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Ecology in times of war

In face of the health consequences, and when seeing the impact of weapons on the living planet, one could think it’s not relevant to care about ecology when there’s war, but Freedom fighters of North-Eastern Syria’s Autonomous Administration show us there is more to war and ecology than what it seems at first. Let’s dig into the third pillar of the Rojava revolution, and see how it connects to the struggle for freedom.

The understanding of ecology that is given to us by capitalist modernity, through ads, government campaigns and liberal culture, is usually to take care of the environment in an individual, immediate way. For example, by not throwing trash on the floor, and instead putting it in the bin, so that it gets (maybe) recycled later. Or by shutting all the lights off when going to bed.

This way of thinking implies that what we want to achieve through ecology (hopefully, a healthy living environment all around the planet) can be done through these simple steps, that any individual can do (and therefore should feel responsible of doing so).

But what if we defined that a healthy living planet can only be achieved by organizing our society through democratic self-administration, with women’s all-round autonomy, and through organizing our self-defense, standing ready to use machine guns with heavy environmental impact when facing fascist threats ?

The mentality implied by this definition of ecology is one where our caring for the living planet pushes us to organize collectively, and where long-term thinking prevails on the short-term when it comes to defending and enhancing our surroundings, both social and ecological. It is also one where men’s domination of women and nature is confronted in a way that adresses both issues at the same time, making it a radical eco-feminist approach to life and society, where women and men learn to live together again, outside of traditional and modern master-and-slave patterns.

Such a proposition is made here, and constitutes the paradigm of the Autonomous Administration of North and Eastern Syria. Of course, although the self-defense part is often highlighted, as a relatively new proposition for women’s liberation movement and ecological struggles, the main focus when building an ecological society is not this one at all, but rather the diversity and the depth of our social interactions, with a whole ecosystem of institutions and approaches to life inside of society itself.

In this paradigm, the well-being of the environment is set on two distinct although intertwined time schedules : in general time, ecological committees actively launch and manage projects, but when under attack, the self-defense of the democratic society comes first, in order to stop capitalism-led destruction as soon as possible, and defend the premises of the ecological society (that is, the society that holds the seeds of ecology in its core). Society thus has a defense mechanism similar to that of many animals and plants : allocating all resources into retracting and attacking when under pressure, while continuing normal course of life when not, which includes building up defense.

Th art of ecological war : Know your enemy

Current wars are led by imperialist forces representing the interests of patriarchal individuals and capitalist companies which have, as a definition, an anti-ecological motto of “grow or die”, to which they are tied by the mechanism of market. As social ecologist Murray Bookchin puts it : “The present social illness lies not only in the outlook that pervades the present society; it lies above all in the very structure and law of life in the system itself, in its imperative, which no entrepreneur or corporation can ignore without facing destruction: growth, more growth, and still more growth.” Indeed, individuals who want to dominate (“be successful”) must place themselves in a market where all their production keeps losing value the second it is produced, with competitors generating more and more pressure to keep growing, in order to continue being on top. This process eventually brings every element of both material and social realms to be transformed in a master-to-slave or subject-to-object relationship, from existence to commodity, from being free and equal to being permanently dominated.

As history shows, especially when paying attention to the importance of symbolism in its course (notably through mythology), it is the patriarchal mindset that generated the enclosed environments (emotional, psychological and physical) in which domination was maintained, that gave birth to the first city-States and served as a base for the capitalist civilization as we know it. Social domination would find very soon its expressions in physical domination and economical domination, leading, city after city, empire after empire, to modern capitalism and slavery, perpetuating patriarchal domination in a worldwide scale.

The course of this his-story, undermining her-story, leads to nowhere but death, since the infinite commodification, ideologically and materially maintained, knows no ethical or physical barrier, as is shown by the recent scandals of the burning Amazonia and organized pedophilia, and by constantly happening industrial destruction and child marriages. From within the male-shaped paradigm, there is no stopping of this ever-lasting self-propelled competition of domination between elements, with the current main entities being the nation-states and supranational companies.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, knowing this development in history, that the Pentagon is the world’s largest institutional user of petroleum and correspondingly, the single largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world. Neither should it surprise us to hear that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. Their domination of nature is a logical output of their political and economical domination. Or, to formulate it the other way around, destruction of nature is the most fruitful enterprise, inside of capitalism, after women’s exploitation, which is the base of all industry. And let us not be fooled into thinking that it could have been another way, that other states or companies or individuals would have behaved differently inside of this paradigm or could do so in the future, for as long as we don’t radically propose to fight the domination they stem from, we will keep participating in it and we would eventually grow to become the new main oppressor, if not dying while trying to do so. To not set ourselves in the fight against the hegemony of dominant male mentality and physical power, is to empower it by giving it time to gather forces.

Ecology and mind : a self-reflecting mirror

One aspect in which ecology relates to war is in the mentality generated through fighting. Using the concept of mental ecology introduced by Felix Guattari, we can understand human mind as a flexible entity that interacts with its surroundings, projecting ideas and emotions in it, and reacting to the ones it receives. As the interactions between mind and environment go on, they end up shaping one another. On the one hand, of course, the human mind appeared as a creation of nature, and is part of it, as an animal. On the other hand, it is through the human mind that we think of nature, and that we end up acting upon it, by cutting a tree for example, if this tree doesn’t fit with the plan we had in mind.

Another understanding of mental ecology is that our current ideas and emotions come as a legacy of all previous ideas and emotions carried by individuals throughout history. This makes our own consciousness a living philosophy inherited through all the interactions of the universe that led to this very moment. And to make sense out of the incommunicable amount of information and possibilities that this realization lets us consider, one can track down the history of ideas that make us who we are, that is, the history of mythologies, philosophies and ideologies – in the end, societies, of which they are reflections. To do so, to recover the origins of our thoughts, is to make sense, as when we discover the etymology of a word, such as “berxwedan” – resistance in Kurdish : “dan” – to give, “xwe” – yourself, “dan” – in front, so resistance is to give yourself when facing something. Or “Jiyan” – life : a direct declination of “Jin” – woman. In doing this self-education about our history, indeed ourselves, we might find tools, such as songs and drawings, to strengthen our stance against the dominant male hegemony, empowering our mind’s self-defence, which will give birth to a more resilient and more ecological society, one where conflicts get solved through reconciliation instead of annihilation.

In the context of war, mind is put under extreme conditions as it faces extinction at any time, and in order to keep on going and not start running away from the danger, it needs something to hang on to. This gives way to transcendental experiences of “holy war”, and surely a strong sense of comradery can be found in the fact of going to the frontline together to fight fascists. But this opens also the way to a limited understanding of reality that gets reduced, in the crucial moment, to a simple “us against them”. This ecology of mind, reduced to two factors, gets then projected in the entire society, when this society is centered around war. In a patriarchal society or, said differently, in the context of a war on women, the male dominating mentality will eventually reduce all relationships, all situations of life, to this bottom-line thinking : I need to dominate “this” or “that” in order to permanently re-assert my masculinity, my domination of women.

So the war starts there. In the mindset that we have when facing the current developments of capitalist modernity. Are we, especially men, ready to change our behaviours in order to fulfill claimed goals (remember, here, a healthy living environment all around the planet) ? Are we ready to let other people comment our individual practices, inside of communal, democratic circles, accepting criticism and making meaningful self-criticism ? Are we ready to let the women lead the way of their own emancipation, outside of our fantasies and physical embrace, and work together towards our common liberation ? Are we ready to make peace with other men, getting out of the dishonest and competitive schemes of man and brotherhood that we know of ? Are we ready to fight against the war mentality inside of us ?

The biological revolution

French eco-feminist and revolutionary homosexual activist Francoise d’Eaubonne proposed an understanding of revolution as mutations in the social “genetic” code. In a given society, if a new element comes to disrupt the homogeneous course of it, we can say that it is somewhat similar to a gene being replaced in the society’s DNA, through mutation. As is the case biologically, these mutations can appear when giving birth to new individuals inside of a species, the new generation then challenges the older one, youth being a constant revolutionary force, and maybe simply evolutionary when considering societies.

Similarly to a new gene in a biological entity, a new set of rules can appear inside of a society, when a new group, a new organization is formed. But this new gene is not necessarily predominant, it can remain present without taking over. As for example with green eyes, or anarchists. And even when it does take over, it still continues to be part of the same biological entity, that has transformed itself – one cannot say a new species was made out of the blue. Applied to the political world, it can be a valuable lesson for the Left to recognize it doesn’t make sense to see itself as separated from society, it was always part of it. Maybe it is a revolutionary thought for it to consider being the whole of society, in order to impulse a general movement for change. Therefore, inside of a capitalist, patriarchal society Leftists should work to change the society entirely, and not just in Leftist circles – which try to be perfectly horizontal societies, out of the blue.

To see humans and society in such a socio-biological perspective also leads to blurring the limits between them and other species and with nature itself. In this sense, it is interesting to note from statistics that the Syrian Civil War has killed way more non-human animals then human animals. If it is not possible to compare the importance of different lives, and even more when they’re from different species, what we can say at least is that the war that is waged on the Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Yezidis, Armenians and Turkmens of the region, is also waged on the goat, sheep, cows, chicken and dogs of the same territory, as well as on the plants, with Turkish or jihadist-led mercenaries setting fire to the wheat fields and olive trees of Rojava. What is being attacked is the entire ecosystem.

And what would a revolution be, in biological terms ? A revolution cannot be the mere mutation of one of the genes, which would be reformism, with most of the genetic chain remaining the same. It is rather the change of all the genetic code of our society, which in other words could relate to changing civilization as a whole.

With its holistic approach and all-embracing concepts, democratic confederalism is such a proposition, of a new genetic code for an organic society, incorporating a strong immune system in its DNA, and with women’s autonomy making the movement’s dynamics a powerful double helix. But although women’s autonomy might be a strong feature of this revolution, it is also important to see that the women’s perspective is not limited to it. To continue with the biological metaphor, we can say that the core of the new genetic code, the very important and basic genes that have kept the old genetic code from going fully corrupt, are the social values of care, reproduction and defense, that mainly women had been protecting. This is why the new proposition is not only featuring women’s autonomy, it is making women the new center of society, its very spine, to reinforce and unveil the role they had actually played in maintaining society alive until now.

Abandoning ecology when confronting war : a patriarchal approach

“No ecology when there’s war”. To react in such a way is part of the mentality that produces the thought “No democracy when there’s war”, a thought that has appeared throughout history even in the socialist camp, legitimizing hierarchical authority and setting the organization of a democratic society to later on, in order to create a stronger united front against the fascist or imperialist attacks. This, as we know, opened the door to socialist revolutions being taken over by tyrants with state mentality, as most recently happened in Nicaragua, for example.

And as a common measure to most struggles of the past 5000 years, is the thought of “no feminism when there’s war”, expressed through the systematic rape and murder of women throughout war history until this very day. But this observation cannot stop there, understanding where war comes from in our society, we understand that it is actually the war on women that is the fundamental starting point of all wars.

As bell hooks, Abdullah Öcalan and other feminist writers analyze it, it is part of the masculine culture to place war as an absolute, to which everything else is subdued. Recently, Bese Hozat described war as “the most terrible invention of the male mind”. She says, “Wars are the dominant male invention. The ruling man has fortified and maintained his power with wars. The state is the embodiment of male-dominated power. War is the food that keeps that body alive. While this food is the main source of life for the dominant male, it is a deadly poison for women, society and nature”.

So it is a natural effort for us to defend the possibility of a democratic, gender-egalitarian, and ecological society through, not war, but self-defense against the war imposed on us. This is the only legitimate war to wage. Also, our understanding of war shouldn’t be limited to the confrontation on the front line, but we can see it as a war within ourselves to hold up to our radical beliefs everyday, to go out in front of society and engage in action, such as organizing in our neighborhood community. The war waged on us by capitalist modernity is as much of a psychological, emotional war as a physical one, so let’s not lose our morale, and strongly affirm : yes, our struggle is ecological, for it is the ecological people’s war, it’s the revolutionary people’s war.

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