Publication of the Ram's Horn has been temporarily suspended for personal reasons. We hope to resume in the near future, so please keep an eye on this site, and in the meantime, enjoy the back issues you may have missed -- and Brewster's books, including the latest one. Thank you for your patience. -- Brewster and Cathleen Kneen

Brewster Kneen | October, 2015 | Blog #1

The hated ruler has been deposed and his entourage dispersed. Now a huge task lies ahead for the people – the DEMOS –  to restore the public institutions of democracy and democracy itself. Before tackling the mess left behind by the Harper 'team', it is essential that we understand the neoliberal ideology and fanaticism that drove it. Undoing the Demos is an excellent place to start.

Undoing the Demos - Wendy Brown, Zone Books, 2015

 

Our view of the world is cluttered with innumerable projects, issues and organizations, all competing for our attention, which we may identify as diverse manifestations of the economic program of neoliberalism. But picture a horizon consisting of a lot of peaks emerging from the foggy bottom lands. When the fog lifts, we will be able to see the common ground which lies beneath these peaks. Wendy Brown analyzes this common ground as the driver of neoliberalism’s pervasive demolition of democracy.

Rather than think of neoliberalism as just an economic policy, Brown says it is important to recognize neoliberalism as a “modality of governance and an order of reason”, a rationality. It is now a global phenomenon which has changed over time as ‘economy’ has transitioned from a productive to an increasingly financialized form. As neoliberal rationality financialized everything, it remade the human being into human capital. At this point, homo politicus becomes homo oeconomicus. We are transformed from citizens of a democracy, to economic functions. Instead of persons, we are capitals, human resources, concerned not about public things and common good, but our own market value.

Brown builds on the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault who emphasizes that in neoliberal reason, competition replaces exchange as the market’s root principle. This means that all market actors are rendered as little capitals, rather than as owners, workers or consumers, competing with rather than exchanging with each other; equality ceases to be the character of our relationship with one another.

“When everything is capital, labour disappears as a category, as does its collective form, class”, along with economic solidarity in any form. Defined as capital, persons have to behave according to the principles of capital and engage in accumulation, which requires the deprivation of others. Growing inequity becomes normative; the economy becomes the objective of politics, and politics becomes the practice of ‘growing’ the economy: “economic growth is the state’s social policy.”(64) The well-being of the people is not a consideration.

“As the legitimacy and task of the state becomes bound exclusively to economic growth, global competitiveness, and maintenance of a strong credit rating, liberal democratic justice concerns recede.”    

When there is only homo oeconomicus, and the political has only to do with economy, citizenship concerned with public things and the common good vanishes to the extent that neoliberalism eliminates the very idea of a people, a demos “asserting its collective political sovereignty”.(65)

Read more of this article | Table of Contents for Blog #1

 


CAN SALMON AQUACULTURE BE CERTIFIED ORGANIC?

June 10, 2015

Representatives of several aquaculture enterprises approached the Technical Committee for the Canada Organic Standard with proposals to integrate their voluntary organic standard for aquaculture into the Canada Organic Standard. Their standard covered everything from mussels to sturgeon roe (caviar) to salmon in ocean-based net pens. After two days of discussion the proposal was withdrawn as it clearly did not have enough support. The following is a letter I wrote to them with my reflections on the whole idea. - C.K.

As I mentioned at the meeting, I have a number of concerns which relate to the possibility of a genuine Organic aquaculture standard (whether or not it is integrated with the Canada Organic Standard).  I noted that your proposals are very much focused on maintaining the health and integrity of the organic products and processes, and it seems that much less, if any, attention has been paid so far to the broader Organic Principles which begin the document:

Principle of Health – Organic production should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

Principle of Ecology – Organic production should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

Principle of Fairness – Organic production should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

Principle of Care – Organic production should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

All of these indicate that organic production must be integrated with the environment in which it is practised, and be practised in such a way as to “sustain and enhance” that environment. Bluntly, if you indeed want to follow these principles, I can see no way to practise ocean-located net pens. They are an environment which cannot be isolated from its surroundings and the fish and other aquatic life there. There are inevitably escapes and inter-breeding with wild stocks, not to mention the outbreak of disease which can spread readily to wild populations. Even for a well-managed ‘organic’ enterprise with lower stocking densities, these are real issues. Together, the cumulative risks of disease from proximity to caged salmon, and the fact that the salmon’s amazing genetic imprint does not contain coding for this kind of lifestyle which makes them more susceptible to disease, puts into serious question the whole system of ocean-located net pens.

There is an ethical as well as a practical problem here. The Organic Standard reflects a vision which is couched in language of respecting integrity and natural systems. I think that many practitioners of organic farming might use the term ‘reverence’ in this context. The life-cycle of the Pacific Salmon is one of these systems which many revere, and the Adams River, which hosts the largest and best known migration, has been nominated as a World Heritage Site. The Sockeye salmon migrate for hundreds if not thousands of kilometres from their natal stream high in the interior, through river systems to far out in the open ocean, and then back again four years later, with striking changes in their bodies as they battle their way upstream until they spawn and die. The fish are in a web of interdependence with the wildlife (bears, eagles) that feed on their dead bodies, the high mountains whose snow-melt provides the cold water in the rivers that they need, and the majestic trees that both cool the water and are nourished by the remains of their carcases and the droppings of their scavengers. It is not surprising that the Secwepemc (Shuswap) and other peoples in the region describe the salmon as sacred, reflecting the interweaving of relationships that is basic to Indigenous thinking.

How can the principles of ecology and fairness be applied to the confinement rearing of a migratory species?In fact, the question must be raised about the suitability of what are in effect “factory farms” for an organic designation, even if they are located on land, and especially if they are not part of an integrated system where the leavings of one species provides the feedfor another in an elegant closed loop. (Please note, I am simply suggesting that the question needs to be discussed.)

One of the most important concerns of the Technical Committee was, of course, just this question of feed and its provenance. This includes concern about the balance of pelagic fish and other protein sources in the feed for farmed fish; some scepticism of the label “sustainable fishery” for the pelagic fisheries on the basis of a state sign-on, without third-party verification; and the fact that it takes 1½  pounds of [wild] fish to grow one pound of salmon. Again, these are concerns which require more discussion of the evidence available to show that the proposed aquaculture is indeed sustainable and adheres to the Organic Principles in that regard.salmon surround canoe

In the interests of full disclosure, I need to note that this is an issue about which I have been passionate for a long time. I am a Newfoundlander, and you can still reduce me to tears just by mentioning the demise of the Northern Cod. I also lived for nearly ten years in Secwepemc territory, close to the Adams River and Lake Shuswap, and the experience of paddling my canoe in the midst of swarming, bright-red fish powerfully reminded me of the early explorers to the Grand Banks, who reported that the cod were so plentiful you could catch them in a basket. These are not, to my mind, minor matters, and they need careful and respectful consideration if we are to contemplate a certified Organic Standard for Aquaculture in Canada.

Thank you for listening.

Cathleen Kneen


THE CANCER OF GROWTH

February 2014

There is a cancer referred to as The Economy which is growing world-wide – in Canada, the USA, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey, Mexico. It accompanies a notion – nay, ideological fantasy – that growth is a universal remedy for an ailing – or failing – economy. This is profoundly odd since the primary characteristic of cancer is that it endeavours to consume its host.

Only one item is apparently on Harper’s capitalist agenda these days: set the economy to growing again, that is, reinvigorate the cancer. It is almost as if the economy were some giant field of corn and beans, a giant rice paddy, or the cod-fishery of old, able to provide for all if only we can get it growing again.

Never mind what was on our mind yesterday – climate chaos, peak oil, massive malnutrition and starvation, genetic engineering, growing inequity, loss of biodiversity, patenting life. Today there is only one priority, even though it is our mindless drive for economic growth that has caused and will continue to cause all these important moral and physical problems.

how growth kills usWe’ve got to bail out the auto industry, even though it is at least half a century out of date, an infinitely destructive force in the world and a cause of climate change, energy depletion, and environmental destruction.

We’ve got to keep the food industry growing, even though it is its centralization, global sourcing and corporate concentration that is wiping out the peoples that feed themselves rather than us.

We’ve got to keep the tar sands expanding to fuel our economic growth, regardless of the environmental costs to the entire world.

Yes, by hook or crook, we have no choice. We have to get the economy growing again, even if it kills us.

If we cut back our energy consumption, our GNP will falter and the economy won’t grow.

If we insist on eating locally and ecologically, the agrotoxin, fertilizer and transport industries, not to mention the food manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries, will no longer grow and our economy will stumble and fall.

If we stop producing weapons, our exports will fall and our economy shrink.

No, we have to get the economy growing again! Only then will we be able to address the problems we know about, and even some of those we do not yet know, that are caused by our growing economy. ... (for more of this article, go to issue #301 Lead Article, Jan.-Feb 2014.)


June 2013

Canada is easy to love at this time of year, when trees are flowering, fields are turning green and farmers’ markets are selling asparagus and spring greens. It’s easy to feel secure in the wealth of the country, and to be a little complacent – and not notice that the major institutions that we entrust with the just organization of society and its economy are failing before our very eyes, or rather, they are being dismembered and deconstructed, by both intention and corruption.

Being a polite people, we are very reluctant to use the word ‘corruption’, reserving it for foreign dictators who line their own pockets at the expense of their people. Although his [former] chief of staff is, apparently, free to write a personal cheque for $90,000 with somewhat obscure repayment obligations, Prime Minister Harper does not appear to be enriching himself at public expense. He is, however, using public funds to engage in massive propaganda campaigns on behalf of himself and his party. More to the point, he is deliberately taking apart public institutions (such as Library and Archives Canada and Statistics Canada) which provide the information we need to be active citizens; and while his job as Prime Minister is to uphold and protect our democratic institutions he is busy degrading and undermining them, right up to and including Parliament itself.
democracy collapseWe also have trouble with that other ‘c’ word, capitalism, which makes it difficult to identify the process  that corrupts our food system to serve corporate interests and the Harper agenda of Trade. This is what frames our efforts to build just and ecologically sound food systems from the ground (and water) up, but we need to gain a different vantage point if these efforts are to succeed. In other words, we cannot remain standing where we are now, at the edge of the cliff, but have to move to higher ground to gain a fresh perspective. Such a move is never easy, but the courage to do so will, we hope, emerge from the realization that we are running out of democracy –  rule by the people – and being carried back to more ancient totalitarian modes of governance with corporations replacing feudal lords and the nobility reduced to a single individual.

Sheldon Wolin offers a disturbing view of what is happening to the institutional context we still take for granted as at least somewhat responsive and benevolent. He builds his analysis around the idea of “inverted totalitarianism” which “represents the political coming-of-age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry.”

“Unlike the classic totalitarian regimes which lost no opportunity for dramatizing and insisting upon a radical transformation that virtually eradicated all traces of the previous system, inverted totalitarianism has emerged imperceptibly, and in seeming unbroken continuity with the nation’s political traditions.” (for more of this article, read issue #297, May-June 2013, lead article)