Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) on Tue, 13 May 1997 19:43:27 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Nature (Yin) vs. Nurture (Yang), Again


We have been treated to a gushing, enthusiatic outpouring of the English
Ideology lately -- right here on nettime.  It takes many forms, of course. 
It's hallmark is the deeply believed but utterly false dichotomy.  And,
there are plenty of these.  Nature (genetics) vs. Nurture (upbringing). 
Reproduction vs. Sex.  Society vs. Freedom.  Oppression vs. Liberation (one
of my favorites).  Capitalism vs. "human rights" (Soros).  Authority vs.
autonomy (T.A.Z. anyone?).  Right vs. Left.  Pick your side.  Put on your
armor.  Head into battle.  But, what are you fighting for (and against)? 
How will you know when you've won (or lost)?

Let me re-summarize.  The English Ideology is that frame of reference which
we commonly associate with the philosophical movement known as the
Enlightenment.  It began in full force in the 17th century with Hobbes,
then it fleshed itself out with it's Romantic evil-twin in the 18th
century, started to achieve political success with the "Kulturkampf" of the
19th century and has dominated the world stage since at least the early
20th century.  Both modernism (social science and scientific socialism) and
post-modernism (synthetic religion and psychological warfare) are it's
children.  It subsumes Liberal and Conservative, Left and Right.  It's goal
is the deification of men and the establishment of a techno-utopian
oligarchist empire. And, as humans, it is our enemy.

What is the method of the English Ideology?  How is it to be identified? 
The simplest way to identify it is to notice the purported relationship
between faith and reason in someone's standpoint.  The Enlightenment
separated them. The Enlightenment introduced deep, philosophical duality
intended to separate power from morality.  The constant theme of the
Enlightenment and it's progeny is that *all* humans can know through reason
is imperfections.  Approximations.  Not morality.

Therefore, *no* religion -- which is about absolutes, not approximations --
can be rational.  God's existence cannot really be "proved" -- which at
least for appearances sake didn't stop many from trying.  Metaphysics is,
therefore, occult.  Hidden from reason.  Try faith if you want to -- in
fact, for reasons of "stability" and "sanity" it might even be needed --
but don't ever confuse faith with reason.  Faith is personal.  Faith is
psychological.  Faith is multi-cultural.  And, the best that reason can
accomplish is logic.  Cold, emotionless logic.  Logic about approximations.
 So, says the English Ideology.

The epitome of logic is, of course, the principle of non-contradiction. 
Nothing can be both A and not-A. This principle is a cornerstone of
Aristotelian thought and, therefore, Aristotle is often taken as the patron
of the English Ideology. Those who hold otherwise -- that there is an
intellect which is above logic -- often adopt Plato as their patron because
Plato explicitly identified *four* levels of reason.  Imagination, Senses,
Logic and Intellect.  

The largest intellectual (and spiritual) battle in human history has been
over the existence of what Plato called intellect.  This is also the battle
over the meaning of creativity.  Is art only personal?  Is masturbation
art?  Is art about feeling (faith) or about reason?  These were the
questions which concerned the Florentine Renaissance, with Nicholas of Cusa
(who proved that mathematical infinity went beyond logic in 1442), with
Erasmus, with Leibniz and with the other Platonists who have been generally
defeated by the English Ideology.  This is an old and a very basic battle
-- Aritotle vs, Plato -- with enormous and directly-affecting-our-lives

And, what does this mean about life among the humans?  Forget about truth,
all we have is approximations, personal expressions, social constructions. 
Forget about good, all we have is social contracts and coercion and
repression and alienation.  But, we do have technology.  Now, that's the
ticket, says the English Ideology.

If only we can figure out how to shape humanity.  Stabilize humanity. 
Improve humanity.  But, to do that we will need both the technology of
genetics and psychology.  As anyone with even a passing acquaintance with
genetics and psychology knows (and, if my academic transcript is to be
believed, I should), human development involves large does of *both*
genetics and psychology.  As a wise friend of mine once said, "It's all
genetic, but one of the things we inherit is the degree to which we are
influenced by our environment."  

And, as anyone with a passing familiarity with these two fields knows, both
genetics and psychology are and always have been intensely political.  As
academic fields they have always been essentially about molding and shaping
humanity for utopian purposes.  They are Enlightenment derived attempts at
re-defining what it means to be a human -- based on the assumption that
humanity is "plastic" and that it would be a good thing to minimize the bad
qualities some humans exhibit through altering there behavior with
technology.  This is the utopian impulse which animates the English

Unlike Thomas More (close associate of Erasmus and who's death signalled
the end of humanism in England) who coined the term utopia to mean
literally no-place in his 1516 book of that name, the English Ideology is
committed to actual utopian life here and now on earth.  Of course, without
access to moral order through reason, this real-life utopia must be based
on goodwill and, since many/most people seem to act badly (nature or
nurture?), we will have to learn how to make them become good so that they
behave properly.  With technology, of course.  Genetic and psychological
technology.  Then we can build a utopia.  Like H.G. Wells' 1905 "Modern
Utopia" whose rulers, the "New Samurai, had only one "religious" tenet they
had to subscribe to, that there is no such thing as original sin and,
therefore, everyone is ultimately plastic.  So, says the English Ideology.

What does this mean for Brenda Laurel and her efforts to design video-games
for girls?  Brenda, as I suspect anyone who knows her would agree, is a
utopian who has spent her life among utopians.  She wants to build a better
world.  She believes that computers can be an effective technology to build
a better world.  And, she is concerned that girls are not being drawn to
this better world through an early association with computers.  Since kids
don't work, how do you get kids to accept and incorporate computers into
their lives?  You have to get them to play games on computers.  What the
commentary about girl-games missed was the *most* important point.  Brenda
is trying to build a better world -- or so she, the dutiful exponent of the
English Ideology, thinks she is.

Instead of a thoughtful story about roping girls into computers early on,
we got the nature vs. nuture arguement all over again.  Wow, feminism rears
it's ugly head in the San Francisco Chronicle.  Why, we can't be as plastic
as our ideological commitment to liberation demands that we be, if girls
and boys are actually different.  How dare any right thinking person adopt
the view that there is a *genetic* difference between girls and boys?  How
dare they?  How will we change people and build a better world if boys and
girls are different?

But, there is a very big difference.  Brenda is right.  Anyone, who isn't
fanatically committed to a utopian "better world" through the exclusive use
of environmental manipulation, knows that "nurture" is an inadequate road
to utopia.  Utopianism has gotten much more sophisticated than that. 
Utopia will require *both* genetic and psychological manipulation.  Wake
up!  What do you think the point of sheep-cloning is all about?  Better
cheese or a "better world"?  Meanwhile, no one asks why anyone would want
little girls to play with computers.  To sell more videogames?  Come on
now.  That's merely a felicitous by-product.

But, due to the law of contradictions which underlies all variations of the
now hegemonic English Ideology, Nature and Nuture are viewed as opposites
and therefore in opposition. Yin *must* be opposed to Yang.  Why, the law
of contractions tells us so.  And, by falling into the trap of the law of
contradictions, anyone who is enthralled with the apparent conflicts will
rage about the importance of these apparently contradictory viewpoints and
is, therefore, emprisoned.  Doomed.  Bound to lose the war.

I suspect that my method of reasoning has baffled many of those who have
tried to figure out what I'm talking about.  Some find it odd and
"conspiratorial."  Some find it entertaining.  Some find it novel or
refreshing.  Some find it bold and, therefore, encourages them to be bold. 
But, what the hell am I actually doing?

I simply ask myself what stands behind any position?  What is the basis, or
essense, or even "premise" upon some position is built?  What I find, over
and over, is that apparently conflicting positions are not in conflict at
all.  They share a common basis.  They are a false dichotomy.  They form a
pair.  A Yin and a Yang.  A duality which is artificial.  A snare for the
merely logical.  My sole aim is to encourage thinking which goes beyond
logic and yet remains rational.  If you can challenge the basis of a false
dichotomy then you just might make it out of the cave and into the
daylight.  That's all.  Think about it.

Mark Stahlman
New Media Associates
New York City

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