John Locke lost a lot of luster in my estimation as I read the other night that he was a major philosophical contributor to the ethic of profit at all costs. The origin of capitalism (and modern science) is largely attributed to John Locke’s time, the Enlightenment, which began about 400 years ago in Europe. I’m reading a book by Eugene McCarraher called The Attractions of Mammon: How Capitalism became the Religion of Modernity. Capitalism actually goes back well before the Enlightenment to the days when commercial cities were gaining power at the end of the Feudal period. The rise of capitalism seems to be concurrent with the rise of money as a value in and of itself. Locke said in his Second Treatise, “’tis labour that puts the difference of value on everything,” and he later indicates that money is his final standard of valuation. He says further that an English “improved” acre is worth a thousand “unimproved” acres held by Native Americans, that is, acres that have not been developed to yield a monetary profit. Left without attention to “His [God’s] business,” land that “hath no improvement….is called, as indeed it is, a waste.”
That pretty much says it all for me in looking for the philosophical basis for the predicament we’ve gotten ourselves in today. Land or any other resource that can’t be developed to produce a monetary profit is of no value. We should be able to see that Trump’s narcissistic approach to everything is really not much different from the way our civilization looks at the world. Monetary value is the one thing that appropriates anything in this world exclusively for human use, and everything else is simply not on our radar.
We are now talking about putting 30% of the land as well as 30% of the ocean into nature reserves. This is a really welcome discussion, but I believe it is going to be really hard for us to allow resources to be “abandoned” and “wasted.” The extent that we can move forward with this will be an indicator of how much our awareness has evolved to incorporate the rest of the natural world, its own ends being our ends also.
We know that the rest of the non-human natural world is crucial for our existence, but we really haven’t internalized it yet. We still think that we are sacrificing something that part of us still thinks is rightfully ours, (“ours” being property of humans as exclusive to the rest of nature). Someone has monetized the natural services, those provided to us by nature at no cost whatever nor attention on our part— oxygen, water, soil, food, and energy—at about $26 trillion/year. We are so infatuated with our technological prowess that we like to think we can, and will, control nature and provide those needs in the quantities and frequencies that suit us, even though the cost in labor and resources would be astronomical if it were possible at all. Alternatively, we will have to admit that we must submit to limits and constraints placed upon us by our natural world. The absurdity of the former option is finally beginning to sink in.
We are beginning to realize that further degrading the natural world is having repercussions for the survivability of humans. From the documentary Seaspiracy, we have this example. In the town of Taigi in Japan they annually corral dolphins. The documentary said something to the effect that they are capturing them for entertainment facilities, but, in fact, they kill most of them. The reason they kill them is because the dolphins are eating bluefin tuna. There are only 3% of them left of their preindustrial population. Never mind that the scarcity of the tuna is predominately caused by human overfishing. These magnificent 300 lb. fish are now outrageously profitable: $3 million each! For Mitsubishi, the biggest player in this game, cutting back on the catch is unthinkable. Ultimately, if we keep killing off these apex predators, the fish they feed on will wipe out the smaller fish they feed on, and so on. The ultimate result is the collapse of the whole ecosystem and starvation for everybody.
It is theorized that the mere presence and activity of fish in the ocean sequesters carbon and circulates nutrients through the entire water column. These nutrients feed the phytoplankton that produce most of the oxygen we breathe—no fish, no phytoplankton, no oxygen. At the current rate, it is estimated that there will be no fish in 30 years. It is only the inescapable logic of this and other similar scenarios that will bring us kicking and screaming into the natural family of Earth.
Every economic or political decision we make from here on out has to include input from the rest of nature. If a proposal makes impossible demands on our natural systems, then nature should be able to veto it. Only when the rights of nature are fully and equally represented in our legal system will we be able to achieve sustainability, not exclusively on human terms but on Earth’s terms.