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Just to clarify, my post was meant to be reflective of Marx’s thought not an original contribution. And indeed, I recognize that my post was sort of pedantic but, to paraphrase Žižek, the reason is because the idiot I am writing for is myself. I finished volume one of Capital just a few days ago and the only two Marxist theorists I am versed in are David Harvey and Slavoj Žižek. My engagement with environmentalism, meanwhile, has been non-existent. So there is no need to fear being trite or stating the obvious. This is the sort of conversation I want to start on tumblr about economics or environmentalism: one that starts at the very beginning. To answer your question, I suppose I was referring to (without any real rigor) all environmentalism.
Some sensibility tells me that Earth First! has been a proponent this sort of Marxist environmentalism for a while. I once saw a pamphlet of theirs citing Deleuze and denouncing the bourgeoisie environmentalism of hybrid cars and conscientious consumerism at SUNY Purchase, (advocating their total destruction) the last time I visited. They also seem to have the disposition that technology is not the answer. So I’m not making new inroads. However, I might radically pose that for Marx technology and nature are equiprimordial categories, even to the extent that when humans intervene upon nature with technology it emerges as ‘natural.’ In the Hegelian mode, nature gains its identity by opposing itself to a comprehending subject: its comprehension produces it and this ‘moment’ is comprised in its identity. However, nature functions noumenally as a series of infinitely complex interrelated causes. In this regard nature reacts to and reveals itself in ‘events.’ Humans are one such event. This is not a trite way of saying that humans and nature are inextricably related and we ought to take care to see that nature maintains its balance. It is to say that we define and compose nature since we are a constituent element. As we produce and reproduce we also reproduce nature. Implicitly there is a sort of law of conservation of energy: since matter cannot be created or destroyed, the mass of the Earth, even if it is totally anthropomorphized can and will always be replenished by man himself, least not by his corpse. It is here that the dialectical relationship between man and nature is apparent: nature’s absolute limit to support human life will be a humanly determined quantity consciously or unconsciously. The logic that governs the use and distribution of resources determines how and in what capacity nature is capable of sustaining mankind.
Here, in this relationship between man and nature, Marx puts a lot of stake in the power of the human idea to shape reality. But it is also where he is the most critical. And paradoxically, since this has all been very abstract, it is where he is the most materialist. This is super cursory but it is a functional example, Marx, in his section “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation,” states that Ireland in the mid 1800’s was more or less capable of providing for the multitude of its inhabitants. However, after the English wrested control of the majority of land and property from the Irish nobility through military and police action, the logic governing the use of Irish land totally changed. Raising sheep for commercial purposes rather as a means of subsistence (or growing food) changed the composition of space in Ireland. Following this was the massive starvation and unemployment and a corresponding mass emigration to the United States. English land owners and rentiers organized space in Ireland around the demands and necessities of capital, not for the sake of sustaining the population.
The final image of the British Empire before the turn of the century was a densely packed and miserable mainland with sparsely populated and relatively open colonies. The constant technological improvement of factories on the mainland drove the working class to pauperism, emigration to the colonies or death. The colonies maintained the industry of the Britain through low cost labor that extracted raw resources or made commodities or commodity components in domestic industries to be assembled in factory towns on the mainland. The cycle of population (excess population on the mainland to be deported to the colonies)/depopulation (the reorganization of subjugated peoples into densities amenable to capital) and the reorganization of colonized land into land available for capital determined the spatial composition of and distribution of population across the empire.
So the critical potential of Marx’s analysis is obvious. But what it paves the way for is an alternative ‘logic’ that governs the distribution of population. The vast majority of the population is dependent on capital for their means of subsistence, thus they congregate in areas where they can achieve their means of subsistence (get a job). If we assume a perfectly rational subject who is trying to secure the best employment and say rather generally that employment is a variable that is determined by market forces (which are by nature unpredictable) then we can say that the logic that determines the composition of the population could almost be called unconscious and subject to a myriad of affects, interruptions, and changes. Indeed, people also have a tendency to multiply which compounds the problem of population and its distribution but solves a problem for capital: it produces cheap labor. Indeed Marx talks about roaming hordes of unemployed workers or paupers who would travel from town to town in England looking for work - the reserve army of the unemployed. Here we arrive at the point that, and I apologize if this is trite, a planned economy, socialism, or communism serves as a solution for this capitalist chaos.
The coherency of the human idea, an organizing principle which governs the distribution of population, and an economic system that didn’t profit from this misery of unemployment and overpopulation could simply solve these problems. A scientific approach to these problems (I mean this in a broad sense) which hitherto has not been really been approached or tried (although if we were really brainwashed and optimistic we could say that the Soviet Union or Cuba attempted this) would be the answer. Perhaps this means the actual and large-scale experimentation with people and cities (which makes me grin with totalitarian satisfaction and recall Dr. Breen from Aeon Flux) would be a solution. But I feel like I’m Fourier or something and I’ve descended into utopian absurdity.
Anyway, this tangent can be used mark the useful differentiation between science and technology. Science, in its Marxist conception, is coherent and controlled in its method but the effects it produces are revolutionary. Marx’s system, for instance, is scientific. I would say that Marx would agree with Kuhn in that a scientific advance coincides with a revolutionary paradigm shift and thus has the more ‘parabolic’ structure (if I am understanding your usage correctly) since it affects change across multiple (or every) axis. When I say that technology is linear I mean that as long as it is controlled by capitalists in can only produce and transcend self-imposed limits, i.e., barriers to entry like the ease and speed of communication or the ‘valorization’ of capital, the labor process (like I said, building things faster and more efficiently), improving upon the means of production and innovating new goods and services. Philosophically, for Marx, technology is reflective or ‘reflexive’ moment of the comprehension of nature: “Technology discloses man’s mode of dealing with Nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them” (372). The horizon of technology, in its potential to shake the foundations of society, is actually quite limited to this function of disclosure and the regulated proliferation of capital. So I agree with you, and we have been agreeing, technology is not the answer to ecological sustainability. The answer would have to properly scientific, that is to say, totally separate to the domain of capital.
I hope this is not all too undisciplined or verbose. Like I said before, I am almost totally untrained in both economics and environmentalism. I can’t speak to Malthus, John Bellamy Foster, or Carolyn Merchant but I am now intrigued by them, they seem to be worth knowing and I would love to participate in this conversation in more than a purely specious way.
Thanks, I’m often a bit unsure of how to proceed on tumblr because I often (well, my ‘output’ is abject in recent months…) use it to experiment by emitting a kind of finished/draft: thoughts thrown together that should form the seeds of thoughts but that will benefit from mouldering in a location I perceive of as roughly permanent. I had expected something similar to be the case, but I wanted to get out as many responses as I could to all possible scenarios. Maybe I’ll be a bit better organized this time around.
Sources: I’m not certain to what extent you wish to pursue this line of thought, but Paul Burkett would be an addition to the above-named authors. Merchant is basically awesome, I’m not sure what else to say there. I can’t imagine not loving it. Foster is awesome, too, if you’re into the Monthly Review type of thing. I wanted to bring this up last post, and will now because it ties into the utopian points: Anna Peterson. Peterson’s work is on animal ethics but has done fieldwork in El Salvador and on Anabaptists in the US. Peterson largely refrains from allowing heady theoretical work to jeopardize embedded practice; an intentional move that tries to negate neither. To quote quickly (just to give a fast taste):
which model is more utopian: the Amish Gemeinde or the American dream of affluence, freedom from want, and endless consumption, which so few people actually achieve. (Seeds of the Kingdom, 2005:40)
More central to your points would be to say that my take on Marx has now been pretty heavily skewed, primarily by Foster (and as such I need to revisit the primary sources). I think I would actually concur with you, after some more introspection, that Marx has been interpreted in ‘promethean’ terms. To be fair, I see now that I goaded you a bit with the nature definition questions; but that is exactly the point where wider conversations on environmentalism flounder: because they too often leave out the metabolic relationship that makes up humans and nature. To play devil’s advocate by quoting JBF, for lack of original research:
Marx’s concept of the the alienation of labor was inseparable from the alienation of human beings from nature, from both their own internal nature and external nature (72)
The alienation of labor was a reflection of the fact that labor (power) had become reduced virtually to the status of a commodity, governed by the laws of supply and demand (73)
[quote from Marx and Engels Collected Works] ‘the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of social relations.’ In other words… all history was nothing but the development (that is, self-development) of human nature through social intercourse. (113)
JBF quotes Marx’s Early Writings:
Nature is man’s inorganic body, that is to say, nature in so far as it is not the human human. Man lives from nature, i.e. nature is his body, and he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die. To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is a part of nature
In any event, I have argued before (not here) that Marx is anthropocentric, probably unapologetically so. In and of itself, I don’t think that is a problem. Much of North American environmentalism is caught up in its conflation of wilderness with nature, and with a failure to comprehend the animal nature of the human species. I think a healthy relationship is what we’re after, and this is not necessarily what Marx expresses; to reiterate what you’ve said, he leans more to the Baconian domination of nature than to a Romantic sentimentalism. I think my issue is that so often, only one of these two problematic stances has addressed, whereas neither are sustainable alternatives. Which brings me full-circle back to Anna Peterson (I promise it wasn’t a needless insertion): in the Anabaptists she presents a community whose economy centers on direct relationship with the earth in its most visceral, but a community which also takes great pains to build a social fabric upon this human/nature relation. The end result is an ecologically sound utopian community built around religion.
And to be sure, the nature of the interrelationship that constitutes the human/nature metabolism for Marx is production. Production becomes the key operator at the expense of all else (and really, is that not an accurate description of one of the failings of Marx??), which is not to say that Marx followed Proudhon’s mechanical Prometheanism. But in contradistiction to the Anabaptists, it appears to me that what is lacking is a distinctly human capacity to create connections that transcend mechanical facts. Whether this is social ties or religion or what have you, I think any scheme needs some space for human ingenuity. To phrase it differently, “un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard”.
Moving on to a further point: you’re correct in the assessment of unemployment and overpopulation being beneficial to (if not caused by) capital, and I extend that to say that our currently existing cities are a manifestation of this drive, or at least of its historical antecedents (at this point we could go more micro and dive into someone like Harvey). Not that the city is a monolithic entity in its scope (though as Lefebvre states, the urban fabric has spread out to a global extent at varying strength) or in how it is lived in the everyday sense (that is, that reterritorialisation is occurring), but that while the city was not implemented as a technique of domination a priori it is able to act in that manner. To take it a step further, I would say that the city constitutes the replacement of nature with a mechanical humanity in the human imaginary so that in place of interrelationship there is a darkened mirror-image, an empty connection between the self and the self-as-other, like the rumblings of concrete rubbing up against stone.
Anyway, I might have worn out my welcome on this particular thread, but it is an interesting topic that I would love to continue learning about. I am no expert (on anything really, but especially not anything here) and I can tell from having followed you for a while that there is a lot I can learn from you; which I’m very grateful to do. I too want these types of conversations, maybe we can move in more structured directions? I get really wordy really quickly and then it starts to serve no purpose… And yes, the mallarmé is a bit gratuitous but since I’m also expressing myself, its how I live my life!
is where i post at. this address is currently inactive [maybe one day]
is where i post at. this address is currently inactive [maybe one day]
I think this is from an amazing PBS series called Trying Times. I’ve searched several times but have never found a single clip. I searched again today and I found this petition. I hope you’ll sign it too. http://www.petitiononline.com/trying87/petition.html
screencap from True Stories (1986), a feature-length film from David Byrne. this shot is from 36:24 in. i don’t know if it was used in ‘Trying Times’, as i’ve never seen it. i want to now, though. here is another, related shot of david byrne, for your viewing pleasure http://theinconceivablemiddlepage.tumblr.com/post/6996741707