The modern world of capitalism and globalization provides a framework for each member of the global community to follow. The idea of progress, scientific advancements, and the humanity’s dominance over nature pertain to the capitalist approach. However, whereas scientific progress and the advent of technology represent the positive aspects of capitalism, consumerism and overall consumerist attitude towards nature are valid signs of a destructive character of the capitalist system.
The Role of Nature and Environment in a Capitalist World
The capitalist worldview contains a certain notion of the environment. The approach to nature is closely intertwined with consumerism, ensuring, therefore, that nature is not only a sphere that has to be dominated by humanity but also to be subject to calculation. To this end, nature becomes a domain where it is necessary to identify and estimate the profits that the humanity can gain from natural resources. Thus, in the capitalist framework, a consumerist approach to nature is evident. The environment and natural resources have become a commodity that can easily be sold and bought. Harvey cites a quote, “We abuse land because we see it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use with love and respect.”1
Harvey poses a question regarding money in a capitalist society, i.e. the value that the humanity puts on nature and whether ecological/environmental politics could be coupled with socialist politics and transformed into a non-destructive relationship. The author attempts to answer the question why humanity strives to put value on nature and involve it in the process of monetary exchange. He affirms that, in our capitalist society, money is, indeed, the principal way of communication between the various domains, the main language that is employed to regulate these relationships. The modern environmental discourse, as seen in the capitalist framework, is aimed at regarding nature as an enterprise that can either bring profit or lead to significant losses.
While Harvey’s point is valid, it is necessary to examine the issue from a critical point of view. As the author points outs, money has become the community in our society, leading the humanity to believe it is charged with the task of extracting value from anything it sees around it. The tendency to view the environment as a commodity led us to grave environmental problems that the planet faces today. Thus, this consumerist approach exhibited by the society is, in itself, destructive, as it results in the depletion of natural resources, great damage caused to the environment, and other serious repercussions that have become burning issues for the global community. Unless the humanity modifies its approach, the generations to come will face serious ecological problems. The tendency to consider nature as a source of profit is destructive, as it does no account for the fact that humanity also constitutes a part of nature. However, Harvey also emphasizes that the capitalist system does not consider environmental catastrophes as an indicator of the inappropriate approach humanity undertakes, but rather as an opportunity for gaining additional profit.2
The Issue of Humanity
Since the industrial revolution with the recent rapid technological progress, human society has been observed to change significantly. Harvey points out that the modern society exhibits certain traits of a “culture of barbarism”3 that has penetrated all dimensions of our lives, including the routine level of everyday life. The author emphasizes the tendency in the modern popular culture to humanize the technological aspects of our lives, probably in order to compensate for the exacerbated violence and a lack of compassion that human beings display. Harvey quotes Gorz and his idea concerning the issue of work in a capitalist society. As the capitalist system is based on the idea of various types of capital, including human, social, and equity capital, the notion of work is essential. In a strictly economic sense, however, the idea of work neglects the human aspect of the issue. Working must be seen not only as a way to increase profit but as a way for people to develop their humanity. Harvey poses a question, “Can the violence of technical culture be transcended?”4 indicating the problem at hand.
The culture of violence and consumerism has influenced human beings a great deal, not to mention that the very notion of humanity has been left out of context and given no attention during the development of technology and consumerist society. Despite the fact that science and the advent of technology were a means of ensuring that people would not have to work hard, with machines laboring in their stead, free time of every member of society is seen as a menace to the capitalist system. To this end, our time free of work has been subject to incessant consumption of goods and entertainment, which has left virtually no possibility of self-development and personal growth. Thus, the system of capitalism in its social dimension led to the modification of humanity in its essence. Ethics and morality are virtually nonexistent in the capitalist world ruled by the need to make as much profit as possible. What does it mean to be human? What sort of people would we like to be? What kind of life would we like to lead? These questions remain unanswered, as well as ignored, in the capitalist framework. As a result, humanity is an issue that poses significant problems.
Shiva describes the problem in a rather radical way, by saying “it has killed our humanity”5, suggesting that the capitalism-based economy is to blame. The author also emphasizes the role that capitalism plays in restricting our freedom in a way that is barely noticeable. Self-perpetuating consumerism is used to curb our desire to live in a way that would be responsible concerning the environment, the development and growth of our own character. Exploitation of nature and human capital is the hallmark of the contemporary capitalist system, aimed at increasing the number of people immersed in the culture of consumption. The latter is a highly effective way to minimize the society’s possibility to reflect on the lives each individual is leading, to become aware of the threats that capitalism poses.
Thus, the culture of consumption causes great damage to our human nature. Increasingly “cheap” production of goods is a manner of luring us into the system and making us feel comfortable and secure, whereas it is but an illusion aimed at maintaining the stability of the capitalist system. Our work is meant to increase our purchasing power and continue buying an increasingly vast amount of pointless products so that the questions related to ethics and morality do not trouble us. Therefore, the humanity finds itself on the brink of losing its human face by neglecting the most important aspect of human beings’ lives. Shiva emphasizes that the word consumption was used to refer to tuberculosis in the middle ages, which was a fatal disease at the time. Nowadays, consumption has not entirely changed its meaning. The disease is most commonly referred to as TB, whereas people continue dying of consumption on a global scale. The capitalist system turns each of us into a passive, unaware consumer who is blinded by the consumerist values. Thus, humanity is under considerable threat. The issue can be addressed by refusing to participate in the consumerist practices and choosing a path of our own. As both humanity and the environment are under threat, the problem has gained global significance.
The Menace of Globalization
Globalization is a hallmark of our time. The capitalist system makes use of this phenomenon on an unprecedented scale. Nixon links globalization to the idea of slow violence, the latter being a type of violence that is dispersed throughout time and space.6 Slow violence has the most disastrous influence on the poor, not to mention the environment as a whole. However, the events of September 11, 2001, among others, which represent a more evident and visible form of violence, prevent many people from understanding the menace of slow violence. The latter, acting in a slow manner, is a threat that is far more significant to all humankind and the planet as a whole.
Nixon emphasizes the role of literary work in addressing the problem, i.e. writer-activists who can modify the global society’s understanding of violence and especially its slow form.7 By means of writing, activists can pique our interest and draw our attention to the problem of slow violence, environmentalism of the poor, and contribute to the socio-environmental change that is crucial in the current situation. Another crucial problem Nixon pinpoints is the society’s tendency to doubt the graveness of environmental problems, e.g. to doubt whether experts talking about climate change and its repercussions are actually telling the truth.
Globalization contributes to the ongoing spread of slow violence, exacerbating its consequences to the point of no return in many cases, particularly in the case of third world countries. Shiva describes globalization in a radical way, emphasizing that it is the source of economic terrorism and even a war on the poor, leading to insecurity and exclusion.8 Globalized efforts of the international corporations are aimed at gaining as much profit as possible, to spread the culture of consumption to every corner on Earth. The results of these actions are catastrophic, including the rise of terrorism. Shiva writes, “The war against terror becomes a war against people fighting the terror of globalization”.9 By spreading consumerism and exploiting natural and human resources in the underdeveloped countries worldwide, global corporations turn people into dispensable objects that are redundant in the globalized capitalist framework. Based on this, Shiva claims that “humanity defines itself through its inhumanity”10.
Shiva suggests a solution to the problem: developing the idea of earth democracy. The latter would focus on the human element of the political system, centering on human beings as a viable part of the environment. Such an approach would allow managing the disastrous repercussions that capitalism and globalization have brought upon the planet. The political action indicated by Shiva is crucial in order to curb the power or global corporations and focus on the human rights, as well as on the environmental problems. The proposed solution would also help manage the overwhelming power of consumerism that has led humanity to exhibit inhuman qualities. The author emphasizes the need to develop living economies, democratic systems, and cultures that would be environmentally aware, as well as conscious of their own role in the environment. Humanizing the globalization is crucial in order to address the discussed issues. The damage caused by the capitalist system can be managed by adopting the approach suggested by Shiva.
Self-Destructive Character of Capitalism
All the points mentioned above shape a rather dark image of capitalism. The frameworks that this system is based on are prone to self-destruction, as it neglects and exploits the very element that constitutes its essence, i.e. human capital and environment. The catastrophes such as Chernobyl or Hiroshima indicate the fatal state of the current system. However, the indications go unnoticed and lead to more casualties. Nixon emphasizes that the survivors of such disastrous events often find themselves rather invisible and marginalized as the inevitable proof of the pressing problems that capitalism does not want to acknowledge.11 Moreover, the author demonstrates that the global capitalist politics exhibit a tendency of creating local disasters that lead to causing severe damage to the least privileged, i.e. the poor and the regions the most depleted in resources.12 As a result, capitalism destroys the very element it affirms to protect, which is the human capital, especially in vulnerable regions of the world. It is not difficult to draw a logical conclusion that capitalism exhibits clear traits of a self-destructive character.
Nixon also elaborates on the notion of “unimagined communities” and the idea of a “developmental refugee” that are inevitably linked to globalization, capitalism, and the technological progress. In the case of technological development of certain regions, ironically, people have become the principal obstacles to the spread of progress. Inhabitants become uninhabitants in certain regions, which is backed by statistical data.13
Tsing describes technological advancement and progress as the main cause of our interpretation of humanity as a dominant power on the planet.14 Moreover, in such a context, humans are humans only due to the technological progress, which means that all the other species are thereby delineated, isolated from human beings. Such an approach presupposes that human beings are not part of nature but are meant only to conquer and dominate it. This attitude is explicitly embedded in consumerist and capitalist values, making it impossible to build a global society that would be environmentally aware and would cause damage neither to themselves and others nor to the environment. The concept of assemblages used by Tsing allows the author to demonstrate the potential pattern to develop, as thinking of society as an assemblage means that the members of the society care not only about their own interests but also about the interests of other people. Moreover, Tsing emphasizes the global need to draw our attention to the problem of foresting that has become a burning issue over the years.15
Overall, we can clearly see that capitalism is a phenomenon of a destructive character. By exploiting natural and human resources, the capitalist system damages the environment, neglects basic humanistic values and ideas, transforms globalization into a severe menace, and brings chaos and harm to the most vulnerable places on Earth. It is clear that the situation can be improved by taking certain measures aimed at reinterpreting the idea of humanity and the position it occupies in the grand scheme of things. Human beings should no longer be seen as passive consumers isolated from the environment but as conscientious members of a living global community that cares about nature and environment.
Harvey, David. The Ways of the World. London: Profile Books, 2016.
Harvey, David. Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism. London: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011.
Shiva, Vandana. “Earth Democracy: Creating Living Economies, Living Democracies, Living Cultures.” South Asian Popular Culture 2, no. 1 (2004): 5-18.
Shiva, Vandana. “Earth Democracy: Beyond Dead Democracy and Killing Economies.” Capitalism Nature Socialism 21, no. 1 (2010): 83-95.
Tsing, Anna. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.
- David Harvey, The Ways of the World (London: Profile Books, 2016), 161.
- David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (London: Oxford University Press, 2014), 255.
- David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (London: Oxford University Press, 2014), 271.
- Ibid., 272.
- Vandana Shiva, “Earth Democracy: Beyond Dead Democracy and Killing Economies,” Capitalism Nature Socialism 21, no. 1 (2010): 93.
- Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 6.
- Ibid., 32.
- Vandana Shiva, “Earth Democracy: Creating Living Economies, Living Democracies, Living Cultures,” South Asian Popular Culture 2, no. 1 (2004): 5.
- Ibid., 7.
- Ibid., 9.
- Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011), 65.
- Ibid., 149.
- Ibid., 153.
- Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 21.
- Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 65.