A Look at a World Beyond Exploitation


In 1952 the Cuyahoga river caught on fire, a river was burning. How did it get that way? The industrial centers on either side dumped chemicals, so many chemicals from industrial waste, the pollution killed all life in the water itself. This was a consequence of pollution going unchecked, industry being ill maintained and an ignorance of the balance between production and natural conservancy. A corporate process that exploited the workers, the citizens and disproportionately the poor erupted in a literal conflagration. How can we create a balance between our needs and still lead meaningful lives, or in the words of Camus can we be “Neither Victims Nor Executioners?” Is it possible to exist in such a world?

The world is complex, of this there is no doubt. Rainfall effects the water table at the time of the rain as well as months later with the snowmelt. The Rains may cause a river to rise in a flood and be destructive, yet it may also nourish crops and create a state of lush verdant foliage. So when humans introduce industrial manufacturing and chemicals cloud the skies to rain light acid upon us, can we blame the rain for its increased toxicity? Yet can we do away with industrialization without leaving billions in want?

Perhaps a better question is why WITH industrialization are billions STILL in want? Was not Capitalism’s promise to deliver to all the people, by creating incentives of work and by mass production, so that everyone would have more? If this is so, what great calamity has held us back, what sickness and plague should deprive the great many of the world of even the basic necessities of healthy food, clean water and shelter? Much less education and the great spoils of the elusive ‘American Dream’? Do not tell me that the great many are just lazy and refuse to work, spare me the details of how greed will bring about an economic utopia. It is for that reason, greed and corporate avarice, that we see Billions starving, living in filth, with poor sanitation and no hope or prospect of immediate relief.

Corporate dreams of global prowess have been achieved and have failed to render either glory or redemption for their great exploitation. Furthermore the expansion from national exploitation to global modes of exploitation, have shrunk the relative proportion of those who gain to less than a percent of a percent of the population. This trend of global industry has narrowed the scope of their gains and spread only despair among those wishing for a way out.

Any solution to social or environmental disparity will necessitate a fission from our current economic modes and way of life. To paraphrase Dorothy Day ‘We aren’t saying go around wearing a burlap sack’. But Peter Maurin begins to identify the problem with industrialism and corporatism, in the earlier part of the 20th century “The Industrial Revolution did not improve things; it made them worse. The industrial revolution has given us technological unemployment. And the best way to do away with technological unemployment is to place idle hands on idle land” (Maurin was no fan of a planned economy, this is just common sense). Because we can only produce what we need, there is no sense in producing vast quantities beyond need, therefore even with production there will be shortfalls, partly because the production is not always needed and partly because there is a want so desperate for basic necessities that stores are an abstraction of daily life. Despite efforts from modern advertising trying to create artificial want and a market need, in the first and third world, there simply is not a static wealth for such a demand. We cannot keep producing and producing in great quantities exclusively for the wealthy, luxuries, while the great many poor suffer in want of basics, necessities. The consequence of such a course is both impractical and unethical. Marx’s vision of “the rich will get richer while the poor get poorer”, ought to be augmented by ‘and the poor will be kept from the rich by great geographic separation of the first and third world, to be left to suffer amongst themselves’. In short we can produce all the crap we want and we will not create enough, we will have ‘idle hands’, idle bodies, communities, cities and nearly idle countries. What is capitalism’s answer to this- loans at high interest from the World Bank and IMF, will these loans free the people to ascend from poverty, or enslave them in a debt they cannot repay? That is another question for another day, but as plainly as we have eyes, we can see a great disparity, plainly evidencing a failure of the economic system to meet needs at any basic level, on a global scale.

Turning to economic structures of Capitalism, Industrialism or Corporate models will not raise our ‘idle hands’. Freedom will mean the ability to create sovereignty over land, with banks of seed, not money. The problem is the amount of land, we cannot run the land if we all strive to just feed ourselves. We are not inherently individualists, even large industrial farms need extra hands. But if we work land together, we can both create community and conserve resources. Also humans are not exclusively solitary creatures, Abraham Maslow the Psychologist describes famously a need for both individual sovereignty and community belonging. The purpose of an agricultural movement is therefore three fold- First to avoid the large impersonal and exploitative corporate system and conversely to deliberately create community and collaborative, consensual, local work. Second to work with land, not around or through it, but with it, to produce based on basic needs and meaningful projects; this environmental idea is one that seeks to avoid exploitation or degradation, but include the land in a part of the process of deciding what, when, where and how much to grow. Third the solution must not be based in assumed hierarchy or roles but instead empowering the people along with the land to motivate growth of food and production of essential goods. In short such a system should break down a Industrial order, a Social order and an Environmental order, to be replaced over time with a more comprehensive, holistic participation with one another, the earth and our labor.

In the interest of safety, it may be well worth the consideration that no person should just go and dig up soil wantonly. Indeed knowing what to grow, paying attention to the seasons, watering patterns, frost, plant cycles, perennial and annual plans and time investment is no small matter. In the 60’s and 70’s many young ‘hippies’ tried back-to-the-land movements and starved because they didn’t know what they were doing. Don’t do that.

If you want to learn how to farm, try volunteering at a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), Lane County has a master gardener program, try ‘WWOOF-ing’ (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, see their website ). Try a garden first and work with people you know, the community gardens in Eugene/Springfield are a great way! Learning about ‘greenhouses’ and ‘volunteer plants’ that are edible are both major tools to success. Practically speaking even thirty people can be too few, you can get burned out on the same faces, try up to 50 or 100! This is not a small endeavor, as you may now imagine. They process of organizing need not fall upon one person’s shoulders, to do this right. An organization ought to be started, where people can get together and talk about their gardens, learning together and gathering skills to prepare for a more full-time endeavor. Some groups align based upon religion as with the Catholic Worker movement or the Amish/Mennonite/Shaker communities. Religion does not have a monopoly on farming groups, Intentional Communities coming together around other beliefs- ideological, family or common interests create ties. The point is, that it is far easier to get along with people who you have a great number of things in common with. Also social groups can function together, because community is no joke and there ought to be times of cohesion and meeting those around you, outside of work as well as new faces, for some variety. Community cannot exist without communication, this means meetings and gatherings of some sort, that is a fact. There is extensive literature on the topic of organic/sustainable/productive agricultural skills and organization, as well as intentional communities and challenging socio-economic hierarchy, if your interest has been piqued.