Driftwork

19/04/11

Atkins, Science and ...

Filed under: culture, philosophy, difference, text, the political, spectacle — sdv @ 01:43:34 pm

The question that springs to mind with Peter Atkins book On Being is how should one read it ? It’s not a question raised to refuse or even address his atheism which is honestly felt and correct, or even to critique his non-philosophy with its expressed desire to place science in its stead. But rather to address the question of science and what means, which for Atkins is the royal road to truth and knowledge. And with truth and knowledge we always dealing directly with questions of social and political power. It is critical to realize that science in this sense remains the royal and state science instantiated with Galileo brought to fruition with Newton and the invention of the Royal Society.. In general philosophers and sociologists of science (and their ilk ) all avoid speaking royal and state science. But given that science has supplanted the spectacle of religion as the juridical and ideological support, the core of this society, it is time to discuss this again. Not to ask as a philosopher of science might about ’science’ but instead to think in terms of science and its relationship to capitalism, not in the general sense of any capitalism but rather in the sense of the specific flavour of capitalism that we exist within, this capitalism.

How then should science be understood in relation to Atkins discussion of it ? My initial references above are related to the replacement of religion by science as the ideological support of sovereignty as described and defined by Dumezil and his successors. And yet perhaps the notion of political sovereignty as described by Georges Dumezil in Mitra-Varuna and the Destiny of the King as having the two symbolic but still very real functions which are so obviously attractive as a means of describing our histories, which he names as ‘the magician-king’ and ‘the jurist-priest’, with the alternate names known as ‘the despotic king’ and ‘the legislator’, it is the latter which has the function of being the legitimator of the system. In all cases these two poles of sovereignty stand in opposition to one another, the first implying despotic violence and the latter implying regulation and justification, of course they are an unseperable dualism, that together make up the social and ideological function of political sovereignty. The critical relevance of this concept is that within our recent societies Science has supplanted religion so that what were jurist-priests are now jurist-scientists. But where Deleuze and Guattari present science in two different modes implying on the one side royal and on the other nomadic science, its clear but both these scientific modes function in the role as advisers to the state just as historically religion always have multiple modes.

It is one of those strange synergies that interests me with Debord’s related comments on Science and capitalism. Where he says: “It is sometimes said that science today is subservient to the imperatives of profit, but that is nothing new. What is new is that the economy has come to declare open war on humanity attacking not only our possibilities for living but our chances of survival. It is here that Science – renouncing the opposition to slavery that formed a significant part of its own history - has chosen to put itself at the service of spectacular domination. Until it got to this point Science possessed a relative autonomy. It knew how to understand its own portion of reality; and in this has made an immense contribution to increasing economic resources. When the all powerful economy lost its reason – and it is this which defines these spectacular times – it surpassed the last vestiges of scientific autonomy, both in methodology and in the practical working conditions of its ‘researchers’. No longer is science asked to understand the world, or to improve any part of it. It is asked instead to immediately justify everything that happens…”

14/04/11

serres - timescales and spectacle

Filed under: philosophy, event, difference, text, the political, spectacle — sdv @ 03:13:31 pm

To safeguard the earth or respect the weather, the wind and rain, we would have to think toward the long term and because we don’t live out in the weather, we’ve unlearned how to think in accordance with its rhythms and its scope. Concerned with maintaining his position, the politician makes plans that rarely go beyond the next election, the administrator reigns over the next fiscal budgetary year, and news goes out on a daily and weekly basis, As for contemporary science, its born in journal articles that almost never go back more than ten years; even if work on the paleoclimate recapitulates tens of millennia, it goes back less than three decades itself.

12/04/11

Comment on Peter Thompson

Filed under: culture, philosophy, the political, spectacle — sdv @ 04:51:10 pm

Yesterday in the Guardian Peter Thompson asked ‘how Marxism came to be the dominant theoretical apparatus of socialist thinking from the late 19th century onwards’ and identifies the line of thought:“As arrogant and dogmatic as it sometimes sounds to our ears now, Marx’s USP was that his and Engels’ approach to understanding history was the first to be based on a truly scientific socioeconomic analysis. With a nod towards Darwin, Marx and Engels contended that their analysis of history was akin to a theory of evolution based on the concrete evidence of material facts. They argued that the theories of their rivals, the utopian communists and anarchists as well as the Hegelians and liberals, were based in idealist moral abstractions which dealt in notions of freedom, justice, fairness and equality in what they called the political superstructure of society, while theirs were based on an objective and scientific understanding of the real but largely invisible forces at work in the socioeconomic base.

Now in one sense he only says that this is what Marx and Engels said was distinctive about their approach. But the problem with describing their approach in these terms is that he is answering his own question, for he is explicitly suggesting that it is this aspect of Marxism which explains why it became the dominant thought and theoretical apparatus in socialist thought. I accept that Marx regarded his later theory’s central line of thought as being exactly what as described.

However note this is the same Marx who began his critique of political economy by defining it as “the final denial of humanity” and of course he was right. Those who are arguing for capitalism are defining themselves and everyone as slaves to political economy, as slaves of the market.

This Marx then would have supported his position from this strong moral and ethical core, because for Marx and Engels thinking is nothing if it is not moral. Often Marx refused the simple appeal to ‘notions of freedom, justice, fairness and equality’, but still he utilized these notions all the time.

It is unimaginable that Marxism could have the appeal it has without a convincing vision of a juster and non-exploitative society in which ‘the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’ which is at the heart of everything. In some sense we can imagine that the core of Marxisms appeal may have been due to the duality of the critique, the first part consisting of a moral and ethical critique of capitalism, with the associated vision of an alternative future and the second part consisting of a claim to base the diagnostic concepts in scientific research on the economic and the social. But its important to understand that without the moral and ethical critique Marx’s understanding of society could not convince anyone.

Having science as a toolbox on your side may be useful, but if science only shows us things that generate social and moral indifference then we would be right to ignore the (mis)understanding. What Marxism demonstrates is that capitalist societies are always in the final analysis unjust.

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