Beware of men!
Beware of men!
By Rodney Vlais
The Indian physicist Vandana Shiva has noted that states and corporations cannot deny the existence of rights inherent to life in the form of people's access to water, land and cultural and biological diversity. As Australia's High Court Mabo decision ruled almost ten years ago, they can only fail to recognise them. Indeed, the capitalist system is based on denying recognition of the intrinsic, lifeful value of the sacred elements, and how they weave together to create diversity both biologically and culturally. Rather, it ascribes value only once the 'resource' is extracted from the ground, the biological material is mass produced for commercial markets, and the localised cultural knowledge
regarding these elements - refined over centuries - is appropriated for making profit.
There is a growing call for the recognition of earth rights, earth justice and earth democracy. Summed up by Thomas Berry, this movement stresses that the Earth's component sub-systems and species (including humans) have intrinsic rights to exist, to have a sustainable habitat, and to inter-be through fulfilling their niche in the process of continual renewal and evolution, and that human property rights expressed through the capitalist system have no rights to supersede these.
Vandana Shiva was one of several activists in alternative forums to the World Summit of Sustainable Development who passionately spoke of the principles of an Earth democracy,
** that all species, human cultures and localized knowledge systems cannot be owned by other humans through patents and intellectual property rights
** that all members of the Earth community have basic rights to clean air and water, safe habitats and nurturing food, and that these are best sustained as commons nurtured by systems of community rights rather than by commodified ownership
** that resilient localised economies are best placed to create sustainable livelihoods based on cooperation, compassion and creativity, with national and global economies performing relatively smaller roles
Civilisations the world over have fallen by falling asleep to these basic earth rights. Africa has not been immune to this trend, exemplified by the ancient civilisation of Meroe of the upper Nile region, which collapsed after massive deforestation caused by the relentless demand for charcoal to fuel its iron smelters.
In many situations, however, the diverse array of African societies over the past fifteen millennia have fallen due to changes in climate that have dramatically affected local ecologies, or to the unsettling affects of European slave trading and colonisation. More recently with the mostly European invention of the tribe as a means of colonial domination, warfare has taken its toll.
Outside of these circumstances, Africans have maintained some of the most stable lifeways found in human societies. The harsh necessities of unforgiving landscapes and destructive pests and diseases have meant that consistent relationships with land and water have been a lifeline for dozens of generations.
The corporate media images of Africa in 'tribal warfare' would have us believe that Africans are the task masters in disrespecting life. Admittedly, life has become cheap in some parts. Violence that in evolutionary terms has arrived much later in Africa than in most other parts of the world. Rather, Africa's history presents some of the earliest and most numerous examples of stable cities without centralised political hierarchies, and societies based on small inter-related autonomous bands, than perhaps on any continent. Numerous civilisations throughout the continent's history have merged ecological sustainability with people's needs for dignity, in ways that have stood the test of time outside of major climatic changes and the havoc wreaked by colonialism and neocolonialism.
For if one defines civilisation as the extent to which life isn't taken for granted, Africa has a crucial role in helping to civilise the non-indigenous cultures of the overdeveloped nations. We in the overdeveloped world commodify the basic essentials of life and let the market distribute them (making excuses when this distribution works unevenly) so that we can get on with the 'unmarketables' of love and meaning - closing our eyes to how commodified even these 'higher' goals have become. Africans struggling for the basic dignities of life, and our indigenous sisters and brothers throughout the world, are less likely to forget what we can't keep forgetting if we wish for our 'higher' goals to
be fundamental to love, life and a meaningful role as part of the Earth community,
This is not to say that we should work in solidarity with African communities because we need their cultures to survive in order to teach us about Earth democracy and dignity. This would be to place yet one more burden on those who we have, at various times, pitied, romanticised and forgotten. Such an abusive stance - to treat their cultures as objects for our needs - would also deflect attention from the basic requirements of the impoverished, a vastly different distribution of economic and political power, expressed in land, housing, food and right livelihood, that challenges the status quo enjoyed by the owners of capital (including you and me).
Nor, in my opinion, should we talk in the totalising language that we are all fighting the same fight. I have never been forcibly removed from my place of living, have generally found work when I've needed to and have never lacked food. Although my predicaments share common roots with those suffering for the right to exist, in one sense it is insulting to the suffering of others to make direct comparisons. I can choose to be an activist, and the issues that I wish to focus upon, many here don't have that luxury of choice.
Yet we do have much to learn from those who we can act in solidarity with. The conditions of racism will only cease once, as a set of white, middle class cultures, we can self-reflect on the beauty and poverties of our lifeways, emotional landscapes and worldviews, and look to others for guidance in what we are blind to and have forgotten.
The shades of solidarity can run very deep. We have an opportunity to find the character and courage, in supportive communities, to let go of the multiple layers of our consent in prioritising property rights over earth democracy and basic dignity. By doing so we can both reclaim and create a diversity of civilized lifeways that will help humanity to survive and thrive at its current crossroads.
Joyce, your suffering will not be forgotten, it cannot. We will listen and act with dignity in the face of the psychotic denial of earth democracy. May the future of civilizations rest in co-creating the conditions for you to feed your family, and so that you never again have to watch one of your children die.
May we not only devote our love to the vision that another world is possible, but let us also act together towards making another life possible for both you and me.
At both the People's Earth Summit and the IFG
teach-in, the Indian physicist Vandana Shiva spoke of the principles of an
earth democracy. She stressed how corporate globalisation involved the
stripping of community rights over local biological and cultural knowledge, and
their transfer to corporations based on intellectual property rights. The
natural biological material of plants and animals is increasingly being
"bioprospected" in similar fashion to the prospecting of minerals
from the ground. Vandana stressed that no one has the right to own life,
and that the biodiversity of expressions of life (diverse grains, water, clean
air, etc) are best protected by community rights that attribute, first and
foremost, sustainable rights of sharing among its members.
For Vandana Shiva and others, we are facing nothing less than a war on life itself. Andrew Kimbrell in Resurgence magazine (edition 214) writes of attempts by technocratic capitalists to transform the very nature of life so as to more closely mimic evolving technological systems – genetic engineering, human cloning, nanotechnology and other processes are all concerned with manipulating and mass manufacturing expressions of life for commercial profit. While many of us would think that the most appropriate way to heal the increasing separation between humans and nature would be to place reigns on the rapidly expanding technology milieu, for corporate globalisers more money is to be made from adjusting life to fit the capitalist machine of biotechnology.
In this edition of Resurgence, Vandana outlines eight principles of an Earth democracy that can be summarised as:
** We are all members of the Earth community, and as such humans have no right to dominate the ecological space required for other species.
** All manifestations of life have intrinsic value to be treated as subjects in their own right, not as objects to be owned under patent systems and intellectual property rights.
** Biological and cultural diversity is an end in itself that must be defended.
** All members of the Earth community have rights to natural means of sustenance such as water, nourishing food and sufficient ecological space. These rights cannot be ascribed nor taken away by corporations, as they are the basic birthrights of life itself.
** An Earth democracy requires sustainable, diverse, pluralistic economic systems that respect the rights of life.
** Local economies are in the best position to support Earth democracy.
** Earth democracy is based on local living democracy, with local communities organised on principles of inclusion, diversity and ecological and social responsibility having the highest authority on decisions related to the environment, natural resources and the sustenance and livelihoods of people.
** Earth democracy is based on earth-centred and community-centred knowledge systems that cannot be owned and patented. They belong collectively to communities that create them and keep them alive, to maintain and renew living processes in ways that contribute to the health and well-being of the planet.
** Earth democracy connects people in circles of care, co-operation and compassion, instead of dividing them through competition, control and conflict.
Earth democracy is a living movement in that many communities have been putting its principles into practice for dozens of generations. Proponents argue that it provides the experiential, moral and spiritual base to resist corporate globalisation and to renew communities towards decommodifying the commons. Vandana argues that Earth democracies are resilient systems that are best suited to providing security in the current climate of economic and political instability. She suggests that despite the prevalence of Western individualism, Earth democracy is likely to be a thread in the way forward, as humans cannot survive without community systems of support. Earth democracies replace Public- Private Partnerships with People-People ones.
Vandana and others organised the Children's Earth Summit as a parallel activity to the World Summit of Sustainable Development, as a way of children learning and sharing experiences of what Earth democracy could mean and has meant in their communities. Some 200 children from across the globe came together to discuss ways of re-weaving the future, and to set the context for children to inform each other of the value of local biological and cultural diversity.
The Earth democracy movement faces similar challenges as relocalisation in terms of how to create spaces against the tide of the overwhelming privilege given to property rights ascribed by the capitalist system. Movements towards earth justice through systems of law that support the earth's democratic rights form one suggestion in this respect, but even here the question remains of how to combat the prevailing laws based on the pre-eminence of property rights.
One can see, however, that the grace and amazing beauty and complexity of biological and cultural diversity can be a major force for change in this respect. Corporate globalisation has existed in some form for only 400 years, and in a globally dominant form for much less than this. The planet's numerous systems of biological and associated cultural diversity have evolved over a far greater period, and from this comes a profound ally for change in the form of life itself.
As stressed by many activists and speakers at alternative forums to then WSSD, corporate-led globalisation is creating an increasing underclass of people and communities who have neither the capital nor investment opportunities for neoliberal governments and corporations to be interested in their welfare. Unless required as a source of cheap labour, these communities are discarded and are often the most exposed to toxic waste and polluting industries, and have the least affordable access to the basic essentials that nurture life.
In the words of Naomi Klein, capitalism erases or "economically disappears" these people. Yet one of the greatest sources of inspiration in global evolution towards a better world lays in these communities. In the process of fighting for survival and basic dignity, these communities are taking control over their lives in situations where neither governments nor corporations care.
In two earlier articles I outlined how grass-roots South African networks are reconnecting their communities to electricity and water, after millions of homes have been cut off due to the inability to pay increased rates caused by privatisation. Communities in Argentina have established horizontal assemblies without leaders to provide the means for survival after the country's economic collapse . assemblies that do not just meet around the table, but which reclaim factory spaces to bake communal bread and provide other services. The Zapatistas in the Chiapas of Southern Mexico have developed semi self-sufficient autonomous zones, while Bolivian anti-privatisation groups are now developing their own water provision projects to provide for the community.
In these and other examples, communities of protest and communities of renewal are one and the same thing. Fighting against the institutions and systems that deprive them of dignity go hand in hand with taking autonomous responsibility to provide for themselves. As Oscar Olivera of the Bolivian La Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y de la Vida (Coordinator for the Defense of Water and Life) stressed after they overturned the government's water privatisation plans, "We regained dignity as people, to speak and make decisions for ourselves. We broke vertical hierarchy and didn't need to ask permission from government, judges, police or the military."
As global capitalism economically disappears more and more communities, the potential for a global web of community-based resistance and renewal is strengthening. It is being joined by a growing number of autonomous groups in the industrialised nations, who are also providing basic services through social centres and other means without the involvement of governments or corporations, while simultaneously protesting against the forced detention of asylum seekers, environmental injustice and other issues. Communities that combine renewal and resistance are beginning to connect with each other in systems of inter-solidarity where, for example, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty is well aware of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign in South Africa, and has organised a solidarity event timed to coincide with the WSSD.
These systems of inter-solidarity are relatively recent phenomena in the main. Seven years ago, one looked mainly to the Zapatistas as an autonomous community weaving resistance and renewal against the forces of corporate-led globalisation. Now numerous examples are emerging, not only because of the increasing destructiveness of global capitalism, but also because of the positive elements of globalisation in fostering a sense of earth citizenship (among those willing to accept this responsibility). This global citizenship, threaded together by communities of shared interest, is making the amazing efforts of marginalised communities more visible to a wider audience.
Numerous questions again remain. In what ways can these horizontal assemblies and autonomous zones remain free from forms of political and ideological fundamentalisms that could destroy their grounding in living democracy? As systems of inter-solidarity widen and strengthen, what will be the processes through which this becomes infectious for people in other communities to take more direct control over their lives? What forms of organisation will bubble-up out of these systems of inter-solidarity, in order to protect the local globally?
Look at the humans: Here they rally for free urinating, free subsistence, free speech, free association, self-determination. Pity them. God bless them!
You want to return to the start.
You want to be enthusiastic.
You want to go to a free zone.
You want to go the US way.
You want to carry on.