Sunday, November 19, 2006
Joel Kovel, author of Enemy of Nature, on capitalism and ecology
Reflections on September 11
The grim shadow over our future cast on September 11, 2001 occurred between the composition of The Enemy of Nature and its release, and could not be incorporated into its argument. Yet its significance is such as to call for some brief observations: First, because much of this book was written during a period of rampant economic growth, its main theme, of the relentless expansive pressure of capital, might seem less important given the current brutal downturn of the world economic system. However, the same basic principles hold. For the pressure itself is what counts, whether or not it succeeds in imposing growth. Capital is a crisis-ridden system, and although there is never any clean correlation between crises in the economy and those of ecology, the integrity of ecosystems is sacrificed at either end of the economic cycle. When the economy grows, sheer quantity becomes the dominating factor; while when, as now, it heads downwards, the diminution in growth acts as a signal causing environmental safeguards to be loosened in order to restore accumulation. Second, the crisis posed by fundamentalist terror and that of global ecological decay share certain basic features. As we will see in the following pages, the ecological crisis is like a nightmare in which the demons released in the progressive domination of nature on a world scale come back to haunt the master. But something of the same holds for terrorism. Fundamentalism�s rebellion is often seen as against modernity, but this only begins to matter in the context of imperialism, that is, the progressive domination of humanity on a world scale. In the species of imperialism known as globalization, the dissolution of all the old ways of being is part and parcel of forcibly imposed �free trade.� Fundamentalisms arise within disintegrating peripheral societies as ways of restoring the integrity of ravaged communities. The project becomes irrational because of the hatred induced by powerlessness, and as it does, turns toward a pattern of terror and counterterror in a cycle of vengeance. The dialectics of terror and ecological disintegration are joined in the regime of oil. This constitutes, on the one hand, the chief material dynamic of the ecological crisis, and on the other, the organizing principle for imperial domination of those lands where the conflict is being fought out. Petroleum fuels industrial society; and the growth of the West is necessarily a growth in the exploitation and control of those lands where it is most strategically located. As these happen to be largely Islamic, so is the stage set for the great struggle now unfolding. This is not the place to take up the conduct of this struggle except to say that it needs to be joined at the root of its causes. From this perspective, resolving the ecological crisis and freeing humanity from terror�including, to be sure, the terror inflicted by the superpower on its victims--are two aspects of the same process. Both require the overcoming of empire, which requires the the undoing of what generates imperialism over nature and humanity. It is an illusion to think that this can be achieved without a profound restructuring of our industrial system, and by implication, our whole way of being. The grip of imperialism, whether of oil or otherwise, cannot be broken within the terms of the current order. Hence what is required to overcome global warming and the other aspects of the ecological crisis goes also for terror. A world must be built that does not need the fossil fuel economy, a world, as is argued in what follows, beyond capital.