Vandana Shiva Part 1: Communities and Governments

Vandana Shiva

I recently attended a talk by environmentalist Vandana Shiva, hosted by Public Interest Alberta in a packed hotel ballroom. She spoke–after glowing introductions–about things like GMOs (or genetically engineered organisms, if you will), economy, the term “progress”, and feminism. I won’t lie, she is a very good speaker: very friendly, easy to relate to, and most importantly, she appeals to the already existing values of the audience. How do I know what the audience thinks? First, in my city, for about 50% of the population you can tell who’s liberal and who’s conservative just by how they dress and how they react to events that tout “revolution” and “anti-establishment” as main topics. I do consider myself a liberal person, but, after looking into Shiva’s past claims, I find myself conflicted as to whether or not she was really taking a realistic approach.

One of the focal points of what she was talking about was the “fiction” of progress. On this point, I have to say I agree with her, even if it is a bit vague and generalizing. The idea is that the world is and has been adopting the notion of “progress = money” for a long time now. She uses our understanding of GDP  as an example of how societies have misunderstood what the word “progress” really means. Basically, we believe that, if you have a high GDP, you have a higher quality of life. This means that, since the US has one of the highest (if not THE highest) GDPs in the world, they are therefore the best and happiest country in the world. Look back on any of the Occupy movements in North America and you’ll realize how untrue this is.

Vandana Shiva

Okay, so I agree that our understanding of happiness is probably way to tied to money and capital in general and that we ought to be focusing on mental health as well, but Shiva goes a lot further than this. She argued that the Constitution (and other equivalent documents) were part of this larger fiction, written by people who represented a majority and were highly vested in their own personal interests when they wrote what they did. This is also legitimate, although veering off into something I don’t particularly enjoy talking about: revolutionary movements.

So I’m a dick for not wanting to overthrow the government, but I can’t help but think, in the back of my mind, that I would have no idea what to do when we finally did kick the existing politicians out of Parliament. I don’t know how to run a country; I don’t know what people, on a large scale NEED in order to maintain order and happiness. Shiva’s talk implied that she supported a more community-based approach, eliminating the need to be controlled by overarching forces like global governments. I can’t help but disagree.

I’ve been trying to find a way to articulate my thoughts on WHY I disagree for a while now, but it was only until recently, while listening to BBC news on the radio that I finally understood why Shiva’s stance made no sense to me. The man being interviewed (sorry, I don’t remember the context at all) said that we, as a society, shouldn’t be thinking about how to get “good people” into government. People who want to run for office will never be “good people.” There is too much ego, too much personal ambition involved in running for office and maintaining that office to make it possible for “good” people to seek out those positions. Instead, we should be trying to make sure that those people are afraid of their constituents.

The truth is, we’re too far gone to become communities again. Expecting people to become farmers because grocery stores are a source of poverty elsewhere in the world is unrealistic. Instead, we should focus on FORCING the government to listen to people again. As much as the Occupy movement seemed directionless and full of mental hippies, the principle is actually glorious: to live in a place where decisions are made with the permission of the people instead of shutting them out of decisions and, as it sometimes seems, forgetting they even exist. Maybe we do need a French Revolution, but I doubt it’ll help to just put the leader of the hippies as the new king once it’s all done. If anything, we should try to keep the same politicians in power and then impose consequences on decisions we don’t agree with.

If you have the time, look up Vandana Shiva. If anything, the discussion she’s sparked is interesting, even if you don’t agree with what she’s saying. There’s a lot of books out there and even the Wikipedia page has tons of info. Make up your own mind about her; don’t let yourself get swept up in one side of an argument.

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