War to subsistence. Economic crisis and territoriality

War to subsistence. Economic crisis and territoriality

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By Jean Robert

The specter of the "crisis" has already cast a shadow over the land that men tread on every day. After the acute phase that was the "crisis" in the literal sense of "crossroads", came the phase chronicle and adaptation to whatever. It is, today, totally, down here and now.

When you compare the wealth-destroying catastrophe we go through with a natural disaster, you commit what linguists call a lame metaphor.

In its acute phase, the crisis was neither an earthquake, nor a storm, nor, even less, a tsunami, even if not only journalists but the most famous financial mathematicians spoke of a financial tsunami. In reality, the front of the battle in which some won and many lost, in which few continue to play and suffer more and more, in which many are injured and not a few die, is not comparable to a natural catastrophe such as an earthquake, a hurricane. or a drought. So is it a war, as I suggested when I spoke of the "battlefront"? I apologize: it was another lame metaphor. The scene where the crisis fell on us from above is not exactly the theater of wars, at least, not in the first instance, not in origin.

Neither natural catastrophe nor true war, the economic crisis began on a third front whose primordial movements do not originate in nature, nor in brutal violence, but in the collective imagination. When the popular imagination allows itself to be contaminated by dreams from above, a false peace is established. It is evoking that third front, neither natural catastrophe nor properly speaking war, that the painter Francisco Goya wrote: “the dream of reason engenders monsters”. Iván Illich wrote about it:

Much suffering has always been the work of man himself. The story is a long catalog of slavery and exploitation, usually told in the epics of conquerors or in the elegies of the victims. The war was in the bowels of this story, war and pillage, famine and plague that came immediately afterwards. But it was not until modern times that the undesirable material, social and psychological side effects of so-called peaceful enterprises began to compete in destructive power, with war1.

According to Illich, the devastations caused by the effects of “peaceful enterprises” must be distinguished, on the one hand, from the damage caused by natural violence and, on the other, from slavery, pillage and exploitation caused by the greed of men who can be neighbors. The origin of economic wars is not a war front but a dream of reason.

Nature and the neighbor are only two of the three frontiers with which man must cope. A third front has always been recognized in which fate may threaten. To maintain his viability, man must also survive his dreams, which the myth has shaped and controlled. Now society must develop programs to deal with the irrational desires of its most gifted members. To date, the myth has fulfilled the function of setting limits to the realization of their dreams of greed, envy and crime. The myth has assured the common man that he is safe on this third frontier if he stays within its limits. Myth has guaranteed disaster for those few who try to surpass the gods.2

In other works, Illich argues that traditional myths maintain the proportionality between the individual and his community, between the latter and nature. The disaster caused by those who "try to surpass the gods" is, today, the monster engendered by a dream of reason: a mirage of unlimited power, a disproportionate will to know, wealth uprooted from all community control, a dream of ubiquity. Myths contained these follies in both senses of the word contain: they were narratives about heroes and crazy men who played at being gods, but at the same time they prevented these follies from contaminating the whole of society. By containing the disproportion, the myths assigned it a place outside the common sense that guided the conduct of true men. What we live now is the effect of disproportionate dreams of power and omniscience unleashed from their traditional ties. By falling on the earth as waste, they threaten the common sense of the people, which is the perception of proportion, scale, the just importance of things and the limits of their own forces.

When those who manage the economic machine from above promise the recovery of the economy, what they want to recover is the trust that was once had in them. That is why they promise to give us back a world "like the world before." They omit to say “a gloomier, sadder, controlled and boring world, more desperate”. And with more misery too. According to them, this recovered world will be a world in which those below will have to make more sacrifices to "save the economy."

In this recovered world, what was once a dignified poverty assumed because it was the owner of its means of subsistence, would be repressed even more with impunity than before.

Saying poor worthy and owners of their means of subsistence is saying poor owners of their territories. In other words, people from below are also capable of coping with crises and surviving the new normal, because their subsistence does not totally depend on capitalist production, nor on their distribution networks for marginally edible goods (that city people have to buy In the supermarkets). In many parts of Mexico, the poor are beginning to use a new concept to differentiate poverty worthy of misery. It is the concept of territoriality. Perhaps, many do not know that, with this, they are inventing a powerful new analytical concept to talk about an old reality that has to do with cultivation, culture, customs and also hospitality and, of course, subsistence, a word disgraced by the misuse of it by linguists and economists "above."

The claim to territoriality goes far beyond the classic claim to land. An individual peasant needs land if he wants to continue farming. A community requires a territory with its water, its forests or its bushes, with its horizons, its perception of "ours" and "the other", that is, of its limits, but also with the traces of its dead, its traditions and their sense of what the good life is, with their parties, their way of speaking, their tongues or turns, even their ways of walking. His worldview. Territoriality is not a new chauvinism, it is not a call to shut oneself up in a sanctuary of pure and immovable traditions, and even less to enter a ghetto, fearful, in the manner of those from above in their country fortresses and their residences with pools and courts. , or like those in the middle, crouched in their condominiums, subdivisions, concentration camps for the poor or poor who try to launch the assault on the social pyramid.

Those who design those walled country residences, those middle-class ghettos and concentration camps for deserving bureaucrats and workers, those who divide the countryside before and those who populate it after are all, whether they like it or not, queens, bishops, knights or pawns in the board of a ruthless land contest.

Territoriality rejects the logic of this war. It is rootedness, attachment to the soil and the mother earth, respect for traditions and the ability to transform them in a traditional way. It is the ability to survive despite the onslaught of the capitalist market. It is a critical reflection on today and the here that comes from below. The imposition from above of residences designed to remain alien to the place they will occupy and built after the trascavos have erased all traces of past lives is the exact opposite of territoriality. Today, this opposite of territoriality is called urban development and is taught in universities as architectural design.

Modern turf wars don't say your name. They disguise themselves behind euphemisms: the aforementioned urban design, urbanism, planning, with its urban charts and regulations, the extension, like the arms of a starfish that proliferate from urban centers, transport services, water , health, education and fun. Golf clubs, "numbers games" that are disguised casinos, hotels where rooms are rented by the hour, voracious mega-stores. Urban design has been transformed into a kind of slash and burn whose instrument is the trascavo. What is then built in the empty space left by the machines is the same all over the world: from Michoacán to Chechnya, from Bangalore to Silicone Valley. On the other hand, the fruits of territoriality are distinguished, in each particular place, by their intimate understanding with the spirit of a unique place.

Although the "antiterritoriality" camp changes color according to its interests at the time, the war it is leading does have a name. It's called a war against subsistence. Since it began, more or less five hundred years ago, it has had several manifestations, but its result has always been the devastation of the territories where the peoples subsisted and continue to subsist. War of people from above against people from below, traditionally, of people on horseback against people on foot and, today, of motorists against pedestrians.

What does territoriality have to do with the crisis? First, the historical fact that, for at least five centuries, the war against subsistence has been a war of devastation of the subsistence territories of the people “below”. Second, the immense danger that economic rescue policies resemble transportation infrastructure development policies that encroach on sidewalks and other pedestrian spaces to accommodate more cars on the streets. The great threat inherent in the policies of rescue, recovery and normalization of the economy is that they usurp areas of subsistence to build instead super-markets in lucrative subdivisions, or for the sake of the dream of professional economists: the perfect market in which everyone subsistence acts would be reduced to formal economic transactions, generating foreign exchange and subject to taxes. If we are not vigilant, if we lower our guard, the dreams of economists can breed as yet unknown social monstrosities. There will be no shortage of people praising these monsters as proof of the "creativity of capitalism".

This author disagrees with all praise for capitalism which, according to him, is not a subject or an entity that would manipulate and transform societies from the outside. Capitalism is nothing more than the form of the ruthless war against subsistence that characterizes modern times. Its expansion always occurs at the cost of subsistence territories, knowledge and talents. For example, there are growing signs that a dirty war is being fomented against hitherto tolerated modes of survival on the margins: surviving by selling flowers on the streets, cleaning windshields, peeling, building your own house.

In the Bibliographical Guide that concludes his essay on ghost work, Iván Illich wrote:

The modern era is a relentless war that has been waged for five centuries to destroy the environmental conditions of subsistence and replace them with goods produced within the framework of the new nation-state. In this war against popular cultures and their structures, the state was helped by the clergy of the various Churches; then the professionals and their institutional procedures. Throughout this war, popular cultures and vernacular domains - subsistence areas - were devastated at all levels. But modern history - from the point of view of the defeated of this war - has yet to be written3.

Faced with the danger of continuing to passively accept the destruction of subsistence territories, social ties, cultures and nature under the impact of a new outburst of economic growth, it is absolutely necessary to rethink the question of the real referent of discourses economical.

If economics is defined from above as the "theory of the allocation of limited means to alternative ends" or as "observation of value formation phenomena under the pressure of scarcity", the smokescreen behind which this science is concealed called "economy" derives from confusing economy and subsistence. Read me well: the lie according to which subsistence - the basket, obtaining the means of survival - is the object of economic science, generates the confusion that is the secret of its



1 Ivan Illich, Medical nemesis, Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz / Planeta, 1978 [1976], p. 347, reproduced in Collected works, Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2007, 2008.

2 Op. Cit., p. 348.

3 Collected works , vol. II, Mexico: Economic Culture Fund, 2008, p. 166.

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