frankenstein’s monster (april 2017)

General notes on science & the ideology of objectivism

“graves and tombstones where flowers should be,

And Priests in white gowns 

were walking their rounds, 

genetically modifying with wires

our joys and desires”


This is a very general text originally designed to clarify things for myself in  my own words; it obviously needs to be elaborated more concretely in relation to things such as modern eugenics, cloning, GMOs, etc

(other texts on aspects of science on this site: here, here, here, herehere, here and here )

The main problem with the ideology of science is that it claims to not be ideological – it claims to be “objective”.

Originally, in its struggle with feudalism, religion and superstition, science had something vaguely progressive about it. Understanding reality was no longer a matter of faith or fantasy but something that had to be subject to trial and error and varying degrees of evidence and proof. Moreover, from the Industrial Revolution onwards, in its development of technology science, as a method of hierarchical domination, had a clearly far more rapid and more visible material influence than religion had in the virtually static pre-capitalist societies. Thus it was probably the main factor in showing to the world that it is human activity that makes history (even if it was mainly the activity of a small minority), rather than your life being a God-given role. But it reduced, and still reduces, its method of “trial and error” from the social terrain as a whole to the examination and manipulation of nature, things and human beings reduced to their animal, biological components separated from their history, from their choices and desires within a specific social environment. Individuals are reduced to their predictable measurable biological functions, in particular those they have in common with animals, and often simply reduced to their cell structure. Thus they adopt the self-same mentality of those they serve – the capitalists who reduce the masses of individuals to commodities, to exchangeable and/or comparable equivalents. “Sociobiology…sees life…as the maximisation of genetic inheritance, on the economic model of the maximisation of capital; the modelling used by sociobiology is in fact copied from that of economics…it considers individuals as negligible quantities, simple supports for a genetic inheritance whose maximisation they must ensure” (André Pichot, The Pure Society )

And just as the powers-that-be like to present their own separate self-interest as the general interest, so scientists also claim that their own personal interest has nothing to do with their activity.

Scientists’ appeal to “objectivity” hides the fact that the choice of their profession and its status and the tradition of this narrow focus was a subjective choice, and one conditioned by, amongst other things, the dominant separation of intellect from the emotions: the emotions are either considered purely subjective and thus useless, or religion is accepted by default as the carrier of these emotions.

Thus Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind” and Nikola Tesla, the man most associated with the development of the Alternating Current, said There is no conflict between the ideal of religion and the ideal of science, but science is founded on fact. To me, the universe is simply a great machine…Man, like the universe, is a machine”.

So, behind this objectivism, becoming a scientist is a subjective choice not just for its financial rewards but, above all, a choice utterly submissive to the dominant reification of human beings, their reduction to a machine, to their role within the commodity economy which demands the repression of subjective desire, which demands their reduction to a functional machine within the overall process of exploitation and capital accumulation. Trial and error reduced to the fetishism of examining cells or natural elements, separating them, re-combining them, comparing and contrasting them, outside of their usual (natural or social) context, in a lab, narrowed such experiments to what is acceptable to quantifiable capitalist social relations. This is not to rule out in advance the possible use in a non-capitalist society of such methods amongst others; the point is not to fetishise this methodology and to valorise it as “objective”. For one thing, several discoveries have been made in the “scientific world” without such a methodology, discoveries made by accident (e.g penicillin). But more importantly, it’s fetishised by ignoring – or even hiding – its goals, and in this way tends to become a reified methodology reducing examination of things as if things existed separate from human needs and desires. Yet it’s not an innately reified methodology, any more than a recipe is – however, one would think someone was mad if they only cooked from strictly defined recipes, only cooked so as to feed armies, refused to provide anything that wasn’t cooked, cooked only in a sterile environment and thought cooking was the only form of experimentation.

“Though we can be almost certain that no scientist would dare to treat a man today as he treats rabbits, nevertheless there remains the fear that scientists as a body, if permitted to do so, might submit living men to scientific experiments, doubtless less cruel but none the less disastrous to their human victims. If scientists cannot perform experiments on the bodies of individuals, they are eager to perform such experiments on the collective body, and it is in this that they must unconditionally be stopped. In their present organisation the monopolists of science, who as such remain outside of social life, undoubtedly form a separate caste which has much in common with the caste of priests. Scientific abstraction is their God, living and real individuals their victims and they themselves the licensed and consecrated priests”

Bakunin, God and the State

The idea of the lab is to take away all unpredictable influences on what one is examining and to submit these for examination to controls purely determined by the scientists. That is, it pretends to eradicate all human subjective influence (as well as accidental arbitrary environmental influences that they hadn’t previously decided upon). This method of separation is considered “objective” because it seems to place the scientist outside what s/he’s examining. But such detachment – in abstracting things from the genuine wider reality in which they operate – also helps to deny any social consequence that may arise from the results of such research. Thus scientists hope to wash their hands of the use of their activity – whether it be Hitler’s eugenics programme for the mentally ill, the development of nuclear weapons and energy, the destruction of biodiversity by GMOs or the police function of DNA analysis.

Distanciation is necessary. The difference between the distanciation that scientists profess through what they consider “objective” and the distanciation needed to consciously choose what (in the immediate and long term) one wants and doesn’t want – to step back from this immediate in order to make a conscious choice – is that the scientist pretends that his/her “objectivity” is external to his/her needs and desires. S/he appeals to an external authority of some “objective” truth waiting to be discovered, an objective truth which in reality doesn’t exist outside of the needs and desires of different individuals within their specific historic context. But the external authority implied in this “objectivity” hides the fact that it is utterly compatible with the external authority of the masters of the economy.  “Objectivity” is the scientists’ version of God, but unlike religious forms of hierarchy, it admits that it can sometimes be wrong but insists that its methodology is objective enough to constantly make progress and correct its mistakes, a justification for its constant series of errors in which yesterday’s theory is proved to be bullshit only to be changed to another bit of bullshit that tomorrow will be shown to be so. In this fashion, this Great External Object, unlike the theologies surrounding the notion of God, can claim to be a kind of undogmatic God, whose pretension is to accumulate knowledge “for its own sake”, as if the selection of what is to be studied/discovered/ subsequently used is neutral and not defined by who pays for it, nor defined by goals that are often deliberately made amorphous, as if  knowledge could exist purely “for itself”. In this objectivist ideology, knowledge takes on the same mentality as commodity production: everything is process, with the goal generally undefined because to define the goal – capital accumulation – would give the lie to this pretension to “objectivity”. Rare, for example, are the instances of scientific research such as Margaret Thatcher’s before she entered politics when, as a chemist, she invented a means of doubling the mass of ice cream by inflating it with air so as to give the appearance of greater quantity, an invention very obviously serving the ice cream company which had invested in this research.

For those who want to be free, who strive to express their individuality by subverting the colonisation of their lives by commodity production and consumption, the desire to experiment, to test reality, can only make sense on the terrain of the totality of this society. Re-combining what is made and considered as separate is a social question, not something limited exclusively to a laboratory (or, as in the case of GMOs for example, using the world as a lab where everyone becomes unwilling guinea pigs). But for those attached to science, to the ideology of “objectivity” which accepts people as essentially predictable objects – or at least aims to make them so – to even consider such things is seen as “ideological”. Trapped within their career-choice they are as incapable of considering their activity as ideological as a fish is incapable of understanding water.

 the survival of the fattest

And whilst we are mentioning fish….The lamprey fish existed several million years before the dinosaurs, and still exist today. According to Darwinism this is because of “the survival of the fittest” (although in fact, it was Wallace, before Darwin’s “Origin of the Species”, who effectively coined this phrase). Unlike the dinosaurs, the lamprey survived the meteor bombardment because of their small size and the fact that they lived in the sea. The only way the lamprey could be seen as “fitter” than the dinosaurs (and – on present trends – far fitter than human beings) is because they survived – but then “the survival of the fittest” is a tautology in which the ability to survive is a synonym for being fit and being fit is a synonym for the ability to survive. Applying such a tautology to human beings would mean that the Jews and gypsies massacred by the Nazis were simply not fit enough, whereas those Nazis who survived were clearly fitter. But then any human (as opposed to “objective”) notion of “fit” would obviously reject such a sick absurdity.   If Darwinists never recognise such contradictions it’s because – despite their capacity to combine things that “naturally” exist separately – they are incapable of applying such a capacity to the social terrain. For them, separation is as unquestioned and fundamental to their role as a Christian’s belief in God.

One might say that Darwin was merely being “objective” about the survival of the fittest – that he passed no value judgment on this “fitness”. However, his admiration for the obnoxious Malthus shows clearly the ideology  behind such an apparently neutral observation“Darwin considered that some of the competitors in Malthus’ perpetual struggle would be better equipped to survive. Those that were less able would die out, leaving only those with the more desirable traits. Through his research, Darwin concluded that this ongoing struggle between those more and less fit to survive would produce a never-ending progression of changes in the organism. In its simplest form, this is evolution through natural selection. ”  Isn’t it significant that the subtitle of “The Origin of the Species” was “The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life”? Racist imperialism given the ahistorical form of “natural selection”.

Mostly written in April 2017, slightly modified on 11/10/17, deleting some repetition, and also slightly modified in April 2018.

On the misery of scientists’ life

The following is taken from here, written in April 2011:

In the 6 months up until the beginning of March, there have been 3 suicides in just one building in Montpellier (south west France) of the internationally prestigious science organisation CIRAD (International Centre of Agricultural Research for Development…ie centre of research for the international development of surplus value and its utterly ruinous effects in particularly of the “third world” but also, obviously, elsewhere).

There are approximately 75 – 80 scientific research workers in this specific building amongst many on the Montpellier site. CIRAD is a particularly obnoxious enterprise: amongst other things, CIRAD is involved in research into, and development of, the scarily all-pervasive GMOs, (though these particular research workers weren’t involved in that). The 3 people worked for different research teams, but all in the same building: these deaths represent some 4% of the workforce in this building – considerably higher than the suicides at France Telecom or Renault, but the comparison is a bit dubious in some ways, since we’re only talking about one building here, and we very much doubt if this has been replicated in other buildings on the Montpellier site (we don’t know). Nevertheless, these suicides received no publicity (or at least so little that we never saw them) and it is only by chance that we have heard of them. After the last suicide the head of the team of the woman who died called everyone in to a ‘therapeutic’ post-trauma meeting, where, by sheer oversight, they forgot to mention the fact that the woman had had a blazing row with her manager during the day before the night she decided that enough was enough. Now, of course, a row with a manager does not necessarily lead to suicide, otherwise, 100s of 1000s of people would be overdosing or jumping off cliffs every single day in France and everywhere, but it can be the final straw in a world with seemingly no exit, a world which systematically isolates and humiliates people without end.

However, it should also be pointed out that scientific workers identify with their alienated labour far more so than, say, building workers or cleaners. This labour often involves horrendous professional shit with far more horrific consequences (e.g. GMOs) than most of the more obviously proletarianised salaried labour. Yet, for them the work is their identity, and if they have little else outside of this, for the most part, crap intellectual work then when that goes wrong, as it increasingly does nowadays, then it’s like their whole self falls apart. Science workers who passively accept their daily fate and daily work obliterate all sense of self in submission to an ideology of objectivity that’s simply the ideology of their masters. Experiment in pursuit of improving commodities and commodity society is the opposite of the dialectical so-called “science” of class struggle, the trial and error based on making new mistakes and correcting old ones, based on constantly testing reality, of which bourgeois science is simply a deformed parody. And the belief in the progressive civilising nature of this so-called objectivity compensates for the tortuous feeling of being an indifferent nothing (and it’s not for nothing that the young research worker who told us this is often ill and more exhausted than many other workers, though an unavoidable exhaustion is the lot of almost all proletarians nowadays). Subjectivity is considered the enemy of science, but in eradicating their desires and point of view they are thus pushed to a nothingness that reacts by seeking the false exit of resorting to suicide (not that this is the kind of thing they would have even begun to articulate in their suicide notes, of which we know nothing).

There is virtually no solidarity amongst these CIRAD workers (like the increasingly stressed cadres at Renault and France Telecom, who are dropping like flies). Many find their wages frozen and yet think they can do nothing about it. A hierarchy of teams are pitted against teams for resources and a corporatist identity with your own team prevails. A worker unable to use the single ventilator in his lab because it has to be shared, is forbidden – in the nicest possible way – to use a lab desk and ventilator in another team’s lab even though it’s hardly ever used: each team jealously guards its privileges and superior finances – its competitive separation – from the team lower in the hierarchy. And if you don’t belong to a team you’re really treated with, at best, indifference, but more often as the lowest of the low. As elsewhere, top management can spend 10s of 1000s on meals for potential financiers or for logo changes, but for 3 scraps of photocopy paper, they’ll hassle the manager, who’ll hassle the secretary, who’ll hassle the librarian, who’ll hassle the caretaker until it all falls onto the guy at the bottom who just needs to make some photocopies without the weight of the accumulated snowball of stress rolling down from on high. Some of these stresses have no direct capitalist logic to them: another pair of workers in a lab with just one ventilator are meant to mix dangerous chemicals, and take it in turns to use the ventilator so as not to breathe in the toxic fumes. If they complain, they’re told either not to work half the time – though they’ll still be paid – or to work by an open window. This is not much of an option in winter – it’s certainly been as cold as London this winter, and sometimes colder (this increasing uniformity of the weather is part of the Maastricht Treaty: the State, with its natural allies God and commodity-induced climate change, have decided that differences in the weather provide an unfair competitive edge between different regions of capital accumulation and so must be eliminated in the rush to ‘harmonisation’, to equivalence). The fact that they decide to work the half time that they are breathing in toxic fumes when they needn’t do so (and yet still would be able to collect their salary) says a helluva lot about the masochistic absence of a minimum of critique and refusal amongst those who apparently have a privileged position in the hierarchy of proletarianised middle class work. They like their work so much they’re willing to make themselves sick with it. “Science Macht Frei”. And this time, no need for bullets or cattle trucks: gas yourself because it’s all do-it-yourself nowadays – the autonomy of the submissive individual, their complicity in what kills them, saves Capital a lot of bother, which is bad for its image. Suicides are not good for capital’s image either – but they’re better than concentration camps, which are a form of death all too obviously organised by the State, and less capitalistically logical. Suicide is so much cleaner and cheaper, even if it has to be taboo: it’s the individual who is responsible – just another “free choice” in the buzzword of Thatcherite ideology and its monstrous off-shoots; the system under which we work and consume is of course, blameless. No, the belief that you can be what you want to be, the etiquette of self-determination, that you are in control, increasingly accepted in this increasingly individualist age, reduces choice to just surviving or suicide.

But it’s hard to feel sorry for some of these sad suicidal people, particularly the cadres (low to middle management) at Renault or France Telecom (it’s certainly not just cadres at these companies that have commited “the utlimate in self-criticism”, but there have been quite a few cadres that everyone is meant to pity when they hear the news on the telly, a hard thing to do when you’ve known so many people with so much more integrity than these cadres who’ve been constantly drawn to the edge ). Though we don’t know if GMO researchers have non-genetically modified their wrists or throats, we don’t give a toss if such obviously compromised cadres commit suicide or not. Many of them have a position in the hierarchical division of labour that involves thinking up and acting out ways of shitting on those below them in the hierarchy, all the worse when it’s done, like the madness of research and development of GMOs, in the name of benevolently feeding the starving: a kind of Christian Science missionary position that fucks those it claims to be liberating (GMOs destroy biodiversity, weaken the immune system, encourage the proliferation of carcenogenic pesticides and reduce human fertility). No leftist humanist concern for the plight of some of these cadres can hide the brutality of the function and result of their lucrative work. And you don’t have to be an embittered misanthrope to feel indifferent to the suicides of these particular workers (not that all of them fit this category by any means of course – but quite a few do). Some would say this is harsh. But who ever gave a toss about the guy who shot Che Guevara committing suicide a bit later? Or the guy who killed Harvey Milk topping himself a few years after (this is regardless of what you might think about these 2 politicians)? Or some nasty paedophile doing himself in because of the shame? And the results of these people’s nasty actions are certainly not as bad as that of those who develop GMOs (this is not some cynical provocation for provocation’s sake: we seriously believe this). And meanwhile, every 3 days there’s a suicide in French prisons that never gets even 1% of the publicity that Renault or France Telecom get (an anti-prison demo in Paris on Sunday March 28th, partly provoked by increasing prison suicides, saw half the demonstrators – 110 people – arrested in response to one person igniting a rescue flare, something that happens on virtually every demo and is considered part of the fun of it).

Renault’s and France Telecom’s responses to the bad publicity of the suicides in their companies was of course to make life so less stressful for the cadres who feel like ending it all (but never ending all their reified existence) – those damage-limitation PR exercises and pop psychological pep-talks make the professional workers feel so much better about life of course. Far far better than being provided with a massage or a free fuck for an hour before work, which of course would not have reduced the number of suicides at all. Why? Because such a “solution” , even if some inventive brainstorming session amongst these companies’ highly-paid think-tanks had come up with such an outrageous suggestion, would have been very bad PR in this PC age, and that’s what matters. The prohibitive cost, of course, would not have been a consideration. Because of course, providing a massage and/or fuck would have cost considerably less, since no-one would have been interested in it – whereas the uptake on the exhilarating offer of a chance of lying down on some shrink’s couch or being given a lecture by some Dr.Strangelove on “How to stop worrying and love the bombshell of your work” has been enormous.

This massage/free fuck idea is obviously a whimsical fancy, not a serious suggestion. As ironically implied, for capitalist enterprises to offer such a form of prostitution is a bourgeois wet dream which would cost a great deal more than the everyday prostitution of lesser paid proletarians. Since today’s stress-related misery is partly produced by cost-cutting for those lower down in the hierarchy, even within capitalist terms this idea would be utopian. And we are certainly not advocating such a reformist ‘solution’ to ever-increasing stress: such a ‘solution’, maybe advocated by a Reichian therapist, would clearly leave the miserable reified, emotionally bereft, relations produced by alienated labour intact. But then the ‘intellectual objectivity’ imposed as part of the bourgeois scientific role, guarantees such emotional repression; anger, warmth, love and all the other passions are to be kept down, at best strictly for the week-ends, utterly separate from the cold analytical workweek, which is the central, utterly head-dominated, passion of most scientists. Developing the struggle to unify daily life with analysis and the emotions is not helpful for researching the development of commodities.

The old slogan from the post-68 epoch – “Suicide or Revolution” – has gained a new poignancy, and is truer today than it ever was. Capitalism in its environmental destruction and its invasion of every aspect of life that was formerly free of its control (even down to genetic manipulation) is making life and the world destroy itself. But less and less people understand that, let alone understand the daily choices they make as being inextricably linked up with the two sides of these choices.

“Suicide or Revolution” = “Submission accepted or Testing out the boundaries in asserting your needs and desires” = “Obedience to the hierarchical logic of the commodity system or Revolt against what crushes you, against separation, against hierarchical organisational identity, against the totality of what relegates individuals to the increasingly fragile margins of existence”. You either decide to give up the ghost and let go or hang on and get a better grip on these margins in the struggle for community and communication: Resignation and Suicide or Revolution and Class Struggle.

Written in April 2011.

See also “And yet it moves , the myths of DNA…, “You make plans – we make history” (not primarily focused on science, but contains some bits about science),   and – Loren Goldner’s Marxism and the Critique of Scientific Ideology has some interesting bits and pieces, even if it’s dominated by a need to consider Marx as the fundamental reference for all radical critique, to filter every critique through his lens. And by a tendency towards academicism that prevents him from trying to write in his own words and in words that could resonate with people unfamiliar with all the classical writers he refers to.

12 Responses to frankenstein’s monster (april 2017)
  1. I’ve been sent this quote from Hegel by a contact writing about musical genres, though it’s also applicable to scientific method:

    “The product of this method of labeling everything in heaven and earth, all natural and spiritual forms, with a few determinations of the general schema, and thus pigeonholing everything, is nothing less than a sun-clear report on the organism of the universe – namely a tabulation that is like a skeleton with little pieces of paper stuck all over it, or like the rows of closed, labeled jars in a spicer’s stall. While it is as explicit as both of these, it is like them in other ways too: here, flesh and blood are removed from the bones; there, the also not living essence of the matter is concealed in jars; and in the report, the living essence of the matter is left out.” [Preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit]

  2. Just been sent a link to a piece about Stephen Hawking: https://www.din.today/newsletter/2018_04/c-k-raju-stephen-hawking-genius-or-crook/
    – another text that shows how religion and science are compatible, and how Hawking’s theories give credence to the possibility of God. Atheism without a critique of the historical/material reasons for belief in God – of its support for and interaction with class society – often returns to some kind of amorphous agnosticism, because it’s just an abstract rationalism, which can lead anywhere. The person who sent it to me said about this article “Simply discard the superficial / shallow “they” and “we” baggage. The write-up is then interesting.”

    • Neil F says:

      In the early days of proto-“anthropology”, or “ethnology”, it tended to be the atheists and agnostics (a term coined by Thomas Huxley) who supported slavery whereas the Christians didn’t. The Anthropological Society of London (founded 1863) was pro-slavery and its members were on the whole polygenists – believers in the multiple racial origins of the human species. Supportive of slavery and the Confederate States of America, it was a split from the Ethnological Society of London, whose members were mostly monogenist and abolitionist, many being Christians.

      Polygeny or monogeny was a crucial question of interest for these types. This sheds light on what Darwin wrote about the natural history of dogs. In “Origin of the Species” which is mostly very tightly argued he says he believes domesticated dogs (which can all interbreed) descended from multiple species but that he won’t say why.

  3. A recent article on opium-based overdoses: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190119095718.htm

    “Not the first article in this vein, but an affirmation that the market doesn’t mind taking advantage of human misery to kill and to get ahead, in the licit economy as well as the illicit one.” (X)

  4. Neil F says:

    Was it really Alfred Wallace who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest”? I know he theorised evolution by natural selection before Darwin’s “Origin of the Species”, but I thought it was the raving scientist and Malthusian Herbert Spencer who coined this phrase later.

    • Sorry – somehow I missed this. And I just checked and you’re right:

      “Herbert Spencer first used the phrase, after reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, in his Principles of Biology (1864), in which he drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin’s biological ones: “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection’, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”

      Darwin responded positively to Alfred Russel Wallace’s suggestion of using Spencer’s new phrase “survival of the fittest” as an alternative to “natural selection”, and adopted the phrase in The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication published in 1868. In On the Origin of Species, he introduced the phrase in the fifth edition published in 1869, intending it to mean “better designed for an immediate, local environment”.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survival_of_the_fittest

  5. “It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.” — Albert Einstein

  6. https://www.kairospresse.be/article/la-technique-et-nous/

    “Socrates believed that each human being had buried knowledge and questioned his students so as to bring this knowledge to their own consciousness, without the will to instill his own. Our technical system, in many ways, operates in reverse to dispossess us of our knowledge, our understanding of the world and our ability to decide our lives. The second half of the 20th century saw the birth of laboratory “science”, a “science” cut off from the world which discloses what it wants from its discoveries and does not take into account the knowledge that abounds outside. Isabelle Stengers, philosopher of science, thus evokes the German chemistry which developed at that time via the creation of large research laboratories. Consequently, the knowledge that a certain number of professionals in the field could have on the toxicity of chemicals (tanners for example) are ousted from official statements of “science”, will be retained only the toxicity proven in the laboratory … and even.

    An idea very present in government reports and in the mouths of many so-called hard science researchers is that if we take a position on these subjects, we are not “objective”. This implies first of all that for these researchers, objectivity is a possible reality, despite the fact that we are – until proven otherwise – subjects. Objectivity is an approach that goes with the notion of rigor and is indeed an essential component of the research approach. But in no case can this constitute a state of being in the human race which by definition is a subjective world. Our conscience is limited to all and scientists are not devoid of preconceptions and professional deformations just like any other human being. The difference is that in their area of ​​research, they are in fact supposed to be able to argue in order to substantiate their remarks and address the controversy. But again, their area of ​​research is not research itself or its deployment in society and on this point their word is not worth more than yours.”

  7. Email discussion:

    SK:
    This, by a physics professor fired from university for rocking the boat too much, might be of interest. It´s a very uneven text. Some of the “big lies of science” he claims to debunk I haven´t looked into enough to comment. Some of his points are confirmed in my own research (medical science), but some of his claims are refuted by basically all the evidence I´ve come across (global warming). So take it for what it´s worth.

    http://activistteacher.blogspot.com/2010/06/some-big-lies-of-science.html

    Y:
    It is true that science in the form it is in today isn’t the best vehicle of truth. That is why we critique science, and that is why I am constantly looking for critique of science. Human history is, if we actually learn from past mistakes, is a constant battle uphill towards betterment. Obviously, science will venture into dubious fields at times. The point I want to make is that 1) the principles of science are still, to a certain degree, valid and 2) there are things modern science can improve. Criticisms against the rigour of medical science is absolutely valid, as well as your criticism against their bias towards novelty. Those are definitely bullshit. But that only proves that human biases introduce bullshit to science, not that the principles of basic scientific research is bullshit. Of course, the scientific method cannot reveal everything. It can only reveal what is testable. But on the other hand, it means that when the principles are respected, testable realities are, well, testable, And that those tests, if constructed well, can be used to prove one sort of fact in one way or another.

    Sorry, I might’ve dabbled into theoretical fluff myself, but I wanted to make clear that my argument isn’t “science is perfect!” Quite the contrary. I have many criticisms against the institutional science we have today. What I want to argue is that just because the current structure of conducting science is broken doesn’t mean its principles are invalid (because they aren’t properly followed), and just because the principles of science works in certain circumstances, it doesn’t mean it works in all circumstances. Science is a tool with certain functions, capabilities, and limitations, like all tools, and we must understand them in order to wield them. And in order to criticize it properly, we must understand it properly, not as a caricature.

    I hope this didn’t come off as needlessly defensive or ideological. In the end, I just want to see how we can understand reality.

    SK:
    Y, while I agree with your points that “the principles of science are still, to a certain degree, valid”, I would seriously question your idea that “history is, if we actually learn from past mistakes, is a constant battle uphill towards betterment”. The mythical nature of this betterment is shown up by the proviso you make in the definition. Where is your evidence that we actually learn from past mistakes? Not in the accumulation of details (which is the best that could be said for the advancement of knowledge in scientific terms), but in the everyday practical decisions of groups and individuals. The present society is the first in history to acquire detailed knowledge of past civilisations around the world, particularly their causes of decline and fall, yet the vast majority don´t want to know anything about it, and in the mass as well as individually, all the evidence points towards a willful hurtle towards the abyss. 

    The basic attitude and intellectual project precipitated by Francis Bacon at the dawn of the modern era remains valuable and there is evidence that it may well will continue to do so even after the collapse of a civilization that proclaims itself scientific — in the same way that ancient Greek logic and mathematics were preserved through the dark ages despite the collapse of the Greco-Roman world — but I see no reason to believe that this will necessarily lead towards the betterment of the human condition. Everything comes with a cost. At best, science can confer a temporary adaptive advantage to those who deploy it. But humans are not the first species to learn that the excess of successful adaptation tends eventually to so modify the initial equilibrium as to become maladaptive, by precipitating abrupt (subjectively catastrophic) phase transitions towards a new equilibrium far less hospitable than the first. So much for scientific progress in its practical applications. 

    As for progress in the advancement of knowledge about what the world is, there is no progress to an endeavour defined by a curious contemplation of the cosmos, simply because such contemplation always involves a certain set of presuppositions which, if modified, would overthrow whatever was learned in the past and set all “progress” in a completely different direction. This is not merely a question of paradigmatic shifts in the terms of Thomas Khun´s structure of scientific revolutions, but a question of first principles that are as multifarious as they are irreconcilable. Truth means different things to Buddhists, Marxists, Druids and Inuit — so different that some of them consider betterment to be a fundamental element in the quest for truth, whereas for others, the truth is that there has ever been anything that needed bettering in the first place. What is one person´s hard-won lesson is another person´s folly, and vice-versa. Evolutionarily, our brains evolved to feed, flee, fight, fuck, and do a few other fairly simple tasks. Comprehending the nature of an infinite cosmos was never a requirement for successful reproduction. The conceptions we have of the world — whether we want to call those conceptions rational or spiritual, subjective or objective — will always be partial and faulty. 

    Maybe we are all dabbling in theoretical fluff in this discussion, but my reason for harping on about the above is that progress and betterment are fundamental elements of scientific ideology — actually, I would say that the myth of progress is at the bottom of much of the most ideological and dogmatic aspects of science in particular and western thought in general. To be able to salvage the valid principles of science it would be essential, in my opinion, to separate them from this matrix of presuppositions about betterment and progress which, rather than simply taken as axiomatic and self-evident, might more accurately be understood as an historically-specific ideological product of the material forces that shaped western civilization over the last ten thousand years.

    SF:
    Y…the first (probably) mass materialisation of science in the
    form of the Industrial Revolution made life a great deal worse for the
    majority of those being kicked off the land and into the “Dark Satanic
    Mills” (William Blake)for 14 hours a day, from the age of 7 or 8. The
    only scientific principle I accept is permanent trial and error and this
    is the essence of being human. Any scientific “principle” which ignores
    the social uses and consequences of science, including a dogmatic
    acceptance of and faith in scientists and every aspect of what is deemed
    “scientific method”, is a principle that should be ruthlessly attacked.
    Of course, there may be “things modern science can improve” but (as
    hopefully your email implied though it wasn’t definite) ONLY as a
    limited method. Though absolutely NOT in terms of “modern science” which
    is invariably subject to the needs of capital accumulation. That is,
    only in the hands and minds and bodies of those who want to subvert this
    world, those who want to create a fundamentally different world and
    way of living and eventually (even if it seems unlikely) those who
    finally manage to do so globally.

    C:
    This is a sort of interesting case study: https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/are-we-living-simulated-universe-here-s-what-scientists-say-ncna1026916

    The concept’s basis is in philosophy more than science but some physicists have taken it seriously as a subject of inquiry. There is debate and argument, shaky assumptions, pretensions to objectivity involving mathematical formulas, and the game of telephone between published articles, science communicators and media reporting. I imagine most people’s reaction to be one of shrugging their shoulders and begrudgingly or not leaving such discussions to others. Others might simply accept it without thinking about it too much or trying to understand what is actually being said, the contextual motivations of academic publishing, or the funding mechanisms and social hierarchies that underlie it all.

    I also heard from a microbiologist friend that she now has access to a covid mortality projection based on “mobility data” gleaned from google and facebook. The fact that this data has been collected, shared, monetized and utilized for the purpose of managing human behavior isn’t new information, but this is confirmation and it goes on under the radar without any public debate or questioning due to the exceptions of crisis.

    I like the idea of a scientific method that is inherently useful or valid, but I struggle to find an example that is divorced from its context. In our case a society rife with contradictions and hierarchies. Yuka, do you have an example of scientific research that isn’t tainted with human bullshit that could help my thinking here?

    Y, in response to C:

    Dear C,

    Oh, the theoretical physicists are up to it again, huh? Yeah, people like to come up with stuff like this. While it’s a fun conjecture to think about, I don’t think it’s something everyone is taking seriously, nor do I think it really matters. Extremely theoretical physics borderline on philosophy very frequently, and sometimes they end up in weird places.

    I’m not entirely too sure what you mean by scientific research that isn’t tainted with human bullshit. If human curiosity is included in human bullshit, than well, all research is tainted with human bullshit. If you mean science that isn’t influenced by capitalism, well, modern research is funded by capitalism (because that’s how our economy is structured), so that’s a bit hard to find. If researching volcanoes to learn when it might pose a threat to humanity is human bullshit, then all the sciences into trying to mitigate natural hazards are out.
    Given my confusion, here are several research topics not involving what I consider human bullshit.
    1) My petrology professor researches water content in olivines in igneous rocks to understand their geologic journey.
    2) Sedimentology is an entire field of study understanding how sediments are deposited. Although there may be economic ways to use it today, it started out as a completely curious endeavor, as I understand it.
    3) Certain aspects of paleontology, like studying soft-bodied animals, bats, etc. There are economic ways to use invertebrate paleontology, but I don’t know economic bullshit involved in studying clades that rarely fossilize. (Well yes, those fossils can be sold for quite a buck, but that’s not the point or fault of science).

    I may be just blind to the human bullshit these fields actually have, and feel free to criticize them as much as you want.

    C:
    I was only borrowing your phrase.

    >> But that only proves that human biases introduce bullshit to
    >> science, not that the principles of basic scientific research is
    >> bullshit.

    Capitalism, or the monetization of research for commercial ends, sure, but also other nuances of social hierarchy:

    aristocrats with the time and energy to pursue their curiosities and the implications for what they might be curious about,
    the subjugation of curiosity to the practicalities involved in a role that confers a certain status and implies a hierarchical relation to others within the university,
    the implications of a society in which some lives, intellects, and passions are funded while others are stifled or snuffed out,
    the historic suppression of other forms of knowledge through the burning of their practitioners at the stake
    population management as it relates to the needs of the state…

    Though I take your point that there are numerous research subjects which are not immediately and obviously monetizable. My scientist friend chooses not to involve herself in the work of her labmates that are more directly focused on creating a patentable innovation (in this case, “designer probiotics”) and instead focuses on the effects of bacterial biomes on metabolism and health outcomes in mice. Which means she looks at their poop and ends up killing large numbers of them. Her research is interesting to me because of its relationship to fermented foods. She also complains to me about the large volumes of hazardous chemicals that she ends up pouring down the drain, the plastic waste, and the gender dynamics of her supervisor and fellow researchers. Her hope is to one day be the person in charge, and be able to research whatever she wants. I’m trying to convince her to research water purification or its obsolescence via gut biomes so that I don’t die of cholera or brain eating amoebas when everything falls apart.

    SF:
    Re: https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/are-we-living-simulated-universe-here-s-what-scientists-say-ncna1026916

    In asking “Are we sure we aren’t embedded within a world created by beings more technologically savvy than ourselves?” the simulation hypothesiser is merely substituting a technologically savvy God for the old-fashioned man with a white beard in the sky. Those who aren’s struggling to see life and the world through their own eyes, who aren’t struggling to reverse perspective, invariably end up seeing themselves outside themselves. However, there are more truths in twenty-four hours of a human’s life than in all the simulation hypothesises. Even a simulation hypothesiser cannot ignore it, for all his self-contempt; and he learns this self-contempt from his consolation, simulation hypothesisis. After somersaulting onto his own shoulders to shout his message to the world from a greater height, the simulation hypothesiser finishes by seeing the world inside out; and everything in it goes askew, upside down, to persuade him that he is standing upright. But he cannot escape his own delirium; and refusing to admit it simply makes it more uncomfortable.

    Y in response to C:

    Dear Chris,

    Oh yeah, I did say that. Well, if you’re fine with my definition of science without bullshit (at least relatively), then volcanology, sedimentology, a portion of igneous petrology, mineralogy, certain fields of ecology, certain fields of paleontology, etc. would qualify.

    Thank you for explaining what you mean by the influences of social hierarchy on science. To be honest, I never really thought of things that way, so I don’t have an immediate answer. Well, if you’re fine with an unorganized first thought, then here it is:
    I would agree that human curiosity will be influenced by the background of the person inquiring. And it is true that the vast majority of scientists in the past have been aristocrats, and modern science is built upon that. That is why there are movements to diversify science today, and while that is probably not the perfect solution, it should start to reexamine the prejudices present in modern science. Or at least, that’s what many scientists are hoping for. Obviously, science isn’t a monolith, so there will be social conflicts that get in the way.

    That’s some really interesting research your friend is doing! Can she send some papers she wrote, if you are willing to ask her?
    The problem of scientific waste is definitely a headache. Because geology doesn’t involve a lot of sterilized tools, we don’t have as much hazardous and plastic wastes, but I’d imagine it’s appalling in fields like molecular biology.

    C responding to Y:

    I read his rather dense refutation of the assumptions involved in climate science modelling (here: http://activistteacher.blogspot.com/2011/03/on-gargantuan-lie-of-climate-change.html) and while some of the jargon was difficult to penetrate, his assertions don’t seem wildly implausible. I’d have to read it agin, more slowly, and I probably don’t have time for that (I’m procrastinating as it is). I will say that he quotes and cites himself which is a peculiar academic practice to say the least.

    Y in response to C:

    Giving a quick glance, a lot of his complaints seem to be relatively common “counterarguments”, which amount to just not understanding the science.

    There is no demonization of CO2 in science. Obviously, we produce CO2, and CO2 is necessary for plant life. The problem is that the cycle is in imbalance. However little, there is still more CO2 released compared to CO2 taken in by plants, which is going to increase the concentration of CO2. And yes, the concentration of CO2 isn’t impressive, but it means that it doesn’t take much CO2 to confine heat.

    As for the accusations of other explanations of glacial melting, I would have to look into that.

    Global warming is happening. Perhaps the details are wrong. But the warming is happening. That will affect the biosphere no matter what.

    SF:
    Re.:
    http://activistteacher.blogspot.com/2011/03/on-gargantuan-lie-of-climate-change.html
    Admittedly I haven’t read most of it, but to come out with “Never mind
    that the whole climate change scam is now driven by the top-level
    financiers newly eyeing a multi-trillion-dollar paper economy of carbon
    trading and that this is the reason it’s now a dominant mainstream media
    and corporate messaging presence ” seems absurd given the fact that
    climate change denial is driven by other multi-trillion-dollar interests
    – mainly the oil industry. Does he mention this anywhere? Because if he
    doesn’t, such a one-sided take on it is disingenuous to put it politely
    (complete and utter bullshit, to put it slightly less politely).

    C in response to Y:
    I can’t be sure of anything as all I read are other people’s interpretations of data, often filtered through two or three levels of media. Given the guy’s credentials it seems unfair to say he “doesn’t understand the science” but that people espousing a different interpretation of the same data do understand the science. How can any of us here, given our relative inexpertise, judge either way?

    The guy’s argument is

    1) that there are other non-human geological processes which could potentially net more CO2 than fossil fuel combustion which could explain the reported imbalance and that this is a near impossible thing to measure on a planet wide basis making the conclusion itself dubious.

    2) that there is no way of accurately obtaining an average global temperature from specific places and times especially if you include temperatures in the atmosphere where temperature and the directional vectors of radiation are constantly changing (hence the terminology of climate change/climate chaos taking precedence over global warming)

    3) The greenhouse effect is potentially insignificant compared to other factors, CO2 plays a relatively insignificant role in the greenhouse effect, and projections (modelling) of the effect in the future are based on assumptions rather than observed data.

    4) The reporting, assumptions, funding, proposed solutions and prioritization of climate change reflect certain cultural/economic/political biases often in the service of corporate profits and that addressing the real needs of currently living humans should take precedence over trading carbon credits in the name of an abstract future.

    All of that is probably based on old information, give or take a decade, so it could just be outdated, but it doesn’t seem like uninformed quackery to me.

    The guy’s argument is

    1) that there are other non-human geological processes which could potentially net more CO2 than fossil fuel combustion which could explain the reported imbalance and that this is a near impossible thing to measure on a planet wide basis making the conclusion itself dubious.

    2) that there is no way of accurately obtaining an average global temperature from specific places and times especially if you include temperatures in the atmosphere where temperature and the directional vectors of radiation are constantly changing (hence the terminology of climate change/climate chaos taking precedence over global warming)

    3) The greenhouse effect is potentially insignificant compared to other factors, CO2 plays a relatively insignificant role in the greenhouse effect, and projections (modelling) of the effect in the future are based on assumptions rather than observed data.

    4) The reporting, assumptions, funding, proposed solutions and prioritization of climate change reflect certain cultural/economic/political biases often in the service of corporate profits and that addressing the real needs of currently living humans should take precedence over trading carbon credits in the name of an abstract future.

    All of that is probably based on old information, give or take a decade, so it could just be outdated, but it doesn’t seem like uninformed quackery to me.

    Y:
    Just to clarify, I’m not saying he is saying quackery, just that his interpretations are faulty (well I guess it also depends on what you call quackery).

    SK:
    Today, most environmental reporting is focused laser-like on climate change, and systemic links between it and other worsening ecological dilemmas (such as overpopulation, species extinctions, water and air pollution, and loss of topsoil and fresh water) are seldom highlighted. It’s not that climate change isn’t a big deal. As a symptom, it’s a real doozy. There’s never been anything quite like it, and climate scientists and climate-response advocacy groups are right to ring the loudest of alarm bells. But our failure to see climate change in context may be our undoing.Years ago when I first read it, before I really paid attention to this or related subjects, the climate text by Rancourt struck me as plausible as well. Now, I no longer hold his arguments to be plausible. His larger point, that focus on manmade climate change is a reductionist distraction from the far less potentially profitable (and hence less publicised) unified collapse of earth ecosystems, remains valid, but his insistence on denying the actual existence as well as the gravity of anthropogenic climate change itself largely serves as a distraction from this basic point.

    As a particle physicist (the most reductionist of reductionist sciences), he has no experience with modelling anything as complex as earth systems, so his skepticism about the utility of such models is understandable. That does not mean that he is qualified to dismiss these models. All those I have come across experienced in the study of complex systems and how to model them say that the mainstream models are, if anything, too conservative in their projections, that the changes now underway are occurring within years, not decades, and that the effects — extreme flooding, extreme droughts, extreme wildfires — constitute a clear and present danger to many more millions besides the privileged middle class people. Far from merely a white person´s problem, we see poor people around the world suffering earlier and more devastatingly than anywhere else.

    This does a far better job of making the same point — and puts it in the correct context of ecological overshoot, which Rancourt fails to do, fixated as he is on a contrarian game of intellectual oneupmanship:

    “Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom…Today, most environmental reporting is focused laser-like on climate change, and systemic links between it and other worsening ecological dilemmas (such as overpopulation, species extinctions, water and air pollution, and loss of topsoil and fresh water) are seldom highlighted. It’s not that climate change isn’t a big deal. As a symptom, it’s a real doozy. There’s never been anything quite like it, and climate scientists and climate-response advocacy groups are right to ring the loudest of alarm bells. But our failure to see climate change in context may be our undoing.”

    https://www.postcarbon.org/why-climate-change-isnt-our-biggest-environmental-problem-and-why-technology-wont-save-us/

    (The author is one of the prominent voices in the peak oil movement, so naturally he sees overshoot in these terms, but in reality the overshoot of the present civilization — the basis of its cornucopian myth — began with the conquest of the Americas, as pointed out by William Catton, whose 1982 book introduced this term into the discourse.)

  8. samfanto says:

    HOW SCIENTIFIC LOGIC TRIES TO JUDGE ITSELF AND BE JUDGED ON ITS “PROGRESSIVE” ENDS SEPARATED FROM ITS DESTRUCTIVE MEANS

    THE ROAD TO HELL…

    On the connection between pesticides, war production and the gas chambers – From Bosch to Bayer to IGFarben to Monsanto

    From a friend:

    Who Creates the Past, Controls the Future:
    The Continuing Impact of Edward Bernays and Carl Bosch

    The rapid industrialization, international turmoil and mass destruction which took place in the first half of the 20th century fundamentally reshaped our world. Many aspects of daily life that we take for granted, from the power of advertising to the ubiquity of processed food, were born during this time. So, too, were forces that shape and limit our possible futures. While history cannot be simplistically reduced to the isolated actions of mere individuals, certain people throughout it do play roles which determine what comes next to a degree that separates them from the rest of us. Hidden in the quotidian lies the exceptional. To what extent do such individuals bear responsibility for the world they help deliver? While this is a complex and messy question without any clear and conclusive answer, the state of our world and its seemingly unresolvable, relentlessly compounding crises demands that we consider it. Edwards Bernays, Carl Bosch and the implications of their life’s work are two specific examples from the 20th century which suggest that future historians may not look kindly on those shapers of our shared reality.

    In the years following World War I, the father of public relations, Austrian-American Edward Bernays, realized the immense capacity of war time propaganda and sought to “regiment the public mind” (Bernays, 27). Bernays framed his intentional manipulations in the context of a Freudian need to limit the animal impulses inherent in human beings, the horrors of which had recently been exposed in the trenches and tunnels of France and Belgium (Century). He also sought a distinction between his benevolent paternalism and the sinister motivations of devilish Hunnic warmongers. In his 1928 book Propaganda, Bernays asserts that “propaganda becomes vicious and reprehensible only when its authors consciously and deliberately disseminate what they know to be lies, or when they aim at effects which they know to be prejudiced to the common good” (22). Here, Bernays presents us with an ethical argument-cum-rationalization. According to Bernays, the ethical quality of an act is determined not by its objective outcome but by the subjective intentions of the actor. This dubious statement must have suited Bernays’s own psychological need to rationalize his life’s work and sell himself to corporate America.

    Writing almost a century before Bernays, the materialist social critic Karl Marx, took an opposite approach. In The German Ideology, Marx wrote, “As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both in what they produce and in how they produce it” (Part I). While Marx was writing specifically about the economic relationship between the proletariat and the capitalist mode of production, the quote takes on another meaning when examined in the light of the ethical question posed above. How are we defined, if not by what we produce in our lifetimes?

    The two major wars of the twentieth century revolved primarily around economics. As a highly industrialized and scientifically advanced nation, Germany lacked much of the land, colonial holdings and natural resources monopolized by the other imperial powers. The imperial ambitions of the Second Reich and the “lebensraum” of Hitler’s fantasies both sought access to new territory and raw materials for exploitation. In both cases, expansionism alone proved incapable of satisfying Germany’s economic needs. Industrial innovation provided the remainder. One such innovation, more than almost any other, enabled the German war machine, provided the basis for the countless tragedies which followed, and continues to mold our reality today.

    By the late 1800’s, declining soil fertility in Europe drove both scientific research and imperialist land grabs. The search for a means of chemically fixing atmospheric Nitrogen, the main component of what would become Ammonia based fertilizer, was the holy grail of modern Chemistry. The process which broke the deadlock, and which is still in use today, was named the Haber-Bosch process after the two men who created and refined it. The former, Frtiz Haber, invented the laboratory-based method and the latter, Carl Bosch, was responsible for its engineering on an industrial scale. Both men were employees of the German chemicals company Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik, or BASF.

    Within the first two years of the longer-than-expected war with France and Russia, the Deutches Heer was in desperate need of both food and munitions due to the Entente’s naval blockade of German ports. By increasing the productivity of domestic German agriculture and supplying a ready source of the Nitric Acid used in explosives, the Haber-Bosch process provided for both necessities and considerably prolonged the war. In 1932, Carl Bosch reflected, “I have often asked myself whether it would have been better if we had not succeeded. The war perhaps would have ended sooner with less misery and on better terms. Gentlemen, these questions are all useless. Progress in science and technology cannot be stopped” (Hayes 356). Not only was Bosch’s work directly responsible for the massive death toll, the shell shocked and amputated generation which resulted from the first war, but for Bosch these outcomes were of secondary importance to the progress of technology. Bosch’s motivations and intentions can be described solely in terms of scientific development, industrial and commercial efficiency, and managerial efficacy. In that, he satisfies and mirrors Bernays. Marx would perhaps have agreed with Bosch’s conception of historical inevitability and the forward march of progress, but in Marx’s formulation on the definition of an individual’s life, Bosch is death itself.

    Bosch’s complicity in the horror of war does not end there. Due to his success with Ammonia synthesis Bosch was promoted to chairman of BASF. His ambitions in the service of progress would lead him to play an instrumental role in the creation of the world’s first iteration of the military-industrial complex, and the largest chemical company of its time, the German conglomerate IG Farben. Under Bosch’s leadership, IG Farben developed Coal Hydrogenation, a chemical process for synthesizing gasoline similar in nature to Ammonia synthesis, as well as the means of producing synthetic rubber. These two technologies would form the foundation of the autarkic war economy of the Nazi regime. As a classic Liberal, Bosch was opposed to both isolationist nationalism and centralized economic planning and yet these ideological differences with the National Socialists were not enough to prevent him from persistently pursuing his ideological belief in the progression of science and industry, even under the reign of the Nazis.

    Before the armament of the German war machine, before the industrial planning behind occupations in the Ukraine and France, before the development, production and sale of Zyklon B to the Schutzstaffel or the construction of a synthetic rubber factory next to Auschwitz, IG Farben executives Carl Bosch and his protégé Carl Krauch were intimately familiar with death and destruction. In 1921, an explosion of the BASF/IG Farben chemicals plant at Oppau killed 561, wounded 2000, and left 7,000 homeless (Hayes 358). Under the direction of Krauch, the plant was restored to full production capacity in three months’ time. This prefigurative insensitivity to the human costs of industry pales in comparison to the efficient slaughter of the holocaust. Additionally, after the incident at Oppau there was no equivalent of the Nuremburg trials to assign blame and hang the judged. And yet, this more socially acceptable collateral damage of progress exposes the moral vapidity of Bosch’s justifications precisely because of its inherency to industrial production. If progress cannot be stopped, then the pile of bodies in front of and behind it must not be accounted for.

    After the conclusion of the second war, IG Farben was broken up into its constituent parts including BASF and its pharmaceutical equivalent, Bayer. The global center of Ammonia synthesis moved from Germany to a former forced subsidiary of IG Farben, the Norwegian company and BASF competitor Norsk Hydro. Today, Norsk Hydro is known to the world as YARA and its North American operations produce more synthetic ammonia than any other company on the planet. Bayer, the former chemical weapons manufacturer, heroin distributor, and co-founder of IG Farben, currently owns Monsanto and is one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and agribusiness companies. The scientific, industrial, and even corporate legacy of the Haber-Bosch process lives on.

    While some scholars argue for the impossibility of feeding the world’s current and projected population without the chemical synthesis of Ammonia (Smil), others warn of its compounding detrimental effects which contribute to the existential crisis of an economy and way of life based on industry and petrochemicals. The continued concentration of Nitrogen in our soil and water creates toxic, abiotic conditions, and the release of Nitrous Oxide through the denitrification of Ammonia contributes to the greenhouse effect (Duke), to say nothing of the carbon dioxide produced during the synthesis process. In addition, the improper application of anhydrous ammonia, a common form of ammonia fertilizer, can result in evaporation leading to more pollution, seed destruction, skin blistering and lung tissue damage. In light of these facts, not even the increased food production associated with Bosch’s work can be judged as historically neutral. Here we have yet another outcome, the weight of which buries the intentions of its authors and traps our imaginations between mass starvation and inevitable environmental collapse. A dissection of the arguments around the false choices of petrochemical based industrial agriculture is the subject of its own essay, but the partisan role of corporate propagandists in the public conversation is central to this one.

    Like almost every major industry in our time, Agribusiness is no stranger to the work of Edward Bernays. Monsanto promotes itself, not as a complicit harbinger of the end of the world, but as a source of life-giving nourishment whose products are necessary in a world with an ever-increasing human population. Contrary to this public relations presentation, in 2019, Monsanto was sued in civil court for, among other things, manipulating the scientific publishing process, colluding with government regulators, and infiltrating media outlets. In an incident which calls to mind Bernays’s infamous subversion of the suffragist movement with his “torches of freedom” media stunt (Century), Monsanto paid fake reporters to spread misinformation to real reporters and thus conscript legitimate media outlets in their propaganda war (Gillam). Never mind that Monsanto products, just like cigarettes, cause cancer. Bernays’ ethical litmus test, which Monsanto undoubtedly fails, concerns itself only with the lie. The irony of his methods and the industry he fathered being utilized a century later for such “vicious and reprehensible” purposes should not be lost on us here, nor should the fact that a scientific pursuit which enabled war and genocide in the last century threatens the basis of life itself in the next.

    The Nuremburg trials did not ultimately convict the German executives of IG Farben for their role in the holocaust. The massive quantities of an odorless particulate marketed as pesticide and sold to the Nazi bureaucracy were insufficient to justify a hanging (Jessbenger). The purported use for the pesticide was the maintenance of Jewish ghettos with their cramped conditions. At Nuremburg, this intention was judged as somehow less intrinsic to the outcome of the genocidal process than the gassing itself. It would seem that the authors of Allied military justice agreed with Bernays, unsurprisingly, more than Marx. In yet another noteworthy contortion of history, the patent for Zyklon B was held by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Schädlingsbekämpfung mbH (“German Corporation for Pest Control”), or Degesch for short. Degesch being controlled by IG Farben and its parent company Degussa, which in turn was chaired by none other than Nobel laureate and German nationalist Jew, Fritz Haber. Haber notoriously attempted to create gold from seawater in order to pay German reparations form the first war. This modern alchemy was an ultimately unworkable proposition, the improbability of which is tempered by Haber’s equally ambitious success in creating explosives from thin air. Haber’s former collaborator Carl Bosch escaped the judgment of tribunals altogether, dying in obscurity of alcoholism and ill health in 1940. One of Bosch’s contemporaries and fellow IG Farben board members, NSDP party member Fritz ter Meer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_ter_Meer), was sentenced to a mere seven year’s imprisonment and upon his release was re-elected as chairman of Bayer.

    Nuremberg raised the question of individual responsibility for social crimes and its utilitarian answers favored the likes of Meer and NASA’s Wernher von Braun. Significant numbers of its trials ended in acquittal and shockingly brief sentences. The rising authoritarianism, mass dislocation, hunger, disease and global conflict suggested by our continued non-responsive orientation to the degradation and collapse of our biosphere provides a parallel that meets the epic tragedies of the world wars in terms of scale if not in terms of historical judgement. Will future generations convene their own tribunals? Will they find any use for the technocrats and organizers of industrial death? Or will they decide to finally halt our steady forward march over the edge of a cliff? Only time will tell, but the isolation of intention from outcome demonstrated by previous generations has surely met its expiration date as a useful measurement of responsibility and value. Indeed, the critical examination of what we produce and how we produce it is a task to be undertaken with utmost urgency.

    Works Cited
    Bernays, Edward. Propaganda. New York: H. Liveright, 1928. Print.
    “The Century of the Self (TV Docu-Series) complete.” YouTube, uploaded by Adam Curtis
    Documentary, 20 May 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buPGp5YPdM4.
    Duke University. “Unprecedented Levels of Nitrogen Could Pose Risks to Earth’s
    Environment.” Laboratory Equipment, August 6, 2017.
    Gillam, Carey. “How Monsanto Manipulates Journalists and Academics.” The Guardian. June 2,
    2019.
    Hayes, Peter. “Carl Bosch and Carl Krauch: Chemistry and the Political Economy of Germany,
    1925-1945.” The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 47, No. 2, 1987, pp. 353-363.
    Jessbenger, Florian. “On the Origins of Criminal Responsibility under International Law for
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