Environment and Patriarchy

The fundamental characteristic of patriarchy as a power structure is exclusion, as gender, ethnic, and class distinctions define what we have a right to as people. This is extremely relevant to this weeks’ readings which all underline an essential question in ESS as scholars attempt to pinpoint an appropriate referent object: who is protected by (environmental) security measures? Are these the same people that are affected the most by environmental insecurity? Or are they, on the contrary, the people causing environmental insecurity? How do our patriarchies/patriarchal ideologies intersect with environmental concerns? These ideologies construct hierarchies that apply to both human societies internally and to biospheres in relation to human societies, and thus are at the heart of both ecological security and feminist environmental security.

Parenti adds to this another, equally pressing question: if environmental security is to be the responsibility of national security agents, then what can states really do? Whereas enhanced cooperation with potentially hostile neighbours can help to avoid crime and human violence, the growingly erratic weather patterns can render state responses to catastrophes such as flooding, earthquakes and tornadoes ineffective as governments are unprepared for unforeseeable events. In a world where being prepared for the unforeseen no longer means keeping an army on stand-by or your eye on the nuclear codes, how does a state adapt its security policies to include food relief, for example, and could this, put in the hands of the military, simply lead to land and resource-grabbing behaviour on the part of regionally/globally dominant states?

Another issue raised throughout the readings is that of human cultures. Parenti points out the importance of cattle in Turkana and Pokot cultures, and tells us of villagers claiming that Islam is the cause of their surprising peaceful state. Culture is often seen as untouchable – the pillar of national identity and pride, and the benevolent counterpoint to race or ethnicity, its evil twins. It is, more than any other shared characteristic of a human community (and even of a non-human community, as extensive new work on such other species as orcas and chimpanzees has revealed), the thread that ties them together. It is a jumble of practices, relationships and understandings shared by a certain group. It informs us on our relationship to nature, our relationships to each other, and our relationships to Others. As many cultural critics have strived to prove, it is also too often a social construction that is racially exclusive and gender-segregated, as is the nation that it builds up. In this way patriarchy and culture, although not exactly the same thing, are deeply entwined. Patriarchy is a cultural construct, just as patriarchy contributes to further cultural understandings and practices. I was, in fact, greatly appreciative of all of these readings in that they all acknowledged (finally) the essential nature of recognizing and remedying the flawed relationships between ourselves as human societies and between ourselves and “nature” as a construct. This is something that will not only, as Pirages points out, enhance our understanding of our attitudes towards the environment (such as the idea of a “right to possess” which is a concept furthermore greatly developed in early democratic and republican thinking and a fundament of the modern nation-state) and how this impacts security policies, but it may well also contribute to social justice within our human societies. I view our socially unjust patriarchy as a house of cards. It is important for analysts and activists alike to assess which card to pull out so as to have the whole construct tumble down. One such card could be respect and protection of the environment. This includes endowment of personhood on non-human entities, and thus entails inclusion of them and their interests in our policies but also in our laws. This may sound like a ridiculous idea, but it is one that already traverses the agendas and rhetoric of such long-standing organizations as the RSPCA. Although this is not mentioned directly, but such measures, such adaptations of our mindsets and our identities as humans (in that it is a construction founded in opposition to the natural Other), would have a very concrete and direct impact on environmental issues by limiting damage. For example, one underrated cause of gas emissions is the preposterously high number of domesticated cattle that we keep for human consumption (dairy and meat). We only do this because we value cattle only for what they provide to humans. We only conceptualize them in relation to ourselves. An emphasis on culture could perhaps also illuminate the reasons behind Parenti’s constantly referring to hordes of “angry young men” as a cause of widespread violence, and why young women, old women or old men are less likely to engage in climate-driven violence.

Another thing that struck me, and that I do not believe to be dissociated from the point discussed above, is the call for economic reform and/or greater economic adaptability. Throughout these first weeks of class we have constantly come back to capitalism as a vehicle of environmental damage, but also of social injustice and human insecurity. Parenti puts forward the link between social and state collapse, environmental damage and organized crime. Environmental change, such as the loss of arable lands due to pollution, salinization of the soil, or desertification, drives people (especially, as Parenti points out, young men) to engage in alternative economic practices which, in a failed state which lacks economic diversity (often resource or agriculturally dependent economies), often means turning to regional or global crime networks. This of course contributes to human insecurity and leads to violent conflict. This does beg the question: would the legalization of certain products on the global market, for example controlled substances or even services such as prostitution, the prohibition of which tends to lead to violence and coercive practices (like human trafficking) contribute to peace-building efforts in places like Afghanistan? And if so, would it not destroy peace in developed countries with stricter laws and law enforcement? To me, this also sounds like an aspect that is import to analyze from a postcolonial perspective as the diversification of national economies in the Global South as is, for that matter, substance regulation, often hindered (sometimes violently) but neo-imperialist/ex-colonialist powers.

If I were to write a paper on one topic related to this weeks readings, I would develop this idea of organized crime partially/potentially as a result of climate change as well as state collapse in the context of the post-Soviet Union North Caucasus, particularly Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Ossetia. For this analysis I would adopt a feminist framework as proposed by Detraz, assessing differing impacts of political conflict and the political culture of the region, but also the environmental culture (social constructions of gender and of human-nature relationships), and the differing strategies of nation building in a similar post-colonial setting. This would allow me to evaluate the viability of proposed peace building solutions from an ecological and gendered perspective.

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