From ‘Marching in Circles: Faustian Thinking and the Myth of Science’, by Edward Curtin, May 1st, 2017
Curtin opens with two pithy quotes that serve to launch his critique of the April 22 Earth Day and Celebration of science:
‘In our society those who have best knowledge of what is happening are also those who are furthest from seeing the world as it is. In general, the greater the understanding, the greater the delusion: the more intelligent, the less sane.’
— George Orwell, 1984
‘This has inspired me to new heights, to wage war against these forces [‘the unfruitful ocean’] and subdue them.’
— Faust from Goethe’s Faust
He reckons that the marches may have been well-intentioned, but calls them both delusional and conducted without any sense of irony in that they served both power and propaganda. While noting that science has served us well in some respects, he also rightfully claims that it’s also created a nightmarish world on the brink of destruction in so many different directions, and is untethered from any moral limits in its embrace of ‘instrumental rationality’. Science, he writes, has created a spiritual alienation due to that embrace ‘that goes to the roots of the world crisis’.
“For two of the major problems the world faces – world destruction with nuclear weapons and the poisoning of the earth’s ecology and atmosphere – are the result of the marriage of science and technique that has given birth to the technological “babies” (Little Boy and Fat Man) that were used by the U.S. to massacre hundreds of thousands of Japanese and now threaten to incinerate everyone, and the chemical and toxic inventions that have despoiled the earth, air, and water and continue to kill people worldwide through America’s endless war-making and industrial applications.
The Save-the-Earth-Science marchers failed, for self-serving reasons or ignorance, to see the obvious. But their failure goes even deeper than omitting the links between science, war, and pollution.”
He contends that in our scientific technopoly, logic has been turned ass-over-tea-kettle, as cause and effect, means and ends, have been inverted, in that the causes of our potential destruction are touted as the means to end them. In general he sees an irrational genuflection before myths, including the myths of science, progress, and underpin a ‘no alternative’ inevitability to the belief that science is the key solution to what they desire, including longevity, and perhaps even immortality.
“And these things have become the means to additional means in an endless loop from which, by definition, ends are absent. As a result, the search for truth, celebrated as a goal of science, is slyly eliminated.
In this comforting yet absurd myth, science is viewed as the “miraculous knight of reason.” John Saul Ralston elaborates:
‘Science led the way in the battle against the forces of darkness. Discoveries were celebrated as if new territories were won on the road to a place of eternal light where knowledge would reign. And yet these very real advances in the uncovering of nature’s secrets seemed increasingly to create a world which escaped the control of society. New knowledge and new positive powers in the hands of man seemed inevitably to be matched with new inaccessible elites and a new sophistication in the arts of violence and destruction….As for the scientists, the vast majority of whom continue to believe in the inviolability of progress, they still do so with the driven purity of terrorists.’
(wd here, pinging on “…seemed increasingly to create a world which escaped the control of society”. Just wait until the robot/human hybrid slaves fight back one day!
“Writing about our twisted logic that has banished anything “useless” or “gratuitous,” – including art, people, and nature – the great French sociologist Jacques Ellul says this about modern science:
‘Once, knowledge of truth was what mattered, but then after the philosophers came the scientists. They developed their theories, which were then applied, first in order to prove the truth of these theories, and then because of their usefulness. From that point on, science was lost! Technical means gradually came to dominate the search for truth. Science became more and more about the effectiveness of technical means. Science today takes its meaning from technique; it is completely oriented to application. It is in the service of means. It has become a means of perfecting the means. The abstraction ‘science,’ to which we still pay lip service, has replaced the search for truth.’
Now this that Curtin writes epitomizes the core of his argument*:
“Nature and all living creatures, including ourselves, have become our enemies and are rejected as ends in themselves. Everything and everyone is a means. We must bomb, bulldoze, manipulate, drug, control, poison, etc. – all in the service of a diabolical willfulness that brooks no resistance.
American society is nihilistic and the ruling political and intellectual elites are, of course, the leading nihilists. But this nihilism is widespread because it works at the mythic level. Unable to grasp the circular and repetitive nature of instrumental reason and its propaganda that have resulted in a spiritual/existential crisis that is leading to world destruction, average people fall into a deeper malaise that leads to widespread despair, unhappiness, and hopelessness. Everything becomes a means to a means in a kaleidoscopic death trap.”
Toward the end he writes this, and I love the tar out of it:
“I think Goethe hints at a solution in a “warning” that the devil, Mephistopheles, gives to a student in Faust, and which Faust failed to heed:
‘Who would study and describe the living, starts by driving the spirits out of the parts: In the palm of his hand he holds all the sections, Lacks nothing, except the spirit’s connection.’
Now Curtin hadn’t mentioned many of the ways in which weaponized science depends on its own solutions to the hell it creates, but I’m sure you’ll remember proposed ‘technological fixes’ to global warming in the vein of deploying huge reflective umbrellas in the upper atmosphere to…block solar gain, geo-engineering, carbon sequestration, and tra la la. Or the failures to contain the vast amounts of nuclear waste at the Hanford site: woopsie; all those mega-billions we spent on new solutions, freezing the waste into logs…er…didn’t make the grade. Now, they expect possible containment in 2060 (if more and more billions are funded?). But BigPharma is a whole ‘nother area, including creating drugs to offset the anxiety and craziness caused by this nihilistic society’s capitalistic machinations, or meds to offset the effects of other meds. So is the weaponized and subsidized ‘smart science™’ of factory agriculture. And at least in St. Petersburg, FL, I know that a small band of hearties held up anti-war signs on Earth Day. ;-)
‘Round-up is delicious’, anthony freda
Hey, Bill McKibben: did you ever talk about the US military’s footprint being the largest contributor to climate change? How about you, Naomi Klein? No, of course not; your funding sources wouldn’t admire that so much, now would they?
Speaking of Big Green Bill, I saw a post of his recently about the Earth Day Science marches along the lines of ‘This is the truth! This ain’t about Trump and the possibility of his pulling out Cop (whatever) accords! This took us over a year to put together!’ To say the truth, I dunno that those target promises would be accomplished, and I dunno if they would even matter by now, myself.
But back to Edward Curtain:
“But are we capable of taking such a hint? Or have we passed a point of no return?”
He addresses that question in his Part II: ‘Bouncing Back Against the Corruption of Science in Capitalist Society’, essentially a class and skin color analysis, weaponized medical science and experimentation, socialist science (for all living beings), weaponized food, and more. Oddly, he left out the extreme dangers of genetically modified foods to our health. And he may be unaware of the Gates Foundation’s worst medical practices, as well as Elon Musk’s deep brain implants coming soon™! Nor transgenic ‘human beings‘, ah, this Brave and Wunnerful New World!. Me, I’d add cloning, as in: Hello, Dolly!
Not a comfortable read, of course; and it’s bad enough as it is.
Now Jeffrey St. Clair in his May 5 ‘Roaming Charges: The End of the Age of Protest’, is contrarian about the marches, but not on science-as-deity. He first offers an expurgated version of his Earth Day talk in at the Humboldt Anarchist bookfair, then mentions reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Dead Eye Dick on the flight home.
“In Deadeye Dick, Vonnegut observes that “the Dark Ages, they haven’t ended yet.” Note that he didn’t say, “We have entered a new dark age.” Instead, Vonnegut was remarking on the continuity of a vicious style of American politics, which only gets darker and darker as the faint glimmer of the Enlightenment recedes farther into the past.
Vonnegut’s joke, which like most of his one-liners cuts sharply to the core of a profound truth, can help us orient ourselves in the time of Trump, who seems like a scary new beast, with his twitchy microhand fluttering over the nuclear button. In fact, what Trump has done is to the reveal the Beast that has always lurked in the anterooms of American power, sucking the blood and mining the bones of the Earth.”
He reminds us that the carbon count at Manua Loa observatory recorded an all-time high of 410 ppm, which levels weren’t down to Herr Cheeto, but did seem to propel tens of thousands into the street. He wonders aloud where they were during both Obama’s and Clinton’s reign, oil, gas, and con men of distinction. I know they were there during Obama’s last several years, but I’ve forgotten both how many and who funded the many indigenous air fares to DeeCee. Never mind, St. Clair has other fish to fry:
“Has Trump finally shattered our illusions, so that we can see clearly the forces—economic, political and technological—that are plunging the planet toward a man-made heat death? Is he, in fact, a kind of clarifying agent for the real state of things?
One can hope so.
Except one mustn’t hope.
As Kafka, the High Priest of Realism, admonished his readers, “There is hope. But not for us.”
Hope is an illusion, an opiate, an Oxycontin for the masses.
Instead of hope, we need a heavy dose of realism. A realism as chilling as reality itself.” [snip]
“Defenders of the Earth need to abandon all hope before entering the fray. Hope is a paralytic agent. Hope is the enemy.
The antidote is action.
Action, however, is not marching in a parade a couple of times a year, featuring puppets, vagina hats and signs printed up by the Sierra Club©.
Action is not taking selfies with a celebrity in the back of a police wagon after a designer arrest.”
Oh, my, he then goes full-tilt Mario Savio on what action IS: throwing your body into the gears of the machine in protection not only of the earth, but entering the fray when a po-po beats down a defenseless human being in the street. (Okay, he’s specified ‘woman’; I won’t, lol.)
The time for protests is over.
He narrates some of the history of the green regulatory state confusing and arcane (thus unenforceable) rules in different administrations having served to codify the destruction of the nation’s water, forests, air, all in service of well-connected corporations with legal teams to parse the language for their own bloody bottom lines.
“At the same time, the creation of the regulatory state effectively neutered the once potent environmental movement as a real threat to the System. As their budgets swell, often fattened by the largess of grants from foundations linked to the fossil fuel industry, the big DC-oriented conservation groups—who many years ago Alex Cockburn and I dubbed Gang Green—become more and more complicit with the political fool’s gold of neoliberalism. Try finding a lobbyist from NRDC with callouses on their hands and a trace of mud on their boots.
“As Trump begins the demolition of the regulatory state, we begin to see how hollow many of Gang Green’s alleged environmental victories of the past—from coal mining and air quality regulations to endangered species protections and new national monuments—really are. They are being wiped out with a slash of the pen.
As my old boss David Brower used to say: “When we win, it’s only a stay of execution, when they win it’s forever. Thus we must be eternally vigilant.” These days the corporate environmental movement is vigilant about only one thing: claiming fake victories in their sustained barrage of fund-raising appeals.”
“And we know who will rise to the call. The ones who always have in the past: the indigenous, the altruists and the anarchists. Those are the ones who will fight as if their lives depend on the outcome, because, of course, they do.”
After mentioning some past global movemental victories, he finishes:
“As Ed Abbey used to say: there’s no battle more important, no fight more fun waging, no comrades more trusty-worthy than those in the trenches with us when we rise up together in defense of life on earth. To crib a line from Leonard Cohen: “we may be ugly, but we’ve got the music.”
So draw a line and take a stand—almost any place will do, since the whole shebang is under threat—and let loose an old battle cry so that others will know where to come join you: Earth First!”
(In his Roaming Charges he offers some purdy heavy charges against the Bern and his recent doings.)