Sunday, May 15, 2011

Jyri Jaakkola - Communalism as an evolutionary path

There's something appealing about this model of an ecological communal society - but whenever someone talks about getting rid of all hierarchies, I cringe. It's at that moment that I realize the author is inhabiting the postmodern worldview where all hierarchies are evil, and not an integral perspective where hierarchies and communalism can coexist. Still, this is an interesting read for the possibilities it offers as a way forward from the current morass.

This article appeared at New Compass.

Communalism as an evolutionary path

A photo by Stig Marlon Weston

Social ecology is typically connected to Murray Bookchin, an American, and I will discuss his ideas in this article. According to Bookchin, nearly all ecological problems are social problems. Ecological crisis is caused by capitalist society, but it has deeper roots in social hierarchies. Social ecology proposes replacing the state and capitalism with an ecological society, that is based on relations without hierarchy, geographically decentralized communities, ecotechnology, organic agriculture and human scale production facilities.

Social ecology denies a clear division or a inevitable opposition between nature and humanity or society. Movement from nature to society is gradual and basic problems that pit society against nature are growing within social evolution – not between nature and society.

Under this thinking features typical to humanity and human communities, such as reason, technology and science cannot be declared destructive without taking in to account the social factors that have an effect on them. Ecological problems are also not simply, or primarily caused by, religious, spiritual or political ideologies. To understand modern ecological problems we have to find their social causes and solve them using social methods.

Diversity, engagement and spontaneity

In his writings about ecosystems and evolution, Bookchin emphasises the principle of “unity in diversity”. Lifeforms and diverse organic interactions give evolution new pathways to travel and are the basis for ecosystems’ fertility and stability. Because this diversity is created spontaneously in nature and our knowledge of complex internal relations within ecosystems is limited, humanity should try to protect nature’s diversity and leave as much room as possible for its natural spontaneity instead of trying to control it.

To Bookchin, the most significant factors in evolution were symbiosis and reciprocity, where different lifeforms complement each other by creating biotical ecocommunities between different organisms living within the same sphere. These biotical ecocommunities are by their nature participatory, so all of their very different members participate in evolution and creation of life.

Similar principles of diversity, participation, spontaneity and non hierarchical relations within ecosystems exist in anarchist social theories. According to Bookchin, applying these ecological principles to social organization would remove the division between nature and society and replace it with a continuum that would combine biotical and social ecocommunities.

Hierarchy and domination as an ecological threat

Possibly the most central part of social ecology is the critique of hierarchies and various forms of domination. According to Bookchin, our attempts to control nature are caused by forms of domination among humans. Men didn’t think of dominating nature before they had started dominating young people, women and each other.

Hierarchies and domination are in addition to political and economic institutions. They are rooted so deeply in our families and between age groups, genders and ethnic groups that they affect even how we experience reality which also includes nature and other lifeforms. To counteract this, social ecology emphasizes diversity without placing differences in a hierarchical order.

According to Bookchin, we cannot remove the aim of controlling nature and create an ecological society before we remove from society all hierarchical structures. He also emphasizes that social hierarchies are an institutional phenomena, not biological. They are results of organized and carefully built power relations and we cannot find justification for them from nature.

Urbanization and state as detriments to democracy

One of the most central hierarchical structures is the state. According to Bookchin the state takes both spiritual and material power away from communities and limits their potential by taking away their power and right to create their own fate. The state – and in our time the nation-state – representatives and institutions have also eviscerated the individual as a public creature, a citizen, who has an participatory role in social life. This development has been helped by urbanization, that transforms cities from clear, human scaled and democratically governable entities to enormous marketplaces and centers for mass production and consumption.

The ethical content of city life as a space where you can learn civic skills, responsibility and acting on the ideals of democracy, is wiped out. A modern city is run like a business, that is guided by profit, expenses, growth and employment. This kind of corporate spirited city depends on and helps the simplification of an active citizen to a receiver and customer of public services. “A Good Citizen” obeys the law, pays taxes and votes ritualistically among preselected representatives and “minds his own business”. Democracy becomes purely formal instead of being participatory. Power is bureaucratized and centralized to the state and quasi-monopolistic economic actors.

Modern gigantism places an enormous burden on nature, waters and air in the areas that have been conquered. Urbanization has spread across the countryside, as well, disturbing its ecological balance. The culture of the countryside and its rich traditions have been displaced by city life and mass culture, unifying and urbanizing the lifestyles of the countryside. Industry and city-based economic forms and techniques have conquered agriculture. Cities seem to have taken full control of the countryside.

Read the whole article.

Unfortunately, the author of this article was killed in Mexico in 2010 - the editors provide some links to other writings he left behind.

Editorial Comment

Another article written by Jyri Jaakkola translated to english. Jyri was killed in Oaxaca, Mexico 26.4.2010.

Edited version of the article was originally published in two parts with the name “Ecological society” in numbers 1-5-16/2003 and 1/2004 of Elonkeh√§ -magazine.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Communatarianism -- based on the thinking of Dorothy Day in the 30s -- is the dominating philosophy in Sacramento Homeless World, from a set of about a half-dozen charities with Catholic Loaves & Fishes being central. Communalism is a close cousin. And both are frought with problems that plagued a system called Communism.

If the idea is to 'regress' to where we all live in villages, well, we know what that's like -- there are plenty of small towns and villages in the world. If people like that way of life, they are free to move to such a place.

If the idea is to FORCE people to live in villages, and do away with capitalism -- and, of course still have a central government that manages the enforcement of village life -- we know where THAT leads.

Freedom, that Communalist claim they want, comes from allowing people to be different, and to pursue a life that they want by creating a business for themselves. Capitalism can work, it just needs to be well regulated.

Yes, capitalism is terrible, it is just that the alternatives all devolve into totalitarianism of a kind that end up as catastropes. The 20th Century and 100 million dead should not be so quickly forgotten.