Thursday, July 17, 2008

Clarifying Issues IV: Social Ecology, Eco-Anarchism and Beekeeping

My previous reflections on organic/natural beekeeping have lead me to the work of Murray Bookchin and his philosophy of social ecology. I admit that what I know of his work (at this point, very little) fits well with my vocation as a critical sociologist and my avocation as a sustainable beekeeper. Bookchhin states:

"What literally defines social ecology as "social" is its recognition of the often overlooked fact that nearly all our present ecological problems arise from deep-seated social problems." (1)

The implications of such a philosophy to my apicultural management are tremendous. For example, while the banning of many pesticides is both necessary and commendable, I must remain vigilant even after a banning occurs, since the economic structures that make the use of pesticides necessary for agribusiness still exist. How might the next agribusiness "silver bullet" effect bees and beekeeping?

A great deal of the success I am having beekeeping this summer is due, at least partially, to living in a moderate-to-poor economic neighborhood where the middle-class status symbol of a perfect weed-free lawn does not exist to any great extent. Any type of upward change in real estate (not likely in our present economy) may totally change the nature of how I have to manage bees locally.

A live-or-let die natural beekeeping approach, in an attempt to selectively breed bees suited to my town environment, may be a tremendous idea, if we assume that the social/economic environment of Winona Minnesota remains unchanged. But under the "grow-or-die" economic imperative of global capitalism, a stagnant social environment is completely unlikely, even in Winona. Can the bees make the necessary genetic adaptations in an environment of rapid social/economic change in order survive in the long term? How might I manage bees to give them some "breathing room" in order to adapt? What does sustainable beekeeping mean in this type of environment?

The whole question, raised by Phil Chandler, of whether beekeeping is better suited as a cottage industry rather than an agribusiness brings to mind a whole host of questions about the way we structure our society and how this underlies many of our environmental problems including those facing bees. Can anyone taking on the label of sustainable beekeeper be anything less than a radical social activist?

Does all this mean a return to the primitivism espoused by many in the eco-anarchist movement? I don't think so. If I might paraphrase Daniel Quinn in his book Ishmael: The question is not whether civilization itself is incompatable with the laws governing the community of life but how do we create a civilization that is subject to these ecological laws?

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