Continued from Section 3 of "The Commodification of Wildness and its Consequences": The Catastrophic Feedback Loop of Delayed-Return Dependency:
“It seems that we still need to learn that the problem is not who the capitalist is, the problem is that there is a capitalist at all”. - Richard Wolff
The crisis which confronts us and the earth today is rooted in the commodification of wildness proliferated across nearly the entire planet, and the rewilding, locavores are not exempt. Every last remaining ecologically adapted and balanced wild and free thing on earth now risks the threat of commodification. From carbon trading schemes, to ‘green’ products, to eco-tourism, to rhino farming etc., many on the environmental left believe that commodifying wildness in one way or another is the only way forward to save us and the planet. They find it far less threatening to play the shaman’s game, rather than fight it, because they too are under its spells of dependence, its fear mongering that they shall never survive without its blessings. Not only are many of these folks in the business of commodifying physical wildness into products for sale or products for viewing/experiencing, they also work hard to commodify what’s left of human wildness. Wild experiences within the body are sold to be guided by recreational experts. Wilderness therapy, as necessary as it is, is now commodified and sold by the industrialized mental health care system, more guru huckstering, capitalizing off the ultra-domesticated masses.
The fact is that virtually all of us are entirely dependent on commodification for our survival at this point, that none of us now have the ability to be fully self-sufficient. Folks have children to raise and families to support and playing the game is somewhat unavoidable for the time being. As a result a portion of our future resilience now partly depends upon our involvement, but shall we just accept this as an inevitable facet of reality and go on designing the future pathways of our children around the tyranny of commodification?
Within the ever growing ecological/economic-reality movement people are recognizing that we must absolutely transition to a different way of living. Yet, dominant across the spectrum of these movements is a general refusal to recognize the roots of the problem. Virtually every proposed solution to the crisis involves some form of commodification. Amongst the ‘small-green-enterprise’ minded transitioners, there appears to be unquestionable support for commodification in the face of a history which informs us that the likelihood that a privileged, wealth amassing, expansionist class is bound to grow within these ‘small-green’ enterprises – a demon in our midst.
While parts of the permaculture movement are based in small-scale immediate return thinking, much of it seems to be riddled with delayed return aspirations. Permaculturalists continuously refer to their projects as business ideas. “Financial Permaculture” is the buzzword and i generally revolves around entrepreneurship within the context of capitalism. One of the permaculture principles is to “obtain a yield”. Just how large of a yield? Are their limits? What do you plan to do with that yield? As your business/food producing monopoly grows and wildness gets in the way, what then? At what point does the integrity of permaculture Zone 5 take precedence?
Today with some landholding ‘permaculture’ farmers turning their large yields into big organic produce business we can see where this is going – a leftist propertied class that controls food production and who could theoretically enslave into debt bondage their constituents who have no land with which to produce their own food. As the leviathan continues to crumble and the ‘transition’ occurs are the successful local growers going to relinquish positions of power and assist with bringing on food production in a collective manner? I have spent a fair amount of time within permaculture circles and based upon my experiences I see this as highly unlikely. All-in-all, we find most of the folks involved with today’s various transitionary movements idealizing the agrarian societies of the pre-industrial era simply because they existed at smaller more locally self-sufficient scales, while forgetting how alienating, feudal, and socially unsustainable these agrarian arrangements actually were. After all, these arrangements ultimately brought us to the terrifying global state of affairs we are in now.
Sadly, I now hear that even amongst so-called primitivists, rewilders, and green anarchists’ schemes are being designed to sell wildness.
In my area there is a burn-site which consistently produced an abundance of wild morel mushrooms over the years since the fire. Local foragers would make an annual pilgrimage to the spot and harvest morels for personal use and there were always plenty to go around. Then non-local commercial pickers got word of the location, ‘back-to-nature’ people from Washington and Oregon. On the 11 mile bike ride into the burn my companions and I came across several strangers of the commercial picker type on their way out carrying backpacks, obviously filled with morels harvested for the market. When we arrived at the burn and began looking around all we found were hundreds of broken hollow stems in the dirt. Because these noble back-to-the-landers are earning an independently generated income through being closer to wild nature shall I celebrate them? Absolutely not. They are nothing but Takers, not ultimately cultivating dependence on wildness for their survival but further dependence upon industrialism and the market. They will exchange their harvest for cash to buy what? The burn could easily have handled subsistence foraging by a few more small local groups. Yet as soon as the delayed return folks showed up the resources were gone. In the spirit of our prehistoric immediate return ancestors, our band of subsistence foragers would do well to drive them out if they show up again at the burn.
I hunt for much of my food and I have several friends who do the same. But it is not difficult at all to find people who originate from formerly immediate return hunting cultures, or who originally became interested in hunting for the purposes of becoming more self-sufficient and developing deeper relations with wild nature, falling into commodification traps in their hunting practices. I often hear of native hunters selling animal parts for cash, trading polar bear hides for weapons, drugs, and alcohol is one example that comes to mind, as well as the killing of walrus only to sell their ivory tusks, and the selling of bear gall bladders in the Asian black market. Recently a friend of mine killed a mountain goat and called me boasting about how he sold its hide to a taxidermist for a thousand bucks and said that with such a prosperous return he plans to now always sell his hides to taxidermists to pay for his future hunting expenses. But where does this mentality lead? To a dependence upon harvesting animals for cash and the commodification of wildness. Once this dependency is forged, first due to a love of the hunting life and the closeness to wild nature it brings, some hunters turn to guiding wealthy trophy hunters as a source of income. This creates a dependency on maintaining a certain number of kills in order to keep clients happy. Guides battle for territory and attempt to monopolize whatever resources are there. Dentists from Chicago go home with heads to put on their walls. Local subsistence hunters go another year without food to feed their families.
The above examples of modern wild resource commodification can be described as relatively small-scale when compared to other modern occurrences. It would be helpful to look at the cultural and economic evolution of commercial fishing for a view of the consequences of bumping the small-scale commodification of wildness up to larger-scale global market levels. Marine biologists assert that 90% of world’s large species ocean fishery stocks have been depleted since industrialism. Commercial fisherman are generally steadfast to proclaim their spiritual connection to the seas and label their practices “sustainable”, but they need massive amounts of cash and fuel to keep their operations up and running. Today in Alaska a commercial fishing community is battling heavily against the proposed development of the world’s largest open pit gold and copper mine at the headwaters of the world’s largest remaining unaltered wild salmon river. Northern Dynasty Minerals, a Canadian company with links to the global mega-mining-corporation Rio Tinto, has developed a marketing campaign for their development of the mine centered around the fact that commercial fisherman need access to industrial metals too, if they wish to maintain the equipment necessary to stay in business at global market scales. Northern Dynasty certainly has a point, one to which the commercial fisherman have no viable response. Yet, the ancestors of many of these commercial fishermen, Yup’ik Eskimo peoples, lived for thousands of years from non-industrial technology dependent salmon fishing. It seems that at this point, to mount a truly effective fight against the mine and all that it symbolizes, these fishermen need renounce industrialism outright, including industrial fishing and move back towards fishing at the subsistence level and into a wildness centered future. However, because in the last 50 years these communities have become so heavily dependent upon commodification and the industrial goods it provides in trade, their ability to shift back to a localized subsistence orientation, both physically and psychological, may likely be gone.
Are any of the above so-called conscious activists merely pursuing the commodification pathway temporarily, as a bridge to a different future? This is a question that must be asked. But let’s face it: specialization, the division of labor, and commodification ultimately brought us to this point (fossil energy and digital-tech are latecomers in the game) and without commodification there would be no industrialism as we know it today. So as commodification fails us, and fails the planet, we need to be much more critical about how we attempt to organize in the future. Unless a conscious effort is made to organize in alternative ways, we can only expect repetition of debilitating commodification feedback loops to occur in whatever new societies formulate from the ruins of this one.