Partway through Capitalism in the Web of Life, Jason W. Moore provides the imperative for a complete theoretical reworking and synthesis of Marxist, environmental, and feminist thought by asserting: “I think many of us understand intuitively – even if our analytical frames lag behind – that capitalism is more than an “economic” system, and even more than a social system. Capitalism is a way of organizing nature.”
Kamil Ahsan spoke with Moore about his book Capitalism in the Web of Life (Verso), released last month, to grapple with his new challenges to old assumptions.
Kamil Ahsan: What was the impetus for Capitalism in the Web of Life?
Jason W. Moore: I wanted to come up with a framework that would allow us to understand the history of the last five centuries in a way that was adequate to the crisis we face today. For the past four decades, we’ve had a “Green Arithmetic” approach to crisis. When we’ve had an economic or social crisis or any other kind of crisis, they all go into one box. Then we have an ecological crises – water or energy or the climate – that go into another box.
So for roughly the past four decades, environmentalists and other radicals have been raising the alarm about these crises but never really figured out how to put them together. Environmental thinkers have been saying one thing and then doing another – they claimed that humans are a part of nature and that everything in the modern world is about our relationship with the biosphere, but then when they got around to organizing or analyzing, it came down to “Society plus Nature,” as if the relationship was not as intimate and direct and immediate as it is.
KA: The premise of this book is that we need to break down the “Nature/Society” dualism that has prevailed in so much of Red and Green thought. Where did this idea come from, and why is it so thoroughly artificial?
JWM: The idea that humans are outside of nature has a long history. It’s a creation of the modern world. Many civilizations before capitalism had a sense that humans were distinct. But in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, this very powerful idea emerged – that is embedded in imperialist violence and dispossession of peasants and a whole series of recompositions of what it meant to be a human, particularly divisions around race and gender—that there was something, in Adam Smith’s words, called “civilized society,” which included some humans.
But most humans were still put into this category of “Nature,” which was regarded as something to be controlled and dominated and put to work – and civilized. It sounds very abstract, but the modern world was really based on this idea that some group of humans were called “Society” but most humans go into this other box called “Nature” with a capital N. That’s very powerful. That didn’t come about just because there were scientists, cartographers or colonial rulers who decided it was a good idea, but because of a far-flung process that put together markets and industry, empire and new ways of seeing the world that go along with a broad conception of the Scientific Revolution.
This idea of Nature and Society is very deeply rooted in other dualisms of the modern world: the capitalist and the worker, the West and the rest, men and women, white and black, civilization and barbarism. All of these other dualisms really find their taproots in the Nature/Society dualism.
Read the rest of this entry »