Herbert Marcuse, The Realm of Freedom and the Realm of Necessity, 1969

A Reconsideration

I was very happy to hear that my friend Norman Birnbaum in his paper this morning spoke of utopian concepts and of the way in which allegedly utopian concepts were translated into reality, or were at least in the process of being translated into reality by the events of and June in France.

I am equally happy and honored to talk to you in the presence of Ernst Bloch whose work Geist der Utopie, published more than forty years ago, has influenced at my generation, and licks shown how realistic utopian concepts can be, lose to action, how close to practice. Lire la suite »

Sam Kriss, Manifesto of the Committee to Abolish Outer Space, 2015

There’s nothing there already.

We have been lied to, subjected to a cruel and chilly lie, one so vast and total it’s no longer fully perceivable but has turned into the unseen substrate of everyday life. It’s a political lie. They told us that outer space is beautiful.

They showed us nebulae, big pink and blue clouds draped in braids of purple stars, always resolving themselves at the pace of cosmic infinity into genital forms, cocks and cunts light years wide. They superimposed puddle-thin quotes over these pictures, so that the galaxies could speak to you in the depths of your loneliness, whispering from across a trackless infinity that you’re so much better than everyone else, because you fucking love science. The words are lies, the colors are lies, the nebulae are lies. These images are collated and pigmented by computers; they’re not a scene you could ever see out the porthole of your spaceship. Space isn’t even ugly; it isn’t anything. It’s a dead black void scattered with a few grey rocks, and they crash into each other according to a precise mathematical senselessness until all that’s left is dust. Lire la suite »

Michel Claessens, ITER: a systemic drift, 2022

Like all major technological projects, the experimental nuclear fusion reactor ITER has reached its point of no return: too much money has already been invested to stop the project, difficulties are multiplying and more and more money is needed to simply continue. In these conditions, the management, caught between these contradictory injunctions, seeks to reinforce its hold on « image » and scrape by on safety… Here is the testimony of the former director of communication of the ITER Organization.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen Members of the European Parliament, Dear colleagues,

Thank you for inviting me today as a whistleblower. We have seen beautiful photos of the ITER worksite. They show the best of science and technology. We are preparing the energy of the future.

The reality of the project is very different.

Today, the colleagues I meet in Cadarache and Barcelona talk to me, face-to-face, about unbearable stress and pervasive fear – fear of being displaced, fear of losing their job or fear to have to execute a decision against the interest of the project. They are afraid to speak and be recognized. There is, in this cutting-edge project, an “omerta”, a law of scientific silence. Lire la suite »

Claude Alvares, Science, 1992

The Development Dictionary,
A Guide to Knowledge As Power

 

I was born into a culture that continues to exercise greater influence and power over behaviour than modern science does, or will ever do. If that were properly understood, then this obituary would not appear either scandalous or scurrilous. Every culture enjoins its members to maintain respect for certain entities. Modern science does not find a place in our pantheon.

Far from it. From this side of Suez, in fact, modern science appears akin to an imported brand of toothpaste. It contains elaborate promises and much sweetness and glamour. It can be used, is often used (many times pointlessly), yet can be dispensed with at any time precisely because it is still largely irrelevant to life. Lire la suite »

Dwight Macdonald, The Bomb, 1945

At 9:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, an American plane dropped a single bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Exploding with the force of 20,000 tons of TNT, the bomb destroyed in a twinkling two-thirds of the city, including, presumably, most of the 343,000 human beings who lived there. No warning whatsoever was given. This atrocious action places “us”, the defenders of civilization, on a moral level with “them”, the beasts of Maidanek. And “we”, the American people, are just as much and as little responsible for this horror as “they”, the German people.

So much is obvious. But more must be said. For the “atomic” bomb renders anticlimactical even the ending of the greatest war in history. Lire la suite »

David Cayley, Concerning life, 2021

an open letter to Jean-Pierre Dupuy and Wolfgang Palaver

 

“And the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No”.

They said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right; then then seized him and slew him in the fords of the Jordan. And there fell at that time forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites.” (Judges 12: 3-6)

 

A shibboleth is a dividing line, and dividing lines are sharpest when they are razor thin. For the Ephraimites the price of forty-two thousand lives was nothing more than what linguists call an unvoiced fricative. Things are not yet quite so bad with us, but the pandemic has certainly brought division between friends. (And how great, after all, were the differences between Ephraimites and Gileadites, if all that distinguished them was the ability to make this crucial sound?) One of the shibboleths dividing us seems to be life. Recently two admired friends have taken issue with me over this word and the interpretation I have given of Ivan Illich’s views on the subject [see here].

Theologian Wolfgang Palaver, in an interview in the German weekly Die Zeit for Dec. 23, 2020, expresses concern that Illich’s claim that life has become “a fetish” is being abused as a justification for “sacrificing the weak.” And French philosopher Jean-Pierre Dupuy, in an article for the website AOC called “The True Legacy of Ivan Illich,” argues, similarly, that those who follow “the fashion of covidoscepticism” misunderstand and misappropriate Illich’s strictures on “the idolization of life.” Dupuy’s article is the second of two on the “alleged ‘sacralisation of life.’” The first denounces what Dupuy calls “the blindness of the intellectuals.” Lire la suite »

William Morris, Makeshift, 1894

As other ages are called, e.g., the ages of learning, of chivalry, of faith and so forth, so ours I think may be called the Age of makeshift. In other times of the world’s history if a thing was not to be had, people did without it, and there was an end. Nay, most often they were not conscious of the lack. But to-day we are so rich in information, that we know of many and many things which we ought to have and cannot, and not liking to sit down under the lack pure and simple, we get a makeshift instead of it; and once more it is just this insistence on makeshifts, and I fear content with them, which is the essence of what we call civilization.

Now I want to run through certain of these makeshifts, and see what there is of evil in them, what of present good and what of future hope. For I must tell you that I have come here to rail to-day, and to rail at a state of things without trying to mend it is a futile business I think. Lire la suite »

Alexandre Grothendieck, The New Universal Church, 1971

Science and Scientism

The experimental-deductive method, spectacularly successful for four hundred years, has continually increased its impact on social and daily life, and thus (until recently) its prestige.

At the same time, through a process of “imperialist expansion” which needs closer analysis, science has generated an ideology of its own, which we may call scientism. This ideology has many of the features of a new religion. The influence it exercises over the public derives from the authority of science, through science’s successes. It is now firmly implanted in all countries of the world, both in capitalist and so-called socialist countries (with important qualifications in the case of China [1]). It has fax outstripped all traditional religions. It has pervaded education at all levels, from elementary school to university, as well as post-scholastic professional life. In varying forms and intensities, it is dominant in all social classes; it is strongest in the more developed countries, within the intellectual professions, and within the most esoteric fields of study [2]. Lire la suite »

Richard Horton, COVID-19 is not a pandemic, 2020

As the world approaches 1 million deaths from COVID-19, we must confront the fact that we are taking a far too narrow approach to managing this outbreak of a new coronavirus. We have viewed the cause of this crisis as an infectious disease. All of our interventions have focused on cutting lines of viral transmission, thereby controlling the spread of the pathogen. The “science” that has guided governments has been driven mostly by epidemic modellers and infectious disease specialists, who understandably frame the present health emergency in centuries-old terms of plague. But what we have learned so far tells us that the story of COVID-19 is not so simple. Lire la suite »

David Watson, Saturn and Scientism, 1980

There she is, looking vaguely pornographic on the glossy covers of the weekly magazines, the planet Saturn. What have we discovered? I don’t know, I haven’t read them, feeling squashed as I do to the Earth by the giddying inertia of this century which plummets like a flaming satellite towards the nothingness. Grey skies, the weather turning cold, sirens in the distance. Some citizens walk by whispering reverently of the wonders of Saturn, disputing the number of rings and moons according to the latest counts, as the corroding universe about them threatens to be annihilated. They drool over photographs of a planet most of them couldn’t spot in a clear night sky — that is, if the night sky hadn’t already been colonized and obliterated by the city light and the lethal dust of the very civilization which made it possible to send gadgets and technicians to the stars. But everything is so groovy on Saturn, so colorful and tempestuous. They know because they watched it all on television. Lire la suite »