“Our whole past experience is continually in our consciousness, though most of it sunk to a great depth of dimness. I think of consciousness as a bottomless lake, whose waters seem transparent, yet into which we can clearly see but a little way.”
Philosopher Charles Peirce in Vol VII of his Collected Papers.
Few voices have been as consistent and eloquent in speaking out about the importance – indeed the centrality – of domains and spheres of labor that are presented to us as peripheral, as Mariarosa Dalla Costa. In her first essay (one of three in the latest issue of the wonderful journal The Commoner), she begins
I began to pose to myself the issue of the land as a crucial question at the end of the eighties, on the heels of a trajectory which, during the end of the sixties and seventies, had as its crux the factory as the space of waged labour and then the home as the space of unwaged labour within which the former finds its roots. The labour, therefore, involved in the production of commodities and that of the reproduction of labour power, the labour of the factory worker and the labour of the housewife within the Fordist organization of society. At that time we said that the employer with one paycheck in reality bought two people, the worker and the woman behind him. Agricultural labor, or the labour of the land, which reproduced life for everybody, remained in the shadows however.
I love reading Dalla Costa because of her ability to so concisely illuminate the interconnectedness and mutual penetration of different domains of oppression. Read the above again and note how she indicates that the exploitation of waged labour depends on the ability to further exploit unwaged labour. Capitalism depends, in that instance, on the further oppression of women by men, and farms that oppression out to male workers, some of whom accept the charge.
Similarly, in the industrial age, the focus on factory production has allowed the rulers to present agricultural production as a peripheral activity, rather than that which makes everything else possible. The regimes of monoculture which decimate local food security and render entire regions vulnerable to price shocks – followed by demands from the World Bank and others to engage in Structural Adjustment Programs and then to actually take over a country’s economic policy – oppress the farmers. The oppression of farmers, in turn, depends on the oppression of the land, and what I think of as theft from the future.
And here’s my favorite IWW song, right out of the Little Red Songbook, also about food, agriculture, labor, unions, and justice.
We Have Fed You All for a Thousand Years
We have fed you all for a thousand years
And you hail us still unfed
Though there’s never a dollar of all your wealth
But marks the workers dead
We have yielded our best to give you rest
And you lie on crimson wool
But if blood be the price of all your wealth
Good God we have paid in full
There is never a mine blown skyward now
But we’re buried alive for you
There’s never a wreck drifts shoreward now
But we are its ghastly crew
Go reckon our dead by the forges red
And the factories where we spin
If blood be the price of your cursed wealth
Good God we have paid it in
We have fed you all for a thousand years
For that was our doom, you know
From the days when you chained us in your fields
To the strike a week ago
You have taken our lives, and our babies and wives
And we’re told it’s your legal share
But if blood be the price of your lawful wealth
Good God we bought it fair.
Abundant food [is in] the fallow ground of the poor, But it is swept away by injustice.
I received this in an email today from Sojourners, encouraging me to contact “my” congressional representatives to support reform of the 2007 Farm Bill. That’s actually something so close to my heart I may break my long-standing horror of actually communicating with folks like Norm Coleman. On the other hand, it is an amazing proverb.
Whenever I’m deep in the muck of a particularly painful stretch of writing, I rely on quotations and news to fill blog real estate. Here’s a strange diary entry from Thomas Edison relating to memory [via mindhacks]:
We do not remember. A certain group of our little people do this for us. They live in the part of the brain which has become known as the ‘fold of Broca‘… There may be twelve of fifteen shifts that change about and are on duty at different times like men in a factory…. Therefore it seems likely that remembering a thing is all a matter of getting in touch with the shift that was on duty when the recording was done.”
This is a bizarre little notion, but if taken metaphorically (it is a diary entry, after all), I really like it. It resonates with Freud’s insight that the mental is composed of multiple ‘instances,’ rather than a unitary coherent consciousness, and that depending on context, or ‘shift,’ we may not have access to things. We don’t remember, but remembering happens.