The WTC Attack, Sep 11 2001

Commentary and Analysis

Terrorism, Globalisation, BioDiversity, Survival: a feminist perspective

[Editorial note: this essay is a draft in progress which Ms Hawthorne kindly granted permission to reprint here.]

Susan Hawthorne, 21 September 2001:

I have been thinking the last two weeks about the destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. Even more, I have been thinking about the wanton destruction of life which is really the key loss in all of this. Buildings can be rebuilt, lives cannot be revived.

I have been researching globalisation for some years now, and writing my ideas about the connections between feminism, globalisation and biodiversity for a PhD I'm completing entitled Wild Politics (forthcoming, Spinifex Press, 2002). The research has forced me to rethink a lot of things and it has reinforced some ideas. It has forced me to read economics and consider the different positions of peoples in different parts of the world, and in different social settings in Australia and the wider Western world.

I am truly horrified by the devastation in New York and Washington, I know parts of these cities and know people living there whose shock, grief and loss affects me. But what horrifies me even more is the potential, not for one or two cities and their inhabitants to go up in flames, but the prospect that it could affect huge numbers of people across the world.

I deplore statements such as George W Bush's "this is the first war of the 21st century". Where has he been? Does he see nothing outside his own tiny dominant culture (wealthy, white, male, American) experience? How insulting is his statement to the many thousands who have died in Palestine/Israel, Serbia/Kosovo, Macedonia/Albania, Sierra Leone, Fiji, West/East Timor, Aceh, Ambon, Afghanistan, just to name a few of the places most prominent in violent clashes around the world (although not all have had formal declarations of war).

Beyond that, there are then the many millions whose lives have been made worse, not better, under the new multilateral globalisation regimes which create more and more wealth for the US and US-based companies. There are victims - and they are dead, or living lives filled with horror and sadness - in every poor country, and among the poor of the wealthy countries too. They are slaves - many of them women and girls; they are the workers in the Export Processing Zones - many of them women and girls; they are those trafficked for the sexual pleasure of mobile men - the vast majority are women and girls; they are dependent on drugs, or handouts; they are starving, or homeless, or landless, or countryless; they have had their possessions, their land, their knowledge, their plants, their culture, even parts of their bodies stolen, appropriated, pirated, commodified. These people too are victims of another undeclared war in which the rich stand to gain, and the poor lose almost everything. And many of these people are women and girls, for whom the "war against women" as Marilyn French called it, has never really ceased, indeed it appears to have gained momentum.

War, formal declared war, will make the suffering of those already victimised by America's corporate self-seeking attitude even greater. Those who stand to gain are overwhelmingly men. They are rich men, mostly white, but male elites from other cultures are welcome to join the club. They represent a very narrow view of the world, one which has little contact with real life, with daily activities such as buying milk or bread, such as staying up with a sick child, such as talking with a friend about relationships or politics, such as comforting another who has suffered loss, such as planting trees or flowers or harvesting fruits or milking the goats. This narrow view is what I have come to call Dominant Culture Stupidities, the more dominant cultures one belongs to the more socially and politically insensitive and stupid one is. American corporate, military and mainstream political culture tends to think that the rest of world wants what they value.

The military might of the US is intimately connected with its corporate might. Their economies feed one another with goods and multimillion dollar contracts. General Electric did not get rich on refrigerators or kitchen appliances; its nuclear plants are much more profitable.

Where are the women in the structures of power? They are not there (even with the few tokens who are). They do not have decision-making power. They do not provide the financial backing. No, the women - even the captains of industry or law - are outside of this place of hyperpower. Under the Taliban, women are rendered invisible, covered up. In the highest offices of the US corporate and military decision-making boardrooms, it is much the same.

So what does biodiversity have to do with all of this? I suggest, that were the planet to shift its focus from profit making (and war-mongering is a part of that, as economists such as Marilyn Waring have shown) to biodiversity, many of these things would be undoable, unthinkable. To focus on life - an inherent feature of sustaining biodiversity - is to change scale, to change direction, and to change all the basic aspects of life activities. If biodiversity were our inspiration, we would not be building 110-storey buildings for people to die in. We would not be dispossessing people on the other side of the globe just so that we can have that cheap T-shirt, that computer on which I'm writing this, that next trip with its seductive frequent flyer rewards, that strawberry grown out of season and trucked or flown to me thousands of miles away. The garments industry, the electronics industry, the tourism industry, the industrialised farming industry are interfaces of globalisation. They are the small, incremental cuts supported by the American way of life. They - along with the bombs and economic sanctions - are the makers of despair.

We do not yet know who is responsible for the huge acts of violence, but it does appear likely that they are male; that they are backed by wealth; that they are highly mobile. If, and I say this with caution, if they are connected to CIA-trained Osama bin Laden, they too will have been surrounded by a grossly masculinised culture, one in which aggression is valorised, and death for a higher good seen to be the highest honour. If they have come from the madrassahs for orphaned boys, then their education too is pure masculinity. The boys passing through the madrassahs are mostly war orphans, they do not know the company of mothers or sisters or aunts or grandmothers, or possibly even the woman passing on the street. Madrassahs are intended to be places of education and peace, but in recent years some of them have been turned instead to educating for disconnection and violence. The boys inside some of the madrassahs have been politicised for violence, for unemotionality, and for reward in the afterlife. If they could turn their heads towards biodiversity, to the earth's context now, towards growing things, towards caring, towards sustenance and a belief in life then the world would be a different place.

The next step would be to move toward a principle based on biodiversity, a philosophy based in the local, in contextual richness which includes the principle of diversity - social, political and cultural diversity - alongside biodiversity. They would have to move outside their narrow groove - whether they are George W Bush or a Taliban educated boy (the girls are never educated under the Taliban); they would have to learn to appreciate the small things, the ecosystems, the community arts program, the local shopping area or market, the garden.

Biodiversity is an inspirational concept. Unlike diversity it is not easily appropriated and turned to utilitarian ends. One can appropriate the concept of diversity to market baseball caps, but biodiversity, just is. If, and it's a big if, biodiversity were to become the inspiration of the culture a whole raft of things become undoable, some even impossible to think about. Monocultures would be unthinkable. And the things that support monocultures, including US-style patents, the fake-neutral language of mulilateral agreements, as well as all attempts to colonise people and shape them in the mould of the dominating culture.

Biodiversity means that one has to return to the local, to connections between ourselves, to relationship with those who live in the same communities - even some of the ones we don't much like. I think that a community which is based on recognising people's diverse skills and talents, interests and strengths - even our weaknesses - and which also values the specialness of everyone is important. I do think it is time men started to take more account of these issues, women have long been the mainstay of community networks and relationships. But it is also more, because it relates to the way the culture is structured - cars, displacement, disconnection, dislocation and the kind of mobility that gives those of us who fly frequent flyer points. It's hard not to participate - I recognise this - which is why the inspiration of the culture has to shift. From profit to biodiversity again.

Disconnection is critical for a system based on profit. It allows governments to kill people in other countries; it allows for widespread theft through colonisation and globalisation; it allows for profit at the expense of children's lives; it allows environmental degradation, including nuclear dumps in poor countries; it allows for the dumping of refugees in other countries; and it makes violence possible. Disconnection is intimately associated with a separation of means and ends, and with a basic utilitarian philosophy, whereby the ends justify unjustifiable means. By contrast, biodiversity relies on connection and on relationship. It also demands accountability, since one's actions are visible to those who feels the consequences. Biodiversity approaches social and cultural life as an ecosystem, with immediate feedback within the system. Violence might not be entirely eliminated, but it would be dealt with more productively and effectively, instead of simply passing it on to the next victim or generation. Connection requires thinking about process, about how we move through one social structure into another, about means as well as ends, and about the context in which these things take place. Biodiversity, then, is an important inspiration for changing how we think and how we act.

There is a long way to go. Getting there won't be achieved by bombs, or reconstructing 110-storey buildings. It will be achieved by those in the diversity sector who see life with greater richness than those who inhabit the masculinised world of war, profit and globalisation.

Afterword: 24 September 2001
The connection between biodiversity and feminism as forces opposing global corporate greed appeared in an email on my computer this morning. The alliance between those who favour military retaliation and globalisation (with its attendant promotion of biotechnology and GMO rhetoric "to feed the hungry of the world") is shown by the nastiest kind of slippage such as that promulgated by Andrew Apel's (From: Andrew Apel to AgBioView, Subject: The Face of Terrorism) accusation that anti-globalisation activists and those of us who are against industrialised farming practices are terrorists. This is the usual kind of reversal (in Mary Daly's sense) that we can expect from the hypermasculine ideology of corporate and military men. Feminists and ecological activists are not war-mongers, neither is there much profit to be gained; by contrast those who favour global corporate power - whether it be directed to war contracts or industrialised farm contracts - reap huge profits, and are the ones whose minds are focused on destroying or distorting life.

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De Clarke