More Book Notes: Contemporary Challenge to State Sovereignty

The second book I read today is Max Manwaring’s Contemporary Challenge to State Sovereignty. It’s much shorter than Capitalism in the Web of Life but almost took me longer to read because I was annotating a lot and looking up the sources he quotes.

It’s a very good book. Manwaring looks at gangs in Central America, Mexico, Jamaica and Brazil and analyses the ways in which they destroy state sovereignty in their search for profit. Gangs, Manwaring says, function almost like Fortune 500 companies. They are very protean in their structure and operations and they are as hostile to nation-states as these companies.

There is a lot of useful material in the book and I can’t quote it all but here is one interesting thing I do have time to share. As we know, MS-13 was formed in California by children of Salvadoran immigrants. In the 1990s, the US decided to deport the incarcerated gangsters. So the MS-13 members got sent back to El Salvador.

The really shitty thing, though, is that the US never informed the Salvadoran authorities whom it was sending back. There’s a difference between, “hey, here are some illegals we picked up and are deporting” and “these are members of a highly effective and extremely deadly organization and this is what we know about how it operates.” The Salvadoran police, which was already very bad at controlling actual criminals as opposed to torturing dissidents, had no idea what it was dealing with.

It took over a decade for the US authorities to start informing El Salvador (and other countries) of the criminal history of the deportees.

And it’s a vicious circle, folks. The maras became strong in El Salvador, making more peaceful people want to leave and come here. The gangs have now become fully transnational, benefiting from the constant moving around of people. So they ramp up the pressure to make more people leave. Etc.

I have not yet found a confirmation on why the US concealed this information about the deported gangsters. I’m waiting for some sources from the ILL. I mean, I have an idea but I want to see the sources first.

Now I’m done working for the day and I’m off to get existentially stunted (according to some folks) by taking my kid out to play.

Book Notes: Capitalism in the Web of Life

Jason Moore is an environmental historian who published Capitalism in the Web of Life in 2015.

He argues that capitalism is undergoing a massive, epochal and irreversible crisis because it can no longer exploit nature like it used to because natural resources have been too depleted to provide for a sufficiently rapid and cheap exploitation.

It’s a cute book but it suffers from the very problem the author spends hundreds of pages denouncing, namely, a narrow definition of nature. Moore starts by pointing out – very usefully and astutely – that human beings and the social relations we produce are nature. But he fails to make the leap towards understanding that human nature and the social relations among humans are the natural resource that today’s capitalism is appropriating to extract enormous surplus value.

Moore talks convincingly about capitalism’s reliance on free labor but somehow fails to notice that the digital revolution creates unparalleled resources of free labor to be exploited. He’d gain a lot from reading Surveillance Capitalism because Shoshana Zuboff is a lot more consistent in her development of Moore’s idea that human nature is nature than Moore is.

As I said, the book was published in 2015 and it’s already quite outdated. It’s a shame because it’s a good book, very well-written but it really misses the mark because the epochal crisis Moore anticipates has already been obviated. Yes, there are no more unexploited landmasses or indigenous populations. But as Zuboff brilliantly demonstrates, the colonial-era dispossession is booming again. The only difference – and the reason it’s so hard to notice – is that, like many of the features of today’s capitalism, it’s being internalized, i.e. moved inside human beings.

I do not believe that one can successfully write about the environment and it’s relationship with capitalism without talking about this process of internalization.