Animism and Capitalism Part 2

Okay, so this one might be more capitalism than animism…

Recently, as I found myself browsing the internet and I came across a link from Rhyd Wildermuth and found myself following it. What I came across was rather thought provoking, and I felt it deserved a place in the second part of this series.

I encourage you to read the original context of course, as here I will be only exploring snippets that really resonated with some of my own thoughts. It began with a post by a Tumblr user on the Gods & Radicals Tumbler. While I will not recap all that they said; I do want to take a brief couple of excerpts;

But the concept that some thinkers seem to promote as the solution, that we should turn our backs on technology, follow an anarcho-primitivist route, is throwing the baby out with the bathwater….

Seeing the advances of science & technology as ills to be fought, with no sense of the vast improvements they have made to humanity’s condition & quality of life … is an incredibly blinkered position to take. If we can’t advocate for radical change without throwing vast numbers of the population under the bus, how are we in any way improving on what’s gone before?”

Some excellent points are raised by the OP, and I agree generally with the points raised. I have myself come across some of the thinkers the OP is talking about, and I am not sold on their solutions either. I too agree with the final line of the OP, as I in no way can advocate, nor stand by any person that does, any solution that has tied with it a massive death toll (whether human life or non-human). Oftentimes, such causalities are counted among the disabled, the sick, or any one else that may be dependent on modern medicine or technology to survive. I cannot stand by such so-called “solutions.”

Now I want to talk a bit about the response. Rhyd starts first by talking about a subject that I have tiptoed around recently, mostly because I am not all that familiar with the material (something I hope to change), and partially because what I have been exposed to I am just not sold on;

Where I differ with them is actually on the matter of the urban and ‘civilisation.’ It’s similar to my critique of John Michael Greer’s assertion that Industrialisation is the primary ill of society (rather than Capital), or of Deep Green Resistance’s anti-urban (and anti-trans/anti-queer) ideology. The urban (and what springs from it, including technology) can’t be interrogated monolithically, and besides, most of the brilliant things humans do come from our collaboration with each other.

I want to be clear on this point, I by no means accept the idea that “civilization” or industrialization are the primary/chief ills of society. To be fair, they aren’t perfect of course. Plenty of industries are big polluters of both our air and water, and civilization certainly doesn’t get a pass in this regard.

I think Rhyd is right on the mark in this regard, in that these things cannot be looked at as if they were monolithic. Civilization and industry are very complex entities, and even talking about them in the singular is perhaps erroneous. There are civilizations spread across the globe, as there a great plurality of industries. Some are more culpable than others in our current problems than are others, but none are perfect. Rhyd adds more to this idea by saying;

Conversely, though, because technology and “The Science” is seen as monolithic, we find ourselves often being told we need to accept innovations wholesale, without interrogating their social or environmental consequences. Thus, hydraulic fracturing or genetically modified organisms are packaged as the same Technology as the polio vaccine or even sewage treatment. This argument asserts that we must accept it all or reject it all, which is patently ridiculous.

The point he makes about not interrogating the consequences is an important one, and one I fully agree with. I once heard it explained beautifully by a dwarf in a game called Arcanum;

“ “When humans first see some new technology, their first thought is often ‘what can I use this for?’; when they should ask ‘what is the cost of its use?” ”

I have my the point before on this blog that it is not so much a matter that we do some of these things (with that caveat that we consider the consequences), but more of matter of how we do these things. It is not so much a matter that we have things such as electricity, computers, and cars, but more of the fact that how we fuel and produce these things is polluting the planet. Rhyd hits on this idea a little bit himself;

Conversely, though, because technology and “The Science” is seen as monolithic, we find ourselves often being told we need to accept innovations wholesale, without interrogating their social or environmental consequences. Thus, hydraulic fracturing or genetically modified organisms are packaged as the same Technology as the polio vaccine or even sewage treatment. This argument asserts that we must accept it all or reject it all, which is patently ridiculous.

And then there is that bit about Capital. Capitalism to me is the idea that everything; from humans, to resources, can be given a monetary value; traded, exchanged, extracted, and exploited for profit. To aquire and retain as much capital as possible, because especially in America, capital/money is power, political, cultural, as well as social. It is a really complex set of ideas, that has a nasty habit of creeping into everything. I am sure better and more versed minds have said more on this topic.

There is one last quote from Rhyd I want to explore;

The third complication with technology, and one of the ways I resonate with Anarcho-Primitivism, is that technology/science/progress are presented as cures for the problems caused by Capital. You’re certainly aware of “Green Capitalism” and other such narratives which suggest that we need not change the core engine behind our social relations (to each other and to the earth) but only invest more money into new technologies which will make the machine run ‘cleaner.’ John Gray calls that the ‘cult of progress,’ and I would have to agree. ” – Rhyd

I have said before that we have the technological capacity to make the machine run “cleaner”, and in fact retrofit/rebuild the machine of technology and industry to such a degree that they only resemble the machines of today in passing. Yes, we do need more investment in technology to get us away from fossil fuels but.. I have never just advocated that we need to change the machine, but our relations with it as well. Individual solutions as trumpeted by green capitalism will never solve the problem. Technology alone will not solve the problems either. Yes, we need to build a better machine, but we also need to rethink and rebuild our relations with it as well.

In summary, I think science and technology are part of the solution, but only one part.

The other part involves a change in ourselves, our relations, and societies. A different way of doing things.

In the next part of this series, I want to explore the essay by David Graeber called “On Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit”; which I was exposed to thanks to Rhyd’s response.

So much more to chew on.

Thanks for reading!

References;

Gods and Radicals Tumblr

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About Nicholas Haney

I am a writer, author, hunter, craftsman, and student of anthropology/archaeology. View all posts by Nicholas Haney

2 responses to “Animism and Capitalism Part 2

  • Sarenth

    I’ve been working on a response to this for the better part of a month, and I just posted my own response to this and similar critiques.

    I won’t rehash everything here, but I found your take on things interesting, and I wanted to respond.

    You wrote:
    “I too agree with the final line of the OP, as I in no way can advocate, nor stand by any person that does, any solution that has tied with it a massive death toll (whether human life or non-human). Oftentimes, such causalities are counted among the disabled, the sick, or any one else that may be dependent on modern medicine or technology to survive. I cannot stand by such so-called “solutions.””

    I’m really curious as to how a population crash is going to be avoided. I have yet to see any responses that indicate how this is going to be handled. If we lose access to cheap, abundant fossil fuels then people are going to die. Whether it is cooling in the hot months or heating in the cold, people (unless they’re using something like a wood stove) generally speaking need access to them. Hell, in the Telegraph they talked about 50,000 ‘excess deaths’ in 1999-2000 period in the UK. In a more recent article, from February 2015, the Telegraph looked to the yearly tolls look to be around 40,000. From the article:

    “Malcolm Booth, chief executive of the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners, said: “Excess winter deaths look like rising above the exceptional 2008-09 total and potentially reaching above 40,000 – and that is a disaster for the elderly in Britain.
    “Winter deaths are a tragedy for families of those affected but it appears the underlying causes of these deaths have still not been properly addressed.”

    Saudi Arabia is selling off parts of its nationalized oil company and has started deep water drilling off its coast. They’re spending money hand over fist trying to find new oil fields, which, given they are supposed to have 25% of the world’s oil reserves, should make us all stand up and take notice. The plastics that are necessary for many of our many, many medical innovations rely on that oil for production as well as energy to transport them. The food supply is in a similar state of peril in its reliance upon oil for plastics packaging and diesel for transportation.

    The solution does not need to bring a death toll with it; it comes packaged with the end result so long as we keep on the path we’re on and do not work to address the problems at hand.

    The problem with saying anything is ‘the chief ill’ rather than ‘among the chief ills’ is that it denigrates the consequences and interplay between these things. Capitalism could not have become so rampant and destructive to our planet as a whole as it has become without the massive upscale of industrial operations, and likewise without capitalism and its proponents in government and private industry pushing it along, it could not have affected so massive a population on its own. Industry requires great amounts of capital and real wealth to actually get it off the ground and producing, and in like way, it requires externalities (read: pollution, waste, etc.) to be absorbed by the communities it operates in. This is why the coal industry has fought efforts to capture the carbon emissions from the coal-fired power plants: it is incredibly expensive. So, somebody else pays the price for their industry to operate, whether the miner with black lung or a tunnel collapsing on them, the towns polluted air and water, or the warming of the planet.

    Certain industries are the ones who are the primary polluters and poisoners of this planet. Some of them, such as energy, electronics manufacturers, and those who supply the raw goods for these things can be looked at monolithcally because of how they contribute to the cycles of destruction, privation, and harm not only to their local economies and environments, but globally. A lot of good folks are really caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the energy industry, for instance. I ran into this headlong at a local meeting in regards to the Spectra Energy’s NEXUS pipeline which is proposed to be built in my town less than 1,000 ft. away from my school, still awaiting federal approval.

    I don’t blame the pipe-workers and electrical workers for working on these things; this is where the money is. If we as a society actually want to have cleaner air, less reliance on fossil fuels, and so on, then we need to actually put our money where our mouths and futures are as a country. The head of the Electric Worker’s Union in the area came right out and talked about the solar projects they were hired to work on in multi-state projects. If we don’t want our energy garnered by these industries, we need to enable workers and companies alike to switch to renewables wherever we can, and put massive amounts of funds into making America less reliable on fossil fuels and their noxious industries.

    ““Conversely, though, because technology and “The Science” is seen as monolithic, we find ourselves often being told we need to accept innovations wholesale…This argument asserts that we must accept it all or reject it all, which is patently ridiculous.””

    I am glad I’m not the only one looking at the current crop of Scientism and finding myself repulsed.

    I’m also with you in regards to capitalism. I don’t want to see trade, industries, or civilizations as a whole destroyed, but many of them simply will not survive the transition off of fossil fuels. Hell, the last time gas prices jumped to $150 a barrel we had a recession our hands, and the full-scale Depression, at least in the United States, is simply being delayed now with neither wages nor the underlying structure of the economy actually being fixed, much less addressed.

    “I have said before that we have the technological capacity to make the machine run “cleaner”, and in fact retrofit/rebuild the machine of technology and industry to such a degree that they only resemble the machines of today in passing.”

    How many cars can be retrofitted for solar, hydrogen fuel cell, or similar technologies? Is the infrastructure in place for such a transition to take place? Would it be economically or environmentally feasible to do so? We may have the technological capacity, but I have serious doubts as to whether our infrastructure would handle such a rehaul without deep, deep costs that would need to be handled in the bargain. If we cut our military budget in half, or almost entirely, that is, taking ourselves out of the geopolitical game entirely and taking down our standing armed forces that have stood since WWII, we probably could do it if we approached these issue with the same gusto as we did WWII.

    “Yes, we do need more investment in technology to get us away from fossil fuels but.. I have never just advocated that we need to change the machine, but our relations with it as well. Individual solutions as trumpeted by green capitalism will never solve the problem. Technology alone will not solve the problems either. Yes, we need to build a better machine, but we also need to rethink and rebuild our relations with it as well.”

    We absolutely need to rethink, reevaluate, and change how we related to technology, the world, and each other. There is no silver bullet to the problems we face. I think that local resilience and rebuilding networks of interdependency between agriculture, production, industries, and services on a local level to be a major way forward, but not the only way.

    Well written, and a good reflection my friend!

    • Nicholas Haney

      Sorry it took so long for me to respond to this…

      “The solution does not need to bring a death toll with it; it comes packaged with the end result so long as we keep on the path we’re on and do not work to address the problems at hand.”

      You said; “as long as we keep on the path we’re on”; and part of my argument is that the path is changing, albeit slowly, but it is changing and we are working as a whole towards addressing these problems. In my mind it is a question of time.

      Many estimates think we will hit peak production sometime between now and 2030. Oil supply will not continue to grow after that, as production would plateau. Oil supplies would not just dry up, and the production and reserve might last as long as century according to some estimates. Prices would then presumably fluctuate based on demand, especially if it outstrips supply. That is concerning of course, but the oil is not going to dry up.

      There are a lot of people in the world that realize we need to make the transition away from fossil fuels. Judging from the UN goals and climate talks alone, the international communities realize this.

      Overall, I think we are moving in the right direction. We are in that transition, if only the early stages. I look at the trends, and I find them encouraging. The production of renewable electricity is expected to grow going forward, and is one of the largest sectors of growth economy wide. The alternatives for transportation are also growing, as are the number of alternative fuel vehicles on the road. Yes, the percentage of total vehicles and renewable electricity is a low percentage at the moment, but each year it is growing. Consider too that many older fossil fuel plants are being decommissioned. Last I heard, like 16 some coal plants were expected to shut down in Michigan alone in the near future. I also heard on NPR/PRI recently that Stockholm, Sweden expects to be fossil fuel free by about 2040. That is only 25 years, and we are talking a major city, and more importantly a model for other cities to emulate.

      “How many cars can be retrofitted for solar, hydrogen fuel cell, or similar technologies. Is the infrastructure in place for such a transition in place? Would it be economically or environmentally feasible to do so?”
      I think “how” or “how many” is the wrong question. I think the question is “how long?” As you said, there is no single silver bullet for these things. That is part of the reason I argue for a mixed economy, with both a viable private and public sector. Large public infrastructure projects are rarely profitable. Let the private sector worry about the profitable things, and a larger public sector can worry about infrastructure and “less profitable” ventures such as recycling, alternative energy and other “public good projects”. But that is the cultural and political change that needs to be coupled with the technological transition.

      All things considered, I think time is the real question…

      Thanks for the comment!

      (I am working on the reply to your next one…)

      Some references;

      https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=23692 (Diesel)
      https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=24792 (Renewable Electricity)
      http://www.pri.org/stories/2016-02-18/swedens-capital-its-way-becoming-fossil-fuel-free-2040

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