four selections from a working Manifesto of the Biotariat
1. When we compare humans to animals in terms of mistreatment (“they were treated like animals”—in Gaza or Syria or the Sudan or…), we mean no disrespect to animals; we mean only that animals, including human beings, are often mistreated, exploited, and accorded no dignity. These processes are increasingly systematized and totalized across the biological spectrum.
2. First, a provisional definition. The biotariat: that portion of existence that is enclosed as a “resource” by and for those who direct and benefit from the accumulation of wealth. So: labouring human beings generally; most animals and plants; forest, wetland and grassland ecosystems; water; land itself, as it provisions and enables biological life broadly; minerals that lie beneath the surface of the land; common “wastes” and “sinks” too, into which the waste products of resource extraction and production and use are spilled—primarily the atmosphere and the oceans, primarily in the form of carbon and petroleum products. It’s that large. The enclosed and exploited life of this planet.
4. This is the reason to propose a biotariat: the enclosure and exploitation of life, in all its manifold aspects (from boreal forests to sea turtles to Bangladeshi garment workers to the homeless of the world’s major cities to sex workers to precariously employed adjunct professors to coral reefs and honey bees and so on and so forth), has reached a stage in which “we”—all of life—are in the same desperate and drunken boat—constrained there by a system of total and planetary accumulation that even the term “capitalism” perhaps cannot adequately capture anymore. In what sense is this “economics”—this means of the production of financial inequality that systemically impacts and imperils life itself?
9. Thus we need to frame struggles not exclusively on the ground of human rights, but more broadly, in terms of inter-systemic responses and responsibilities. To recognize that the commons is more than a system of social reproduction—that it in fact is a system of ecological sustainability, writ large, into which human social reproduction fits. Or—to be itself sustainable—must fit. So—commoning, as a verb, is what all life does—a process and an action upon which all life depends—the radical sharing of the means and material of existence. The proposition of a biotariat calls a new collective identity into being, a new common subjectivity formed by life itself, which we are only beginning to find out how to access and enable agentically.
Stephen Collis is a Vancouver-based poet and climate justice activist. His books include The Commons (2008; 2014) and DECOMP (2013), and his current writing can be found at www.beatingthebounds.com