The vivisection of oikeios: beyond the binary of nature and society

A felled tree

The common-sense distinction between nature and society was established through the bloody history of capitalist and colonial development, which brought about a real separation between the social and natural worlds.

What happens when the salmon people can no longer catch salmon in their rivers?

- Jeff Corntassel1

When I was a child I slept in a room at the back of my parent’s house. During the summer, the old wisteria would climb up the garden wall, over the window-sill and spill into my room. Great green crickets would crawl up the stems and find themselves suddenly inside, I can remember watching them pace my ceiling in the half-light before I fell asleep. I never thought it was strange that the wisteria, the crickets and I should share a room. It was the consequence of a simple arrangement, the wisteria shaded the house, and the house supported the wisteria, which in turn sheltered the crickets, who, admittedly, served no discernable purpose beyond distracting sleepless children.

There is a word in Greek which perfectly describes the old house and the straggling wisteria. Oikeios comes from oikia, home, it means; “that with which one is at home, it is one’s own.”2 The word does not mean “property” i.e an alienated thing made our own by some force, but that which we naturally inhabit, that which is favourable to our existence. It is a totality, a peaceful completeness.

THE DIVISION OF SOCIETY AND NATURE

Nature and society are not divisible things. The two live inside each other. It is a state of reciprocal immanence, one in which the existence of humans is inexorably entwined with the existence of non-humans. We are mutually dependent unto extinction.

If we look at hunter-gatherer communities we see a common understanding of this reciprocal immanence. Amongst those peoples who live thus it is usually understood that their water is of the rivers, their shelter of the forests and their food of the plains. From this conception springs a rich culture of reciprocity; a deep respect for the non-human life which makes human life possible. The people who live off the salmon think of themselves as the salmon-people, their existence is inseparable from the existence of that which sustains them.

Like Cherokee or Nishnaabeg peoples, Zapotecs have their own word to describe belonging as responsibility. The word guendaliza means that we all are relatives and as such we have reciprocal responsibilities. When we say thank you in Zapotec we say chux quixely, which means ‘I will reciprocate’. Reciprocity is not limited to human beings but extends to the land and other beings visible or not.

- Isabel Altamirano-Jimenez3

However the coming of agriculture helped spark the notion of property, setting in progress millennia of violent accumulation and appropriation. New agricultural productivity also made possible large settlements, towns and cities of ever greater size, a concentration of humanity which in turn facilitated the birth of industry. With the power from our increasing development we turned our gaze towards that which was not-human, and wondered how we may develop that too. Thus we othered nature, no longer could we merely live in it, now we had to stand atop it. Peaceful co-existence gave way to dreams of mastery and domination. Western civilisation has been as much about defining what isn’t us as what is. From the parts we have cut from oikeios we have made allotrios, that which is alien.

The symbolic distinction itself – ‘social power’ and ‘biophysical process’ – becomes possible only through the forcible separation of the direct producers from the means of production and its symbolic expressions, emerging during and constitutive of the rise of capitalism.

- Jason Moore4

Such an argument is not unusual amongst radicals in the colonial heartlands, but in these circles it often becomes entwined with deeply problematic assertions. Western radicals can easily fall into a fetishisation of hunter-gathering which nearly always involves a selective and orientalist reading of indigenous voices and struggles. One of the failings produced by such a reading is the common confusion of indigeneity with hunter-gathering. It is vital to remember the great diversity of indigenous societies, and that many indigenous peoples lived in metropolises that were reliant on agriculture. These indigenous metropolises often brought about a vivisection of oikeios every bit as deep and destructive as that found within the colonial heartlands.

A thousand years ago, a great city flourished on the floodplains of the Mississippi river. Estimates of its population vary hugely, as only 1% of the site has ever been excavated, but as many as 40,000 people may have lived there.5 Even taking the lowest estimate, the city of Cahokia was not exceeded in population by a settler city until the 19th century.6 The scale of the metropolis is extraordinary; over 120 mounds cover an area exceeding 13 square kilometres, with the precision and layout of the groundworks indicating careful planning.7 The mounds, which functioned as places of burial and ceremony were huge structures; the largest was 100 feet high “with a rectangular base longer than that of the Great Pyramid of Egypt”.8 The city’s expertise was not limited to monolithic construction projects however; amongst the artefacts from the site is a funeral blanket of exquisite artistry.9 It is made from twelve thousand shell beads.10

Of course, such a metropolis required great quantities of food to sustain it, and the greatest part of this demand was met by the huge fields of maize to the east of Cahokia.11 Without maize Cahokia would never have become a metropolis, but its dependence on the crop proved to be its downfall. As the city grew, the forests surrounding it shrunk rapidly. The construction of a wooden rampart all the way around the city in about 1200 significantly increased deforestation, as did a boom in house building.12 As the forests vanished so too did their capacity to slow and store rainfall runoff, and soon Cahokia began to experience serious flooding.13 The maize fields were either submerged or stripped of their topsoil, either way they became impossible to cultivate.14 Deprived of its staple food, Cahokia collapsed. By 1350, the city was nearly deserted.15

THE CREATION OF WILDERNESS

...an exorcism of social activity from universal nature [is enacted] in order to attenuate the contradiction between external and universal nature. The possibility of the socialization of universal nature is ultimately denied not on the basis of historical experience but by the contradiction with external nature.

- Neil Smith16

Colonialism saw the creation of wilderness at a continental level. Africa and America became places of nature, in which humans lived so primitively that to the colonialists they still appeared connected to the land. The definition of this land as wilderness, and these people as primitive, legitimised the greatest process of enclosure and dispossession in history. For Locke, it was that there was an unexploited surplus, a waste in the wilderness, which demonstrated the primitive nature of the indigenous Americans and thus the right of the colonialist to take their lands. Wilderness was described as non-productive space;

If either the grass of his inclosure rotted on the ground, or the fruit of his planting perished without gathering, and laying up, this part of the earth, not withstanding his inclosure, was still to be looked upon as waste, and might be the possession of any other

- John Locke17

The destructive drive of manifest destiny owes itself in no small part to such statements of colonial intent. The wilderness was rendered productive through rituals of enclosure and extinction; the plains were bisected by barbed wire and railroads, whilst settlers roamed the claimed lands, hunting flights of passenger pigeons, herds of bison and tribes of indigenous people.

It is important to note the entangled relationship of colonialist ecocide and genocide. The ideology of dominating and purifying the land in order to make it productive ensured the extinction of humans and non-humans alike. To prove this let us look first at the discourse applied to the non-human; in this case botanical life;

Maison Rustique employed rhetoric of sickness and cleanliness to describe fields. The farmer’s first job was “to cleanse arable ground of stones, weedes, and stubble.” Rocks and natural vegetation represented a kind of filth, polluting the ground. The rhetoric became even more intense when describing “wilde grounds or desartes.” There the farmer needed to cure “the disease of your fieldes.” Surflet recommended, “If you desire with more haste and certainty to destroy them, you shall burne the ground the two first yeeres.” Natural vegetation, rather than a source of potential sustenance, was an illness that the farmer cured through total immolation. Even valued plants, such as trees, were only appropriate in specific locations, such as gardens or planned woods. If there were too many woods, then farmers needed to employ the same solution as they would on weeds: fire.

- Keith Pluymers18

To the last sentence we could easily add “if there were too many indigenous people, then the farmers needed to employ the same solution as they would on woods”. The efficiency with which the settlers cleared the non-human elements of the land was matched only by the efficiency with which they cleared the human elements. When the British landed in Australia in 1788 they found an aboriginal population of between 250,000 to 750,000 people.19 By 1911 there were just 31,000 left.20 The barbarity and efficiency of their extermination shocked even that most blood-soaked of nations, Britain. A shaken High Commissioner, Arthur Hamilton Gordon, wrote to Prime Minister Gladstone;

The habit of regarding the natives as vermin, to be cleared off the face of the earth, has given the average Queenslander a tone of brutality and cruelty in dealing with "blacks" which it is very difficult to anyone who does not know it, as I do, to realise. I have heard men of culture and refinement, of the greatest humanity and kindness to their fellow whites, and who when you meet them here at home you would pronounce to be incapable of such deeds, talk, not only of the wholesale butchery (for the iniquity of that may sometimes be disguised from themselves) but of the individual murder of natives, exactly as they would talk of a day's sport, or having to kill some troublesome animal.

- Colin Tatz21

Gordon provides us with all the evidence we need. This is the ideology of the colonialist, which sees the indigenous human as “vermin”, a “troublesome animal” which needs “to be cleared off the face of the earth”. The reciprocal immanence of the indigenous peoples and their land was alien to the colonialists, and thus they sought to bury the one in the other. Oikeios became a state found only in the killing fields and the mass graves. Only there were people “at one with nature”.

The colonised lands saw nature and man split apart, but only under the force of countless gunshots, infections and enslavements.

There is no ontological divide between social nature (developed, degraded, managed) and external nature (wild, pristine, ecological), yet it is precisely this divide which the conservation biology proponents relentlessly forge and defend.

- John Hintz22

Environmentalism remains trapped in the thought of colonial-capitalism. Nature is something which happens in foreign lands, amongst barbarous people, who are now found to be incapable of protecting it. Neo-colonialism finds the indigenous community guilty of the mirror-crime of that for which they were condemned by colonialism; rather than too connected to their environment, they are now too disconnected. This time they shall be thrown off their land so that civilisation may save it from them, rather than them from it.

In west Kenya the Sengwer people are being chased from their homes. Thousands of them flee before the military police, who tear apart their huts before setting them on fire.23 The government calls them squatters, blaming the Sengwer for the degradation of the forest they inhabit.24 They neglect to mention that the Sengwer have lived as hunter-gatherers in the Embobut forest and the Cherangany Hills for thousands of years. 25 Why are these people being made homeless? Part of the blame at least falls on the UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme.26 The World Bank has been funding the Government of Kenya’s new Natural Resource Management Programme (NRMP), which includes "financing REDD+ readiness activities". In practice this means the forest is being readied for market, to be sold to whichever company which needs to offset its pollution and habitat destruction.27 The idea that corporate ecocide should be rewarded with cheap land stolen from the global south embodies all that is wrong with modern environmentalism.28 We are supposed to believe here that the environmentalists are those that are colonising indigenous land and that the Sengwer people, who have lived sustainably in the forest for millennia, present its gravest threat.

RECLAIMING OIKEIOS

Thus we come to the present state of things. As we look out across the killing fields, where corpses mingle with felled trees, it is hard to see a reason for hope. Indeed, sometimes it is hard to even see a reason to live. However the genocide is incomplete, the ecocide, as yet unfinished. The land is not yet dead and neither are those who live within it. Three hundred years of murder have not seen the death of the last indigenous person, nor the settling of the last piece of indigenous earth. This is only true due to the indefatigable bravery of the indigenous resistance. Outnumbered and outgunned, they have refused to except their own extinction, and have fought back with a ferocity that has denied the colonial states the luxury of forgetting them. From the Zapitistas to the Miqmaq, the indigenous resistance, continues with a ferocity that still terrifies the colonial states. Even more worrying for them is the revival of indigenous culture, most recently seen in the US, where indigenous artists are fusing hip-hop and dance with the old songs of their people.29

The actions of western governments and non-governments give us no reason to hope. But the struggles of the indigenous peoples do. In these we find the understanding of oikeios still alive, still expressed, still fought for. "The fact that over eighty percent of the world’s biodiversity thrives on Indigenous lands is not a coincidence."30 The indigenous peoples are not “closer to nature”. To say they are is to speak in the tongue of those who saw the nations and tribes as stones or weeds, to be cleared with force or fire. We cannot get closer to nature, for we already live within it. Nothing demonstrates this better than the reality of climate change; there is no escape from that which constitutes the totality. What is there is an understanding, and an understanding we must learn ourselves.

The only way we may save the world is to realise our own place within it, to recognise our state or reciprocal immanence. We do this in fleeting moments now, perhaps when we swim in the sea, or gaze at the green crickets that wander our ceilings, but we must make this understanding solid and constant. Once we see ourselves as part of the earth we will finally be able to summon the energy to save it. No longer will we invest our hopes in alienated others; in conferences or anti-conferences, but instead act directly to preserve that which we relate directly to. Then we may stand in solidarity with those who have been fighting to preserve non-human life for as long as we have been trying to destroy it. Then we may build a world we may live within. Then we may reclaim Oikeios.

Posted By

Out of the Woods
Sep 25 2014 08:54

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  • Environmentalism remains trapped in the thought of colonial-capitalism. Nature is something which happens in foreign lands… The idea that corporate ecocide should be rewarded with land stolen from the global south embodies all that is wrong with modern environmentalism.

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Comments

Steven.
Sep 27 2014 17:41

just to say great blog, took me a little while to get round to reading it but yes very interesting stuff, thanks

Torn Halves
Sep 29 2014 10:01

The intention here is an honourable one, but a few of the details are questionable. One is the Greek word. More needs to be said to establish the special virtue of the Greek. English has the word "home", quite distinct from "house". What extra mileage do we get from οικία?

Another is the idea that much older cultures like those of the ancient Greeks represent a lost ideal. Yes, they can remind us how much we have lost, but they also remind us how much we have gained. The immersion of culture in nature enabled the Greeks to feel quite at ease with things like slavery, the exclusion of women from the public sphere, the perpetuation of war, etc. It is only when culture wrestles free from nature that people can set themselves ideals that from a tribal perspective would seem impossible (radical egalitarianism, for instance).

A third detail is the emphasis you put on capitalism. Yes, capitalism is THE force that perpetuates the worst form of our alienation from nature at the moment, but surely capitalism was not the origin of it. Surely, Christianity (with its roots in Platonism) deserves some of the (dis)credit, setting the ideal world of Spirit against the natural cycle of birth and death? Christ overturned the tables (τραπέζια) of the banks (τράπεζες), and in that respect he was anti-capitalist, but he was also as anti-nature as it is possible to get, was he not?

The point now is not to effect a return, but to achieve a historically unprecedented reconciliation.

plasmatelly
Sep 30 2014 20:01

There's a lot said in this article, but to be short enough without having to subject anyone to painful blow by blow critiquing, I'll just say a couple of things that left me more puzzled than when I first read it.
Probably the most puzzling thing for me is the point of the article - I'm strongly guessing it is to discuss a perceived problem, to identify a need (save the world) and to proffer a solution (get back to nature). I'd argue that saving the world is about as empty a mission statement as they come; furthermore, if we are going to wear our hearts on our sleeves, some of us still rely on Flash Gordon for this particular doozy.
As all socialists ultimately point out, saving the world needs to be a quantifiable amount; it needs to be something that is tangible and credible - if it cannot be seen as a scientifically understood future point of no return, a line in the sand where we do not cross, then it is a empty meaningless phrase better shelved away for when we really do go toe to toe with space invaders. Improving the world, maybe. Protecting finite resources, possibly. But we are talking about social and economic change here, and hardly likely to be driven by swimming in the sea and thinking about trees.
This piece is written from an angle that there is something inherently wrong with life outside the hunter gatherer existence; that the hunter gatherer existence has a certain symbiosis and understanding with nature that city workers do not possess. Can I assume that I am right in this and then ask who is this person that can confidently speak about people of the industrial world and hunter gathering communities (as if there is only two blocs of homogeneous mush) because, in truth, my knowledge is so flakey and lacking in confidence when speaking for the entire world I tend to bow down to the first person who has the nerve to do so.
And without this understanding of how everyone under the sun works, the key to saving the world will be forever out of reach; according to the above text, always resigned to governmental treaties and representatives. Is that so? I think anarchosyndicalists would disagree - though I can't speak for more than myself and the commune of anarchosyndicalist body lice that I have been mandated to delegate for, seeing as they have found in my crevices a oikeios.
To this, I'd simply like to say that trying to capture any missing sense of belonging (oikeios, or whatever) is just new age juju that sounds like it's written by Jamiriquoi; put a jazzy tune behind it and you got a hit - try and ask people to get back to a sense of nature that they never had, then you're gonna be laughed at. What you win on the acid jazz street funk test, only serves as torment in the speak like a shaman round.
If by saving the world - an impossible task accepting that the planet will be destoyed and eventually the universe too - you mean improve the material conditions of the inhabitants that dwell here whilst respecting the natural resources (for no other reason if no other can be found than potential future use), then may I draw your attention to a socio-economic system that can aid you on your quest (something you know well of and should serve you in tackling any future tree themed dilemmas), libertarian communism. This system is based on from each according their need - meaning nothing more, nothing less should be taken. It doesn't save the world, and adherents would most certainly take issue with those unable to see a difference between human genocide and intensive logging. Having a sense of place may not bestow any unique wisdom that will energise us to save the world; but having a system for respecting people first will have a positive side effect upon the world around us as we, in the short term, waste less - and in the longer term, create better ways in which to preserve our finite resources.

Steven.
Sep 30 2014 22:51

plasmatelly, I think you've got the wrong end of the stick a bit. Out Of the Woods is a specifically libertarian communist blog about the environment and climate change.

It's not saying we should revert to hunter gatherer lifestyles at all. As I read it, it is saying that we need to come up with a new way (in our high-tech world) of perceiving ourselves and the planet (/"nature" or whatever you want to call it) as part of mutually interdependent system, not as separate.

plasmatelly
Oct 1 2014 17:17

Thanks Steven, but I am aware of who they are and what angle they are meant to be writing from, and I never thought they were saying we revert to a hunter gatherer existence either.
I just don't like this article. Having said this, I thought previous articles quite interesting.

Steven.
Oct 1 2014 17:35
plasmatelly wrote:
Thanks Steven, but I am aware of who they are and what angle they are meant to be writing from, and I never thought they were saying we revert to a hunter gatherer existence either.

Apologies, I thought that's what you are getting at by things like this:

Quote:
This piece is written from an angle that there is something inherently wrong with life outside the hunter gatherer existence; that the hunter gatherer existence has a certain symbiosis and understanding with nature that city workers do not possess.

Because the authors clearly don't think there is anything wrong with life outside of hunter gatherer existences!

However, it is accurate to point out that many hunter gatherer or indigenous societies had a more positive symbiotic relationship with their surroundings when we do. Our economic system basically makes us use our surroundings as something to make money out of, until we ultimately destroy them and then ourselves. This is clearly a bad thing, no?

Out of the Woods
Oct 1 2014 18:35

TornHalves

There are two reasons for the use of the word oikeios. The first is to draw a line of reference to Jason Moore's excellent work on the subject (e.g here) The second is deliberately to avoid the use of the word "home" which, for me at least, is bound up with the nuclear family and heteronormativity, and would thus require considerable decontamination before use.

If you could link me to Christ's "anti-nature" outbursts I will happily read them, however I am inclined to disagree with the argument that Christianity is too blame for our alienation from nature. It seems to me that one could take a deeply environmental message from the bible if one wanted too (the concept of human stewardship, the Earth as a peaceful totality created by divine force etc)

OOTW.

Caiman del Barrio
Oct 1 2014 18:40

Unfortunately, such societies are in decline and even the ones which superficially commit to maintaining their roots/culture etc have started to negatively affect their immediate environment due to the arrival of technological advances. Indigenous hunters in the Amazon are now much more likely to use a rifle than a spear, and as a result, the fauna has been devastated, even in remote regions. The onset of a cash-based economy also contributes to this, undermining subsistence-based lifestyles in favour of hunting/fishing to sell.

At its base, the ecological solution for indigenous/hunter-gatherer societies is the same as everywhere else: an end to capitalism.

Out of the Woods
Oct 1 2014 18:55

plasmatelly

This article does not propose to get back to nature, indeed to quote from it;

"We cannot get closer to nature, for we already live within it."

You go on to say;

"As all socialists ultimately point out, saving the world needs to be a quantifiable amount; it needs to be something that is tangible and credible"

Yet again, if you would be so good as to refer to the original article you will notice that it states;

"The only way we may save the world is to realise our own place within it, to recognise our state of reciprocal immanence. We do this in fleeting moments now, perhaps when we swim in the sea, or gaze at the green crickets that wander our ceilings, but we must make this understanding solid and constant."

As you will now no doubt notice, the article places considerable stress on the importance of making such an environmental understanding both "tangible" and "credible".

"Can I assume that I am right in this and then ask who is this person that can confidently speak about people of the industrial world and hunter gathering communities"

This article is the result of a fair bit of research, if you wish to contest its evidence, maybe you should do some research too.

Then;

" What you win on the acid jazz street funk test, only serves as torment in the speak like a shaman round."

Ah yes, a casual derogatory invocation of the word shaman, nice.

"If by saving the world - an impossible task accepting that the planet will be destoyed and eventually the universe too"

At this point I begin to wonder why I am bothering to reply to your post. You later invoke a mangled form of "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need". I would propose that irrespective of ability, everyone shares a basic need for a planet to live on.

OOTW.

plasmatelly
Oct 1 2014 19:12
Quote:
At this point I begin to wonder why I am bothering to reply to your post

Well don't bother replying for now, just drop a line when you've saved the world.

Cooked
Oct 1 2014 19:45
Steven. wrote:
However, it is accurate to point out that many hunter gatherer or indigenous societies had a more positive symbiotic relationship with their surroundings when we do.

I though most nomads/hunter gatherers would essentially waste the site they were and move on when it became uninhabitable due to accumulating waste and lack of food.

Naturally the amount and severety of the waste is such that it does very little damage to the environment but this is essentially due to their poverty and lacking productive capacity not due to them living in tune with nature by choice.

Rituals that show respect to gods by being symbolically respectful towards "nature" ie the gods or their stuff is looks like eyes servant behaviour and the actual respectfulness nececcity for survival.

All this said I've never particularly studied hunter gatherers so all of the above could be misinformed bollocks!

Joseph Kay
Oct 1 2014 21:43
plasmatelly wrote:
just drop a line when you've saved the world.

I'm not sure where this 'saving the world' thing has come from. Afaics the argument is that it's very hard to talk about nature and society without setting up a binary (like I just did there, in fact), and that this reflects a real historical process where the two really have become separated. That comes in various flavours, from 'man, master of nature' on the one hand to romanticising Mother Earth or whatever on the other.

Cooked wrote:
I though most nomads/hunter gatherers would essentially waste the site they were and move on when it became uninhabitable due to accumulating waste and lack of food.

It's pretty varied. As the article cautions, hunter-gatherers and indigenous people aren't the same. Hunter gatherers were generally nomadic and lived in groups of ~25 or so (although forming much larger networks of bands for gift exchange and avoidance of incest). I don't think poverty really describes hunter-gatherer bands in general, i'm not sure it's even the right term for hunter gatherers facing acute food shortage. Seems too different a social formation to apply a modern concept, even if 'the original affluent society' bends the stick to far the other way.

Some indigenous populations were/are hunter gatherers, some built pretty large imperial states (e.g. the Incas). Some groups seemed to be fairly unsustainable (e.g. Cahokia, mentioned in the article), others practiced various forms of active land management with differing degrees of success. Plenty developed agriculture, some in quite sustainable ways. The point I took away from this piece was not that indigenous people or hunter-gatherers offer a singular model, but rather that they provide some contrast to capitalism, which can't but operate in an ecologically unsustainable way (so for example, there isn't a general problem with human nature, to cite a common lament).

The article mentions the amount of biodiversity on indigenous land as supporting evidence. The other thing to point out is the leading role of indigenous groups in climate struggles, particularly opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline in North America, which is currently one of the front lines in the struggles around climate change.

Kureigo-San
Oct 2 2014 07:13

Most of us, especially those with english as first language, suffer an alienation with our bodies before we get to that 'outside' nature. We tend to think of ourselves as a brain that acts as jockey to all the appendages that dangle from it, and we curse our body for betraying us when it 'makes us' sick. It doesn't 'make you' because there's no second person to apply the 'doing' verb to. Like when we say 'My arms, my legs' etc. Where is this absentee owner of the arms and legs? Really, there's just arms and legs, without a 'haver' of the body. That basic sense of radical separation and deep-seated alienation I think must be the source of a lot of dysfunctional human behaviour

Caiman del Barrio
Oct 2 2014 09:07
Joseph Kay wrote:
Cooked wrote:
I though most nomads/hunter gatherers would essentially waste the site they were and move on when it became uninhabitable due to accumulating waste and lack of food.

It's pretty varied. As the article cautions, hunter-gatherers and indigenous people aren't the same. Hunter gatherers were generally nomadic and lived in groups of ~25 or so (although forming much larger networks of bands for gift exchange and avoidance of incest). I don't think poverty really describes hunter-gatherer bands in general, i'm not sure it's even the right term for hunter gatherers facing acute food shortage. Seems too different a social formation to apply a modern concept, even if 'the original affluent society' bends the stick to far the other way.

This is very important: I've spent a bit of time with both subsistent/hunter-gatherer societies and semi-nomadic ones. Both are in the process of integration into the 'rest of the world', with varying degrees of volition (some people are very keen to introduce some elements, others are hostile to anything exterior to 'their' culture/roots). When I was working in the Amazon, I didn't hear the word 'pobre' (poor) once, rather many people had almost pity for people living in cities, due to crime, war (two concepts which were intertwined in their language), etc.

jolasmo
Oct 2 2014 17:58

I'm not sure about this piece tbh, I was with you up to the end, but after making the important point that "the common confusion of indigeneity with hunter-gathering" is mistaken and based on a romanticised view of colonised people, you then end by coming out with this:

OOTW wrote:
The actions of western governments and non-governments give us no reason to hope. But the struggles of the indigenous peoples do. In these we find the understanding of oikeios still alive, still expressed, still fought for. "The fact that over eighty percent of the world’s biodiversity thrives on Indigenous lands is not a coincidence."

Now to my knowledge all of the examples of "indigenous resistance" refer in fact to settled peoples and not to hunter-gatherers. And I'm not sure framing their struggles as "fighting for the understanding of oikeios" really describes the various diverse movements of indigenous resistance all that well.

I'm also not sure if the view of western colonialists that "the native" was basically just another animal actually supports the argument that native peoples saw themselves the same way, or actually were in some sense really more a part of nature than we are. In fact on a second reading I'm not sure the whole notion of "oikeios" argued for above stands up. It kinda seems a bit mystifying if anything, a sort of holistic gloss on the tensions and reciprocal relationships between our own species and the communities and ecosystems it exists within and alongside. I don't think the fact that people called themselves "Salmon people" means much either, since people call themselves "firemen" without thinking they are "at one with the Fire" or something - people name things after things that distinguish them from other things innit. And as for hunter-gatherers having some sort of inherent respect for non-human life, although I'm sure many hunter-gatherers do have a great deal of respect for animals compared to many settled people, it's worth noting that hunter-gatherers probably caused the mass extinctions that wiped out the Australian, Eurasian and American megafauna when they first arrived in these regions. So yeah. Not sure I really buy that it's generally true of people living in such societies.

I guess in general I'm wary of seeing the natural world (including or excluding the human species) as some sort of coherent whole based on reciprocity and mutual respect between the actors involved. I think those things do play a part in the relationships between different individuals, populations, species etc. - but so does conflict, pain, domination, loss, parasitism, competition, exclusion etc. And the end result isn't really a coherent whole but a set of dynamic and interconnected processes with no clear end point, where stable equilibrium is really the exception rather than the rule, and is always transient and conditional.

And this to me is the real problem I have with environmentalism as it stands, the idea of preserving some sort of static (at least relative to us) nature in pristine unaltered form. Simply finding a place for humans within this vision of nature does not, imo, deal with the fundamental problem here.

Maybe I'm misreading the above, I'd be interested to hear your response anyhow. Really love the blog in general by the way, one of my favourite things on libcom at the moment.

~J.

(Edited for clarity)

Out of the Woods
Oct 3 2014 12:30

jolasmo

Thanks for your comment, some interesting points to explore there.

Quote:
"Now to my knowledge all of the examples of "indigenous resistance" refer in fact to settled peoples and not to hunter-gatherers. And I'm not sure framing their struggles as "fighting for the understanding of oikeios" really describes the various diverse movements of indigenous resistance all that well."

I take your point about the diversity of the indigenous movement, but I would stand by the idea that such an understanding is common within it. Though all generalisations are potentially dangerous, the idea that "Indigenous peoples view their homelands and communities as a complex web of relationships" rather than mere "resources" (Corntassel) is fairly universal in indigenous scholarship, for example in Vanessa Watts's "Indigenous conception of Place-Thought"

Your point about firemen is a bit of a straw man (a straw man of course, who distinguishes himself from straw... oh wait a second).

I would argue that the mystification is the idea that we are separate from nature, rather than that we are no more than part of it, but this is a point of semantics.

Quote:
"it's worth noting that hunter-gatherers probably caused the mass extinctions that wiped out the Australian, Eurasian and American megafauna when they first arrived in these regions."

I would dispute this assertion, this has long been a highly controversial reading of the Quaternary extinction event, and if not completely wrong, is at best a great over-simplification. I am very persuaded by the most recent research by Willerslev et al, which attributes the extinction of megafauna largely to the decline of protein-rich forbs (non-graminoid plants). At the beginning of this year Willerslev published a paper in Nature demonstrating both the reliance of megafauna on forbs and the sharp decline in forb availability caused by extreme cold and water-stress. The original paper is available here and a Science Daily summary (perhaps a little overexcited, but good none the less) is here.

I dont think conceiving of the planet as a whole, closed system precludes an understanding of it as a mobile entity composed of flows and capable of great change. I would contend however that an understanding of the planet as a whole is vital to any decent understanding of climate change.

Anyway, glad to hear you are enjoying OOTW, and Ill happily answer any more questions you have.

OOTW.

simiangene
Oct 3 2014 14:56

Indigenous folk are simple archeological relics who slaughtered and trashed a lot of pristine wilderness, just as white trailer trash in a similar parallel materialistic universe cause consternation and stress amongst the local fauna and flora populations!
I'm gonna cut through all the mythical mumbo-jumbo and bleeding heart liberal rhetoric and declare that indigenous peoples, if they ARE truly living in their pure indigenous non-Westernized society, are not quintessentially conservationists, nor do they comprehend concepts about sustainable futures or visionary extrapolations of historical cultural evolutionary potentialities. They, like most human folk in any situation, just take what they need to survive, even if it means the extinction of a species, which many indigenous cultures are responsible for! Lets get away from the absurd re-emerging Neo-Romantic and politically correct notion of "The Noble Savage" and just admit that homo-sapiens in all its cultural forms is a flawed and vicious species which needs to be disciplined in the most efficient way. I have nothing more to say to green types, OR red-necks, or liberal do-gooders about conservation. LOOK AT COPENHAGEN and realize that the whole green politics is the other side of the binary grand-narrative,

simiangene
Oct 3 2014 15:08

WOW, not Out of the Woods entirely.

Quote:
I would dispute this assertion, this has long been a highly controversial reading of the Quaternary extinction event, and if not completely wrong, is at best a great over-simplification. I am very persuaded by the most recent research by Willerslev et al, which attributes the extinction of megafauna largely to the decline of protein-rich forbs (non-graminoid plants). At the beginning of this year blah blah blah etc etc

MOA DUDE, LOOK IT UP! BIG FRIGGIN FLIGHTLESS BIRD 12FT TALL WHICH HAD A SMALL BRAIN, GOOD EASY FOOD, NEOLITHIC TAKEAWAY!

Fleur
Oct 3 2014 15:57

And the prize for colonial and classist attitudes goes to -

Quote:
Indigenous folk are simple archeological relics who slaughtered and trashed a lot of pristine wilderness, just as white trailer trash in a similar parallel materialistic universe cause consternation and stress amongst the local fauna and flora populations!

simiangene
Oct 3 2014 17:29
Fleur wrote:
And the prize for colonial and classist attitudes goes to -

Quote:
Indigenous folk are simple archeological relics who slaughtered and trashed a lot of pristine wilderness, just as white trailer trash in a similar parallel materialistic universe cause consternation and stress amongst the local fauna and flora populations!

Don't you dare accuse me of neo-colonialist and classist views!!. I have listened to vegan activists who gleefully bragged about how they disemboweled a domestic cat with a compound bow, We're talking about someones pet cat, another living entity, yet somehow the ideology of Primitivist utopian purity and a retrogressive return to a system which is dead overrides the legitimacy of relationships between living species and classes and the immanent compromise that survival instincts produce. Zerzan is 90s and obsolete, look up lemmings or overcrowded rats in a box, and realize that a non-doctrinal and innocence view of the world, of the cleared unbrainwashed mentality, combined with the artisan skills to survive, is the only way to go. Viva La Simplicity and Earthyness, call a spade a spade, burn your righteousness.

Joseph Kay
Oct 3 2014 17:42

What should be done with archaeological relics, in your opinion?

simiangene
Oct 3 2014 18:32
Quote:

What should be done with archaeological relics, in your opinion?

Hey Joe, ever been to a museum, old stuff to marvel at, the genius of invention in bygone eras all explained and understood as the imperative motive of a ,necessity for survival.
So archeological relics belong in museums, not instead as capitalist cultural industry fodder, to perpetuate as an industry, to relegate a race and imprison them within a tourist complicity to remain spectacles,and archaic reminants of a conquered race, using such clichéd notions of noble warrior culture and universal wisdom.

Joseph Kay
Oct 3 2014 19:34

Seems legit. Herding 5% of the world's population into museums is just the price we pay for progress.

simiangene
Oct 3 2014 22:09

Herding percentages of irrelevant populations out of a society, oh come on, that's a crude Social Darwinist interpretation of what I mean! I wouldn't mind if all guns went into museums or were forged into ploughs, but hey, there are enough people in the world, should we increase food production and increase and forestall the logical future collapse? The urban sprawl and the depletion of resources is the logical natural law of life which has existed since primeval times. We basically run on one prime ethic which is to consume and survive, so let's not sentimentalize bygone values as if they are sacred eternal qualities, they have to go, especially if they are flawed, but if they are made well they may survive a bit longer, but who's to say or pass judgement on these abstractions? If its old and obsolete, why hang onto it, it cannot even sustain itself?!

simiangene
Oct 3 2014 22:21

And PS, we're ALL going to die sooner or later, although since I've given up smoking and drinking the last 2 months, I may linger on for a few more years, but I'm not obsessing about longevity, I have to go inevitably, don't we all? Why get a face lift if ones mental processes are dead inside? This sums up my approach to the indigenous issue of relevancy.

Joseph Kay
Oct 3 2014 22:22

Well, it's funny how when people decide there's too many people on Earth, they always seem to have a population in mind for reduction that doesn't look much like them.

simiangene
Oct 4 2014 04:28
Joseph Kay wrote:
Well, it's funny how when people decide there's too many people on Earth, they always seem to have a population in mind for reduction that doesn't look much like them.

Well they must be the kind of people who inherited some type of privilege, most folk don't really have any choice or voice, the binary politic makes democracy actually non-representable for 95% of voters, they have a heads/tails option between conformity and totalitarianism, of course they choose conformity, because totalitarianism has all these scary tangential possibilities, which sheep steer away from. Give me a benevolent dictator anytime rather than a conceited elected puppet on a power trip.

Joseph Kay
Oct 4 2014 06:51

I've no idea how you've got from 'opposition to neo-Malthusianism is privilege' to 'give me dictatorship' in two sentences...

confused

simiangene
Oct 4 2014 10:09
Joseph Kay wrote:
I've no idea how you've got from 'opposition to neo-Malthusianism is privilege' to 'give me dictatorship' in two sentences...

confused

I suppose when ranting I become a bit tangential and also have no idea what I'm saying, which is what any good Ranter would understand, however I should have emphasized "benevolent" as the only type of dictator I would tolerate.

Khawaga
Oct 4 2014 16:56

simiangene you're barely coherent