Thoughts on V. Shiva’s “Staying Alive”
I’m reading Vandana Shiva’s Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, & Development for an on-line class on Ecofeminism which I’m TAing. The following are two comments made on the class forum at different times.
While reading both the book and the forum comments, I was reminded of a study I read about many years ago (which means unfortunately I’ve lost it, darnit!) which reviewed war as a profit source. The current common perspective is that war is good for the economy — especially that of the winning side. So the study’s researchers examined several wars over the past century or so, and discovered something fascinating: war is not actually good for the economy, so much as it is good for the “captains of industry” (read: the old white guys that own everything already) — but only of the winning side. So not only are these the men who aren’t actually risking themselves or their families when they urge a society to go to war, but they’re also those who most stand to gain. It’s everyone else — including the environment and the poor, especially women and children, on both sides — who will lose in war, regardless of who supposedly “wins.”
I have some friends I have amiable arguments with about things like this, and some time ago I said to one of them that current Third World development by First World companies was almost a war on the people there. He scoffed, pointing out that lots of folks made money on that development, and it was good for the industrialization of the countries involved.
I have to say now, though, thinking about it — I think I didn’t go far enough in my description. I think maldevelopment (Shiva’s descriptive term of the economic and ecological devastation which occurs when First World corporations start throwing their economic weight around in Third World countries) really is a war on the poor, the women and children, and the environment. I don’t think it’s done maliciously, per se — I think it’s worse: these people are absolutely indifferent to the pain, destruction, suffering, and death they’re causing in their incessant quest for more profit. In maldevelopment there may be short-term gain for the rich of the non-industrialized nation, but I suspect it’s only the already-rich of the so-called First World countries that benefit in the long term, just like in any war.
I wonder if this “war model” can be taken further. Within a society at peace, like the US today, would it be accurate to use Shiva’s conceptualization of maldevelopment in regards to, say, gentrification of inner cities that drives out the poor that live there already? Or perhaps to the persistent erosion of reservations, where the land is taken from Native Americans through one or another excuse in order to be sold to developers? Thoughts?
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Well, that was embarrassing! Right after I’m so pleased with myself for discerning the metaphor of war as an interesting new angle on how women, people of color, and nature are treated by the dominant patriarchal/industrialist cultural paradigm… I discover Shiva’s done that already! That’s what I deserve, I suppose, for thinking the 2010 Introduction would be so much fluff added on afterwards. ;)
True, there’s a rather poignant reference to war by Gustavo Esteva but I initially considered the statement more poetic/symbolic than literal. Then again, going back and re-reading his assertion: “development [is] a permanent war waged by its promoters and suffered by its victims” (14), I find myself wondering if perhaps I should be trying to think more literally than metaphorically in situations like this — where peoples’ lives are at stake.
Now that I’ve had a bit of time to mentally review, I have a few other thoughts regarding Shiva’s perspective on ecofeminism — although considering my record so far, I’m amusedly sure someone else has already had these thoughts as well. ;) Regardless, I’ll put them forward for consideration, since for me, writing my thoughts down helps me to organize and render them more coherent.
Firstly, I was fascinated by Shiva’s clear (to me) spiritualization of her ecofeminist perspective. It appears there is no doubt whatsoever in her mind that the feminine and nature are sacred, conceptually embodied as Prakriti. I happen to agree with her regarding the sacrality of life in general and women and nature in particular, but I find myself wondering how she is seen by the secular environmental movement, both ecofeminist and other. I would consider it a great shame if the publicly adamant secularism of US society caused a damaging rift between spiritual and secular environmentalists. On the other hand, I also find myself wondering if patriarchal arrogance does the same: rendering “regular” environmentalists unable to work effectively with either ecofeminism or Green party members who follow all ten of the party’s precepts — including the one about feminism as an inherent goal of Greenness.
Secondly, I had previously read an article or two of Shiva’s regarding “maldevelopment,” and was familiar with the conceptualization of both women and nature as sacred and deserving of respect. I was also peripherally aware of the growing industrialization of farming, and had a vague internal sense that commoditizing things such as seeds was most likely a bad idea. However, until reading this book I had not really registered the shocking (to me) realization that industrialized farming was actually creating rather than solving hunger (xxii). Shiva’s tracing of the direct links between the starvation and poverty rampant amongst displaced indigenous peoples, and the destruction of their land for supposed development by global corporations, was quite eye-opening. I’d never seen this laid out so clearly before.
I was also surprised and delighted to read Shiva’s assertion that indigenous farmers working with the land can produce more and a wider variety of healthy crops, with less harmful chemicals, than can the giant agribusinesses. I’d suspected the potential efficacy of long tail distribution in sales for a while now; to see it verified in this realm also is personally quite satisfying. I want to read her research data so I can point others at it, but… wow, this is so nice to learn! Not only is it relevant for indigenous populations, but it’s becoming increasingly so for the rest of the world as well. As a personal example, in the upcoming elections Prop 1 is supposed to invest in the state’s water infrastructure… at least partly by building more dams. While I’ve not read up on it yet, I’m leery of any ballot measure which is heavily supported by the almond farmers — since that’s the most destructive local monoculture agribusiness* I know of.
Finally, I love learning new things, especially when they’re accompanied by that enlightening shock of recognition that this is something you already know, but didn’t realize until now that you knew. I felt that wonderful and exciting sensation when reading about the preferableness of the slave’s standpoint — because “he represents a higher-order cognition which perforce includes the master as a human, whereas the master’s cognition has to exclude the slave except as a ‘thing'” (53). I was also impressed by Shiva’s care in ensuring she is not emulating what she critiques. While she refers to Prakriti as the feminine principle from which all life arises, she also notes it is not unique to Indian women — that both women and men, indigenous and industrialized, can benefit from the non-gender based philosophy of embodied feminist values as activity and creativity (52). To date her clearly ecofeminist solution to the issues we face — including cultural, spiritual and environmental damage — is one of the best and most comprehensive solutions I’ve read so far — and also, I suspect, one of the hardest to implement in the US.
* I had to laugh when I ran my spellchecker over this before posting… and realized I’d typed “agrObusiness” rather than “agrIbusiness.” Considering “aggro” is slang for aggressive hating, threatening, or pre-emptive attack in computer gaming jargon… I guess my non-conscious mind was trying to tell me something? ;)