Thursday, September 13, 2007

Forced Scarcity and Catastrophism

At CounterPunch, see "Specters of Malthus", a fascinating interview with Iain Boal ("an Irish social historian of science and technics") about "scarcity" and "catastrophe". Some samples:
So there's no denying that capitalism is now threatening the basis of life on earth. Certainly that's true. But I refuse to cave in to Malthusian assumptions. Why is it not possible to imagine a reorganization of agriculture, and I don’t mean some new technofix from Monsanto. It will surely mean agrarian revolutions, though the content of those revolutions would be contested, to say the least. Marxists have always thrilled to the sight of really big tractors. They don't much like to hear about watersheds and foodmiles and small Kropotkinian communes.

[. . .]

. . . it's important to notice the ideological move that naturalizes events which are the result of human decisions. It turns disasters that have as much to do with human agency and decision into natural and inevitable events.

[. . .]

What is so poignant is that things could be otherwise. We don't in fact live in a world of Malthusian scarcity. Far from it. Even Malthus himself acknowledged this when he spoke of "nature's mighty feast". And yet the history of modernity is the history of enclosure, of the cutting off of people from access to land, to the common treasury and to the fruits of our own labour. Excluded by fire and sword and now "structural adjustment". Everywhere you look, there [is] nothing much natural about it, this kind of scarcity. It's a story of artifice and force. No wonder the fables offered us by modernity's clerisy are the Prisoner's Dilemma and the Tragedy of the Commons. The premises of the science of economics are a disgrace, and so are all the proliferating offspring of Malthus. Our first task is to kill these sacred cows of capitalist modernity.

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