by Vandana Shiva
South End Press 2005
During British rule in India, Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilization. He responded, “It would be a good idea.”
Half a century after independence, India lies reluctantly at the feet of a new imperialism. In her latest book Earth Democracy, Vandana Shiva exposes how globalization is putting India, the Earth and its citizens at risk by privatizing natural resources, genetically engineering food and patenting life forms. Using the subcontinent as her model, Shiva illustrates that by enclosing the commons, corporations are displacing citizens from formerly accessible territory, treating the land and its people as disposable commodities and threatening natural resources, ecological sustainability and cultural diversity.
To reclaim culture and civilization, Shiva proposes we take part in what she calls an “Earth Democracy,” a system based on living economies, living democracies and living cultures. Introducing the 10 principles of Earth democracy, Shiva begins her book by quoting Chief Seattle, who in 1848 said, “This we know; the Earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the Earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites our family. All things are connected.”
Simply put, Earth democracy embraces the awareness of those connections and the rights and responsibilities that flow from them. Shiva encourages societies to cultivate “living economies” that honour nature’s economy and ensure that every being has equal access to the Earth’s resources that make life possible. She supports “living democracies” that resist seeing life as commerce and the world as a commodity. Rather, these democracies prioritize “people and nature above commerce and profits, ecology and equity above trade, citizens above corporations, local democracy above the global market, and people’s lived realities in their everyday life above the abstract constructions of corporate capitalism.” And “living cultures” support the concrete context of culture – the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the languages we speak, and the faiths we hold – as the source of our human identity.
Shiva outlines how we can counteract the agenda of globalization and shows how everyday living cultures are putting Earth democracy into action. Not long ago, 10,000 people in India reclaimed the neem tree, a natural pesticide and medicine used in India for 2000 years, when it was threatened by biopiracy, or corporate patenting of life forms.
In 2004, the Slow Food movement gathered 5000 people from 130 countries to celebrate our Earth mother, “Terra Madre,” and our connections through food and our very humanity. These are just a few examples she gives to show how, by connecting the local to the global through our everyday actions, we can create living cultures based on diversity, alliance and cooperation. “Service, support and solidarity are our means,” Shiva writes.
Vasudhaiva Kutumban means “Earth family” in Sanskrit. In Indian cosmology the human and nonhuman represent a continuum. Patenting life is antithetical to the natural intelligence of the Earth; it’s hostile to the sustainability of that human and nonhuman continuum. Life is not an invention, not a monopoly. Life has its own intelligence. Vandana Shiva calls us to that life we all have a right to, she breathes life back into us and reclaims life for the keepers of biodiversity. – Nancy Miller