Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Eco-capitalism, eco-socialism, and decolonization

Albert Einstein once said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

While I couldn't articulate why, I have been skeptical of movements such as eco-capitalism and eco-socialism for a long time. I have even been skeptical of the potential effectiveness of the Green New Deal. With my recent anti-racism learning I believe I've figured out an important missing piece in my own thinking.


I was stuck inside the bubble of a "western worldview", and could not figure out any way to effectively solve environmental problems within that bubble.


Bob Joseph, author of a few books I would recommend, provides a (very) simplified summary of some of the differences between indigenous peoples worldviews vs western worldviews. Those differences that are not directly related to our relationship with our environment have come up in other materials I've read/watched relating to anti-racism.

Indigenous worldviews (I) vs Western worldviews (W)


1.(I) Spiritually orientated society. System based on belief and spiritual world.
1.(W) Scientific, skeptical. Requiring proof as a basis of belief.

This area is more complex than the article had room for, given there hasn't been a bright line between Christianity and western philosophy or science given the common origins within the Roman Empire. What I have noticed is that western religious views tend towards the hierarchical, rather than spirituality coupled with non-interference we see in indigenous societies.

The Roman Catholic church has yet to repeal or even apologize for the Papal Bull "Inter Caetera," issued by Pope Alexander VI on May 4, 1493. This created the doctrine of discovery that resulted in the ongoing harm of colonialism against nations not previously subjects of a European Christian monarch. Not only has Canada not dealt with the harm from Christian run residential schools once they were finally closed, but Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario still offensively operate Catholic schools.

My own strong support of secularism comes from a rejection of the harmful influence that the foreign political hierarchy within many religions has often had on governance. I believe in spirituality, but not the imposition of a narrow experience of spirituality onto governance.

2.(I) There can be many truths; truths are dependent upon individual experiences.
2.(W) There is only one truth, based on science or Western style law.

The western belief in objectivity is discussed in the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo as one of the pillars of white supremacy.

There is a western claim that science is objective. While science provides a method of answering questions, what questions are asked and how observations are interpreted remain subjective. Indigenous science recognizes this, while western science does not and will regularly be oblivious to the biases of the scientist (or those directing and/or funding scientists to focus only on specific questions).

Western style law doesn't try to understand individual experience, but focuses on hierarchical enforced obedience built upon the monarchies the worldview formed from. This is finally being discussed in the west under the title of "Defund the Police", as there is a gradual recognition that enforced conformity is not a healthy way to organize a society.

I have noticed this same problem exists in capitalist societies as well as socialist/communist societies. While small communities can exercise capitalism and/or socialism without top-down oppression as there are other ways to maintain social cohesion, I've yet to see any example of these systems being scaled up without considerable problems with excessive and violent enforcement.

While some politicians in Ottawa have recognized there are "victims of communism" and even created a memorial in Ottawa, they have yet to recognize there are equally "victims of capitalism". Like asking a fish what water is, they are oblivious to the impacts.

3.(I) Society operates in a state of relatedness. Everything and everyone is related. There is real belief that people, objects and the environment are all connected. Law, kinship and spirituality reinforce this connectedness. Identity comes from connections.
3.(W) Compartmentalized society, becoming more so.

Today there is an "election" happening in the USA, the westernized part of which is so obviously compartmentalized that different ideological camps don't appear to exist on the same planet.

This isn't an accident, but what results when you build strongly hierarchical governance systems (so much economic and political power in the hands of so few), and treat people as consumers with some "entitlements" rather than as citizens with "responsibilities" to all relations. No matter who wins this election, that systemic problem will remain and the system will remain easily exploited by corrupt individuals. This systemic vulnerability has obvious environmental implications.


My mind has always been comfortable with everything being connected, which has made the computer networking part of my job easy. It has made talking to people about politics harder as most people consider different subject and policy areas as separate, and don't as easily see the "unintended consequences" of changes in one area on another. (IE: the IMO obvious impact of anti-circumvention legislation being added to "copyright" on the right-to-repair in agriculture or transportation).


4.(I) The land is sacred and usually given by a creator or supreme being.
4.(W) The land and its resources should be available for development and extraction for the benefit of humans.

This is similar to  (3), this relates to (7), as indigenous views recognize relations not only with fellow humans, but also animals and the land (water, air, etc). Just as some westerners consider human life and property rights to be sacred, indigenous consider more than humans to be sacred.

Start with this understanding of worldviews, and then read "a little lesson in the basics of economics" from Scott McLoed.

Westerners tend to treat land as having no inherent value, and thus don't believe they should have to provide adequate compensation for that value when they extract from land, or be barred from extraction beyond the carrying capacity of that land.

This has been my view of the energy sector in the prairies for as long as I can remember.  While prairie politicians constantly claim that sector has been the single largest contributor to Canada's economy, I believe it has been the single largest contributor to Canada's debt. Exploitation of the land beyond its carrying capacity is not wealth, but debt that will need to be paid down at some point in the future. The global climate crisis is only one example of where some of that debt repayment is due.

(See also:  Why I don't believe Alberta is bullied by extractive industries such as Big Oil )

5.(I) Time is non-linear, cyclical in nature. Time is measured in cyclical events. The seasons are central to this cyclical concept.
5.(W) Time is usually linearly structured and future orientated. The framework of months, years, days etc reinforces the linear structure.

Being future-oriented often also makes westerners unable to fix past problems caused by their worldviews, which they believe it has nothing to do with them. Canadians born here like to believe that any harm from colonialism has nothing to do with them, not understanding that colonialism is an ongoing project they are currently involved in.

6.(I) Feeling comfortable is measured by the quality of your relationships with people.
6.(W) Feeling comfortable is related to how successful you feel you have been in achieving your goals.

For many westerners this is synonymous with (8), where their primary goal is amassing wealth for personal gain.

7.(I) Human beings are not the most important in the world.
7.(W) Human beings are most important in the world.

This is obviously connected to environmentalism, as you are always fighting against western worldviews whenever trying to recognize any inherent value in anything that isn't human. It has even been hard to get some western thinkers to recognize the inherent value in other humans, or think of other humans as more than human resources to be exploited for personal gain.

8.(I) Amassing wealth is important for the good of the community
8.(W) Amassing wealth is for personal gain

And not surprisingly, the phrase "moderate livelihood" is only ever applied to indigenous treaty partners, and never Canadian or other foreign economic interests.

Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate in Economics, has written about this in the context of food security for a long time. We don't have a problem with the production of food, but the distribution of food. In other words, famine is closely linked to poverty and growing more food doesn't solve famine.

We have no shortage of prosperity in the world, but a problem with an inability of some (primarily westerners) to recognize the need to share. It is not the case that those who have amassed the most wealth did so by contributing the greatest value to the economy, but through exploiting seriously flawed economic policies. It is those policies which manufacture poverty and famine, and not the fault of any individual.

These are obvious flaws in Adam Smith's Capitalism (British economist, born in Scotland, authored "Wealth of Nations" in 1776) which Karl Marx's Socialism (German, born in 1818, published Das Kapital between 1867-1883) tried to account for and propose corrections. I do not, however, believe other problems caused by western worldviews can be corrected by remaining within a western worldview.

I have noticed that the most socialist thinking people I've ever had discussions with are not interested in living within our means, or having better more-than-human relations. They are narrowly focused on ensuring that the spoils of exploitation of non-humans are evenly distributed between humans. They try to make adjustments to who wealth is amassed for(8) without attempting to recognize that this is not the only critical flaw in western worldviews when it comes to attempting to build ecologically and socially sustainable societies.

I became familiar with eco-capitalist theories when I was involved in the Green Party (Ontario and Canada) in the 1990's, where much of the thinking came from the eco-capitalist German Green Party. While I was a strong believer in the 1990's, I've become more and more skeptical over the years. It felt to me that most of the ways in which eco-capitalism is flawed was shared with eco-socialism, and in fact the socialists seemed to want to increase the rate of non-human exploitation in order to raise what they considered to be the standard of living for all humans globally(7).

Eco-capitalists and eco-socialists will each try to merge environmental politics with their existing focus on human labour and other human activity(7). For them, the differentiating question is how great a separation there is between the owners of the means of production and labour(8).


What if instead of focusing on Europeans and their worldviews, we looked more closely at what peoples of the content that Europeans call "North America" learned before Adam Smith or Karl Marx were born? I believe we would end up with something that would not be as much in internal conflict, even if it had some overlap with thinking that was built upon western worldviews.

To be clear, I am not talking about going backwards in time. Peoples with indigenous worldviews have existed in and continue to exist in parallel with people who were born on this continent with western worldviews.

What I am discussing is decolonization, which in my mind includes North Americans moving away from European (western) worldviews and adopting more current domestic worldviews and laws. This will have many components, and will need to be done gradually, but should be understood as the ultimate goal rather than merely moving between various economic systems built upon flawed western worldviews.


In the short term I believe #LandBack and honoring treaties is critically important, allowing indigenous communities to recover. It is hard for them to help the rest of us adopt more healthy worldviews while colonialism is still pushing them down. While there are many conflicts between indigenous and western law, even if Canada became more legitimate and respected their own laws (including at least respecting the English interpretation of treaties that were written down) it would be a massive improvement over the current ongoing colonialism project.


For further and more advanced thinking on this topic, a transcript of a speech given by Russell Means in 1980 is available: Revolution and American Indians: “Marxism is as Alien to My Culture as Capitalism”

Listening to him talk to a US Senate Special Committee in 1989 reminds us of how similar and dishonorable the Canadian and US western worldview colonial governments have been.