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Colonialism and big changes

October 11, 2011

I haven’t been paying much attention to Occupy Wall Street, mostly because I’ve been reading about post-colonialism, and about the American Civil War, and gathering ideas for the novel I will be writing next month (Nanowrimo). But the Slacktiverse has a good round up of links to posts about problems with OWS, that tie into what I’ve been thinking about.

Based on the very little that I know about OWS, it seems like there is a good idea in there somewhere, but I don’t think it goes anywhere near as far as it needs to.

For one thing, there’s not nearly enough diversity in the voices we’re hearing from. But beyond that, I think a lot of people who want change aren’t thinking big enough.

Capitalism and colonialism and kyriarchy only really benefit the people at the very top. Everyone else is destroyed: quickly, if you live in a developing nation; and more slowly, if you live in a developed nation. There really aren’t any winners. Because even the elite do have to live in the same physical world as the rest of us, where clean air, clean water, fertile soil, and healthy ecosystems are all in peril. If we humans kill our planet, we will all die here. Even rich people can’t escape Earth.

So in a very real way, we are all in this handbasket together.


Some months ago, I read The Moral Lives of Animals by Dale Peterson, which talks about how various mammals, and not just primates, have developed morality. The author suggests then that human morality is not something we humans can claim we developed from scratch, ‘cause humans are just that awesome (also known as “human exceptionalism”). It’s a very thought-provoking book; I highly recommend it.

I mention it here because Peterson says that the anxious desire that almost all humans seem to feel for acquiring ever more resources is not a solely-human trait; that other primates have it as well. So monkeys also hoard resources, and get nervous when they can’t keep obtaining more.

Capitalism constantly encourages us to buy more stuff, even when we don’t need anymore. We are never allowed to think that what we have is sufficient. Because if we were to stop spending our money, the economy would collapse.

I’ve been unemployed for over two years, so I’ve had to radically rethink how I spend money. I have funds socked away in various 401(k) and 403(b) accounts, all of which seem to decrease every quarter. Spouse and I have been downsizing our possessions. I haven’t “gone shopping” in three years, and I don’t think I ever will again.

But even this is not enough. The planet is in deep trouble, and human activities have made that happen. We not only need to dismantle colonialism, capitalism, and kyriarchy, we humans have to discover or create a new way to relate to the world itself, and the other organisms who share the planet with us.

I saw a photograph from Occupy Wall Street of a sign carried by a man that said something like, “the Earth has enough resources for all men to have what they need, if we aren’t greedy.” (I’m pretty sure it said “men”, not “people”.) A larger issue though is how human beings always want to amass more resources. They never feel like they have enough. And then they want still more for their children and grandchildren. Yet, the planet is finite. So while there may be enough resources for today’s population of humans to have what they need, if most or all of them have children and grandchildren, and all those people demand as much as their parents had, plus the more they “deserve”, due to inflation or whatever, well, there just isn’t enough stuff for all that, in pretty short order.

And then there is the issue that, the organisms in this world and Gaia herself have never been, as far as I’ve ever heard, asked for their opinions, about what we humans are doing with the whole world, as if it were ours, and only ours, to use however we like. I would guess most organisms do not consider themselves “natural resources” that were born and live for the sole purpose of providing human beings with things that they want or need. And those human beings will never be satisfied; they will keep coming, always demanding more, from creatures who have no voice, subalterns in fact. (Subaltern may be the most useful word I’ve learned lately.) How is that not colonialism and imperialism too?

That’s why I think we’re not thinking big enough. All the countries and territories of the human world are interdependent nowadays. And yet, the systems we rely on are broken, corrupt, and toxic to everyone. No matter how we might go about trying to reform things, there’s going to be a lot of upheaval, because everything will be in flux for quite a while. There won’t be any (or much) stability. So why are we thinking that “if I just get what I want, everything can go back to normal!” There is no more normal. Maybe everything needs to change, including our expectations of what is possible, what is desirable, what we can live with.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2011 01:08

    Nice post and loved the concluding paragraph. We need to think big big picture…we need to dream and make proposals that appear to the majority as bordering on insanity…but what the majority fails to see is that our current predicament is insane.

    • October 12, 2011 09:52

      Yes, exactly. I’m glad my post resonated with someone!

    • Skyknight permalink
      October 16, 2011 12:31

      And yet the question remains, where did the insanity first manifest? As little use as I have for anarcho-primitivism, I sometimes wonder if the madness predates civilization. If the bit about nervous-when-nothing-can-be-accrued also existing in primates is anything to go by, I wonder again if the root might be awareness of death’s approach. All creatures fly from death when they see it coming, the main exception being when they’re warding their kin and symbiotics from wider death; the difference may be that primates aren’t aware of just a physical approach, but also a temporal approach (by contrast, a gazelle knows full well what happens if a cheetah’s claws and teeth make contact, but not necessarily that even if those are evaded, opportunistic diseases let in by aging will bring death anyway). That is, consciously aware that they’ll EVENTUALLY die.

      Anarcho-primitivists and tribalists often bring up Levi-Strauss’s “evolutionary principle” (I do wish I could find out WHERE he brought this up, and/or if this might instead be a mistaken association; Google isn’t getting me anywhere), the idea that if an organism is in an environment sufficiently dissimilar to the one it’s adapted to, it will become maladaptive and/or pathological. From what I can tell, the mechanism would be that in this dissimilar environment, it’s no longer so easy to find food, and the kind of shelter one would expect to find is not actually a haven from the new local predators (i.e. death-bringers). That is, survival is not as easy as before; *death is more obvious/present*. And thus, the fight/flight reflex and its ilk activate more frequently. And from there, more constant panic/pain/fear.

      In the case of primates and humans, the problem is that if one is constantly aware of death, even if it’s only forty to seventy years away, rather than a few hundred meters away, the fly-from-death reflexes may still activate. Even if only in a muted fashion, I expect the stress would still be there. Stress that could accumulate, if not somehow tempered. And since the death-threat does not come from immediate stimuli, but just from understanding of existence in general, even in the place the creature is adapted to, I worry that just by being aware of mortality’s inevitability, primates might be doomed to some measure of maladaptation and/or pathology (although one of the things I’d like to find in any original document of Levi-Strauss’s is WHAT determines which of maladaptation or pathology results). Unlike other creatures, no capability to be absolutely at ease…In a sense, maladapted to reality itself.

      If primates in general have this concern, I suppose it (or anything that inevitably elicited it) did provide a survival advantage in evolutionary terms. And yet, given what it might have led to, could this be evolutionary life finally turning in upon itself? The Medea Hypothesis being proven, a declaration and conviction of organic life as a capital heresy against the cosmos? To say that it fills me with worry is an understatement…

      • October 16, 2011 14:30

        I’m not familiar with either Levi-Strauss, or anarcho-primitivism, so thank you for mentioning them. There’s always more to learn about!

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