Rights of Nature Advocates and Late Capitalism

“Postmodernism is the consumption of sheer commodification as a process.”

  • Frederic Jameson (Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism)

Debate over what constitutes a proper attitude towards nature – or an “environmental ethic” – has amplified over the past half century, thanks in large part to Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (first published in 1962), which is credited with helping jump-start the environmental movement.  Despite a widening debate and increased environmental activism, however, the values and ethics that most significantly influence how nature is actually treated are still those of late capitalism.  In late capitalism, legal systems tend to regard natural communities as commodities whose primary function is to fuel rapid economic growth.  As a matter of course, what qualifies as growth is also dictated by the values and ethics of late capitalism.  As Barry Brummett remarks in his assessment of the power of late capitalism:

“The market context seals off its base of power in late capitalism.… This may be cause for despair, but late capitalism has figured out how to seal off its roots from being dug up, and that’s the way it is.… The market context is the frozen floor of meanings upon which rhetoric dances; it is largely impervious to rhetorical means to change it” (Brummett 125).

Late capitalism has indeed grown deep roots, and Brummett does hedge his claim by saying “largely impervious” not “wholly impervious.”  What struck me, however, was not simply the implication of late capitalism as a perpetually victorious ideology, but that this claim takes place in the middle of a rigorous defense of rhetoric.  What are the ramifications for rhetoric, I wondered, if Brummett is right?  Is it possible through effective discursive practices that late capitalism be re-produced with different features?  What are the stylistic features of rhetorics that attempt to replace the market context with a different “frozen floor of meanings?”

At the time I became interested in these questions I began an inquiry into the rhetorical styles of a group of citizen-activists in Decorah, Iowa.  I was intrigued as to how this diverse group of people spoke to me using such similar terminology, and with such similar passion and clarity about the issue of extracting natural gas via the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” (an issue which I knew almost nothing about).  They seemed to use the same phrases, make the same arguments, and reference the same stories.  They knew something about Ecuador’s constitution.

I took steps towards answering the above questions not only through research, but in spending time with citizen-activists in Decorah.  They introduced me to the idea that rights of nature advocates enter the arena of politics with arguments based on ideals that exist mostly outside of the market context.  I want to tell the stories of these arguments and attempt to discern their stylistic features; in so doing I hope to explore questions regarding the possibilities for poly-vocal rhetorics in postmodern America, a nation imbued with the ethos of late capitalism.  Further, I will strive not to reduce rights of nature advocates (hereafter RoNA) to the subjective intentions of individuals, but instead attempt to outline the aesthetic and discursive features of the group as a whole.

A rhetorical analysis of RoNA as a subculture is a worthy scholarly pursuit because it leads to pertinent questions about where agency exists within late capitalist societies, and what type of rhetorical styles, if any, appear to be creating space for such agency.  To achieve such an analysis we look at the ongoing debate over fracking, which has become a powerful force in motivating RoNA; indeed, there would not be nearly as many people who identify with this subculture if not for the fracking boom.  My thesis paper also analyzes the fracking debate online, in particular how both camps utilize Facebook to craft a recognizable style.  Hopefully, these chapters work together to present a clear idea of RoNA as a rhetorical movement.

Late capitalism’s growing presence in decision-making processes is increasingly evident.  In academia we see evidence of this trend in what is sometimes referred to as the “adjunct crisis,” as universities increasingly look to hire cheaper and less experienced labor (Boldt).  The business model is more prevalent than ever before, and globalization suggests its proliferation.  RoNA employ a rhetoric that has proven effective in arguing for other models – an environmental ethic, for example – to be given consideration in legal settings.

Arguing that nature has rights poses a direct challenge to the dominant ideology of late capitalism.  And, as Darrel Enck-Wanzer argues in an article titled, “Trashing the System: Social Movement, Intersectional Rhetoric, and Collective Agency in the Young Lords Organization’s Garbage Offensive,” scholars interested in analyzing the rhetoric of a particular movement should try to understand not just the discourses of a particular group, but to assess the contextual discourse at large.  Enck-Wanzer suggests that a “movement is a measurement of the discourse itself; to talk about social movement is to talk about the ways in which a discourse represents a shift away from or challenge to a dominant social imaginary as evident in narratives, ideographs, and other rhetorics” [author’s emphasis] (177).  RoNA shift the discourse by arguing that natural resources have rights, a direct threat to late capitalism’s notions of private property, of natural resources, of corporate rights.  It is still early going for this movement, but such a rhetorical maneuver is important for rhetorical scholars to consider, particularly those grappling with questions of where and how much agency exists in our postmodern world.

Works Cited

Boldt, Josh. “First-Year Commodity: The Adjunct Professor Labor Crisis in Composition Departments.” Order of Education

Brummett, Barry.  A Rhetoric of Style. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, Print.

Enck-Wanzer, Darrel. “Trashing the System: Social Movement, Intersectional Rhetoric, and Collective Agency in the Young Lords Organization’s Garbage Offensive.” Quarterly Journal of Speech. 92.2 (2006): 174-201.


10 thoughts on “Rights of Nature Advocates and Late Capitalism

  1. This post was not as good as the first, because the thoughts were not as easy to follow and it seemed more like a bunch of random idea trying to come together. This can be good however when trying to bring those thoughts together and form your thesis paper. The first post was on a more well-known topic, so the terminology was easier to understand and the subject was easier to relate too. In contrast, this post was harder to connect to and understand the importance because it is not as personal of a concern and I have little background knowledge of the topic.

  2. This post was better than the last post because you talked about your actual experience with a group. I thought that by doing that you gained a lot of ethos. I also found that you used repetition of the work rhetoric, which is a good rhetorical device.

  3. Your argument “Rights of Nature Advocates and Late Capitalism” is harder to understand than your post “When does technology help? When does it hinder?”. I think this is because in order to understand the “Rights” article it seems that the reader must have a good grasp on the concept of late capitalism It also seemed a bit more disconnected than the “Help and Hiinder” post. For example I was confused how we got from Decorah, Iowa to Ecuador.

  4. Your argument “Rights of Nature Advocates and Late Capitalism” is harder to understand than your post “When does technology help? When does it hinder?”. I think this is because in order to understand the “Rights” article it seems that the reader must have a good grasp on the concept of late capitalism. It also seemed a bit more disconnected than the “Help and Hinder” post. For example I was confused how we got from Decorah, Iowa to Ecuador.

  5. I am a strong advocate of environmental rights. I feel that we are slowly destroying the environment in which we live through pollution and deforestation. Environmental rights are more important than expanding big corporations because the companies destroy natural habitats, play a role in pollution, and fail to clean up their waste adequately.

  6. This post was well written and the concept of rights of nature advocates is intriguing. You introduce the issue of “fracking”, which you admit you did not know much about; however, it is not taken into account that the audience probably does not either. I wanted to know what the big deal was, especially since the Decorah community was discussed at length. You reference the ongoing debate about fracking without telling us what that debate is. I can see you setting up your thesis paper to dissect RoNA. You also do a good job establishing credibility by explaining your research methods and experience.

  7. Rights of Nature Advocates and Late Capitalism is worst than when does technology help because fracking and capitalism aren’t interesting to me. I think you could have explained the process of fracking since most people don’t know what it is. I don’t really have an interest for capitalism so this post does nothing for me. I do think you did a good job trying to bring in other examples to support your view point. I don’t understand how this connects back to rhetoric. Personally I don’t understand this post at all and don’t know what direction your heading towards.

  8. I wish this would have further explained the connection being made between fracking and rhetoric. It is thoroughly difficult for me, an individual who has never even heard of fracking, to determine the reason for posting this at all.

  9. I agree with the points being made about how capitalism is deeply rooted in society. Corporations seem to get favored over the environment in most situations. That being said, I disagree with the notion that natural resources have rights which RoNA believes. It is irresponsible to recklessly use these resources without any concern for the environment, but they are valuable and make our society better. As long as we are responsible with these resources, and the environment is considered in political decisions, we can use these resources.

  10. Unlike the last post, “When does technolpgy help? When does it hinder?” this post/article is a little more confusing. I am not well educated on what late capitalism is and what fracking is, so I am unable to follow the article as well as the last one. What I did understand of it was still a little confusing by the way you seemed to jump from on topic to the other. There didn’t seem to be a clear connect between late capitalism, fracking, and rhetoric. If there was a clearer understanding of what was being said and a clearer connect to each topic being told I think I would have understood the article better.

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