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Society & Nature


The following is the presentation made by Dr. Mike Epitropoulos at B-Fest on Friday, May 29th, 2009.  Mike Epitropoulos is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and former member of the International Committee of the US Green Party. Dr. Epitropoulos has long used the writings of Vandana Shiva in his courses on Political Ecology, Environment and Society, and Development.

 

Good evening.

 

Tonight, I will present my interpretation of Vandana Shiva on Society and Nature.

 

I will summarize Shiva’s latest and classic arguments on the links between these two concepts and their real-world consequences in the context of ‘globalization’ and then proceed to present Shiva’s alternative view of "Earth Democracy," which includes what she calls Living Democracy and Living Culture, that are based on anthropocentric principles.

 

Globalization has not delivered on its promise.  It has clearly failed to improve the lives of most people around the world.  ‘Free trade’ has only benefited an exclusive group.  Also, globalization’s promise of Peace, too, has failed, and instead has given us the twin evils of Terrorism and War.  When you consider globalization in its totality, this is not surprising – but possibly a logical extension of its true purpose.

 

The version of globalization we have experienced has been implemented by economic and political exclusion and the weakening of national sovereignty that have led many to terrorism and violence.  These conditions have also driven people to Right-wing fundamentalist politics.  This is partly because of the linking of both economic and cultural insecurity, which make people susceptible to extreme forms of cultural nationalism.

 

This globalization is grounded in Market Fundamentalism wherein the market is the means and the end for human existence.  Nothing is sacred – no individual rights, no duties and social responsibilities for governments – nothing but the market.  This has led to a ‘politics of exclusion’ with parties based on religious fundamentalism, xenophobia, ethnic cleansing, patriarchy, etc.  So, it is precisely economic insecurity that fuels this ‘politics of exclusion.’  It becomes a tool to distract the public about the failures of globalization – the lack of jobs and livelihoods, basic needs, etc. – all the while blaming ‘minorities’ and ‘immigrants.’  As Shiva says, "fundamentalism and xenophobia emerge as the handmaidens of globalization…"

 

"Imagine," she says, "…how different the world would be if it was based on a philosophy of mutual interdependence instead of the current dominant philosophy which is based on, "o thanatos sou, h zwh mou!"

 

These fundamentalisms of the Market and Ideologies of Hate are rooted in fear – fear of the ‘other,’ his/her capacities and creativity, fear of his/her freedom and self-determination.  With this in mind, the highest cost of globalization is in our capacity to be human

 

In a harsh critique of economism, Gustavo Esteva, put it this way:

 

            "Establishing economic value requires the disvaluing of all forms of social

            Existence … The time has come to confine the economy to its proper place:

            … a marginal one."

 

With this in mind, let us consider Shiva’s notion of Living Cultures, and its importance.

 

The term ‘culture’ in sanskriti refers to all activities that hold a society and community together.  This includes the economy, but not only the notion of wealth.  This means that Culture and Economy are inseparable. However, as Vandana Shiva stresses, "The neoliberal ideology of development and globalization wishes culture away, yet culture dominates and becomes the surrogate for concerns over livelihoods and economic security. Fundamentalist religion becomes, as Marx so aptly observed, an "opiate of the masses."  Thus, unsustainable economic systems based on free trade, greed, and imperialism inevitably lead to vicious cycles of violence with few options.

 

We should also consider 2 contrasting concepts that are important here:  Imperialism exudes a pretense of "civilizing" others, while destroying other cultures, reducing diversity, humanity, and identity.  Living Cultures, however, is based on diversity and recognizes our common humanity.  This humanity is considered problematic in imperialism, globalization, and extreme theocratic perspectives.  "The philosophy of diversity plus universal responsibility provides the basis for cultivating living cultures from the midst of killing cultures."  Thus, when profit is reified and made ‘god’ by the powerful in society, the manipulation of society and nature becomes easy.  Again, if it’s all about PROFIT, everything else is irrelevant or secondary!

 

The ideology of the Market sees people and cultures as ‘poor’ if they don’t overwhelmingly participate and support the market economy.  Self-sufficient people are perceived as ‘poor,’ ‘backward,’ and ‘weird.’

 

The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the languages we speak, the faiths we hold are fundamental to human identity and are the concrete context of CULTURE.

 

In global marketplace, however, "negative" identities are more common – ones forged through hate and exclusion.  "Us vs. Them!"

 

Earth Democracy is all about How to Govern Ourselves.

 

It is UNSUSTAINABLE and VIOLENCE when we consume and produce in ways that take more than we need.  Shiva puts it this way,

 

"The Eurocentric concept of property views capital as the only kind of investment and, hence, treats returns on capital investment as the only kind that need protection.  Non-Western indigenous communities and cultures recognize that investments can also be of labor or of care and nurturance.  Such cultural systems protect investments beyond capital.  They protect the culture of conservation and the culture of caring and sharing.

 

"Ahimsa" means nonviolence, and literally it means, "not taking more than you need."  This is one of Shiva’s key concepts in Earth Democracy.  In this view, Living Societies, Living Ecosystems, Living Organisms, and Living Cultures are characterized by Three (3) Principles:

 

1)      the principle of DIVERSITY;

2)      the principle of SELF-ORGANIZATION, self-organization, and self-renewal;

3)      the principle of RECIPROCITY between systems, which is also called the law of return, the law of give and take.

 

Insofar as ‘globalization’s’ contributing to cultural wars and religious and ethnic conflict, there are many examples:  religious fundamentalists of all religions, invoking "God" to rule, to kill, to oppress … all in the name of God!

 

We also have the examples of the World Trade Organization (WTO) versus farmers and rural culture worldwide, on the one hand, and globalization and crimes against women on the other.  Regarding the latter, Shiva explicitly states the following, "Food and water, which have been provided through women’s work and knowledge, are now being made into corporate commodities … we are witnessing an explosion in the trafficking of women world wide…."  This is where Shiva develops her notion of ecofeminism and brings in critiques of patriarchy, female feticide, and other crimes against women.

 

Where does this leave us?  It leaves us with two meanings of ‘globalization.’  In Earth Democracy, it is a globalization of our universal humanity, cultures of compassion and solidarity as earth citizens.  In Corporate Globalization, we have capitalist patriarchy, wherein everything is a commodity and for sale and the only value a thing has is the price it can bring in the global marketplace. 

 

In Shiva’s Earth Democracy Action Plan, we must understand and develop the links between: 1) KNOWLEDGE and ACTION, and 2) the LOCAL and the GLOBAL.  Further, we must include the notion of ‘food democracy.’ 

 

Did you know that to make one quarter-pound hamburger (beef), we need 25,000 liters of water?  It is such violations of nature and ‘ahimsa’ that put people in jeopardy of starvation and hunger around the world.

 

Hunger has direct links to: terrorism, environmental degradation, failed states, failed businesses, and even piracy!  Thus, Shiva discusses the Four-Fold Crisis brought about Agribusiness. 

 

Crisis 1) Non-Sustainability.  The crisis of non-sustainability has three components: a) the overexploitation of the soil and water, b) the destruction of biodiversity, and c) the spread of toxic pollution.

 

Crisis 2) the Crisis of Small Farmers & Producers.

 

Crisis 3) The Crisis of Hunger (estimated at 1 billion people worldwide).

 

Crisis 4) (Flip side) The Crisis of Obesity (1 billion people, w/400,000 deaths/yr).  (On this last crisis, we should note that it’s not only the US, but Greece is increasingly showing up at the top of lists of obesity, childhood obesity, diabetes, meat consumption, smoking, alcohol consumption, etc.)

 

These threats from agribusiness are caused in large part by the industrialization of food Production, and the globalization of food Distribution.  Agribusiness’ power and practices contribute to Four (4) Simultaneous Crises: 1) ECOLOGICAL, 2) ECONOMIC, 3) CULTURAL, and 4) POLITICAL. Shiva’s concern with food democracy and food sovereignty address all dimension of these crises.  They include an increased awareness and concern for food safety (e.g. Mad Cow, Dioxins, GMOs, Peanuts…) and demands for the right to information vis-à-vis food, research, and laws governing this realm.

 

Shiva has also endorsed the "Slow Food" movement and "Terra Madre," which is a gathering of small producers who refuse to disappear in a world where globalization has written off diversity of species & cultures, small producers, local economies, and indigenous knowledge.  Their aims are to share diverse seeds; live diverse cultures; speak diverse languages; and celebrate diverse food traditions.  We heard from Greek participants of Terra Madre in this afternoon’s workshop on EcoFarming as well.

 

Shiva’ concern about ‘Water Democracy’ is something close to my heart and the realities here in Greece, the islands, Cyprus, etc.  We have the unfortunate privatization of water in Mytelini by 3E and many other examples of violations of ‘water democracy.’  Shiva speaks clearly when she says, "Water is Life.  Without water there can be no democracy… Nature does not distribute water uniformly.  It distributes is equitably."  Globalization exploits and privatizes water in most cases.

 

In conclusion, let us consider a quote from Gandhi, "…small scale responses are necessary in periods of dictatorship/totalitarian rule because of power inequality…"  It is important to remember that he didn’t bring down the British with guns and cannons, but with a pinch of salt and a spinning wheel! 

 

Shiva – like Howard Zinn, Andrej Grubacic, Michael Albert and all of you here – stresses that

 "If we accept these illegal, illegitimate laws, structures, and rules, we will lose our freedom – our living cultures and democracies.  As Gandhi taught, freedom can be reclaimed only by refusing to cooperate with unjust, immoral laws.  The fight for truth – employing the principles of civil disobedience, non-violence, and non-cooperation [OR Grubacic's notion of Direct Action] – is not just our right as free citizens of free societies.  It is our duty as citizens of the earth."

 

But, because corporate globalization & militarism go hand-in-hand through propaganda and war, the question of violence and peace comes to the forefront in the anti-corporate globalization movement.

 

Earth Democracy’s program then is to encourage the Freedom to Act and Think (New Conversations); to shifts from a corporate/military model of life to a sustainable, peaceful, diverse model; and to be bold enough to imagine and try new ways and new approaches.

 

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