This week’s selected media: May 21, 2023

May 21, 2023 by Joshua
in Tips

I read and watched this week:

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: Regular readers know my interest in understanding imperialism, colonialism, and slavery to understand our situation with the environment.

Somehow I made it over five decades before reading Heart of Darkness, or listening to it since it’s in the public domain, so I downloaded a free version from Librivox. My first time through, I felt it overly descriptive and wondered why people cared so much about it. I kept thinking of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.

The second time, I picked up the detail and layering. Wow! I expect I’ll read it many times, picking up more each time. It illustrates imperialism, colonialism, and slavery alright. It’s brutal.

I recommend it.

The Land magazine’s A Short History of Enclosure in Britain: I learned about the enclosure movement as a way markets deviated from being free. This long article revealed the theft of public land under pretense of law, actually thinly veiled force. It was purported to improve yields, but people who lost land didn’t benefit. They just got robbed. I also found history undermining the claim that it mitigated the effect called tragedy of the commons by Garrett Hardin in Science in 1968.

The article put it, “Hardin himself admitted that he had got it wrong, and rephrased his entire theory.” Hardin retreated to saying, “The title of my 1968 paper should have been ‘The Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons.’” The tragedy came from commons that weren’t managed, but managing commons through community, communication, and collaboration led to more resilient, mutually supporting communities. By contrast, Britain’s Enclosure Movement that privatized commons led to “Currently, in our ‘property-owning democracy’, nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population,1 while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line.”

This widespread social upheaval, concentrating wealth, impoverishing much of the population, undermining democracy, and more continue to grow today. The magazine concluded, “to attribute the disappearance of the English commons to the ‘remorseless workings’ of a trite formula is a travesty of historical interpretation, carried out by a theorist with a pet idea, who knew little about the subject he was writing about.”

There are many factors that have led to such extreme levels of land concentration, but the most blatant and the most contentious has been enclosure — the subdivision and fencing of common land into individual plots which were allocated to those people deemed to have held rights to the land enclosed.”

Commons becoming tragic results not inevitably, but from lack of communication and collaboration. Tragedy arises from isolation, such as our polluting, depleting culture creates.

Videos about Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: I came across this quote by an author who worked with Chinua Achebe: “Colonialism imposed its control of the social production of wealth through military conquest and subsequent political dictatorship. But its most important area of domination was the mental universe of the colonized, the control, through culture, of how people perceived themselves and their relationship to the world. Economic and political control can never be complete or effective without mental control. To control a people’s culture is to control their tools of self-definition in relationship to others.”

I was curious about the writer, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, so looked him up, mostly what he wrote about imperialism and colonialism. I’m not sure when I’ll get to read one of his works, but in the videos I got to see him speak at length.

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