Books, Exegesis, Reviews

Oneness vs. the 1% :: Review

First book I’ve read from Shiva and I’d like to pick up another one. I read some of her work in university and it opened my eyes to systems thinking in a new way. As expected of an activist like Shiva, the book is punchy and knows what it wants to say.

Quotes

The diversity of cultures and languages, and with them, our imagination, is being lost. (pg. ix)

But there are options beyond colonization, beyond extinction. There is a third option – that of staying alive by caring for the earth and for each other, rejuvenating the planet and our common humanity. (pg. xi)

We can, through our creativity and imagination, through our solidarity and interconnectedness, create a planetary freedom movement through which we break free of the chains and walls constructed by the illusions of the mechanical mind, the money machine and the delusion of democracy. (pg. xii)

Compassion arises naturally, from the connectedness and the consciousness of being interconnected. It is not the ‘philanthropy’ of billionaires, because their billions are made through the violent economies of extraction, and because they use their billions in philanthropy to create more markets and make more money. (pg. 3)

Democracy is participation, and since participation is embodied, not disembodied, participatory democracy is a lived and living democracy. We must build a movement to recognize the Rights of Nature and Mother Earth, and the violations of these rights as ecocide. (pg. 5)

One of the most dramatic ontological shifts of our time is redefining living organisms, especially seeds, as machines ‘invented’ by corporations. (pg. 5)

Ecology is the science of the household, while economics is supposed to be about the management of the household. When economics works against ecology, it results in the mismanagement of the earth, our home. (pg. 10)

While the mechanical view forms the basis of mastery and conquest over nature, and hence is at the root of the ecological crisis, quantum and ecological paradigms have the same underlying understanding of an interconnected universe. (pg. 13)

The three big separations that have brought us to the verge of extinction as a species are the separation of humans from nature; the separation of humans from each other through divisions of class, religion, race, and gender; and the separation of the Self from our integral, interconnected being. (pg. 16)

The mechanical mind measures, predicts, and approaches knowing, but cannot actually know because knowledge, by its very nature, is pluralistic. (pg. 20)

However, in living systems, causality is systemic, and properties and behaviors depend on context, on relationship, on complexity. (pg. 22)

Breaking free of the mechanical mind has now become an ecological and political imperative. (pg. 24)

Money, a mere means of exchange of real goods and services, produced through real work, becomes ‘capital’, a mysterious force of creating wealth. ‘Capital’ then mutates into ‘investment’, which mutates, through multiple constructions into ‘returns on investment’, where those who do no real work but control wealth created through the exploitation of nature and of people, accumulate more wealth, and use that wealth to further exploit nature and society. (pg. 40)

Owning our seeds through seed freedom, our own food through food freedom, our own minds and intelligence through intellectual freedom, our own economies through freedom to produce and consume ecologically and locally, is the ‘barbarianism’ that the 1% would like to extinguish. (pg. 64)

The genetic engineering paradigm did not evolve; it was artificially constructed by the big money of Rockefeller, the richest man of his time. (pg. 64)

The roots of today’s genetic engineering lie in the human engineering, the genetic reductionism, and the genetic determinism of the 1930s. (pg. 65)

Genetic determinism and reductionism go hand in hand, but to say that genes are primary is more ideology than science. Genes are not independent entities, but dependent parts of an entirety that gives them effect. (pg. 67)

While genetic reductionism leads to the false assumption that genes control the traits of life, the new science of epigenetic control reveals that life is controlled by something over and above the genes. Environmental signals acting through membrane switches control gene activity. (pg. 68)

Independent scientists and journalists have been systematically attacked to maintain the false propaganda that GMOs are the miracle panacea to feed the world and that GMOs, as an invention, justify patent monopolies. This has led to Monsanto media and Monsanto public relations being paraded as ‘science’ and governments being hijacked by evidence to the contrary. Indeed, governments that make and enforce laws to protect their citizens, in accordance with international obligations to exclude patents on seed and on life, and to protect biodiversity and prevent biopiracy are facing major attacks from corporations like Monsanto. While competition is the rhetoric of free trade arguments, monopoly is the only outcome. (pg. 76-77)

Tools, and technologies as tools, evolve according to need, and are assessed and used as means. They are not ends in themselves; they are chosen, not imposed. (pg. 81)

The Right to Food is the right to choose what we want to eat; to know what is in our food and to opt for nourishing, tasty food – not the few packaged goods that corporations want us to consume. The Right to the Internet is the right to choose what media and information we want to access; to choose the ecological, political, economic, social and intellectual spaces that enrich us – not what companies think should be our ‘basics’. Our right to know what we are eating is as essential as our right to information, all information. (pg. 86)

The manipulation of productivity and output data to suit the false narrative of ‘feeding the world with chemicals and GMOs’ has led to violence against the planet, with 75 per cent water systems, 75 per cent soil desertified and degraded, 93 per cent plant biodiversity lost, biodiversity of pollinators threatened, and 40 per cent contributions to climate change. And this industrial system only provides 30 per cent of the food we eat. (pg. 89)

Trying to pass off a PR stunt as scientific debate and discourse is a scientific fraud. (pg. 92)

Towards the end fo 2016 there was a concerted and coercive attempt to impose a digital economy on [India] through a ‘cash ban’. Those without smartphones and credit cards were overnight converted into ‘digital barbarians’, needing to be ‘civilised’ and mainstreamed through ‘digital literacy’. (pg. 109)

Just as patents on seeds were an illegitimate attempt at criminalising farmers by making seed saving illegal, ‘demonetisation’ was an illegitimate attempt at criminalising people’s savings and seriously disturbing their economy, which comprises 80 per cent of India’s real economy. (pg. 109-110)

Real money, reflecting real work, circulates in a circular economy. Digital money is extracted to a global financial system, and it ruptures the law of return on which the ciruclar economy works. (pg. 114)

Through his model of philanthrocapitalism, Gates is, in fact, using his unaccountable money power to bypass democratic structures of society, derail the diversity of alternatives available and impose his totalitarian ideas based on One Science, One Agriculture, One History, to shape the future according to his vision. Yet, it is precisely through this so-called philanthropy that Gates is carving out new colonies; The Financial Times writes, ‘through the stroke of his pen on his cheque book Gates probably now has the power to affect the lives and well-being of a larger member of his fellow humans than any other private individual in history.’ (pg. 116)

On a planet with 300 million species and seven billion humans, one man determining the future of the earth and humanity is a dangerous idea. It is dangerous for the earth because the antrhopocentric, reductionist, and mechanistic assumptions by which Gates is guided are at the root of the ecological crisis that has brought us to the brink. It is dangerous for society because it discounts the contributions of women, indigenous people, and small farmers to knowledge systems and food systems. It is dangerous for the economy because it is blind to the diversity of economies that sustains people’s lives, and allows them to take care of the earth and each other. It defines the economy of the 1% as the only economy, thus implying the economic exclusion of the 99%. It is dangerous for democracy because people should be involved in making the decisions that shape their lives and their futures. One rich man deciding what we will grow and eat, how we will heal ourselves, what we will learn, and what we will think is a dictatorship, not a democracy. (pg. 117)

‘Development’ is a part of the narrative, based on Rostow’s ‘stages of growth’ that naturalised the poverty created by colonialism into ‘underdevelopment’ and offered further colonisation through externally controlled and externally driven ‘development’ as the solution to that poverty. (pg. 123)

But it would be arrogant and irresponsible to claim that this power to destroy gives some privileged humans the right to commandeer the earth’s resources, processes and systems, in denial of hte creativity, self-organisation, and diversity of living beings and living systems. Nature is more than a human construct, or an object of human manipulation for short-term benefit; it is the creative force of the universe. (pg. 126)

We can consciously choose the path of oneness, living and celebrating our many diversities, interconnected through bonds of compassion, interdependence, and solidarity; or we can, for a short time, live enslaved by the 1%, internalising the powerlessness and marginalisation they engineer, afraid to change, clinging to illusions of security, while our real ecological security is undermine, and our real social security, embodied in real relationships, is ruptured and broken through the politics of division, hate and fear. (pg. 148)

Because we are not isolated, atomised particles, but interconnected beings, freedom is not atomistic. It is relationtional, and it is interconnected. Human freedom is indivisible from the freedom of the earth and the rights of all her beings. (pg. 150)

The State is mutating into a corporate entity working for corporate welfare, leaving the people and the planet to suffer the consequences of economic collapse, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. (pg. 152)

The ‘wild’ is the capacity for self-organisation of all life, the diverse species of the earth and the earth herself as a living organism. This is the consciousness that must shape cultures and communities, economies and democracies, sciences and technologies. In the contemporary order, still dominated by the 1%, the earth community has been reduced to the human community. Humans, as earth citizens with duties and rights, have been replaced by corporations, with no duties to either the earth or society, only unlimited rights to exploit both. Corporations have been designated legal personhood, and corporate rights are now extinguishing the rights of the earth, and the rights of people to the earth’s resources. (pg. 155)

The dualisms created by the mechanical mind prevent us from imagining that we can be both local, rooted in a place, and planetary in our consciousness… (pg. 158)

The current system is based on the separation of the producer and consumer, with produces and the earth being exploited, and the consumers being driven by thoughtless consumerism, based on the illusion of ‘cheap’. … If feeding the world was the goal, these corporations would not need to make local, sustainable alternatives illegal. (pg. 161)

Diversity ensures balance; balance ensures that no single species, no one culture dominates the rest. (pg. 163)

“Then every village in India will almost be a self-supporting and self-contianed unit, exchanging only such necessary commodities with other villages where they are not locally producible. In such an economic system there will be an organic relationship between production, distribution and consumption.” (pg. 163)

Higher moral laws compel citizens to disobey lower lawas that institutionalise injustice and violence. (pg. 164)

There is a third option beyond extinction and escape, the alternative of rejuvenating the earth to be able to continue to live here, in the particular places and the planet we call home. This is our evolutionary challenge. If we awaken to our own intelligence evolutionary potential, and the intelligence pervading our planet and the universe we do not need to slip into the dispair and hopelessness of inevitable extinction, or the hubris of conquest and mastery over other planets. (pg. 172)

Musk, like all men suffering from technological hubris, does not seem to understand that being a planetary citizen does not need space travel. … We now need to evolve our planetary consciousness as earth citizens. (pg. 173)

Staying home is an ecological imperitive, an ethical imperitive. It is also a joyful option. It is the practice of Oikonomia as the art of living. (pg. 174)

The power of violence and destruction comes from separation – from nature and from each other. Our non-violent power comes from interconnetedness and oneness. (pg. 175)

Oneness vs. the 1% – Vandana Shiva

Summary

In Oneness vs the 1% Vandana Shiva goes through the dangers inherent to the undemocratic power held by the global 1%. The book shows their destructive influence on ecology, economics, and democracy. Amidst the shocking information, Shiva describes what is necessary to ensure freedom for all. Inspired by Gandhi’s radical politics of non-violence, the author gives a hopeful message that people can work together to democratically and non-violently find balance with the earth.

Thoughts

The quote from page 86 gave me pause. It is easy to imagine that we live in an era where free access to the internet has caused the polarization we see in the world. After all, not all opinions are right, the attractive nature of destructive ideas can give them undue power in an open market. To echo Shiva’s own words from page 77, a free internet could lead to a monopoly of ideas. Surely the internet can’t remain totally free if civility in the public discourse is to return. But we must remember that the internet is governed by algorithm-run platforms which trade engagement for cash. As things are, the most outrageous, blatantly untrue or inflammatory content is prioritized by the algorithm because it generates engagement. Whether it is those who agree or those who debunk and rebutt, inflammatory content is prioritized. If a free internet means that radicalizing pipelines and misinformation gain less traction, it would be an improvement.


The quote on page 116 highlights that the problem with the 1% (and Gates in particular) isn’t necessarily the individual actions they make. It lies instead with their enormous amount of undemocratic power. An undemocratic dictator might never do anything malicious, but they should still be resisted. It is wrong and ultimately destructive for a single person to be unaccountable to the communities they control. The system is the ultimate problem. As long as the aetherial infrastructure remains, Gates can be replaced and little changes.


The quote from pg. 163 is itself a quote from Gandhi. While I am excited by the organic, decentralized economy envisioned here, I am confused by the term “organic” and how it’s used here. My understanding of history informs me that specialization and centralization, democratic or not, is the path of least resistance for human communities. Agricultural societies “organically” trend towards specialization. This is true at the scale of the local and at the scale of a nation. If one community is particularly fertile, then another community will specialize in manufacturing. What “organic” relationship then is being described here? Is it an unmoderated process as seen through history, or is it a purposely balanced process according to particular criteria?


I would like to expand the idea of “planetary consciousness” as expressed on page 173 towards a syntheistic interpretation. Shiva describes a need to develop a planetary consciousness, and I would agree. However, where my reading of Shiva envisions individuals gaining a planetary consciousness in their own minds, I would emphasize the imperative to develop an emergent planetary consciousness in the form of Terra, a god. My reason is pragmatic; I simply do not think it is possible to unite the world, or even a powerful minority, under a unified mindset. People are too diverse to agree in such a way. Even the billionaires described in this book likely disagree with each other in critical ways. I have similar reservations with the “class consciousness” as articulated by many leftists, where individuals understand themselves as part of a class and function accordingly. This is not to say that a planetary consciousness for individuals is a bad goal, far from it. But to my mind, developing a ______ consciousness is to put the cart before the horse. After all, even if the billionaires who run our world may disagree with each other, they still contribute to the same system that is pushing our species to extinction. The reason is that there is a structure larger than themselves which they are members of and contribute to. To counter their influence, we must influence reality on the same systemic level. First, mages must construct aetherial systems and aetherial infrastructure for people to interact with. Only then can a broadened consciousness develop in the individual. A quote from How to Be Animal by Melanie Challenger comes to mind here; “He didn’t know ‘the significance of what he was seeing, so, in effect, he did not “see” it at all'” (pg. 99). The quote references a seventeenth-century French graffitist who, upon entering the Ariege cavern which held priceless ancient cave paintings, added his name to the cave art thinking that it was just more graffiti from contemporaries. He did not understand because he was not aware of the appropriate way to interact with such a find. While his individual knowledge is absolutely important, it was a symptom of the lack of archaeological systems available in his time. There were no systems of excavation, preservation, and inquiry so well practiced by archaeologists today. Simply telling him these drawings were from ancient people might not have made much a difference. The difference today is the value generated by the practices whole contingents of people have around such discoveries; the work, energy, and time invested puts value into such objects. It is the rules of engagement, the vibrancy of contact, that give an object or idea value. Only then is a broadened consciousness accessible. As a personal anecdote, I visited the Buchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia a few months back. For the first half an hour or so, I found it difficult to be “aware” of the garden. To fix this, I attempted to approach the garden with a framing. At first I attempted to understand it in terms of botany. While I understand the basics of breeding and plant physiology, my limited knowledge did not bring the garden to life. Then I approached the garden in terms of colour. Again, simply looking at the colours did not make me “aware” of the garden; to give me a way of interacting with it. Finally, when I approached the garden with the framing of composition, it sprung to life. Looking at the textures of the flowers as put against each other, along with the colours contrasted and complimented made the garden a vibrant experience. What I believe made the difference was that looking at the garden through “composition” allowed me to see a way-of-acting. I noticed the way a gardener must have cared for space I was moving through, the fruits of their practice, patience, and craft. Most crucially, I began to notice ways that, if I ever decided to cultivate a garden, I could make it more beautiful. There was a mode of action, a system of practice, that the garden revealed to me. Like the graffitist in the Ariege, I could not “see” what was in front of me until I was aware of the way I or someone else could interact with it. To the graffitist, all he could imagine other people doing was graffiti, so all he could see and do was graffiti.

All this is to say, I think it is best to think of a “planetary consciousness” not necessarily as a mindset of individuals, but as an aetherial structure we can opt into. This takes the pressure off individuals to be doctrinally aligned with each other and instead emphasizes contributions to the Planetary Consciousness. Experience of that Consciousness will follow the practice. As an ecofeminist who emphasizes such systems, I believe Shiva would agree, particularly because she emphasizes Oikonomia, the practice of good management.


Right before reading this book I read Walkable City by Jeff Speck. In it he gives 10 clear steps/principles on how to make cities human-friendly rather than car-friendly. It was a refreshingly direct approach. I find myself craving such exactitude for my ecofeminist persuasions. I truly wish that what I read in Oneness vs the 1% was simply the introduction to a 10 step manual for how to practice Oikonomia. Of course, global Oikonomia is a far larger problem to tackle than renovating a downtown. Perhaps it is the biggest problem. The scale too is an issue. Am I concerned with how to live my life as an individual, or am I concerned with how social and economic systems are structured? How do I make the world better when I’m just trying to pay off debt and enjoy my time with loved ones? What peace can be found when you are simultaneously a piece of a machine and it’s engineer?

For now, I will accept that I am on a path on a globe. Even if I loop back around to where I started, I’m still moving. I do what I know how to do, and I will find peace in doing it well. I will love where I can and flick a domino where I can. Hopefully it will all do something good down the line.

Conclusion

Shiva clearly articulates the problems with the modern world and the unjustifiable power held by the 1%. While limited on actionable goals, as a call to action the book shines. Oikonomia and planetary consciousness are important ideas which I will probably incorporate into Terranism in one way or another. I honestly wish the book was a bit longer and gave more detail on how to act on the problems the book so clearly describes.

Further Study

Oneness vs the 1% – Vandana Shiva

How to Be Animal – Melanie Challenger

Walkable City – Jeff Speck

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