Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Taking a broader view of our predicament (2)

Following on from last week, here is the second extract from Peter Selby’s lecture (full text or audio available online). Please see last week's introduction for the overview of this sequence of posts.

Again, the issues that Peter raises about money and the established church, and money and power, also have relevance to other churches. This extract will make most sense if you have read last week's post.

This collection of issues, when put together, always reminds me of that poignant and hard-hitting Spiritual All My Trials:

If living was something money could buy
The rich would live, and the poor would die . . .

. . . which is, of course, exactly what does happen.

* * * * *
Sovereign Power and the role of money

Posters advertising The Spectator on the London underground recently expressed in chilling terms the source of sovereign power in the present day: ‘Most Germans own a second property’, the poster proclaims: ‘Greece’. The reality of sovereign power as it is exercised in a nation, Greece, which happens to be the cradle of European democracy, is that while the outward structures might indeed be more or less in place, rule of a quite different kind is being exercised, even if not with the violent brutality that we associate with the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. But from the point of view of the Greek people, and especially of its poor, any suggestion that their democracy exercises sovereignty in their country can only elicit a hollow laugh.

But this is just a current instance of a developing trend towards the exercise of sovereign power by the quantity and controlling strength of money and those who hold or manipulate it. Before the collective might, even of a failing banking system, the governments of nation states, even the largest nation states, are helpless. ‘Too big to fail’ means too powerful to control. This is not the place, nor is there the time, to give a full account of the way in which sovereign power has passed to those who have, control or manipulate money. But of the reality of the passing of sovereign power we can surely be in no doubt. The authority to create money was in times past no different from the authority to raise an army: a sovereign act. The passing of that power, virtually unchallenged, to boardrooms is a passing of sovereign power. And it is sovereignty over bare life: the power of such institutions virtually to determine the economic policies of elected governments means that those receiving – or no longer receiving – welfare payments do so at the behest of unelected bodies. Those who sit on juries deciding in effect whether a person might be consigned to custody will increasingly know that the ‘good of the economy’, at least of their pension funds, will in part be related to those whose prosperity depends on the prisons they buy, build and manage. And as the dislocations in the world economy grow greater, more and more people will be driven to migrate in search of the essentials of bare life, and immigration policy will be structured to maintain the standard of living of those who already have, consigning hundreds of thousands to a state of exception, the status of banned persons.

Why mention these changes in the way sovereignty is exercised? Because sovereign power as it is now exercised bears no signs of the establishment of the Church at all. Bishops may sit in the legislature; the monarch may take an oath before God; but the Church will be the last body to be involved in decisions about investment, interest rates, the money supply and so forth. I am not suggesting that the Church should have a place on the governing body of the Bank of England; I am only pointing out that in our debates about the privileges we have and the duties we acquire by virtue of being the established Church we must remain aware that our involvement with sovereignty is with sovereignty as it was and not as it is. We are mis-established, and wisdom and faithfulness begins with that recognition and therefore with abandoning any over-estimate of the significance of our relationship with the old order.

Of course those relations may give opportunity for marginal effects on what government does, on legislation, on the institutions of civil society. Again, to take those opportunities is perfectly proper, as it is proper to resist points where the duties associated with those relationships become irksome. But over all of those activities is a warning sign that reads, ‘This night your soul will be required of you’; crisis, the point of judgement, comes when sovereign power, ‘vitae necisque potestas’ (the power of life and death), is actually exercised, where persons are made, economically or by the use of force, non-persons, and the decision has to be made whether to side with sovereign power or with the victims of its use, even at the cost of the relationship enjoyed with the outward sources of sovereign power, the monarch or parliament.

Empire – sovereignty sans frontière
If the exercise of sovereignty has extended itself into bare life, that is not simply a national phenomenon. Nation states have less and less capacity to act as though they could exercise independent sovereignty. The globalisation of the market economy is a phrase covering a range of phenomena all to do with the power of the mechanisms of international trade and finance to determine policies and outcomes over which nations have less and less control. In part that leads to the increasing development of large groupings of nations for economic and trading purposes or as military alliances. On the other hand, more and more power has come to reside in trans-national corporations, free by virtue of their size to shift their centre of operations to wherever the political framework suits their purposes, and therefore exercising a great deal of power over the governing authorities of nation states.

Yet again, the scale of the global economy means that a dominant individual national economy can exercise enormous influence over the economies of other nations, and particularly over the poorest. What we have seen, and shall continue to see more and more, is the mutation of sovereignty into Empire, sovereignty exercised without frontiers. Unlike the empires of old this empire is not the result of successful national imperialism but of financial power, supported by force where necessary but mostly exercised through the operation of the market by the will of those with the most power to act there. [. . .]

The world’s poorest populations may be taught to attribute their famine and disease to decisions made by their own government in the exercise of its sovereignty, or they may assume they are part of the givenness of their lives, rooted in climatic conditions or other matters beyond human control. No doubt both those elements play a part. But in the main, and from the perspective of our examination of sovereign power over bare life, the reality is that the power of those who control money in the wealthiest countries has declared a ‘state of exception’ over the majority of humankind, but also the right to determine the law under which trading relations (and consequent relationships of credit and debt) exist. So, as with most exercise of sovereign power, it is natural for the powerful to be convinced that the course of action they take is also the most beneficial not just for them but for those whose destiny they are deciding. We surely hear echoes here of the closing sentence of Jesus’ comment on the disciples’ dispute about which of them is to be greatest: ‘The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those in authority are called benefactors.’ (Luke 22.25)

The laws of the market that declare various states of exception and call them beneficial have much wider effects too. The global market has the potential to govern the whole environment of a society, its provision of health care and its educational system, its legal apparatus and criminal law, and in the last resort also those areas of people’s lives which are, at the same time, declared to be ‘private’. Michael Sandel’s  latest book asks, with numerous examples to back up his case, what if anything is left that money can’t buy.

There is of course much more to be said about globalisation than that it causes the most vulnerable people and nations to be excluded from human flourishing. From the standpoint of a Christian tradition which speaks again and again of the determination of God that God’s love should be shared to the ends of the earth we should not place ourselves among those who simply grumble about it. There has been and continues to be a sharing of democratic institutions and the rule of law, ideals of solidarity and inclusion. If these appear increasingly without the direct exercise of power by churches they do nonetheless appear. The fact that the Church of England, like churches in many countries, no longer has its hands on the levers of power and influence should not stand in the way of our rejoicing in the good when we see it, even as it constitutes a challenge to respond to those whom the benefits of a global market passes by and those who more seriously are reduced to the status of non-persons by its onward march.

Conclusion – the Call to Relocation
[. . .] Above all else I have sought to draw attention to an aspect of establishment that is absolutely central but frequently overlooked and that is the fact that it is about a relationship with the Sovereign. The Sovereign as holder of the power to declare states of exception, specifically to exercise increasing power over the bare life of the subject, to lock up, to exclude and to grant basic rights of survival, is the one with whom an established Church is in relation. That being so, what has caused the Church to be mis-established is the historic change to the location of sovereign power from the structures of the nation state to those who have control over the operation of the market. A debate about whether to change the relationship of the Church to the nation state bypasses the more challenging question of the Church’s relation – or non-relation – to the market. It is there that the policies of nation states are determined, there that people are reduced to poverty or otherwise excluded from the mainstream of society.

A consideration of that mis-establishment has therefore to lead to a reconsideration of the Church’s location. That reconsideration, one that takes seriously the absence of any effective relationship with the sources of financial power or those principally experiencing poverty and exclusion, is further demanded, as I have suggested, by the international character of those current sources of sovereign power, determining as they do the operation of a globalised market. We are not at liberty, it seems to me, to ignore that historic development or simply to bemoan it; the divine project has always been, and is now, a global one, and there is too much on offer and too much at stake for us to neglect the opportunities or the challenges of that globalisation.

But as things are, the Church is perceived, and accurately so, as lacking both the determination or the skills to engage those who operate in the globalised financial market place, and at the same time the willingness to act in solidarity with those whom the international market subjects to states of exception. To remedy that is to embark on the reform of our discipleship, always a more challenging and demanding task than debating or even executing changes in our institutional arrangements. But the combination of the disturbances of last summer, the explosion of frustration at the market’s exercise of sovereign power represented by the Occupy movement, and the discovery by St Paul’s Institute (if we did not already know it) that financial sector professionals do not believe that the Church has any useful ethical guidance to offer  – these and many other signs leave us no choice if we are to be faithful than to respond to the requirement to relocate ourselves in relation to that sovereign power, its controllers and its victims. And what really leaves us no choice is that we profess that the one who resisted sovereign power to the point of becoming its victim is the one to whom sovereignty ultimately belongs.

* * * * *

Published with permission (© Peter Selby 2012).

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Taking a broader view of our predicament (1)

This week I start a series of several linked posts that explore the broader context of our current economic and environmental predicament. I start in perhaps an unexpected place, for this blog!

A couple of weeks ago, I went to hear a lecture, given at Keble College, Oxford , by Peter Selby , a long-standing friend of mine. The lecture was primarily addressed to members of the Church of England, and was titled, ‘Mis-Establishment: Locating, and re-locating, the Church of England’.

Those parts of the lecture that addressed specifically the questions surrounding the establishment (or not) of the Anglican Church in Britain are unlikely to be of prime interest to readers of this blog (but if you are interested, you can read or listen to the whole lecture online).

However, in the second half of the lecture Peter addressed himself to the nature of ‘The Establishment’ more broadly. This raises issues of power in society – the power of the monarch, of those with money, of those who pull the levers of political power. It also raises questions about those on the receiving end of the exercise of power, and where the churches – any of the churches – will align themselves.

I think these questions are of great importance to the nexus of concerns that this blog addresses, and in which its readers are interested. Below is an extract from Peter’s lecture, and I’ll publish a second extract next week.

This is a substantial essay – not a quick, easy read – but it’s worth the time and effort to read it. I am grateful to Peter for his permission to use his text.
* * * * *
Establishment and Sovereign Power

Establishment historically has to do with the relationship between the Church and sovereign power. Sovereign power may be exercised by a monarch, and the place of the Church of England in relation to the monarchy hardly needs mention in a lecture given (initially) in Westminster Abbey. The monarchy may have been an absolute one and may now be a constitutional one. It may be exercised through the mechanisms of parliamentary democracy, and the various ways in which the Church interacts with, and is regulated by, Parliament witness to that reality as it has manifested itself through history: as Parliament has developed so has its interaction with the Church of England developed also.

However much the way in which sovereign power is exercised and the legal and constitutional arrangements by which it is exercised may vary and develop, no examination of establishment can avoid considering the nature of sovereign power itself. What is this to which the established Church claims a special relationship?

[. . . ] A central feature of sovereign power is that it is ‘vitae necisque potestas’, the power of life and death. What is discernible in the development of the modern state, of sovereignty in modern times, is the development of sovereign power as power over bare life. That basic subsistence, which has been a responsibility of the family, part of theoikos’ [household] rather than the 'polis[state], has become that over which the sovereign power now exercises control. This is not an abstract point: consider the capacity of large numbers of people to house themselves and their families, to feed themselves, to be treated in the event of bodily illness, to find basic education for their children, to obtain productive employment; the mechanisms may vary as may the scope and reach of the state, but for all citizens of the state to some degree and to the poorest citizens to an ever increasing degree the state’s ‘power over bare life’ has grown and shows no sign of ceasing to grow. Thus politics becomes biopolitics in that control is exercised by the sovereign’s overwhelming power of coercion against bare, bodily, existence.

The point needs to be stressed: the issue here is not the processes by which sovereign power has been exercised, under the various constitutional arrangements that have developed through history and in particular during the modern period. It would be a mistake to suppose that the character of sovereign power has changed simply because the mechanisms of constitutional government or democratic elections are in place; as we shall see, the opposite can be the case.

For sovereignty lives out a logic, albeit a paradoxical one. The sovereign is without question part of the juridical order of the society, with rights and duties prescribed by the juridical order itself. But sovereignty also has the capacity to define the extent of the juridical order itself; that is, the sovereign uniquely has the right to declare ‘status exceptionis’, a ‘state of exception’. It is of the essence of sovereignty that it is defined by its capacity to decide the exception, and it is the exception and the capacity to declare the exception that explains the juridical order. [. . . ]

The characterisation of sovereignty in terms of the right to declare the status of an exception shows itself also in the sovereign’s right to declare the subject excluded from the society. Sovereign power thus shows itself in the right to imprison, to section under the mental health acts, or to deprive of citizenship or residence.

The sovereign’s power to determine the ‘state of exception’ has the deepest roots in the primitive life of humankind. Primitive societies deny to the bandit and the outlaw all protection and put them beyond the scope of any taboo against killing. The ‘ban’ of medieval times is a continuation of this tradition, asserting that the person condemned to death by his city was to be regarded as dead. The banned person is the one who reveals the character of sovereign power in its most fundamental sense. The ultimate capacity of the sovereign, that which defines the sovereign as sovereign, is the single power, the vitae necisque potestas, from which all other powers finally derive. The power generally associated with the sovereign, the capacity to regulate all those aspects of life which are conventionally associated with sovereignty, derive from the latent – and frequently unacknowledged – power of the sovereign to define a person ‘pro mortuo’, as being as good as dead.

It is unfortunately a fact of history that examples of the exercise of this latent power of the sovereign are not hard to find. They are indeed examples that demonstrate all too clearly that particular constitutional arrangements for the exercise of sovereign power are far from being a guarantee against the placing of individuals and groups under ‘bans’ of various kinds, and therefore treated pro mortuis. What is important, however, is that the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century are considered not simply as the singular extremisms of particular countries and times, but are seen in the light of the development of precisely those institutions that were thought to liberate people from the possibility of the sovereign’s uncontrolled power. In particular, it would be important not to see the ‘sovereignty of the people’ according to the aspirations of democratic theory as some kind of guarantee against exceptional and extreme forms of sovereignty.

In fact democratic institutions, based as they are on the belief that popular power will be the best defence of popular interests against the power of those who direct armies or have the control of most of the wealth, have proved easy prey to those able to engage the sympathies of the populace against vulnerable groups of many kinds. To engage the people it is only necessary to persuade or seduce them into a change of their sympathy, a conviction that those with power, force and wealth are not the threat to their interests which they thought they were, but rather constitute their best protection against groups who are presented as the greatest danger to their prosperity or even their very safety. When politics embraces bare life, the basic constituents of bodily existence, sovereign power becomes to that extent more secure and the less subject to control. Able to present itself as representing the will of the people, the sovereign is to that extent the more able to designate particular individuals and groups as presenting an enormous risk to the security of the state, or to the prosperity and well-being of ‘the people’, and therefore as not deserving of the title of person at all or the protections citizens are meant to enjoy. [. . .]

So it was that the ‘river of biopolitics’, the progressive concern of sovereign power with bare life, came together with the plan of the twentieth-century totalitarian states for total domination, working itself out in the concentration camps. [. . . ]

It is of course profoundly disturbing to reflect on the roots of Nazi practice within the development of the political structures of modernity, and particularly to note the development of ‘concentration camps’ by the Spanish in their colonisation of Cuba at the end of the nineteenth century and by the British in their dealings with the Afrikaaners at the same time. In both cases, the needs of the colonists resulted in the declaration of a ‘state of exception’, effectively of martial law. By the time such a state of exception was declared within the Nazi state to provide the basis for the camps, it was not even necessary to make an open declaration of a ‘state of exception’ as such, so much had that extreme situation become part of the normal operation of the state. This explains why the racial laws of the Third Reich do not need to reside in either ‘science’ or ‘law’: they derive directly from the power of the sovereign – in this case the Führer – to declare the state of exception and have it enforced. [. . .]

Sadly, the ‘river of biopolitics’ flows on, as those dependent on the state for ‘bare life’ experience the effect of changed policies for welfare and public provision. As this paper was being written a London landlord was reported as declaring that the evictions he needed to seek because of caps on housing benefit would amount in their effects to ‘ethnic cleansing’. The disproportionate incarceration of members of poor and disadvantaged groups and minority ethnic communities witness to the same point. Both the welfare regime and the increased use of imprisonment show what sovereignty actually means, and provide the threatening context within which all of us pass our lives.

To be ‘established’ is to be related closely to that exercise of sovereignty as coercive power over bare life. Much more to the point than most current debates about the ending the mechanics of establishment in this country is Donald MacKinnon’s hope that the ending of establishment might see an end to episcopal blessings on Polaris submarines. Unfortunately there is no particular evidence that when churches are disestablished they become less eager to have a share in sovereign power, as a moment’s reflection on the disestablished religious right in the USA and its addiction to military force, capital punishment and imprisonment on a massive scale makes all too clear. So, more serious than any questions about any limits on the Church’s ordering of its own life in exchange for certain privileges in the life of the nation, is whether the Church is established in relation to sovereign power or in relation to those who are the victims of the exercise of that power. In those situations where a choice has to be made between the claims of the powerful and the claims of the excluded, where is the Church located?

*  *  *  *  *

Published with permission (© Peter Selby 2012).

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

New data from Global Footprint Network

News release today from Global Footprint Network:

New Footprint and Biocapacity Data Released from Space: Trends Reveal a ‘Global Auction’

Astronaut Launches Living Planet Report 2012

Humanity is now using nature’s services 52% faster than the Earth can renew them, according to Global Footprint Network’s latest data, just published in the 2012 edition of the Living Planet Report. The biennial report is produced by WWF in collaboration with Global Footprint Network and the Zoological Society of London. It was launched today by European Space Agency astronaut André Kuipers from the International Space Station.

Click here to see the video of the launch.

This report is released just weeks before world leaders come together in Rio de Janeiro for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20); it shows rising competition among countries for resources and land use.

Mathis Wackernagel, President of  Global Footprint Network, said:
We’ve entered the era of the global auction, where nations are now forced to compete fiercely for more expensive and less abundant resources. It’s in their own self-interest to preserve and restore the natural assets they have within their borders and avoid ecological deficit spending. In a resource constrained world, such spending will become an ever more challenging economic burden.
Figure 1: Using more than Earth can renew is only possible temporarily, while there are sufficient assets to be liquidated and waste sinks to be filled up. Eventually, overshoot will be eliminated; the question is whether it is eliminated by design or by disaster.
The new figures released for humanity’s Ecological Footprint and biocapacity (Earth’s capacity to regenerate resources) show that now, more than ever, countries must manage natural capital as part of their strategy to secure ecological, economic and social success. This also holds true when they are deploying development strategies that aim at producing lasting progress, for instance for efforts to eliminate hunger and alleviate poverty. These cannot be exceptions to this overarching principle.

As population and consumption increase, the pressure on the planet continues to grow. Global Footprint Network calculations show that, in the past 50 years, humanity’s Ecological Footprint has more than doubled. In 2008, the most recent year for which data are available, humanity used the equivalent of a little more than 1.5 planets to support its activities. In other words, nearly 40 years after Earth went into ecological overshoot,  it now takes more than a year and six months for Earth to absorb the CO2 emissions and regenerate the renewable resources that we use up in one year.

While humanity’s cropland and fishing Footprints have increased, carbon continues to be the largest driver behind humanity’s ecological overshoot. Carbon now accounts for more than half the global Ecological Footprint, at 54%. Land used for food production is another major factor in humanity’s increasing Footprint.

While carbon is a major challenge, it must not be addressed in isolation. Moving from fossil fuels to alternative sources of energy will reduce the carbon portion of the Footprint, but may also significantly increase pressure on other ecosystems. The lack of biocapacity to accommodate the carbon Footprint also indicates that there may not be sufficient biomass available to substitute the current level of fossil fuel use, should that become necessary. In other words, business as usual by other means isn't going to be an option.

Though the numbers are stark, countries can still reverse these trends. Using a Global Footprint Network Scenario Calculator, the 2012 edition of the Living Planet Report offers potential outcomes based on different choices related to resource consumption, demographic trends, land use and productivity.

Comparing the Ecological Footprint of Countries

Examining the Ecological Footprint at the per-person level shows that people living in different countries vary greatly in their demand on Earth’s ecosystems. For example, if everyone in the world lived like the average resident of Qatar (which presently has the world’s highest per capita Footprint) we would need the equivalent of 6.5 planets to regenerate our resources and absorb the CO2 emissions. If everyone lived like a resident of the United States, we would need the resources of 4 planets. 

Graph showing biocapacity and Ecological Footprint for the UK:

Graph showing biocapacity and Ecological Footprint for the USA:

These graphs track the per-person resource demand (Ecological Footprint) and resource supply (biocapacity), in the UK and USA respectively, since 1961. Biocapacity varies each year with ecosystem management, agricultural practices (such as fertilizer use and irrigation), ecosystem degradation, and weather.

Although the USA has a higher per capita global footprint than the UK, the gap between its biocapacity and it Footprint is smaller because it has much more vast bio resources, compared to its population, than does the UK.

A few countries are now on the verge of turning from ecological creditors to ecological debtors, including Indonesia, Senegal and Ecuador.

Mathis Wackernagel said:
Countries that maintain high levels of resource dependence are putting their own economies at risk. These countries will expose themselves dangerously to the global auction. But those countries that are able to work within both their financial and their ecological budget will not only serve the global interest, they will have the most resilient economies in a resource-constrained world. If our goal is to make progress last, and secure well-being for all, then we can no longer afford to ignore biocapacity deficits in the new era of resource constraints.
You can download the latest results here, or check out your country’s trend on Global Footprint's website. Click here to see any country’s Ecological Footprint.

The top 10 countries with the largest Ecological Footprint per person are, in order: Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, the United States, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Kuwait and Ireland. Countries on the other end of the spectrum, such as Afghanistan and Bangladesh, have per capita Footprints that, in many cases, are too small to provide for basic needs. These countries may well need to increase their access to resources if they are to bring large segments of the population out of poverty.

Who has the greatest natural capital?

Analysis of biocapacity also reveals vast differences between countries. More than 60 percent of the world’s biocapacity is found within the borders of just 10 countries: Brazil, China, the United States, Russia, India, Canada, Australia, Indonesia, Argentina and Congo. Biocapacity per person, calculated by dividing national biocapacity by a country’s population, is also not shared equally around the world. In 2008, the country with the highest biocapacity per person in this report was Gabon, followed in decreasing order by Bolivia, Mongolia, Canada and Australia. With pressure on ecological resources escalating, access to biocapacity will be increasingly important to countries’ competitiveness and to their ability to provide a good quality of life for their citizens.

Mathis Wackernagel added: 
For lasting competitiveness, countries need a break with the past. The good news is that addressing resource risks can open up economic opportunities and advance social equity. The solutions lay in better understanding the choices before us. For this, governments need the knowledge and tools to manage their ecological assets as well as their resource demand.

How to Participate
As Global Footprint Network approaches its 10th anniversary, it remains committed to reversing these trends by working with governments and maintaining and improving its National Footprint Accounts, regarded as the gold standard for measuring key aspects of a country’s ecological wealth and vulnerabilities. You can be part of this global effort by promoting their work, or making a donation.