Review of “Pathologies of Power” by Paul Farmer

In Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor, Paul Farmer combines his experiences as a physician and anthropologist in the Third World to bring forth evidence and analysis of poverty.  While primarily focused on health, and profiling the effects of Tuberculosis, AIDS and other diseases on particular locales, his experience in treating patients beaten by members of military dictatorships and those who experience malnourishment point to deeply social health problems.  As he quickly demonstrates, military attacks on civilians and AIDS are equally socially determined problems. Continue reading

Characterizing a paradigm shift: The UN discourse on sustainable development as the greening of globalism

Below is the introduction to a 15,000 essay I just completed, summing up the theoretical and historical basis for my critique of UN environmental discourse, particularly the UNCED documents. This was completed for a graduate social theory course, and will be used in different sections of my thesis. I have only provided the first 3 of 61 pages here. People who wish to discuss these points more specifically may email me, and will send the entire document for further discussion.

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Quote from “Sustainable Development and Agenda 21″ by Timothy Doyle

When I was researching for my work on Agenda 21 and the UNCED, I found very little wholesale criticism in the academic press until I stumbled on this article, “Sustainable development and Agenda 21: the secular bible of global free markets and pluralist democracy” by Timothy Doyle, published in Third World Quarterly, Vol 19, No 4, pp 771-786, 1998.

This is the concluding and final text from this article:

With the emergence of global ecology, many environmental issues are seen as beyond the traditional scope of national governments. Governments are, more often than not, severely lagging behind in their responses, ‘and this transnational political space has been occupied by corporations and NGOS, which can cross nation-state boundaries more readily. This globalisation of ecological and market systems has led to “the politics of no-fixed address.” ‘* Jacques Attali, who served as the foundational head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development looks into the near future, and sees the following:

Severed from any national allegiance or family ties by microchip-based gadgets that will enable individuals to carry out for themselves many of the functions of health, education, and security, the consumer-citizens of the world’s privileged regions will become “rich nomads.” Able to participate in the liberal market culture of political and economic choice, they will roam the planet seeking ways to use their free time, shopping for information, sensations, and goods only they can afford, while yearning for human fellowship, and the certitudes of home and community that no longer exist because their functions have become obsolete. Like New Yorkers who every day face homeless beggars who loiter around automated teller machines pleading for spare change, these wealthy wanderers will everywhere be confronted by roving masses of “poor nomads”-boat people on a planetary scale-seeking to escape from the destitute periphery, where most of the earth’s population will continue to live. These impoverished migrants will ply the planet, searching for sustenance and shelter, their desires inflamed by the ubiquitous and seductive images of consumerism they will see on satellite TV broadcasts from Paris, Los Angeles, or Tokyo. Desperately hoping to shift from what Alvin Toffler has called the slow world to the fast world, they will live the life of the living dead.**

This is the world of Agenda 21.
The only force which currently seems capable of moving beyond the boundaries of nation-states in hot pursuit of transnational corporations are social  movements and NGOS, also acting through transnational  conduits. At first glance,  the age-old story depicting the battle between David and Goliath seems an appropriate metaphor to describe this situation. Only this time, David has no sling-shot.

*Doyle & McEachern, Environmental Politics, p. 105

** Attali, Millennium: Winners and Losers in the Coming World Order, 1991, pp 5-6

Thoughts on Paul Hawken and Blessed Unrest

Thoughts on Paul Hawken and Blessed Unrest by Ben Brucato, September, 2009:

One Big Movement

In Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken discusses the history of ideas and action of “a broad nonideological movement” that “has come into being that does not invoke the masses’ fantasized will but rather engages citizens’ localized needs” (18). This movement offers “thousands of practical and useful [ideas]” and “processes, concerns, and compassion” and is “eminently pragmatic” (ibid.).

The movement that Hawken is dealing with “has three basic roots: environmental activism, social justice initiatives, and indigenous cultures’ resistance to globalization, all of which have become intertwined” (12). He explores dozens, if not hundreds, of examples of environmental destruction, human rights abuses and the decimation of aboriginal culture, some with passing comments and others with great elaboration. However, we see few mentions of particular organizations or coalitions of organizations mobilizing against a particular offender or groups of offenders with a particular single-issue campaign or as part of a broad reform or revolutionary movement. The avoidance of particulars of the movement while being particular about what they oppose is deliberate. The more he veils the conglomeration of thousands of organizations and corporations comprised by hundreds of thousands of individuals, the easier it is for him to suggest they are part of one great whole. We should, as Hawken suggests, see that “the movement’s key contribution is the rejection of one big idea,” (18) but that this is one big movement.

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