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The Prospect of Scarcity (NeMLA)

Boston, MA
Event: NeMLA
Categories: Postcolonial, Popular Culture, 20th & 21st Century, 20th & 21st Century, Anthropology/Sociology, Environmental Studies, Food Studies
Event Date: 2024-03-07 to 2024-03-10 Abstract Due: 2023-12-21

In the "developed" West, the industrial mode of production combined with political liberalization at home and neoliberalism abroad have normalized ever-increasing surpluses of production and capital; the idea of "progress" has become indissociable from the idea of "more." However, the surpluses now being generated are underwritten by forms of ecological degradation such as soil erosion, the depletion of groundwater, the creation of littoral dead zones, the annihilation of Oceanic fish populations, chemical pollution, global warming, etc. As awareness of these ecological effects has grown, progressive states have sought to curb environmental damages, often by requiring producers to internalize environmental costs. But from the point of view of an ideology in which ever-increasing surpluses have become normalized, such measures appear to pose the existential threat of replacing surplus with scarcity!

In many places, perceived government overreach in attempting to protect the environment has inspired new forms of backlash: the Yellow Vest movement in France and the Farmer-Citizen Movement in Denmark are two examples. Green asceticism has been countered with alt-right memes declaring "I will not eat the bugs." Distasteful as such formations may be to left intellectuals, such reactionary sentiment clusters around a grain of political truth: attempts to internalize costs in core sectors of the economy such as energy and food stress not only those working-class constituencies who reliably support conservative social agendas but also the poor more generally. As Sylvia Wynter has written about the environmentalism of the bourgeoisie (for whom ever-increasing surpluses are a structural necessity), "the proposals that they're going to give for change are going to be devastating!"

This panel asks how we might confront the prospect of scarcity, both as an ideological "trigger" for new varieties of reaction and as an environmental justice problem. What spiritual, aesthetic, or cultural practices might enable us to live with (or even embrace) some forms of scarcity, rather than wallowing in surplus? What is happiness if not the accumulation of surplus, and how viable are alternatives to the surplus-addicted industrial economy centered around notions such as the gift, salvage, or eco-socialism? Finally, how might we disarm reactionary sentiments before the prospect of scarcity, planned or unplanned, is used as a pretext for violence?

aaroncdell@gmail.com

Aaron Dell