The Keepers Of Our Past & The Guides To Our Future (By Arundhati Roy)

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“The day capitalism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognize that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come. If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, the mountains and the rivers protect them.

The first step towards reimagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination — an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfillment. To gain this philosophical space, it is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past, but who may really be the guides to our future.”

—Arundhati Roy

(The image that illustrates this post was found in Flick; it’s a “Pachamama” Mural in Bariloche (Argentina), near the artisan market. “Pachamama” refers to “Mother Earth” and is central to many indigenous cultures across South America.)

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COWSPIRACY – THE SUSTAINABILITY SECRET (The Connections Between Animal Agriculture and Global Warming)

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Cows don’t conspire, that’s for sure. But they’re involved in a conspiracy of silence and misinformation, created by humans, which aims to hide from public knowledge the real impacts of our eating habits. When it comes to Meat, most of us are living inside the Matrix. By that I mean that most of us, of course, don’t care that much about knowing where the meat in our Big Macs or chicken nuggets came from. We doesn’t establish the connection between bacon and slaughtered pigs, or between the milk in our breafast table and cows who are forcibly separated from their offspring. We prefer not even remembering that a living and sentient creature had to be killed and cut into pieces in order for us to enjoy our fleshy repasts inside a McDonalds or a Burger Kings. Most of us enjoy living “comfortably unaware”, to quote R. Oppenlander.

Corporate media also refuses to share proper information that would damage the reputations of junk-food mega-corporations, which make huge profits selling slices of dead animals who have been turned into hamburgers and sausages. What none of these established powers wants us to know is that animal agriculture is guilty of more environmental destruction and greenhouse gas emissions than the whole transportation sector, for example.  Cowspiracy, highly provocative and welll-informed documentary by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kohn, builds a strong case in defense of veganism as an essential and urgent component of the struggles to overcome our current environmental crisis.

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It turns out that, according to a World Watch Report called Livestock and Climate Change, 51% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. I can already hear some of you, dear readers, giggling in skepticism: “cow farts can’t possibly be that nasty!” Well, think again: we’re not talking only about farts, but about massive deforestations of rainforests; huge amounts of water consumption; and an ocean of excremental matter making its way into our rivers and oceans.

Let’s start with the funny part: farts. At least 5 times more toxic than CO2, the methane gas that result from the digestive process of cows is in fact a massive factor causing Global Warming. Some people would argue that one of Earth’s main problems is certainly not the cows and what comes out of their asses, but instead over-population: after all, we went from being  1 billion homo sapiens in 1800 to the current astonishing number of 7 billion. It’s in fact an awesome explosion of human population in a couple of centuries. However, there’s another over-population problem which is highly underestimated, almost never even mentioned: the Earth nowadays has a population of 70 billion farm animals, worldwide. This is how deeply and vastly Humankind has shaped the planet in order to suit its own desires.

Of course that, in order to make way for 70 billion animals, enslaved by Humankind so they can provide us with eggs and milk and meat, a lot of forests had to be cut down. The Amazon rainforest, for instance, has been wiped out in huge proportions in order to reach a clean slate of land in which the animal agribusiness can thrive. Picture this: the rate of deforestation of rainforests in our planet is equivalent to one football field per second. Absolutely fundamental to the balance of global ecosystems, the Amazon Rainforest, also known as The Lungs of the World, is a giant air-purifying machine: it breathes CO2 in, it breathes oxygen out. Our Civilization is in such a suicidal path, in such a self-destructive neurosis, that this essential key to our survival is being ravaged and annihilated in a terrifying pace.

Of course there are activists and organizations who rise up to defend the Amazon rainforest against the advancement of bulldozers and cattle ranchers and agribusiness megafarms. But the sad news is: in Brazil alone, more than 1.100 activists have been murdered in the last 20 years by trying to protect the Amazon and its indigenous populations from destruction. Chico Mendes and Dorothy Stang are only two of the most well-known people who lost their lives in this struggle. I strongly recommend you reading the Global Witness 2014 report, which provides a comprehensive overview of all the murders perpetrated against eco-activists in recent years. “Urgent action required to challenge impunity of perpetrators, protect citizens and address root causes of environmental crisis!”

Another serious issue concerning animal agriculture is, of course, a simple fact: 70 billion animals need to drink and to eat. To produce one single hamburger, it takes 660 gallons of water. Imagine the huge quantity of water that is required for our global production of meat and dairy. In a planet where almost 1 billion people suffer from hunger – thousands die every day because of conditions related to food insecurity and malnutrition – in many countries there’s no shortage of food to feed the animals. In the poorest countries in the world, human beings are dying of hunger while cows and pigs are being fed in order to be slaughtered and then eaten, mostly by consumers in the so-called “First World”. Isn’t this obscene?

And I’m not even gonna start on the theme of Animal Rights and Animal Liberation discourse – those interested in knowing more about the life conditions of these creatures can watch the impressive documentary Earthlings or read Peter Singer’s books. Cowspiracy isn’t interested in shocking people with footage from slaughterhouses or factory farms; instead, it provides an excellent analysis of how animal agriculture is guilty of massive ecological destruction. The film is bold enough to denounce that even environmental organizations – such as Greenpeace or Sierra Club – don’t have the guts to confront the powerful meat-industry.

Fossil fuels is obviously a huge problem, but shouldn’t we widely recognize also the destructive impact of large-scale meat-production and meat-consumption? Isn’t it obvious that urgent and massive action needs to be undertaken in order for us to overcome our current eating habits, which have proven so disastrous to Earth’s ecosystems? Veganism, after all, is increasingly being perceived not only as an individual choice by a bunch of hippies and animal-loving-freaks, but as an essential part of the alter-world we’re aiming to build, in which values such as sustainability, empathy and compassion can reign over individualism, competitiveness and anthropocentrism.

Vegetarianism is an ethical doctrine with spans milleniums of Human History – it has been a part of India’s civilization for thousands of years, and it goes much deeper than deeming the cow a Holy Animal; it also has influenced Western thought profoundly ever since Pythagoras in ancient Greece. A wonderful book about the history of vegetarianism is Tristram Stuart’s The Bloodless Revolution – A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Timesin which this English historian explores several different vegetarian doctrines from the last centuries, including remarks about some of History’s most significant vegans such as the Percy Shelley and Gandhi. After reading it, I got the strong impression that vegetarianism has enough historical force and deeply planted roots, and it can regain massive support in our contemporary world, especially considering the worsening of the climate crisis we will be experiencing in the next decades. Vegetarianism, hopefully, will be increasingly perceived as part of the solution for many of our present troubles. I don’t presume to have a direct connection to Miss Gaia, but I strongly suspect that she would love if humans turned vegan.

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Blogged by Awestruck Wanderer from the Media Center of Peoples Social Forum, Ottawa,  23/08/14.

BROKEN REPUBLIC (Penguin Books, 2011) – The “World’s Biggest Democracy” according to Arundathi Roy

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INDIA: THE WORLD’S BIGGEST DEMOCRACY? By E.C. Moraes @ Awestruck Wanderer 

AA1998: while we were reaching the end of the 20th century, India was testing nuclear weapons. The civilization which gave to the world masters of wisdom such as Gandhi and Sidarta Gautama, Ambedkar and Tagore, was very un-wisely on the brink of war.  It was like a reawakening of the politics of the Cold War, in which both the U.S. and the Soviet Union had atom bombs at their disposal, with both India and its next-door-neighbour Pakistan with weapons of mass destruction pointing at one another. The scars of Partition still imprinted in memory. Sad news, indeed. It’s as if, instead of learning from History (Hiroshima and Nagasaki: “the horror, the horror!”), some governments just won’t let go of this very lousy idea of messing with nuclear warfare – a situation so brilliantly mocked by Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove.

One of India’s greatest writers, Booker-Prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy, instead of writing a follow-up for The God of Small Things (1997) – widely considered a masterpiece of contemporary literature – felt she had to devote herself to write about the political reality of her nation’s turmoil. She accused India’s government of dangerously throwing fuel to a fire of nationalist pride with the Hindu H-Bomb. “When you have dispossession and disempowerment on this scale as a result of corporate globalization”, she told David Barsamian, “the anger that it creates can be channeled in bizarre and dangerous ways. India’s nuclear testes were conduced to shore up people’s flagging self-esteem. India is still flinching from the cultural insult of British colonialism, still looking for its identity.” (The Checkbook and the Cruise Missile, p. 37) Nuclear warfare on the hands of India and Pakistan was certainly no reason to celebrate, argued Arundhati Roy, who feared the worst might end up happening  -she finished one of her articles with apocalyptic imagery: “This world of our is 4.600 million years old. It could end in an afternoon.” (read The End of Imagination at Outlook Magazine)

broken-republic-arundhati-roy1Arundhati Roy’s political essays also denounce fiercely the Human Rights abuses in Kashmir, where India’s army imposes its rule with the colossal force of half-a-million soldiers (the largest military occupation in the world), crushing with violence all the demands of independence made by Kashmiris. Opposing the recent wave of celebration of India’s “economic miracle” and skyrocketing GDP, Arundhati Roy states that we shouldn’t be fooled by the ideology marketed by “experts in economics”. One shouldn’t measure the success of a nation by the number of new billionaires it produces each year. And wealth going into the pockets of large corporations and their politicians should never be confused with Common Wealth or Social Justice. She argues that India is a fake democracy, a society still deeply hierarchical, clinging to its rigid Caste System, with obscene rates of deaths by starvation and mass suicides by empoverished peasants (since 1997, it’s estimated that 200.000 of them have killed themselves, often by drinking Monsanto’s pesticides). Arundathi Roys, in her BBC interview, stated that no less than 800 million people in India live on less than 20 rupees a day (which means: 30 cents of a dollar).

According to Roy, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, India aligned with the U.S.A. and the Indian state decided to open its gates to all the marvels of Free Market and “Development”. When the new century dawned, however, the September 11th attacks on New York and Washington were to be followed by a surge of islamophobia, fueled by the Yankees “War on Terror” that was beggining to plan its military invasions and bombings of Afheganistan. In India, this epidemic of islamophobia caused disaster, a re-awakening of communal violence, culminating in tragedy: in Gujarat, 2002, Muslims were massacred  by Hindu nationalists in a pogrom which killed at least 2.000 people and forced at least 150.000 out of their homes. Welcome to the “World’s Largest Democracy”.

Is Indian Capitalism working? If we look at growth rates and skyrocketing GDP, oh yes Sir! But let’s not get blinded by economists and their statistics: India is a country ravaged by famine: “836 million people of India live on less than 20 rupees a day, 1.500.000 malnourished children die every year before they reach their first birthday. Is this what is known as ‘enjoying the fruits of modern development’?” (ROY, Broken Republic, pg. 154).

The Indian State also has to deal with another kind of menace, the “inner enemy”, those dozens of thousands of Indians, called “Maoists” or “Naxalites”, who decided to insurrect in armed rebellion. They want nothing less than to overthrow the Indian State. “Right now in central India, the Maoists’ guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Suharan Africa”, writes Arundhati Roy (pg. 7).

In 2006, India’s prime minister described the Maoists as “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country”, a statement which Roy considers very exaggerated.  By magnifying in discourse the danger posed by the Maoist guerrilla, by painting in the media a portrait of them as cruel terrorists, the Indian government aims, argues Arundhati Roy, to justify its war measures against the poorest of its citizens. Quite honest in revealing the masters who he serves, the prime minister also told the Parliament in 2009: “If Left Wing extremism continues to flourish in important parts of our country which have tremendous natural resources of minerals and other precious things, that will certainly affect the climate for investment.” (B.R., pg. 3)

For a quick example of the “tremendous natural resources”, it’s enough to mention that “the bauxite deposits of Orissa alone is worth 2.27 trillion dollars (twice India’s gross domestic product)” (pg. 23). In order for the mining corporations to have access to this precious things, India needs to be turned into a Police State. It needs to wage war against the hungry, desperate and destitute people who live in this very “profitable” lands, against the people who revolt against being displaced, impoverished and opressed. To simply leave the bauxite in the mountains seems out of the question for the government and the industrialists, of course, who have eyes only for the money that can be made and not to the environmental damage and social havoc that such procedures of extraction will cause. The alliance between a neo-liberal state and its corporate friends leads to a situation in which military power and police repression are massively used to enforce the so-called Free Market. In order to clear the way for the corporations to extract their profits from India’s natural resources, genocide is seen as an acceptable means, if only you preach in the media that a terrorist threat to national security needs to be crushed.

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Comrade Kamla, member of the Maoist guerrillas.

“What are we to make of the fact that just around the time the prime minister began to call the Maoists the ‘single biggest internal security challenge’ (which was a signal that the government was getting ready to go after them) the share prices of many of the mining corporations in the region skyrocketed? The mining companies desperately need this war… To justify the militarization, it needs an enemy. The Maoists are that enemy. They are to corporate fundamentalists what the Muslims are to Hindu fundamentalists. (…) Here’s a maths question: if it takes 600.000 soldiers to hold down the tiny valley of Kashmir, how many will it take to contain the mounting rage of hundreds of millions of people?” (31-34)

Arundhati Roy speaks from experience: she went to witness first-hand what’s happening in the areas where India’s State and the Maoist guerrilla clash. She tells the tale in Walking With The Comrades, one astonishing feat of investigative journalist that proves how courageous Arundathi Roy really is. She puts herself in danger in order to see for herself what’s going on there, in order to be able to write truly about the battle for the “mineral-rich forests of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal – homeland to millions of India’s tribal people, dreamland to the corporate world.” (pg. 42) It seems to be a situation with many similarities with Mexico’s conflict in Chiapas, where the Zapatista’s armed insurrection confronts the Mexican State in its tendency to favour corporate plunder of indigenous lands.

“The antagonists in the forest are disparate and unequal in almost every way. On one side is a massive paramilitary force armed with the money, the firepower, the media, and the hubris of an emerging Superpower. On the other, ordinary villagers armed with traditional weapons, backed by a superbly organized, hugely motivated Maoist guerrilla fighting force with an extraordinary and violent history of armed rebellion.” (pg. 39)

India’s Constitution, adopted in 1950, “ratified colonial policy and made the state custodian of tribal homelands. Overnight, it turned the entire tribal population into squatters on their own land.” (pg. 43) Dispossessed of their right to livelihood and dignity, the tribal people became pawns in the Big Business game. “Each time it needed to displace a large population – for dams, irrigation projects, mines – it talked of ‘bringing tribals into the mainstream’ or of giving them ‘the fruits of modern development’. Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people (more than 30 million by big dams alone), refugees of India’s ‘progress’, the great majority are tribal people.” (pg.  43) Here we have an example of what Bruno Latour calls The Modernization Front. In India, The Modernization Front, in order to protect corporate interests (after all, corporations are vehicles of Progress…), won’t refrain from engaging in a war against its own people. A War that Arundhati Roy prefers to call by another name: Genocide.

ArundhatiIn the 10-hour drive she untertook through areas known to be “Maoist-infested”, she noted: “These are not careless words. ‘Infest/infestation’ implies disease/pests. Diseases must be cured. Pests must be exterminated. Maoists must be wiped out. In these creeping, innocuous ways the language of genocide has entered our vocabulary.” (pg. 45) She walks for hours and hours each day, along with the comrades, under the shining and vehement sun, carrying a backpack filled with essentials for jungle-survival – and when it comes the time for sleep, she doesn’t mind that much not having a roof over her head. Resting on a sleeping-bag on the forest floor, she celebrates her “star-spangled dormitory” (pg. 63): “It’s my private suite in a thousand-star hotel. (…) When I was a child growing up on the banks of the Meenachal River, I used to think the sound of crickets – which always started up at twilight – was the sound of stars revving up, getting ready to shine. I’m surprised at how much I love being here. There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be.” (pg. 57-60)

While she walks with the comrades, she knows some areas they’re crossing run the risk of going underwater because of Mega Dams. Since Independence, 3.300 big dams were built, and the amount of displaced is estimated in over 30 million people.

“The Bodhgat Dam will submerge the entire area that we have been walking in for days. All that forest, that history, those stories. More than a hundred villages. Is that the plan then? To drown people like rats, so that the integrated steel plant and the bauxite mine and aluminium refinery can have the river? (…) There was a time when believing that Big Dams were the ‘temples of Modern India’ was misguided, but perhaps understandable. But today, after all that has happened, and when we knoe all that we do, it has to be said that Big Dams are a crime against humanity.” (pg. 142-143)

 In the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army, 45% of its cadre are women. The so-called Maoists or Naxalites consist mainly of people from the lowest caste of India’s piramidal society: the Untouchables, the pariahs of India, those who are treated as human scums, crushed underneath a heavy weight of hierarchical machinery. When the Prime Minister said the Maoists were a grave security challenge, “the opposite was true”, argues Roy, who remembers that the rebels were being decimated in a Purification Hunt destined to “send the share-value of mining companies soaring” (pg. 80)

What it all boils down to is a clash between Corporate Capitalism, on the one side, and the majority of the population, on the other. In times where ideologies of Free Trade reign, the exploration of natural resources is made not in order to provide for the commonwealth of the whole of society, but for private profits gained through ecocidal and genocidal means.

“Allowing ‘market forces’ to mine resources ‘quickly and efficiently’ is what colonizers did to their colonies, what Spain and North America did to South America, what Europe did (and continues to do) in Africa. It’s what the Apartheid regime did in South Africa. What puppet dictators in small countries do to bleed their people. It’s a formula for growth and development, but for someone else. (…) Now that mining companies [in India] have polluted rivers, mined away state borders, wrecked ecosystems and unleashed civil war, the consequence of what the coven has set into motion is playing out like an ancient lament over ruined landscapes and the bodies of the poor.” (pg. 170)

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“If the motion picture were an art form that involved the olfactory senses – in other words, if cinema smelled – then films like Slumdog Millionaire would not win Oscars. The stench of that kind of poverty wouldn’t blend with the aroma of warm popcorn.”  – Arundathi Roy

Arundathi Roy’s political thought is so intensely relevant nowadays because she is one of the fiercest critics of what goes by the name of “Democracy” nowadays. States that impose with authoritarian means – including military atrocities and police brutality – the policy of Free Market (which means: let’s protect the private interests of wealthy corporations and billionaires!), call themselves “democracies”. India is often called the world’s biggest democracy, and yet “the Indian State, in all its democratic glory, is willing to loot, starve, lay siege to, and now deploy the air-force in ‘self-defense’ against its poorest citizens.” (pg. 186) So we have to distinguish between Ideology / Propaganda (“India is a Democracy, a Fast-Growing Economy, with a State concerned in providing Security from terrorists”) from Reality (there are a lot of natural resources that corporations are eager to get a hold of… if only the people are thrown out of the way!).

The essential question to be asking is this: what about the future of the planet? If the current model of development continues, what will happen to mankind as we move towards a future that’s bound to be filled with ecological crisis and all the cataclysms ensuing from Climate Change? In India, there’s “several trillion dollars’ worth of bauxite, for example. And “there is no environmentally sustainable way of mining bauxite and processing it into aluminium. It’s a highly toxic process that most Western countries have exported out of their own environments. To produce 1 ton of aluminium, you need about 6 tons of bauxite, more than a 1000 tons of water and a massive amount of energy. For that amount of captive water and electricity, you need big dams, which, as we know, come with their own cycle of cataclysmic destruction. Last of all – the big question – what is the aluminium for? Where is it going? Aluminium is a principal ingredient in the weapons industry – for other countries’ weapons industries…” (p. 211)

Such is the suicidal logic of the Powers That Be, a situation so bleak that many of us are worrying about Mankind’s path: are we following a road that will lead to our own extinction? Does our future hold new horrendous explosions of Atom Bombs and civil wars?  Will Corporate Capitalism be allowed to proceed with its ecocidal practices and its obscene tendencies to concentrate wealth in a few hands (while millions die from hunger and curable diseases)? How to shift direction in order for us to slow down this process that has been turning Planet Earth into an Ecological Wreck? This is how Arundathi Roy finishes this deeply moving and concerning book, Broken Republic:

“Can we expect that an alternative to what looks like certain death for the planet will come from the imagination that has brought about this crisis in the first place? It seems unlikely. The alternative, if there is one, will emerge from the places and the people who have resisted the hegemonic impulse of capitalism and imperialism instead of being co-opted by it. Here in India, even in the midst of all the violence and greed, there is still hope. We still have a population that has not yet been completely colonized by that consumerist dream. We have a living tradition of those who have struggled for Gandhi’s vision of sustainability and self-reliance, for socialist ideas of egalitarianism and social justice. We have Ambedkar’s vision, which challenges the Gandhians as well as the socialists in serious ways. We have the most spectacular coalition of resistance movements, with their experience, understanding and vision. Most important of all, India has a surviving adivasi population of almost 100 million. They are the ones who still know the secrets of sustainable living.

The day capitaism is forced to tolerate non-capitalist societies in its midst and to acknowledge limits in its quest for domination, the day it is forced to recognize that its supply of raw material will not be endless, is the day when change will come. If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate-change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people who go to battle every day to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers… It is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past but may really be the guides to our future. To do this, we have to ask: Can you leave the water in the rivers, the trees in the forest? Can you leave the bauxite in the mountain? If they say they cannot, then perhaps they should stop preaching morality to the victims of their wars.” (pg. 214)

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DOWNLOAD ARUNDATHI ROY’S BOOKS (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!):

algebra

ALGEBRA OF INFINITE JUSTICE – DOWNLOAD

grass

LISTENING TO GRASSHOPPERS – DOWNLOAD

The confrontation with Gaia is imminent… (Bruno Latour)

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GAIA IN THE ANTHROPOCENE By Bruno Latour

“Geologists are beginning to use the term ANTHROPOCENE to designate the era of Earth’s history that extends from the scientific and industrial revolutions to the present day. These geologists see humanity as a force of the same amplitude as volcanoes or even plate tectonics. It is now before GAIA that we are summoned to appear: Gaia, the odd, doubly composite figure made up of science and mythology, used by certain specialists to designate the Earth that surrounds us and that we surround, the truly global Globe that threatens us even as we threaten it.

If I wanted to dramatize – perhaps overdramatize – the ambiance of my investigative project, I would say that it seeks to register the aftershocks of the MODERNIZATION FRONT just as the confrontation with Gaia appears imminent.

At all events, we shall not cure the Moderns of their attachment to their cherished theme, the modernization front, if we do not offer them an alternate narrative… After all, the Moderns have cities who are often quite beautiful; they are city-dwellers, citizens, they call themselves (and are sometimes called) “civilized”.

Why would we not have the right to propose to them a form of habitation that is more comfortable and convenient and that takes into account both their past and their future – a more sustainable habitat, in a way? Why would they not be at ease there? Why would they wander in the permanent utopia that has for so long made them beings without hearth or home – and has driven them for that very reason to inflict fire and bloodshed on the planet?

After all these years of wandering in the desert, do they have hope of reaching not the Promised Land but Earth itself, quite simply, the only one they have, at once underfoot and all around them, the aptly named Gaia?”

BRUNO LATOUR.
“An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns”
Harvard University Press, 2013. Translated by Catherine Porter.
Download e-book at Library Genesis.
Join: http://www.modesofexistence.org

 

Adam and Eve (Art by Alex Grey)

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The Affects of Capitalism (full lecture)
(If you wanna skip the intro, Latour actually starts speaking at 12 min and 45 seconds.)

DEADLY ENVIRONMENT: The Dramatic Rise in Killings of Eco-Activists (The Global Witness Report 2014)

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DEADLY ENVIRONMENT

Urgent action required to challenge impunity of perpetrators, protect citizens and address root causes of environmental crisis

Killings of people protecting the environment and rights to land increased sharply between 2002 and 2013 as competition for natural resources intensifies, a new report from Global Witness reveals. In the most comprehensive global analysis of the problem on record, the campaign group has found that at least 908 people are known to have died in this time. Disputes over industrial logging, mining and land rights the key drivers, and Latin America and Asia-Pacific particularly hard hit.

Released in the year of the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Brazilian rubber tapper and environmental activist Chico Mendes, Deadly Environment highlights a severe shortage of information or monitoring of this problem. This means the total is likely to be higher than the report documents, but even the known scale of violence is on a par with the more high profile incidence of journalists killed in the same period (1). This lack of attention to crimes against environment and land defenders is feeding endemic levels of impunity, with just over one per cent of the perpetrators known to have been convicted.

Chico Mendes

Chico Mendes (1944-1988), Brazilian trade union leader and environmentalist, murdered in 1988. Wikipedia.

“This shows it has never been more important to protect the environment, and it has never been more deadly,” said Oliver Courtney of Global Witness. “There can be few starker or more obvious symptoms of the global environmental crisis than a dramatic upturn in killings of ordinary people defending rights to their land or environment. Yet this rapidly worsening problem is going largely unnoticed, and those responsible almost always get away with it. We hope our findings will act as the wake-up call that national governments and the international community clearly need.”

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The key findings in Deadly Environment are as follows:

  •  At least 908 people were killed in 35 countries protecting rights to land and the environment between 2002 and 2013, with the death rate rising in the last four years to an average of two activists a week.
  •  2012 was the worst year so far to be an environmental defender, with 147 killings – nearly three times more than in 2002.
  •  Impunity for these crimes is rife: only 10 perpetrators are known to have been convicted between 2002 and 2013 – just over one per cent of the overall incidence of killings.
  •  The problem is particularly acute in Latin America and South East Asia. Brazil is the most dangerous place to defend rights to land and the environment, with 448 killings, followed by Honduras (109) and the Philippines (67).

1

The problem is exacerbated by a lack of systematic monitoring or information. Where cases are recorded, they are often seen in isolation or treated as a subset of other human rights or environmental issues. The victims themselves often do not know their rights or are unable to assert them because of lack of resources in their often remote and risky circumstances.

John Knox, UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and the Environment said:

“Human rights only have meaning if people are able to exercise them. Environmental human rights defenders work to ensure that we live in an environment that enables us to enjoy our basic rights, including rights to life and health. The international community must do more to protect them from the violence and harassment they face as a result.”

Indigenous communities are particularly hard hit. In many cases, their land rights are not recognized by law or in practice, leaving them open to exploitation by powerful economic interests who brand them as ‘anti-development’. Often, the first they know of a deal that goes against their interests is when the bulldozers arrive in their farms and forests.

Land rights form the backdrop to most of the known killings, as companies and governments routinely strike secretive deals for large chunks of land and forests to grow cash crops like rubber, palm oil and soya. At least 661 – over two-thirds – of the killings took place in the context of conflicts over the ownership, control and use of land, in combination with other factors. The report focuses in detail on the situation in Brazil, where land disputes and industrial logging are key drivers, and the Philippines, where violence appears closely linked to the mining sector.

This week, a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is expected to issue a stark warning that governments are failing to reduce carbon emissions(2). It is likely to show the world is on course to miss the targets required to stay within the accepted 2C temperature increase that is generally considered a line that must not be crossed to avoid climatic upheaval. Global Witness’ research suggests that as well as failing to reduce their emissions, governments are failing to protect the activists and ordinary citizens who find themselves on the frontline of this problem.

“This rapidly worsening situation appears to be hidden in plain sight, and that has to change. 2012, the year of the last Rio Summit, was the deadliest on record. Delegates gathering for climate talks in Peru this year must heed this warning – protection of the environment is now a key battleground for human rights. While governments quibble over the text of new global agreements, at the local level more people than ever around the world are already putting their lives on the line to protect the environment,” said Andrew Simms of Global Witness, “At the very least, to start making good on official promises to stop climate change, governments should protect and support those personally taking a stand.”

The report also underlines that rising fatalities are the most acute and measurable end of a range of threats including intimidation, violence, stigmatization and criminalization. The number of deaths points to a much greater level of non-lethal violence and intimidation, which the research did not document but requires urgent and effective action.

Global Witness is calling for a more coordinated and concerted effort to monitor and tackle this crisis, starting with a resolution from the UN’s Human Rights Council specifically addressing the heightened threat posed to environmental and land defenders. Similarly, regional human rights bodies and national governments need to properly monitor abuses against and killings of activists, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. Companies must carry out effective checks on their operations and supply chains to make sure they do no harm.

Chico Mendes with his children. 25 years ago, th Brazilian activist was murdered and one of the Voices of the Amazon brutally silenced.

Chico Mendes with his children. 25 years ago, in 1988, the Brazilian activist was murdered and one of the Voices of the Amazon was brutally silenced.

READ THE FULL GLOBAL WITNESS REPORT

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You might also be interested in:
THEY KILLED SISTER DOROTHY (2008, FULL DOCUMENTARY)

VOICE OF THE AMAZON (FULL DOCUMENTARY)

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Read also:

  • THE GUARDIAN: Investigation by Global Witness reveals there were nearly three times as many deaths in 2012 than 10 years previously.
  • HUFFINGTON POST:  More Than 900 Environmental Advocates Slain In A Decade As Concern For The Planet Grows.

THE WEB OF LIFE… and the Global Grass-Roots Ecology Movements (By Fritjof Capra)

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Fritjof Capra (1939 – )

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FOREWORD

“Questions that have puzzled scientists and philosophers for hundreds of years: How did complex structures evolve out of a random collection of molecules? What is the relationship between mind and brain? What is consciousness?  (…) “How does a wounded organism regenerate to exactly the same structure it had before? How does the egg form the organism?” (BRENNER, Sidney.) A new language for understanding the complex, highly integrative systems of life has indeed emerged. (…) The new understanding of life may be seen as the scientific forefront of the change of paradigms form a mechanistic to an ecological viewpoint. The synthesis of current theories and models I propose in this book – The Web of Life – may be seen as an outline of an emerging theory of living systems that offers a unified view of mind, matter, and life.” – FRITJOF CAPRA, Intro

CRISIS OF PERCEPTION

“Environmental concerns have become of paramount importance. We are faced with a whole series of global problems that are harming the biosphere and human life in alarming ways that may soon become irreversible. The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are interconnected and interdependent. Scarcities of resources and environmental degradation, combined with rapidly expanding populations, lead to the break-down of local communities and to the ethnic and tribal violence that has become the main characteristic of the post-Cold War era. Ultimately these problems must be seen as just different facets of one single crisis, which is largely a crisis of perception.  It derives from the fact that most of us, and especially our large social institutions, subscribe to concepts of an outdated worldview, a perception of reality inadequate for dealing with our overpopulated, globally interconnected world.

The solutions to the major problems of our time require a radical shift in our perception, our thinking, our values. And, indeed, we are now at the beginning of such a fundamental change of worldview in science and society, a change of paradigms as radical as the Copernican revolution.  But this realization has not yet dawned on most of our political leaders. The recognition that a profound change of perception and thinking is needed if we are to survive has not yet reached most of our corporate leaders, either, or the administrators and professors of our large universities.

The only viable solutions are those that are “sustainable”. The concept of sustainability has become a key concept in the ecology movement and is indeed crucial. Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute has given a simple, clear, and beautiful definition: “A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations.” [1] This, in a nutshell, is the great challenge of our time: to create sustainable communities – that is to say, social and cultural environments in which we can satisfy our needs and aspirations without diminishing the chances of future generations.

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BROWN, Lester R. Building a Sustainable Society. Norton, New York, 1981.

The paradigm that is now receding has dominated our culture for several hundred years, during which it has shaped our modern Western society and has significantly influenced the rest of the world. This paradigm consists of a number of entrenched ideas and values, among them the view of the universe as a mechanical system composed of elementary building blocks, the view of the human body as a machine, the view of life in society as a competitive struggle for existence, the belief in unlimited material progress to be achieved through economic and technological growth, and – last, but not least – the belief that a society in which female is everywhere subsumed under the male is one that follows a basic law of nature. All of these assumptions have been fatefully challenged by recent events. And, indeed, a radical revision of them is now occurring.

The new paradigm may be called a holistic or ecological worldview, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts. Deep ecological awareness recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies, we are all embedded in (and ultimately dependent on) the cyclical processes of nature. (…) The sense in which I use the term “ecological” is associated with a specific philosophical school and, moreover, with a global grass-roots movement known as “deep ecology”, which is rapidly gaining prominence. The philosophical school was founded by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in the early 1970s (you can download for free his e-books: Life’s Philosophy: Reason and Feeling in a Deeper WorldEcology, Community and Lifestyle: Outline of an Ecosophy and The Selected Works of Arne Naess: Volumes 1-10).

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Arne Næss: Philosopher, Professor, Environmentalist – Watch documentary about him

Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centered. It views humans as above or outside of nature, as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans – or anything else – from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects, but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life.

The new vision of reality based on deep ecological awareness is consistent with the so-called perennial philosophy of spiritual traditions, whether we talk about the spirituality of Christian mystics, that of Buddhists, or the philosophy and cosmology underlying the Native American traditions.

The common ground of the various schools of social ecology is the recognition that the fundamentally antiecological nature of many of our social and economic structures and their technologies is rooted in what Riane Eisler has called the ‘DOMINATOR SYSTEM’ of social organization. Patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism, and racism are examples of social domination that are exploitative and antiecological.

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FROM HIERARCHIES TO NETWORKS

If we look at our Western industrial culture, we see that we have overemphasized the self-assertive values – competition, expansion, domination – and neglected the integrative tendencies – cooperation, partnership etc. (…) Power, in the sense of domination over others, is excessive self-assertion. The social structure in which it is exerted most effectively is the hierarchy. Indeed, our political, military, and corporate structures are hierarchically ordered, with men generally occupying the upper levels and women the lower levels. Most of these men, and quite a few women, have come to see their position in the hierarchy as part of their identity, and thus the shift to a different system of values generates existential fear in them.

However, there is another kind of power, one that is more appropriate for the new paradigm – power as influence of others. The ideal structure for exerting this kind of power is not the hierarchy but the network, which, as we shall see, is also the central metaphor of ecology. The paradigm shift thus includes a shift in social organization from hierarchies to networks.

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FRITJOF CAPRA. The Web Of Life – A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems.

Download Capra’s e-books here.

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