Q&A Session with Arundhati Roy at SOAS

Disappearing World Forum Q&A Session with Arundhati Roy, held at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, 2013

One could write a never-ending book about all that is contained in and around this event so it will be difficult to write anything short here. I could say something romantic about ugliness and beauty, about the drama of our existence, of exploiter and the exploited, of greed and resistance to that greed. Or about the possibility that we humans are flawed in our very DNA and evolution and may never be capable of collective peace and goodwill to all. I could say history is never in the past. I could say ideology is profound, especially when it has almost unlimited power driving it into plastic labile minds. I could say capitalism is a fundamental threat to the survival of almost all living things – especially humans. I could say corporate neoliberal rule is designed to exacerbate the logic of capitalism which is ceaseless accumulation and the commodification of all things. Or I could focus on the institution and histories and ideologies and power relations that brought those specific questioners there at that particular time. Or I could focus on Arundhati and all she is representing and all the superlatives that would flow from there. All of the strength, intelligence, elegance, beauty, all of the eloquence, patience, and fortitude. Or I could point out her seeming prescience about our current state of affairs, which was actually a clear-eyed left analysis that has been on the right (correct) side of history for generations, along with common sense ideas like fairness, justice, right and wrong…and feelings, like passion and empathy. Well, the never-ending book won’t start now, so here ends this bit of thought and feeling, digitized, and published for those few who will come across it.


Earthships. Think outside the box. Positive futures. [video]

In many ways, the idea and reality of earthships is the ultimate object lesson.  Earthships were developed to answer key problems we face as a species in a consumer capitalist society and now they exist as a model for dealing with some of its waste in a sustainable, life affirming way.  Mike faced serious opposition in bringing his vision into reality.  Some of that struggle is detailed in the documentary Garbage Warrior. It gives a glimpse into how reactionary and punishing the establishment can be in the form of city and state forces when they are faced with anything outside the status quo.

Though he has made amazing progress in New Mexico and all over the world, the fact remains that poor people and many working people in the so-called developed world still lack the resources to do it for themselves.  It seems that lesson is becoming more and more clear to him, especially after the last manufactured crisis and his experiences in Haiti.  He has developed a much lower cost alternative, but the barriers to achieving even a low cost earthship remain too high for most people and there is still overwhelming state resistance to these ideas.

It’s important to understand the connection between the state and corporations.  As our lives become more corporatized and privatized every day, corporate control over states increases, and vice versa.  That guarantees resistance to projects like earthships will grow because the corporation – and increasingly the state – will see them as a direct threat to corporate profit and taxes.

That understanding and knowledge has to go hand-in-hand for anyone involved or interested in alternatives to consumer capitalism.  You cannot simply withdraw into alternative communities because there is no escape in the long term from the totalizing logic of capitalism.  In fact, regardless of what you’re interested in, if you’re interested in you and your children and their children continuing to live, you will have to confront those forces.

The logic of capitalism commodifies everything.  Increasingly, we can see the absurd and horrific endpoint of that logic in corporations buying up and controlling the thing we cannot live without: water.  They have been taking over utilities, and then selling the water we should own collectively back to us.  Bechtel tried it in Bolivia with pure neoliberal tactics.  Detroit, ravaged by neoliberal high-finance, is shutting off water to its most vulnerable populations.  And now water is under attack in Ireland, again through corporate led neoliberal tactics.   The other side of this coin is the poisoning of our water by corporations involved in fracking and other heavy industrial projects.

Corporate capital is the most powerful force that has ever existed in history and we have to fight it if we hope to sustain any practices that inherently challenge its domination.  This is a system that will not hesitate to cut off your source of life if it deems you a non-productive consumer.  It is a system that is actively working to make citizens into helpless consumers and eliminate humans from the production process or move location and employ de facto slave labor to increase profit.  They did it through states using legal mechanisms like NAFTA, and now the TPP/TTIP is the next stage in that process.  We can see how this decimated whole cities like Flint and Detroit, and now that same logic will work to eliminate the low paying service jobs it left in its wake.

Brilliant ideas like the earthship are beautiful and practical, but they are doomed to reservations and individual projects for people with wealth and education if we don’t organize to fight the domination of corporate capital in all aspects of our lives.