Shadowing Boxing in the Defense of Science?

“Science today is a hiding place for every kind of discontent, disbelief, gnawing worm, despectio sui, bad conscience—it is the unrest of the lack of ideals, the suffering from the lack of any great love, the discontent in the face of involuntary contentment.

Oh, what science does not conceal today! how much, at any rate, is it meant to conceal!

The proficiency of our finest scholars, their heedless industry, their heads smoking day and night, their very craftsmanship—how often the real meaning of all this lies in the desire to keep something hidden from oneself!

Science as a means of self-narcosis: do you have experience of that?”Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

 “The weak points in the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism that excludes history and its process, are at once evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions of its spokesmen, whenever they venture beyond the bounds of their own speciality.”- Karl Marx, Capital

“I wish people would stop defending science for a second, and actually start learning it.”-Me


Benjamin Bratton’s critique of TED has spoken to me as being in line with critiques of internet memes generators like “I Fucking Love Science” or the incredible persistent of a certain glipness in regards to harder problems of thought and values as seen in Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  Take Bratton’s example from his Guardin critique of TED:

Let me tell you a story. I was at a presentation that a friend, an astrophysicist, gave to a potential donor. I thought the presentation was lucid and compelling (and I’m a professor of visual arts here at UC San Diego so at the end of the day, I know really nothing about astrophysics). After the talk the sponsor said to him, “you know what, I’m gonna pass because I just don’t feel inspired …you should be more like Malcolm Gladwell.”

At this point I kind of lost it. Can you imagine?

Think about it: an actual scientist who produces actual knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights! This is beyond popularisation. This is taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not the solution to our most frightening problems – rather this is one of our most frightening problems.

So I ask the question: does TED epitomize a situation where if a scientist’s work (or an artist’s or philosopher’s or activist’s or whoever) is told that their work is not worthy of support, because the public doesn’t feel good listening to them?

Similarly the memes and pretty pictures of IFLS. This is not merely scientism.  It is a hollowing out of even that category.  Conversely, science denialism seems easier too, as the demarcation line of what science even could be is eroded by the various responses here.  Sciencia Salon has been doing a debate on scientism, and you will notice that this IFLS and Tedism are sub-scientism, as in so lowly they are not even of its various varieties.  But is this shallowing out a form of scientism?

In this way, the defense of science substitutes for an understanding of science: the old axiom of keep it simple, stupid becomes keep it simple {and} stupid. What is missed here is that this damage to the demarcation line of science actually makes the “enemies of science” more and more pernicious and the historical relationship and development of science more and more obscure.

Again, what Bratton says about TED can be true of this trend at large


In this case the placebo is worse than ineffective, it’s harmful. It’s diverts your interest, enthusiasm and outrage until it’s absorbed into this black hole of affectation.

Biological Incoherence: Or what people don’t mean when they talk about genetics


It seems to me that people are really weird on the way they view genetics-sometimes illicitly, and sometimes explicitly.   Across the ideological playing board,  you find all kinds of seeming impossibilities. You have people who seem to think morphology is the most obvious expression of genetic difference and thus considers like “race” (including such biologically heteroneous groups as “white,” “black,” and “hispanic” as if those were obviously natural categories beyond sets of morphological characteristics which happen to overlap, but gene variance remains wider within those particular groups than between of them because the traits tied to morphology are actually a specific but somewhat narrow range of traits) are somehow telling of all the most important things you need to know. You have people who seem to think that there is no genetic component to human behavior despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, asserting that everything essential about the human animal is socially or culturally constructed.  You have those so afraid of “racism” that they refuse to see that isolated populations would different genetic marker frequency.  (Yet, there is no reason to fear this because race itself seems to be a concept that breaks down almost immediately even from a genetic pov.) You have those who argue that culture is an effective check on pure natural selection and focuses solely on sexual selection, but then assert that culture itself essentially psychological. Then you have people who ignore that genes have environmental and even epigenetic triggers and thus even knowing the genetic variance exactly will not give you the exact genetic outcome.

Beyond the way people deal (or more specifically don’t deal) with this in the human, you have all kinds of all kinds of inconsistencies on this with the politics of the non-human:you have people who have no problems with say dog-breeding or even hybridization but freak out at GMOs for reasons of “tampering” with the natural. These too have implications for the human beyond mrely reacting to animal or food concerns.  For example, I actually do think there are valid reasons to worry about GMOs when you are dealing with patent law and trans-national business, but the idea that “natural” cannot be tampered with is a categorical misunderstanding of what natural is. Every time you pick a partner to have children with you are in effect asserting agency into the “natural.” You have an internal criterion for doing this. I think all this makes us uncomfortable because if its is entirely genetic, we have no responsibility for who we are, and if entirely socially constructed we have complete control, but if we have to deal with a complex feedback loop between the two we both have agency and limits–both having responsibility as individuals and as a social network and yet lacking the total ability to determine all our possible outcomes. 

You may say that heredeterians agree with me on the feedback loops, even race-realists.  Well, the error in “race-realism” is a little more tricky than it seems initially.  For example, despite many anthropologists who seem cagey on this point when battling “race realism,” they know that there are population genetics relevant to a lot of social traits.   What these critics that say that is correct is simple: gene variance and “race” do not map perfectly.  The definitions of race, even within the same culture, are often horribly inconsistent:  European-descended Mexicans are “Hispanic” but European-descended people from states are “white.” A race realist may say that this has to do with culture, this is made clear to quote in  a link sent to me to make sense of what race realists are actually claiming. J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen:

“The culture-only (0% genetic–100% environmental) and the hereditarian (50% genetic–50% environmental) models of the causes of mean Black–White differences in cognitive ability are compared and contrasted across 10 categories of evidence: the worldwide distribution of test scores, g factor of mental ability, heritability, brain size and cognitive ability, transracial adoption, racial admixture, regression, related life-history traits, human origins research, and hypothesized environmental variables. The new evidence reviewed here points to some genetic component in Black–White differences in mean IQ. The implication for public policy is that the discrimination model (i.e., Black–White differences in socially valued outcomes will be equal barring discrimination) must be tempered by a distributional model (i.e., Black–White outcomes reflect underlying group characteristics)

Aside from the easy naturalization of two categories, black and white, which are diverse in themselves, there is another problem here.   The view of culture is essentially biological.  Let’s look at one of the statements made by Rushton elsewhere, like “Islam is not just a cultural, but a genetic problem” what is he saying about the distinction?  He is saying that Islam is a product of the cultural mileau of West Asia and also contains within the values of West Asian biology.  Another example, Kevin MacDonald and others think that 10,000 explosion, as described by genetic anthropologists Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, assert the excution of most of the English peasantry and the fact that most modern “English” are descended from a chunk of the English lower gentry and pascified peasantry actually explains Anglo-respect for rule of law, which then ITSELF maintains cultural limits of genetic drift.  So the distinction between culture and biology breaks down in a feedback loop, but with biology actually dominating the entire mechanism.

So a view that appears to separate out culture as a force, perhaps even a material force, lays that materiality strictly in the realm of the biological.  Now, when people like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris call these assertions false, but then not only have a Darwinian theory of ideas–memes–and natural ethics (ignoring the is/ought distinction) emerging from biology, how are they being much different.   Yes, they realize the race realist mistake of over-emphasizing broad morphologial differences between humans as a larger illustrator of genetic difference then they are, but they are actually places all culture and all materiality into an abstracted formal mechanism that is either biology or analogous to biology, in the case of memes.

It sort of makes blanket claims of science denialism interesting because I know few people even in the public who actually seem to even bother trying to have a coherent view on genetics, biology, and materiality. Furthermore, imposition of bullshit like “memes” by the analogy is an attempt at a unified field theory that actually undoes itself by moving outside of material limits.   So the denial of “free will” becomes a denial of human agency and yet humans can spread symbolic viruses called “memes” and “memeplexes” without any explanation for the physical mechanism for this?  How is this coherent with the monist materialist metaphysics Dawkins and Harris assume.  Is this not the same kind of collapse on sees in Rushton.

Memes may also be used to explain symbolic distinction, or that is symbolic kinship (Marshall Sahlin) and symbolic violence (Peirre Bordieu), which I don’t see as effective since the analogy is vague and the mechanism is assumed to work on the individual level.   (Some implicit formal liberalism built into Dawkin’s and company social theory).   This is assumed to either universal, but then why does such symoblic competition increasebetween homogenous groups in some social situations and decreases in others. (For example, open expression of status competition between two countries that are both ethnically and biologically somewhat homogenous and have low rates of inequality, why is status competition really high amongst Koreans and low amongst the Swedish is social forms don’t matter.) What does this do to epigenetic material in the DNA or to environmental triggers?  Is the materiality and structure of culture limiting the biology or emerging from it?  In other words, can we even have a strong separation culture from genetics here?  Does that bring us back to the race realist position?  

No.  Symbolic kinship may work off an analogy to kinship, but it explains ethnicity, illusions of national similarity, and race as a (poor) proxy for genetic relations better than the race realist view.  (Which falls into all sorts of problems when trying to define race in purely biological categories while also trying to maintain the layman definition of “race.”  This is not unique to race realists either. All sorts of pure biological categories have such problems: species itself is hard to pin down. As there are species that can interbreed and yet that defies part of the definition of the category).

And yet, if everything is genetically determined or everything is socially determined, then don’t we lack a real explanatory mechanism for theses differences in the first place? Sahlins says in his book What Kinship is and Isn’t, “The specific quality of kinship, I argue, is ‘mutuality of being’: kinfolk are persons who participate intrinsically in each others’ existence; they are members of one another.”  Which explains then that ideological predisposition being a sorting mechanism, it is another way of view symbolic kinship. Yet it too has some kind of emergant material origins, “Kinship may be a universal possibility in nature, but by the same symbolic token as codified in language and custom, it is always a cultural particularity.” Yet symbolic violence and class still is contained within symbolic kinship, so this too has to be dealt with.

Even discussing such categories is often difficult.  To say that GMO complaints are all based in science denial is untrue, but to say that most of the complaints are do not contain strong elements of misunderstanding is also untrue. It is also true that this is not a matter of “both are wrong” as if all sides were equally wrong.  This gets even more complicated scaling up.  I has been said to me that even granting validity to these categories at all makes me dangerously close to a “race realist.”  Yet, it seems clear to me that we cannot reduce this to a simple matter of  reduced mechanisms.  The race realist has one of two problems, either reducing all materiality to biology or confusing morphology with phenotype.   Yet as I am trying to illustrate they are hardly alone in this incoherence, which is not a defense of them so much as a condemnation of incoherence in dealing with genetics in specific, biology more broadly, and materiality in general.  The tendency to want this take this down to a binary is itself the problematic.  The conceptions we have of this are perhaps part of the incoherence.

The Machine

I have said that this is inevitable, but may truly be the end of capitalism as we have understood it. Why? In Marxist theory, machinery and technology can increase the exploitation of worker by reducing socially necessary labor time. Okay? Fine. But machines, whiles cheaper, operate at cost and if the production of abundance removes most of the economy, this means that there is almost no circulation of currency. While capital owners can essentially just sell to other owners, the price drop without state intervention will cause these automations to undermine the economy that build them. In many ways, that is irrelevant to robots, but also means that these ways in increase labor exploitation actually accelerate not only innovation and efficiency, but the declining rates of profits as everything gets cheaper to produce but fewer can buy.

I am not predicting this will be a “final crisis of capitalism.”  Capitalism in its historical forms has changed by crisis… indeed, as both Marxist and Austrian economists have pointed out “Creative destruction” (crisis) is its lifeblood.  However, this DOES fundamentally change the economic logic of capital in ways that people do not really understand (and marginal theories of value have no way of accounting for).

In a group I am in, this came out, if “technology produces value” without being clearly delineated (wealth, use-value, and abstract value are not the same categories in Marxian or classical economics).  What is worrying in all this is the teleos of this technology: much of it is developed in either a military or a cost-cutting context, and its form will effect its function.  Furthermore, we have no idea what this will do the economy but it is clear that more and more individuals will be rendered surplus from work.  The advantages of first world workers will largely end, and even the service industry will be largely reduced.

In this primitivists and accelerationists–like deep green and bright green thinkers before them–will battle this out, but I think we must admit that future of instrumental reason is beyond us.  Instrumental reason has divorced itself from its service and will function on its own terms, changing the nature of labor relations.

The is a profound instability in this moment.  Much more profound than the “slight” restructuring of the last three decades.  My technocratic optimism moves to mirror transition from Bordiga to Camatte.  That said, I think the primitivist dream still posits a way out through reverse engineering as a form of negation:  I doubt this is more than a projection.   I have said many times why. 

The Brain of Society: Notes on Bordiga, Organic Centralism, and the Limitations of the Party Form



Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bordiga?
One of the most obscure figures of Italian socialism, although he had a greater influence in Italy and France, was Amadeo Bordiga. Of the first three leaders of the PCI – the other two being Antonio Gramsci and Palmiro Togliatti – Bordiga has had neither the academic reputation nor the prison years of Gramsci, nor the relationship with the USSR of Togliatti. Nor did Bordiga fly the banner of either democracy or cultural hegemony, during the Fascist years, when many of the National Syndicalists, kicked out by the Partito Socialista Italiano, flocked to Benito Mussolini. To the end of World War 2, Bordiga remained a critic of both fascism and democracy. These, however, are mere facts about history: why do I find Bordiga to be particularly important?

His influence and trajectory are often obscured by later figures, that are interested in him, but who adopt other elements of his ideas. Gilles Dauvé’s“reconciling” of him with both Dutch/German councilists and French situationists, has led to many debates within a particular “left communist” community around communisation and real subsumption. These debates and their theoretical developments have largely been the subject of the journalEndnotes. Other versions of Bordiga portray him as an obstinate ultra-leftist, who even Trotskyists would not deal with, despite the fact that, unlike all other currents and tendencies of “ultra-leftists”, Bordiga (and later, his Partito Comunista Internazionalista) remained a “Leninist” as he conceived it. This “PCI”, or often called the International Communist Party, to avoid confusion, has left us with two tendencies: Internationalist Communist Tendency and theInternational Communist Current whose sizes are anyone’s guess, but they largely are seen as “atavistic sects.”

I flock around two key insights of Bordiga as well as one dangerous insight of his “disciple” Jacques Camatte. Bordiga’s first insight, and it does relate to the second, is that cities are inherently unstable, even if efficient, as a structure of society, and it would be more useful if the distinction between urban and rural life is collapsed. I use the term ‘flock’ specifically since I am unsure if the implications of these positions are ultimately palatable or even possible. That said, the collapsing here is just bringing much of the efficiency of the city into the countryside, which has happened to agricultural production in capital hubs with significant industry, but not to the structure of rural life in general. Furthermore, this is also to make the city less-parasitic on the production around it, since cities, even if massively more efficient, still cannot produce their own food and whatnot, and the infrastructure to support urban efficiency is energy and resource-intensive, for a set of structures so condensed. Unlike medievalists, conservatives, and some Maoist-influenced thinkers (like Pol Pot), this does not mean a return to pastoralism and peasant communalism. Nor, like primitivists such as John Zerzan, Derrick Jensen, and the Black Mountains project, does this mean going back to some nomadic hunter-gatherer tribal form. Bordiga comments that history, as such, may not always “Progress” in the teleological sense, but one can’t go back to earlier points in history without a species-wide lobotomy: the amassed wealth, capital, and knowledge exists in the material world at that point. Thus, Bordiga implies that one should have a critique of the telos in technology: it was developed in its social context, for a specific purpose, and while parts of that development may be repurposed, some of its uses and structures must be abolished, otherwise the telos will remain. In this, Bordiga definitely split with even Lenin’s assumptions about industrialization and electrification along Taylorist lines. Camatte’s dangerous idea is that capital has subsumed community and altered the relationship to the biological world in a fundamental way, as he states inCapital and Community:

“Autonomization ends up by eternalizing social relations. Capital wishes to present itself as a natural fact having existed for all eternity and which has simply continued to improve down the centuries to reach its present perfect form. Hence the reification of social relations expresses, as we have seen, itself in the trinity formula which appears as a justification for the existence of classes. At a more developed stage, capital mediates all relations between men and negates classes. This also is included in its definition of self-valorizing value, it becomes the master of all use-values along with the “expropriation of all individuals of their means of production”. Negating class, that is, dissolving the proletariat in the middle classes, masks the fundamental antagonism. All men are slaves of capital. This slavery is expressed in an hierarchical oidering of men’s functions regarding capital. Capital fixes them into given social situations so as best to assure the reproduction of its value in process. That is the present form in which the social division of labour now appears.” (Ch. 5)

It is not only that capital is altering human relations and making a structural imposition on individuals, not allowing them to realize that their political-economic condition is temporal and historical in its development. It attempts to subsume and also eternalize that relationship, but instead of using prior ideological notions like religion as a means for reification of value, it is the naturalization of these relationship and modes that makes history obscure in material ways, beyond the religious. (An implication Camatte does not consider is that this very secularization actually allows many religious ideas to persist, but decontextualized). This not a break from either Bordiga’s or Marx’s views, but a “radicalization” of them. However, since these views can lead to seeing all society as both vertically and horizontally altered by capital – the means of changing the means of production seems nigh impossible, and thus a paralysis of action can set in: not just as reforming action, or revolutionary action, but even anti-political action seems impossible. Camatte’s own example ends with a call to move into countryside to shield children from capital’s domestication.

You will notice that whilst both Camatte and Bordiga see alienation as altering any relationship to an organic world and an organic organization, both eschew talk of totally-unalienated nature – at least Camatte does until his later period. (Camatte himself – along with Adorno and Horkimer’s Dialectic of the Enlightenment[/i ]– would be major influences of primitivist thinkers like Zerzan). This concern with the organic as a metaphor, and for integration of technological and natural/rural and urban spheres, marks Bordiga and Bordigists out from other Leninists, and this notion of the organic also makes Bordiga more akin to Lenin, if not “Leninists.”

Capital: The Community that Isn’t?
Marx and Engel’s noted in the manifesto something that even conservatives Daniel Bell and John Grey also note: capitalism is corrosive to semi-feudal notions of community and community-integration, for both good and ill. This is in the manifesto, explicitly. Furthermore, whilst liberals and even some socialists focused on “natural equality” – Marx noted in the Gothakritik that biological differences are not removed by notions of equal rights:

“But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only — for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labor, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal.

But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly — only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

The removal of community has led other structures to stand in its place, and through impositions of class, via abstract labor and exploitation, limit access in ways which “artificially” limit capacity: in other words, class matters even to your ability to fully-manifest your intelligence and skills, and to have the ability to find out what these are. Only in this sense, and in this sense alone, does Marx care about “equality.” Indeed, from reading this, it becomes clear that Marx thinks equality is often a mask for impossible contradictions (in a form of reification, that is also a form of bad faith).

As Bordiga understood this key Marxist point, and realized that the altering of community by capitalist production changes social being, this meant that democratic forms are institutionally problematic. This mirrors Kautsky and Lenin’s conception of “trade union consciousness”, but goes significantly beyond that. In this, Bordiga thought that the goal was for the party to mediate this transition – again, in line with both Kautsky and Lenin’s conception of a vanguard party. In the absence, and even the impossibility, of an organic community – things like “community organizing” or “cultural hegemony” can only be descriptors. All attempts of organic community on anything beyond a micro-scale are based on mystification: be it the imagined communities of nations or the lingering communities of the religious.

Furthermore, in the absence of community, politics becomes formal and administrative. Legitimacy is a formality of elections, which ensure the existence of legitimacy. That this is circular is beyond the point: this becomes an axiomatic assumption. Bordiga had very different conceptions of what this meant, from Camatte’s seeming despair. Indeed, he still saw answers in making Lenin’s “democratic centralism” more “organic” and less “democratic.” In fact, Bordiga saw in Marx’s conception of winning the battle “for democracy,” as mentioned in the Manifesto, as winning the battle against the democratic-form as necessarily incomplete.

The Organic Principle: Enter the [i]Lyon Theses
Here is the second point of interest from Bordiga, and it is related to the above developments beyond Lenin. This understanding was crucial to the Lyon Theses where the idea of ‘organic centralism’ was first laid out:

“The communist parties must achieve an organic centralism which, whilst including maximum possible consultation with the base, ensures a spontaneous elimination of any grouping which aims to differentiate itself. This cannot be achieved with, as Lenin put it, the formal and mechanical prescriptions of a hierarchy, but through correct revolutionary politics.”

“The repression of fractionism isn’t a fundamental aspect of the evolution of the party, though preventing it is.”

Thus, he is opposing the banning of factions and the closing of ranks within the Comintern, in which he had been a member. Both as had been done by Lenin, satisfied under the aegis of necessary in the Russian civil war and after, and as has been made theoretical doctrine within the party. Bordiga does not criticize Lenin for this, but for the theoretical justification of maintaining these relations. In fact, Bordiga has an almost evolutionary view within the party–even if he maintained a revolutionary view outside of it–that the fractionalism within the party itself helped the party progress by the opposition of ideas, and could only be suppressed in moments of dire need.

However, he did not oppose Lenin’s centralization nor did he think making party functions more democratic was actually an answer. The factions were not to oppose each other in electoral battles, but more the way opposed managers function within a capitalist firm, or theoretical sciences oppose each other in university. While in the Comintern he had stood up to Stalin on these grounds, demanding that all the parties represent their factions equally as long as the debate was within the Comintern. Still, this was not rooted in the same conceptions of humanism as were many of the other early oppositions, both in Russia and outside of it. It is important to know that Bordiga’s background was in the sciences, and it is likely that this was informing his views. When he met and worked with Gramsci early on, Bordiga worked in the sciences and Gramsci worked in the culture and literary section. (For more context on his life, read this article).

An article at Marx’s Razor, which is highly sympathetic to Bordiga, goes into some of the non-democratic implications of Bordiga’s thought:

“Most democratoids will insist that communism is the pinnacle of democracy, that communism must be a democratic society. They see no other form as being compatible with communism than democracy, for, according to them, communism is the mass interests of all the people, and so is democracy. But do they forget when Engels explained “Democracy is, as I take all forms of government to be, a contradiction in itself, an untruth, nothing but hypocrisy (theology, as we Germans call it), at the bottom. Political liberty is sham-liberty, the worst possible slavery; the appearance of liberty, and therefore the reality of servitude. Political equality is the same; therefore democracy, as well as every other form of government, must ultimately break to pieces: hypocrisy cannot subsist, the contradiction hidden in it must come out; we must have either a regular slavery — that is, an undisguised despotism, or real liberty, and real equality — that is, Communism.”? Democracy is the rule of the people (or at least the majority), and therefore, democracy implies power and authority, which necessitates subversion and means politics, when in fact, Communism does away with political power; it does not decentralize it (as the anarchists would lead us to believe) nor does it put it into the hands of the mythical “people.” This was emphasized by Lenin in State and Revolution when he had commented that there would be no democracy under communism as “freed from capitalist slavery, from the untold horrors, savagery, absurdities, and infamies of capitalist exploitation, people will gradually become accustomed to observing the elementary rules of social intercourse that have been known for centuries and repeated for thousands of years in all copy-book maxims.” When confronted with this, the detractors reply that what they had really meant was not democracy, but “democratic decision making.” There are multiple problem with this, one of which Dauve had so easily shown in his work, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Autonomy which outlines the list of the points of direct democracy, showing how each one is ultimately a failure and/or unnecessary. In his own words, Dauve’s critique of democracy in communism is that “in any case such freedom can’t be guaranteed by the democratic principle,” as this democratic form does not give necessarily assure that “libertarian principles” be followed, but rather a statistical list of beliefs (ideally at least, in practice democracy cannot even do that!). However, the critique of democratic planning in communism has to go deeper. Democratic decision making assumes that we are all autonomous individuals and all have separate interests (and whilst separate class interests are real, communism has done away with classes, and there exists only the “human interest”) when in fact, things such as a biological drive for the individual to preserve the self (which has been used to defend autonomism) is really just a biological drive to preserve the species. What is necessary for one person will of course vary for a different person, but usually people will need the same thing, their opinion and wants is determined by their social condition, their needs, their interests, which are all roughly the same in communism. Democratic decision making presupposes that these people, who all have roughly the same interest as they will be similar in both biology and in social condition, will somehow disagree on their interest – which runs contrary to Communist Theory. Communist Theory therefore spends no time worrying about democratic decision making, as the result will be the same, and democratic decision making is based on the view we all have wildly different interests, even though this is only true in class society; in fact, it is a justification for Class Society. Communism is organic, and it wastes no time on democracy, instead it develops organs most suited to dealing with problems. Then what form, these democratoids wonder, will communism take? Well, with machinery that is already built by the capitalists, this modern technology would help plan and figure out what is needed and wanted, and the amount of labor that would be necessary to go about doing this. The amount of work an individual does could be decided amongst them and the community, or some other fashion, and when work may affect a community, then a group of randomly selected experts could go and “negotiate” with these affected peoples – now, where is the democracy in that? Communism does not mean the workers control production, communism simply means production is done for use of the whole of human society, and is not produced for value. Communism is the abolition of money, wage-labor, the commodity and it is the unification of humanity that realizes they have one true common interests; communism is not decentralized democratic management of the economy.”

In other words, the centralization within the party is organic, according to Bordiga and most Bordigists: it is a metaphorical-literalization of Kautsky’s vanguard party. The party as the “mind” of the proletariat. Democracy is seen as a statistical illusion, granting legitimacy merely by a show of hands of a captive population to elect its leaders. It is not a general will, and even fails to protect the very liberties that it was justified under. Think of the Patriot Act in the US, or many other laws, to which the barrier of prior laws and constitutions much be summoned a-democratically, to protect the majority from the representatives’ actions, often quite legitimately in-line with the popular opinion of the enfranchised population. One can see parts of Bordiga’s point.

Yet the Lyon Theses lay out this in clear language:

“One negative effect of so-called bolshevisation has been the replacing of conscious and thoroughgoing political elaboration inside the party, corresponding to significant progress towards a really compact centralism, with superficial and noisy agitation for mechanical formulas of unity for unity’s sake, and discipline for discipline’s sake.

This method causes damage to both the party and the proletariat in that it holds back the realisation of the “true” communist party. Once applied to several sections of the International it becomes itself a serious indication of latent opportunism. At the moment, there doesn’t appear to be any international left opposition within the Comintern, but if the unfavourable factors we have mentioned worsen, the formation of such an opposition will be at the same time both a revolutionary necessity and a spontaneous reflex to the situation.”

Is this really as libertarian as it would seem? Jacques Camatte’s French translation and archival of some of Bordiga’s dialogues and speeches spell out something much more developed and implied in the Lyon Theses. In theDialogue avec Staline, Bordiga develops his vision of socialism and communism as well as its relationship to “organic centralism”:

The following schema can serve as a re-capitulation of our difficult subject…:

Transition stage: the proletariat has conquered power and must withdraw legal protection from the non-proletarian classes, precisely because it cannot ‘abolish’ them in one go. This means that the proletarian state controls an economy of which a part, a decreasing part it is true, knows commercial distribution and even forms of private disposition of the product and the means of production (whether these be concentrated or scattered). Economy not yet socialist, a transitional economy.

Lower stage of communism: or, if you want, socialism. Society has already come to dispose of the products in general and allocates them to its members by means of a plan for ‘rationing’. Exchange and money have ceased to perform this function. It cannot be conceded to Stalin that simple exchange without money although still in accordance with the law of value could be a perspective for arriving at communism: on the contrary that would mean a sort of relapse into the barter system. The allocation of products starts rather from the centre and takes place without any equivalent in exchange. Example: when a malaria epidemic breaks out, quinine is distributed free in the area concerned, but in the proportion of a single tube per inhabitant.

In this stage, apart from the obligation to work continuing, the recording of the labour time supplied and the certificate attesting this are necessary, i.e. the famous labour voucher so much discussed for a hundred years. The voucher cannot be accumulated and any attempt to do so will involve the loss of a given amount of labour without restitution of any equivalent. The law of value is buried (Engels: society no longer attributes a ‘value’ to products).

Higher stage of communism which can also without hesitation be called full socialism. The productivity of labour has become such that neither constraint nor rationing are any longer necessary (except for pathological cases) as a means of avoiding the waste of products and human energy. Freedom for all to take for consumption. Example: the pharmacies distribute quinine freely and without restriction.

This vision of socialism and communism is largely technocratic. Furthermore, the party is to be the brain of the organic organization of the communist society. The party does not “fade away” into higher states of communism, something for which there is no implication Marx’s writing. In this, Bordiga is in line with the Third International trend, to see the party as symbolic of the class, as well as the provider of education for the proletariat.

The party remains central for Bordiga. Amadeo Bordiga in Structure économique et sociale de la Russie d’aujourd’hui:

“When the international class war has been won and when states have died out, the party, which is born with the proletarian class and its doctrine, will not die out. In this distant time perhaps it will no longer be called a party, but it will live as the single organ, the ‘brain’ of a society freed from class forces.”

This is discussed clearly in an essay by Adam Buick’s on Bordigism, which is also a good source for many Bordigist texts translated into French but not into English, where Buick translates the French. If the brain of society is freed from class forces, how then is it not going to become a class? Not because of meritocracy or differing abilities… these things happen, and Marx clearly knew that. No, this would have to be a structure with some class components, since it would be a formalized, if organic, structure. The fact Bordiga does not seem to see this as a problem is interesting, considering that, unlike most Marxists, he saw the maintaining of strong rural/urban distinctions as a creator of class-differences (after all, is this not why proletariat and peasants are not the same?).

The Spectre of the Party Form
The party form is a spectre of what it was in the turn of the 19th century. Whilst political parties seem to dominate the bulk of discourse, their function is to provide an aesthetic, and a means for funding of candidates. The majority of the functions of the capitalist state have now gone to cabinet positions within the executive branch, and being appointed based on a mixture of political loyalty and competence, it is hard to see how this not a intermediate form to the organic technocrats within the party. Furthermore, Bordiga’s ‘brain’ sounds closer to visions by people like Technocracy, Inc., which came into being at roughly the same time, although in an entirely different context from the US, without any Marxist undertone, and with an entirely different understanding of the function of currency.

The hollowing out of the party-form is not new. Furthermore, even non-electoral parties seem to understand what the purpose of their form is: they tend to function in a tiny context, as a funnel for the particularly those advanced in alienation, and to attempt to “raise consciousness.” This is clearly a degeneration from the Kautsky vanguard party with its educational purpose, but in the context of the end of the Cold War, this is not particularly hard to imagine.

Furthermore, communalism itself seems like a non-starter. Particularly as Bordiga is right about the complete subsumption of the communal-form in everyday life, in a capitalist structure. A organic communalism just seems to recall primitive or peasant forms of social organization.

Could the party-form be useful in the transitional period, like in most traditional Marxisms, or have material conditions shifted too much for this to be case?

The Mammal or the Octopus
Furthermore, could this organic centralism be envisioned in a cybernetic or rhizomatic way, inter-linked and functioning without one central leadership? Could Bordiga’s critique of democratic forms still apply to this kind of functioning? What would be the organizational principle? What would be the mechanism for scientific-elite to show their innate talents according to Bordiga? Would it be a respect for factual consensus (as opposed to political consensus)? Would it be some form of testing regime?

If these functions are spread out in a multi-nodal manner, does that avoid some of the problems? Obviously, the left communists’ and communisation theorists’ attraction to Bordiga indicates that others see something key in his conceptions, without his notion of an eternal, central party brain. Still, it has led people like Adam Buick to conclude that Bordiga’s end goals were not quite socialism:

“Bordiga does not seem to have realised the extent to which restricting decision-making to a minority within society, even to an elite of well-meaning social and scientific experts, conflicted with his definition of socialism as the abolition of property. For property, as Bordiga well realised, is a social fact, not a legal state; it exists when control over the use of some thing is de facto in the hands of some individual or some group to the exclusion of all other individuals and groups. Clearly, this situation would still apply in Bordiga’s socialism, with the elite central administration as the owners (de facto controllers) of all the means of production, since the power to decide how to use them would be exclusively theirs.”

However, as Buick notes, Gilles Dauvé, Camatte, and even the ICT/ICC largely ignored the technocratic elements of his positions, and also tended to downplay the centralist elements in organic centralism for the party. I do not agree that this is not socialism per se – it does seek to fundamentally change the relationships of value and production – but does not deal with all the problematic elements that could linger from a capitalist organization, if such a party would be allowed to maintain itself beyond such a transition. Bordiga’s own insight did not propel him beyond all the contradictions of his day, nor could we have honestly expected it to.

An Open Letter to the Nation about their Insipid, cliched misreading of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Dear The Nation blog:

I realize that you are not to be out done by the fact the American Conservative is sometimes more “progressive than your editorials on the police” and that you have generally run off all your Marxists to which you magazine was founded to be a dialogue  between about even ten years.   I also realize that you have taken the success of the click-bait model of Salon to heart.    What is interesting that is while you are always lecturing radicals, Marxists, and even further left-than-you-liberals about the not letting the “perfect being the enemy of the good,” the moment someone mentions that the framing of police violence in class terms, you start talking about absolute preconditions.  Furthermore, you somehow get a Marxist to do it for you?

Forgive me if I think a white liberal (or in this case, Marxist or Trotskyist), nomatter his or her anti-racist credentials, lecturing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the realities of racial violence, particularly in the police, is kind of funny in the way that this must either be ironic or just out-and-out bad faith in the magazines’s part.  David Zirin, I have no doubt, actually believes what he says.  In fact, David Zirin is a Trotskyist in the Tony Cliff-inspired tradition, even if he is functionung as a liberal in this instance. Zirin’s sincerity is not part of my claim, but to get to my claim, you need to see Zarin’s claim:

Michael Brown was shot dead by the police because he is black. If he was white, no matter how poor, he almost certainly wouldn’t have died. If that is not your starting point, then you are lost without a compass. Yes, Ferguson is in so many ways a “class issue”. But Ferguson and the death of Michael Brown is about racism. If we don’t acknowledge the centrality of racism both in this case and in how racism is used to divide people, then the unity of the 50 million poor people that Kareem wants to see will forever be a pipe dream.

I would say Zirin didn’t actually seem read Abdul-Jabbar’s piece at time because frankly he is not arguing with what Jabbar said:

[Un]less we want the Ferguson atrocity to also be swallowed and become nothing more than an intestinal irritant to history, we have to address the situation not just as another act of systemic racism, but as what else it is: class warfare.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)

Then we’ll start debating whether or not the police in America are themselves an endangered minority who are also discriminated against based on their color—blue. (Yes, they are. There are many factors to consider before condemning police, including political pressures, inadequate training, and arcane policies.) Then we’ll question whether blacks are more often shot because they more often commit crimes. (In fact, studies show that blacks are targeted more often in some cities, like New York City. It’s difficult to get a bigger national picture because studies are woefully inadequate. The Department of Justice study shows that in the U.S. between 2003 and 2009, among arrest-related deaths there’s very little difference among blacks, whites, or Latinos. However, the study doesn’t tell us how many were unarmed.)

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor.

If you read that, you will clearly see that NO WHERE does Abdul-Jabbar deny the claim that Michael Brown is a target because he was black.  Abdul-Jabber clearly thinks systemic racism is involved, he just doesn’t think that claim is enough to explain the situation nor does he think this will stop with black men.  Clearly, Zirin, has ignored that this is and what has slowly begun happening to white poor and under-privileged, but at NO WHERE near the rate it has been happening to black men.  That is the kicker, the black community is the vanguard for how an entire class will be oppressed as it is rendered surplus.  Racial discrimination and generational poverty from a three centuries of oppressing and hyper-exploiting black labor has increasingly started to see black labor systemically be rendered surplus–no longer exploitable, the apparatus around the state sees no need not to crack down.  We have seen this historically happen already: the rendering surplus of the surviving indigenous peoples of the US, although it was done in a much more quiet manner than now.   Increasing unemployment in that community makes them open to this and used as surplus.   Make no doubts about it, but you and I both know that it is not going to stop there.   The SWAT team is increasingly used even in suburban and mostly white police distractions with often fatal results there too. The black community has faced this since the Detroit riots and are still the locus of its intensity, but do not kid yourself Nation blog, it is not going to stop there.   If anything Occupy should have shown you that it won’t. 

What Abdul-Jabbar is saying is clear:  if this is framed as a “race narrative,” the larger media apparatus has a way of defusing that and defanging that narrative.  Furthermore, the competing of identities actually provides cover for the cops to move into the larger war on the poor.   Zirin says,

“The point of all of this is to say that fighting racism, sexism and anti-LGBT bigotry is not a distraction from building a united struggle but a precondition for building a united struggle.”

Yes, sure, but the larger struggle has to deal with the realities of the media narrative to which you, Nation Magazine, are profoundly complicit.  Zirin prior puts all the liberal whistle words and ideas: woman’s right to choose, civil rights, the wall street looters.   Now I have no problem with feminist concerns or civil rights–although wall street looters is a distraction from the larger nature of capitalism–putting all this in an article about the police systemic use of violence is frankly confused. It includes such a checklist for solidarity while calling for solidarity:

Kareem wants to see solidarity. It starts with solidarity with the people in the streets of Ferguson. It starts by arguing explicitly with white workers that their sympathies should lie with the people of Ferguson and not the politicians or the police. With one voice, we need to say that the real looters are on Wall Street, and without justice there can never be peace.

Zirin is right, these things must be dealt with and not ignored, but this makes it sound like this is all it is a matter of attitudes. Attitudes can be dropped as a precondition, but struggle must be dealt with in the realm of the material world. Such a precondition is predicated is problem vision and one that can we can see in action:  individual attitudes of workers will get a mixed-race Black President or a reactionary tea party using code-talk, but attitudes to do not change the material conditions of an increasingly impoverished black community nor does it change the reality of working class having more and more of members rendered surplus with only some sign of recovering but at much lower levels than 2007.  Abdul-Jabbar is right: the racial narrative abstracted in an increasingly segregated community of the working class won’t work. Something has to bring those people into contact first, and then the materiality of racial conditions may open people’s eyes.   The funny thing about US segregation now–it has been predicated on self-enforcement from both communities, and trying to keep what little bit of the black middle class that exists down by systematically treating it as if it were a class or class faction lower than it is.  Nothing new about that:  the black family in the white neighborhood almost always is actually earning more money than that’s family’s white neighbors. 

But just repeating inter-sectionality narratives without dealing with the material conditions that led to that situation is basically magical thinking: far from Abdul-Jabbar being the naive one, the assumptions of Zirin seem to think this is all about ideas. It’s not.  The police will be the police either way.    He is a Marxist–he probably knows better but also much write for his audience, which at the Nation is overwhelmingly liberal.

And let’s not be romantic in our appeals to the civil rights movement: if that move had been able to complete its work–to finish its social revolution–would Michael Brown be dead?  If history is the judge of ideas and tactics, what does that say? Is a Marxist using such rhetoric missing something, Nation Magazine?  Think on that hard.

I have no reason to doubt Zirin’s sincerity, Nation magazine, but I have every reason to doubt yours.

Reaching Beyond: An Interview with Jeffery VanderMeer

Interview conducted by C. Derick Varn, Steven Michelkow, and Marcel Inhoff. Originally published here.

Jeffrey VanderMeer is an American writer, editor, teacher, and publisher. He is is a three-time winner, thirteen-time finalist for the World Fantasy Award, has won the BSFA Award, and has been a finalist for the Hugo Award. He is best known for his contributions to the New Weird as both a writer and editor, and his stories about the city of Ambergris, in books like City of Saints and Madmen. He is also the author of the 2014 series called The Southern Reach Trilogy, which has recently attained some critical acclaim.  He has lectured at MIT and the Library of Congress and helps run the Shared Worlds teen SF/Fantasy writing camp out of Wofford College. He often works with his wife Ann on editing projects, such as the Weird anthology, which is referenced throughout this interview.

I have read more than one reviewer compare your recent Southern Reach to J.G.Ballard’s work. How much influence do you feel 1970s New Wave science fiction writers had on your work in general?

Any time you write something that seems a dystopia involving desolation and nature, then you’re going to get a comparison to 1970s environmental fiction, and in part that’ll lead to the New Wave. Mostly, I studied Ballard for the way he achieves certain effects: compressing or expanding time and space in your mind as you read, for example. That said, I am influenced by the New Wave because they were interested in experimentation in subject matter and in form. They had a rigorous intellectual quality to their work, and they didn’t engage in escapism. All of that is worth taking in as a writer, and enticing to me as a reader. When you think of the commodification of SF/Fantasy, you then think about the last great movement that rejected all of that, and that’s the New Wave. That said, I push back against some of the jaded cynicism and pessimism of some New Wave fiction, because it can be as corrosive to writing something unique or interesting as being too optimistic.

When I read the anthology you edited with Ann entitled The Weird, I noticed that many of the fin-de-siècle and early 20th writers that you see as having a relationship to “Weird” fiction are also writers seem to also have a strong influence on New Wave Science Fiction writers? What literary trends in the early 20th century do you see as influencing both “genres?”

I’m not sure I do. The sub-categorization of category SF/F is so absolute that very little that can influence gets through in established genre imprints. When it does it’s in genres like space opera, which can be delivery systems for very strange things and interesting mutations. Otherwise, it’s less literary trend than individual writers being influenced. Nothing like the nexus or hub that was New Wave fiction.

What do make of the theory that “New Wave Science Fiction” reflected the legitimization of Science Fiction as a literary genre? It has been noted that classic science fiction was often written by people we less of a literary background and more education in the sciences. Do you think this is overstated?

Some like Ballard got uplifted out of SF entirely due to the New Wave, so I don’t think it’s overstated. Iconic writers came out of that movement or moment and they were probably the most compromising of writers associated with a modern literary movement in SF/F.

You included several writers who were explicitly identified as “New Wave” science fiction writers in the The Weird anthology such as Octavia Butler and M. John Harrison. Do you see weird fiction coming form similar social and aesthetic pressures as “New Wave” science fiction?

The first “wave” of New Weird, definitely. It couldn’t help but be given that New Wave authors were embedded in New Weird. It was a strange kind of multi-generational thing with the main reason for a term accreting other than New Wave Part 2 the fact that the newer authors also had their own other concerns that didn’t match up quite the same way. For my part, I was reading a lot of French and English Decadent writers and getting into Alfred Kubin’s The Other Side, along with writers like Angela Carter, who had made Surrealism more linear, and Vladimir Nabokov who was very formal about his approach to structure. The Decadent thing is important because it was one wellspring for M. John Harrison’s Viriconium., but a lot of writers who wound up near New Weird also came there from the Decadents first, and Harrison second. The main thing is that New Weird was an attempt on the one hand to reclaim epic fantasy from Tolkien with Peake as the new literary godfather and on the other hand an attempt to revive the New Wave ideal of taking literary influence from both the mainstream and genre, while not being afraid to be experimental at times. I sometimes think that the conduit or intermediary for this was the work of Clive Barker in the short story form and on the film side David Cronenberg. Of course, as with most things this is a reconstruction, a fiction, that is from my point of view only. New Weird is the monster we were all ordered to describe after being led into a dark room, blindfolded, and then given five minutes to interrogate before being led away again. Some of us never even got to shake its hand.

Looking back on it, New Wave science fiction was very openly political. Do you consider the current crop of weird writers to have political underpinnings? If so, how are they similar or different to the New Wave politics?

There’s a certain stylized element of the Decadent underpinnings of New Weird that exerts a pressure to apply the political as window-dressing, if you want to generalize. Because of elements like absurdity and exaggeration, which don’t give a shit about the openly political if they can get somewhere in service of a Greater Joke, if that makes sense. So they might be political along the path to that, but this kind of impulse so totally distrusts ideologies and institutions. The default setting is: the individual must navigate a maze of institutional b.s. and ideological viruses to get to solitary solutions and decisions that at least allow the individual to try to subvert what amounts to a hegemony. So, just speaking for me, the political comes out most overtly through environmental issues, and everything else is absurdism, even as I believe very strongly in individual imaginations and that there is good in people. I don’t think Marxism or Communism are any better than Capitalism—these are all fundamentalist religions based on rigid ideas of what human beings are and can be, even if Capitalism seems kinder at times. Is that position different from New Wave politics? I’d argue that with the exception of a handful, the main movers-and-shakers in New Wave, the core, were in the United Kingdom, and so they had a very specific stance based on opposition to or agreement with the folks in power over there. But also a strong pro-feminist stance, if I recall correctly. Certainly, Moorcock did and does. I don’t know if this answers your question. I can say I don’t think writers have to have political underpinnings. To some extent everything is politics, yes, but when we say that we’re really saying “don’t be lazy in your writing,” which applies to many things.

Do you see academia have an influence on the development of genre? You and many younger genre writers teach literature or, at least, MFA at universities. Does this change new writers? Is there a certain “work-shopped” style to new writers that reflects larger trends? Does the economic situation of the current publishing environment play a role in any of this?

I don’t teach literature. I do teach writing workshops, usually along with my wife. I think the biggest trend we’ve seen, and this relates to your prior question, in the slushpile reading for anthologies and elsewhere, is a tendency to want to apply newly acquired 101 thoughts about racism and diversity in ways that are clunky and obvious. The other is a simple inversion: white people bad, non-white people good. While this means someone is thinking about representation, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything in terms of the quality of the story, and you could argue in some cases comes down to fetishizing the Other. Simple binaries are simple binaries. People are more complex than that. I imagine since we’re only about six to ten years into a cycle with so many more international and non-white writers entering the field that this is a natural consequence of adjustment. It is a transitional period, with all that implies.

In terms of a work-shopped style, we really don’t believe in workshops as an ongoing thing. We believe taking one or two is of help to students in general at the beginning of their careers. But we really find bizarre the idea of perpetually going from workshop to workshop rather than eventually taking the training wheels off—although obviously some writers find it works for them. I think the danger mostly comes from staying in workshops too long. As for the economic situation, most people have no real idea of what that is. Traditional publishers aren’t going away, and the self-published e-book option allows for the possibility of revenue that way, too. I don’t think it’s any worse being a writer now than 10 years ago. In fact, it’s probably better than when my first books came out. What is true is that core genre has gotten more commercial, even in the way the covers look now.

Why do you think New Wave science fiction writers were so popular with theorists of post-modernity? Is there a criticism of Modernist literature baked into New Wave science fiction, or do you think this is more of an advertising gimmick?

It’s quite simple: There’s a fair amount of postmodern technique baked into New Wave science fiction. So there’s “stuff” you can pull out and look at, or at least postmodern theorists can look at New Wave fiction and see something the outlines of which they think they recognize. But you do have to understand: I come by my literary theory from the point of view of a fiction writer, and in a kind of amateur-study way. I didn’t study it in college really. So I’m not really the person to ask.

What are the current trends in Science fiction that excite you which see as genuinely new, or, at least, specific to the contemporary writing?

If “CliFi” or “Eco-Fabulism,” both terms I’m not fond of for reasons I can’t put a finger on, become ever more popular without becoming too commodified, we may see environmental SF as interesting or more interesting than what was being produced in the 1960s and 1970s. And by interesting, I mean the philosophical underpinnings aren’t the usual, traditional thing. I do think that in the laboratory of fiction we can begin to imagine a relationship to our natural world and with our fellow animals that isn’t covered by the existing paradigm. And it’s partially fueled by the answer to a single question: What benefit do human beings bring to the biosphere? Since the answer is “no benefit at all” right now, that’s a starting point for interesting fiction at least. Given reduction of carbon emissions is just patching a bankrupt philosophy, we need to find other ways of being on this planet, and we’re not going to find them in Google glass and our other pathetic and bizarrely primitive and destructive tech.

Out of all the rules, suggestions, and guidelines for aspiring imaginative fiction writers you lay out in Wonderbook, what is the one you break most often when creating your own fiction?

Sadly, I have been known to consult Wonderbook while working on a story or novel…I really can’t say, because I don’t know which Wonderbook you’re talking about—the one that subverts its own advice with disruption dragons or the one that is composed of guest essays or the main text or the diagrams. It’s a great question, but one that would take a lot more brain cells to answer than I have access to right now.

On Bad Faith and melancholia: amor fati and mauvaise foi

“We can understand the emotion that if one looks for a meaning. The emotion is a disruption, it is driving, driving under the worst possible deal with a stressful situation, it is somehow not adapted mismatch. The crisis of tears of the candidate (or candidate) harassed by a relentless examiner is welcome to end an unsustainable situation, we do not talk of U.S. GDP or the death of Louis XVI to somebody one which is collapsed on the table, shaken by sobs. It remains the examiner executioner to store questions and get his Kleenex. Unless too, unable to handle the situation, no one pulls a tantrum! And when the stakes are even worse when, for example’I see coming toward me a wild beast, my legs give way under me, my heart beats more slowly, I faded, I fall, I faint.´”-Jean-Paul Sartre



One of the things that “left” melancholia reminds me of is Christian or Jewish Gnostic melancholia, and both seem to be rooted in an abstracted form of “depression.” To say this is sort of obvious, but this melancholia is not the same as “depression.” To say this is a secularized form of social and apocalyptic angst would be a cliched, yet melancholia often stems from looking at the “totality of production” seeing how it is produced and becoming overwhelmed by its seeming completeness. Add to that some depression, and the entire world can become something one is against.

Yet, this “I know what I am against, but I am for nothing” is not mere nihilism. It is an abnegation of aesthetic value. It is the removal of qualia. Furthermore, it can lead to a particularly severe type of bad faith. I realize that Sartre has fallen out of favor, and for many particularly smart reasons, but his conceptions of bad faith help me understand what is going on.

In absence of realizing that one has freedom to enact what one is, and then in lacking knowing what one is for, one enacts a set of moralities to appease the emotional lack of autonomy.  One adopts the set of values prearranged, often without realizing it.  The secular world remains its religious traces even after it has abandoned the religious epistemology and metaphysics that made such a view appear to be coherent.  This often gets naturalized, and while some of the sentiments are “evolutionary”–many seem much more rooted in a particular milieu.

Our radical freedom is not the freedom to be beyond ourselves: our self conditioned by our biological world, our class structure, our labor, our environment.   We are a host of things we control and don’t control, existing within a complex of modes of production and social relationships, and still limited by natural incidents of our birth.  As Marx’s noted in Gothakritik, we are not all created equal in our physical being, so such talk is merely formal–if not outright dishonest.  The freedom is the freedom to choose and change our relationships and modes of production:  we are changed by our labor and environment, we are even produced by it, but we have the radical freedom to change that.

This means that melancholia can lead to particular forms of bad faith–not just nihilism as is often presumed.  In this, a dose of Nietzsche and a dash of Althusser is actually helpful more than Sartre, we must self-overcome as is interpolated upon us.   It is not that we are dealing with an unmediated being–there is no human individual without the contrast of the social body which both defines the individual and can prompt the individual to take agency against. In other words, we have freedom to figure out what can be in the limits of what we are.  Instead of imposing identities and outside moral codes upon us to as if we could be something beyond what we are.

This does means, however, being aware of the sources on one’s identity and working to separate that from ideological commitments, goals, pleasures–i.e. values.  This means striving to belong to a community that shares many of those goals, and praising what is good.   In pure negativity, it is actually easy for tactic assumptions of the culture to impose things on us, and for that we must take individual responsibility.

More notes on “leftism” and the depressive:

Today, in response to this my post on the article, in a group, I got this response:

(Name retracted) “Depression has plagued me many times in my life. Not the idle depression that is confused with sadness, not the manic depression of bipolar in which one’s neuro-chemistry plays a particularly cruel joke of the alternating between no color and entirely too much. No, the clarity of negativity–the negation that enables to me see without too much cynicism–if I am honest, comes from being functionally depressive. In that way, I am the cliche of both the poet and the leftist–different in being driven my analytic thinking but the same in that my emotional understanding comes out of the chairoscuro I am describing. I have been told I have a gift for mapping pain, and also wanting to aid in ending pain. This gift is the one upside to lacking enough sarotin or whatever mild brain dysfunction has meant that I feel emotions differently. Sometimes in a such a way that “I” don’t see the “me” in my own life.”

and I stopped right there.

(Me)  Why is that?

(Name Retracted) me me me me me my life is so interesting and uniqueism. Couldn’t even stick around to see an argument unfold it was too gross. like i have this special kind of mild depression im so different.

I didn’t respond to this well–it was in a “Leftist” forum where people may have wanted to engage on the bottom part, and the part about depression was both focused in on and missed.   The mixture resentiment and daftness that I see among of graduate students on the “Left” often amazes me.  I do not know the background of my interlocutor, but most are upper middle class.  The point of the paragraph that was mocked was in contrast the next paragraph said individual found “too gross” to read:

Yet, the reason why I couldn’t work on my primer today is not “my depression.” As many things in neurochemistry mixed with people of the same class, environment, and emotional resonances, my family–both immediate and not–tends to be depressive.   My intelligence helps me out in this and the fact that I have been lucky.  I have traveled the world: I have a support group, comrades, my partner, my poetry.   While I can’t go into specifics and I won’t name him, one of my brothers has suffered from a much more acute form of depression.  He is currently in a coma.  I do not live anywhere near my family–not even in the same country, and I have tried to understand my own emotions as to where he is at and how he got there.

The focus on me is intellectual. My depression is not mild or special, and my life does not feel interesting to myself. Objectively, however, I know this is wrong. Objectively, I know that I have had a privileged life, but the gray haze that has nearly led my brother to a cold hospital bed in our home town, my brother did not have that.  I can barely make myself get up some mornings when things are good–it’s not special, it’s not unique. I don’t feel special or unique either. It makes me able to see some things clearly, but it takes the color away and the motivation away, and all that left is banal motions.   Objectively, I know this is ungrateful.  I have to overcompensate and talk about me.  It’s too gross.

I have dealt with ultra-leftists, maoists, primitivists, and whatnot for years.   Many of the ultra-leftists, to be frank, have some kind disconnection. Some kind of keen alienation beyond what most people have; even if that alienation is the life-choice of being a graduate student in history.  Self-proclaimed leftists tend to abstract, and while that does not automatically remove decency in most, in some it is an excuse put making personal points ahead of reading what is being said or being fair.  That is not true of all ultra-leftists. It fact it is not true of most, but when it is true, it is often glaringly so.

So no, I am not special.  I am trying to what could be a crushing and crippling condition into something useful for myself and for others.  I realize I have the resources to do that.  For reasons of economics, shit luck, and health, my brother has not of those options.  He has ended up somewhere particularly hellish.  It would take a lack the moral compass to not at some level realize the difference that means and will mean–even if I don’t feel anything special about any of that at all.  IF a self-appointed defender of the proletariat finds that too “gross” to deal with–so gross that they can’t write in fully formed sentences–that’s a lot about where all this concern about subsumption has taken them.  Despite all the edge and the venom, it ends in politics that mean as much as “Liking” a statement “against depression” on a facebook wall.

It is unhealthy to dwell in this.  Little has grown from that branch of history and history is its manifest judge.