving the question of Bread we must accept the principle of equality, which will force itself upon us to the exclusion of every other solution.” In answer to Kropotkin’s profound observation, some among the deep ecologists would prefer to respond with a simple program: let them starve. "

"And perhaps they have a point. Perhaps there are too many people to live in a renewable manner. Perhaps the starvation of some is unavoidable. But as long as poor and tribal people around the globe starve while overfed, high-energy-consuming bankers sit in air-conditioned high-rises in New York, Paris, or Dakar, something is wrong. Before the poor of the world die of hunger — those little communities which are also small and unique parts of the whole picture, as Aldo Leopold might have said — let’s deal with the neckties in the high-rises. It’s nature’s way too, after all, for people to pool their imaginations and their desires to cooperate in making revolutionary change."

"The ideology of population control is summed up by Hartmann as based on three tenets:
  1. Rapid population growth is a primary cause of the Third World’s development problems, notably hunger, environmental destruction, economic stagnation, and political instability.” Notice that it is development itself (which means capital accumulation), and not environmental and human well-being, which is the central concern. People are “units.”
  2. People must be persuaded — or forced, if necessary — to have fewer children without fundamentally improving the impoverished conditions in which they live.” Such improvement, of course, would demand agrarian and social revolution, which would undermine both the local elites and ultimately, perhaps, the entire development model of industrial- capitalist civilization.
  3. Given the right combination of finance, personnel, technology, and Western management techniques, birth-control services can be ‘delivered’ to Third World women in a top-down fashion and in the absence of basic health-care systems. In both the development and promotion of contraceptives, efficacy in preventing pregnancy should take precedence over health and safety concerns.” One can see the entire operationalism of mass technology and the disabling professions at work in this assumption. "

" Desertification, like deforestation, is largely a result of inequities on and exploitation of the land"


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