Tuesday, September 30, 2014

a (yoga) socio-political manifesto


Nature has priority.1 It's here first and sustains everything.

The guiding principle is ahimsa. Non-violence translated into deep & skeptic ecology, i.e, the interdependence of human and non-human life in a world out of joint. We cannot understand ourselves if we estrange ourselves from nature, but we're already estranged!    

Socio-political should start bottom-up, not top-down.2 We don't need to wait for the top to change. As actors close to the local/regional nodes of action, we can acquire the know-how to build connections and mobilize public opinion to challenge institutional and social alienation.

From the bottom ---> up: The initial transformation is individual but it doesn't stop there. We are ONE: There is no true path without some form of dharma/activism.3 

* The aporia of human anthropocentric emancipation: We need to see non-human life under a different optic. The Greeks of ancient times didn't realize that non-Greeks were persons. American plantation owners in the late-18th Century didn't realize that blacks were not inferior brutes. The majority of Americans don't realize that non-human animals are more than just foodstuff. We have an obligation to treat animals with dignity4 (our present animal farming needs to be transformed from intensive farming ----> extensive farming).

* The aporia of pollution vs. development: Blaming corporations in order to feel safely excluded from the pollution cycle, while feeding the very thing we try to prevent. We are the world's worst polluters!5

* Though it may be a little late, the move towards eco-conservation is a social imperative. Let's fight to stop deforestation, to protect sea life from extinction (due to overfishing), ensuring ecological diversity for future generations. Yes, it seems daunting, but it begins by understanding, doing & telling others. 

* The aporia of technology vs. emancipation: What makes us human is a result of our cultural evolution: language, rituals, arts and technology. Yet, our anthropocentric-based culture is leading us to a dead end. Let's move from an anthropocentric to a bio-centric culture!6  Technology = Culture.Technology is not the enemy. Humans cannot live without technology. Yet, technology has the imperative to preserve the delicate balance of Nature. 

* We must learn to curb and manage our waste: Reusedonaterecycle! Food is the primary ecological exchange of energy. Our corporate-driven, production-intensive food paradigm needs to be redefined, from fast food ----> slow food7 Let's switch our eating habits and bring back food sacralization. Let's turn environmental degradation and human exploitation into eco-erotics!8

* The aporia of development vs. under-development9: Our post-Capitalist global society is craft-deprived. Globalization has outsourced our manufacturing and trade/skills base. Let's get back to cooking, arts and craftsorganic horticulture,10 etc. We should balance our individualistic tendencies with cooperation & communitarianism!

* Let's change our cities, fighting urban decay with environmental sustainability, changing ugliness into beauty.

* Let's become eco-Romantics!11 engaging in heritage conservation, infrastructure efficiency,  mass transit, regional integration, human scale, and institutional integrity.

* Let's transform our neighborhoods, building sustainable structures, limiting urban sprawl, reducing car dependence, promoting pedestrian friendly urbanism.12

What to do? 

Flipping Marxist formalism, let's turn the base into the superstructure. Our bid is for a different form of emergence: 


1 Aristotle's naturalism can be seen as a forerunner of eco-ethics, as expressed by his dictum Nature does nothing in vain. John Clearly, Aristotle and the Many Senses of Priority, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1988) p. 60. 2 We don't have to choose between markets (Welfare Capitalism) or governments, as instruments of emancipation (Communism, planned-economy Socialism). Nor is there need to eliminate markets, trade, private ownership, the welfare state, or the institution of the corporation. What we need to do is bring about new practices for each of these institutions appropriate to a balance between prosperity and conservation. This is the force of emergence: Millions of people joining voluntary movements, discovering that the good life is more fulfilling than the endless cycle of accumulation and consumption. Professor Steven Buechler makes a similar (hopeful) point: "Movements can be crucial switching stations in the direction of history (...)  vital free spaces that promote democratization and restore a meaningful public sphere." See Steven M. Buechler, Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism: The Political Economy and Cultural Construction of Social Activism (Oxford University Press: 2000) p. 214.  Enacting Niyama at the social level can bring about a life of material sufficiency with cultural, intellectual, and spiritual abundance in balance with the environment. By osmosis, the social level can bring about needed changes in the political sphere. 3 One's embeddedness in a particular context: job, household/family, or community can lead one to recognize a problem, learn about community needs, and find a way to make life better through new -or reconfigured- social linkages.  According to philosopher Tom Regan, animals have "inherent value" as subjects-of-a-life, and cannot be regarded as a means to an end. See, Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights, (University of California Berkeley, 2005) p. 245. The United States has 4.2% of the world's population and produces 24% of the world's C02 emissions. 6 One must be careful not to write off culture, as if humans have fallen from paradise straight into some artificial exile of civilization. This is where the ancient Greeks can help. They understood that us humans are not completely "natural" but rather the site of a collision of nature and culture, which uniquely defines us. See Bruce Thornton, Plagues of the Mind: The New Epidemic of False Knowledge (ISI Books, 1999) p. 96.  7 "Slow food" goes against the received notion that cheap food = good food. Carlo Petrini, the man behind this movement defends the "unpolitical" idea that cheap food is really expensive, bad food, when compared with good, clean, carefully harvested food. He is right. In his book, Petrini advocates the idea of "gusto" (taste) and diversity. There is a correlation between slow food and health, which makes slow food more enjoyable. The locus for this revolucion is la osteria, a place where one can find "traditional cuisine run as a family business with simple service, welcoming atmosphere, good wine and moderate prices." See Carlo Petrini, Slow Food, the Case for Taste (Columbia University Press, 2003) p. 51-58. "Cheap food" is a Capitalist ploy to misrepresent real capital allocation and profit in the name of "abundance," hiding government subsidies for monoculture and intensive production which end up as profit for Big Business in food and energy. Take for instance American corn policies: We subsidize corn while (protect Monsanto's right to sell it to farmers as genetically modified seed). Coincidentally, corn is the foodstuff staple for raising cattle in the US (funded by whom?) and an energy commodity. Wonder why such a labor-intensive commodity such as meat is so cheap? Corn is heavily fertilized — both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop — at least until corn ethanol skewed the market — artificially low. That's your Big Mac @ McDonald's, a $5 meal bargain, with 1,400 calories (more than half the daily recommended requirement for adults). 8 I thank my friend Gene Ray for his suggestion. I'd like to spin his idea of eco/erotics as an embodied striving for well-being that connects us with the animal and non-animal other (life). The opposite of eco/erotics is eros gone astray, a perversion of Nishkam Karma. A desire in the form of a will-to-control that aims to secure itself by mastering all around it. Ridden with anxiety, this eros reduces other to self. In fact, there are examples of such versions in modern times: Certain "peak" historic moments, when factors motivating nations and individuals, such as the desires for profit, security, and hegemony got transformed militaristic erotics. 9 It turns out that the mantra of "emancipated" Communist development in Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean throughout the 1960's-1980's consisted in mimicking the Capitalist "anthropocentric development" model: 1- constant growth, 2- domination of nature, 3- industrialization and technologization of production and society at the expense of environmental degradation, abandonment of agriculture (land reform in this case meant very little, since arbitrary and exploitative prices were set by the bureaucrats, not by the farmers), massive migration to the cities, urban unemployment and loss of crafts skills. The deterioration of nature brought by these mistaken policies, was invoked by the communist  bureaucracies as a step in the right direction for the attainment of development. 10 Who would think of pursuing horticultural studies in Miami, now, when the expected move of disenfranchised farmers is from the rural areas to the city? Precisely! This overall migration has to do with the switch from farmer-produced to corporate-produced agriculture. How can one reverse it? By encouraging a moresimple living. Diversifying instead of homogenizing food consumption; by making good, simple food (not gourmet food) a desired commodity, so that corporations are forced to alter their mode of production. Surely, one must be watchful of corporation's good intentions! It's all about awareness. Are people ready for it? After the subprime mortgage crisis, the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, andBP's gulf disaster, the answer is yes. 11 The new eco-Romantic is committed to ecological flourishing, but she is neither anti-technology, nor naive in her political expectations about Messianic utopias. The traditional Romantic lived in a paradox he was blind to. (H)e deprecated technology from his studio in the industrial-brought comfort of the pre-Modern city. We must see the good and bad in technology. The Industrial Revolution cannot be simply undone (the remedy would be worst than the disease). It needs to be transformed. Technology can serve us in using the ecosystem resources more efficiently. On the other hand, there is a strong historical relationship between growth in economic output and growing human demands on the earth's finite ecosystem. We've pushed since 1950's the human burden on the planet's regenerative systems, its soils, air, water, fisheries, and forestry systems beyond what the planet can sustain. Anthropocentric "development" is not the answer. Pushing for economic growth beyond the planet's sustainable limits accelerates the rate of breakdown of the whole. It also intensifies the competition between rich and poor for the earth's remaining output of life-sustaining resources. 12 See my  "Miami's Urban Mess.