[-empyre-] Guilds & Plant Companions & Regenerative Oikeios

Jason W. Moore jasonwsmoore at gmail.com
Sun Oct 29 08:26:47 AEDT 2017

Dear Joline and friends,

Thanks, Joline, for these insightful -- elegant and eloquent --
reflections. (And my apologies for the radio silence: on the road a lot
these days. :)

Joline, I have several thoughts that emerged when I read. First, yes,
capitalist agriculture in a model of "working the plants too hard" (what a
beautiful quote!). Although "logic of capital" arguments have their limits,
it's clear that we have a five century pattern of capitalist agriculture
(as a model, that is, as a tendency that includes, in dialectical fashion,
its counter-tendencies) premised on "labor time" falling, and "plant work"
(and soils, and critters, and....) rising. Now, that's a statement that's
easy to mis-read and to simplify. On the one hand, capitalist agriculture
has depended on some of the the most brutal work regimes imaginable
(coupled of course with some of the most arduous reproduction regimes).
Slavery is of course a spectacular example. Here a bit of Marx is helpful:
"labor time" is radically exclusionary, excluding as I often say these days
not only the manifold forms of activity in the web of life as a whole, but
also excluding most humanly productive work as well. (As in my continual
emphasis on accumulation by appropriation, centering on the unpaid
work/energy of 'women, nature, and colonies' [Mies].) So to come to grips
with the contours and contradictions of extra-human natures in the modern
world, it's crucial to see the project (read: fantasy) of capital, whose
desire is to control, fragment, dominate -- and the processes of unruly
natures, from superweeds to social revolutions and movements (e.g. food
justice movements today).

Often, academics are so quick to jump on one or another lacunae -- not
enough multi-species accounts, not enough capital logic account, not
enough... fill in the blank -- that we discourage a movement of synthesis:
in my *Capitalism in the Web of Life*, multi-species acccounts appear only
towards the end of the book, for two (probably more!) very good reasons.
One is that "capital as project" had not -- to that point -- taken
seriously the web of life, except as tap and sink, and really not very
seriously even then. As an environmental historian, this pained me, but it
had to be done. :) The unruliness of the web of life in the modern world
has to be reckoned historically through long-run and large-scale patterns
of this strange *place* that is modernity: a capitalist world-ecology of
power, nature, and capital. The question of the web of life's unruliness
appears toward the end of *Web of Life* not because it was an afterthought
but because my interpretation led me squarely to precisely that which is
obscured by dualist "limits to growth" approaches. This is the non-linear
activation of what I've called negative-value: forms of nature that can no
longer be *cheaply *disciplined and reconfigured through the long-run
productivist model of nature that we've seen. This includes two themes
we've encountered in these discussions this month: superweeds and
(implicitly) colony collapse disorder. Of course we in the discussion know
that "weed" is a real abstraction: there is a battle against weeds because
weeds have been constructed (co-produced) as external to commodity
agriculture. But of course the pulse of negative-value doesn't stop there:
we are witnessing the activation of all sorts of contradictions unfixable
through a productivist view of nature and what Weber calls the "Euopean
rationality of world domination." Climate change is clearly another
expression of the activation of negative-value; so too the new ontological
politics of food justice/sovereignty, climate justice, and other movements
that demand not redistribution but de-commodification and a reorganization
of life that privileges diversity and justice in a multi-species sense.

The point about university ag research is interesting. For while it's clear
that there is a dominant trend of seeking to maintain/extend capitalist
agriculture, there are also a growing number of agronomists
(agro-ecologists and others) who realize the capitalist agriculture model
is no longer workable, even on its own terms. (Witness the secular decline
in agricultural productivity and ag-centered labor productivity growth
rates since 1985-95: something that two decades of agro-biotech has not
been able to counteract.) I think crucial to our intellectual agendas --
and the politics which unevenly relate to those agendas -- is the argument
that agriculture has to be reinvented from the ground up (and also from the
top down, and inbetween at very point). There are, as even, layers within
layers of geohistory inscribed in agriculture today: the neoliberal GMO
moment; the mechanization of agriculture that began in the USA in the
mid-19th century; the petro-farming/chemical/hybird maize moment post-1935;
the slavery/coerced labor moment of the origins of capitalist agriculture
post-1492; and then of course the whole arc of agriculture in the Holocene,
an era of unusual climate stability than is now coming to an end. So
agriculture today has become a crucible of politics not only for the
reproduction of human life, but of the web of life as a whole -- including
centrally the interlinked questions of biodiversity/extinction and climate
change. How bad it will get will turn centrally on how effectively we can
rework agriculture -- and how quickly we can do it.

There are no pure models for such reworking -- the Cuban experience
post-1991 offers some instructive lessons; manifold forms of indigenous and
peasant cultivation across the world of course offer other insights.
Clearly, neither an abstract localism nor an abstract globalism will
suffice in moving forward. But I am hopeful.

Warmly to all, Jason

On Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 7:41 PM, Norie Neumark <norie5 at mac.com> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Thanks Joline for that amazing post — it was so moving to read about
> lonely blueberry bushes, exhausted bees and farmers. And thinking about
> where University research funds come from and go to is unnerving as ever.
> I feel unravelled.
> Norie Neumark
> www.out-of-sync.com
> workingworms.net
> unlikely.net.au
> On 28 Oct 2017, at 3:32 am, Joline Blais <jblais at maine.edu> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Carla Hustak and Natasha Myers write about  how organisms "get *involved* one
> another’s lives and worlds.” and how “ The effect is to tune in to the affective
> ecologies <https://plantstudies.wordpress.com/involutionary-momentum/> that
> bind plants and insects together in such intimate processes as sex and
> digestion..”
> I wonder Jason if you have  encountered these interplant relations in his
> sugar cane research?   or Elaine if you have seen this in the rice
> studies?
> I have actually been looking for what might have been
> pre-settler “blueberry guilds” , or sets of companion plants that like to
> keep each other company, and interact in ways that generate more robust
> outcomes, more biodiversity, more interactions, more information, more
> possibilities.   The question of pollinators always seems to come up. In
> the case of blueberries, since all other crops have been eliminated from
> the barrens to increase production there are no plants to feed the
> pollinators before and after the blueberry flowering, so farmers need to
> import bees at the rate of $100/ 1 hive /100 acres. These traveling bees,
> get trucked the coast from Florida to Maine following the flowering of
> fruit. Many farmers spend tens of thousand of dollars to make the
> interspecies sex thing happen here—and that strikes me as odd, and must be
> recent.  What did they do before bee trucks came on the scene?
> One of the rakers we interviewed provided one clue:  the 2
> person “walk behind harvester” is a lawnmower scale harvester that
> replaced hand raking in some small farms that didn’t need the huge
> industrial tractor harvesters. (designed by UMaine research, never
> patented, and then stolen or taken by one of the local families that turned
> their holdings into one of the multinational corporations out there
> now—(more below on how Univ of Maine research actually led to the
> corporatization and other undermining results for the small family farms
> that funded its research)
> Anyway, the “raker” regularly stumbles upon ground hornet's nest,  which
> are then destroyed by the mechanical harvest.  They are not destroyed by
> the hand raking that still happens on organic farms in the area  and those
> organic farms have much more biodiverse fields—with weeds intermingling
> with berries.
> I also discovered that in the older pilgrimage times, stands of white pine
> had been left in the barrens—so grew there naturally; and that they were
> left to create camping area for the rakers—they protected against harsh
> winds, hot sun, rain and sometimes bear.   These stands were later clearcut
> to increase the blueberry yields.  So while the blueberry plants themselves
> represent millions of clones—so are diverse, they have been robbed of most
> of their companion insects/plants in the commercialized fields.
> So I think without the constant company of native pollinators, white pine,
> companion weeds, and ground hornets (who eat damaged fruit, and prey on
> other damaging pests), and without the songs of the rakers during harvest
> evenings, and their day songs as they harvest, I think the blueberry are
> very lonely now.  And that we are eating lonely plants, that we are lonely
> plants (and diseased and distressed animals) , if the Passamaquoddy are
> right about the way food inhabits the eater.  Is slow food = happy food?
> What does happy food look like? taste like?
> In one of Jason’s recent post, he mentioned  “the endless increase in the
> biological productivity of life and the endless decrease in the human work
> necessary to achieve such increases.” This also resonates deeply with what
> I currently know about the story of wild blueberry in Downeast Maine.   I
> hear 50+ year blueberry farmer and University researcher Dell Emerson
> whisper to me “ you can’t believe how hard we push these plants.”  He
> watches to see if I really heard what he said.  Or if this is just another
> “road kill” moment in our industrial ag relationship with our food.  Do I
> just look the other way because I can’t reconcile that violence with my
> need to eat? Or do I hear his plea for something to intervene? He and his
> bees are really exhausted…how did a labor of love get to this point?
> Local farmers funded the UMaine research that quadruped the crop, but that
> very productivity also meant they need to broaden and globalize their
> markets.   And in this larger network, they encountered the logic of
> capital and its methods.
> So here’s my next question:  to what extent do university research
> projects —even seemingly benign ones like increasing the blueberry
> harvest—lead to unraveling ecosystems and corporate plunder?  Do
> universities prepare their local environments for colonization in similar
> was that Jesuit priests did in this part of the new world?  UMaine also has
> deep ties to the paper and pulp industries in Maine and thus the largest
> toxic waste dump in the state, within earshot of where the state educates
> its youth (some of whom have come into my office with cancer stories—not
> their parents, but themselves…) Our own program has research funds donated
> by one of the paper plants with ties to this region.
> So we have ecosystem guilds that are unraveling, and other
> techo/industry/education/capital guilds that are replacing them, and
> within which we ourselves operate.
> So like the blueberry, my local companions are endangered, and the
> pressure on my own productivity is intense enough to completely turn off
> kids from the next generation.  The regeneration of this current system is
> I think at risk.   Both the blueberry and I are inhabiting unsustainable
> guilds within unravelling ecosystems.
> I think sugar’s history is far more complex, from plantation to diabetes,
> it just keeps generating capital…
> And rice also seems to be a very lonely and highly pressured plant.
> Unless, of course, you consider Fukuoka's One Straw Rice
> <https://youtu.be/XSKSxLHMv9k> revolution, Jon Jandai’s Life is Easy
> <https://youtu.be/21j_OCNLuYg> return to traditional earth-based
> livelihood,. Or unless you turn to other oikeios models like those
> generated by the permaculture and ecovillage movements that are quite
> robust in Maine and the Northeast.
> I’m curious about any plant/animal/human guild that may have nourished any
> of our readers?  What do these look like? Which ones regenerate life and
> biodiversity and cultural richness and social justice?  There’s a whole art
> form and art practice that is happening in this space of regenerative
> design I think, but it won’t be tied to capital or found within four white
> walls—because it doesn’t turn a profit.  It will look like Tambaran where
> the men who make music and temples (what we see when we look at their art
> forms), where these men say "we make spirits and children" by listening to
> the earth, sining its songs, then growing food where we hear the songs, and
> feeding our children with that food.
> Joline
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Jason W. Moore, Associate Professor
Department of Sociology, Binghamton University
Recent books, *Capitalism in the Web of Life *
*Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of
Many of my essays are posted on my website:http://jasonwmoore.com
Recent short essays can be found here: http://jasonwmoore.wordpress.com/
For more on the world-ecology conversation, join us on academia.edu:
And also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/worldecology/
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