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Capitalism, Oppression, Marine Mammals


Alexis Pauline Gumbs has a new book out called Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals. There’s an excerpt out in the Boston Review and I have to say it is a striking read.

Rather, the threat against the most critically endangered cetaceans on the planet (and most endangered marine mammals at this point) is an unintentional byproduct of fishing as usual. Could the large fishing boats in the Atlantic become mindful enough to sense and avoid an animal as big and slow moving as the North Atlantic right whale (which actually was named the “right whale” specifically because it was slow moving and large enough to easily hunt from large ships with the technology they had two hundred years ago)? To hear the industry tell it, it’s expensive and difficult. They say the necessary technology is years if not decades away. In other words, it may be available after the North Atlantic right whale is already extinct.

And what about the gillnets in the tiny range of the vaquita? They are already illegal, and the fishers who use them are impoverished people without other economic options at this time.

So Alexis, are you saying that to save these animals we have to not only abolish the commercial fishing industry, which is one of the major food sources on the planet, but also abolish capitalism itself this week so no one needs to use an illegal gillnet or starve?

In a word? Yes.

But maybe you already know something about this. About how a deadly system doesn’t have to seem like it’s targeting you directly to kill you consistently. How, for example, long after the era of photographed lynchings where picnickers sliced off body parts and kept them as keepsakes, a system can still cut off parts of you daily, steal parts of yourself that you need. Maybe you think this is not about you (if so, that’s a part that already went numb).

One female North Atlantic right whale was stabbed by a propeller as a baby and didn’t die until fourteen years later when she was pregnant. As she expanded to hold life, her wound reopened, got infected, and killed her. Or think of Punctuation (this is what the researchers who have been studying this whale for forty years call her), a grandmother North Atlantic right whale who died in the summer of 2019. She had given birth eight times, survived entanglement five different times, and had scars from multiple boat strikes and propellers. And at least three of her children died from entanglement before she died. Maybe you know something about what it means to bear the constant wounding of a system that says it’s about something else entirely. It might sound hollow to you too when you hear these deaths are not the point, that these deaths are just a byproduct that cannot be prevented for the sake of the system. Surely there must be some way to improve the system that already exists.

I don’t think so. Where are the people who argue that commercial fishing is necessary for human life when the same economic system pollutes that exact food supply and raises carbon to levels that are killing fish off already? None of these things can be separated from each other. We are all entangled. And the fact that entanglement is a slow death doesn’t make it any better; it in fact makes it more gruesome. And I mourn the parts of you that lost feeling today. I mourn the scars you will not notice until you have a reason to grow. I mourn the freedom you don’t know because these ropes have been here longer than you have been and, big or small, you can’t evade them.

If we don’t do it, if we don’t end capitalism this week, it is because we are entangled, a reality that will continue to wound us after the vaquita and the North Atlantic right whale disappear off the face of the Earth. So you don’t have to save the whales, but at least take a look at the ropes. Acknowledge what has already been severed, the costs of this system as usual. At least take a moment to imagine how you would move if we weren’t all caught up in this. Could we do that? I’m asking for myself. And if you can at all feel these last two sentences, then maybe it’s not impossible: I love you. You deserve to be free.

Little makes the LGM commenter class crankier than calls to end capitalism. What are we going to replace it with, they ask? Also herp derp the Soviets also sucked at environmentalism, as if that is a relevant point in 2021.

But let me also ask you something. Is she wrong? About any of this? Can we have a sustainable planet under capitalism? Is there any evidence the answer to this is yes? And given that, what do we do about it?

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