In the book “Peace with the Earth” from 1940 Elisabeth Tamm and Elin Wägner suggests that peace on Earth must come from a new peaceful relation with the Earth.
If there is a need to make peace with the Earth, does it mean that we are not really part of Earth? If we have created a conflict, it must be from an external position. Nature is external to the human being.
It is a Western concept of nature, that it is external to the human being, and it takes shape around the beginning of the 17th century, where new philosophical and economic theory reasoned that man’s mission was to dominate nature with science and mechanical arts in order to fulfil the journey that God planned for humans since the Garden of Eden. The land had to be improved and improving it meant to make sure that profit could be gained from it. Nature was a wild external thing, occupied by daemons and witches and savages. So called “civilized” men had to dominate it in order to fulfil God’s creation. So the man that could efficiently mechanize the use of the land and render it profitable had the moral right to claim it as private property.
These arguments were used to justify the ownership and abuse of land that had always belonged to itself and to everybody. But also, non the least, the arguments were used as a justification for colonialism and imperial domination. Native populations in colonized land areas didn’t seek commercial profit from nature and it was said that they let the land go to waste and therefor had no right to it. When a white man appropriated the indigenous land to himself in order to systematically extract its resources for profit, it was said that he gave something to humanity by increasing the value of the land.
Money is the thing you need if you want to put land and property specifically in your name. Where does the money come from? This is the National Bank of Denmark but only a small part of the money in the Danish Society is created here. It is the private banks that have been given the power to type in a number and turn it into land and buildings and machinery. In these private institutions money is created every time the bank gives a loan. It is a common assumption that banks are able to give out loans because they already have the money – that they simply function as a link between people who have money in their bank account and people who need money in their bank account. It turns out that the banks do not need to be in possession of the money before they can lend them out. They just type in a number in your account and from thin air, like magic, the money materialize and become whatever you buy with them. The bank will give a loan if the thing you want to buy is good business. If you want to buy land you must convince the bank that you will make it economically profitable. Just like in the 17th century the justification of what you want to do, comes with the economic profit you can gain from it.
To be driven by profit means that there is always a need for more. The market crashes, panics, collapses if it isn’t constantly growing. Just 3 % more this year than last year. A 3% growth rate means that the global economy doubles every 25 years. It was around 10 trillion dollars in 1950, then by 1975 it was more than 20 trillion dollars which was already the limit of what this planet can sustain. Still it went up to 40 trillion dollars in 2000. This is in 2025. And 2050. Going up on an exponential curve, 3%growth every year breaks imaginable dimensions.
The force that allows this accumulation to take place is overpowering and destructive and certainly greater than no one individual human being. But bankers, politicians and the financial elite could perhaps be thought of as magicians: the disciples of the force who perform the rituals to guide and maintain it.
In literature and popular culture, the source of magic often occurs as a force of nature. The magician must develop a deeper knowledge to uphold balance. To only take something when it is needed and never more than what can be regenerated. At least that would be the difference between good and evil magic.
Right around the time when capitalism originated, thousands of women were accused of being witches and burned at the stake. Maybe what these so-called witches possessed, was not the mysterious force of magic, but simply knowledge about balance and sustainability and the natural environment that they were a part of. Knowledge that had to be destroyed for a profit-driven logic to take over every aspect of society.
Once nature was severely oppressed, came the era of Romanticism. Nature was no longer demonized but idolized. Humans had taken a step away from nature and now looked back at it in amazement. However you don’t give something power by romanticizing it. Rather, you further increase its oppression by characterizing its existence as part of your own fantasy. So it was with external nature as with the oppression of women and of “exotic” foreign cultures – objects of conquest and penetration. When their social domination is secured, they are put on a pedestal.
The Western concept of nature is in conflict with itself. Nature is considered external, but still a universal concept of nature is relied upon. A universal nature is one that counts for everything and everybody and is both within and around us. Think about things that are considered normal: the argument for why they should stay that way, is often that it is the natural way. Often we are told that we cannot strive for an economic system that is not based on greed, because greed is human nature. How can nature be both removed from us and within us? This dualism is a sign that the Western concept of nature is not shaped to make sense in and of itself, but to be used as an ideological and political tool.
This ideology drives Western entrepreneurs and consumers to act according to the laws of market competition with the motivation of both rightfulness and dignification: It gives us the right to take what we want from nature because it places nature outside of ourselves, but also describes a universal nature that gives accumulation of wealth the dignified purpose of being a natural condition or human nature.
The philosophical and economic theorists of the 17th century described the dignification as “God’s will” and today, a work-ethical moralism still grants a higher purpose to those that contribute to a more efficient and profitable production-process. To those that have success.
Leaving your mark on things, being remembered. This is how we know succession. This is how we imagine that one thing follows after another. By monuments and great achievements. The things that remain are the things that didn't decompose - Therefor we write our history based on the sources of the non-organic. Linearity, monuments, the sharpness of weapons. Stone and steel. Endless growth and expansion. Objects and events are monumentalized for their capability to generate profit. To find their position in the world according to consumer logic.
According to the same logic, nature is consumed as the image of nature. And in the very attempt of unification through our own image making, it becomes clearer how far we are separated. Falling in line with the production process, there is a tendency to accept that human presence is in opposition to the life of the planet. Maybe even to fantasize of the annihilation of the human species itself so that nature can restore itself.
But destroying the planet is not a “human” thing to do, it is connected specifically to one economic system that required expansion so swift that only setting fossils on fire would create an explosion efficient enough to kick it into effect - and spread over the globe.
Before that, for thousands of years, in myriads of diverse communities and civilizations, humans have lived and organized their survival without compromising the health of the planet. The fossil fuelled explosion of capitalism will leave nothing within human reach untouched. It requires full participation and makes sure to overpower any other form of human organizing.
Human control over nature didn’t start with capitalism. Ever since humans started to live in areas where natural resources were not always abundant, surplus had to be organized in preparation for times of scarcity. The things that have kept the human species alive is not sharp teeth or thick fur, but the ability to organize with the surrounding environment and its resources. If nature is fully in control, humans might freeze or starve. But with capitalism on the other hand, human control got out of control. Good organizing would not endanger the resources relied upon for survival.
There is no question of “going back to nature”. It is a matter of taking responsibility for the human position. A position that is not removed from nature. Or within nature. But with nature. To organize in a way where the central value is not power or profit, but human need fulfilled within the boundaries of the planet and in exchange with its ecosystem.
Parts of this text functions as a voiceover for a video of the same name, exhibited at Delfi in 2020.