Thursday, April 3, 2008

Economics, environment and eco-justice, by Prof Klaus Nurnberger

Economics, environment and eco-justice

Some rough notes on a paper presented by Prof Klaus Nurnberger at the SAFCEI conference, Rosettenville, Johannesburg, 2008.

Some basic economics

Based on throughput -- leading to waste.

Classical economics based on the "market", but depends on power, and classical economics does not take this into account.

After nothing some of the characteristics and assumptions of classical economics, Nurnberger went on to explain that economics was based on the worldview of modernity, and contrasted it with traditional (premodern) worldviews.

Collective consciousness - interaction between traditionalism and modernity

Traditionalism is built on submission to authority, modernity is built on emancipation.

Some characteristics of traditionalist worldview:

a) Reality is composed of unstable dynamistic power
b) this can be manipulated beneficially through ritual or detrimentally through sorcery
c) humans live in a dangerous world. Solidarity and discipline are essential
d) life flows along the male lineage, authority based on patriarchal hierarchy
e) culminating on the ancestors
f) leading to tight status and role allocations
g) life oriented upwards towards authority, backwards to the past

Modernity is based on emancipation from authority

a) think for yourself (rationalism)
b) see for yourself (empiricism)
c) pursue your own interests (liberal economy)
d) try out what works (pragmatism)
f) insist on your personal dignity (human rights)
g) claim equality (female emancipation)
h) let the youth find its way (anti-authoritarianism)
i) relate to your personal Saviour (pietism)

Working principles of modernity

a) in science -- evidence
b) in technology -- efficiency
c) in commerce -- profitability
d) in the consumer culture / utility / pleasure

The dominance of modernity

Modernity has become the dominant culture because it delivers the goods in terms of

  • knowledge
  • productivity
  • wealth creation
  • need satisfaction
  • power generation
Traditionalism is being marginalised
This includes the Biblical faith as a traditionalist belief system

The lure of modernity lures peripheral populations to the centre, but worldviews, motivations tend to lag behind (urbanisation /civilisation)

Changes needed

The centre population must learn

  • modestry
  • solidarity
  • responsibility (ie ubuntu)
The peripheral population needs to learn (restructure consciousness)

  • emancipation, initiative, self-consciousness
  • scientific knowledge (maths and science education)
  • technological efficiency
  • administrative competence
  • concsientiousness, reliablity, worth ethic
  • freedom and responsibility


Q - Beach at Simonstown -- using a front-end loader to move sand back -- cannot unskilled labour be used, less CO2 emission etc.?

KN - machines are cheaper, don't go on strike etc. China tried labour intensive dam building? At UKZN 30 years ago they used 20 people with hand mowers, now one man with a machine.

Q - it was precisely the attitudes of modernity that led to the problem. How can we advocate that as a solution?

KN - there are too many of us. We cannot feed 6 milliard people with old methods. Modernity, and the neoliberal/capitalist system is in control. We need to see how we can integrate people who have been thrown out of the system.

(My comment - One answer: recognise the system, but not worship it, not idolise it)

Q - What about Basic Income Grant?

KN - sight of poor people is heart-rending. It would take away the worst suffering. It would give purchasing power, so the system can begin to produce for those people instead of for the super-rich. They can get slightly more healthy, slightly more energy, slightly more hope.

Q - (Rabbi Hillel) has holiday cottage, oppoisite it is field ploughed by horses, using organic farming.

KN - such initiatives are critical. The system we have is not sustainable in the long term. We need alternatives, and to know what works. We have to overcome powerful prejudices. Tried this in seminary, setting up a vergetable garden to feed the students, but the students went on strike -- they are becoming baruti, they are not labourers. These were the leaders, but they could not see.

Q - (Grace Mokhuku) How can we motivate the government not to give a grant, but teach people how to work?

KN - Don't expect everything from the government. Start at the bottom. People in the NGOs know better than government. A problem in our society is that government at grassroots level lacks capacity. There are not the skills or knowledge at the local level. That takes time and dedication. Sometimes when he can't sleep he reads history and in the country of his forebears things were worse 500-600 years ago than they are here today. We need patience.

Q - 1913 Land Act. Now thousands leave land, come to informal settlements, become dependent on external resources. Immigrants come from elsewhere, show initiative and prosper. Isn't there a possibility of going back to farming.

KN - The impact of apartheid is enormous, but exacerbated the problem, it was not the root. You find it in Brazil, which never had apartheid. People coming from outside are the most enterprising people of their societies. They leave the relaxed society, and outperform our society. They are the elite, but our elite go to Britain and elsewhere.

Q - Do you know about socio-economic democracy. The floor and ceiling are established democratically.

Q- Is it possible to match modern and traditional without some kind of crisis.

KN - Modernity is dominant, whether you like it or not. Because we have a democracy, grassroots people who are more traditional than the elite assert their power, as happeend at ANC conference at Polokwane last December.

In Limpopo lightning struck a hut, and people thought it was witchcraft, a diviner detected the culprit, and he was tortured. There was a court case. Now a young man comes from that area, wanting to learn science. The worldviews clash. There is uncertainty; you try out what works and what doesn't we need patience for these things to work themselves out. We can encourage people to take science seriously. People have worldview assumptions that we know are not correct. You have a right to think what you like, but one is correct. They can't both be true (intejection: they could both be wrong!). Scientists continue try to investigate.

In Germany in the wonderful days a student could study as long as you wanted free of charge. There were no first-year exams -- only at the end of the course, you passed or failed. So students who felt they were not ready to face their finals could study another year, and another, and another. But such a system is not sustainable in the long term.

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