Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Capitalism, Nature, and Socialism

O’Connor is trying to point out in his article that capitalism is on a non-sustainable base to operate effectively in the future. The exploitation of labor and the commoditization of natural resources have led to a “crisis ridden system;” we have set goals to enhance the amount of profitability with disregard for the raw material extraction and overuse and use or the exploitation of labor.
This process perpetuates the downfall of the capitalist system, the exploitation of labor eventually becomes evident to the laborers causing crisis in productivity, the availability of resources is eventually surpassed by the demand for it, and the inevitable outcome is that of further disguising of bourgeois capitalist practices as being more egalitarian and the non- manufactured materials of production to become another source of capital. These processes include nationalization and conglomeration, the presupposition is that in those forms of capitalism that there is more of an egalitarian structure when in all reality it just centralizes bourgeois power.

The crisis O’Connor refers to is the self defeating structure of capitalism. The profit is the main goal in capitalism and in this process the costs of production must be kept low to increase profits, thus further lowering costs of labor and raw materials. Increased demand causes the commoditized raw materials to become cheaper increasing the amount that production can buy, eventually degradation of the materials is created due to capitalist expansion in the name of profitability. This will eventually lead to the imbalance of supply to demand causing prices to increase, but in order for industry to maintain profitability they must lower costs of labor leading to wage decrease or layoffs (e.g. G.M./Chrysler). The ultimate self defeating part of this is that in the process of profitability the people who buy the product are essentially the laborers, with decreased income or lack thereof they are not able to buy the produced goods. Marx suggested an eventual move to socialism but in the current state the capitalist form mutates rather than transforming, disguising the poor practices of capitalist enterprise.

The commoditized material is the connection to environmental issues; the capitalist structure creates unsustainable industry around raw materials leading to degradation. The other portion he brings up is that in the name of profit environmentally responsible practices are left out because of the cost from business to participate in such practices, and governments do not want to hinder the activities of industry and therefore the process is slowed down.

Sorry for the extremely late post everyone.

Monday, April 27, 2009

O'Connor's "The Conditions of Production and the Production of Conditions"

Capitalist nature can be defined as “everything that is not produced as a commodity but that is treated as if it is a commodity”. Polanyi described “labor” and “land” as being fictitious commodities because of “the fiction that labor and land were produced for sale”. Marx’s idea of “conditions of production” is similar to that of Polanyi’s “labor and land”. Marx developed three “conditions of production”: “personal condition of production” which is the labor power of the workers, “natural/external physical condition” which is land, and “communal, general conditions” is physical infrastructure. Each of these conditions was determined to have no exchange value and to be fictitious.
Capitalist states are both bureaucratic and political, and they have the function of protecting collective capitalist interests. These are served through a series of confrontations and conflicts. These conflicts are between movements in civil societies and within civil societies. Relationships between capital and production conditions are reconciled bye socioeconomic and political struggles, ideology, and bureaucratic realities. Sorry for the minimal summary, but I had a really hard time trying to follow this article. My brain is fried!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Capitalism, Nature, Socialism: A Theoretical Introduction

O'Connor's central theme is to describe the traditional Marxist account of the contradiction between the forces of capitalist production and the relations of production, and then to describe his ecological Marxist account of the second contradiction of capital, between the forces/relations of production and the conditions of production, defined as the environmental factors, political, economic, ecological, social, and otherwise, that capital depends on to continue production of surplus value.


The first, traditional Marxist, contradiction of capital is defined by O'Connor as overproduction of capital, or a crisis in realization of profit. Now the question is: What does THAT mean? Essentially, what I thought O'Connor was talking about (having never read any Marxist documents outside of the Communist Manifesto in high school) was the difficulty in the constant drive for greater production to increase profit. Capital, in seeking to produce more and more in order to make more money, gluts the market, experiences massive drops in commodity prices, and is forced to restructure the forces and relations of production in order to cut costs. This means mergers of smaller companies into larger ones, capital flight in search of cheaper labor, more efficient production processes, development of cheaper materials, and other obvious reactions to the inability to realize surplus value. The capitalist system is dependent on this process, because it is only through this process that expenditures on the restructuring of relations in the systems of production are economically viable, since they are unavoidable if the system as a whole is to survive. O'Connor says that this restructuring necessarily leads to more social relations of production, i.e. labor unions and government regulation of industry, but is careful to state that these changes are not irreversible or even necessarily indicative of a larger societal shift, a step that Marx and his contemporaries missed when they predicted the inevitability of a proletariat revolution.

The second contradiction follows much the same logic as the first, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. Where the first focuses on the difficulties on the output side of capital production and the difficulties of overproduction, the second addresses the input side of things, what O'Connor calls the "conditions of production". This can be understood as all of the inputs required for commodities to be produced, i.e. the cotton, steel, dyes, the fields and mines that these things come from, and all the labor required to farm, mine, and process the raw materials and to assemble them all into a pair of jeans: the output. These inputs are, by the very nature of capitalism, exploited in the constant need to increase the flow of capital. thus, the feilds are degraded, the mines exhausted, new ones dug, the workers are exposed to the maximum legal amount of work hazards to enable cheaper production, and worked for maximum productivity at the cost of workplace safety. This process continues until the environment, both natural and social, that capital needs to produce commodities, and therefore profit, is degraded to the point that production in the current mode is impossible, and a crisis of underproduction through decrease in volume of input occurs. This results, again, in restructuring of the relationship between the forces/relations of production and the conditions of production, involving massive ecological movements, workplace safety movements, urban environment restructuring, and government regulation to prevent exploitation of the social and physical environment. These restructurings are more obviously social(ist) than those mentioned in relation to the first contradiction, in that they address more directly conditions that are shared by all, and the regulation of capital's relationship to those conditions. The air and water, the streets of the city, and the workplace itself come to be seen as communal resources, and the people come to hold a certain, very important right over capital: the right to a clean and safe world. Again, O'Connor is careful to say that these measures are continually reinterpreted and can be applied in accordance with the needs of capital, but that the potential for a new social vision of the world lies in these movements.

What I found to be most compelling in O'Connor's argument, however, was the idea, not so much explicitly stated as implied, especially in the theoretical notes at the end, of the concept of cost. O'Connor seems to me to be implying two senses of the word, "cost". One is the tradtional capitalist view of the value that is attributed to the inputs of production. The other, which comes through in his discussion of "social costs", refers to the costs that are externalized onto the environment, again, social as well as physical, including health costs from pollution, education, ecological destruction, increasing personal and commercial rents, debt crises, and the list goes on. The government, and thus all of us, have to pay for all of this damage when it begins to become a crisis. This passage gave me the sense of the capitalist economy as a kind of wayward child, who breaks his favorite toy and comes running to his mommy to fix it for him. What is missing from this analogy, of course, is the sense in which the breaking of the toy is inevitable. Capital must continually seek to expand if it is to remain profitable, and so they keep destroying the conditions necessary for their own sustenance. I can also see this leading to more social forms in the relationship between capital and the state; a most encouraging prospect indeed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Water Rights: Commons vs. Commodity

This document summarizes the crisis in the global south about water control issues. The main argument is the ownership of water rights; should it be a common or a commodity? For water to be a common means the ownership lays upon the people of the community. In contrast for water to be a commodity means it would be under private ownership and there are two distinct areas, the governmental side and the economic side. Each side, wether for or against the privatization of water, have their supporting arguments to their claims. The best management practice for water would be to place it under private control, but not at the expense of the community.More...

The main supporting argument for the anti-privatization of water remains on the issue of water being a human right, like food and shelter, essential for life. This side has a lot of support from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Is seems like such a simple principle that everyone should have access to clean water but the water just doesn’t clean itself. If the water was under management of the people it would go to hell just like anything else; there are just some people who do not care about others and ruin it for everyone. Everyone has their own water priority uses and it would not be fair for somebody taking just enough water to cook and drink for the day and somebody taking surplus for watering their plants. There would be some type of regulation but it would be very weak because not everyone would agree with the laws. The anti-privatization argument for water rights just doesn’t seem to be the best idea for the interest of the people.
The best management practice for water would be to put it under private control. There are many groups of people that believe water should be a source of income. This type of privatization would put a market on water with a fluctuating price. Many people would suffer from this because the prices would simply be too high while other would be in the riches. The pros of this solution would be the water quality standards; competition for the ‘cleanest water’ would arise which could bring economic boost to local areas. The best solution is obvious after reviewing the first two; water should be under private ‘governmental’ control. This is the best solution because it serves the best interest for all the people, remembering that there are some people who do just not care and would ruin it for the others. The water quality standards would be the best with this type of management and would be paid for by everyone in the community.
The issue of water rights is very serious, especially in developing countries. People see it as a necessity for life as others see it for a necessity of income. There are many supporting arguments for the anti-privatization of water but they just do not stand a chance with the arguments of the privatization sector. It would be in the best interest of all the people if the water was managed by some sort of agency which would set livable standards and make it available to all. It would be nice to think people wouldn’t have boil their water every time they need to use it.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bird - The Social Construction of Nature

Elizabeth Ann R. Bird’s piece, The Social construction of Nature: Theoretical Approaches to the History of Environmental Problems, begins with the question: “Where do environmental problems, and how can we account for their appearance in such ways as to prevent their recurrence?” This seemingly simple and open ended question leads Bird into a whirlwind of thoughts regarding the scientific base of research and it’s relation to the social construction of nature. Bird’s main focus is to separate the idea of scientific knowledge as being regarded as a representation of nature, from the idea and possibly reality of a socially constructed interpretation of nature. From her work it can be noted that scientists can merely make claims about their knowledge regarding the “truths” about nature.

It should be noted that everything in this world is socially constructed, meaning that it is socially shaped and influenced by cultures and society. Bird just brings to the foreground the concept of scientific knowledge as being socially constructed. Science is subjective, and relies on repeated, accurate and identical studies in order to prove a “truth”. However what may not be realized is that scientists must manipulate and change the environments in order to reproduce identical studies, thus producing socially altered results. When looking closely at nature, nothing in nature can be reproduced identically.

Bird asks the question “What is the relationship of scientific inquiry to nature?” and delineates three possible considerations. The first being the paradoxes that physicists and ecologists have posed, which implies that experimental practices determine the character of the output, constructing a filter for perception in shaping the nature of what is perceived. Second being ecologist and environmentalist suggestions pertaining to the social practices of humans as scientists have altered the conditions of the “nature” which they are studying. The third consideration comes from sociologists of science and Marxist theorists suggesting that objects scientists study may not be nature at all, drawing from Marx’s concepts of labor processes lending themselves to the notion that human nature (including society) and external nature are a mutually constitutive dialectic, or the idea that the world cannot be understood adequately in the abstract but only through one’s actions (259).

Moving forward the idea of there being no single reality in the world in which we live. In their being no single reality it is to be understood that there are multiple realities and what is represented is depends on one’s relationship to or one’s position in the field of negotiation. This brings back the ideas of conditioned states of reality, showing that a particular negotiated reality is reproducible under certain conditions.

“Environmental problems are not the result of a mistaken understanding of nature. Rather they are the result of mis/taken (unfortunate or ill-chosen) negotiations with and constructions of nature in the shaping of new socio-ecological orderings of reality.” (261). In order to approach the issues regarding environmental problems we must first learn how to renegotiate and interact with nature. Social interaction with nature, as it stands today, must be addressed and altered in order to maintain an ecological balance. Without balance of society and nature there is sure to be significant problems down the road, larger problems than we face today.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Social Construction of Nature

In The Social Construction of Nature: Theoretical Approaches to the History of Environmental Problems by Elizabeth Bird, she talks about where environmental problems come from. She believes that “scientific knowledge should not be regarded as a representation of nature, but rather as a socially constructed interpretation with an already socially constructed natural-technical object of inquiry.” Unfortunately, science is influenced by other social constructs such as politics and cultural views. Bird then goes on to talk about scientific knowledge itself and questions it’s existence.
Bird also wonders whether “The existence of environmental problems, in fact, may pose a challenge to our assumption that what is known by science is nature.” Then there is a discussion of Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty. If you are observing something in nature, doesn’t the fact that you are observing it change it? When scientists study nature are they changing what is already there? Many other theorists are then mentioned. Robert Young’s labor process of science is discussed which “suggests that science cannot be understood naively as being about nature, because it is engaged in a productive process with its raw materials or objects.”
Bird then discusses the ideas of Latour and Woolgar. They mention how realities of science can be negotiated. They talk of it as a productive activity and suggest that it should be treated as a social production. They also talk about how science is known for reproducing certain conditions in order to check the knowledge, but that is not representative of nature.
One of the problems with nature is that is has not been represented accordingly throughout history. “…environmental problems are the result of a reductionist science that does not adequately take the whole of nature into account.” Often in the U.S. there is this false idea of what nature really looks like or is supposed to be. There is not a one universal truth to defining nature. Bird suggests that when looking at environmental problems we should also be looking at social issues, culture, etc. We need to examine historical interactions of society with nature to find the solution to the problem. Many of our social problems have greatly effected the environment.
I can see how it would be difficult to come to any conclusions using science to talk about nature when both are terms that are not easily defined. There are many ideas concerning both that have been shaped throughout history by our society that is culturally constructed.

Social Construction of Nature

In Bird’s article, she focuses on where environmental problems come from, and how people can account for them in a way that will prevent their reoccurrence. She says that scientific knowledge isn’t really a representation of nature, but a socially constructed interpretation. We need historical accounts of society’s interactions with nature that have caused environmental problems to find behaviors and modes of thought that contribute to this.
Natural sciences assume that scientific knowledge represents nature as it exists outside of us. The most that scientists can claim to know is a relative truth about nature. Recent social constructivists question that and say that nature is inaccessible to representation since science is a social construct. Bird asks “what is knowledge if not the representation of something external to us?” The existence of environmental problems could challenge the assumption that what is known by science is nature. Neither humans nor nature as historically emerging processes can be comprehended except by the dynamic interaction between them. Marx asserted that the world could only be understood through one’s actions, not theoretically.

One way of explaining what science is about is that it’s an ongoing process of negotiating reality. Scientists’ negotiations of meaning, interpretation, or theory are what social constructivists point to. Science uses nature to negotiate reality, and the part of that reality represented depends on what the scientists believe they’re doing. This means that “science” is technically the same as every other kind of social productive activity, and historians should treat it as any other aspect of social production. The resolving and preventing of environmental problems should deal with how we negotiate and interact with nature. Human interactions with nature will always be changing, and to prevent environmental problems we need to develop social principles for appropriate interactions. We need to determine what ethics in science, social structures influencing it, and myths about scientific theories infused by nature will create the world we want.