[Marxism] On The Idea of Communism conference

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Mar 19 09:48:53 MDT 2009


Ben Ben wrote:
> Comrades may be interested in this synopsis / link to blogs. In addition, a number of the talks are now on YouTube:
> 
> http://www.cinestatic.com/infinitethought/2009/03/on-idea-of-communism-birkbeck-13-15.asp
> 

Speaking of Trotsky and eugenics, here's Zizek's remarks to this conference:

By contrast, Žižek’s focus, like that of Negri and Michael Hardt, was 
very much on how current (apocalyptic) conditions – ecological 
catastrophe, the crisis of private property brought about by 
digitization, the impact on human identity of neuroscience and genetic 
engineering – may lead to new possibilities. Žižek is ready to affirm 
the emancipatory potentials brought by science-fictional capital’s 
liquidation of territories and identities. If what most of the 
conference speakers still wanted to call ‘communism’ is to be achieved, 
it will require nothing less than the construction of a new type of 
human being.

full: http://www.frieze.com/comment/article/a_return_to_communism/

I only wish that my old friend Mark Jones was still alive to be able to 
prepare a proper response to this. Here's what he thought about genetic 
engineering:

Do androids dream of anything?

By Mark Jones

A genetic engineer has created a mouse with ears that glow in the
dark, by splicing firefly genes into mouse DNA. More practically,
transgenic pigs that freeze to death if left in the open because the
human genes they've got don't let them accumulate fat, already make
our bacon. Coming soon: bespoke pig heart transplants in case the
fat-free pig didn't help us avoid coronaries. I have been reading up
on genes and transgenic science, and how the media handle it all.

The stories and images arrive by stealth in our unconscious from
inside the labs where evolution is being undone. They ought to make
your hair stand on end (when the journal Nature broke the story of
Dolly the cloned sheep -- 'More important than Darwin, Einstein and
Copernicus together!' -- its graphic designers airbrushed one leg
black, to make the thing look more cuddly. They forgot a cloned sheep
whose 'parent' has four white legs can itself only have four white legs).

These images of biotech at work are mostly like that: not stark
tekno, but homely flesh-tones: a bowl of rice, an ear of wheat,
cheerful rodents made literally anthropomorphic, like the mouse with
a human ear growing on its back. Oh, cute!

These images condition us to accept something more terrible than
anything Himmler, Pol Pot or Mengele did. None of them managed to rob
their victims of their humanity. We can feel pity and terror for the
hollow-eyed, numbered prisoners of Tuol Sleng, but a mouse with
luminous ears? You cannot pity the loss of something that was never
there in the first place. This not a living thing, it is quasi-alive,
it is just an agglomeration of high-spec cells which happens to move
around and stare vacantly. Now, just as the first slaves were
modelled on the first domesticated animals (hunter-gatherers do not
enslave) so the first not-human humans, or bits of humans, will be
modelled on the mice with the ears. Headless humans grown from our
own nail parings for our own transplants. Androids like in Dick's
60's classic, the basis of Blade Runner.

They have no rights _by design_. That's different from just *saying*
to someone: 'You have no rights,' as the Nazis did.

Sometimes they will just be bits of protein-computer embedded in
domestic appliances but sometimes they will be just like us. Then
Scientology will rule the world, because how will we imagine
ourselves, distinguish ourselves from the Wogs, except as
trillion-year old Thetans inhabiting living corpses, as
Scientologists think they are (everyone else is a 'Wog', in L. Ron
Hubbard-speak. Andrei Kiriyenko, the new Russian prime
minister-designate with the robotic voice, is said to be a
Scientologist, so his was an inspired choice of Yeltsin's, now all
Russians are Wogs).

The Nazis were a colourful, queer flop. Denying the humanity of
victims ludicrously achieved nothing except a lurid posterity and
fashions for patent knee boots and black jodhpurs. You could not
actually efface a Jew's humanity (of course, people can get used to
anything: During WW2, a popular brand of soap in Polish shops was
labelled 'RJF', meaning 'Pure Jewish Fat').

On the contrary; the camps affirmed the value of life. E P Thompson
said the Prussian goose-step always made him think of a boot
descending on a face. The face becomes our own kin, the boot makes
the victim the centre of our world. If only they'd figured a way to
make Jewish ears flash like diodes in the night.

All a mouse wants is the right to BE a mouse. You can kill it in a
trap but at least you know it was a mouse. With ears that glow in the
dark, this is not-mouse, nothing more, an aberration, a pathological
joke at nature's and our expense.

The joke won't stop there. It started long ago, during the LAST
global warming when the seas rose, the ice melted and the present
interglacial began. Tides flooded the land bridges, the permafrost
turned to impassable sludge and made our free- roaming ancestors into
miserable, arthritic swamp-dwellers who had to cultivate grain and
domesticate animals to survive (check out Jared Diamond's 'Guns,
Germs, and Steel'). That was when the comedy started.

Peter Dickens in his 1992 book 'Society And Nature: Towards A Green
Social Theory', describes the moral universe of the Yanomani, with
its spirit-world that is coterminous with the tribe, with its rites
and shamans, its two-hour working day, its playfulness.

Anyone who has consulted the literature on shamanism sees the same
themes everywhere where humans lived immersed within nature, not
trying to domesticate it and themselves. The hunter apologises to the
animal he kills, propitiates the anger of its departing soul,
promising it will return stronger and more beautiful next time
around. The shaman dresses in the animal's skin, becomes it and
forgives the tribe. The webs that connect all living things are
rendered whole and seamless. The anger of the ancestors is
propitiated and the spirits of each tree, river, rock, of the night
stars and the seasons, greeted.

Once you start to domesticate animals the process of desacralising
nature is set in motion, and the only thing that might stop it is to
abandon settled, surplus-gathering culture and revert to hunting and
gathering. So the fate of our world was decided with the first woman
(it was certainly a woman) to plant the first row of seeds in one
furrow, and the first man who turned a wolf into a dog and a boar into a 
pig.

The prophanisation of nature has obviously now been consummated and
Nature capital N, as Bill McKibben says, has been abolished and will
never come back, except in our guilty dreams. This gives me the
ultimate answer to Euroecentric notions about science. As Joseph
Needham points out in 'Moulds of Understanding', Christianity was
always more primtive than its rivals: Islam, Taoism, Buddhism --
because these world-religions were humanist at the core, and were
about reconnecting the human with the world, and resacralising Nature
(a particularly strong theme in Islam and in Indian religions).

Not so Christianity, which never rose out of its primitive origins in
superstition and magic (or perhaps its Judaic nomothetic basis
clashed so violently with the pantheistic paganism of the northern
tribes that the result was a bastard, pastiche religion, a barbaric
pageant incapable of any gnostic self-transcendence: shamanism
without nature (does not the Bishop were a skin?), God without Reason.

The Christian act of faith in the Resurrection is not required of the
Muslim. This bit of obscurantism (resurrection from death) creates a
schism between the material world and its Creator. Functionally, the
policing of such beliefs also explained the rigid orthodocy and
murderous intolerance of the early medieval latin church; this
monotheism created a monolithic European culture quite unlike the
thriving communities of the Arabo-Persian world, where Jews, Muslims
and Christians lived cheerfully side by said (along with
Zoroastrians, and even Confucianists).

When Bacon imported Chinese and Islamic science, one of two things
became historically inevitable: either the Church would destroy
science, which after Copernicus' heliocentrism was confirmed by
Galileo, became an obvious enemy to orthodoxy; or a mutually-agreed
divorce between church and science would happen. Both processes were
evident, but we know which won out. And the church's divorce from
science was not so hard to effect, really: that obscurantism at the
heart of latin christianity concealed what soon became the well-known
materialism of Counter-Reformation theology: since God created the
world, it must exist, be material, and obey the physical laws God
imbued in it. This quite dubious speculation soon assumed a dogmatic,
positivist certainty which underlay science until Einstein. No other
historic culture shared it.

Alternative Christianities were possible but they always lacked the
totalising zeal of the Latins even when they had the wealth and power
to assert themselves. Thus the millions of Nestorians in their
communities strung out along the Silk Roads from Damascus to Beijing
were the wealthiest Christians in the world. Their bishops advised
Genghis-khan and converted most of his family, but they never pressed
home their advantage and when the Mongols chose a state religion it
was Islam. The Nestorians shared the Muslims easy-going humanism -
they did not believe in the Holy Trinity, without which of course,
the notion of a Risen Christ becomes both impossible and unnecessary.

The moral, philosophical and theological caesurae in the latin church
explain why (according to Needham) science was possible in the
Christian west but not in China or Islam, which were incapable of
prophanising Nature. The Chinese remained prescientific but in
Europe, descralising Nature allowed the sciences to be launched in
their Baconian, faustian form. The reduction of human nature too, was
just a matter of time.

Nothing is really new. Victor Hugo wrote a famous novel about the
child-procurers for medieval kings, men who understood which glands
to cut and organs to remove in order to create different functional
dwarves (for service at table, sexual service, espionage), or eunuchs
(tall, gangly, intellectual mandarins, wrathful soldiers: the Chinese
navy had fleets whose entire complements from admiral to rating, were
castrates); eunuchs had no family ambitions, were greedy on the
king's behalf etc.

Nevertheless, despite all the anticipations and prefigurings history
offers -- barbarism, mutilation, the denial of fellowship, the
effacing of the humanity of the weak and the poor by the powerful and
rich, I think it is clear that we stand on the threshold of something
qualitatively new. It is not just that our senses have become so
brutalised that the image of a mouse with a human ear growing on its
back or with luminous ears, only makes us laugh, just as Germans once
laughed at Jews, no, it's worse. With great eagerness to explore what
lies behind it, we have forced open the door of hell and rushed inside.

It is not just inevitable, it is presumably already happening,
somewhere, in some terrible place: the creation of beings devoid of
purpose, sense of self or destiny, wich, unlike mice, may be
conscious of all that (this is torture worse than domesticated
animals feel, because at least a never suspects it's anything else
whatever it's circumstances). Hard to imagine the despair an entity
might experience if its only consciousness of self is that it has none.

How will we interface with this highly productive, profitable,
beneficial, useful, desirable world of black biology and terminal
moral squalor which is already upon us? How will we save ourselves
from being unselved by it?

Food shortage, disease, eco-collapse, and social disintegration will
conjoin with the mindless egotism of wealthy transplant and brain
enhancement clients, and while the planet cooks the talk will all be
of downloading ourselves (BT, the British comms provider, actually
has an R&D unit called 'SoulCapture'). Converging in the general
onrush will be systems that interconnect protein-based computers
which have all, some or none of the attributes of their remote
(human) DNA-ancestors, with systems, anthropoid or other, conscious
or not, connecting DNA to electro-mechanical and nano-scale hardware,
to semi-liveware, to the faustian/Mary Shelley dreamworld. The greed
of the North, the cataclysms of the South, and the need to save
something, somehow, will fuel the whole lurching thing, and none of
us will think it matters, any more than it mattered when someone made
a pink mouse with luminous ears.




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