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The garden and the jungle

17 October 2022

Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. spoke at the opening of the European Diplomatic Academy in which he metahorically described Europe as a garden in the midst of a jungle… the latter of which must be “tamed” by the gardener. That “jungle” being the non-European (or non-western) world, if you don’t hear the echoes of colonialism and racism in that, Ben Norton (in his usual high dudgeon) at Multipolarista is willing to set you straiight at great length. The first five or ten minutes should be enough to get his point across, but… Borrell’s metaphor — bone-headed and culturally tone-deaf as it was — fails in another way, showing an even more abysmal (perhaps intentional) misunderstanding of the other.

What sort of garden is Borrell cultivating, anyway? A side effect of the latest tribal war in eastern Europe seems to be to grease the skids on Europe’s decline as a manufacturing and financial center. Perhaps, after 500 years of dominance (starting with the European search for access to the manufacuring centers of India and China… those “jungles” of today), it’s time to re-brand Europe as some bucolic, ornamental, and … while of no utilitarian value… place to take the sights, taking time to smell the flowers. Though… given many of us have a taste for the esthestic appeal of less artifically ordered nature… Europe’s appeal might be limited.

Surely, Borrell meant something more than that… perhaps the European style vegetable garden, with its neat and segregated rows of … ironically, generally vegetables introduced to Europe from our “jungle” countries. Especially in Europe, divided as it sometimes is, into the tomato (from Mexico) and potato (from Peru) cultures (and, in the east, the sunflower… also from Mexico, nations), never realizing that in the “jungles” (an highlands, and forests) of the Americas, such crops depended not on cultivation in disrete rows, but in a more ecologically sound self-contained system… the famous “three sisters” of north america, the integrated plant and animal harvests of the Amazon (don’t forget… when Franciso de Orellana sailed down the Amazon… undoubtedly sewing “garden variety” European diseases along the way… the Amazon was relatively populated, with cities and communities depending on a less labor intensive agricultural system).

That is, of course, to use the “garden” metaphor literally, but figuratively, the European garden has been fertilzed by we “jungle people” since the late 1400s. The spices and manufactured goods of Asia and Africa, the gold looted by the Conquistadors, the crops… and, even the fertilizer to grow those crops (guano) which led to a spectacular population growth in 19th century Europe, fueling their manufacturing economy and providing the cannon fodder for their expansionist armies.

That is to say, the European garden would not exist without exploiting the jungle… in a literal or metaphorical sense. For Borrell to say that it is Europe’s job to prune back, or “tame” the jungle, assumes we jungle dwellers cannot manage our own resources … as if the literal gold of the 16th and 17th centuries, guano… the “white gold” of the 19th century, petroleum, the 20th century’s “black gold” and today’s lithium .. the return of “white gold” were ever theirs to put to use, our job merely to supply them.

Asia seem to be recovering its former role as the planet’s manufacturing centers, while Africa and Latin America have … in the jungle to jungle trade… demanded more equitable terms, something more than a garden. And, where there is trade, there is also a growing awareness of the destruction that came with the European gardeners… as Henry David Thoreau put it, “In wildness is the preservation of the world”… our water, our air, our food dependent on the jungles of the world (quite literally with the Amazon, though it applies to the Canadian and Siberian forests as well) are more important to us than the products turned out by the Europeans.

Perhaps, Europe will be “just” an ornamental garden. Certainly, there were huge innovations and discoveries we owe to them… so, thank you, but African nations can produce their own vaccines, Mexico and Bolivia and build their own lithium batteries, we know how to build cars and solar plants and manage our finances. Let us then, even in the jungles, cultivate our own gardens.

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