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Overcoming the Economic Commodification of Nature

 
 
Reply Sun 12 Apr, 2009 09:11 am
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Quote:
Post Scarcity Anarchism, p.24-25



In light of this quote by social ecologist Murray Bookchin, how can society move beyond the competitive growth and profits at all cost economy in which all aspects of nature are converted into commodities, to an economy that society is sustainably integrated into the natural environment?


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GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Mon 13 Apr, 2009 08:14 pm
@Theaetetus,
By commodities does he mean bought, sold, and/or bartered, or simply consumed?
0 Replies
 
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Mon 13 Apr, 2009 08:43 pm
@Theaetetus,
I think he is speaking about turning all of nature into commercial commodities that are bought, sold, traded, and consumed. A modern example of this would be the proposed carbon tax where carbon emissions are turned into a commodity. It seems that if the need to turn nature into commodities, rather than an environment with an intrinsic worth of its own for the sake of its own self, that humanity is on an inevitable crash course with ecological catastrophe.
GoshisDead
 
  1  
Reply Mon 13 Apr, 2009 09:34 pm
@Theaetetus,
Anything considered a thing (non-human) has always been treated as a commodity, even in hunter-gatherer egalitarian bands. It is the dehumanization of anything even humans that make them a commodity, from outright slavery all the way to turning them into market share statistics. Note that objects that most would consider commodities that are given anthropomorphic qualities all of the sudden have sentemental value that makes them less of a commodity, for example boats, get names and are often refered to with gender in English anyway. They suddenly become almost like pets. I think that the judeo-christian tradition of man dominates land is impeding the one credible route by which humanity could change their opinions about the earth. Meaning that traditions that claim the earth as anthropomorphized are looked upon as either occult, hippie, foofy, or whatever.

Jared Diamond: Collapse is an interesting series of case studies where he documents the ecological disaters that preluded the collapse of several civilizations. Might check it out.

FYI Diamond doesn't endorse what I said in his book, that was just me thinking in text.
Mr Fight the Power
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Apr, 2009 05:51 am
@GoshisDead,
Most of these socialists are the socio-economic equivalent of MJA.

The notion that man must dominate nature is a biological fact. Men who attempt and succeed at dominating nature are more evolutionary fit.

Every creature that better exploits its environment will be evolutionary successful.

The part that really bugs me is the "competitive nature" of modern capitalism, and how it "pits man against man". This line of thinking is endemic within socialists, and its about as subtle as Green Day lyrics. Market relations, and the division of labor it allows breeds a spontaneous cooperation. The farmer cannot support his current lifestyle on his own, so he tends his fields exclusively with the understanding that he will be able to trade his crops for furniture from a carpenter or clothes from a tailor.

It may not be the glorious social revolution that many utopian socialists want, but it is cooperation, it is the understanding that two can be their own ends simultaneously by freely consenting to be each others means.
Khethil
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Apr, 2009 06:16 am
@Mr Fight the Power,
Interesting. Some of this is good; some isn't. I would; however, definitely characterize this as 'axe-grinding' (which is neither here nor there); in any case...

  • Of course natural resources are going to be commodified. This is neither good nor bad - what is any "thing" we have in our environment but a 'commodity' anyway? Whether or not a natural resource is a commodity seems to me both self-evident and banal.


  • I would agree that reckless over-consumption of non-renewable resources is bad. This also strikes me as somewhat on the obvious side.


  • The passage seems to place, at the feet of the capitalist, the sole blame for over consumption. I'm not sure any economic system does any better or worse - environmentally. Consumption is an matter-of-existence for most lifeforms on our planet; it isn't endemic to any particular system, per say.

While I'd agree with some of this, I think it's a bit tunnel-visioned side. Sure, we can blame capitalism I suppose, but I believe the wider perspective bids us look deeper.

Thanks
0 Replies
 
Mr Fight the Power
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Apr, 2009 06:23 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus wrote:
I think he is speaking about turning all of nature into commercial commodities that are bought, sold, traded, and consumed. A modern example of this would be the proposed carbon tax where carbon emissions are turned into a commodity. It seems that if the need to turn nature into commodities, rather than an environment with an intrinsic worth of its own for the sake of its own self, that humanity is on an inevitable crash course with ecological catastrophe.


Note: commodities have prices, prices rise as commodities become scarce, people adjust their consumption as prices rise

And you are too smart for this "intrinsic worth" nonsense.
0 Replies
 
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Apr, 2009 07:31 am
@Theaetetus,
So clean air, clean water, healthy soil, and access to resources have no intrinsic worth?

There are ways to "exploit" the environment without wasting it. There are good and bad ways to do anything.

---------- Post added at 08:52 AM ---------- Previous post was at 08:31 AM ----------

Mr. Fight the Power wrote:
Most of these socialists are the socio-economic equivalent of MJA.


Now that is just blatant use of poisoning the well. Sure, many socialist may be off base, but so are many anarchists or others from other socio-economic thinking. The point is drawing on good ideas wherever they may come from.

Mr. Fight the Power wrote:

The notion that man must dominate nature is a biological fact. Men who attempt and succeed at dominating nature are more evolutionary fit.

Every creature that better exploits its environment will be evolutionary successful.


You are correct, but the species that over exploit their environment fail from an evolutionary perspective because they no longer have the resources to evolve.


Mr. Fight the Power wrote:
The part that really bugs me is the "competitive nature" of modern capitalism, and how it "pits man against man". This line of thinking is endemic within socialists, and its about as subtle as Green Day lyrics. Market relations, and the division of labor it allows breeds a spontaneous cooperation. The farmer cannot support his current lifestyle on his own, so he tends his fields exclusively with the understanding that he will be able to trade his crops for furniture from a carpenter or clothes from a tailor.

It may not be the glorious social revolution that many utopian socialists want, but it is cooperation, it is the understanding that two can be their own ends simultaneously by freely consenting to be each others means.

The funny thing about your post, is that Murray Bookchin was a libertarian socialist that called for a society be built upon the ideas of division of labor and cooperation by rebuilding the notion of community. He saw the importance of socialism at the community level, not the ridiculous notion of being able to legislate social concerns at the national level. It is a mistake to equate bureaucratic socialism with libertarian socialism.

Khethil wrote:

  • The passage seems to place, at the feet of the capitalist, the sole blame for over consumption. I'm not sure any economic system does any better or worse - environmentally. Consumption is an matter-of-existence for most lifeforms on our planet; it isn't endemic to any particular system, per say.

I don't think that it is so much calling out capitalism in general, but instead the form of capitalism that is currently practiced. It seems to me to be more of a critique of corporate capitalism that holds profit at all costs gospel, which undermines communities and individuals ability to live in a free and just society. To a corporation in New York, what value does a community have in Idaho other than consumable resources? There is a failure to see Idaho as a community with people trying to make a living.
Mr Fight the Power
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Apr, 2009 09:09 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus wrote:
So clean air, clean water, healthy soil, and access to resources have no intrinsic worth?


Worth is mind-dependent. It cannot possibly be intrinsic. It could very well be that the opportunity costs of a pristine environment make it not worth much at all.

Quote:
There are ways to "exploit" the environment without wasting it. There are good and bad ways to do anything.


Of course.

Quote:
Now that is just blatant use of poisoning the well. Sure, many socialist may be off base, but so are many anarchists or others from other socio-economic thinking. The point is drawing on good ideas wherever they may come from.


I simply mean that they not only ignore the is-ought divide, they like to go so far as to derive the is from the ought. Marx's economics are riddled with this tendency, and they are still going strong.

There are socialists that I do admire, but there are some that are intolerable. I consider Bookchin to be among the latter.

Quote:
You are correct, but the species that over exploit their environment fail from an evolutionary perspective because they no longer have the resources to evolve.


This is true, but to act as if this trait was brought about by hierarchy created by capitalism and to act as if the dissolution of capitalism will change it is ludicrous.

The collectivism of Bookchin completely ignores the costs property places on scarce resources, and the way the costs function to prevent useless plunder. I think he can do this because he is like Rousseau and likes to ignore the biological nature of mankind.

Quote:
The funny thing about your post, is that Murray Bookchin was a libertarian socialist that called for a society be built upon the ideas of division of labor and cooperation by rebuilding the notion of community. He saw the importance of socialism at the community level, not the ridiculous notion of being able to legislate social concerns at the national level. It is a mistake to equate bureaucratic socialism with libertarian socialism.


He is a communalist and placed himself in direct opposition to the craftsman-esque libertarian socialism of Proudhon that I relate to.

To me and to Proudhon, freedom was achieved by individuals working together to satisfy their own ends. To Bookchin, freedom is achieved by synchronizing one's ends with the collective.
0 Replies
 
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Apr, 2009 03:30 pm
@Theaetetus,
I am working on a paper that looks compares and contrast social ecology and Marxist urban ecology theories, and I came across this interesting passage by geographer David Harvey about historical-geographic materialism:

Quote:
We are a species on earth like any other, endowed, like any other, with specific capacities and powers that are put to use to modify environments in ways that are conducive to our own sustenance and reproduction. In this we are no different from all other species (from termites to beavers) that modify their environments while adapting further to the environments they themselves help construct.

This is the fundamental conception of the dialectics of social and ecological change. It is, as Marx put it, "the nature imposed condition of our existence" that we are in a metabolic relation to the world around us, that we modify it at the same time as we modify ourselves through our activities and labors. But, we like all other species, have some very speciesspecific capacities and powers, arguably the most important of which in our case are our ability to alter and adapt to our forms of social organization--to create, for example, class structures and institutions--to build a long historical memory through language, to accumulate knowledge and understandings that are collectively available to us as guide to future action, to reflect on what we have done and do in ways that permit learning from experience, and, by virtue of our particular dexterities, to build all kinds of adjuncts (e.g. tools, technologies, organizational forms and communications systems) to enhance our capacities and powers.


I find myself agreeing more with Harvey on how to approach environmental change in that historical and geographic analysis are necessary to create a discourse that addresses societal change. One of Harvey's biggest concerns is that proposals such as the carbon tax and pollution taxes commodify emissions and pollution into a consumer good with commercial value. This does nothing to address the core causes of environmental problems, which are manifestations of social problems.

Obviously, as you can tell, I am currently suffering from cognitive dissonance on this topic.
Caroline
 
  1  
Reply Tue 14 Apr, 2009 03:45 pm
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus wrote:
I am working on a paper that looks compares and contrast social ecology and Marxist urban ecology theories, and I came across this interesting passage by geographer David Harvey about historical-geographic materialism:



I find myself agreeing more with Harvey on how to approach environmental change in that historical and geographic analysis are necessary to create a discourse that addresses societal change.
One of Harvey's biggest concerns is that proposals such as the carbon tax and pollution taxes commodify emissions and pollution into a consumer good with commercial value. This does nothing to address the core causes of environmental problems, which are manifestations of social problems.

Obviously, as you can tell, I am currently suffering from cognitive dissonance on this topic.


And throughout history countries have often looked at another country's solution to problems in order to resolve their own similar problem, that and what you've mentioned above is an effective way to address societal change.
The reason at the beginning of this proposal was, as long as they were reducing their carbon emissions etc it didn't matter because it was effective, as long as it encourages a large reduction in pollution the proposal worked?
0 Replies
 
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Apr, 2009 12:40 pm
@Theaetetus,
So now I got a grasp on the problem with commodifying everything in nature thanks to a lecture today. This issue has to do with the process of commodification where everything is turned into things. This is known as commodity fetishism where stuff is seen as things rather than processes. Take water for example. By turning water purely into a commodity it is seeing it as only a consumable thing rather than something with a history or lifespan. There is a whole process that is involved with consuming water, and by ignoring the process, and only accounting for the tangible product, creates major ignorance of what things truly are. Consumer water is at first a raw good, water in nature, goes though some sort of process to be sold as a product, and then is returned to the environment in some way where it has effects that carry on into the future.

So this idea of overcoming the commodification of nature is to see resources not as merely consumable things, but as processes that have a past and a future that must be considered.
0 Replies
 
Mr Fight the Power
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Apr, 2009 01:05 pm
@Theaetetus,
Any commodity that is recyclable or can be converted to another use after its primary use will be recycled.

Commodities are just resources people have recognized as economic goods, and capitalism does not create such a view. People recognize resources for their consumption value regardless of system.

If anything, property rights and free exchange will lead people to look for manners of profiting from recycling in order to avoid waste. Often producers will research the utility of their byproducts in order to control costs and gain extra profit.
0 Replies
 
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Wed 15 Apr, 2009 04:17 pm
@Theaetetus,
The commodity that we specifically looked at today was plastic bags. Here is a commodity that is not necessarily consumed, but rather fosters consumption. Typically, they are recyclable, but generally they are considered to be not cost effective to recycle. Here is a commodity that is obviously profitable for the manufacturers, is convenient for consumers, but generally has little use after it is used, although they could be reused, they typically are not. The producers have relatively little byproduct, and they are cheap to make, so the costs cannot really be reduced much for the producer.

The problem though, is that a plastic bag has a rather dubious history. First, much oil is essentially wasted in the manufacture and transport of the bags, so its past is rather costly. But its future is where the real costs of plastic bags come into play. The plastic bag does not degrade so it tends to hand around for a long time. It crosses property lines, and can lead to property destruction. Not to mention, there are severe ecological costs when they are not disposed properly. Wildlife dies when they ingest bags thinking that they are food by impacting their bowels. In poor regions of the world, they are a health risk. In India they cause property damage due to floods, and in Kenya they pose serious health risk due to malaria (plastic bags hold stagnant water--breeding grounds for mosquitoes) and the fact that plastic bags are known as "flying toilets," because people defecate in them and toss them aside. Here are byproducts of the producers goods that go unaccounted for because they are not seen as a part of the thing--in this case the plastic bag. Here is something that is seemingly free, but has enormous costs due to the byproducts that are not even figured into the cost of the commodity itself.
Caroline
 
  1  
Reply Thu 16 Apr, 2009 12:41 am
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus wrote:
The commodity that we specifically looked at today was plastic bags. Here is a commodity that is not necessarily consumed, but rather fosters consumption. Typically, they are recyclable, but generally they are considered to be not cost effective to recycle. Here is a commodity that is obviously profitable for the manufacturers, is convenient for consumers, but generally has little use after it is used, although they could be reused, they typically are not. The producers have relatively little byproduct, and they are cheap to make, so the costs cannot really be reduced much for the producer.

The problem though, is that a plastic bag has a rather dubious history. First, much oil is essentially wasted in the manufacture and transport of the bags, so its past is rather costly. But its future is where the real costs of plastic bags come into play. The plastic bag does not degrade so it tends to hand around for a long time. It crosses property lines, and can lead to property destruction. Not to mention, there are severe ecological costs when they are not disposed properly. Wildlife dies when they ingest bags thinking that they are food by impacting their bowels. In poor regions of the world, they are a health risk. In India they cause property damage due to floods, and in Kenya they pose serious health risk due to malaria (plastic bags hold stagnant water--breeding grounds for mosquitoes) and the fact that plastic bags are known as "flying toilets," because people defecate in them and toss them aside. Here are byproducts of the producers goods that go unaccounted for because they are not seen as a part of the thing--in this case the plastic bag. Here is something that is seemingly free, but has enormous costs due to the byproducts that are not even figured into the cost of the commodity itself.

I hate plastic bags and even more so after reading the above. They take over 100 years to break down.
Khethil
 
  1  
Reply Thu 16 Apr, 2009 05:30 am
@Caroline,
I think this is leading towards the right focus; that the commodification of natural resources must be avoided where such consumption isn't renewable. It shocks me how short-sighted we can be; its almost as if so much of civilization has in the back of its mind the thought, "... someone else down the road can deal with this".

Unfortunately, as cries go out to consume less, recycle more and back off the gluttony there inevitably comes a backlash that cries, "liberal!", "treehugger!", "cryer of doom!". There's so much non-specific bitterness around that such pleas often end up being construed as invalid and 'politically-correct'; thereby lessening the effect that such reasonable criticisms should have.

It's a cycle I've seen over and over - I'm not sure there's any solution that'll come quick enough. Perhaps over time we'll see a gradual awakening to the pillaging of our world. I think that those that see and recognize it should continue to speak up.

Good topic - Thanks

PS: "Sons of Plunder", Disturbed, good song
Caroline
 
  1  
Reply Thu 16 Apr, 2009 12:40 pm
@Theaetetus,
Theaetetus wrote:
The commodity that we specifically looked at today was plastic bags. Here is a commodity that is not necessarily consumed, but rather fosters consumption. Typically, they are recyclable, but generally they are considered to be not cost effective to recycle.


This is what annoys me-the cost, they wont recycle bags because of the costs and yet they cost nature enormous amounts, it shouldn't be costing her anything let alone not bother because it costs too much.Sad
0 Replies
 
Theaetetus
 
  1  
Reply Thu 16 Apr, 2009 05:49 pm
@Khethil,
Khethil wrote:

It's a cycle I've seen over and over - I'm not sure there's any solution that'll come quick enough. Perhaps over time we'll see a gradual awakening to the pillaging of our world. I think that those that see and recognize it should continue to speak up.


I think there is a major issue with many people that do speak up that do not see their hypocrisy at action. I do not own a car, I carpool on road trips (I have no choice), I never fly, I rarely eat meat, but god forbid if I forget my reusable coffee mug or take a plastic bag every once and a while (I used them as garbage bags, and I use them faster than I actually accumulate them). Most of these people just see disposable coffee cups and plastic bags and they automatically think that you are the ultimate ruiner of the environment, but do not see how their resource use is far worse or at least equivalent to some people they criticize.

I guess my point is that while it is all fine and dandy that individuals want to do their part, it is not going to have a major effect on the whole larger environmental picture. Producers will find new markets, and other consumers will continue to buy and waste. Until the fundamental issues that cause environmental problems are faced, no major changes will become a reality. A start would be to see commodities as processes rather than simple things. Then the true costs of the products we do use will come to light.
Khethil
 
  1  
Reply Fri 17 Apr, 2009 04:05 pm
@Theaetetus,
Quite true. I think most of us are so hopelessly tethered to a wasteful, consumption lifestyle it's hard to break out of it. That measure to which we're 'true' to what we hold important was one of the themes in this thread.
0 Replies
 
 

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