Elephants and non-linear bananas

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Tue Jun 27 07:06:06 MDT 1995

Hi Ron,

What I delightful signature line.

> ron opress <

I am always fascinated by
the Freudian slips contained in e-mail typos, but you are surely
not inviting me to examine the hidden Stalinism of your soul.
Very deeply hidden if it exists at all in your case, I am sure!

Thanks for your post. There is some danger for me of feeling
I agree so much with you that there is little to discuss so it
is helpful for me to explore some differences of emphasis.

As to which orifice of the elephant is more exciting, I suppose
once again it depends on your position. I do have a vivid recollection
of wonder as a child watching a female elephant ejecting copious
quantities of urine in a vast flood. No doubt an early interest in
the environmental effects of capitalism. (I was I am afraid a
rather serious child.)

As to the primacy of efficiency in commodity production as the
yardstick of success of a country or a producer's co-operative,
I think I would defend my intuition on this. I have gone back to
Berlin several times to get a sense of the society, which before
the Fall I had distanced. A member of the former nomenklatura,
still living in a small pleasant flat, situated rather advantageously
facing a wood, told me how they had been able to buy a Volkswagen
with some money left to his wife. It used to be said that a couple
getting married would at the same time have to put their name down
for a Trabi, because it would take 15 years to arrive. And the Trabis
stank, literally, and still do.

Secondly when the Wall fell the symbol of the aspirations of the Ossi's
was the banana. They could have no bananas. They flooded through in
millions, and stripped Berlin of bananas. I remember a pleasant young
German student from the west explaining to me the childishness of their
behaviour, with almost the implication that they were a different
species, really monkeys.

More theoretically however I suspect that dominance in commodity
production allows a country to import circulating exchange value,
and is a crucial step in the uneven accumulation of capital on a world

Your Government of National Unity is a prisoner to the rules of the
balance of trade. You may beat the All Blacks at rugby. You can't beat
the inescapable law of value. The majority of the people of southern
Africa will remain impoverished until you can.


(Fourth) You mention non-linear processes. I think we are in
danger of generating a new broader meaning for a relatively
precise mathematical operation or system. A system described in
mathematical terms as Non-linear, is not necessarily oscillatory,
nor leads to an attractor,  ( Subject to addition and modification
by mathematicians on the list)

Yes I accept this caution. People are rightly vigilant about the hype
that sometimes accompanies the application of these theories.
I would only add that in a living self-organizing system, and I include
an economy in this, you would expect a high number of positive non-linear
feedback mechanism, and of negative non-linear feedback mechanisms,
especially the latter.

I regard chaos theory however as well grounded now in mainstream
science. Complexity theory, which also interests us and several other
members of the list, is much newer. Have you or anyone else been able to
read the critical article in the latest Scientific American, because
I think it would be healthy to consider this if we still seriously
wish to argue the relevance of these ideas to a re-interpretation of


Chris B

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