New Ecological Economics: Superorganism and Ultrasociality

This piece is an interview by Upstream’s Della Duncan with Economist Lisi Krall. Audio available on Soundcloud

Ecological economics basically derives from the basic idea that the Earth is a subsystem of the biosphere and therefore some attention has to be paid to how big this economic system can be. So that’s kind of the starting point. Ecological Economics has gone in two different directions — there are two branches. One is this eco sphere studies branch of ecological economics, and that branch is sort of associated with putting prices on things that aren’t priced in the economy. That’s entirely what it’s about. And it is hardly discernible from standard orthodox economics. It’s the study of externality, public goods, and that sort of thing. There’s really no difference. The other branch of ecological economics, which is the more revolutionary branch, is the branch that talks about the issue of scale. That branch has been very good in talking about the need to limit or end economic growth. But in the conversations about how we might do that — and in particular dealing directly with the problem of whether or not you can have a capitalist system that doesn’t grow — I think that’s where that branch of ecological economics has not been as clear as it needs to be. 

I find externality to be a very interesting concept, can most businesses survive if they were to actually account for the externalized costs?

First of all let me just say this that I don’t think that there is an agreement about the definition of ultrasociality, either on the part of evolutionary biologists, or on the part of anthropologists and economists like myself. 

when we engaged agriculture the trajectory of our social and economic evolution was altered profoundly. 

one aspect of that which you talked about is that our current ecological and economic crisis is not human nature. It’s actually more of this kind of natural selection kind of accident or this kind of evolutionary — I guess what I’m saying is people will say, “Well, you know, we’re inherently selfish.” Or, “Capitalism is just the natural way that we are set to be.” But you’re saying, “No, actually natural selection was a part of it and we haven’t always been this way.” 

Daniel Quinn’s novel The Story of B dives deep into this topic. I find the idea that the current state of the world is not an aspect of human nature to be quite hopeful. If greed and malice towards our fellow man were human nature we would be doomed.

We certainly have an ability to reflect and understand that this is not sustainable, that this path we’re on is not sustainable. But I think it is extremely difficult to dismantle a complex system like we have, because when you start pulling the threads you don’t know where you’re going to end up. 

This points to a concept that #OCCUPYWALLSTREET made central to “it’s” platform: all our grievances are connected. This is a core idea—as I understand it—of “intersectional” activism

I look at the non-human world and I see such magic. I think about the sources of human imagination. That’s where they mostly come from. And that’s not a deep ecology perspective. I mean that’s a human centered perspective. Why in the world would we want to end up without that? I don’t think it’ll be the end of the world. Whatever happens to us. But it could be really tragic. 

do we have that capacity? Do we have the capacity to change? 

this idea of changing from growth to well-being,





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