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The interdependence of nature, society, capitalism, and technology is an issue widely discussed by philosophers, environmental professionals, economists, historians, and political scientists. The problem of influence between Nature and Society, Capitalism and Technology is interdimensional; to understand this connection, its influence on the development of the modern world and crises that occur in it, a closer look at the historical development of these concepts is necessary.
As Moore (2015a) notices, the Cartesian binary cannot be used to explain the modern place of capitalism in human history and society. Instead, environment (Nature) should be perceived as the equal actor, or, even more, as the matrix within which the civilizations unfold (Moore, 2015a: 36). I aim to understand how the interactions of these concepts shape the modern world and the development of civilizations in historical perspective. Each of the concepts will be examined with regard to the other and the human history to pinpoint how their interaction was recorded by historical evidence and how human civilization changed and transformed due to these interactions. Nature, society, technology, and capitalism together create a delicate but complex web through which the civilization develops.
The concept of nature has been changing throughout the history. In Cartesian Dualism, it is seen as the ultimate source that Society can use; Werlhof (1988: 96) points out that this concept is determined by economics only, whereas nature is perceived by the rulers as everything that, in their opinion, should be free. White (1995: 28-29) points out that Nature can be perceived as a system of working elements (in his example, it is the Columbia and human labor that directly depend on each other). At the same time, he also points out that Nature and Society, or nature and human work, should not be seen as opposites, since some types of work that are often perceived unconnected to the nature are dependent on the natural processes such as river flows, snowing, raining, etc. (White, 1996: 182).
Thus, the concept of nature remains vague and can be divided into two polar definitions: nature as an outside force (without humanity) or as inside force (humanity is a part of it). Thus, the society can be perceived both as an exploiter or user of this force (as in Cartesian Dualism or Werlhof (1988)) or as a member of it, a part that cannot be separated from nature because it functions within its borders (matrix) (Moore, 2015a). From the Cartesian point of view, capitalism also emerged from nature and used it to build wealth, which also resulted in the exhaustion of resources and degradation of nature (Moore, 2015a: 5).
Moore (2015a: 6) also provides a contrary point of view that not so many of modern environmentalists support: humanity (i.e. society) should be perceived as the part of nature, and humanity, as well as the human organization, are natural forces, despite the environmentalists’ urge to deny it. Therefore, there is no real dualism between Nature and Society but, instead, “species make environments and environments make species” (Moore, 2015a: 7). A similar thought was expressed by Lewontin and Levins (1997: 96) who pointed out that environments and organisms cannot exist without each other.
The perception of nature as an object is a profitable one because it can be made cheap and exploited easily (Moore, 2015b: 1). If people are defined as nature, they, too, can be exploited, because they are overlooked by the dominants (whites, males, capitalists primarily from the first-world countries) (Werlhof, 1988: 99). Thus, capitalism arises from this perception of both natural and human resources (which are perceived as the same) as Cheap Nature: a resource that can be appropriated to advance labor productivity (Moore, 2015b: 1). It should also be noted that this dualism did not include all humans, and some of them were defined as less human than the others (as women, for example) (Moore, 2015b: 1).
The perception of nature as external force led to the particular expanses of it, and human populations (together with animals) were only used as tools of accumulation (Moore, 2015b: 1). The endless accumulation of capital that eventually resulted in the overproduction and overaccumulation, which led to a crisis in the capitalistic system, where there were too many commodities and too few customers, as Moore explains (Moore, 2015a: 91). Thus, the specific approach toward nature, the perception of it as a resource that could be exploited and that is not a part of the society led to the development of capitalism.
History of Capitalism
The capitalism’s ability to mark some of the humans as less human allowed it to use them as cheap labor, although this approach was fiercely revolted against at first (Moore, 2016: 7). Many people were considered less than human (women, people of color, Amerindian people). The concept of Cheap Nature, vastly exploited at the beginning of the rise of capitalism (approx. 1800), helped it to cheapen “the life and work of many humans and most non-human natures” (Moore, 2016: 8). Despite the capitalism’s aims to portray and exploit nature as an external force (e.g. as during the colonial period of the USA that started at the end of the 16th century), crises and golden ages are produced by humanity and other actors as parts of nature (within it) (Moore, 2016: 8-9).
Despite the fact that many historians view the Industrial Revolution (end of 18th century, approx. 1760 to 1840) as the beginning of capitalism, Moore (2016: 16-17) argues that the first shifts that would eventually lead to the Industrial Revolution were the deforestations that occurred across Europe in the 16th century. The difference was that the deforestation during the Medieval was much slower (12.000 hectares/12 years) compared to the 16th century (12.000 hectares/one year) (Moore, 2016: 16). If we look at capitalism outside the general historical frames, we will see that the revolution in the industry began not in the 18th but the 16th century, when coal production rose significantly (50.000 tons vs. 210.000) (Moore, 2016: 16).
The destruction and exploitation of natural resources (compared to societal needs) later expanded to human beings as well, who were used as tools for acceleration of production and accumulation (e.g. African slaves during colonization period, women as free workforce from the dawn of civilization until the 21st century, etc.). It appears to me that the rise of capitalism would not be possible without slavery since all European nations during the colonial period (and before it) used slaves as cheap (free even) labor to strengthen and continue their expansion (Ponting, 1991: 196-197). Still, such perception of human beings would not be possible if there was no dualism between Nature and Society.
Such dualism becomes the basis for exploitation and violence necessary for the expansion of capitalism. Still, it also seems that capitalism’s pursuit of continuous production is the main cause of its crisis – overproduction. The acceleration of capitalism and its transformation to its modern form as we know it possibly began with the Industrial Revolution but capitalism as a concept of the form of exploitation and accumulation was possible as soon as the first humans were enslaved and the natural resources were exploited.
The next shifts and crises in capitalism, including the “peak oil”, are also the causes of inability to perceive human organizations as actors within a specific matrix. The concept of Cheap Nature and its use in capitalism might lead to the issue of peak oil discussed by Grubb (2011: 7) and Heinberg (2016: 2), when overproduction of fossil fuel will gradually decline and, eventually, led to economic mayhem, as Heinberg (2016: 2) names it. However, the overproduction and overaccumulation of products (including oil) would not be possible without the machines and supporting tools the humanity uses. The emergence of capitalism in its early forms required supporting means to make the production more rapid and more efficient. Such a requirement resulted in the mechanization of labor that could reach new heights and peaks.
The automation of labor should not be perceived as a process that began recently, during the last several centuries. Instead, the human ability to use its own body as a labor tool can be perceived as the early sign of future labor automation (Mumford, 1934: 9). I believe that the technology is one of the main reasons why capitalism was able to expand and develop as quickly as it did, especially after the Industrial Revolution. The natural human limitations were not a severe barrier anymore as it was during the Medieval Ages and colonization period even, where the lacking technology was substituted by tens of thousands slaves who were used as the tools for expanding accumulation.
Technology and Technological Dependence
The technology and capitalism are interconnected because technology would not emerge without the capital’s needs to speed up production and capitalism would have another form (if any) if technology was not used as a supporting mean for human labor. As Mumford (1934: 16) notices, technology was able to transform the civilization in such a way that its tempo increased as soon as the concept of time (brought to humanity with the invention and popularization of clocks) was compared to money (“time is money” as noted by Franklin). The quickened tempo of the civilization demanded more energy, more energy demanded more labor, and labor could not be quickened without support – the machine.
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The growing demand for technology resulted in the growing demand for resources that could support this technology, as in the example of warfare and increased consumption of iron: the growth of artillery arm led to growth in the consumption of iron (Mumford, 1934: 76). The steady development of technology and its domination over the life and work of humans brought advantages and disadvantages with it, depending on the beholder: it enhanced or replaced human labor, increased labor mobility, and reduced the cost of labor reproduction (Abramsky, 2007: 25). Although mechanization’s replacement of human labor is often perceived as an unintended result, the main role of mechanization was exactly in replacing labor with something more effective (Abramsky, 2007: 26).
The control over human labor could be disrupted by the individuals who performed it, while automatic mechanisms were not able to be rebellious (Abramsky, 2007: 26). Nevertheless, I think that the actual unintended consequence of automation is the human dependence on it. Today, it is difficult to estimate whether humanity controls machines or vice versa. As cliché as this statement may sound, our lives do depend on machines that measure out time, work, warn about health issues, fix those issues, and maintain the steady flow of our lives. They enable communication with other people, helping us control our daily tasks, providing us with valuable information, and so on. The constant flow of information provided by it leads to the faster spread of vital information, as well as technological anxiety (Kaul, 2013: 126).
The technological dependence becomes a more discussed and concerning issue in the modern capitalized world. What at first was seen as the possible support for hard human labor, transformed into a crucial part of everyday life of every human. The fast-paced progress resulted in the mechanization of human labor, society, and life itself. Furthermore, it had also enhanced the Nature/Society dualism, thus increasing the human assurance of domination over Nature (and those who are associated with it).
Still, as Moore (2015a) points out, Nature-as-oikeios is a matrix, within which the humanity and other actors operate. The technology was the tool of controlling and replacing labor at first, but it became an unchanging supporting actor later, a third part in the Human/Nature dualism, where it was not perceived as human and as a natural force either. Instead, it became a mitigating power between the two. It seems, however, that the capital values technology much more than human labor mostly because of its ability to be more productive and cost-efficient (Mumford, 1934: 216).
The technological dependence in the modern world is not an assumption or a warning; it is a matter of fact. Any disruptions in technologies can lead to minor and major crises, such as abruptions in communication, injuries, or even deaths. On the one hand, the Internet of Things allows its users to access specific objects remotely via the internet. On the other hand, the Internet of Things also provides the user with access to different kinds of data, including sensor networks, positioning technologies, and biometrics. The telemedicine uses audio and video technologies to inform, guide, and help patients with their health status and any health issues that arise. Any disruption (such as hacker attacks, misplaced information, errors in processing data, etc.) can lead to wrong decision-making in the clinical context and pose a danger to clients’ health.
However, the technological dependence became this crucial only during the last several decades, with the invention and spread on the Internet. It is believed that technological development (the Internet) and the emergence of renewable energies are the signs of the Third Industrial Revolution that will also “create thousands of new businesses and millions of jobs and lay the basis for a sustainable global economy in the 21st century” (Rifkin, 2012: 4055). The integration and interaction will define the world after this Revolution, and the hierarchical organization of economic power will also cease to exist, Rifkin (2012: 4056) argues. Still, the individual dependency on the technology and the Internet in particular raises questions whether capital will use such a dependency to enhance its control over workers. Social networks are already successfully used in recruitment, monitoring of employees’ activity, and as a decision factor for potential employment (Carpenter et al., 2012: 1336). Thus, social networks and online presence become the new control tools that determine the modern labor, its limitations, and risks.
On the other side, technology also leads to social inefficiency, as Mumford (1934: 275) points out. His point was that technological advancement and overall human intelligence are not directly linked, and technology does not specifically enhance it (Mumford, 1934: 274). Bojanova et al. (2014: 76) articulate this thought in a less delicate way: “laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography, dirty tricks, and crime will continue, and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others”. As such, it appears that technology will become (or has already become) the capitalism’s support for overproduction, whereas it also allows capitalists enhance control over employees if necessary.
Thus, as Moore (2015a: 292) pinpoints, capitalism should not be perceived as a steady force that does not change within the human history and only reproduces itself continuously. With the emergence of new technologies (the Internet, Web 2.0, mobile services, renewable energy), capitalism also undergoes major shifts that do not stop it from expanding (and do not prevent any crises as well). All of the discussed concepts, such as Nature, Society, Technology, and Capitalism, should not be perceived as fragments but rather as parts of one major dimension within which they function. These concepts create a delicate web that shapes the modern world.
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