The nature of power is power over nature

Power is ultimately about control over what we call natural resources, although to use that term presupposes the instrumental relationship that composes part of the power dynamic. Power is based on the appropriation of nature: making what belongs to all in common into one’s own, e.g., drilling land to take oil from the ground. Sometimes, especially at this point in history, the initial appropriation of nature occurred long ago, and the act of power is the reappropriation of nature: making what belongs to another into one’s own, whether by purchase or force.

Simply to use nature as a resource, to drink water from a stream or pick a berry from a bush, is not necessarily an assertion of power; but to pollute or dam the water, or to pick most of the berries in a region, or to appropriate a piece of land in order to plant and cultivate berry bushes, would qualify. Appropriation is exclusive: it makes nature one’s own as against anyone else, whether by claiming a property right to it, defending it by force, or depleting, diminishing, or polluting it so that others cannot equally use it. And the “others” against whom resources are appropriated include other living things, not only humans, so the use of natural resources may be the imposition of power over nature even if those resources are shared with other people, though typically resources are rarely if ever shared beyond a small in-group so almost all appropriation operates to exclude both other people and other species.

And power includes control over a natural resource we tend not to think of as natural: people. This may be done indirectly, by concentrating control over other natural resources such that people become dependent on the controller, or directly, which usually follows the former, as when one instrumentalizes people for one’s own gain, i.e., for one’s own greater appropriation of nature. This exploitation differs from government, which at least in theory should involve the sharing of resources rather than their appropriation, but most government has been created or captured by power-holders who wield political forces to further concentrate their power.

Much of the appropriation and reappropriation of nature composing power dynamics today occurs under the guise of money. What is money for, ultimately, but to secure some natural resources for oneself against others?

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