Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thoughts on ecology, reductionism and capitalism

I have spent the last few days with my parents and submitting applications for different after-school positions. No, I'm never going to have a job...I hope. I haven't sat down to write recently, and I'm not sure why. But, I have been reading. Deep Routes: The Midwest In All Directions is a book I picked up recently, one that my friend, Sarah Lewison--an artist, activist, and professor at Southern Illinois University--has contributed to, along with other community organisers, academics, and artists from the Midwest. The book is about radical activism based in the Midwest, and a key theme of the book is territoriality and connection with place. Connection with place is something deeply lacking in a world in which we constantly seek upward mobility. While "settling down" is something I don't agree with, I wonder how our constant mobility obscures our ability to see connections between the our daily choices and their multidimensional outcomes. Indeed, what is the ecology of choice? 

Reductionism is the foundation of current expertise, education, and capitalism. Reductionist thinking gives us only thinly cut slices of complex pie. In a globalized world, we know very little about the roots of the products we buy, or the roots of the food we eat. Instead, we are made to think of dollars and cents, and when we valuate using the great reductionism of money, we tend to undervalue. Writes Claire Pentecost in Deep Routes,
Capitalism is deracinating: it must separate anything of value from its roots in order to convert it into a sign that can be efficiently circulated and exchanged. It reduces both needs and desires to a system in which the fungible and often proprietary signs of value trump the organic ecology of values. In this deracinated circular flow, the universal equivalent--the sign that makes all commodities exchangeable--is money. Whatever we need and love may have inherent value, but under capitalism, anything and everything is reducible to a monetary sign of value. This is efficiently paralleled by informationalism, a paradigm of knowledge in which value is reduced to an isolated register that can be exchanged as pure sign. In these ways capitalism and its companion informationalism are constitutionally deterritorializing. 
Ecological thinking is a powerful antidote to reductionism, even when not applied to the "environmental" reduction; it allows us to see connections and understand the roots of the choices available to us socially, politically, and economically, whether at the voting booth or in the aisles of supermarkets. Our capacity to think ecologically fully appreciates and takes advantage of our vision, foresight, and creativity. Yet we are stuck by constantly narrowing and reducing the scope of our questions and investigations into the failures of capitalism and public policy in public health and the environment. Pentecost continues by writing,
...our food paradigm reduces the value of a food to those elements that can be easily read as quantifiable information. We are trained to think of nutrition in terms of a handful of vitamins and minerals. So we grow acres of corn, which are deemed to be all the same in quality, process them to extract their exchange value as oils, starches, sugars, and materials that can be used industrially for glues and plastics, reconstitute some of those ingredients by adding certain readily identifiable vitamins and minerals--and voila! It serves a food. But it ignores the complex nuances of human digestion, and does so tragically in the light of the misery and disease propagated by the "American diet."
How can we pour millions of pounds of toxic chemicals into our environment and not think that we will be poisoning ourselves, as well as all that makes our existence possible and palatable?  

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant!
    "Ecological thinking" is the 'right brain' thinking in that didactic video: