Saturday, June 03, 2006

Imprints Vol 9,1 (2005)

The new Imprints: egalitarian theory and practice (although dated 2005) is as uninteresting as ever, except for a review by Alex Callinicos of Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. Callinicos starts with the current spate of natural catastrophes, pointing to political relevance of these events (especially the unequal social distribution of advantage and disadvantage) and the connections with anthropogenic climate change. For Callinicos this makes Diamond's theme of collapse important for immediate practical reasons as we face a 'perhaps' of imminent catastrophe. Easter Island offers the clearest picture of the 'mutual ruination of the contending classes', explained by Diamond in terms of a society destroying itself by overexploiting its resources. And Diamond clearly links what happened to Easter Island with the potential threat to a globalised world.

But Callinicos also thinks that Collapse is analytically shallow compared to Guns, Germs and Steel as the explanatory focus is environmental (ecocide) despite his willingness to include other factors. Diamond clearly connects environmental stress to 'failed states', but Callinicos wants something that challenges Anglo-American foreign policy assumptions, and doesn't think that Diamond can explain the collapse of the Stalinist regimes. Callinicos bases himself on Clifford Geertz's criticisms (in New York Review of Books) to say that Diamond doesn't fully take into account conflicts of interest in understanding the bad choices that societies make. And Callinicos brings in Jerry Cohen's Karl Marx's Theory of History to say Diamond focuses on the role of productive forces, ignoring social relations of production and refers to Robert Brenner on the rules of reproduction' as an explanatory strategy for this.

Callinicos finishes with praise for Diamond's call to action over the threats, but obviously wants the specifics of capitalism to be central and naturally praises the recent work of Mike Davis for doing precisely this.

Next to this the other material seems arid. Even the usually entertaining interview lacks unch.


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