McCormack/Snyder/KubiakTrialogue Print E-mail
The Nancho Consultations

Gavan McCormack Gary Snyder W. David Kubiak

Nancho Consults: Gary Snyder & Gavan McCormick
A (Faintly Contentious)Trialogue
on Grassroots Japan, Watershed Politics
and Corporate Dominion


        In 1995 Nancho held the following Kyoto conversation at Shinchihaya with revisionist historian Gavan McCormick and Zen/wilderness poet GarySnyder.



- Verbatim Transcript -




    KUBIAK: The general direction for this discussion, as I understand it, is our take on movement activities in Japan and elsewhere - what is happening, what could or should happen next...

    SNYDER: Movement, I'm not sure which movement or movements you have in mind. are you putting human rights movements and environmental ones together?

    KUBIAK: Yeah, we're addressing the whole vaguely green area.

    McCORMICK: It might be possible to build in a time perspective on what has been happening, since in a sense the three of us can look back here nearly thirty years. We have long memories of various times in this country and what has happened.

    KUBIAK: There's a question that the Japan Environmental Monitor wanted asked here regarding the impressions of people coming over these days who are concerned with green sorts of issues in the West. Many find when they come to Japan that some of their most striking impressions are of the environmental devastation, the new building, the rush to modernize, the westernization of the road fronts, etc., etc. and JEM wanted to compare your feelings about Japan's progress as an industrialized, westernized, cultural homogenization machine - how much you two could see coming early on and what you think it means right now - if it can be stopped or how it can be rerouted to more indigenous and healthy value systems?

    I think that was the gist of their question. So we could start with Japan thirty years ago when you all knew it, how you look at its momentum today, and how that can be either resisted, diverted or transformed.

    SNYDER: I really can't talk about these issues in Japan and leave out the rest of the world. That's the first thing I would say. I'd let Gavan respond to that, too. My first take is that Japan's rush to modernization is simply their way of handling the dynamics of the industrial world. The American model, the western European model are every bit as destructive, are moving every bit as rapidly, and in some cases more rapidly. And they are so interconnected now economically, in terms of investment and debt, that I don't know what it serves to ask that question in that way.

    In a sense, what we really ought to ask is what are the dynamics of industrial development worldwide. Japan is no worse now compared to twenty years ago than California is compared to twenty years ago. If I had stayed in Japan over the last twenty years and I went to visit places that I used to know in California, I would be as shocked, as amazed, as surprised by what has taken place there as I am coming back to Kyoto after twenty years. So the first thing you have to realize is that this is not a special case.

    KUBIAK: Well, the question was not phrased to isolate Japan as a special case, but the thing about Japan is that there is still a certain mystery about it in the media and public consciousness these days, that she achieved the same degree of industrialization but by a rather different path, and came from a rather enigmatic value system - as far as most Westerners are concerned - and therefore the next step remains a more questionable proposition in Japan - like they might do something different. And we've been operating here under the presumption that the main use of Japan is as place to launch ideas from, because a lot of people are looking at Japan...

    SNYDER: You mean foreigners look at it as a place to launch ideas?

    KUBIAK: Yes, because so many people all over the world are looking to Japan now. If something were to be announced from Japan, it would get an immediate hearing...

    SNYDER: You know I don't perceive that to be the case, David. I really don't. I do not perceive that Japan is taken as an especially pregnant place for new ideas in the world.

    KUBIAK: No, no, it's not yet, but it is important as a focus of international attention. That's all I'm saying.

    McCORMICK: I have just a couple of points to throw in here. I think while Japan is an example of the universal phenomenon of industrialization and capitalism and all that that brings with it, there are a couple of quite special things about the way, about the speed with which it's come about, particularly since the war. There's been a frenzied element in the attempt to catch up with the West in this country. It has meant that since we first met here just thirty years ago that was just the beginning of high growth, income doubling, and what some people would call 'the beginning of prosperity,' and a greater rate of capital accumulation than any other country in world history. Japanese capitalism accumulated and accumulated wealth, and therefore the rate of its consequences for the natural environment was just faster, faster than anywhere else.

    SNYDER: Is that true? That it was the most rapid rate of accumulation of capital of any culture ever?

    McCORMICK: Until South Korea. South Korea's rate in the last fifteen years has been higher, but it begins from a much lower base.

    SNYDER: That's an interesting figure. The rate of accumulation in West Germany since World War II has been extraordinary, too.

    McCORMICK: It's extraordinary, but it doesn't begin to match what was done in Japan. I think of there being two elements to the so-called success story here. One is the indigenous energies of the Japanese people which were mobilized by the state and big business. But the other is the world structures of the Cold War. In other words, the game was rigged, the pack was shuffled by the United States for Japan, markets were created, new industries were opened up, technologies were transferred, and it was all within the context of the Cold War. The Cold War is now over and Japan has now made it, has caught up with the West.

    But ironically, what the ruling elite is now saying to the Japanese people is that although we've made it, we've got to try harder in the future. There's no resting, because we're so vulnerable, we're lonely, isolated in the world. We're going to have to open up our rice markets soon, and that's going to mean the destruction of what is left of family agriculture. And build more resorts and destroy the basis of nature as it survives even now. And also in order to satisfy the Americans, we're going to have to increase our domestic construction economy. We're going to have to build more roads, more airports...

    SNYDER: Why to satisfy the Americans?

    McCORMICK: Because this is part of "our international contribution." We must increase the domestic capacity to absorb money and investment and create profitable opportunities for the other players.

    SNYDER: So they feel they still have to keep developing the infrastructure?

    McCORMICK: Yes, this is the construction economy. The construction industry is the heart of it all.

    SNYDER: The construction industry is very much the heart of the American economy, too. The military figures in too of course, but construction is major. Construction tied in with fossil fuels and automobiles is major business, major business. And then of course the construction includes companies like Bechtel, Bechtel and other such corporations are the pourers of giant concrete pads for missiles and they're the guys that pour the concrete for atomic energy stations and so forth. So, yeah, it's the same game. Incidentally, the Mafia is also very deeply involved in the American construction companies, not unlike here.

    McCORMICK: So that's the same, too. But the pressures on Japan now arising out of the end of the cold war seem to be pressures leading Japan deeper into... for example, the so-called Peace Cooperation Force. The people are being told that international obligation means we've got to help the rest of the world, we've got to help the United Nations. Therefore we've got to start sending our troops overseas. Internationalization requires that we've got to destroy our rice industry. Internationalization requires that we build more roads and bridges.

    And what does it mean for the people? It means that they work just as hard and they experience a more alienating environment. Thirty years ago it seems to me the people were not really badly off. I mean what have they got in those thirty years? They've got motor cars and splendid electronic equipment, but do you see, Nanao (Sasaki), that things have changed that much in thirty years. It seems to me that thirty years ago people lived in many ways better than they live now. [NS: Yes, I agree.]

    SNYDER: So where does that lead us?

    McCORMICK: Well, the hopeful thing is that in so many different areas in this country there are small groups of people who don't accept the existing system, who are struggling. And the people who are struggling in all sorts of ways are almost always the most attractive and interesting people. But there has never been a time when it's more disjointed. That's also good in a sense. It's good because there are fewer leaders now. the movement is more difficult to identify as a structure, more difficult to bind off or to crush. Because it's more diffuse, it's got a lower base now than it's ever had.

    SNYDER: A lower base of participating people?

    McCORMICK: No, I mean it's sitting sort of heavier.

    SNYDER: It's more grassroots, more localized. I think that's excellent.

    McCORMICK: Yes, I think that's good, too.

    KUBIAK: They're also more suspicious.

    SNYDER: Suspicious?

    KUBIAK: I mean they've pretty much given up on the mass media and they are starting to create their own means of communication.

    SNYDER: Well, that's good, too, isn't it? I mean that's what I have been experiencing while I've been here the last two months. Nanao and I have been out there working with grassroots people and it's been very exciting.

    KUBIAK: Among the people you've talked to, what did you get as their hopefulness quotient for what they're doing?

    SNYDER: You know, that's not one of the questions you ask. Because I don't have a whole lot of hope for what I'm doing in America either. That isn't why I do it. I do it because we do it together and it's the right thing to do. And if someone asked me to make a calculation of what my chances of succeeding with our projects were, well, they're not too good. But that's not why I do it. It's visionary, it's not calculated. and so I would say that the people that we've been seeing are not calculating, not thinking "will we win or not win?" They are dealing within such specific and focused territories they don't even see what they are doing sometimes. They're taking on specific issues at a local level. So their theory doesn't necessarily have to reach far beyond that, even though they may have a global vision.

    KUBIAK: What seems to be lacking here - and I think this is what Gavan was driving at - is common references. The diversity that often develops out of local issues... like the groups that went off to start working on toxic waste, or the groups working on nuclear power or food additives or whatever, they start to develop a very technical, focused vocabulary that tends to make them sound like the specialists that they have to contend with in their problem area.

    Back when we first had our network group, we had representatives from 20-some different groups and it was like the Tower of Babel there. I mean everyone had their own references about the famous court cases, about the technical issues, about this, that and the other. And until we could get over that and see that somehow everybody was working on a symptom of something that was a related condition, a related disease, and try to move back toward the roots of it, we couldn't get any dialogue going at all.

    SNYDER: But see that's from your position. Your position is to try to be the networker. You're trying to be in the center.

    KUBIAK: No, networks have no "center" -- the network just gets them talking to each other.

    SNYDER: The network is a kind of center, otherwise you wouldn't be hearing the Tower of Babel. So there is the intent to centralize communication in the very act of networking. Saying, "I'll put these guys in touch with these guys and we'll host a conference or something." Hosting a conference means bringing them to one point, right? That's centralization. So that is the position from which you're hearing it. So your perception is different, perhaps, from their own perception.

    KUBIAK: Oh, sure. But the main concern is why can't they work together more effectively, or even, why can't we work together more effectively? What are the major bars - the organizational identity, the ego factors, the specialization that comes just with movement activities on their own?

    And how do you rise one level above that while maintaining the diversity of your base and still produce or project some sort of a political vision or agenda so that people can see some kind of commonalty in their efforts? Otherwise they start to feel very isolated and futile. And then you get this Pure Land sect of demonstrators where it's more important for them to be "right" than it is to succeed.

    SNYDER: Well, I have been hearing stories of some pretty good get-togethers here in Japan over the last five years where a lot of sort of natural networking took place along with some of these big festivals that have been held, like up in Matsumoto and places like that. And what I've heard from my Japanese friends about that is that they didn't feel a bit frustrated about it and they felt there was a lot of good exchange.

    McCORMICK: I think that there is an underlying problem in that people have their special orientation. I mean the anti-nuclear people have to know about all the technical details of nuclear technology.

    SNYDER: But they don't have to explain it all to everybody else.

    McCORMICK: They don't have to explain all to everybody else, but they have to master all of that. But when you come to projecting a general vision that unites people in all the small residential, anti-nuclear, women's, consumer and all these other groups, there's not a great deal of consensus. And in one way that's good. But there is, I think, a consensus above all in political terms, a consensus on peace, for example. I think that's a fundamental consensus. And that's one of the issues where Japan has a potential role in the world which is being denied by its government.

    SNYDER: So what are some of the other areas where you see a consensus, say in the environmental movement?

    McCORMICK: Well, I think there is a deep critique of capitalism that underpins all of these groups, but how you would articulate so that it would be acceptable to all groups, I don't know. The critique of capitalism, though, is the fundamental basis, or one of the fundamental bases for approaching the environment.

    SNYDER: OK, but what is on the agenda for nature?.

    McCORMICK: Well, in Japan it has to start with things like the implementation of the protection of national parks. That resource is being steadily eroded in order to promote resorts.

    SNYDER: Others?

    McCORMICK: Well, more problematic is what to do about rice liberalization...

    SNYDER: I would call that an economic issue. I am asking about actual. environmental concern-type consensus. Would you have any idea?

    KUBIAK: Yeah, if I can back up one quick step. The way we solved that Tower of Babel problem was that we held a brainstorm session on what it was that everybody was facing in common, and it turned out that whether they were human rights groups involved with local Koreans or the outcastes here or the refugee problem, or environmental groups all up and down the spectrum, the one thing it came down to was that most of their "opponents" fell into a very small circle of very large corporate entities. Some of them were of course backed up by their own ministries like the Kensetsusho (Ministry of Construction) and MITI (Ministry of International Trade & Industry), etc.

    But essentially there were like four or five big groups of companies - it sort of looked like the cream of the Fortune 500 of Japan. And due to their policies the educational system here has been distorted; the problems with the outcastes and the Koreans - their employment problems and therefore their social opportunity problems have been magnified; the environment suffers - they're the primary investors in the resorts that are wiping out the countryside; and they're also the main looters and pillagers in Southeast Asia.

    So working with a whole bunch of different vocabularies, we focused pretty quickly on the Keidanren brotherhood as an area of major interest. And then we got into the political thing. We had Shakaito (Socialist Party) people and Kyosanto (Communist Party) people and small capitalists - and nobody seemed to object to any forms of economic activities - whether they were socialist, communist or capitalist - as long as they were on a very small scale. It was the scale of the activity that was dangerous, the scale of the firm, the scale of the corporate organization and its capacity to sit in Tokyo and pull levers, write laws and change environments all over the world.

    SNYDER: My question still stands, though. I understand all that. But I still want to know what agenda you have.

    Mrs. SNYDER: You know what, Gary, I don't think you can separate the economic agenda from the environmental agenda, because what Gavan is saying is a true environmental problem, because if you lose open space you lose it to something.

    SNYDER: Oh, yeah, yeah. What he was saying about national parks is a specific case. What I'm not hearing is an environmental agenda for nature, not just against the corporations, but for nature. I'm not hearing that from you guys. What's your agenda for nature in Japan? What would you like to see happen?

    KUBIAK: I'd like to see the building stop, of course, and also the reversion of this artificial dependence on nuclear power. I mean they are able to inflate the statistics about their dependence, and therefore its supposed persuasiveness as for as the people are concerned, by holding down all their other supply areas. And Japan also has the technological ability now to switch over into something that is very futuristic - they've got cold fusion going in Japan. They've got it going at Osaka University and several other laboratories here. They've got people who are doing state-of-the-art work in hydrogen. In other words, if you wanted a technical fix, combining cold fusion and the hydrogen would give you a decentralized, cheap, safe source of power that could go anywhere.

    SNYDER: Which would be bad news.

    KUBIAK: That, now that's what drives me crazy. Everybody says, "Stop global warming, acid rain. We need cheap, safe, decentralized power," but if you actually offer it in a way that is less clumsy and expensive than solar, then everybody says, "Hey, wait a minute. Too much power is going to increase the metabolization of all the other resources in the world and speed urbanization, capitalization, and the industrial wasteland - so we don't really want it."

    SNYDER: It's definitely a question.

    McCORMICK: That's why asking for an agenda in terms of one, two, three is, I think, a risky enterprise, because things tend to come in rather complex structures...

    SNYDER: Wait a minute. What I'm hearing possibly is - and this is no fault of yours - it's just that this is where you're at. What I'm hearing is that you guys possibly just haven't gotten clear about what environmental agendas are. I mean what we environmentalists, we radical environmentalists are calling for. We have an agenda. And there are certain issues that we call serious issues. And I haven't heard you guys come forward with them get, so let me say what they are: bio-diversity, the extinction of species and the reduction of the wealth of the gene pool, the richness of the gene pool.

    This is perhaps the world's most serious problem from an environmental standpoint, and for nature. And so on my list the preservation of the possibilities of biological diversity, which means in turn the preservation of habitat, is way up at the top of the list, which means in turn slowing down development, stopping the spread of building. But that is the reason you stop the spread of development - to preserve habitat which in turn preserves bio-diversity. So there's a reason for that, it goes beyond simply a human quality of life question.

    KUBIAK: I think you have to accept everyone around here realizes that. The tropical forest issue has been on the front pages of even the straightest press for years now.

    SNYDER: Yeah, but I like to hear it articulated, acknowledged up front as a real issue. Another issue in Japan is the loss of old growth forests. And what Japan desperately needs is a complete reversal of its forest management practices and a deliberate change of direction with the way they handle species, and how the tuna industry works. And that's a real interesting specific question.

    KUBIAK: But in terms of the bio-diversity question you're essentially talking tropical rainforest at least with regard to the speed of the threat, the rate of loss...

    SNYDER: Well, that is where the speed of the threat is greatest, but we might also talk about the effects of Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese driftnetting in the north Pacific and the extraordinary destruction of life that takes place every season up there by these 20-mile-long driftnets. They're killing millions of marine mammals every season now and wasting tens of thousands of tons of fish, non-target fish.

    McCORMICK: What worries me about this itemization of gene pool, old forest, fish, is that these are elements that can be fragmented off from the overall structures and it seems to me that if you leave the overall structures intact that there will be new kinds of destructiveness that will appear.

    SNYDER: Oh, I wouldn't argue with that for a moment. I'm just saying that if we're going to have a platform, I mean we've got an environmental platform, and we want to have it out on the platform what we're concerned about. And those are some of the specifics. And the questions of where do you get at the structural problems are of course of great importance, ultimately supreme importance. But one of the dangers of being too much a politically or notionally focused organization is that while you're waiting for the structural fix that will come along and change or get rid of capitalism, a lot of creatures are dying, a lot of forests are being lost in the meantime. So that's where you hit on the local level, to save a marsh or save the Nagara River. Even before you save Japan you still want to try to save the Nagara river. So there is a way of working there in which you have to be deeply in the immediate time frame as well as in the long range time frame.

    McCORMICK: Certainly you have to combine them both the immediate tactical movements and objectives with the long term strategic vision, but you've been concentrating on the long term strategic vision. This talk of gene pools...

    SNYDER: I've been concentrating on the specifics. Let me put it this way, I do the long term strategic vision thinking to the best of my ability but the only thing that makes me feel like I'm keeping sane and that I have some qualification to be visionary is that I always have at least one local project going. My wife and I and my neighbors working forestry, working on watershed, working on salmon spawning streams. Keeping ourselves grounded in our place is very important to us. And that's because you can't work for nature, if you don't know nature. If it's just an abstraction then you can't do it, anymore than you can work on behalf of this or that minority without ever having hung out with them.

    So one of the things that I would call for from environmental organizations is - David wrote a piece that said we should make these organizations accountable - yeah, we should make them accountable in several ways.

    One way to make them accountable is that no matter how big and visionary a think tank they are, they've got to have one local project that they also do, a hands-on project. I think that that'd be real great to keep some steerage going. and you can't talk about the whole globe without knowing at least a part of it. You can't talk about Gaian consciousness or global consciousness if you don't know your own backyard. If you don't know what birds are passing through, if you don't know where the water comes from, if you haven't walked up the watershed at least once. I feel that very strongly. So this is actually the way I and the bioregional groups with which I work closely, the way we are developing a working relationship both with place and with national scale and international scale issues is to always have one foot on the ground.

    KUBIAK: Yeah, but the ground by definition is local and therefore the problems you will find on that ground tend to divide you diversify you... I mean that's the whole point of bioregionalism as far as I understand it, that it reintroduces the diversity that is induced by the environment, by association with the different environments in the world. But I'm concerned with the other foot.

    All of those people concerned individually with that mountain ridge of yours, to nourish it and nurture it are great, but if you have Bechtel coming in there with a huge government contract backed by national security waivers...

    SNYDER: I couldn't agree more, but you've got to have that other foot on the ground. That's all I'm saying. Actually we don't just stick with one ridge, we work with the whole watershed, three forks of the river, hundreds of square miles, most of it public land. All involved with watershed issues. And we and the bioregional people we're working with, all of us have just about agreed, that the natural organizing unit for community work is the watershed. The local community organization is a watershed-based organization. And then your specific single-issue groups can be under that umbrella.

    McCORMICK: But, Gary, some vast numbers of people live completely oblivious to these things. You ask them where is your watershed and they wouldn't have the faintest idea, they don't even know what one is...

    SNYDER: I know. It's a great education.

    KUBIAK: Back to the other foot, for a moment, what we represent here in this room is an international network. I mean just the people that we all know that are working in all different parts of the world at all different levels, and the community of sympathy for these kinds of ideas that we know is there - but how to galvanize that? We are trying to work at some level here that basically says the some thing. There are only two significant places to put your attention or effort. And one is the immediate surround - your body, your family, your local community, and your watershed, if you want to use that limit.

    SNYDER: But when you say your watershed and your local community, you mean the non-human community as well? And you expand your conception of human rights to non-human rights as well?

    KUBIAK: Yes, of course, and that brings you right to the other end of that spectrum and that is the Earth as a whole, as the body that generated us, sustains us, and all the gratitude that that should bring. But everything in between - like the nation-state, the corporate forms, the major religions, anything that starts sucking away concern and attention and leaves less time for focusing on what's going on at either of these other two levels becomes a major evolutionary obstacle.

    SNYDER: I don't think so, David, I really don't. Understanding the economics and the political dynamics of things actually is easier when you spend some time with ecology. You understand it as just a smaller scale, a really small scale and completely comprehensible realm of which the ecological realm is by far the more complex. They are both from the word oecos and human economics is just a sub-branch of that. It's a sub-branch of what thermodynamics does in the biosphere.

    McCORMICK: I think though, Gary, that while there are many people who can approach the problems of the universe through the local river system, there are many who can't. There are many who are so alienated in their everyday lives, that to say to them, "establish a relationship with your local creek or river or whatever" is like saying, "fly to the moon." I mean it's so remote from the realities of their lives...

    SNYDER: Well, it's no more remote than saying, "understand the corporate structure of Japan."

    McCORMICK: That's right, but it's a seamless web and whatever part of the circumstances of their lives that they take and begin to probe, they will come to the some ultimate cause of the crisis that you will identify in your local river system. But for most urban people in Japan, I think, that to say establish a relationship with a river...

    SNYDER: Well, it's only one of a number of educational strategies, but it's an educational strategy that should be built into education. It should be built into elementary level education. Just as there should be a much more developed natural history and ecological teaching in elementary school. Just as there should also be, in elementary school up to high school, much better teaching about the monetary system and banking. All of those things are lacking in our basic education.

    McCORMICK: But I think we are somehow missing here some of the positive developments that have occurred in the world over the last twenty or thirty years - one of which is, I think, that because of technological advancements, it is technically possible to feed and to house and to create the conditions for the people who exist on the Earth to live human lives. But the economic and political structures that determine the distribution of resources are organized in such a way that that can't happen.

    SNYDER: Gavan, my parents were Communist Party members. I was brought up through Marxism. You don't have to explain this to me. I know all about it and that's why I'm an anarchist. I don't believe in the national state as an organizing center.

    McCORMICK: But that is most important as an approach to dismantling it, simply to recognize that it exists. I think David's point on power relates to this because the centralized net grids that operate out of a nuclear power station must be controlled by centralized state power and that is totally antagonistic to the visions of anarchistic, small community-oriented structures. The new energy forms, it seems to me, are such that they can be organized by, and feed the interests of local communities, and therefore are essentially anarchistic. Photovoltaics, hydrogen, biomass production - they broaden the opportunities for local communities to determine their own priorities and to establish new relationships with surrounding natural systems.

    SNYDER: This is exactly what the bioregional people are working on, too. And what they're talking about is local sustainability. Relative local sustainability, not to the total destruction of all exchange markets or anything like that. and that of course means energy sustainability to whatever extent is possible.

    KUBIAK: But even the technical breakthroughs we already know about... I mean for decades there's been an International Hydrogen Association - that puts out a great journal, by the way - and in America they've flown planes on hydrogen, they've used it in kitchen environments, run it in cars, Winnebagos, every other goddamn conveyance. That's been around for twenty years now but they can't get any political resolve or support. It's never been a viable option given the power of the nuclear industry and the oil industry in America.

    SNYDER: So if it would work that would be wonderful for human beings, and it would be wonderful for the environment, for purifying the air, for stopping acid rain. That's good. But I and people like me would still be watchdogging what kind of forest management, what attitudes toward species, how the water system was managed, too.

    KUBIAK: All this micro stuff has to go on and all this education has to go on, but what I was hoping that what we could talk about today was some of the macro level stuff. Because we can't really help with your mountain ridge and you can't really help with our mountain here. We can just recognize the importance of that level of our lives. It's essentially a privacy level.

    SNYDER: It's not a privacy level. I am suggesting some organizing principles that we have found to be working well in California. And I am saying that they might well work here, namely the watershed organization, and a lot of respect and a lot of attention to grassroots organizers and grassroots organizations. That's a macro mind. The macro globe is not one mass of jello. The macro globe is a mosaic of infinitely diverse little habitats. and in the same way it's a mosaic of multiple languages and multiple groups of interest. The human diversity is part of it, too.

    KUBIAK: Yeah, but they're being invaded by a highly homogenized threat. They're under siege. Thousands of their communities are truly under siege. And I'm not just talking about Japan now. Japan's problem is too much money and that is hardly the most common problem in the world.

    SNYDER: Since they're under siege, part of my approach to this is to empower them to defend themselves. And I tend to be suspicious of monotheistic ideologies, of any sort of theoretical global, one-worldism, or overstructure thinking that is not grounded in the local mosaics and that is talking at too abstract or theoretical a level.

    McCORMICK: All right, locally, I was in a medium size local community a couple of days ago where they're facing the problem that the values of their land have been doubled and tripled over the last fifteen years. And the resort developers are coming in to build resort mansions and the people that own small pieces of land know that if they sell their plots they will make a large amount of money, and if they don't sell, in any case, the environment that they knew is being gradually destroyed by the encroachments of the corporations.

    So what do they do? Of course their rivers and their hot springs are being destroyed by what is happening. But to focus on preserving the biosphere of the rivers and springs, without trying to project some way of coping with the, with the enemy, with the way the enemy is attacking them everyday... What you're suggesting is a very necessary dimension to include in their thinking...

    SNYDER: Well, I made my point about that dimension. So how are we going to attack the enemy?

    KUBIAK: Can we get a consensus on size being a problem - size of corporate activity, size of corporations?

    SNYDER: Oh, yes, absolutely. Scale.

    KUBIAK: So if that becomes a common focus... There was this guy at Stanford Research Institute who studied revolutionary movements all the back to some century BC, and he said he never found anything that worked that didn't have a slogan and an enemy. And identifying enemies always creates an outgroup that's going to create resistance, but what if the enemy is not human?

    We've been trying to pitch the idea that corporate bodies, social organisms of a certain scale become qualitatively different from and hostile to our human value system. And therefore if we can oppose them as a semi-biological entity, number one, you have a common enemy that is not human, that doesn't have any particular face; and two, the people inside them become vital, because the only people that can lay them down peaceably are the people that have lived in them their entire lives. So if you can just cut the supply of kids going into these things, if we can somehow unpoison the media environment that forces women, in Japan anyway, to groom their kids and prune their kids so that they will fit into these organizations, and make that their life ideal.

    Japan is just so incredibly rich in talent, I mean the handwork, the varieties of art, cooking, the varieties of expression in gardens, architecture... and all the tiny little workshops that Hitachi and Toshiba and even Mitsubishi absorbed in their growth to automated glory - those hands and that ability, that incredible creative manual intelligence that was here could be reborn again. And that's what I'm hoping, that if we can somehow focus on corporate effects, make not just a critique but a full-blown assault on the corporate system as something that is bad for the environment, bad for human rights, bad for the people within them, and bad for the people outside.

    SNYDER: Well, let me be a devil's advocate here for a moment. Suppose somebody come along and argued that the corporate environment is the environment that could save the world, and that they have the intelligence, the technology and the organization to see how to do things better, to make a few adjustments in what they do, to make the right choices technologically, to do away with some of the things you don't like, not to pollute - "we know how not to pollute, we can do it" - and just keep on going as a benign corporate environment. I've heard that argument.

    KUBIAK: I think by your own definition that that's impossible. Because it's impossible for a corporation to take root in a Gaian context. The only thing that a corporate organism has to measure its success is its growth and its stability, and anything that threatens that, even an environmental policy, especially an environmental policy these days, is to be resisted. It operates entirely in a mathematical environment. It can't appreciate a sunset. It can't get up to its hips in a swamp. It can't enjoy any of the things that we usually consider as the ultimate sensual and even metaphysical values of being alive.

    SNYDER: But you know that there are people arguing that there can be a paradigm shift within capitalism. This is like really slick, futuristic, benign, super-intelligent capitalist thinking. They're out there. [Laughter]

    McCORMICK: But the only paradigm shift within capitalism that could conceivably answer these problems is a paradigm shift in which capitalism denies itself. In other words, denies what is the essential in capitalism which is continued growth. KUBIAK: Wait a minute, let's get off this "capitalism" kick, because the socialists never did any better, the communists didn't do any better...

    McCORMICK: OK, growth is the same. But it's a capitalist principle that has been adopted in all industrial systems to date. But I have yet to hear in Japanese political debate anybody say, "it's time to stop growth, and the objective for next year should be zero GNP." That should be an object of political movements, to move toward the attainment of zero economic growth.

    KUBIAK: That's not a popular agenda, you know.

    McCORMICK: It would be an extremely unpopular agenda, but until people begin to say that that is the agenda, then it's never going to get started.

    SNYDER: That's been an agenda for some of the environmental groups in western Europe and in the States for 15 or 20 years now, and, as David says, it's not been a popular hit.

    McCORMICK: It would be more unpopular in Japan than anywhere else, because it would go more deeply against the national faith, the underlying faith.

    SNYDER: However, there is an organization on the West Coast of corporations and capitalists who are talking about something that they call "sustainable growth" which sounds like double-talk, but at least it has a green edge to it.

    KUBIAK: Sometimes even hypocrisy is useful.

    SNYDER: How can we do this? You think we can do it by media?

    KUBIAK: I think if you can say the problem is that organizations have gotten too big and it doesn't make any difference whether it's a bureaucratic organization or a religious organization or a communist organization or a capitalist organization - once you get more than a thousand people in one place they become pathological, as far as the environment is concerned particularly. There's not a hell of a lot of things that you can imagine that are really worthwhile in the world that a thousand intelligent people can't do together. And I think that even that's pushing the limit. I personally would feel more comfortable with a cap of five hundred or so...

    SNYDER: How do you imagine that you can get down to groups of no more than a thousand people with so much of the world being dominated by mass media, centralized education, etc?

    KUBIAK: Well, that's where you have to get...cunning, and use media. That's why Japan is important, I've always thought anyway, because there is a curiosity among intellectuals and academics particularly, people in West who are paid to know about, or at least have an opinion about what the future is going to be like. And they have to factor in Japan and what it might do and what it is capable of doing. Since we always said well they couldn't do this or that, first they couldn't make cars, then they couldn't make ships or reactors. Now they can't make software, so everybody's going to he safe for another ten years. Everything we say they can't do, they do. So this whole racially based prejudice that there's going to be a natural limit to the growth of this kind of corporate environment is bullshit. There is absolutely no evidence that they can't do anything they set their mind to, whether they do it themselves or they buy other people who can do it. So because of this there is a sort of general interest in and anxiety about Japanese activities around the world, I think.

    SNYDER: But my question is how are you going to get down to groups of a thousand people?

    KUBIAK: This is where it gets a bit sleazy. According to a lot of sociological and biological studies, corporate environments, especially authoritarian corporate environments, tend to basically neuter the lower reaches of their populations - psychosomatically take down their vitality, their assertiveness, their libido. It works in a monkey troop, it works in a baboon troop, it works in Mitsubishi. It works in the Catholic Church. At a certain level you settle for being less than whole.

    You know the expression ichininmae (full, individual person) in Japanese? Well, you settle for being hannninmae (half, unfinished person). You're a kobun ('child role' - follower, subordinate, . dependent), and you take the kobun role all the way to the grave. You don't mind this child's role, this juvenalization, you accept it for the acceptance of the group. And you have an oyakata ('parent role' - boss, father figure) whether he is a distant symbol or actually a guy with a big belly right in front of you. When you blow that out and try to make out that Mitsubishi is a "family" then everybody in there becomes a kobun. And everybody in there has no right to speak out. They have all of the Confucianistic constraints of a child and no expectation that their individuality is supposed to be nurtured because they are supposed to be serving this "greater whole."

    If you can show that this actually has psychosomatic consequences - especially as Japan rebuilds its confidence and becomes more and more macho in its presentation to the world - if you can show that actually the salarimen, the people that actually sacrificed their lives to make this economic miracle happen, have sacrificed great, ah, "internal resources." It's sort of the sacrifice of the honey bee or the worker ant, where you basically give up your memetic fertility.

    It's not your genetic progeny that defines you now, it's your memetic progeny, the ideas you put out, the things that assert your individuality in the world. And if you link that to manhood it gets very, very touchy.

    When I wrote that piece for Kyoto Journal that impugned local manhood because of the tofu intake and the authoritarian problems with the school system, the examination stress that hits kids right in the middle of puberty and therefore holds them back from psychosexual development - out of that whole section the only thing that the Australian press picked up - and they ran it Melbourne, ran it in Sydney - was "Japanese office workers emasculated!" It was a very sexy piece of self-consolation for the Australian men, because "the Japanese got more money, they've go more technology, they're taking over the world, but we've got bigger balls!" There's that level of background psychology at work.

    McCORMICK: To come back to the question of empowering groups of people of a thousand or so. The only circumstance that will make it possible for people to create those kinds of linkages - and there will be all kinds of complex linkages in a contemporary urban setting, I think - is if there's some security.

    The reason why people band together is because they're afraid. There are pressures from the outside on them and they respond by saying we must unite, must yield some of our own individual capacity in order for the group to be strong enough to beat off these outside pressures. Now we're entering a time where, almost for the first time in our lives, we are not really afraid of war. That's a great precondition for the kinds of things that we all want to happen to happen.

    The second thing is that we have the productive capacity now to feed and house and clothe people. It's not necessary for people to become slaves to the corporations. There's absolutely no need for that. So I think there are very hopeful preconditions.

    SNYDER: Boy, you guys are sure talking abstractly. I still haven't heard a concrete suggestion.

    KUBIAK: OK, you talk to the mothers who are producing the next generation to feed to these corporate bodies - these are the people who basically got the anti-nuclear movement off the ground in Japan. Their whole life is devoted to these children and if you can say to them, "Stop, you are killing off your children's health and evolutionary potential by feeding them into this system," I think you will find a resonance. Think about it - these women are killing off their own lives to sacrifice their children, too? And for what?

    SNYDER: So your answer is that you're going to give a certain message to mothers?

    KUBIAK: That's a major audience, within Japan. But the overall idea is that nobody yet confronts corporations as pathological beings or interests on the Earth. On the PeaceNet/EcoNet computer networks there are nearly 2,000 different activist groups tied up in there, all having conferences about damn near everything. But you put in a search word for "corporations" or "multinationals," and there is nothing in there that focuses on them as the major problem.

    Corporations have confused the media atmosphere that much. We don't even look at them, except in specific instances. Dow Chemical is doing this or Monsanto is doing that. But as a class nobody has taken them on. And it's totally baffling to me because we can trace centuries of shit to the corporate brotherhood - religious, commercial, bureaucratic. And the peculiarly dangerous thing about Japan is that she builds better corporate groups then anywhere else in the world. They're more lean, they're more aggressive, they're more evolutionarily "fit" for the environment as it opens up in a "free trade" atmosphere around the world.

    SNYDER: I can't argue with what you're saying. Your strategy, however, does not seem to be in scale with what you've described, but it's an interesting idea.

    McCORMICK: But consider the empowering of small groups. After all, one of the most influential social movements in modern Japanese history was the movement against the Vietnam War. It didn't actually stop the Vietnam War, but Beheiren taught people that they could be empowered as local anarchic groups and that had a more profound effect by teaching people by experience that they can run themselves as social movements and organizations.

    SNYDER: Well, we're certainly in agreement on the necessity and desirability of empowering groups. I think that I would argue that to talk about a planetary or global scale involves more specifics, more details, more biological science, more atmospheric science, more hydrology then you think. That Gaian consciousness is too loose a term. It doesn't mean shit. Nor does Gaia particularly mean anything unless you want to get into microbiology and biochemistry, and then it means something.

    And so I'm calling for everybody to learn more, to actually learn more about the planet. and while you're at it learn more about corporate economies. Now I know I need to learn more about that. But both sides are really important and I really don't feel educated enough yet to think about these things on the scale I'd like to.

    KUBIAK: If you go at it not from a political economy point of view but from a purely medical point of view, say the Gaian system can be at least conceived of as an integrated biological entity. The fine green film across the planetary surface is actually functioning somehow, with a life that is unique to its scale. and at that level, if, for example, you look from cloud height at what's going on environmentally around the world, you can almost see these corporate bodies as pathogens, as flat out old-fashionedly defined pathogens.

    SNYDER: Yeah, possibly so. My little outburst against using the term Gaia too loosely comes from knowing too many people who go around talking Gaia this, Gaia that, and can't tell a robin from a crow.

    KUBIAK: So do we have any consensual points that we can close with?

    SNYDER: Well, I would agree we all have to keep studying about watersheds and corporate groups at the some time. "Think globally, act locally" is actually not a bad slogan.

    KUBIAK: Would you be willing to contribute some work to this? If we polled a variety of people that have a certain influence within the zeitgeist today and tried to put together a book about "corporate effects?" Let's keep it vague so you can hit it from a lot of different directions - whether it's in terms of what you've seen in Japan over the lost thirty years or, Gary, what you see from your mountain or just what we see when you go out and talk to people in the world. But something for a work looking at corporate effects on modern society, and actually start to focus on that as a potential area of leverage for all of us and a point of empowerment. If we can get a common diagnosis, like the breakthrough of germ theory, if we can move from the symptomology to something approaching a common sense of cause for our crises...

    SNYDER: Well, some of the most effective things that I've heard of that have been done in recent gears were achiever by the people concerned about tropical rainforests who kept dogging the steps of the World Bank and were present and demonstrating at World Bank meeting after World Bank meeting. And were getting into the press and were getting their information out on how the World Bank was funding destructive projects. And it looks like it had some effect on the World Bank. The World Bank is changing its policies. In the some way there were people who dogged the footsteps of Charles Hervitz, the CEO of Pacific Lumber, who did a really sleazy thing with the last old growth redwood stands on the West Coast. By getting in there and just concentrating on the direct cause.

    But like everything else, you can't just talk about it, you've got to do it. You've got to be an activist. You've got to go to their board meetings. You've got to be standing outside. I mean if you want to talk about how to affect corporations, you've got to got out there and find out who's on the board, you've got to be standing outside their meetings, you've got to do it. And I know a lot of people who do it and I really admire them. It's not just talking about it, it's getting in there and embarrassing them. [Laughter]

    - End -




FOR MORE ON GAVAN McCORMICK, SEE:
The McCormick Consultation

FOR MORE ON GARY SYDER, see
The Breadth of His Incredible Opus

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