GLOBAL CAPITAL LOOKS IN THE MIRROR
All right, after a light schedule during post season baseball, Scission returns with a Theoretical Monday that is questionable as to whether or not it qualifies as such.
Have you noticed that since the original panic in the USA that Ebola was going to suddenly erupt here in full force has subsided somewhat so has the media coverage? Interesting. What has really fallen by the wayside is any real coverage of the epidemic which continues in West Africa. The media and the American people in general seem intent on returning to what they consider the state of normalcy - Africans die in Africa, so what. Ugh.
For months one of the things I have been trying to drive home is that the plague of Ebola in Africa is really also the scourge of global capital. Finally, a few others are also taking up the "cause." Not many, mind you, but a few every now and then. I find it oddly disheartening though that many on the left who do so, do so with their own particular agenda in mind.
Whatever, maybe I am just paranoid. Something is better than nothing.
Back in 2012, though, the authors of a review of Ebola outbreaks in Africa concluded, according to Mongabay that,
...extensive deforestation and human activities in the depth of the forests may promote contact between humans and natural reservoirs of the Ebola virus.
I think a bunch of us had already concluded that as obvious, but it was nice that someone picked up on it.
Deforestation and the kind of industrial farming which has become a hallmark of global capital cannot help but be identified as a contributing, a big contributing, factor in the current Ebola outbreak. As Food Poisoning Bulletin writes:
The global palm oil industry has been deep-cutting into forests; this helps spread pathogens by opening areas formerly untouched to human exploration. And land grabs force animals out of forests where they come into more frequent contact with humans...These changes lead to something called an Allee effect, which occurs when changes in one part of the ecology cause populations in equilibrium to shift, increasing the chances that diseases affecting those populations will spill over to other animals and to people. Other diseases such as Dengue Fever have spread through deforestation, which forced animals out of their natural habitat. The virus then quickly adapted to secondary hosts and made the jump to humans.
Throw into the mix the wreck that is known as the health care system (a system destined for disaster by a history of colonialism, imperialism, and more) in Western Africa, and well, golly gee, what do you get, you think?
The wars, the violence which have caused such havoc in the countries now most effected by Ebola, of course, also a result largely of the agenda of global capital, have all but destroyed the infrastructure which might have helped prevent the rapid spread of the Ebola virus. Least, anyone forget, August H. Nimtz, a professor of political science and African American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota, wishes to remind us this is something not left in the past:
In recent decades, in the name of fighting wasteful government spending and corruption, international lending agencies such as the International Monetary Fund have demanded as a condition for getting new funding African governments must reduce their spending. African elites have willingly agreed to do so with resulting cuts in healthcare and education—helping to create the perfect storm for the Ebola virus.
Meanwhile, and perhaps to repeat myself, this epidemic was helped along its way by the paths opened by logging and extractive industries like bauxite mining, which have deforested large swathes of the region. Henrietta l. Moore writes:
This massacre of the natural environment has reduced biodiversity and pushed the remaining fauna into closer contact with humans. So the fruit bats forced out of former rainforest are now seeking food from human settlements – and becoming food themselves, with the disastrous consequences we are now seeing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is thought that Ebola is “introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals…”
And we already know that the risk doesn’t only come from so-called “bushmeat” – intensive animal husbandry and battery farming can produce the same results, as we have seen with the avian and swine flus of recent years.
These diseases not only kill people, they also devastate the productive bases of economies. The World Bank has already estimated that the economic cost of Ebola to the countries of west Africa could be as high as $32.6bn (£20.2bn) by the end of 2015. But for fragile economies already teetering on the brink, this represents an incalculable human catastrophe.
We have to face up to the fact that as we are making increasing demands on habitats and exploiting animals more intensively for foodstuffs, the risk of zoonotic infections will increase....
...The fact that the global north is only now responding in earnest serves only to highlight the general indifference with which it regards the spread of infectious diseases in Africa. In fact, however, we have a lot to learn from those countries – the DRC, Nigeria and Senegal – which have already succeeded in containing the virus, despite their limited healthcare and sanitary infrastructure.
But now should also be a time for some soul-searching. If we choose to acknowledge it, we can discern that Ebola and diseases like it are the product of a global economic model that is destructive and exploitative to the point of creating serious risks to human health – from possible pandemics, but also the ongoing effects of man-made climate change.
Again, Ebola – like HIV, anthrax, , and other pandemics of recent years – is a zoonotic virus, one that has crossed from animals to humans. Thus, many turn their eyes to the poor fruit bat. Come on, world, we're going to blame our problems on a bunch of bats. I like the way DeeAnn Reeder, a bat researcher at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania puts it,
Bats get a bad rap. Really, the problem is not so much with the bats -- they've had these viruses for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. Everything was fine until we started cutting down forests and encroaching on their habitats.
Seriously a bat researcher gets it, so how come CNN does not. Evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace does though:
...what's happened in the last 30 years has been a fundamental shift in that kind of forestry. And we see increasingly, in the whole entire region, increasing commoditization of the crops that are being grown there. So Liberia, for instance, since World War II, has established a kind of open-door policy by which multinationals can come in and conduct mining and logging and agroindustrial cropping...Liberia is in essence--has turned into something of a land rush for multinationals. About a third of the country's land surface is dedicated to being leased or owned by multinationals. Another 15 percent is to be given to these companies. So, I mean, we're talking about nearly 50 percent of the country has been given way to multinationals for resource production. I mean, you can imagine if the United States [incompr.] given to companies from elsewhere. And it's all being cut down. The forest is being deforested. The mines are being opened. The land has been dedicated to growing monocrop, monocultural crops. And that has a fundamental effect on the ecology of the region. And, indeed, pathogens are part of that ecology. Guinea, in which ostensibly the first outbreak occurred, has only recently joined that kind of--or participated in that kind of land use. So while you had the traditional agroforestry happening in the Guinea Forest, within the last few years it's been opened up to more of an industrial production.
Back to bats, Wallace adds:
Well, the scientists have pretty much concluded that there are three bat species that are in all likelihood the reservoir of Ebola. And those species, their host range extend from deep in the Congo all the way as far west as Guinea and Liberia. Those countries represent kind of the western edge of these bats' traditional habitat. And so they have been traveling in the forest for thousands of years, and they in all likelihood have had situations, just probably even circumstances, in which Ebola has spilled over from these bats into other animals, including gorillas and chimps [inaud.]
But what happens when you cut into the forest: it puts the bats on notice that they'd better change their mind about where to get their food. And bats aren't stupid. Even if you cut down the forest, they're not going to curl up and die. They're very smart, and they make a decision to go where the food is being grown. And that food, of course, is the crops that we raise. And so they have a particular affinity for some crops over others. And I think the example that we give is that of oil palm.
And oil palm, the bats love it. It provides them protection. It provides them the fruit that they can eat. It provides them with wide spaces between the trees that permit them to fly from their roosting sites to their foraging areas. And so, in essence, these bats are attracted to oil palm. And as the forest is cut down to grow more and more oil palm, that increases the interface between bats that are reservoirs for Ebola and the humans that are harvesting the oil palm.
I got to tell you, this fellow Wallace is on to something.
So it's not merely a matter of deforestation by the local villagers. There's a broader economic context that is changing the way the forest is being expropriated and used. And that, in turn, changed the way the local agroecology and the way the various animals and humans are interacting with each other. So it in essence weakened the notion that neoliberalism is as much a part of the story or in fact may be a much more important part of the story than any local culinary practices.
Neoliberalism, as many of your listeners may know, is in essence capitalism with the gloves off. It means reducing the barriers for foreign companies to come in and engage in local trade and production, removes tariffs on those companies. It moves subsidies that local farm cooperatives are given. It basically opens up local farmers to the onslaught of global competition. In addition to that, it reduces the investment by way of structural adjustment, the investment in public health and in animal health. So you have a mechanism by which the forest is increasingly exploited, the foods that are produced are actually produced for export economy, and the locals, who had previously been able to feed themselves and engage in full employment, are thrown out of work, and that puts the pressure on them to find food for their families, which includes, increasingly, hunting animals in the forest.
...And it's my viewpoint that many public health researchers are in a position to receive the benefits of not talking about this work, this possibility. I mean, in essence we're directing our attention to the prime directives around which civilization currently is organized. If indeed the entire world is engaged in this kind of neoliberal globalization, to put the onus on the emergence of a pathogen that could potentially kill millions of people is indeed a serious indictment of the most basic practices of our civilization.
The way we run our economy is we run it as if ecology doesn't exist except as a source of resources, and a source of resources which will last forever, that provides everything we possibly need, and economy comes down to supply and demand. Unfortunately, in the course of destroying the environment, there are all sorts of costs that accumulate. Some of these costs, as many of your listeners know and many of your viewers know, extend to the climate change. They extend to pollution. They extend to unemployment. They extend to the effects on the animals that are raised, if we're talking about agriculture. And so there are all these external costs. And the reason why they're called external costs is because the companies who produce these costs are able to externalize them onto the public, onto the taxpayer, onto local governments.
And I believe Ebola is an example of one of those external costs. In the course of razing the forest to produce commodity palm oil, we end up producing a pathogen with the potential to kill millions. And that is a kind of economy that I think is increasingly being looked upon as something that we can no longer engage in. And we can no longer engage in trying to separate ecology from economy or economy from ecology. Those two things interpenetrate with each other, and we can't separate them out. So we have to move toward more of an economy that can integrate the effects of our production on and consumption on local ecologies.
Come on Rob, just spit it out. We have to get rid of global capital. We have to get rid of a system based on profit, accumulation, destruction of the environment, expansion, and war...a system which feeds the rich and tosses the rest of us in the trash. We have to replace Capitalism with, gasp, communism - a communism which, as you say must, "integrate the effects of our production on and consumption on local ecologies." This must be a communism that does not bow down to production. This must be a communism not from the top down, but from the bottom up. This must be a communism not of the elite intellectuals, not of the Party, but of the multitude. This must be a communism committed to direct democracy, committed to a new world, committed to finally the real emancipation (and all that means) of the working and poor people of the globe. Isn't that what we are talking about here.
So let us turn our attention back where it belongs to West Africa where the legacy of capitalism, imperialism, global capital, and Empire are creating a new kind of killing field for a new kind of world.
The following excellent piece is from Pambazuka News.
The Naked Class Politics of Ebola
by James Robb
“The Ebola catastrophe is as much a product of the global capitalist crisis as are the carnage in Syria and Iraq.”
“The bourgeois response to the epidemic has been notable for its numb indifference to the death and suffering.”
“The bourgeois response became a lot noisier when the first cases of Ebola were diagnosed in the imperialist countries.”
“Panic has been consciously whipped up in big-business press coverage and statements by the authorities.”
“When I'm passing, people I know say, 'don't come near me'!” Jusson said. He looked skyward for a moment before continuing: “I try to explain to them. If we don't volunteer to do this, there'll be nobody to bury the dead bodies because all of us will be infected.”
“The proletarian response to the Ebola crisis is exemplified by the unselfish actions of the West African health workers.”
“We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defense of one of us.”“We know also that this was a popular action in Cuba. We are aware that those who fought and died in Angola were only a small proportion of those who volunteered. For the Cuban people internationalism is not merely a word but something that we have seen practiced to the benefit of large sections of humankind.”