Monday, March 05, 2012

modern myths that destroy humanity

automaticearth | “All things are subject to interpretation; whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” –Friedrich Nietzsche

I'd like to take this opportunity to comment on an oldie but a goodie from the Indian environmentalist, Vandan Shiva. In her brief article for Odewire, "Two myths that keep the world poor", Shiva tears apart the logic of Harvard economist and neoliberal (-feudal), economic "shock therapy" advocate Jeffrey Sachs with all the force one would expect from the God of destruction. It was in response to a book written by Sachs called The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities of Our Time, which featured all the nonsensical arguments that “liberal progressives” like to spout off in magazines and on television these days.

They proffer the same kind of fundamental myth that Nietzsche identified crawling through the bowels of modern religions such as Christianity – if one toils hard enough on Earth, and accepts one’s designated roles in society, he/she will be rewarded in Heaven. If that is God’s [Blankfein’s] given truth, then there is no need to radically alter the system or fight for justice/equality, right? Shiva first explains why global poverty is not a function of people being "left behind", as if they had been ten minutes late to the train station, but rather of people being held up for nearly all their wealth/resources at gunpoint.

Two myths that keep the world poor

But, there is a problem with Sachs’ how-to-end poverty prescriptions. He simply doesn’t understand where poverty comes from. He seems to view it as the original sin. “A few generations ago, almost everybody was poor,” he writes, then adding: “The Industrial Revolution led to new riches, but much of the world was left far behind.”

This is a totally false history of poverty. The poor are not those who have been “left behind”; they are the ones who have been robbed. The wealth accumulated by Europe and North America are largely based on riches taken from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Without the destruction of India’s rich textile industry, without the takeover of the spice trade, without the genocide of the native American tribes, without African slavery, the Industrial Revolution would not have resulted in new riches for Europe or North America. It was this violent takeover of Third World resources and markets that created wealth in the North and poverty in the South.
Shiva introduces the inconvenient history that people like Sachs continue to ignore to this very day, as they demonize the millions of new people slipping into poverty every week and accuse them of not being productive, creative, innovative, responsible or hard-working enough. And perhaps there are elements of truth to it, but it is far from the whole story. That is exactly the dynamic we now see occurring between the EU politicians/bureaucrats, their media spin machines and the peripheral populations.

The Greeks are lazy, unproductive welfare queens, and they must be taught by Germany and their other Western neighbors how to start growing their economy again through a complete gutting of public safety nets, pensions and wage protections. This mentality is at the root of every policy being recommended and pursued by the EU, ECB and IMF. It is the reason why they not only have zero chance of working, but will inevitably make the situation worse for most people involved.

It is not a mentality that is just confined to the elite circles of academics and policymakers, though. Just tell the next person you meet that “economic growth” is not necessarily a solution to our systemic crises (assuming they are even aware of those), and is actually the problem in many ways, and see what kind of reaction you get. Shiva goes on to explain how this deeply-rooted mentality is based on two fundamental myths relating to "growth".
First, the destruction of nature and of people’s ability to look after themselves are blamed not on industrial growth and economic colonialism, but on poor people themselves. Poverty, it is stated, causes environmental destruction.

The disease is then offered as a cure: further economic growth is supposed to solve the very problems of poverty and ecological decline that it gave rise to in the first place. This is the message at the heart of Sachs’ analysis.

The second myth is an assumption that if you consume what you produce, you do not really produce, at least not economically speaking. If I grow my own food, and do not sell it, then it doesn’t contribute to GDP, and therefore does not contribute towards “growth”.

People are perceived as “poor” if they eat food they have grown rather than commercially distributed junk foods sold by global agri-business. They are seen as poor if they live in self-built housing made from ecologically well-adapted materials like bamboo and mud rather than in cinder block or cement houses. They are seen as poor if they wear garments manufactured from handmade natural fibres rather than synthetics.

Yet sustenance living, which the wealthy West perceives as poverty, does not necessarily mean a low quality of life. On the contrary, by their very nature economies based on sustenance ensure a high quality of life—when measured in terms of access to good food and water, opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, robust social and cultural identity, and a sense of meaning in people’s lives. Because these poor don’t share in the perceived benefits of economic growth, however, they are portrayed as those “left behind”.
Indeed, the disease is continuously being offered as the cure right now. On the surface and in the spin rooms, they call it more "growth", more credit availability, more "innovation", etc., but, make no mistake, it is really more wealth extraction, more monopolization/centralization of industry and resources, more unproductive debt burdens, more environmental destruction, more slavery and more genocide. Only those with narrow, goal-seeked or malicious perspectives will fail to see how all of those things are extremely inter-connected.


nanakwame said...

We are going can teach that old "voodoo" lesson about how we are all connected in the re-birthed consciousness.....

umbrarchist said...

The economic wargame is a continuation of the military wargame by other means.

It is curious how economists can't suggest something as simple as mandatory double-entry accounting in the schools and I am not aware of any Western country implementing such a thing.  THE WORKERS are supposed to think of themselves as WORKERS.

Temple3 said...

I think the more fundamental myths at the root of these are those of "modernization" or progress, and they myth of meritocracy for individuals/individualism. Of course, these myths are not absolutes: far from it...but for my money, these concepts underpin the two points mentioned above. 

You cannot blame individual poor people for their individual poverty unless you have a world view or paradigm that posits individuals at the center of all action and responsibility, and also perceives constraints (even at the macro-economic level) as operable within individual dynamics and not group dynamics. It took centuries for Europeans/Americans/Westerners to come to this conclusion, and it trailed their material dominance, so it's not so surprising. 

Consigning groups of people (tribes, races, nations) to the 3rd world similarly requires some beliefs about progress, innate ability, and other things that simply don't square with reality. The myth about consumption and production is really a mere by-product of the European ("middle ages") interpretation of a real scarcity dynamic with respect to food, land, security, etc.