Remember …

November 4, 2008

No matter who you vote for today, the capitalists still win.

From Anarchist Studies Volume 16, Number 1 2008 – By CHARLES THORPE AND IAN WELSH

ABSTRACT

The authoritarian and ecologically destructive juggernaut of state-supported big science and technology in the twentieth century understandably fostered a deep pessimism and suspicion towards science and technology among many in the green, anarchist, and libertarian left milieu. This reaction has been crystallized in the “anti-civilization” primitivist anarchism of John Zerzan. In opposition to this drift towards primitivism, this paper argues that a vision of a liberatory and participative science and technology was an essential element of classical anarchism and that this vision remains vital to the development of liberatory political theory and praxis today. The paper suggests that an anarchist model of science and technology is implicit in the knowledge-producing and organizing activities of new social movements and is exemplified in recent developments in world, regional, and local social forums.

INTRODUCTION

This article develops an anarchist political theory of science and technology that highlights the latent forms of anarchist praxis present within a diverse range of social movement engagements with contemporary techno-science. We argue that there is a marked congruence between contemporary social movement engagement and the key concepts and principles underpinning anarchist writing on science and technology from the nineteenth century onwards.

By exploring the tensions and ambivalences in established anarchist approaches towards science (cf. Restivo 1994) we demonstrate that classical nineteenth-century anarchism emphasised the centrality of socially accountable science within libertarian thinking. Elements of this tradition are discernible in the emphasis on liberatory technics by twentieth-century writers such as Lewis Mumford, Murray Bookchin, and Paul Goodman. This later work on liberatory technics developed during a period dominated by state-sponsored big science. The twenty-first century, however, is dominated by neo-liberal ascendancy characterised by the early transfer of “near market” science to the private sector. This transition to a neo-liberal era requires clarification of, and debate on, the relationship of anarchism to science. Further, such debate must address the global movement milieu in which traditionally conceived social movements combine with network movement actors to form an antagonistic and proactive social force emphasising autonomy.

Important features of this movement milieu are unqualified opposition to: the alignment of capitalist and state forces through global institutions such as the World Bank and IMF; the military sequestration of public corporate scientific research and development (R&D) budgets; the imposition of “market solutions” across all areas of “public provision” and the pursuit of modernisation agendas which simultaneously degrade ecological and human integrity. Global social movements also challenge the prevailing cognitive order by defining key knowledge stakes regarded as vital to “the other worlds that are possible”. The recognition and respect for difference is a central part of these linked political and epistemological objectives raising significant challenges for conceptions of science based on universal laws. Key questions explored here are what does the philosophical and political tradition of anarchism have to contribute to such contemporary challenges to dominant social-epistemic orders and is there a theory of science embedded in anarchist political thought that is relevant and applicable to contemporary struggles?

Given the continuing importance of science to modern states and the neo-liberal “global knowledge economy”, a critical anarchist theory of science and technology needs to overcome the limitations within various forms of “primitivism” exemplified by the writings of John Zerzan (1996). Zerzan’s criticisms of alienation in modern life and of the nihilism of contemporary technological culture are trenchant. But, from this critique, Zerzan leads his readers to a quasi-religious ideal of a return to a wild Eden (cf. Aufheben, 1995). Primitiism neglects the anarchist intellectual tradition examined here.

Rather than a return to simpler technics, we argue that the ideas and the epistemic practices of contemporary social movements constitute the basis for non-totalising forms of scientific knowledge and scientific practices resonating with anarchist emphases on decentralisation, horizontal structures, and diversity. This emergent anarchist or proto-anarchist politics of science and technology is necessary to transcend the limits of contemporary state-corporate science which has reached a “plateau” (Mumford 1934/1972) encountering “paradigm limits”, which can only be transcended through alternative epistemic practices consistent with the autonomous self-organization of society.

We deliberately re-emphasise the potential for the socially shaped and negotiated “democratic technics” advanced by Mumford (1964). As Bookchin argued, resistance to authoritarian science and technology makes the formulation of an alternative liberatory conceptualization of science a critical political task. Indeed, whilst many contemporary social struggles are perceived as against established science, they also contain liberatory promise and alternative epistemic practices and priorities. Such struggles hold out the promise of a liberatory science with an affinity toward anarchist modes of self-organization as an increasingly diverse range of citizens learn to combine observational, recording, and analytical capacities constituting a potential for proactive grassroots initiatives. An anarchistic organization of science requires such decentralized, network-ordered and bottom-up cognitive and material structures consistent with the political of anarchist(ic) social freedom.
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THE PREFIGURATIVE ORGANIZATION
A Presentation by Norwegian Anarchist Kim Keyser

WHEN: Saturday, July 26th at 8:00PM

WHERE: UE & IWW Union Hall
37 S. Ashland Ave.
Chicago, IL 60607

Kim Keyser is an activist from the emerging anarchist movement in Norway, the so-called “social democratic paradise.” He will address the question “How can we reflect the future we want in our present work?” The presentation will touch upon subjects such as direct democracy, direct action, workers councils, anarchist organizing, and involvement in social movements.

For more information, please contact: chicago-ac@riseup.net

This event is co-sponsored by the Four Star Anarchist Organization and Chicago IWW.

PDF Flyer

Electoralism

July 8, 2008

….elections serve two purposes. One is to settle disputes between different sections of the ruling class, without bloodshed. The other is to give the people the impression that they rule the government.

The above is from an excellent and articulate piece by Wayne Price, called “None of the Above: The Anarchist Case Against Electoralism”, which was published in NEFAC’s Northeastern Anarchist in 2004. A local anarchist group I’m working with is doing some readings on democracy, including this one. The piece is still quite relevant, of course, and incorporates the anarchist critique of voting with some good analysis of why both reformist political measures and independent party politics are useless as end goals.

These arguments also relate to (anarcho-)transhumanism, of course, especially if you consider that the accelerating technologies transhumanists predict (and often advocate) are likely to create upheavals and massive changes in society and capitalism itself. The social-democratic transhumanists could, for example, see these transformations as an opportunity to create a more tech-friendly third party with a technoprogressive agenda. As Wayne argues, however, such a party is likely to still be an instrument of, and for, capitalism.

Suppose a major crisis were to shake the U.S., such as a collapse of the economy. There would be mass discontent. In that case, a new party might form, precisely to get in front of the mass rebelliousness and to lead it back into the established order. That is, the new party would be an obstacle to change, not a means of achieving it. The party would be based on the Left of the Democrats (such as it is) tearing itself away from the Democrats in order to maintain its base. It would include the union bureaucrats, more-or-less liberal party hacks, popular preachers, and various demagogues. It might call itself a Labor party, due to the participation of the union officials, or it might not, but the middle-class composition of the organizers would be the same. It might use democratic socialist rhetoric, but its program would really be the stabilization of capitalism. In fact it would be a new capitalist party and not a challenge to the system. Due to the very capitalist crisis that created it, it would be unable to make real improvements; but it might be able to derail a popular rebellion. Such a formation should not be welcomed but opposed.

The social democrat transhumanists argue that many of the approaching technologies will help to democratize government in positive ways — such as how citizen journalism and the internet are making government processes and actions more transparent and accountable now — and this may be true to an extent. What they are overlooking, however, is how many of these technologies lend themselves to more efficient methods of authoritarian social control (the burgeoning trend of ubiquitous urban surveillance for example, or mass data-mining in the name of fighting terrorism) and — even more importantly — how some of these technologies threaten the control of capitalism by their very nature (such as longevity or nanofabrication). It is far more likely that the political arm of capitalism will steer towards authoritarian measures and right-wing attitudes in response to these developments; at best, the social democratic transhumanists might soften the blow. It is worth noting that these same transhumanists also favor strong government regulation of potentially dangerous technologies.

Rather than playing electoral political games, anarcho-transhumanists should be pushing for extra-electoral mass movements, direct action, and counter-institutions to promote real transformative social change.

Also relevant: Voting Only Makes Things Worse

Yeah, We’re Bad

June 26, 2008

Once again, we’ve fallen behind in the blogging, though not from lack of interest. Here are some random tidbits to keep you occupied until we get back on track:

* Worth reading: Towards a Democratic Conception of Science and Technology

* Added an old Aufheben critique of primitivism and Liberate Not Exterminate, an anarchist defense of cities, to the sidebar links.

* If any of our readers happen to be tabletop RPG geeks, there’s a transhuman-flavored sci-fi RPG in the works called Eclipse Phase that has a significant anarchist element. Some info here and here.

* If you’re looking for more reading, check out these (dated) threads on the Anarchist Black Cat Forums: Techno-Hubris or the Shape of Things to Come? and The Continuing Appeal of Primitivism

NEFAC recently (re)published a refreshing look at the ecological problem from a libertarian communist perspective. Though this is only a framework, and doesn’t take into account the accelerating pace of technological change, it does correctly pinpoint the solution as dismantling capitalism and establishing new models of production, distribution, and energy rather than opposing (the misuse of) technology.

FYI to folks in the Midwest, the annual Finding Our Roots anarchist conference is going on in Chicago this weekend. This year’s focus is on anarchist organizing. The list of workshops can be found here.

Antisocialite and I may throw together an impromptu guerrilla workshop on Sunday to talk about issues relating to @ organizing and technology — stuff like:

– technology and security culture (surveillance, sousveillance, crypto, etc)

– internet organizing, open source models, new media, hacktivism

– organizing around tech issues, universal access to tech, subverting authoritarian tech for libertarian purposes

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