Sunday, February 2, 2014

1300. A Word With the Reader: Gardening, Ground Squirrels and Crisis of Civilization

By Kamran Nayeri, February 2, 2014
Ground squirrel

No doubt, gardening is among modern human activity that arises feeling of warmth and pleasure and begets admiration. Even in the dry discipline of neoclassical economics gardening is assumed to provide a public good. A gardner creates beauty that all passer by will enjoy at no charge.  

When I arrived in my current home outside the small town of Sebastopol (pop. fewer than 8,000) over two years ago, I came to garden for the first time in my life as a way to get closer to nature.  In January 2013, I joined a group of 33 volunteers in an intensive course to become a Master Gardner in Sonoma County, a program of the Agriculture and Natural Resources of the University of California Cooperative Extension that educates and advises home gardeners.  

Surprisingly, I have learned a thing or two not just about gardening but also about the crisis of civilization.  As I wrote in Economics, Socialism and Ecology: A Critical Outline (Part 1, Part 2), humanity is not just facing an economic crisis or even a crisis of capitalism but a crisis of civilization.  It all began with the shift from ecocentrism to anthropocentrism when early farmers emerged from bands of foragers some 10,000 years ago.  The shift reflected alienation from nature that goes hand-in-hand with a compulsion to control and dominate nature.  It was on the basis of systemic exploitation of domesticated animals and plants that a surplus economy arose. What followed was social alienation and segmentation and the rise of the early class societies. Early civilizations institutionalized alienation from nature and social alienation. The rest is history. 

There has been no civilization that has not experienced social and ecological crises.  In fact, most civilizations succumbed to such crises and have vanished. The capitalist civilization based on fossil fuel driven industrialization is the first to link up and dominate the entire world and its inhabitants. Its rhythm of life is the rhythm of capital accumulation, its culture shaped with commodity fetishism. 

Now, let me get back to gardening, generally regarded as a peaceful, nature-loving activity.  In the October 2013 Newsletter of the Sonoma County Master Gardeners, in a regular column where useful examples of responses of my peers provide to home gardeners we find the following recommendation to a home gardner on how to mange ground squirrels in her garden:  
Assuming that you would like to get rid of the squirrels, the best approach for most people is to trap them. Using poison bait is another option, but the possible collateral damage that can occur to other species is not something that you would want to see happen. Traps are available that work very well on squirrels and the only bait needed is regular peanuts. The only unpleasant part of trapping is the need to kill the squirrels, unless you want to take a long ride everyday to relocate them which is only dumping your problem onto someone else. Most accomplish the task of killing the squirrels by drowning them. If left in the trap, they will die fairly quickly if left in the sun, but this seems like a cruel thing to do since it takes time and is hard on the animals. Shooting them is another option, but then a lot of people don’t like using guns and it can get messy.”  (emphasis is mine)
There is no doubt that this response speaks in the language of war against another species. In this anthropocentric discourse, the ground squirrel who shares the same geographic location as the gardner is treated as an enemy to be extinguished. My Master Gardner colleagues are mostly older, female and generally very nice and kind hearted fellows.  The fact that they can prescribe such methods against another species has little to do with their conscious ethical lives. It has to do more with the underlying unspoken anthropocentric ethics of our civilization that gives moral superiority to humans over any other species.  So, if there is a conflict between our interests and theirs, it is they who will lose. 
California Master Gardeners agree to dispense advice based on scientific views of the Agriculture and Natural Resources unit of the University of California.  But science itself is an anthropocentric ideology of modernity.  In fact, the general sense of disposing of ground squirrels is from a pest note from the University website.  Thus, this war-like approach to “pests” is sanctioned by the university even though it runs entirely contrary to discipline of ecology thought at the same university where species are understood as part of ecosystems, not as pests.  
I need not take your time to argue that the above example can be generalized to the entire activity of conventional gardening.  Just visit the gardening section of any hardware store and look for shelves of war material against other species: animal, plant, fungi, etc. 
On the role of science, I urge you strongly to read Miguel Amoròs’s Midnight in the Century: Notes Against Progress.  He has packed in a lot of ideas in this brief essay all worth your consideration. I should also add that I find Amoròs’s conception of nature an alienated one (see his The War Against Territory: The Highest Stage of Domination). To him nature is “not a pre-social fact, but a product of culture and history.”  But who are we if not a product of nature? Unless, Amoròs speaks of alienated nature—that is human conception of what nature it. In that case, his argument that human war against nature is the highest form of domination is true.  I leave it for you to sort these out after reading Amoròs. 

There is no doubt in my mind that the crisis of civilization cannot be resolved without a process of de-alienation from nature; returning to ecocentrism from our anthropocentric detour. There will be other opportunities to discuss this perspective in connection with other prevailing alternative ideas to the capitalist society (for a good comparative discussion of some these alternatives see The Deep Green Alternative: Debating Strategies of Transition by Samuel Alexander and Jonathan Rutherford). 
*     *     *
There have been 99 posts since my last column.  This period was marked with the death of Nelson Mandela, undisputed leader of the fight against South African apartheid.  However, Mandela’s legacy became more complicated when he and the African National Congress (ANC) came to power to map out a post-apartheid transition. As it is now commonly agreed, the successful campaign to bring down white supremacist apartheid regime brought with it the promised one-person one-vote and black majority rule but not economic and social equality not to mention the rule of the working people in South Africa.  So, there are 9 post  on Mandela's legacy each with a different interpretation, sometimes complementary and sometimes conflicting.  There are also 8 post about Cuba, including its role in fighting South African apartheid.  

On main themes of the posts in Our place in the World there are 8 posts on ecocide, 7 posts on global warming and climate change, 8 posts on eco-socialism, eco-anarchism and socialism, 5 on Green Capitalism, 9 on nature (animals, plants, etc.), 5 posts on animal liberation, 3 posts on evolution and 4 on the Anthropcene. There were 10 book reviews.

Hot links follow:

1201. Two Different Demographic Crises – Some Eco-Socialist Reflections 
1202. The War Against Territory, the Highest Stage of Domination
1203. Obama Approves Major Border-Crossing Fracked Gas Pipeline Used to Dilute Tar Sands
1204. From the Readers: "9.70:" A Documentary on the Impact of Free Trade Agreement in Colombia
1205. Crows Are No Bird-Brains: Neurobiologists Investigate Neuronal Basis of Crows' Intelligence
1206. Bonobo: 'Forgotten' Ape Threatened by Human Population Growth and Forest Loss
1207. Climate Change Impact in Cuba
1208. Seeking Status of ‘Legal Person’ for Captive Chimpanzee
1209. Dogs: New Strides in Spying and Neutering
1210. Science Panel Says Global Warming Carries Risk of Deep Changes
1211. "Americanized" Labor Policy Is Spreading in Europe
1212. Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origin
1213. Pope Francis: Economic Challenges of Today's World
1215. Man, Conquerer of Nature, Dead at 408
1216. United States, Israel Opposed Mandela, Supported Apartheid
1217. On Christian Perspectives on Animal Rights
1218. Mandela on Gandhi: The Sacred Warrior
1219. Thousands of Italian Scientists Protest Strict Limits on Animal Research
1220. Government of Ecuador Shuts Down Fundación Pachamama
1221. Cuba Reforms Seen as Changing Ideals, Values
1222. California Coast Starfish in Sudden Die-Off
1223. "Their" Mandela and Ours
1224. Fidel Castro's Visit to South Africa: Cuba's Role in Africa Has Been Exemplary
1225. How Mandela Came to Embrace "Free Markets”
1226. When Did The 'Anthropocene' Begin? Scientists Outline Plan For Settling Debate
1227. How a Socialist Candidate Won an Election in Seattle
1228. Considering the Humanity of Nonhumans
1229. The Two Mandelas
1230. Expansion of U.S. Navy Sonar Testing Will Kill More Whales and Dolphins
1231. Faithful as a Mother Shark
1232. What Apartheid Defeat Opened for Workers in S. Africa and the World
1233. Grenada: Big Revolution in a Small Country
1235. Chimpanzees Are Rational, Not Conformists, Researchers Find
1234. India’s Aspirational Volcano
1235. Chimpanzees Are Rational, Not Conformists, Researchers Find
1236. Bill McKibben on Obama and Climate Change
1237. The Neanderthal Buried Their Dead
1238. Earth’s Sensitivity to Climate Change Could Be 'Double' Previous Estimates, Say Geologists
1239. Study of Rodent Family Tree Puts Brakes On Commonly Held Understanding of Evolution
1240. Human Population Growth Puts Pressure on Wildlife in Serengeti
1241. Cuba Opens Up Sale of New and Used Vehicles
1242. Claims of Virgin Birth in the U.S. Close to One Percent, Study Finds
1243. Experiments: Eigg Electric
1244. Monogamy May Have Evolved to Prevent Infanticide
1245. Stumbling Toward Another Crash
1246. Having a Servant Is Not a Right
1247. Mandela and Cuba: Another Memory Hole
1248. Book Review: The World Until Yesterday
1249. Book Review: Small Is Beautiful
1250. Book Review: The Transition to a Sustainable and Just World
1251. Eugene Debs: Dreaming of a Red Christmas
1252. Wyoming May Act to Plug Abandoned Wells as Natural Gas Boom Ends
1253. In California, Big Utilities Are Now Storing Solar Energy for Use at Night
1254. What Accounts for a Number of Recent Pro-Labor Votes in Seattle
1255. Book Review: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
1256. Chinese Automaker Planning Assembly in Cuba
1257. Book Review: Human Dependence on Nature: How to Help Solve the Environmental Crisis
1258. Whale Watching Is Killing Whales
1259. The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Flora
1260. Book Review: Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism: A Critical Analysis of Humanity's Fundamental Choices
1261. Spared Winter Freeze, Florida’s Mangroves Are Marching North
1262. Free the "Cuban Five" Now!
1263. Book Review: Stephen Corry's Crtique of Jared Diamond’s ‘The World Until Yesterday’ and Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined”
1264. People's Attorney Lynne Stewart Is Free at Last!
1265. Book Review: Delusions of Peace; Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined”
1266. Dogs Sense Small Variations in Earth's Magnetic Field, New Research Suggests
1267. Animal Cells Can Communicate by Reaching Out, Touching, Study Shows
1268. The Anthropocene: 3,000 Years of Abusing Earth on a Global Scale
1269. Book Review: Welcome to the Anthropocene
1270. The Deep Green Alternative: Debating Strategies of Transition
1271. Millions Face Water Shortage as the Colorado River Shrinks Due to a Fourteen-Year Drought
1272. Green Capitalism: The God That Failed
1273. The World’s Top Predators Are in Decline, and It’s Hurting Us Too
1274. The Case of Lynne Stewart and How It Was Won
1275. Book Review: A Short History of Progress
1276. Now Dead, the Israeli General and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Was an International War Criminal
1277. Beyond Growth or Beyond Capitalism?
1278. Ralph Nader, Twice U.S. Presidential Candidate for the Green Party, Now Fights for Investors
1279. Global Warming: The Next Flood
1280. Lag in Confronting Climate Change Would Be Costly, UN Says
1281. Gains from Trade Trumps Environmental Concerns in Pacific Negotiations
1282. A Limits to Growth Critique of the Radical Left: The Need to Embrace The Simpler Way
1283. Cuba's Contribution to the Anti-Apartheid Struggle
1284. Server Drought Grows Worse in California
1285. Cuba: Proposed Legislation to Expand Scope of Foreign Investment
1286. Brazil’s Latest Clash With Its Urban Youth Takes Place at the Mall
1287. Climate Change, Population Growth, and Syrian Civil War by Proxy
1288. The Sharing Economy: A Short Introduction to Its Political Evolution
1289. The Life of Factory Farm Cow
1290. The Future of the Cuban Revolution
1291. Earth Won't Die as Soon as Thought
1292. Fruit Fly Brothers Tend to Cooperate
1293. Keystone XL Pipeline Fight Lifts Environmental Movement
1294. Rainforests in Far East Shaped by Humans for the Last 11,000 Years
1295. Interplanetary Dust Particles Could Deliver Water and Organics to Jump-Start Life on Earth
1296. Pete Seeger, American Folk Singer and Activist, Dies at 94
1297. Genetic Engineered Weapons to Support Monoculture Cause for Concern
1298. Humans Have Not Evolved to Live in Space
1299. The Life of Factory Farm Pig


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