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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Invention of Ecocide

Posted by on September 20 at 11:09 AM

If there’s one thing that might make me better than most people it’s the simple fact that I consistently read the best (and hardest) books in the world. The present great book that I’m reading—and one which has the distinction of curing me of a Hegel Fever that lasted six hot months—is by French sociologist (an unfair designation, but necessary for this brief entry) Bruno Latour and has the startling title We Have Never Been Modern. Written in 1991, and translated into English by Catherine Porter in 1993, the book attempts to do several things, one of which is to establish a kind of anthropology of Western culture (I will not go into this). The book scintillates with ideas, and while reading one of its formative chapters (“1989: The Year of Miracles”) very early this morning, I came across a passage that spoke directly to our post-Katrina age. Prophetic Latour argues that after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the imagined triumph of capitalism was “short-lived” for this reason:

“In Paris, London and Amsterdam, this same glorious year 1989 witness[ed] the first conferences on the global state of the planet: for some observers [the conferences] symboliz[ed] the end of capitalism and its vain hopes of unlimited conquest and total dominion over nature. By seeking to reorient man’s exploitation of man toward an exploitation of nature by man, capitalism magnified both beyond measure. The repressed returns, and with a vengeance: the multitudes that were supposed to be saved from death fall back into poverty by the hundred millions; nature, over which we were supposed to gain absolute mastery, dominates us in an equally global fashion, and threatens us all. It is a strange dialectic that turns slave into man’s owner and master, and that suddenly informs us that we have invented ecocides as well as large-scale famine.”

Yes, Hegel returns with a bang at the end of this passage, but what is important (and concerns us) is the word “ecocides,” which is precisely what Bush can be accused of committing in New Orleans. Humanity’s next big step is to make a criminal law against this 21st century form of mass murder.