3 min read

A Brief Aside; Insulin and Bananas

I should abandon Twitter, I know, but let's take a brief Twitter detour that I feel is relevant to the subject we just left behind in last month's series. There has been a lot of talk amongst and against leftists in the Discourse lately regarding two things I want to discuss in particular: insulin, and bananas. Every so often someone will come along and ask anarchists (in general, just a shout into the void toward anarchy) how they intend to produce insulin after the revolution. It's both a silly, bad faith question most of the time, and an earnest question from those for whom it is an essential medication. Either way, it is a question we can learn from, and one for which we should have an answer. In answering this question, maybe a few things about the philosophy underpinning this project will become a little clearer.

Briefly: anarchism, degrowth, and the coming climate crisis, do not mean the end of the production of things. The equipment needed to produce insulin exists and will continue to exist unless destroyed by capitalists/fascists–and if that happens, you can hardly blame anarchists. But that doesn't mean we wouldn't rebuild it, and it doesn't mean we're not trying to hack insulin production anyway; the Open Insulin Project has been trying for years now to create methods of production that can be operated at community-scale. They haven't succeeded yet, it's true, but efforts are being made by anarchists to allow for a marketless production of insulin and numerous other medications (see the efforts of the Four Thieves Vinegar Collective). And, again, insulin is produced now. The knowledge, skills, and materials still exist and will continue to exist into the revolution. If I sound catty it is not due to a lack of reverence for this issue, but a lack of patience for someone who expects–demands, even–anarchists to reinvent the wheel when it's not necessary, or prudent, to do so.

Similarly, folks want to know how we will get bananas in our anarchist utopia. The answer to that, in my opinion, depends entirely on how indigenous peoples in the regions that grow bananas and the other folks that already live there and do the work of growing bananas want to proceed after the revolution. Because the banana trade is set up now thanks to a blood-drenched and incredibly, laughably undemocratic campaign by fruit companies–you know, it's how we got the phrase "banana republic." If the aforementioned peoples wish to continue making bananas on an enormous, world-supplying scale, then we can consider the continued importation of bananas via sustainable shipping methods. If not, eat something else. This is a gotcha argument for the supposed virtues of capitalism and against leftist economic philosophies, but it requires the ignorance of history and the continued subjugation of impoverished people. It's bullshit, in short. A lot of skeptics of leftist ideas will champion supposed victories of capitalism as though those victories weren't achieved through an enormous amount of exploitation and suffering. Capitalism requires the impoverishment of a zone outside of capitalism in order for the enrichment of a zone within capitalism, or the theft of labor from either, but probably both, sides. And yes, we would like to do away with that. In the ensuing tumult, maybe you won't have bananas. Maybe while you're looking for a source of potassium native to your region, you'll consider what kind of theft it took to create $0.68 bananas in the first place.

I wanted to talk about this, if it's not already clear, because these are arguments against not just anarchism, but also degrowth–and thus my preferred method of living through the climate crisis. Binding anarchism with degrowth tends to get people jumping to primitivist conclusions, and the conversation from there tends to peel out into rather tired hypotheticals about washing machines and fruit and live-saving medications. But ultimately neither of these philosophies wish for a decrease in comfort, and comforts, for the vast majority of people. We, instead, wish for the distribution of those comforts across that majority, and for the creation of those comforts to be consensual and not at the risk of starvation. And just as the creators of insulin wanted it to be free, there will be people, in my anarchist and degrowthian utopia, dedicated to the health and safety of others for the inherent good of those things, and not just for the accumulation of wealth.