03 April 2011

The Times

There is a particular strangeness to the times. In this strangeness the simple seems complex. The complex seems self evident. Reading accounts and considerations from the past several thousand years persuades me that something like this often accompanies our attempts at civilization. I cannot help but feel that the magnitude of this strange condition is currently greater than what I seem to encounter in those accounts, but this could just be an illusion of perspective.

Yesterday I overheard a conversation in a cafe where I often sit and write in which a young man was saying, "Money is just so abstract. It becomes an abstract object and we lose track of what is important." I take this sort of naturally emergent statement as very positive. I do wonder though what he might be doing with that realization in his own life? I wonder this about myself. The anthropic systems of the moment are mostly a function of his insight. In my own experience, there is great resistance to acting on this realization. I don't just mean a resistance we might encounter within ourselves, though there is that sort of resistance. There is a resistance in the systems where the abstract value of money is taken as absolute. When questioned we might be able to recognize that money is abstract. We might even feel something about the economy of finance as completely artificial and divorced from the planetary systems. However, in a consumer society can we imagine happiness in the absence of money?

As such an abstract system takes more and more and enacted priority over planetary and life systems, this imagining becomes harder and harder.

Consider the notion of inalienable rights. In the 'Federalist Papers' there was a debate about whether or not such rights should be specified. The intent of the rights was to protect the people from the tendency toward despotic government. The argument against delineating such rights was that they cannot be made exhaustive, and therefore anything not stipulated as a right becomes an area of abuse. Furthermore, a distinction is made between inalienable rights and the legal rights granted by the social contract or government. The inalienable rights are taken to be self evident. Part of the argument is that if they are self evident, why must they be stipulated? If stipulated, how do they not become legal rights, subject to the whims of the politicized legislation of the moment?

One of the dilemmas here is that it is difficult to articulate what is self evident. When we truly relate to something as self evident, it is often simply invisible to us. What might be meant be self evident? 'Evidence' has to do with 'proof,' which is itself a form of 'probe.' This in turn is about testing or interrogating. Something that is taken as self evident is something that does not require proof. What actually occurs for us as self evident is not typically articulated. It is evident in our behavior. The chair in a room occurs a self evident. We do not need to stipulate anything about that. Its self evident nature is communicated by the behavior. We do not try to occupy the same space as the chair at the same time. We treat this sublimate structure of objects as self evident, even if we hold the view that it is illusory. We treat our own status with respect to such sublimation in the same manner.

It seems to me that often what we assert as self evident and what is actually occurring for us as self evident are very different things.

What I am actually thinking about is food and 'ownership.' I know this could seem a stretch from inalienable rights. I am considering the condition of food being owned. I do not mean owned in the sense of entering into an exchange for my labor, as when I pay for a meal, grow food myself or directly participate in a community where food is being grown in an immediate way. I mean the entire category of food and sustenance being owned. It is really not hard to imagine a time in the not distant future when almost all seed stock has been genetically modified and is owned for the sake of profit maximization and consolidation. There is rhetoric concerning the efficiency of such food and the need for such efficiency to feed the soon to be 9 billion of us. It is rhetoric. The system producing it is one that is structurally intended to maximize and consolidate profit. This is a different sort of ownership than exchange for the labor involved in growing food. Even that exchange is currently so eroded that the people who are involved in the labor of producing the food we eat are impoverished and often food insecure. They treated as objects, categorized as a cost base, with respect to an industrialized system of food meant to maximize and consolidate profit.

The product of the food itself is owned. The process is now owned by agri-business. The soil is owned. Soon the genetic material of all seeds will be owned. Goldman-Sachs has created a 'food index' in which the value traded is not actually directly related to the food or sustenance, but is itself a financial abstraction. Food has become a financial abstraction where the actual cost of food is divorced from the food itself. The profit is divorced from the natural systems and cycles of growing.

That this can happen reveals something to me about the actual, functional bill of rights. Nation states have articulated rights. People have articulated environmental and humanitarian rights. These are not what is being lived. What is being globally lived is a corporate bill of rights. It is these rights that nation states now protect and enforce. It is a fairly simple set of rights.

  • The corporation has the right to exist and ensure its own continued existence.
  • The corporation has the right to ownership.
  • The corporation has the right to buy and sell assets resulting from such ownership.
  • The corporation has the right to maximize and consolidate profit.
I think there were a few more when I first wrote this a few years ago, but this is the gist of it. There are some corollaries and conditions for this.
  • The purpose of the nation state is to insure the conditions necessary for a free market. (A point of view explicitly held by the World Bank, even as it intentionally deletes the natural economy of planetary carrying capacity from the financial economy)
  • Therefore the purpose of the nation state is to insure the necessary conditions for the survival and prosperity of the corporation.
  • Political rights, which were taken as inalienable, are subsumed by these global corporate rights.
  • Any environmental rights such as, clean food-water-air, diversity of life forms, etc. are subsumed by these corporate rights.
  • Any humanitarian rights having to do with education, peace or community level prosperity are subsumed
Look at the simple case for this. There is currently an institutional reality of famine, preventable disease, extreme social inequity and severe environmental degradation, including a mass extinction taking place. If these were considered rights of any sort at all then nation states would respond to these conditions locally and globally, but they do not. Most response to such conditions happen in spite of the actions of nation states and are carried out by "NGO's." This makes these actions for the most part a kind of coping mechanism with respect to the global system that is creating the conditions addressed. On the other hand police action is taken and wars are fought over the interference with profit making. This has been going on for decades now and is a characteristic of the industrial era.

The 'secret war' waged by the USA in Angola is an example of this. The very specific war aims were to protect the corporate oil interests in Angola from falling into the hands of 'Marxists.' Billions of dollars were spent on privatized mercenary forces to carry out these war aims. Ironically what actually happened is that the Cuban forces in the area ended up defending the interests of corporations such as Shell Oil from the mercenary armies sponsored, but not controlled, by the USA. The moral arguments posed for armed conflict of the industrial era are simply false. They do not constitute the context in which these wars are really fought. If armed conflict is the extension of diplomacy, it is important to recognize that diplomacy is now merely a business transaction carried forward to serve corporate powers. If the purpose of a nation state is to insure the conditions necessary for a 'free market', how could it be otherwise?

The Wikileaks of the US French Ambassador reveal this particularly with respect to GMO foods and the agribusiness cartel. Perhaps at one time within this false logic, business interests and national interests, both artificial, could be seen to be linked. The corporation has for some time now transcended borders, with no real national responsibility or accountability. Nation states simply cannot govern corporations. Most of the largest corporations have economies larger than most nation states. When a sovereign nation does not accede to the demands of a corporate power, they then become an enemy, not simply of the corporation, but of the political processes subsumed by that corporation. They become an enemy of whatever nation states are artificially creating the conditions of an artificial, even imaginary 'free market.'

All of this is based on an unspoken set of corporate 'rights' that are themselves taken as self evident; truly inalienable on a global scale. The cooperation in a consumer dynamic by any of us reinforces and keeps this set of rights in place. That cooperation is a cooperation in a system that is meant not only to maximize, but to consolidate profit. It is active cooperation in a system where the rich get richer. This consolidation of profit (based on ownership) is a system of social inequity, planetary depletion, environmental destruction, debt, oppression and slavery. It is by nature violent, so it is not surprising that it is kept in place by force of arms. This is the morality upon which these inalienable corporate rights is based. If we see this and continue to cooperate, even in the face of no apparent alternative, that cooperation is itself unethical. From within that state of cooperation alternatives are neither visible nor possible.

Non-cooperation is in itself incredibly simple and of course feels incredibly complex and even impossible. Such non-cooperation involves moving toward a state of buying nothing. It involves considering how to have our needs met by local exchange. It involves a re-contextualization that includes our needs as a whole on the planet and the well being of the planet itself. To people of the industrialized world this seems insane, idealistic and impossible. To people fully identified with the false morality of profit maximization and consolidation it seems immoral.

Perhaps we feel we cannot cease to cooperate with this globally institutionalized system of violence all at once. Perhaps this seems a threat to our survival in some way. We do not know how we could even feed and clothe ourselves. We can start with a contemplation that makes us more and more aware of the specifics of our cooperation. We can consider the nature of non-cooperation and the apparent challenges involved in that. From this consideration we can begin to see the specifics of apparent impossibility. These impossibilities then become the specifics of design for a way of living that participates in and is supportive of the life systems of the planet as a whole. These paradoxes, ambiguities and outright impossibilities become the specific stepping stones to a meaningful non-cooperation. That non-cooperation creates, or rediscovers, the space within and among us for a way of being to emerge and a life consistent with that. Consider the impossible, not in order to craft and insist upon an idealized ideology of the possible, but as a practical and meaningful design criteria for a life lived in balanced harmony with planetary and anthropic systems.

The strangeness of these times is that the very natural efforts of such a balanced life seem insane and evidence of that insanity is reflected back to us by a collectively delusional way of living. The simple seems complex and even impossible. The rampantly artificial destruction of the planet seems natural and self evident.

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