|Pit Schultz on Wed, 27 Nov 96 03:29 MET|
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|nettime: The Davis-Stahlman-Dialogue|
[In this e-mail dialogue Erik Davis, an independent writer in Francisco, who also contributed to Wired Magazine replies to Mark Stahlman, New York who wrote several pieces for Information World and worked on Wall Street, how jut finished his Big Picture of 'The English Ideology' behind Net-Pravda) The thread goes along the main lines of ecology movement vs ecofascism, the viability of pattern recognition vs conspiracy theory, or simply with which kind of assembled subjectivity we could enjoy the puzzle stadium without crashing against the millenial time-wall. read fast. -p] Date: Sat, 23 Nov 1996 13:03:04 -0800 To:Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) <firstname.lastname@example.org From:email@example.com (Erik Davis) Subject:Throw dirt in their face! Mark (and hopefully other nettimers) I am constitutionally allergic to conspiracies on the scale you propose, but I am not responding to the entirity of your Wells-to-Wired scenario, whose basic punch I quite enjoy. Rather it is this little bit of goofiness you tacked on about the environment. To wit, > >The further problem is that a fundamental religious basis for this >totalitarianism is already emblazed in our skulls -- the insane notion that >the Earth is being threatened by humanity. Not only is there no science >behind fear of eco-disaster (its a religion, remember) but by placing >Nature at the pinnacle of creation and by being willing to sacrifice human >progress at Nature's altar, we are sealing our fate. > Now, one problem with conspiratorial thinking is that it tends to reduce complex, multi-leveled phenomena to singular stages of some sort of abstract plan, and here is a rosey example. We must look a bit more deeply at this "insane notion," and first make a series of differentiations about ecological camps: Popular eco-"religion," which motivates its activism on nonscientific "sacred" values it finds in wilderness, old-growth forests, endandered critters (Deadheads, tree lovers); Hardass eco-terrorist monkey wrenchers, driven by a horror of industrial civilization and a cranky disregard for the rules of property law; Intellectual versions of these two camps, who philosophically critique the axioms of modernity and technoscience in terms of a wide variety of ecological positions (Naess, Zimmerman, late Heidegger, etc), many of which condemn both the reduction of the material environment to a "value-free" standing reserve of raw materials and the hubristic image and consciousness, knocked into shape during the Renaissance, of "man as master"; Scientists and ecologists who compile loads and loads of stats and studies, some of whom are activist and some of whom are simply interested in maintaining the health of the standing reserve; Institutional forces -- states, mining companies, journalists, developers, bureacracies, dumb pop stars -- who use environemntal rhetoric for the own power-seeking ends (we can put Gore in this camp if you like). There are many other differentiations one could make; the point is that to attribute all positions taken on behalf of the environment as coming from one camp is not only wrong -- it is boring. Now, for the "insane" notion. Only the most histrionic Gaians are claiming that the Earth itself is threatened. The earth is a big molten rock with stuff growing on it; if total thermonuclear war broke out tomorrow, the Earth would keep on spinning and gurgling, and would keep spewing our growing things until Sol goes down. What is threatened are various aspects of the biosphere *as we know it*, a biosphere whose value we judge (both quantifiably and qualitatively) from an irreducibly human perspective. Desertification across the globe is real; the reduction of fish populations are real; the ozone hole is real; the depletion of water tables and the increasing scarcity of fresh water is real; the reduction of biodiversity (which allows for a more resilient and open-ended set of living things whose genetic differences allow for a more robust response to unforeseen blights; note potato famine here) is real; major species die-offs are real (frogs are going down as hard as tigers); the existence of estrogen-mimicking toxins and the global reduction in sperm counts and fertility is real (though their connection is debatable). In order to claim that any of these (and many more) are not confirmable by the evidentiary rules of science (with the arguable exception of the biodiversity theory and the link between estrogen-mimicking chemicals and fertility), is to be a conspiracy theorist -- i.e., all of the groups, public and private, that cough up the stats are in league to lie to us. It is precisely the kind of anti-science stance that presumably you would reject, given your somewhat curious call for a return to "Renaissance inventors of modern science" (why Renaissance and not Reformation, I wonder; are you a closet Hermeticist?). If you sincerely believe that the stuff you can read on the Web and in Nature is bunk, well, enjoy the intellectual solitude visited upon conspiracy thinkers. If you are assuming that science will *solve* all these problems -- well, that is another argument (a Kevin Kellyish one), one that is admissible though also borders on the miraculous, a new kind of divine intervention. This is not to deny the enormous potential dangers in any sort of mass movement based on the "intrinsic" value of nature, quantifiable or religious. The spectre of Nazi nature rhetoric and examples like the French Greens suggest that your vision of an Eco-Fascist state, which would derive its totalitarian powers in the name of protecting what They define as the Earth, is not an unalloyed fantasy. However, the multinational world "state" that is shaping up is certainly not giving us many signs of genuflecting before the idol of the earth Goddess. Let's take GATT, and look at a few of the first cases of "unfair restraint of trade" that other countries have brought against the United States in whatever they call the world trade court. One was a South American oil consortium mad at US regulations regarding the ability to clean up oil spills; another was Mexican tuna fisherman, peeved at regulations regarding the use of dophin-munching drift nets; a third was Mercedes Benz, who really wanted to sell Americans a dandy auto that sank below our minimum gas efficiency standards. All won. Environmental regulations, for all the idiocy they court, are one of the ways that our cherished nation-states keep themselves coherent in the face of the short-sighted lowest-common-denominator practices that drive the global exploitation of natural goods. The question of a religion of ecology, and its own anthropology, is a fascinating one, but in order for us to have that conversation you would have to more upfront about your *religious* opposition to the notion of an immanent power like Gaia. What is more germane to the nettime list is how your refusal to acknowledge the corrosion of certain basic dimensions of the biosphere that humans have come to rely on (for resources and perhaps for meaning) shuts off access to one of the handful of movements of any strength today that is potentially positioned to help withstand the global juggernaut. Having been nettiming for a while now, it seems to me that one of our basic challenges is to create bulwarks against the intense velocity and insidious heedlessness of the global trends of privatization, dismantling of the nation-state, virtual slavery, false utopias, etc. It seems that these bulwarks may be made of very different, even contradictory materials: modernist rejoinders to postmodernism, a tenacious clining to the nation state and certain socialized institutions, an intense focus on local communities (which always have an environmental element), a resurrection of class consciousness, a deflation of virtual mythologies and especially the mythology of the "free market", refusal to simply reproduce sociobiological paradigms of anthropology (a resistence that could be waged on both artistic and spiritual fronts), etc. And environmentalism has a lot of dirt to throw in their faces. Think of the looming spectre of hardcore biotechnology, which fits in cozily with both multinational "innovation" and ironic postmodern celebrations of the "constructed," deconstructed, and mutant nature of reality. A rigorously "whole systems" ecologist would recognize that we have no idea of the long-term effects of introducing engineered DNA into an incredibly interactive biosphere (here invoke the emergence of all sorts of once-conquered flus in new, antibiotics-resistant strains); that the reductionism that drives molecular engineering can be not only incredibly short-sighted, but scientifically suspect (here invoke non-genetic developmental causes, and the ruinous social health consequences of genetic neodeterminsim). Rewriting and commodifying creation on the genetic level will conjure moral and ethical dilemmas that will dwarf our already hamstrung attempts to weave technoscientific developments into a humane world, wreaking havoc, for one example, on the subsistence farming that a huge chunk of humans still rely on (insert reference to neem tree in India, here). In short, to deny that ecological consciousness could be a useful wedge against our contemporary "business-as-unusual" is myopic. To claim that anyone who puts forward such "insane" suggestions has no science behind them is false. And to claim that ecologists seeking to expand the rhetoric of values to include the physical matrix of the nonhuman biosphere are just shills and patsies for the Brain Lords? That, my friend, is simply ludicrous. Date: Sun, 24 Nov 1996 06:44:43 -0800 (PST) To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Erik Davis) From: Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) <email@example.com Eric (and other nettimers): It's good to hear from you and I hope that your life has been productive since we met in Budapest. Thanks for responding to my recent posts -- but I confess that I'm not quite sure what you are refering to in much of the "dirt" piece. In particular, what conspiracy are you refering to? Perhaps you could clarify. The world is filled with conspiracies (every business, government agency and, probably, human association qualifies) and it's also filled with "conspiracy theories." While I, like you, have a serious distaste for these mostly anti-theoretical "theories", we all have to live with the actual conspiracies which animate those who project their own paranoia onto the world. The movement for a New Dark Age has, in fact, been called a conspiracy by some of its principle sponsors. From Wells' "Open Conspiracy" to Ferguson's "Aquarian Conspiracy" some of the major actors in this drama have correctly characterized their own activity this way. Was this what you were refering to? On the issue of the environment, I don't recall "reducing" any complex phenomena. As you may recall, my schooling was in biology (evolutionary genetics to be precise) as well as theology and I participated in some of the earliest efforts to study "ecology." I'm reasonably familiar with both the science and the politics of the subject -- neither of which I was speaking about in the fragment of a reply to another nettime post which you mention. I was speaking from a theological and political standpoint not a scientific one. The fact that the earth's ecology is changing is clear. I don't remember arguing this point. It is supposed to change. Are you sure that you are refering to me in your accusation of denial regarding your cataloging of eco-threats? What I was speaking about is the way that eco-disaster is constantly invoked (usually by people without any familiarity with the sciences) as the ultimate motive and the ultimate political statement. It takes the form of "Given the looming eco-disaster, we need to . . ." This is religious not scientific talk. And, it's a false religion which, if followed to its conclusion, will surely pronounce doom on the human population by ending scientific research, stopping efforts to grow populations and economies and bestializing the remaining human population. Humanity has a unique capability -- consciousness. This capability doesn't make us just more "complex" or more "computationally rich" than other phenomena. We are fundamentally different. We are of a different order than the rest of Nature. That difference is what gives us the responsibility to progressively alter both ourselves and the rest of Nature. All philosophical notions which argue the opposite, from General Systems Theory to "Great Chain of Being", seek to lump humanity into the great cosmic soup as just another chunk of stew. It is these philosophies and their theological correlate that I'm concerned with. It is these humans-are-just-beast/machines worldviews which provide the foundation for the utopians that we are now fighting. I completely endorse and would actively support "ecological consciousness" -- if, indeed, it is based on a recognition of the role of human consciousness. The recognition that human consciousness has a deep responsibility towards Nature (which by our very nature as conscious humans we must progressively alter) is one that we need to all embrace. This notion is probably better captured by "conservation" than the zero (actually negative) economic growth theology which dominates the Green movement, however. Show me an ecologist (or activist) who understands the basic need for overall population and economic growth and I'll be happy to make them my ally. Show me the one who says, "Oh, but we can't grow that because eco-disaster looms" and I know that we are in trouble. Growth does not equal looting. But, unfortunately, that equivalence is rampant.