Monday, July 18, 2011

Money - Donald Worster on commodification

"The most fundamental characteristic of the latest irrigation mode is its behavior toward nature and the underlying attitudes on which it is based. Water in the capitalist state has no intrinsic value, no integrity that must be respected. Water is no longer valued as a divinely appointed means for survival, for producing and reproducing human life, as it was in local subsistence communities. Nor is water an awe-inspiring, animistic ally in a quest for political empire, as it was in the agrarian states. It has now become a commodity that is bought and sold and used to make other commodities that can be bought and sold and carried to the marketplace. It is, in other words, purely and abstractly a commercial instrument. All mystery disappears from its depths, all gods depart, all contemplation of its flow ceases. It becomes so many "acre-feet" banked in an account, so many "kilowatt-hours" of generating capacity to be spent, so many bales of cotton or carloads of oranges to be traded around the globe. And in that new language of market calculation lies an assertion of ultimate power over nature - of domination that is absolute, total, and free from all restraint."

Donald Worster in Rivers of Empire, page 52

What I believe Worster is talking about is an inherent devaluation of something when we try to value it for commodification, especially if that something as essential as water. Such commodification seems to be possible only if a money value is assigned to it. At the same time, just because something costs the same amount as something else doens't mean both of them are of the same value. This is particularly true for the valuation of the basic necessities of life - food, water - compared to those that are comparatively non-essential - say nail polish, or a computer.

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