Sunday, January 30, 2011

Things remind me of things

Apologies for the lengthy quotations and dearth of commentary, but I find these quite valuable and they speak for themselves. All emphasis is mine.

This is from James C. Scott's beyond excellent Seeing Like a State:
It goes without saying that the farmer was familiar with each of several varieties of any crop, when to plant it, how deeply to sow it, how to prepare the soil, and how to tend and harvest it. This knowledge was place specific in the sense that the successful growing of any variety required local knowledge about rainfall and soils, down to and including the peculiarities of each plot the farmer cultivated. It was also place specific in the sense that much of this knowledge was stored in the collective memory of the locality: an oral archive of the techniques, seed varieties, and ecological information.

Once the farmer was moved, often to a vastly different ecological setting, his local knowledge was all but useless. As Jason Clay emphasizes, "Thus, when a farmer from the highlands is transported to settlement camps in areas like Gambella, he is instantly transformed from an agricultural expert into an unskilled, ignorant laborer, completely dependent for his survival on the central government." Resettlement was far more than a change in scenery. It took people from a setting in which they had the skills and resources to produce many of their own basic needs and hence the means of a reasonably self-sufficient independence. It then transferred them to a setting where these skills were of little or no avail. Only in such circumstances was it possible for camp officials to reduce migrants to mendicants whose obedience and labor could be exacted for subsistence rations.

Although the drought that coincided with forced migration in Ethiopia was real enough, much of the famine to which international aid agencies responded was a product of the massive resettlement. The destruction of social ties was almost as productive of famine as were the crop failures induced by poor planning and ignorance of the new agricultural environment. Communal ties, relations with kin and affines, networks of reciprocity and cooperation, local charity and dependence had been the principal means by which villagers had managed to survive periods of food shortage in the past. Stripped of these social resources by indiscriminate deportations, often separated from their immediate family and forbidden to leave, the settlers in the camps were far more vulnerable to starvation than they had been in their home regions.
It reminded me of these passages, spread out over about ten pages in Derrick Jensen's beyond excellent Endgame vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization:
Civilization has only been on this continent a few hundred years. There are many parts of this continent, such as where I live, that became subject to civilization far more recently. Yet in this extremely short time this culture has committed us and the landscape to this technologized path, in so doing shredding the natural fabric of this continent, enslaving, terrorizing, and/or eradicating its nonhuman inhabitants, and giving its human residents the choice of civilization or death. Another way to say this is that prior to the arrival of civilization humans lived on this continent for at the very least ten thousand years, and probably much longer, and could drink with confidence from rivers and streams everywhere. After this culture's short time here, not only has it toxified streams and groundwater, but even mother's breast milk. That's an extraordinary and extraordinarily quick commitment to this technologized way of being (or rather non-being). ...

Dependency. One of the advantages of not having to import resources is that you need depend on neither the resources' owners nor on the violence necessary to eradicate these owners and take what's theirs. One of the advantages of not owning slaves is that you need not depend on them for either your "comforts or elegancies" or even the necessaries of life. We have at this point become dependent on oil, on dammed rivers, on this exploitative way of being (or, once again, non-being). Without it many of us would die, most all of us would lose our identities. ...

To mask our powerlessness in the face of this destruction, many of us fall into the same pattern as those abused children... we turn the focus inward. We are the problem. I use toilet paper, so I am responsible for deforestation. I drive a car, so I am responsible for global warming. Never mind that I did not create the systems that cause these. I did not create industrial forestry. I did not create an oil economy... [W]e did not create the system [and] our choices have been systematically eliminated (those in power kill the great runs of salmon, and then we feel guilty when we buy food at the grocery store? How dumb is that?).


michael- said...

Great post - Scott is fantastic. His 'hidden transcripts' changed my whole view on the arts of resisting.

Great blog as well - lucky me to have found it.



Ethan said...

Thank you! You're way too kind.

SLaS is my first time reading Scott, and it is just wonderful. From what you say, definitely adding Domination and the Arts of Resistance to my list (unfortunately it's a very long list, so there's no telling when I'll get to it, but it looks fantastic). Thanks for the tip!