Archive for June 21, 2009

medea
(Image: Sarah Howell)

I don’t think it’s an either/or question but one of difficult to predict cycles with uncertain outcomes. Scientists nevertheless try to come up with simplistic explanation for highly complex systems evolutions; the Gaia hypothesis is one of those, and the New Scientists’ article below uses the Medea metaphor to coin what it considers is the proof for the other extreme: the planet’s inherent drive to self-destruction.

Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis is based on the notion of homeostasis, meaning the Earth as a living organism itself constantly provides maintaining conditions that support life. “The entire range of living matter… from whales to viruses and from oaks to algae could be regarded as constituting a single living entity capable of maintaining the Earth’s atmosphere to suit its overall needs and endowed with faculties and powers far beyond those of its constituent parts,” wrote Lovelock in his groundbreaking 1979 book Gaia: A new look at life on Earth.

The New Scientist on the other hand points out that the opposite seems to be the case, citing a growing body of research which shows that life on Earth has repeatedly endured “Medean” events that brought the planet’s biosphere to the edge of total destruction. The article explains quite a few of them, grouping them into the categories of atmospheric crises, total glaciations and mass extinctions of life forms; the article also provides a link to an interactive timeline of those events.

I think our recent ancestors, while not having had our scientific tools, had a much better understanding of the changing fortunes of life on Earth and in our universe. Hindu literature of old for example talks about Brahm constantly devouring life forms while giving birth to new ones – a principle applied to the whole universe, not just to the planet we inhabit (they also knew about expansions and contractions of the universe). Maybe our scientists should now and then consult works like the Vedas when forming theories about life ;).

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abortion men - valerie patterson
Valerie Patterson – Abortion Men

A great way of saying that we need a new project called ‘radical structural analysis’. In the process, argues Robert Jensen, we will find an unsustainable┬ásystem profoundly characterised by domination and subordination, which are reflected in how we live our lives in areas like race, gender and sexuality, the capitalist economy, our relationship to the natural ecology, and the issue of empire. Woven into those themes is a callous culture, the glorification of violence, a consumer society build on the shifting sands of debt and a predatory economy based on greed, and above all white supremacy and patriarchy.

Jensen argues that some of the best tools for a radical analysis for him were so far radical feminism, anti-racist theory and practice, traditional anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements, and the best thinking in ecology. But they don’t answer one question for him that grows in importance: what does it mean to be human. Somewhat reluctantly he turned to theology, a combination that isn’t new but, I would say, also also fraud with dangers because theology cannot be separated from any of the above mentioned issues.

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map_world_hunger

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that 1 billion people on the planet (or 1/6 of the human population) do not have to enough to sustain themselves; in other words they suffer from hunger, malnutrition and all related after-effects. And while the wealthy countries’ governments are busy spending tax money on bailing out their rich upper class peers, the situation for those 1.02 billion is getting worse.

Australia for example promised to spend a meagre 0.5% of gross national income (GNI) on international aid by 2015 BUT, because that income isn’t rising as fast as predicted, even that half a percent will be less money for the poor than projected – a result of international bankers and other shady figures, including those in government, having ripped the heart of the world’s economy.

This is a particularly poor performance by this country given that it is a relatively rich island in a poor neighbourhood: 642 million of the total number of those who don’t have enough to eat live in the Asia-Pacific region (a further 265 million are in sub-Saharan Africa, 53 million in Latin America and the Caribbean, 52 million in in the Middle East and north Africa and even the euphemistically called ‘developed’ countries have their share of 15 million hungry people).

Originally the FAO expected a better than expected food supply and had lowered its estimate for the world’s hungry from 963 million to 915 million. However, the organisation’s head Jacques Diouf now says that a “dangerous mix of the global economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some 100 million more people that last year into chronic hunger and poverty”. And this year the number of the hungry is “expected” to  grow by another 11%! (I wonder how Jacques must feel when he talks about the hungry poor while sitting on a US$250-300,000 base salary).

What always amazes me is the clinically clean and detached language used by those ‘activist’ bureaucrats to describe the causes for poverty and hunger: economic crisis, global economic slowdown, high national food prices, reductions in expected food supply. These are words that won’t change anything, certainly not in terms of the structure that causes the growing gap between the rich and poor, the North and South, the haves and havenots. It is a structure based on exploitation of the bottom by the top, competition for power and wealth in which the poor count nothing, and a patriarchy that has never known values such as care, empathy, compassion and respect and instead thrives on greed, warfare and violence.

Patriarchy is a large contributor to economic and social injustice, wars and violence. The vast majority of those suffereing from hunger and poverty are women and children, and the vast majority of those involved in wars, oppression and other callous and violent acts against others and the environment are men.

As long as these bureaucratic hunger managers on fat salaries don’t sacrifice large chunks of their salaries and get their hands dirty in helping the poor hands-on plus have the courage to name the real structural causes of suffering, adversity and injustice, nothing will change. And it’s a similar case for the rest of us: if we don’t get up collectively to do our part to overthrow this exploitative, unjust and violent system of privilege and power, neither poverty nor injustice will disappear on either side of our doorstep. If we don’t change, nothing else will change, and in the end we all might join the big suffering when our most consequential violence, the one against nature, takes its big toll.

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