Means and Ends

Fraser has moved away from studying dark earths made by humans in part because he saw how quickly knowledge about their creation was being commodified and sold as a “fix” for an unsustainable agricultural system. “It just isn’t going to work if we are making dark earths in a capitalistic society,” he says. “It is about all the system around them, it is not just about the soil. We can’t take out this practice and reproduce it and this will lead to sustainability.”

Indeed, terra preta nova—newly made soil enriched with charred plant matter—has been touted not only as a way to grow more crops on a smaller land base, but also as a carbon sequestration technique to fight climate change. When organic material is partially burned and the charred remains are incorporated with the soil, the result is not just better soil, it is also the internment of a significant amount of carbon that would otherwise have gone up into the atmosphere as smoke.

Tending Soil

Since then, culture and politics, revolution and carnival have grown far closer. For the past twenty years, U.S. radicals have been speaking of "the politics of prefiguration”: of the idea that you can and must embody whatever liberty, justice, democracy you aspire to, and in doing so in your self, your community, or your movement you achieve a degree of victory, whatever you do beyond that. Thus political demonstrations around the country have become less like complaints and more like celebrations. Several groups toward the end of the 1990s took this to carnivalesque extremes, which was only reasonable: if you were protesting against alienation, isolation, and privatization, festivity in public didn’t merely demand but cultivated and reclaimed what was at risk. In the 1999 shutdown of the World Trade Organization (W TO) in Seattle, for example, giant puppets, costumes, banners, and, famously, people dressed as endangered sea turtles all played a role. It was both a blockade as potent as that of any general strike in the 1930s and a festive demonstration of what the alternatives look like. Similarly, four years later at the WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico, a coalition of Mexican campesinos, Korean farmers, and activists from around the world gathered with banners, traditional costumes, musical instruments, parades, and theatrical props. One Korean man, a longtime international activist, committed suicide on the barriers to dramatize the mortal threat to small farmers the proposals held. Thousands of women pulled down barriers with carefully placed ropes. The activists again influenced the course of history—poor nations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) inside were inspired to stand up to the first world and corporate powers. W hen the talks collapsed inside, the people outside went wild with joy. Thus it is that one contemporary revolutionary has remarked, "The means are the end.”

paradise-built-in-hellp. 177–8


paradise-built-in-hell Solnit, Rebecca. 2009. A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disasters. Viking. ↩︎ 1