A Moment Of Deep
An interview with Vandana
by Geov Parrish and Vandana
Recently I had the tremendous honor, and pleasure, of sitting down for
a conversation with one of the true heroes of global efforts to create
a more equitable and sustainable world. Indian physicist Vandana Shiva
is one of the most renowned and respected grassroots leaders in the
global South. She has worked extraordinarily effectively to organize
and advocate for farmers and other ordinary workers in India and other
poorer countries to retain the rights to their seeds, their water, and
their traditional livelihoods. Her 13 books (in English) have covered
everything from feminism to environmental justice to biopiracy, the
abuses of globalization and neo-colonialism, and means for creating
a nonviolent and sustainable future for our planet. The following interview
is abridged; the complete text was published Aug. 19 in my column at
GP: Three years ago, you
were one of the most articulate and inspiring of the critical voices
in Seattle during the WTO ministerials. You're back this time speaking
specifically around water and food issues. Is that instead of globalization,
or is that an entree to the broader issues as well?
VS: It's an entree to the
broader issues. Water and food are the broad issues. What I want to
do is revisit what globalization meant in terms of issues: food and
water, which are issues of life, basic needs, and how globalization
both undermines democracy and denies security. Out of that has come
the series of happenings that have become globalization in all societies,
all countries: terrorism, war, fundamentalism, violence.
The phenomenon of violence
is the dominant fact of our time. That then connects further into the
vicious circle: a vicious circle of violence, in which you have a violence
of globalization, a denial of basic needs, usurpation of resources,
undermining of democracy. It gives rise to fundamentalism, exclusion,
chauvinism, nationalism of all kinds, fueling into a politics of diversion,
in which the globalization agenda, which could never have gone through
in democratic forms, is scuttled through, in a way, sneakily.
GP: As in last Saturday,
when fast track was passed by the House of Representatives, unseen and
with no debate, at 3:00 in the morning.
VS: As in India, the water
policy, the patent law, trade liberalization, all of these have been
done in the dark behind the backs of people in periods when the public
is preoccupied with: "My God, we're at war, my God, we'll have
a nuclear war, God, the Muslims!" That rule through fear is becoming
a very, very convenient mode for continuing the failed Seattle agenda.
GP: A lot of people look
at these very large issues, immensely powerful global corporations,
global institutions, even democratic institutions clearly no longer
acting as though they were accountable to the general public, and people
throw up their hands, they say, "What can we do?" What can
VS: The tremendous response
that people had at the time of the WTO meetings in Seattle was a response
that came of the first awareness: "Oh my God, there's these huge
corporations, they're starting to rule over us, these are the agendas
they have." Then we had 9-11, we had corporate takeover and corporate
unaccountability showing in a very blatant marriage with unaccountable
GP: Not just in this country.
All over the world.
VS: It's a world phenomenon.
It's absolutely a world phenomenon. This country unhappily ends up very
often being the leader in bad trends. Bad trends in corporatization,
bad trends in militarization. It would be wonderful to have it lead
in the trends of peace, in trends of equity, sharing, justice.
I think the joint assault
on peoples' freedoms and rights from what I call the fundamentalism
of the market and the fascism--fascism in governments as we've seen
them, right now--is forcing all of us to invent democracy anew.
GP: How do we invent it?
VS: We invent it by turning
to our advantage the smallness of the spaces left to us to act. I think
when there is formal democracy, when there is peace, when there is welfare,
a good economy, by and large people can leave it to other structures.
They say, "Well, okay, it's all right, you're looking after education,
you're looking after our food, fine, well, you can have the power."
But now, it's become very clear that the system as it's now created
will not allow food to reach the majority of human beings on the planet,
is going to take water away--
GP: And is already doing
VS: Is already doing it,
and the logic of it will be total denial of the very right to live.
Not just to human beings, the eighty percent of humanity that doesn't
have the purchasing power to play it out on the market, to work in the
economy, but the millions of species whose rights to food and water
are also at stake.
GP: Anything living that
doesn't contribute to the bottom line is extraneous.
VS: Absolutely. Absolutely.
And that is why the main things people can do now are the biggest things
people can do, and they're the smallest things people can do. Ensuring
that through the way we produce our food and consume our food, we open
and reclaim the spaces--the food systems that serve the earth, that
serve the farmers, and that serve the consumers. We don't have to live
and tolerate the kind of recall of contaminated meat you just had, where
all the time people are living in fear of either eating bad food and
not knowing it, or eating bad food, knowing about it, and not being
able to do a thing about it.
GP: There's so many technologies
that we're told are progress, are inevitable. And they're not inevitable.
They're specific decisions that benefit some and not others. How does
that process become more democratic?
VS: Knowledge and innovation
is another dimension of the living democracy. We've had, beginning with
the Cartesian revolution, this idea that technology was something that
some people created, and gave a life of its own. Democracy, also, was
made to appear like that: a life of its own in an administration that
depends on the people who put it into power, but forgets between elections
that they have delegated rights and delegated authority.
Similarly, the very technological
images and structures that have evolved have been made to look like
there is an autonomous creation of technology, that it's inevitable,
and that there's no delegating. And there is no accountability, there's
For a living democracy, people
have control over the decisions on what technologies are created. Now,
there is not scrutiny over them, because the lack of that scrutiny is
created in the technology itself.
Fifteen years of my life
have been dedicated to ensuring farmers have their right to livelihood
and biodiversity saved, people have food, And the only way biotechnology
has been adopted--a vilest technology which doesn't produce more food,
destroys farmers' survival, destroys consumer confidence--in spite of
all that, the only reason it's still around in food and agriculture
is because, just like Arthur Andersen cooked up its figures and accounts,
Monsanto's constantly cooking up the figures on what it delivers. And
that happens because of this taking technology beyond the reach of people,
even when the technology's going to hurt people and it's about our lives.
GP: Specialization encourages
that, too. It's too complicated for most of us to understand.
VS: And it's deliberately
made that way.
GP: Even when it's not complicated.
VS: For example, a monopoly
on seed is a monopoly on seed. Now, you can call it intellectual property
rights, and through that, derive huge beautiful language on the right
to have a return on investment to keep innovation going in society,
and all the paraphernalia that has been used for ten years to justify
monopolies on life and ownership of life and the false claim that corporations
create life, create seed, invent plants.
GP: There seem to be real,
structural ways in which the institutions of globalization have been
encouraging militarization, have been encouraging wars--through the
arms trade, through some of the economic policies. Talk about the logic
VS: It's even deeper than
the arms trade. The globalization of the arms trade is the obvious part
we see, but there are two other levels at which globalization and militarism
are two sides of the same coin. They're not even two different coins
that are made out of the same metal. They are the same coin.
The first link comes through
the fact that when states expropriate resources from people--food, water,
biodiversity--when they deny people basic needs, jobs are destroyed,
livelihoods are destroyed--the democratic response of any community
anywhere is the democratic right to protest, and to say, "We want
Globalization has basically,
through taking away the rights of people, and defining the ownership
control over these vital resources, over food and water, as corporate
rights which states then have to defend--it actually has equipped states
to unleash terrorism on their own. I am both remembering the streets
of Seattle and the violence of the police against protesters--and every
GP: Seattle was almost nothing,
compared to a lot of events around the world.
VS: Since them. Absolutely.
Look at Genoa. But look at India, and tribals defending their constitutional
rights to land. In our constitution, tribal land cannot be alienated.
Tribals that have been working their land have defended it over the
decades. Today, when tribals come out, they are shot. They are killed
because the right of the investor who wants their land, the right of
the corporation who wants their water, is treated as the higher right,
which states must defend.
Thomas Friedman played it
out better than any of us when he said, "Behind the invisible hand
of the market is the iron first of the military. Behind McDonald's is
McDonnell Douglas." We've seen that unravel.
GP: Unravel in what sense?
VS: When there's reference
made to a global war against terror where you don't know the enemy and
you don't know the time limit and it's going to be limitless, it's not
just Al Qaeda that is in the net. It is ordinary people. Ordinary people
defending their constitutional, democratic rights have become targets
of the militarized violence.
GP: And "people defending
their rights" becomes the working definition of "terrorists."
VS: Absolutely. And it's
not a surprise that after 9-11 every state could pull out instantaneously
anti-terror laws, even through we know how long it takes for genuine
lawmaking to create a new law--especially laws that step on peoples'
So you really have--the state
being the protector of the people. You have the state criminalizing
their own population.
GP: Or a portion of their
VS: Large portions. The tiny
portions they don't criminalize are usually not--especially in our part
of the world--it's not in our population that's protected, you know.
Very often, what is protected is foreign capital.
The third level of this link
between the militarization and globalization, which is the most subtle
link, is the link between globalization, destroying security, livelihoods,
and from that insecurity, people are attacked through the xenophobic,
fundamentalist, racist, right wing agendas. It has happened in this
country, it's happened in France with Le Pen, it's happening in India
right now with the right wing becoming more and more fascistic at every
moment, killing 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat.
All of that serves two purposes
simultaneously. The first purpose is basically surviving a period of
discontent and creating a mutation in the democratic agenda. The democratic
agenda for people is our food and water, and peoples' rights. Democratic
agenda electoral politics in the mutated agenda ends up being about
who you can kill, who you exclude, who is your enemy: migrants, another
religion, another ethnicity.
The second purpose all this
fulfills is it becomes a wonderful screen. It becomes a screen in which
political fascism combines with economic fascism to continue the globalization
agenda, now with it militarized.
GP: Embedded in the convenience
of "why don't you go off and attack them?," there's a real
vent in the sense of people feeling powerless about institutions they
feel they can't control, then being able to identify a usually less
powerful minority of one sort or another that they can then go and have
power over by attacking.
VS: Xenophobic and fundamentalist
tendencies--usually they go by the name of cultural nationalists--it's
very interesting, they happen precisely because globalization destroys
economic nationalism and destroys the securities of people to have their
jobs, to meet their needs, and to have economic democracy. The death
of economic democracy and economic nationalism leads to the rise of
cultural nationalism and peoples' insecurities being managed through
allegiances of these narrow nationalisms.
I was just reading this morning
about the soldiers who came back from Afghanistan who are now killing
their wives. That's the model. You went and got innocent people there,
you can't live with it any more, come back, and instead of turning around
and telling and becoming a conscientious objector and saying, "Why
on Earth are we killing innocent people in other countries?," you
turn around and kill your wife.
GP: We're also trained to
view violence of one sort or another as a solution. As a way to resolve
VS: Absolutely. That is the
real disease. It's a disease that has a natural next step and evolution
built into it because it's fed by all the mythology we've created around
technology. When we're saying that violence will solve it, we're also
saying that the latest technology will solve it. The biggest bomb will
GP: We've also seen it as
being the only way now in which the IMF, for example, and the World
Bank leave it as an acceptable route for governments to prime the pump.
They can't spend on social spending, but they can spend on the defense
sector. That's true all over the world, in First World countries as
VS: And in fact the First
World countries are our arms merchants. When we had this buildup of
tensions between India and Pakistan we would have US peace missions,
and at the end of each of these peace missions there was an arms sale.
GP: It was very striking
to me, going back and looking at much of the literature thirty years
ago, there was this expectation, genuine or not, that the South would
be developed. The "underdeveloped" would catch up eventually.
That expectation has evaporated. It's not even posited as a desirable
goal at this point. Similarly, the ethic in the North of "Our children
will have a better future than our parents did" has evaporated.
How can some of those more positive expectations be reclaimed? Or can
they? Or should they?
VS: It was precisely by distorting
what the development agenda was, what "underdevelopment" was,
what "developing" was, because "developing" was
defined as reaching the levels of contaminated production and superconsumerism
of the West--which was never in any way available economically or ecologically
to the world--the twenty percent [already] required eighty percent.
You couldn't make that model without five planets, which weren't available,
so all you've done is make our own planet uninhabitable.
But in addition to that,
the aspirations left in the minds of people who couldn't reach that
are also an element in what is leading to the fundamentalist terrorist
upsurge. The peoples' discontent when they know they can't get somewhere,
and they're angry.
That project was the wrong
project in the first place. It was manipulated to introduce systems
of inequality, nonsustainable systems. I remember in the '60s and '70s
a lot of the development literature used to mention India being underdeveloped
in terms of how little plastic we generated. That was an indicator.
And even though all of us want future generations to be better than
us, the point is, what is that life? What goes into that definition
of "a better life"? The failure of the development project
and its obvious unachievability, in economic and ecological terms, and
the failure of the promise of a better tomorrow for children, where
a better tomorrow for your own life is disappearing in front of your
eyes in the affluent part of the world, is in a way giving us the opportunity
to basically say that "a better life" has to be defined some
other way. Not in consumerism, not in fictitious wealth creation, but
in sustainable wealth creation, sharing of our wealth. That's the real
future we need for the children.
The opportunity that this
total global disaster is creating for us is refocusing on life. The
problem was, when we said "a better life," what we meant was
"a more expensive fridge."
GP: A bigger collection of
VS: Or a bigger collection
of stuff. We never meant a better life, in that life was always being
taken away. Those are very basic things. Life was getting eroded in
order to fit better into the gadgetry cycle. At this point, that is
also becoming unavailable, to not the deceitful rich, but the recent
rich, who put their trust in Wall Street and in companies and accountants
who weren't trustworthy in the first place.
GP: Many of the types of
changes you're talking about are essentially revolutionary changes,
not in the sense of armed struggle, but in the sense of going to the
root of how our economic and cultural and political systems work and
redefining them, redefining the goals, and redefining who controls and
who makes the decisions. How can we get from here to there?
VS: I think we are in a moment
of deep hope, because the corporations have done a better job of destroying
themselves than humans ever could.
Another source of hope comes
from a new solidarity, where, while globalization, in terms of economic
and corporate globalization, has been a dividing, inequality-creating,
life-annihilating, democracy-annihilating, violent phenomenon, the new
internationalism that it has given birth to--not because it linked us
together in the benefit-sharing, but it links us together in the sacrifice
GP: And the common oppressors.
VS: And the common oppressors--we
are now in a different moment, where I can really see five years down
the line people looking back at corporations dreaming of owning the
water of the world as a joke. At, okay, they've taken over a few municipalities,
but [laughing] they have many more municipalities to take over. They
have taken over a few aquifers, but have many more aquifers to take
GP: And there are more Bolivias
than there are successful takeovers.
VS: Absolutely. I mean, every
day there's a Bolivia. There's a Bolivia happening in India right now.
That's another source of hope--that there are more Bolivias. And they're
happening, and people are self-organizing. There is no mastermind in
one place saying "This is how you organize." When your water
is taken away, every community knows what to do about it. Noone has
to be told and told and ruled, and they don't have to have Das Kapital
in their desks, nor do they have to have political science theorists
advising them. Water goes, you know what to do. Basic life survival
goes, you know what to do.
GP: One of the things that
has given me a lot of hope recently is the inability of governments
to withstand popular outrage--Bolivia, Argentina, Venezuela. People
in the US's reactions are very far behind where people in the rest of
the world already are. There's a lot that can be learned, and some of
those links are being made now.
VS: And I think the leaders
are very far behind. They are still in a Cold War mentality and the
Cold War is over. They are still in technocratic rule, and people don't
trust technology. They still want to have us believe in their accountants,
and they themselves recognize that their accounts don't work.
And they are exercising power
that they already have lost.