Book of the Week: Toward a Bioregional State

* Book: Toward a Bioregional State. Mark Whitaker, 2005.

I missed this book when it came out, but I consider as important as choosing Marvin Brown’s Civilising the Economy as book of the year in 2010. This is a very important book about what needs to be done to achieve a sustainable ‘world structure’.

1. The Summary by Mark Whitaker:

“Whitaker argues that the basis of environmental degradation is not capitalism or market relations. Environmental degradation is supremely caused by unrepresentative state elite decisions and how they manipulate markets to serve particular consolidated materials, so solutions should focus on additional formal checks and balances against these informal ‘ecological tyrannies’, via more green constitutional engineering. A poorly designed formal state apparatus in the past has led to unrepresentative, informal elite gatekeeping on state economic developmentalism. Such political corruption biases material choices of the whole society toward economic consolidation with the reduction of market choices per category of use. This process of unsustainability is political corruption. It is connected to market corruption and the expansion of environmental degradation and consumers being held captive within degradative choices of unrepresentative elites and the removal of more sustainable choices simultaneously. The political developmental power of the state has been captured by unrepresentative raw material regimes that gatekeep against political or material choices far more sustainable that we already have.

The bioregional state proposals are for two levels of changes: a set of larger formal checks and balances on the state level in interaction with other institutions as well as a set of two smaller, local grass roots organizations called commodity ecology and a civic democratic institution. The latter are to be implemented in all watersheds of the world as a material and cultural form of check and balance, respectively, against larger corrupt state developmentalism creating environmental degradation. Both larger and smaller levels work together in the bioregional state for a more representative state developmentalism.”

He continues:

Bioregional Democracy (or the Bioregional State) is a set of electoral reforms and commodity reforms designed to force the political process in a democracy to better represent concerns about the economy, the body, and environmental concerns (e.g. water quality), toward developmental paths that are locally prioritized and tailored to different areas for their own specific interests of sustainability and durability. This movement is variously called bioregional democracy, watershed cooperation, or bioregional representation, or one of various other similar names—all of which denote democratic control of a natural commons and local jurisdictional dominance in any economic developmental path decisions—while not removing more generalized civil rights protections of a larger national state.”

“The points left out of Enlightenment democratic theory are:

(1) the empirically durable human-environmental contexts of all governmental arrangements,

(2) ideas about the state as an economic developmentalist organization,

(3) the issue of the innate geographical particularities of citizenship and political concern,

(4) ways to check and balance gatekeeping powers of informal political parties on the state, and

(5) that political power is more than the formal state—it is exercised in conjunction with scientific, financial, and consumptive/economic organizational power as well.

The four types of checks and balances:

(1) the more typical Western democratic theory issues that discuss only “formal -toformal” institutional checks and balances; more are required for a sustainable bioregional state.

(2) Additionally in the bioregional state, three other levels of checks and balances are required: other “informal-to-informal” checks and balances entirely ignored in existing democratic theory that assure a competitive party context of informal factions is durable and kept in place formally, because only heightened party competition assures that the full electorate (instead of only the partial electorate) are valued, and that party corruption can be checked.

(3) Furthermore, the other level of checks and balances required are the “informal-toformal” checks and balances that keep particular informal election outcome issues from being allowed to influence and bias the formal frameworks in unrepresentative clientelistic ways. This means having a flexible formal framework that interacts to check and balance against the several particular informal election outcomes, to assure that the “informal to informal” checks and balances between parties are maintained in operation in all situations instead of demoted. This type of “informal-to-formal” is seen in both formal institutional design issues (like the flexible cameralism and flexible executive branch issues described in more detail in the Constitution of Sustainability) as well as in the voting framework (proportional representation with a majoritarian allotment) that makes sure that all pa rties are forced to compete for 100% of the full electorate instead of being able to operate by excluding large numbers of the electorate because of the gatekeeping of the political agenda by party frameworks.

(4) The fourth check and balance framework is organized around ecological and consumer issues: ranging from securing public consumer choices against an enforced corporate imposed consumption of singular items, to enhancing ecological feedback from particular geographic areas as a method against less representative developmentalism.

Six points about the bioregional state:

1. The false sense that the state is only a ‘social’ organization; the bioregional state is a developmental organization and a political feedback mechanism for making developmentalism democratic and sustainable.

2. States are always situated within particular ecologies or across particular ecologies.

3. Nothing called an abstract or individualized citizen in practice: citizenship and its politics are historically bioregional and watershed specific, influenced by human health, ecological, and economic externalities that are shared ecologically and which impinge upon the people and ecologies involved.

4. A people’s self-interest is additionally geographically specific and protective of a particular geography, leading to an environmental proxy based politics where human health, ecological, and economic externalities from ecological degradation are effected in human political pressures.

5. An environmental proxy based politics is p art of the human condition, instead of a novelty of the 20th-21st century. It has only been expressed through other discourses and manners in the past with the ideas and techniques available.

6. In terms of the bioregional state, affirmative institutions are ones that are designed jurisdictionally to be ecologically aware and facilitative of the particularities of environmental proxy politics –influenced geographically in its orientation by bioregional and watershed variegation. Formal state institutions h istorically have been created under “political slack” instead of full representation because all existing states have been hinterland based. In the past 50 years, the removal of the hinterland changes the political dynamic towards inexorable environmental amelioration pressures in formal policy and formal institutions because it changes the pressures of informal politics from exit to voice, facilitating more environmental proxy politics.”

2. A further Detailed Description by Mark Whitaker:

“This post summarizes some of the book, in quotes. I use the third person to describe myself below.

In his 2005 book Toward a Bioregional State: A Series of Letters About Political Theory and Formal Institutional Design in the Era of Sustainability, Mark D. Whitaker argues for another version of the green state. This version of the green state is a slow strategic and institutional means toward greater sustainability starting from our lack of sustainability presently.

This is different from other ideas of a green state for three rationales: first, other green state ideas start at the artificial point of an already achieved sustainability so they are mere philosophical conjectures of what a state might look like from the point of view of some mental conjectures about a non-existent situation; and second, therefore, other green state ideas ignore the most important issues: they are lifeless and without pragmatic strategies to move from unsustainability to sustainability; third, other forms of the green state only analyze state institutions in an artificial isolation from the rest of the political economy and the material world. Because of this third point, there seems to be a strange construct in others’ view of the green state as if the state is some magical creation that can force change of the politics of society instead of seeing the state as merely being a reflection of the wider distribution of systemic power in other areas and in itself. Therefore, in the bioregional state, the green state is related to environmental capacity building in the real world in steady, slow, pragmatic steps from unsustainability to sustainability.

Toward a Bioregional State offers many strategic ways to move from unsustainability to sustainability by adjusting the wider political dynamics of state institutions, other institutions, and commodity choices as a means toward sustainability. Thus, the model for both unsustainability and sustainability are based on the same dynamics between formal politics, informal politics, and the environmental context, though a sustainable society has a more representative form of dynamics in its material choices, and an unsustainable society has a more unrepresentative dynamics in its material choices. A fully representative society is sustainable and uses sustainable materials. An unsustainable society is corrupt, and corruption creates unsustainability that locks in unsustainable materials from any removal or critique.

Therefore, bioregional democracy (or the Bioregional State) is a set of electoral reforms, green constitutional engineering additions, and larger Ecological Reformation like commodity reforms designed to force the political process in a democracy to better represent majority concerns about the economy, the body, and environmental concerns (e.g., water quality), toward developmental paths that are locally prioritized and tailored to different areas for their own specific interests of sustainability and durability. This movement is variously called bioregional democracy, watershed cooperation, or bioregional representation, or one of various other similar names–all of which denote democratic control of a natural commons and local jurisdictional dominance in any economic developmental path decisions–while not removing more generalized civil rights protections and other conflict resolutions of a larger national state.

* This is the informal level of politics that requires greater checks and balances to create a competitive party system that competes for 100% of the vote instead of competes to exclude the electorate. This is achievable with proportional representation with majoritarian allotment (PRMA), and watershed based election districts [2] (among other things), described in the book. A truly competitive party system creates sustainability by creating representative elites. An unrepresentative-elite-biased, gatekeeping party system creates unsustainability by rejecting such concerns by building a formal institutional arrangement and materials policy that is designed to be degradative and unrepresentative.

* This is the formal level of politics that requires greater numbers of checks and balances to avoid an unsustainable, unrepresentative state developmental policy; in an unrepresentative, unsustainable society, the state becomes formally structured to serve informal gatekeeping interests and forms of gatekept clientelism instead of to serve multiple real locations within its territory. This means green constitutional engineering: the phrase exclusively for the additions to the formal state apparatus. Plus, this means Ecological Reformation: the phrase for taking into account more than the state in how to improve the representation of a state elite’s larger dynamic interactions with other power interests in society like the sciences/research institutions, consumption institutions, and financial institutions. In this way, ‘green politics’ is hardly a special category of politics, and it is hardly best served by an ideological party since environmental concern and support for health, ecology, and local economics comes from across the political spectrum for green politics. Green politics is a natural form of politics in that it merely means fully representative democracy, where elites are representative instead of gatekeeping on development policy concerns.

* This is the level of material politics and potential conflicts between different commodities for the same positional use, where the outcome gets biased toward unsustainable, unrepresentative choices without a formal means to maintain multiple local choices of materials for the same social uses. This is an important material check and balance on power in corrupt materials domination. Demotion of local ecological self-interest, its ethnobotany, and the resulting natural bioregionalism worldwide leads to unsustainability. Different durable human uses of local commodities are a resourceful, material, and market-based check and balance against the collusion of corrupt state, science, finance, and consumptive powers actively demoting or passively gatekeeping against our many choices for sustainability we already have.

Instead of being as anti-market as Eckersley (2004), and instead of being as trusting of state elites as she is, Whitaker argues for concentration on constitutional engineering that will create a less corrupted state developmentalism and a more representative developmentalism instead. A politically biased market is seen as the origin of environmental degradation, instead of markets per se, so there are required checks and balances in both the state and in maintaining consumer choices in markets for different consumptive categories, to maintain sustainability. Many more durable and local regional commodities are required as material checks and balances against any potentials of larger unrepresentative versions of commodities in their categories.”

3. Discussion on Ecoregions as Political Feedback Against Unsustainable Developmentalism

Mark Whitaker:

Particularly within the proposals in the Bioregional State, ecoregions or watersheds aid in facilitation of the innate “ecological self-interest” of people. The “ecological self-interest” of peoples aim always to avoid externalities in human health, ecology, or economic relations that are impressed upon people living in a particular ecological area by potentially unrepresentative informal politics guided from larger state frameworks. Worldwide, one way to bring this type of ecological self-interest in sync with developmental policies would be to make watersheds/ecoregions as the mandated form for electoral districting and judicial dictricting, providing ecological based checks and balances in politics and the administration of law and lawsuits, respectively. This brings ecological self-interest in sync with state politics and courts instead of out of sync with it. A watershed based electoral districting and judicial districting provides feedback against unsustainable developmentalism policies in particular areas; provides for a more competitive informal party framework that removes the gerrymandered and uncompetitive districting that is key to how informal gatekeeping is involved in maintaining unsustainable development; as well provides an ongoing formal mechanism–legislative and judicial–for particular areas to participate in deliberations of developmental decisions within larger state levels for their own ecologically specific sustainable paths.

The wider argument of the Bioregional State is that much of unsustainable developmentalism comes from how exclusionary and undemocratic political, judicial, and material gatekeeping is organized and maintained in ostensibly “formal democracies.”

The wider argument of the Bioregional State is that its frameworks are an improvement on democracy in general, that removes many different levels of elitist, exclusionary political gatekeeping which promotes unsustainable abuses in these three areas. Watersheds as electoral districts or judicial districts are only some of the more “charismatic” examples in the Bioregional State for how to operationalize local ecological self-interest as an ecological check and balance solution on the level of districting, against this wider potential issue of gatekeeping.

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