Hierarchy: is it the main cause of our ecological crisis?

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It all started in the mid-20th century: Murray Bookchin, an anarchist theorist and former Marxist, began to develop a framework called “Social Ecology” as a way to understand how the environmental disaster has its origins in hierarchy. Is he right?

“We can start building new tools for a democratic and ecological society
once we understand hierarchy as the central problem.”
Social ecology and the environmental crisis
According to the Symbiosis Research Collective, we can start building new tools for a democratic and ecological society once we understand hierarchy as the central problem. Social ecology recognizes that the destruction of our environment is not some natural, vicious drive of humanity, but something that emerges from the very inequalities created by hierarchy.
Hierarchy creates a class at the top with particular interests of its own, distinct from those of the rest of human society and the environment from which they emerge, and with the power to pursue those interests against the will of those below. Hierarchy thus facilitates environmental destruction by allowing a small group of elites to pursue their own wealth through exploiting both lower human classes and the rest of nature without accountability or consequences (at least not for them). Bookchin also argued that it was through the domination of one another that we could even conceive of striving to dominate nature.
“We know that we must address hierarchy in all its forms—
not just capitalism and the State, but also racism, patriarchy,
and other systems created by unequal divides.”
The role of capitalism in worsening inequality and hierarchy
Capitalism is simply the most recent form of this basic dynamic. Capitalism and its structural imperative for growth are fundamentally incompatible with ecological sustainability. And without economic democracy, the vast majority of people who do not own capital have no power to change this course within the present system. Many eco-socialists recognise this, but what social ecology brings to the table is the understanding that hierarchy itself is the enemy of our relationship with nature and the rest of the living world.
If the problem is hierarchy, rather than a few bad actors or industries, then band-aid policies like carbon trading, individual consumer purity, and green technology are—surface-level tinkering that will not alter the basic structures of our society that are eroding the biosphere. We know that we must address hierarchy in all its forms—not just capitalism and the state, but also racism, patriarchy, and other systems created by unequal divides among humans, and between humans and the many others with whom we share our common home. Guided by hierarchy as the central problem, we can start building new tools for a democratic and ecological society.
“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need
but not enough for every man’s greed”
Is Gandhi’s Swadeshi the solution?
Gandhi believed that mass production, with its vertically integrated enterprises and inherent tendencies to centralize economic power and monopolize markets, would have dire consequences for humanity. The consequence, for instance, of such a control of power would be that we would be dependent on that power for light, water, even air, and so on. That would be terrible. According to Mahatma Gandhi, the problem was not only the centralized power. Mass production was designed to use more sophisticated machines to produce more goods with less labor and at a cheaper cost. He reasoned that if all countries adopted the system of mass production (as it is happening now), there would not be a big enough market for their products (see overcapacity in China’s steel industry).
Gandhi's insight was very simple: “bring work to the people and not people to the work!” This model, which he called Swadeshi is based on local production by the masses in their own homes and neighborhoods. Gandhi fervently believed that production and consumption must be reunited. Gandhi’s philosophy emphasized decentralized economic production in self-sufficient local communities; the pursuit of craft labor over industrial-machine labor. For Gandhi, the antidote to rampant economic exploitation and greed is a self-less commitment to community. He wrote: ‘The village Swaraj is a complete republic, independent of its neighbors for its own vital wants, and yet interdependent for many others which dependence is a necessity.’
The studies started by Murray Bookchin and now continued by the Symbiosis Research Collective show that the way our society is organized and the principles on which it is based can highly affect our relationship with Nature and the rest of life on Earth. The current societal structure is a hierarchical one and according to Murray it is the main cause of the ecological crisis. Moreover, the several studies conducted by Oxfam International show that inequality is increasing over time: we are in a vicious circle were the richest become richer ant the poorest become poorer. The richest have the power to pursue their own self-interest without thinking of the common good. The answer? It was given by Gandhi. We need self-independent States, communities. Globalization must be rational, but the power must be in the hand of communities, they will take care of their own natural world.
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Dario Ruggiero,
LTEconomy, 29 April 2018
The full article on Social Ecology
The Symbiosis Research Collective
This article was written by Katie Horvath (@katesville7), Mason Herson-Ford (@mason_h2), and Aaron Vansintjan (@a_vansi).
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