Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Consumption (or, it's Permablitzing time!)

So far I've been impressed with David Graeber's book, Possibilities. His first essay, "Manners, Deference, and Private Property: or Elements for a General theory of Hierarchy", has been used in various posts here over the past several weeks. His second essay concerns the very idea of consumption, and he naturally begins with some etymology.
The English "to consume" derives from the Latin verb consumere, meaning "to seize or take over completely," and hence, by extension, to "eat up, devour, waste, destroy, or spend". p.59
Graeber argues that if we were still speaking a fourteenth century dialectic a consumer society would mean 'a society of wastrels and destroyers'. 
...wasting diseases "consumed" their victims: a usage that according to the Oxford English Dictionary is already documented by 1395. This is why tuberculosis came to be known as "consumption". At first, the now-familiar sense of consumption as eating or drinking was very much a secondary meaning. Rather, when applied to material goods, consumption was almost always synonymous with waste: it meant destroying something that did not have to be (at least quite so thoroughly) destroyed. p59.
I fail to see how anything has changed since the fourteenth century. Waste and destruction have only intensified with population expansion placing greater and greater pressures on the Earth's ecologies. Graeber almost never writes using ecologic language, and I would guess he is an urban dweller who buys his food in from across the country and from overseas wrapped in plastic. However, his writing is nearly always suggesting an ecological revolution because he understands the toxic corollaries of twenty-first century capitalism, and where it has come from. Once we have a fair grasp of the pathologies of late-capitalism, it's time to turn to the solutions, as David Holmgren might say; it's time to permablitz the world.


David Graeber said...

well, you know, when I original wrote that piece on consumption, I had ecological issues very much in mind.

The Garden of Self Defence said...

just before i got your comment DG, my girlfriend Meg and i had a fight over Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers", which she is reading. i was asking her about his basic premises as her description of them were sounding tre-bourgeois. i also wanted to know what his ecological thoughts were and dissed the book after learning their lack thereof. Meg called me boring and an ideologue – the former is fine, the latter really hurt. we have just made up in the bath (doused with apple cider vinegar). your thoughts about sexual relations as synonymous to sharing food are wonderful. your work is truly nourishing.

David Graeber said...

this is I guess the best thing that could happen when you write books

The Garden of Self Defence said...

cheers David,

my friend Hamish Morgan and i are in the very early stages of writing a book on two things we know almost nothing about - economics and ecology. it seems that economics' avoidance of ecology is at the root of many of the problems we face today. it therefore makes sense that our economists are also our ecologists, and that their work is inseparable.

Bunurong historian, Bruce Pascoe, wrote this recently:

"Grain cultivation, irrigation, harvesting and storage were important staples in the lives of Aborigines inside the Great Dividing Range, while in the more fertile coastal regions yam gardens were cultivated with intense care. Fish aquaculture and other types of food production added to the reliablility and variety of food supplies. Terms like 'hunter gatherer' do not sufficiently describe Indigenous food production in Australia but are part of the prejuducial and politically loaded vocabulary of the invader."