Technophobia & Socialism

M A Jones jones118 at
Fri Jun 16 02:26:36 MDT 2000

John Edmundson wrote:
> Unfortunately, statements like:
> "But the possibility of controlling GM simply does
> not exist, anywhere...No-one can control it. It's out of control"
> sound suspiciously like apocalypticism to me. I'm not a geneticist
> but I've yet to see any evidence that genetically modified organisms
> have a greater propensity to mutate into Frankenstein monsters
> than naturally mutated organisms.

My point was that GM technology is out of *social* control because attempts
to control it or shut it down, as in NZ, are doomed to failure. I'm not
so certain that no harm is done by releasing GMO's into the wild as you: too
early to say, don't you think? But that was not my point, which in my haste
I evidently not express adequately, because John didn't take it. The result
is that he has not answered my first question, which is how do you assert
control over processes when the very possibility of control no longer
exists? For example, if parliaments cannot control science, and nor can the
very agencies which embody/promote them, research corps and institutes, then
who will exert control and how? I think part of your answer is that,
actually there is no problem, because GM is safe, beneficial etc. Not many
people believe that, and with good reason. Look how our attitude to science
has changed! If, fifty years ago men like Huxley or Bernal or Einsetin wrote
popular accounts of important events (eg splitting the atom) in order to
explain them to the masses, nobody assumed automatically that they had a
private agenda, or that in any case their word about the 'safety' etc of the
processes was not to be trusted *just because they were scientists*. On the
contrary, they were garbed in authority and people simply took their word
for it; if they said it was so, it WAS so. Today nobody believes that
scientists, especially in fields like genetic engineering, really understand
the possible long term implications of their work and the reassurances they
give out are less than worthless, are seen simply as self-serving corporate
spin. And I think people are right to doubt. But where does this leave the
formation of science policy and the control of future research programmes?
In whose hands? This is one kind of problem you face; the other is that this
distrust for your work is now so deep and general that a wide gulf has
appeared between the practitioners of science and technology and the alleged
beneficiaries; leading to a breakdown in popular consensus and a real fear
and even hatred of science and, beyond that, of the very idea of progress.
This is what has reopened the doors to some very nasty obscurantist
undercurrents and Edmundson is right to remind of these, but he also does
not know how to deal with the problem other than by issuing blanket
reassurances about the saftey of GM which satisfy nobody and are frankly
almost incredible.

Most disappointing, Edmundson is indeed 'future-blind' because he has simply
failed to take account of my principle point, which is that in a very real
sense, capitalist science and technology has failed. It has created a
completely unsustainable energetics-base which is nevertheless the
foundation of everyday life for 2 billion humans living in urban societies
and a precondition for life and the vain hope of improvement for 4 billion
others who often are still living off biomass in traditional sustainable
cultures, which however are no longer sustainable because of the
effects of population growth. The collapse of the North is thereofore
just as menacing to the peripheral world as it is to the
industrialised populations themselves.

But my point was that the whole capitalist energetics-base is
now disintegrating, and the effects will be and already are catastrophic.
This radical conclusion is one people find hard to accept at any level
and incredulous denial that such a thing can be anything more than
wild scaremongering, is a common response. Simple denial is
another, plus vapid assurances that the backroom boys will produce
enough technical fixes (cold fusion? perpetual motion machines?)
just in time to save the day. But they won't. The disintegration of the
world-system energetics base is both a physical reality and one
which can be understood in value-terms. It blocks accumulation,
produces a new cycle of inflationary stagnation and profound
turbulence in world markets, and prepares the ground for new
forms of mass ideological mobilisation, for new wars, and
for attempts in particular by EuroAmerica to establish military
control of the remaining reserves. This is the scenario we need to
understand and deal with.

So it is not a question of blaming enviornmentalists and Greens
because they are constantly knitting yogurt, building lean-to's
and collecting crystals, while exporting low-tech sustainability
to the peripheries; it's a question of preparing for life in the
capitalist metropoles in the future low-energy world which is badly
polluted, ecologically very stressed and sufferring from severe climate
change.  We should be discussing the fate of the American suburbs in the
next decades. And we shall have to find ways of constituting society again
from the ground up; it's a little different from the scenario which the
Bolsheviks faced, which was to 'catch up and overtake America' (they easily
managed to do that and are now enjoying the American future). And
more than that, it's a question of preparing for enormous public
and civil battles which the crisis is bound to produce as the system
wobbles from one state to another. Of all the possible future-worlds,
one that is missing is 'Business-as-usual'. THAT is the one impossible
scenario; not to understand that is to be future-blind.


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