excerpts from “you make plans – we make history”

Excerpts from this which are related to science

The totalitarian nature of modern capitalism is not the monolithic authoritarian dictatorship as imagined half a century ago in the “Brave New World” and “1984” novels, but a more subtle regime ruled by a bewildering diversity of means penetrating more and more into areas of life previously uncolonised and uncommodified; in the realms of the geographical, sensory, emotional, genetic, etc. The technological growth of the capitalist mode of production that fuels these new invasions is an increasing threat to the chances of simple biological survival.

Mass flooding and the diversion of the Gulf Stream away from Europe, both caused by global warming, both causing a collapse of agriculture in areas where agriculture has thrived for 14,000 years, both with a not unlikely chance of happening, are predictable possibilities clearly looming on the horizon.An American climatologist proved that the diversion of the Gulf Stream had happened over 15,000 years ago through examining bore samples from the mud bed of the Atlantic. He then combined this with research by a British scientist in the 1950s who, analysing rock samples in Cumbria, discovered that the previous Ice Age had taken a mere 10-20 years to develop. Speculating on a repeat of this scenario due to the decline in salinity in the Gulf Stream conveyor caused by the melting Arctic ice cap, this climatologist was awarded a medal by President Clinton himself. Apart from providing this scientist with a lucrative income, such spectacular recognition means fuck all. Already at the end of the 70s scientists could measure how much pollution their pollution-measuring instruments added to the atmosphere whilst they measured the pollution – clear scientific proof of how wonderfully objective science is.

[Footnote in original: One of the best critiques of the history of science in English and its present day totalitarian application is Phil Mailer’s And Yet It Moves. Although little read (oblivion and silent censorship today nearly always surround real critique) it far surpasses those liberal left critiques like Stephen Jay Gould’s etc. Now updated by Campo Abierto in Spain this text is, however, insufficiently forceful, insufficiently urgent and insufficiently updated from when it was first published in the mid-80s: it’s rather bland and lacking edge. ]

Amazingly, scientists are already doing research into how to make Mars fertile and habitable, by producing greenhouse gases on it to increase the temperature.

Although we have to talk about “the end of science” we have to be broadly clear about what this means. It certainly doesn’t mean a renewed primitivism without medical knowledge, electricity etc. However it would have to involve a large reduction in the use of electricity. Even in the form of wind, wave and solar energy, electricity has a damaging effect on the earth: one has only to look at the carcinogenic effect of high voltage pylons to see this (one of the best riots this summer was on the island of Cyprus, where a large demonstration against the building of a massive phone bugging mast, well known for causing leukaemia in kids, broke into the British Army compound where the erection of the mast was planned to take place, attacking security guards and destroying loads of army vehicles).

Some people say that science and technology is innately capitalist, like money. We disagree, although obviously it has formed, and is formed by, capital. But then, so are the buildings, streets and countryside, which also have to be transformed. One might just as well say that we shouldn’t use fire because fire was invented during humanity’s struggle against the alienation of nature. Money, on the other hand, cannot be transformed – it is only a means of social control, a way of reducing people to wage slaves etc. Paper and metal can be used in lots of different ways, but as money it’s only purpose is to serve the economy. A castle can be a defence of feudal power or an aspect of the tourist industry, but constantly changed by the people who use it it can also become an area of experiment, a vast adventure playground, a place to live and discuss and whatever. Technology, like a castle, would no longer be fixed and fetishised. For us, ‘the end of science’ means a transcendence of science whilst retaining what is useful in scientific methodology in the context of an emerging social movement. Some scientific specialisms like climatology (especially its history) and some of the many offshoots from astronomy put together in a scientific inter-disciplinary way could be dynamite if applied in a greater coherent totality by a social movement ending the capitalist function and specialist nature of such insights (a couple of million light years away from that old Trot, Piers Corbyn, who turned his particular insights into the effects of sunspots on long-term weather into a cool couple of million). There’s no way any present day Anton Pannekoek, for example, could keep their excellent insights into social contradictions separate from the insights they developed in their careers as scientists. Pannekoek was a fairly important astronomer, but we wonder just how many of his fellow astronomers realised he was a significant social theoretician? Pannekoek’s social theorising, in Lenin as Philosopher for example, does occasionally use astronomical concepts. But his distinction between bourgeois sensationalist materialism and historical materialism was essentially a neutralist conception leaving out the realm of praxis – the notion that man made history but not natural history. Now, though, capital is on the verge of creating ‘natural history’ with Jurassic parks, Frankenstein foods, designer babies, etc.

Capital regularly re-writes social history in its own image but now it desires to re-write the biological future according to its own blueprint. Its insatiable desire to re-cast everything in its own image opens up Capital’s new frontiers of conquest: messing with evolutionary characteristics by genetic engineering is, in a sense, to re-write both our inherited past and evolving future biological history. Our genetic history will not be what it was.

Already independent science is receiving independent funding from such independents as the oil and car companies to come up with the Goebelldeegook that global warming is “natural” in order to get people to just accept it. Official analysis is already proving beyond a doubt that the planet has warmed up at these temperatures before, deliberately forgetting that the 3, 4 or 5 degrees easily attributable to CO2 emissions makes all the difference.

Whatever happens, the accumulating consequences of more Chernobyls, more BSEs, more epidemics, more GM “accidents, whether consciously recognised or not, dominate the fate of the world and its inhabitants. Revolution or no revolution, the toxic fallout from this society will be a feature of life for Earthlings for the foreseeable future.

Already sections of capital are beginning to invest in ways of circumventing Suicide Capitalism. For example, developing the clean car which runs on water by separating and extracting the hydrogen in the water, or cars run on compressed air. It’ll still be a car – gobbling up our immediate geographical space everywhere, preventing us playing and communicating in the streets. How many ecologists will be bought off with the carrot of that reward? History tells us how easy it is to buy people off.(9) Inevitably people are going to partly welcome the building, say, of a hydrogen-based power station, once the problem of hydrogen storage has been solved, curing minor carbon emissions. That way, “come the revolution” (as we used to say) we won’t have to dismantle the whole thing like we would a nuclear power station. “And Yet It Moves”  mentions how some Maoist workers took over an experimental nuclear power plant during the Portuguese revolution in 1975. Not knowing what to do with the plant they surrendered it shortly afterwards. This incident certainly forces practical reflection upon us. After all, you couldn’t sabotage the installation nor simply close it down like that without also running terrible risks – closing it down would require specialist knowledge. Neither though could you maintain its functioning. This was the real dilemma for these innovative and courageous workers, their Maoism notwithstanding – a dilemma which is as poignant today as nearly 30 years ago.

John Zerzan’s “Future Primitive”:

Zerzan provides, for those who don’t want to think for themselves, a semi-religious ‘answer’ to our present plight; but just as he has idealised, and lied about, pre-class societies dominated by an inhuman nature as some kind of Garden of Eden, so his Future Primitive built on the graveyard of half the world’s population is more likely to be some kind of Mad Max each-against-all scramble for survival than the wonderful wild world freed from the chains of technology that is his utopia. The hypocrisy of his position is blatant: technology has to be smashed but it’s fine to regularly broadcast his message on American radio and even sometimes TV. This is not the same kind of contradiction, forced on all of us, as, say, the desire to abolish money and yet having to use it in this society: a spectacular use of technology has to be opposed even by those who can recognise that there might be some use for TV and radio (as technology but not in its monologuing form and ideological content) as a mediation for genuine global communication in the possible post-revolutionary society. A pretty good dismantling of much of Zerzan’s “facts” is provided in the text by En Attendant, “John Zerzan and The Primitive Confusion” (B.M.Chronos, London WCIN 3XX), which is, nevertheless, over-rationalist and has a very French take on the American hippies. To be sure, when the hippy counter-culture was exported to France, it was largely just another cultural commodity, but this was far less the case in other countries, especially Britain and Germany, where it also really did have some edge. And in the States, more than anywhere else, it expressed a genuine critique – e.g. in its attack on the work ethic and on money (taking, for example, the form of Free Stores, where people could donate anything they didn’t want and/or take anything they did want in a non-exchange relationship).

Marx, despite his contribution to a marvellously hateful summary of Capital’s workings, was notoriously limited by his Hegelian notion of historical progress when it came, for example, to a comprehension of the Luddites, whom he dismissed as being opposed to capitalist progress (which Zerzan himself rightly criticised during a far less ideological period of his life – in the 1970s, when he also wrote an excellently informed piece, The Practical Marx, on just how bourgeois Marx’s everyday life was). What’s the point in having a great insight into the general workings of commodity fetishism if your notion of progress prevents you from connecting to a practical movement to subvert the miserable use of this progress, however limited and backward-looking its consciousness? Marx shared one thing in common with Hegel: the alarming view that mankind was progressively dominating nature, reducing nature to a “social category”. In their day it was understandable, especially seeing that geology was still in its infancy, though now it has become inexcusable. Although Hegel on nature is in other respects fascinating, his general outline that human activity has modified nature would also be fine if it wasn’t so domineeringly triumphalist. Take, for example, Hegel’s note to one of his 1805-6 lectures: “…wind, mighty river, mighty ocean, subjugated, cultivated. No point in exchanging compliments with it – puerile sentimentalities which cling to individualities”. A page of exclamation marks would not be sufficient to register our collective shock. Two hundred years later we know the “mighty ocean” currents of the Atlantic and Pacific are far more likely to subjugate us and we are only beginning to appreciate the catastrophic consequences (it’s ironic that the philosopher of historical progress attributes to science powers that were laughably attributed to a King – Canute – over 800 years previously).(12) Let’s face it: the scientific-technological utter transformation of the world has always been partly counter-revolutionary, even if it presented unprecedented revolutionary possibilities.. Whilst its demystifying force was in some ways progressive in the 19th century (“God is dead”), it’s the tautological role of the intellectual to put a top-heavy overemphasis on the progress of this kind of practically detached consciousness. And from religion to science has not been progressive in a simplistically positive way. “Scientific” consciousness, the fetishism of science and technology, becomes even more a brutal justification for class power than religion, the fetishism of the omnipotent & omniscient. Sure, Marx was far more experimental intellectually than those who reified the bits of him they liked (the bits that fitted into their own hierarchical ambitions) into an ideology of scientific progress which was the intellectual justification for the most brutal history of capital accumulation ever (Stalin’s Russia). But it’s the tendency to a one-sided stress on “consciousness”, product of the division of labour and of the struggle to realise and suppress philosophy, that makes some of Marx’s viewpoints authoritarian and bourgeois. Marx didn’t seriously try to turn this bit of Hegel on its head: capitalist technology and science is only potentially progressive in the hands of the proletariat using technology outside and against any commodity uses of it, outside and against its production as an alien force subject to property laws and the law of value. Capital was meant to be progressive in this sense – in centring history on human beings it provided a far clearer material base for the potential conscious determination of history by humanity than was possible in, say, Spartacus’ time. But only as underlying potential was it ‘progressive’, not as a reality, which is why our abstract critics of political economy are useless when coming to deal with real situations (just as Marx most of the time had relatively little to say, often skirting over problems because of political expedience, when it came to those moments of class struggle when this potential transcendence manifested itself practically). Although it can be said that both Hegel and Marx marked an advance on romanticism there was also a common connecting thread between them in the sense that all of them wanted to change the present situation (against all commonly held beliefs, romanticism wasn’t passive at all in relation to nature but wanted to work on nature too but only in great sympathy with it).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.