Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

Start Forums Courses Current Debates and Themes in Global Environmental History Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange Reply To: Mon 3 March: Ecology, History and Unequal Exchange

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Sabbath Sunday # Posted on March 5, 2014 at 11:16

Reply to Archie Davies’ Reflection: By Sabbath Sunday

Thanks Davies for your critical reflection to Alf Horborg’s arguments about ‘technology’ in the capitalist world system. However, my take on his actual definition of technology is that it is a cultural concept inspired by the ‘illusions of development’ which culminated in the quest for wealth and power by industrialized or affluent societies. On the other hand Hornborg defends himself by giving another definition that the technology that allows people or some societies to adjust well in their environments without exploitation of labour and degradation of ecosystem is not part of his argument.

Hornborg’s arguments about the driving forces behind ‘technology’ are also reflected by J.W. Moores who describes it as a tool for ‘accumulation, financialism and developmentalism’ that traversed the world in a form of globalization ever since the industrial revolution. New frontiers were sought, in order to maintain the status quo at the expense of world ecological systems. So behind all this phenomena, there was the power of ‘technology’ both at home to produce ‘modern products’ for trade and more technology was exported to their foreign territories to hasten the activity of exploitation in form of machinery for agriculture, mining, transport and semi-processing the raw materials for their home industries. It was this kind of technological era that Hornborg characterizes with unequal exchange that has led to a zero-sum world. In other words, the core nations are fleecing the peripheral nations with no or little concern to environmental integrity and cheap labour compared to the price tags on finished products.

Furthermore, on the issue of fetishism, Hornborg argues that our modern technology has created a ‘cornucopian perception of development’ that represents a diversity of economic illusions which have become ‘religious.’ He breaks down these illusions as ‘machine fetishism, monetary fetishism and commodity fetishism.’ The affluent societies are blinded by this fetishism, flexibility and comfort aided by machines, money and commodities, not knowing that all these are factored by technology at the expense of ‘space’ in terms of ecological degradation and ‘time’ which is the unfairly compensated and painful cheap labour.

I certainly agree with your critique on Hornborg’s exceptions in which he appears to defend information technology and medical technology that they represent a fairer view of capitalism development in that rather than exchanging physical materials, it will only be ideas and information which is a replacement for unequal exchange. And also he says that more medicines are required for world population. My observation is that, Hornborg needs to adjust his argument because the equipments for information technology are manufactured through the process of unequal exchange and zero-sum game. The mineral (coltan) for manufacturing capacitors and ICs used in all electronics comes from Democtratic Republic of Congo. Both its extraction and exchange affects space and time in terms of labour and ecology leave alone the factor that this is a conflict area. On medical technology, the capitalist pharmaceutical companies have intentionally refused to manufacture a vaccine for malaria so that they continue sustaining their wealth by incessantly selling malaria medicines which sometimes also keep changing brands and confusing. So conclusively, my plea is that capitalism should be replaced by a revolution or another organization of society to benefit all mankind and respect ecology. Unequal exchange and unequal development facilitated by ‘technology’ that degrades ecosystem is nothing but a signature of doom for Mother Nature. Thanks Davies raising these issues.