Archive for April, 2013


April 21, 2013

Whatever became of colonialism? What is colonialism? How does one set it up, run it? Is there a business “how to” manual for doing that? Dutifully, a library search found me busily inquiring. Just “colonialism” was met with “see colonies, subdivision colonies under names of countries” and “see imperialism, subdivision foreign relations under names of countries” and “see world politics”. Well colonies gave scads about everything from the early American colonial diet to life in the Indian sub-continent under the British. “Economic colonialism”, “contemporary colonialism” and “present day colonialism” yielded nothing; likewise “theory of colonialism” which found itself wedged between “Theory of Collective Behavior” and “Theory of Constraint Management”. No texts on the business economics of colonialism, its strategy, marketing or management! “Neocolonialism” revealed some disparate titles (NAFTA & Neocolonialism) while “Post colonialism” revealed a plethora of works. Alas, they all implicate an end to the colonial (hence “post” colonial). I was interested in how colonialism had reinvented itself within the 21st century. “Urban colonialism” and “city colonialism” fared no better.

The entire search reminded me of youthful days, on a philosophic lark, trying to “uncover” texts with directives on Witchcraft. Plato and his ilk are just full of one vast exegesis on “the good”, but not much on what is not. Balance was found lacking in my search. Like colonialism, many accounts of the experience of witchcraft, in different countries, and history, but no theory, no directives, no “how to” manuals. I began to sense that colonialism, as part of Ron’s sinister “Evil Empire”, may just still be lurking out there, and very active. Only today it has been rebranded under a different guise. How many companies and products have done just that over the years? Why not colonialism?

Going through back channels, subjects associated today with colonialism (like human trafficking), I stumbled on some works. One very curious one, Prospero and Caliban (1950) is an exposé of the psychology at work with colonialism — Hegel reconstituted through a Freudian/Jungian blender. The book’s perspective has an almost Tea Party logic to it– colonialism works just fine, it is that damn human nature which causes the project to ultimately go awry; so let’s look at the human errors in hopes of getting it back on track. The other, a rough contemporary, was one that I had missed when reading the likes of Fannon’s Wretched of the Earth or Said’s Orientalism – The Colonizer and the Colonized by Albert Memmi (1957). It even has an intro by J. P. Sartre himself! Memmi writes: “I have been criticized for not having constructed my portraits entirely around an economic structure, but I feel I have repeated often enough that the idea of privilege is at the heart of the colonial relationship — and that privilege is undoubtedly economic. [I know the feeling, babe] Let me take this opportunity to reaffirm my position: for me the economic aspect is fundamental.” (Preface, page xii) Sartre’s contribution in the Introduction (page xxiii) further fleshes this out by humanizing it (or rather de-humanizing it): “In fact, racism is built into the system: the colony sells produce and raw materials cheaply, and purchases manufactured goods at very high prices from the mother country. This singular trade is profitable to both parties only if the native works for little or nothing.” If after Bhopal, Union Carbide could quietly redefine itself as a wholly owned subsidiary of the ever respectable Dow Chemical (now engaged to Monsanto, see the society page announcement “Monsanto And Dow Cross-License Biotech Corn Traits” AP, 4-11-13) thus legally absolving itself from responsibility for the devastation wrought, then it is apparent what became of colonialism after the curtain of Post colonialism came down, ostensibly ending the show.

I Walked Out On A Talk By Ann Hamilton

April 10, 2013

No, it was not on account of anything she said, or had to say, or gestured, pointed at, or articulated. Actually she was quite captivating, refreshingly lucid, and made connections on levels and depths that one could only marvel at. I followed her. Not like she lost me, left me sitting there because she was Ann Hamilton and thus worth listening to. I mostly admired her affective intelligence (The “cement of affective intelligence” valorized by Carlo Petrini of Slow Food). It was primarily focused on how connections are made between people (within people), over time – living people, living organism, living traces. No, it was all quite good and yet I walked out. Maybe I should back up a bit. Her talk was first person, the best way to explain, articulate. “This is how…” “This is why…” “I felt this” “That’s how one responds…” etc. And it was amazing. But backing up again, this week the strangest connections, the most horrifying links were made. I was making syrup to feed my newly hived package bees, syrup made of sugar. It was not the hundreds of pounds of honey that Ann had mixed with pennies for the witness of sheep – the conceptual realization of what Vandana Shiva describes as the business economy and the economy of nature (but what of the economy of sustenance?). Like a cow chewing its cud I stared blankly at the stove top while waiting for the water to boil. Beet Sugar read the label on the ten pound bag. Just weeks prior I had read that the European union had banned GM beet sugar because it has detrimental effects on wildlife, which I assume includes honey bees. The same wildlife, animals that Ann was talking about in her presentation, so central to what drives her sensitivity, her need to respond intelligently and adequately. That sugar, that I’m about to turn into syrup, sustenance for my infant hives, probably originated from GM sugar beets. The large migratory bee keepers who have thousands of hives to pollinate our summer fruits, nuts and veggies, and who suffered losses of 75% and more this winter, feed their colonies tanker truckloads of high fructose corn syrup. And that is probably from GM corn. The organism, the plant, is genetically engineered and altered to be resistant, detrimental to invasive insects. This is what is known as a systemic insecticide, where the plant itself embodies the repellant, becomes toxic to whatever outside pest may desire it (think flea and tick repellant that is consumed or absorbed by cats and dogs). I thought to feed my newborns mother’s milk, the honey and pollen left behind from the hives that had not survived to a second year. Neonicotinoids (current applied pesticides) create a systemic insecticide when absorbed by plants, where the plant oozes trace amounts into its resin, nectar or pollen. Pollinators gather their stores of pollen to feed the larva, the colony’s future, and nectar to create honey to sustain themselves thereby unwittingly integrating this very poison into their future. What did I have to feed these insects that would give them a chance to survive, as a colony, a society of warm and fuzzy, bumbling bugs until 2014? Wasn’t there an “organic” alternative that would make me feel affectively intelligent? And so I walked out on Ann Hamilton sometime after she described how silk is made from boiling live larva, creating this wondrous sacrificial crimson silk covering she utilized in a magnificent installation with peacocks.

Will The Real Sustainable Agriculture Please Stand Up

April 5, 2013

Recently, hereabouts, there has been a lot of activity concerning sustainable agriculture, farming. Locally, a few conferences have taken place amongst those already engaged in sustainable farming. There are also some folks hoping to enter into it in 2013. However, the portrait of this sustainable farming presented here in central Ohio does not look much like the one presented globally by the likes of activists like Vandana Shiva, Jerry Mander, etc. According to these writers, American agriculture (monoculture farming), touted by agribusiness as the greatest in the world, fails. They cite the obesity of the consumer as one symptom of this failure (I believe the statistics are at the level of 40% of Americans). If American monoculture farming were so incredible, why do those who eat all this great food look more like the steroid saturated livestock in the feedlots than the Greek ideal of svelteness? They ascribe this to the industrial processed food derived from the monoculture harvest. Another reason given is that so many Americans farmers rely on off the farm income in order to keep farming. The last census puts this at over 80% of family farmers are in this situation. Food is cheap, and hence farming is a precarious way to earn a living, a low paying job for most. Subsidies go to the large agribusiness farming operations/processors (not to the small individual farmer), hence monoculture farming with its overriding emphasis on a steady, predictable cash crop. Sustainable farming for these globally oriented interpreters has to do with sustenance. It has to do with livelihood as opposed to earning a living. It is not a job or entrepreneurial enterprise but something someone does with what they have, what is available in order to stay alive, to “sustain” their livelihood. Literally. Here in central Ohio (and I’m sure within much of American culture) “sustainable” is used pretty much within the same methodology as adjectives like “green” (shale gas is the green energy solution), “recyclable”, “carbon footprint” and “energy efficient”. That is, sustainable farming is one that doesn’t diminish the environment, always leaves more for the next go round, thus building up the soil as well as the nutritional content of what is consumed, etc. The disparity between the two interpretations enters with the place and role of subsidy. American sustainable farming is in competition with industrialized monoculture farming, both in technique as well as product marketing. Industrialized farming doesn’t tolerate competition, whether in the field (systemic insecticides spell death to the transgressor) or in the market (legislation that forbids labeling food in order to differentiate source, origin or composition). The higher price demanded for its product still is not enough to make American sustainable farming, well, sustainable. For American sustainable farmers, the “entrepreneurial enterprise” is not “something someone does with what they have, what is available in order to stay alive”. Rather, it is something someone does in competition with industrial agriculture, both in terms of accessing resources, like land and water, as well as securing market share. Within this competitive environment, being subsidized to start up, let alone continue such a practice of farming, is considered quite acceptable, if not downright essential. And there’s the rub. For Shiva, Mander, etc. it is the very subsidizing of agriculture that contributes to the elimination and degradation of “sustainable” farming. A lack of fairness is intrinsic to the practice of subsidy. Yet without the subsidy, whether through Government grants or off farm income, how sustainable would sustainable farming really be in the US? The irony that presents itself is that not only are the wealthy the only ones who can afford to consume a third world diet (to stay healthy), but they are also becoming the only ones who can afford the farming practices that produce such a diet.