Themes in Research
May 11, 2021
Organizing against zoonotic events
*pandemics can also result from improper husbandry, when domestic livestock are not separated from wild animals, as well as from veterinary failures
*absence of adequate regulations on wildlife trafficking
*habitat destruction, loss, fragmentation from logging, mining, and agriculture
*demand for more global legislation and enforcement, that reimagines livestock production and its locations in conjunction with conservation measures.
*production of PSAs to inform the public of substitutes for wild meat and wild traditional medicines tat the population of consumers cannot sustain without great risk
April 19, 2021
The “free gift” of nature
Interview with Alyssa Battistoni, 2021.
From the webinar series, Facing the Anthropocene at Duke U
“What is nature’s capacity to contribute to human well-being and how should we understand it in relationship to politics and economics?” To answer, she first looked backward, tracing the term “free gifts of nature” in the thought of the classical political economists Jean-Baptiste Say, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx. These economists each attempt to reconcile the natural world with the economic enterprise of human beings. Jean-Baptiste Say, for example, affirms the usefulness of nature’s physical, vegetative, and biological processes, but he does not see these processes as significant actors in a political economy. Smith, too, admits that nature is useful, but he sharply distinguishes manufacturing from nature, viewing the former as a purely human labor process. On this, Ricardo takes Smith to task, arguing that nature is always at work; production without the contribution of nature is a myth. Finally, Battistoni turned to Marx, who views nature in light of capitalist systems, arguing that the gifts of nature are often intertwined with human labor, not increasing the wealth of laborers but instead increasing the wealth of capitalists.
Battistoni linked these thinkers together with their view of the value of nature. “They all essentially agree nature is valuable because it works for free…Labor and capital are costly, so nature’s…contribution is valuable because it doesn’t come with those costs.” Nature is essentially a free gift, “something that can be taken without repayment.” The absence of a price tag is an obstacle to commodifying nature’s value; while nature is useful, it is also free, and therefore does not have an exchange value. Humanity’s willingness to take from nature without repayment brings us to today’s environmental crisis.
For Battistoni, this gift relationship implies more than mere taking. She said, “Gift relationships are supposed to be governed by reciprocity.” She cited ideas of husbandry and care as the beginning of such reciprocity. For example, agrarian Wendell Berry advocates for a “take, make, use, and return” relationship to the land. Feminists Joan Tronto and Berenice Fisher advocate for an ethics of care that includes all species and their environment. Echoing the idea of meshwork from last week’s guest Tim Ingold, Battistoni argued that this ethic of care weaves species and environments together in a cooperative, life-replenishing relationship.
More practically, Battistoni argued for an economic reciprocity, one based on the human labor required to replenish the earth. Battistoni said, “In asking what it looks like to reciprocate nature’s gifts, we might also ask what it looks like to value… the human work that doing so entails.” She argues more fully in the book A Planet to Win (co-authored with Kate Aronoff, Daniel Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos) that we must fund jobs and organizations whose primary aim is to care for the earth. Many indigenous peoples are already taking steps to care for the land; they are not, however, being paid for their labor. By investing money in labor that replenishes the earth, we are participating in the symbiotic web of all living things. We are, in short, reciprocating.
Battistoni ultimately maintained that this economic model is “not the final word, but a challenge to how we currently organize production.” A commodified relationship to the natural world is not an ideal one, but, for now, it is a realistic one. In calculating just how much we have been given, perhaps we can come to terms with what we owe. Nature gives generously; how will we respond?
April 13, 2021
Solidarity: ableism and the more than human world
- Anthropocentrism is ableist (privileges only certain kinds of animal intelligence, for instance)
- Big Ag must maim, wound, disable animals (and ecosystems) in order to maximize profits
- Move beyond ableist agendas that focus on human power, the exploitation of biopower across species by abolishing factory farms, industrial fishing, monocropping, which are inherently exploitative and harmful to human and other species alike.
- Where I am taken with Taylor’s argument—one that twins animal and human disabilities—is how expansive and devastating the category is, and how
- ableism performs superiority and maintains power in great part by othering non-neurotypical humans and segregating the interests of animal species as less-than
- this smacks of an econo-centrically mutated Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest
- anthropocentrism, through an ableist lens is incapable of recognizing biodiverse forms of more-than-human intelligence; its intelligence tests for animals are inherently ableist (speciesist) based on what those human researchers find constitutes a very narrow definition of consciousness, the capability to recognize one self in a mirror, and the capacity to deceive.
From the interview:
CR: How do you argue against the systemic violence that produces disability both for animals via industrial farming but also for people? And how do you argue against the systemic violence that produces disability without situating disability itself as an undesirable quality?
ST: One connection is the material and embodied reality that all the animals that we use and that we exploit in different industries are disabled. The intensely contaminated and limited environments that animals in various industries are in leads them also to have various physical and mental disabilities; these disabilities make them profitable. The meat industry would not be profitable unless it continued to disable animals. I mean that animals are bred to produce way more milk than they usually would; animals are kept in environments where their muscles become so weak that their bones break or they become vitamin deficient. Thinking about the workers in these environments, the people who are employed in slaughterhouses and factory farms, for example, is also important. These employees are some of the most vulnerable in terms of worker exploitation, they may be undocumented, low-income, people of color, or intellectually disabled people. And their workplace environments also cause and produce disability in human beings. We can also look at the ways in which these industries are contaminating the land and water, and then they produce disability and illnesses through an environmental trail.
ST: I’m looking more at the relationship between disability in the environment, about water and land systems, and particularly about environmental harm. Language about environmental damage emerges in all sorts of different places, whether in environmental policy or environmental humanities. This language associates environmental harm with disability. For example, the climate is depicted as a mutant or the land can be represented as ill, wounded, or amputated. The Clean Water Act refers to the nations waterways as “impaired waters.” So there are all these disability rhetorics that emerge in environmental thinking, and what my project is trying to do is take that language seriously and to think about a solidarity between disability movements and the environmental movement.
From the Solidarity article:
Between farming, ranching, and feed crops, the livestock industry devours 40 percent of the world’s habitable surface. A vegan food system would consume a tenth as much land. A concerted program of rewilding would reduce the outbreak of new epidemics by reducing contact between humans and wild animals and restoring biodiversity, curbing the risk of zoonoses while also sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. If our species were reasonable—the trait that supposedly sets us apart from other animals—we would embark on such a program. To respond to the pandemic we need to broaden our political imaginations. Our conception of solidarity must cross the species barrier.
April 8, 2021
Nature and Value
ES argues that “exploitation” is not applicable to nature; one must say “destruction.”
GK writes that I wonder what would a labour theory of value look like if one started from the premise that value is produced from whoever does work (human or non-human, paid or unpaid) and then draw the implications from there.
ES responds that I doubt any valuation system can be implemented that would account for the real value of nature in a way that is compatible with the survival of capitalism except for limited experiments. In fact, a different valuation that would recognize and value nature as a “commons” would correspond to the end of capitalism, shifting the dominant organizing form from economic valuation to democratic political intermediation and collective decision. This is where the key battle resides.
As long as we have private property (and thus perceive resources as privately held or annexed for use), nature will be destroyed (not even exploited under Marxist thought). Capitalism cannot account for nature as producing Value; nature is only perceived as use-value, it is free for the taking, under the laws of ownership???
Must one be a human worker to produce surplus-value?
I mean, nature CAN be pressed and squeezed to produce more surplus value (fracking, deforestation, intensive monocropping).
How did feminists argue that surplus-value is generated by social and reproductive labor, and should be compensated????
If workers are organizing (unionizing) to dismantle the system of ownership & profits of production, but to free up reciprocal care for and access to the commons , then our #MSU makes sense. If we are happy to organize on behalf of nature, in order to remain in a free market system, then all we can do is perform the impossibility of that project.
In a search for “does nature produce Marxist surplus-value?” I came across these two articles:
Marx, Value, and Nature, John Bellamy Foster, 2018
Marx and Nature, Elizabeth Terzakis, 2018
I have some pull quotes below from the Terzakis work below.
ES: Marx uses three forms of value: “Use-value,” the physical-organic-sensory that have a use to someone. Honey definitely has a use value. “Exchange-value” is what permits universal exchange. What permits the making of a universal market exchange of equivalents is “Value,” the “socially necessary labour time” (SNLT) (or the average time) to produce a commodity under given social and technical conditions. Of course, the latter change all of the time (influence of competition and class struggle), usually getting lower (as it takes less time to produce a commodity). Honey, as the work of bees, has both use-value and exchange-value, but no Value. Capitalists are not interested in use-value per se; they are interested in surplus value. Labour power, also a commodity, produces more Value during a given period than the value of labour power itself. This difference is surplus value. This reasoning holds only for capitalism.
No surplus value>no profit = no capitalism. GK: BUT… Capitalists are appropriating free work and free value from the commons that should not be theirs (gifts of nature should belong to everyone). If we accept that Value is not produced only by humans, but also by ecosystems, then the worker is robbed not only of her work, but also robbed of the work freely made available by the commons.
ES: To paraphrase Marx, capital robs the fertility of the soil and power of the worker. The possibility of doing so, I would argue, resides precisely in the exclusive ownership of nature under capitalism (private property). That is why capitalism systematically attempts to enclose the commons. In a common or communal regime of engaging with nature, capitalism would not be possible. The decision about what sorts of nature to use by whom and for what purpose would have to be a political process (and not an economic process rooted in private ownership).
(N)ature contributes massively to reducing SNLT (socially necessary labor time). But nature is not valued at all. Capitalism cannot reproduce the natural conditions of its own production. That is why capitalism is by definition destructive of nature. Smart capitalists now desperately try to diminish their dependence on nature (solar energy, or wind do not require socio-physical reproduction). I doubt they will succeed — this search itself comes at an extraordinary social, economic and environmental cost.
The extraordinary productive powers of, say, oil, disappears in the pockets of all sorts of people, including of course the expanding middle classes (if class struggle is successfully fought by the working class). Nothing of it returns to nature in any way.
ES: For me, the key ingredients to get there are:
– Getting rid of the trans-generational hereditary transmission of wealth/assets
– Getting rid of the separation between mental and manual labour
– Getting rid of the liberal nation-state as we know it today
– Organise the management of the commons in equal, democratic and self-governing manner
– Getting rid of the private ownership of nature
(Marx, Value, and Nature, Foster)
Key here is Marx’s distinction between APPROPRIATION and EXPROPRIATION:
Marx’s crucial distinction between appropriation and expropriation, around which his ecological as well as economic critique of capitalism revolves, is evident in his response to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, as dramatically portrayed in The Young Karl Marx. Proudhon is shown giving a speech in which he makes his famous declaration that “property is theft.”4 From the audience, Marx asks, “what kind of property, bourgeois property?” Proudhon answers, “property in general.” Marx remarks that this is “an abstraction.”
For Marx…the latter’s statement is logically untenable, for if property in general is defined as theft, and all proprietary claims are thus invalid, then the question arises: what is theft? It was necessary, in Marx’s view, to distinguish appropriation, or property in its many varied historical forms, from expropriation, i.e., appropriation without an equivalent (in Marx’s terms, also without exchange and without reciprocity).6 Classical political theory, from John Locke to G. W. F. Hegel to Marx, locates the basis of civil society and the state in appropriation—the active term for property or the right to possession through labor.
As Marx explained in The Poverty of Philosophy and in the Grundrisse, all human society rests on free appropriation from nature, which is the material basis of labor and production. This is another way of saying that all society depends on property. There can be no human existence without the appropriation of nature, without production, and without property in some form. “All production is appropriation of nature on the part of an individual within and through a specific form of society. In this sense it is a tautology to say that property (appropriation) is a precondition of production.” For Marx, to declare that “property is theft,” as Proudhon did, was therefore to skirt the fundamental issue—the development of various forms of appropriation in human history from the communal to the more extreme forms of private commodification.8 This approach allowed Marx to develop a powerful critique of capitalist society that was both economic and ecological.9 Proudhon’s conception left no way out for humanity; since appropriation in some form was a universal basis of society and life itself, to declare that property in general was theft, irrespective of particular property forms, was a dead end for revolutionary movements.
In the classical historical materialist view, the free appropriation of nature by humanity (the use of nature’s free gifts) is not to be condemned out of hand as theft. Indeed, “actual labor,” for Marx, “is [nothing but] the appropriation of nature for the satisfaction of human needs, the activity through which the metabolism between man and nature is mediated.”16 Nor should the concern be primarily, as in bourgeois society, with the mere “cheapness” of nature.17 Rather, it is the expropriation of nature in the sense of the appropriation of land or resources without reciprocity (maintenance of the “conditions of reproduction”) by capital that constitutes theft in this sphere.18 In Marx’s view, this reflects the “law of ‘expropriation’ not ‘appropriation’” underpinning capitalism.19 It is associated in its environmental aspects with capitalism’s systematic violation of what the nineteenth-century German chemist Justus von Liebig called the natural-material “law of replenishment” (or “law of compensation”) necessary for ecological reproduction.
Capitalism’s destructive relation to the ecological realm depends on this robbery of what Marx referred to as “the elemental powers of nature”—robbery not in the sense that these elements are not “paid,” as Moore says, but rather in the violation of the law of replenishment.
(Marx and Nature, Terzakis)
while the ruling class can imagine an end to the world, neither they nor many ecologists can imagine an end to capitalism. For this reason, all of their solutions must fall within the bounds of the market system. But the market system, with its need for constant growth and its inability to see the natural world as anything other than an exploitable resource, is in direct and inherent antagonism to the preservation of nature. Consequently, there is no solution to the problem of climate change without an end to capitalism, a fact that becomes very clear when we examine Karl Marx’s writings on nature.
The fact that value under capitalism is inextricably tied to exploitation is one obstacle to capitalism having a nonexploitative relationship with nature. Another is the competitive drive for accumulation.
The upshot is that capitalist competitive accumulation is an engine for endless expansion and it necessarily comes into conflict with nature, which has limits. It also leads to the short-termism noted above—that is, the making of decisions about how to allocate resources and interact with nature based on the ability to secure profits rather than on the safeguarding of human lives, the environment, or the coevolution of both.
Marx advocated a society in which the “associated producers”—the majority of society—voluntarily and democratically decide the direction of the economy in the interest of human need rather than of profit, with statelessness as one ultimate goal.
The author outlines Marx’s thinking around increasing leisure time for all associated producers. And she cites writers who claim Marx thought about TEK (traditional ecological knowledge) –subsistence, pastoralism, and other pre-industrial forms of harmonious negotiation with the more-than-human world, as options to technological “progress.”
I mentioned that Marx’s analysis of capitalism could help to save us from two traps that ecological thinkers and the environmental movement have fallen into in the past—a faith in and a commitment to the greening of capitalism and the projection of a purified, abstract nature that has no relationship to human beings and is better off that way. I want to point out that these two views are not incompatible, nor are they progressive.
The author goes on to correct some mis-characterizations of Marx on ecology and nature.
Marx stated that capitalism has forced a metabolic rift between nature and humans (alienations, land enclosures, polluted urban environs, and their connection to precariousness and further alienation)
The use values . . . of commodities, are combinations of two elements—matter and labor. If we take away the useful labor expended upon them, a material substratum is always left, which is furnished by Nature without the help of man. . . . We see, then, that labor is not the only source of material wealth, of use values produced by labor.
However, in his labor theory of value Marx is not laying out the way he thinks the world should be or what he thinks is valuable in terms of human need. He is describing economic behavior as it is under capitalism. It is not Marx, but capitalism, that equates only abstract socially necessary labor time with value—that is, value under capitalism is determined by exploited labor (labor expended over and above its own cost) because exploited labor is the source of profit.
Use values—those things provided to us by nature to meet our natural needs—are not valued by capitalism: use values are irrelevant to capitalism except inasmuch as they are “vendible”; that is, only if they have exchange value, which allows for the realization of surplus value or the portion of socially necessary labor time that goes into the production of commodities over and above what the worker needs for the reproduction of her or his labor, which, when realized through exchange, becomes profit.
Marx’s discussion of rents is key to understanding this attitude to nature, as well as to understanding what Marx means when he writes about use values being “free gifts” from nature to capitalism. Because no exploited labor goes into the production of, say, a naturally occurring forest, when a capitalist monopolizes that forest and charges rent for its use, there is no increase in capital to the system as a whole. That is, no labor has gone into producing the forest, so no surplus value can be extracted from it. Nor has it taken up any investment of capital. What’s more, all the conditions that make labor possible—land, air, water—are, at the outset at least, free gifts of nature. This is perhaps why they are also the targets of capitalism’s “externalization” of costs.
MZ: what about an IKEA (monoculture) forest?
As Sara Volle points out in her review of Frank Webster’s Theories of the Information Society:
It is in fact still impossible to live on thin air. And yet that is precisely what an “information” or “post-industrial society” (PIS) feigns to do. The reality, of course, is a far less tidy one—a world inconveniently occupied by sweatshop labor, polluted rivers, credit default swaps, melting polar ice caps, etc., etc.—those familiar yet often sanitized casualties of the “more for less” ethos of a “post-industrial” society.
Compared to this, Marx’s vision of a society of associated producers with scads of free time and a healthy relationship with both nature and technology developing our abilities to touch, taste, smell, see, feel, hear, think, love, and dream to their fullest seems infinitely more attractive and, more importantly, possible. This vision—along with an understanding of why environmental degradation is built into capitalism—is what Marx’s ideas can contribute to the movement against ecological destruction.
March 29, 2021
A manifesto is a public declaration of the purpose, principles, or plan of action of a group or individual.
…derived from the Italian word manifesto, itself derived from the Latin manifestum, meaning clear or conspicuous. Its first recorded use in English is from 1620, in Nathaniel Brent‘s translation of Paolo Sarpi‘s History of the Council of Trent: “To this citation he made answer by a Manifesto” (p. 102). Similarly, “They were so farre surprised with his Manifesto, that they would never suffer it to be published”
Distinct permutations: the political promise, political party platform, the movement manifesto (including political and art manifestos, the personal manifesto (ugh).
Extensive collection of links to historical manifestos: http://www.manifestos.net/titles/
March 29, 2021
The Language of Union Demands
I am looking for sample language to compose #MSU demands. What is the formal rhetorical style? What is the format? Is it like this?
Unions for All means doing four things:
- Bring employers, workers and government together at industry-wide bargaining tables to negotiate wages, benefits, and working conditions.
- Establish the National Labor Relations Act as the floor rather than the ceiling for laws governing worker organizing, allowing states and cities to empower workers to join together in a union beyond the limits of federal law.
- Ensure that every public dollar is used to create good, union jobs and that every federal worker and contractor makes at least $15 an hour and has the opportunity to join a union.
- Put good union jobs at the center of any major economic proposal, such as Healthcare for All or the Green New Deal.
Just transition language:
(Just Transition Center report): At its heart just transition requires us to leave no one behind.
– For coal and oil communities, community renewal with investment in new energy, new industries and new jobs is vital.
– For cities, investment in low and zero emissions transport, clean energy and circular economy are the way forward.
– For industry, switching to renewable energy must be supplemented with clean industrial processes.
– For workers, collective bargaining ensures that essential support is there for reskilling and redeployment.
– And, for governments and their leaders, just transition offers the opportunity to solve three key challenges at once: Climate change, growing inequality and social inclusion.
It would also be great to create our own map like this one:
March 28, 2021
Brian Michael Murphy shared this article by Natasha Myers, How to grow liveable worlds: Ten (not-so-easy) steps for life in the Planthroposcene, and I’ve been thinking about how to work with it in unexpected ways (expected ways might include the usual, impossible-to-achieve and privileged individual or atomized family going off grid, a jaunt with ayahuasca hosted by a Daniel Pinchbeck accolade or if you’re really flush an eco-trip trip to Peru to do it on location).
I’m thinking small: helicopter parenting your seedlings, which is a long term relationship many times a day; talking to the trees in your neighborhood; trying to get the aggressive species to play nice in your yard (not ripping them out as that is hopeless anyway without destroying everybody else’s day); not being so pro-forma with your houseplants – that is, it’s not just your weekly obligation but an attention to their needs, which can be tweaked: you are their legs after all, and so on.
In an enlarged space of sociality,
– developing a dis-econocentric set of values and practices is always good.
– fiddling with or overhauling your relationship to time, by slowing down, canceling things, being idle, napping, listening for longer than you think possible, doing less, fading back, leaning back, looking around (not forward or back).
March 11, 2021
These are notes from my conversation with Vivek, a material physicist, on the idea of “work” at a molecular level.
- The world tends toward disorder (entropy); almost any action in the world increases entropy (second law of thermodynamics).
- An egg spreads when cracked open in a pan. The phenomenon of aging is the result of mistakes that happen over time in cellular reproduction
- Living creatures (organisms) are using energy (such as the sun or other organisms) to create order out of disorder. This is work. All organisms need an external form of energy for life to exist, which is converting disorder into order. One other example of order created from disorder is the way stars form, matter brought together by ordering the force of gravity
- Work is the expenditure of energy. This can locally reduce entropy
- The gathering of food, or farming as a coordinated effort to order nutrients—soil, seeds, conditions‚ into the “fruits of our labor.”
- Exercise forces muscles to grow; forces the molecules in muscles to become bigger and stronger
- Plants that gather nutrients from sun energy, or organisms that use enzymes to break down material into nutrients
- when we think about collective actions, can we look at hives and ant colonies, both of which have collective actors and defines roles?
- is the bottom of the food chain akin to a working class (biopower)?
- is the distinction between labor and work one of physical force? Labor being body-based, straining and work being brain more than brawn?
- The world tends toward disorder (entropy); almost any action in the world increases entropy (second law of thermodynamics).
March 11, 2021
Karen Barad, Intra-actions and Antennae Magazine
“How would our experience of reality be different if
existence were commonly imagined to be a collective affair?”
Reading about Karen Barad, her influence in multispecies thinking in the issue of Antennae Magazine on Multispecies Intra-actions…
— the interview with Kirksey— Pindell’s writing on Beuys and Decomposition (de-composing, compost, breakdown seems like an interesting counterpoint to what we think of as “production” and there’s more and more “work” in that category in the human world: handling returns, doing repair work, recycling and handling waste)
– poaching from ethology, a field conventionally understood as “the study of animal behavior in a natural environment.”
– queering science, the performative turn. possibly some clues on how to write this Multispecies Union manifesto
– why the term nonhuman emphasizes the binary too much; more-than-human world also.
Multispecies world(ing) does better.
Gleaning Stories, Gleaning Change
Considerations and etymology of aesthetics (misunderstood as beauty and used as a tool of power), with regards to decay, compost.
Kant – “German Ästhetik in the sense of a “science dealing with the principles of perception by the senses,” returning to the roots and rhizomes of the word” and “The original meanings of the word aesthetic are
relational, communicative, performative; to return to them is to queer several hundred years of capitalist commodification of the aesthetic experience. Aesthetic, as a verb and as a noun, parallels Barad’s definition of Agency: a relational enactment rather than a quality that one passively has or observes.”
“If we accept Barad’s thesis that phenomena (including ourselves) are performatively created in the world’s
ongoing reconfiguration of itself, then it follows that our experience of those phenomena (including ourselves) are also dynamically intra-active experiences.[x] Aesthetics are intra-actively performative communications, a dynamic dialogue of perceptions and responses.“
Beuys’ Bog Action
Bernie Krause’s biophilic listening, Pauline Olivieros’ deep listening
Derrida: “The question of the said animal in its entirety comes down to knowing not whether the animal speaks but whether one can know what ‘respond’ means. And how to distinguish a response from a reaction.”
Paul Stamets on mycelial communication
– What is poachable here?
– Need research on the aesthetics of work, labor, production and what could be transposed or expanded to encompass a multispecies world
– Ideas about listening sessions, regenerative practices, a systems approach to worlding
– Research into accumulation, regeneration– how to generate a multispecies list of demands?
– to shed the yoke of capitalism, and restore our vitality