September 10, 2009

Obama’s Speech: The Poll Tax Plan

So Obama’s speech was just about what I expected. Nothing very good, a lot that’s very bad, and overall a continuation of every incompetence and perfidy which have distinguished his tenure thus far.
The basics and appeals were OK. He hit the general points on choice, security, cost in a workmanlike manner. America is the only democracy and the only wealthy country which allow this kind of system. Insecurity – the pitfalls can befall anyone. Some horror stories. That stuff was fine.
(Although the line about America’s unique depravity, like many others in this speech, spontaneously begged the question “So why are you intent on continuing with this depravity?” And every reference to the status quo, how he’s not gonna stand for it: “Then why are you staking your presidency on not only perpetuating it but making it worse?”)
In my prelude I said the core of the speech, the meat which would make the meal, was whether or not Obama stood up for a strong public option. He didn’t. That he mentioned it at all was clearly under duress, and the anodyne mentions he made were meant to be a sop to his stupid recalcitrant DFH “progressive friends”.
He hopes that progressives will be so grateful to even be mentioned that they’ll drop their substantive demands and cave in. Given progressives’ track record, there’s a decent chance he’ll be right about this. I’ll get back to this.
He starts out with an attempt to place his own proposal (and implicitly the public plan) somewhere near the middle, by explicitly triangulating between single-payer and a fictional Republican plan to do away with everything except individual purchasers. This triangulation is a fraud because (A) regardless of anything the Reps claim to “advocate”, they’re really in full obstruction mode and will simply say No to anything Obama advocates (more on this shortly), so they’re not even on the “spectrum”. Single-payer can only be assessed vs. other Democratic proposals, and this leads to the fact that (B) given single payer’s tremendous level of expert and decent level of public support, it’s far closer to the center than some ad hoc piece of villainy like the Baucus plan, which can stand in for what a Republican plan would look like.
Regardless of what Obama would like us to think, the public plan has consistently had 70+% support among the public, which places it smack dab in the center.
But he instead brings it up only to suggest it’s a nice little frill, a supplement at best, but hardly something of pivotal significance. He twice suggests it’s not necessary, and the “progressive friends” shouldn’t be so stubborn about it. The public option is only a “means to an end”. (This too is wrong in a way he just doesn’t get, as I’ll get to further down.)
Having declared to his own satisfaction how misguided the progressive friends are in obsessing on a public option, he then moves to demonize them, repeatedly framing false equivalences between two groups of “partisan spectacle”, “scare tactics”, “unyielding ideological camps”,”special interests”, those seeking to score “short-term political points”. He “will not waste time” with us.
He says these things to attack those whose special interest is to demand real reform, who are unyielding and ideological on behalf of the people, whose partisan spectacle is to denounce the partisan spectacle which has been ranged against the people, of which this speech is an example.
The demagogue proclaims: “I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now.”
He says this as he aggressively seek to further entrench the status quo. 
His favorite special interests include the insurance parasites: they provide a “legitimate service”. Obama is so exuberant in his desire to laud them even as he decries abuses in the system that he absurdly contradicts himself, saying the insurers are not “bad people”, they only do bad things. This is of course utterly incoherent, the most ancient way to try to defend bad people.
His scare tactic is to claim that his plan is real reform without which disaster will befall, when in fact his plan will make the disaster worse, while what progressives demand could possibly stave off the disaster.
He is unyieldingly in the ideological camp of perpetuating the status quo. To him anything which would slightly modify business as usual is a “radical shift” away from “building on what we have”. He lies and claims there’s a “broad consensus” for the garbage and tyranny he espouses.
(Unless he’s referring to the broad consensus in Congress for the status quo. This certainly does exist. The Republicans approve of what Obama is doing even though they’ll vote against it.
The speech is littered with absurd love letters to Congress, to the alleged “difficult votes that put us on the path to recovery”. Do you know what votes he might be referring to? Me neither.
This brings me to how this clown is still flogging “bipartisanship” with his “Republican friends”. Could he really be so stupid, such a victim of the Stockholm syndrome, or battered wife syndrome, that he fails to understand that he has no Republican friends, that Republicans do not want to solve problems or do anything for the good of America, but only to destroy his presidency? And that he’s been simply serving himself up to them?
He’s a kumbaya-singing hippie to the point of dementia. I’ve always said, since last winter, that Obama’s fetish of “bipartisanship” does not represent some misguided political strategy, although it’s that too, but a deep-seated character flaw. The fact that he has absolutely refused to learn from experience on this proves I was right.)
His partisan spectacle is to stake his presidency on his solicitude for the insurance companies. Which brings up the bizarre politics of the individual mandate.
While he grudgingly muttered about the public option like a child forced to eat some nasty Brussels sprouts, he was quite cheerful in trumpeting the mandate which will override the “irresponsible behavior” of the “young and healthy”. He even made a patently fraudulent comparison to requirements to buy auto insurance.
To begin with, any irresponsibility of individuals is NOTHING compared to the irresponsibility of the insurance and drug rackets and the irresponsibility and cowardice of government, including most of all Obama’s personal irresponsibility and cowardice.  The absolute minimum for a responsible position is a strong public plan, Medicare for All. Anyone who does not demand this as his minimum forfeits all right to lecture anyone else about irresponsibility.
Let’s be clear on this: Obama has zero moral legitimacy, zero authority, he deserves zero respect or deference on any issue involving morality or responsibility, as he has completely and definitively abdicated on this front.
He displays his bad faith with the fraudulent auto insurance comparison (evidently he knew not to bring up Social Security or Medicare, successful single-payer systems). Any mandate to buy auto insurance is of course contingent upon choosing to own a car.
So there’s no comparison here at all. An insurance mandate, to buy a useless private “product”, as the price of being allowed to physically exist, is an unconstitutional POLL TAX, farmed out to private collectors, enacted on behalf of these collectors.
What I don’t get is the politics of this. That Obama was lying when he promised Change and ran on that promise, that he was always a Bush corporatist traitor, that I get. That he and his party seek to further enhance the position of feudal parasites in return for their campaign bribes, I get. It’s repulsive, but from their point of view it makes sense.
But why, in addition to conveying the normal loot from the people to the feudal rackets, would they also want to convey their political future to them as part of the loot by handing them this extra gimmie of a “mandate” which, when it bites, is going to be blamed directly on him and the Dems (with the Reps leading the charge)? This Poll Tax Plan, if enacted, really will be the end for the Democrats. It’s like they want to commit suicide, and for no reason at all.
Why don’t they just go through the motions of pretending to seek reform and when they get only a meager bill which changes nothing, blame that on the Reps? Why take upon yourself the full political burden of adding this very obvious, very burdensome policy of tyranny, which is so brazenly being set up for the sole purpose of collecting loot for a privileged special interest which is universally reviled, and which will not help anyone but only add tremendous pain and hardship for the very people already in pain?
And people say the Republicans have lost their minds. The Reps aren’t into anything nearly as politically deranged as this. If I were a Republican I’d be dumbfounded at how things have turned around since last fall, how infinitely better our future looks, and all of it handed to us by Obama! It boggles the mind.
After that, it seems superfluous to go into the other idiocies of the speech. He does draw his line in the sand, makes his veto threat – on the deficit. That really stirs the soul.
No one has understood Obama’s fetish of deficit hawkery on health reform while he clearly doesn’t care about the deficit at all where it comes to the bailouts or the Global War on Terror. (There was also the dubious salesmanship of saying “My plan won’t hurt the deficit as much as Iraq or tax cuts for the rich”, both of which Obama still supports anyway.)
In general, there was way too much emphasis on details of costs and cost control mechanisms. This guy just doesn’t get it – nobody cares about such details. It’s clear that whether or not anybody cares about the cost of something depends upon whether or not they support the thing in itself. Whether they care or not, period. You’re never going to convince anybody by spewing out a slew of numbers.
Evidently Obama doesn’t accept the research which has shown that repeating enemy talking points in order to rationally refute them accomplishes nothing but to further associate you with those canards. he hasn’t learned the lessons of the Saddam-9/11 connection. So in the speech he devoted an idiotic length of time to reminding everyone of every slander and attack, just in case anyone had forgotten.
So for all his vaunted oratorical prowess, he flunks Rhetoric 101. Good work.
(BTW, my first thought as the speech ended was, is this the kind of speech he used to give on the stump? He was cracked up to be such a mesmerizing, uplifting orator? Because the guy who gave that speech was just a boor. Once he had finished with the substance, such as it was, and then vamped on tediously for another 10-15 minutes, without even achieving any rhetorical climax.)
From here on I’m not going to judge Obama any differently from how I judged Bush. Bush was always clearly the enemy, while Obama has inflicted the added sting of betrayal. But now we know exactly who he is.
So the only question is, what must a progressive do now? Are you going to support the Poll Tax Plan?
When Obama said the public option was a mere “means to an end” he was dead wrong. By now it must be emblematic of possibilities and betrayals. No one who still, at this late date, continued to trust Obama can continue to do so. (Except for the insurance thugs, of course). He is bent on betraying his promise of reform and of imposing new levels of tyranny. This was clear at the outset with the bailouts and the resolve to maintain the Too Big to Fail banks in existence, and to make them even bigger and to further enhance the protection racket they have imposed.
Now he’s trying to impose the same pattern with health insurance feudalism. He has dedicated his entire policy to the core goal of benefiting this racket (just as Geithner said at the outset, our main goal is to maintain private profits for private banks). He wants to maintain the status quo, and he wants to enhance it by adding this Insurance Poll Tax, with the IRS commandeered as a private collection agency to enforce it.
From here on, our ONLY view of the Poll Tax Plan must center on this attempted imposition of tyranny. There is no other substantive aspect to it. Reform is dead for now.
Now it’s simply a question of, do progressives roll over, cave in, as they so often have, since Obama and the Democrats have rightly calculated that he can do whatever he wants to betray them and they’ll still support him since they have no other choice? One thing’s for sure: anyone who does cave in now has no right to ever complain again. From here on they get exactly what they deserve, since we now know that Obama is Bush.
Or have they wrongly calculated this time? Will progressives finally get over their timidity and impatience and resolve to turn their backs, renounce the Democratic party once and for all, and get to the hard, lengthy work of building a new party?
One thing’s for sure – nothing “progressive” will ever come out of the Democratic party. So are they who call themselves progressives really progressives? Or are they just the pliant “progressive friends” who can always be counted on the roll over in the end?
Obama, the Republicans, the lapdog Democrats, and the corporate rackets are counting on it.
One other thing I kept wondering about toward the end there, as Obama appropriated the memory of Ted Kennedy – is this really what Ted Kennedy would have wanted? Was he too that much of a sellout? Or would he have been appalled and disgusted at the travesty his great cause had come to? 

September 9, 2009

What Should Obama Say Tonight?

Filed under: Health Racket Bailout — Russ @ 4:41 am
There’s little reason to have any optimism about tonight’s statement. But let’s pretend. What should Obama say tonight?
It’s a little late for Obama. How do you get to real reform? As they say, if I wanted to get there, I wouldn’t start here! He sure has bollixed things up. Refusing to use his electoral mandate, refusing to recognize how different the politics are from 1993, refusing to specify clear moral principles and policy imperatives, leaving not only the details but the basic outlines to Congress, using his position as leader of the Party to pressure not rightist collaborators but progressives, appeasing feudalists, Republicans, and traitor Democrats, making Potemkin public deals with the insurance rackets and secret deals with the drug rackets, being wonkish on  details and confused and wobbly on principle the rare times he has roused himself to public statements, letting the whole thing drag on and on and on…..You would think he never really wanted reform at all.
But at any rate, if one has an epiphany, which I suppose is always possible, it’s never too late to try to start doing the right thing, so here’s what he should have done a long time ago. Let’s pretend it’s day one.
The basic goals have always been the same: we need to lower costs, and ensure that decent care is available to everyone. Single-payer is the only road guaranteed to achieve these, and the only truly moral way to organize this society’s health care.
Given the fact that single payer will not be attempted in this legislative round, we’re stuck with the absolute minimum of the strong public option, which has to be close enough to “Medicare for All” that that’s what the slogan should have been from the start. (And how could they object – even the Republicans and the town hall wackos say they revere Medicare.)
Nothing short of Medicare for All would place real downward pressure on premiums and drug prices. (Needless to say, it’s not a real public option unless it negotiates drug prices the same way Medicare does.)
BTW, a “trigger” plan is a bogus plan. Only anti-reformers support it. The insurance companies have had decades, thousands of chances, to find a way to extend coverage to all and get rates down. They clearly cannot do it, because it contradicts their very existence.
Let’s be clear: by definition the private insurance racket is existentially opposed to reform, and reform is existentially opposed to this racket. They are mutually exclusive, in a zero-sum game. They cannot coexist.
So anyone who says he wants a public plan but with a trigger is simply a liar who doesn’t want reform at all, but only wants to further enrich the private parasite. The very concept is that of apologists for criminals who say a criminal’s “chances” should only start when he gets caught, and that the insurance “industry” therefore deserves a “second” chance.
[Then there’s provider rates. These can be brought down somewhat through the Medicare option, and then there’s the need to change the pay model over from fee-for-service to team payments, payment per patient/case, etc. We also need cost-effectiveness of treatment measures. This latter, supply-side issue is more wonkish and hasn’t been the real political focus. Arguably if we fixed the demand side through a universal Medicare option this part could be postponed till later. At any rate Obama shouldn’t bother with it in the speech, since this must be a political statement.]
So we have the basics:
The centerpiece of the speech – Medicare for All, the public option. This is what will provide decent basic care for all and bring down costs and prices. And it doesn’t take anything from anyone, it only offers more choices. Choice…choice…choice…. Here we must take a page out of the Frank Luntz playbook (has anybody written the progressive equivalent of this playbook yet? Lakoff’s efforts, so far as I’ve seen, have been pretty tepid, and had no effect anyway) and turn the “words that work” into mantras.
Choice, lower costs mean lower taxes, decent care, choice, lower costs mean lower taxes, decent care, most of all choice
(Also, since the enemy seems to get traction from words like “rationing” and “bureaucrat”, and there’s probably no way of suppressing those words completely, we therefore need to co-opt them and counterattack with them. So no more waiting for them to accuse us of wanting “rationing” and then responding with reasonable arguments about how “we already have rationing according to ability to pay…we already have insurance bureaucrats making decisions about life or death”….
No, we should never again acknowledge that they ever used these words. Pretend it’s day one, and go on the attack. “Decent health care is our right, yet corporate and political bureaucrats are rationing care and destroying choice. As a result they often leave people, leave children, to suffer and die. They make up death panels, and all to feed their private greed, the same greed we see still running rampant on Wall St. In many cases it’s the exact same companies.”)
The basic message must be that the system is broken. It’s too dangerous, too insecure, and too expensive. Only Medicare for All will extend choice and provide decent care and security for all.
No more wonkery. This has no place in broad politics. Instead, Obama needs to personalize it, tell one or two horror stories which are typical of this dangerous system, the horrors of lack of choice and lack of decency.
And here’s some specific appeals to make.
To those who have insurance through their employer (this is politically the most important group): You’re afraid of losing what you have. But do you feel secure in what you have? That in these uncertain times your health insurance is linked to your job? Wouldn’t you feel safer for yourself and your family if you had the choice of access to decent health care regardless of what was happening in the broader economy? Let’s be clear: we only want greater choice. If you want to keep what you have, you’ll be able to keep it. But if you want more choices, that’s what this plan does – offer more choices.
To the unemployed or underemployed: Wouldn’t you be much better off having this choice available, instead of the nothing you have now?
To anyone who’s seriously worried about the deficit, about costs (I doubt there are many of these; this is mostly a stalking horse for anti-public ideology – where’s their budgetary vigilance where it comes to war and Pentagon spending?): Health care costs threaten to torpedo America’s economy in coming years. We need to get these costs under control, and the best and only start we can make is to enact a real reform program now. Affording greater choice in the marketplace is the only thing that will bring costs down.
(Every time the putative cost of this plan comes up, redirect the discussion to the costs to the economy of health care in general, especially in the future, and how this plan will start fixing that.)
So to sum up:
1. Medicare for All.
2. More choice, decent care.
3. Will lower costs.
4. Will make us more safe.
And then Obama needs to draw a line in the sand. Everyone’s been so lavish in declaring their dealbreakers. Everyone but Obama, who should have been the first to do so. He should have said from day one, I will veto any bill which does not enact a strong public option.
Now he has to say that. Some of the House progressives who promised precisely this are wobbling, showing signs of betrayal. That trend will be emboldened if Obama whiffs on this again, the last chance he’s going to have. If Obama does not promise a veto, then it’s definitely over for reform, and will make it harder to stave off a reactionary bill like the Baucus plan.
So there you have it – if the speech contains this veto promise, it’s probably a good speech; if it does not, it’s definitely a failure.
Here’s something Obama should not say, but which I’d like to say because it’s true. As more and more pro-reform people are realizing, this is by now not just a policy issue but a culture war issue. It was always that to the enemy, and to the benighted people who crammed into those town halls to shriek.
Now people on the progressive side are recognizing that Obama’s betrayals, Democratic collaboration with the hard right, are not just matters of personal cowardice or policy “triangulation”. It’s indicative of a far deeper spiritual rot in our politics and our economy.
It’s clear that we’re never going to take back our country just through policy tinkering. We need to go deeper, tear out the poison roots…
This is beyond the scope of what I’m writing about in this piece, so for now I’ll leave it at this, for anyone who’s confused about the insistence on the public option (and there are all too many, especially in the liberal establishment, who are confused): the public option is by now far more than the sum of its policy gears.
It’s a symbol. People are saying, this is our line in the sand. To violate it is to irrevocably renounce and betray a much broader ideal.
If Obama does continue the way he’s been going, if he does step over that line, no one will any longer have the right to complain about his betrayals. We’ll know once and for all that he’s the enemy just like George Bush.
At that point the ball will be in our court: do we then cave in, submit? Continuing to expect anything from the Democrats, ever, would constitute such caving in.
Or do we take the only action left available, renounce the existing system, and build a completely new movement, from the bottom up, but with the full intent of running a real candidate in 2012?
I wouldn’t bet on anything but more of the same crap tonight – vapid idealism but no clear imperative, not much focus, wonk boilerplate, pleading and appeasement, confused message, and no veto promise.
But, let’s pretend that tonight’s speech might be the beginning of a turnaround, and go into it with an open mind.         

Scientism 5: Conclusion

Filed under: Climate Crisis, Law, Mainstream Media, Peak Oil, Scientism/Technocracy — Tags: , — Russ @ 4:37 am
So here’s a basic roundup of my position on science:
1. I have the greatest respect for the scientific method.
2. I despise those who fail to understand how science works (or refuse to) but who still think they have the right to anti-scientific political opinions. For example, those who reject evolution or climate change or think the Earth is flat.
3. Respect for the method does not mean respect for all of its technological outcomes.
4. Science is too important to be left to the scientists or to corporations.
5. Einstein said “Religion without science is blind, science without religion is lame”. I would modify this to: Science without philosophy is destructive, philosophy without science is blind, but to see does not mean we need hi-tech goggles.
Another good quote, from Rabelais: “Science without conscience is the ruin of the soul”.
6. Many (not all, but probably most) scientists, technicians, engineers, just like lawyers, are nihilists and sociopaths by nature, corporate flunkies in practice. (As a rule, existing professional cadres are fundamentally corrupt.)
7. Just as the economist knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, so the scientist knows the physical qualities of things but the value of nothing.
8. Even aside from the bad intentions of corporations and government, modern high technology is inherently totalitarian, by its sheer inertia.
9. Combining the two, bad intention and inertia, we can see that technological development is far into its malevolent stage.
10. Contrary to what people think, and contrary to the claims of government, business, economists, lawyers, and scientists/technicians, technological intensification is not a law of nature. It is a political process and a political choice. Alternative choices and processes are available.
11. We should choose to arrest tech’s onslaught.
12. Peak Oil can help with this.


September 8, 2009

Monuments and Collapse (Scientism 4)

Some weeks back the NYT Week in Review section ran a good piece on the travails of the CERN Large Hadron Collider. While the media was all over how the 15 year, $9 billion project has been plagued by explosions and magnets on strike, and how it just maybe might be able to start running on 50% power by next year, this was the only piece I saw which delved into the eschatological implications.
The article, by physicist James Glanz, takes its cue from a recent trip to Belize, where as a tourist he visited the ancient Mayan pyramid at Xunantunich. Pondering how the Maya abruptly abandoned this and other monumental sites after spending centuries building them, and contemplating the boondoggle that is CERN, he was driven to the conclusion that “the similarities between the two projects were clear-cut.”
The collapse of the Maya is evidently a mystery to mainstreamers and academics, but not to Glanz’s local guide Albert: they didn’t rotate their crops, and therefore “there was no food”. It’s also not much of a mystery to Peak Oilers who are aware of the agricultural practices of the Maya, how their equivalent of industrial ag led to depleted soil and disastrous erosion. Meanwhile climate change experts explain how the rainfall of that region depends upon a multi-century cycle of the rains falling mostly over the isthmus or further south over the South American landmass. The Maya reached their peak during a favorable rain cycle of hundreds of years; when the rains moved back south, that was the death blow for their already soil-destroying agricultural model.
To compare a recent event, while many people are familiar with how Cuba agriculturally grappled with being cut off from the Soviet oil subsidy, not as many talk about the parallel and opposite experience of North Korea. Cut off from the fossil fuels which powered its particularly fossil-intensive version of monoculture, the North tried to double down, expanding production onto ever more marginal land: hillsides and so on.
Sound familiar from what America’s corn ethanol dementia has been wreaking?
The results were predictable: an erosion disaster which denuded the hills and dumped their debris on what little decent valley soil was left. Who knows how many millions starved in the ensuing famine?
There’s strong evidence that the Maya were also driven to deforest their hillsides to try to cultivate them, with similar results.
In this calamity, as their monumental agriculture failed, that they had to abandon their monumental architecture as well, like the pyramid at Xunantunich, is not surprising. Nor is it a surprise that they lost faith in the religion to which it was built as a shrine.
Similarly, today people are coming to sense that the promises of the progress religion will not be kept. As people lose faith in this creed, they will lose enthusiasm for investment in the monumental shrines of this religion – things like the CERN particle collider, or space travel. That these astronomical things are astronomically expensive, and that the promised results, the SROI (science return on investment) sound ever more gossamer and would take generations to achieve where once great results could be achieved in mere years (and at much less expense), at a time when the world sinks into global depression in direct defiance of the promises of the faith, and as a direct result of the lies of the preachers of that faith, will only render them all the more practically impossible and morally obscene.
One can picture the dismay of the Mayan priests as the people drained away. What can have happened to bring this crisis to our faith? And then many of them must have understood perfectly. Many must have also been plantation owners, or were the hired cadres of the latifundia propagating the age old pious fraud.
So today we see the same bemusement among the priests of scientism. Glanz describes the angst among the physicists over the plight at CERN. He even goes so far as to offer the moral protest that “many other scientists ardently believe that it would be an injustice if the collider were threatened by delays that are miniscule in comparison to the lifetime of the cosmos” (emphasis added).
So in the same way a rich teenager may bewail the cruelty of the world if her parents refuse to spend $50K on her Sweet 16 party instead of only 20, so these scientists are morally entitled to extract infinite billions from the beleaguered workers of the world, giving nothing in return, and are being oppressed if they are denied their entitlement. Glad we got that straight.
This has always been the attitude of the true believers among priesthoods, and we’re not going to see this lobby go away anytime soon if it can also offer the prospect of corporatist profit.
(In that connection, we’re seeing an old front newly opening up again: new prospects for geoengineering are being touted by studies and in the media as the upcoming Copenhagen conference gets a lot of attention, and as people come to realize that domestic legislative efforts like Waxman-Markey are always going to be insufficient to deal with the climate crisis, and as people start to think that maybe they don’t really want to pay to deal with it. This is the happy hunting ground for disaster capitalism, and geoengineering is a classic disaster opportunity.
Of course the people who didn’t want to pay directly through slightly higher energy costs in the short-term, while they’d end up saving money in the longer term, will end up indirectly paying far more for geoengineered corporatism. That in turn will only end up failing to solve the climate disaster while it adds unimaginable new environmental calamities, and how much are those going to cost?
But scientism will get a new playground for awhile.)
As they scratch their heads over the conundrum, academics don’t want to face the truths of Peak Oil, resource depletion, the collapse of exponential debt, so they may focus on ideology and spirit as if they exist in a vacuum. Thus Glanz quotes anthropologist Richard Leventhal to the effect that physical explanations for the Mayan collapse are “beside the point”. Rather, “these multigenerational projects are based upon a strong and ongoing belief system in how the world works”. So it all depends on faith, and faith simply stands or falls on its own, like faith in the stock market. The physical unsustainability of that faith is meaningless.
In truth we know that the spirit, while it can help inspire, can go only so far as the flesh is able. Ideology and its collapse track the sustainability and collapse of the resource base. Explanations which focus only on the spirit are always incomplete at best.
If we look at the Decline and Fall of Rome, we see how insufficient were the predominantly spiritual and character explanations of commentators like Vegetius and Gibbon, how these are really supplements to resource and complexity analyses like that of Joseph Tainter.   
This is of course an extremity of absurdity, this revival of the collapse of pure spirit, but they’re driven to it by the necessity to deny resource depletion and what it is dictating. Instead they appeal to a kind of patriotism, the patriotism of science. The success of something like the Hadron Collider or the colonization of Mars depends upon everyone continuing to religiously believe in it, and exercise that belief by socioeconomically enslaving themselves to it.
And if you question, if you doubt, if you dissent, if you scoff, you are subversive, heretical, unpatriotic, anti-American, treasonous, criminal. The rhetoric isn’t at this level yet, but the attitude is coalescing.
In reality, the spiritual/ideological superstructure and the resource base operate in a dialectical interplay which is driven by the base.
If we have:
A. The physical facts – resource depletion and agricultural failure;
B. The spiritual demoralization and loss of faith;
then we can see how:
A leads to B: the rains, the soil, the oil fails – it means the gods failed;
B leads to A: stupidity, short-sightedness, failure to respect, cherish, revere the land – lead to physical destruction and depletion.
We can see the results of the progress religion, growth fundamentalism, and scientism everywhere today. If resource abundance originally seduced humanity into its profligacy and wastefulness, we have long been unquestioning, voluntary fanatics about it, to the point that even as gods fail everywhere, the faith still holds strong, at least on the surface.
Perhaps the first hairline cracks are appearing where it comes to monumental science projects like CERN. Here the version of the progress faith is the so-called Standard Model. This is the particular detail of the “strong and ongoing belief system” for whose future these particle scientists fear.
The failure of faith here would not be lack of “belief” in the Standard Model as such, but in the propriety, the EROI and SROI of investing endless $ billions to carry out arcane experiments to prove or disprove some abstruse mathematical detail, while so many millions lack jobs and go hungry.
In the end faith in the system depends upon faith in the proposition that the great bulk of the wealth of society should go into the pockets of a handful of men, for their personal amusement and private religious ritual, and that somehow, in some Utopia thousands of years form now, it’ll all trickle down, and our distant descendents will honor us as saints, that we submitted as slaves today, that we believed these promises which were eventually redeemed.
That’s the superstition demanded of us.
The article ends with a piece of boosterism from a CERN spokesman: “I sincerely hope that if the human race has managed to survive” as long into the future as we have come since the Maya, “we will have left a big enough imprint on science that people will not have to speculate on what the priesthood of CERN was up to”.
But even right now we can only “speculate”. What are they up to?

September 7, 2009

More Obama Cowardice: Van Jones

Oh calm, dishonorable, vile submission….
                                 – Mercutio, in
                                   Romeo and Juliet                                        
So here we have yet another example of Obama and Democratic cowardice, perhaps the most clear-cut yet, precisely because it’s a relatively small matter in the big scheme of things.
Van Jones, a leading environmental activist, was green jobs point man in the White House Council for Environmental Quality. This council was a greenwashing clearing house under Bush, but progressives had high hopes that Obama would actually take his environmental responsibilities seriously. These hopes were boosted by Obama’s environmental appointees, who were for the most part legitimate people (unlike most of his other appointments). Van Jones was one of the best of these.
(I’ve been out of the environmental loop for awhile, so I can’t give a good detailed account of Jones’ excellent work with green jobs, especially in the cities, but here and here are some places to read more.)
So apparently Jones once had a run-in with Fox News vermin Glenn Beck. I don’t know the details and don’t care. But Beck has carried on a vendetta ever since and recently started spewing about how Jones:
1. Signed a petition calling for further investigation of 9/11, which petition turned out to be distributed by “truthers”.
2. Get this – Jones once publicly referred to Republicans as – shhhh, and don’t let the little ones read this – “assholes”….
Once Beck publicized these atrocities, the Republican attack machine went on the offensive, with Mike Pence among others demanding that Obama fire Jones.
At first people laughed, assuming the White House would tell the Reps to go fuck themselves, just like any White House would do in the face of such an absurd tantrum. (Picture what Bush or Clinton would have done.)
But the laughing died away when……the White House did nothing. Showed no support. Was actually cowering.
That’s apparently when Jones realized his position was untenable. Not, of course, because of the right wing, who couldn’t force a dogcatcher’s firing if he was caught accepting bribes from cats.
No, Jones had to go because Obama, in his elemental cowardice, had made the attack his own. Just like he took ownership of Republican bailouts and pro-bank policy, and the Republican Global War on Terror, and a Republican health care scheme, and so many other things, so now it was Obama who was the one and only person whose opinion matters at all who wanted Jones gone.
So he resigned. (And who knows if he actually made that decision on his own, as the administration is claiming, or if he was ordered to quit.)
That’s bad enough. But what really got me going, what made me write a post on this, was the way Democrats are talking about it. I’ve never seen such an attitude of apologetics, appeasement, abjectness, supplication, servility, “calm, dishonorable, vile submission” across the board.
Nobody was willing to say how ridiculous this was. Nobody was willing to say that Republicans are assholes and much worse, and that Jones should be commended for his restraint. Everybody tried to rationalize the petition saying he didn’t know what he was signing, or he didn’t feel well, or they misrepresented it to him….Nobody was willing to say, even if he is a 9/11 truther that’s pretty tame by the standards of people who believe in death panels and that Obama’s not a citizen.
(Just to be clear, I’m not a truther, nor apparently is Jones,  but I couldn’t care less whether he is or not. My response would be like that of Lincoln when somebody whispered to him that “Grant drinks.”
Lincoln said “Oh yeah? Well then find out what whiskey he likes and send a case to all my other generals.”)
Here’s some quotes from the Sunday gab shows, which I’m pasting from this Gristmill piece. (At Grist itself there’s the same apologetic attitude, the same shameful “explaining” at length, and zero defiance.)

OBAMA ADVISER DAVID AXELROD: Absolutely not. This was Van Jones’s own decision. You know, he is internationally known as an advocate for green jobs, and that’s the basis on which he was hired. He said in his statement that he didn’t want his comments to become a distraction from the issue, which is so important to the future of our economy and communities around the country. And I commend him for making that decision.

MR. GREGORY: Was he the victim of a smear campaign, as he alleges?

MR. AXELROD: Well, look, this is a—you know, the political environment is rough, and so, you know, these things get magnified.

But the bottom line is that he showed his commitment to the cause of creating green jobs in this country by removing himself as an issue, and I think that took a great deal of commitment on his part.


HOWARD DEAN: Well, I was just going to say this guy’s Yale-educated lawyer. He’s a best-selling author about his specialty. I think he was brought down. I think it’s too bad.

Washington’s a tough place that way, and I think it’s a loss for the country.

HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Governor, how about the fact that he had made a series of statements and had signed this petition in 2004 indicating—suggesting that the government might have some role or some complicity in 9/11?

DR. DEAN: Well, he was told by the people waving those clipboards around that he was signing something else, so I think that’s too bad.

Look, all of us campaigning for office have had people throw clipboards in front of our face and ask us to sign, and he learned the hard way you ought not to do that.

But I don’t think he really thinks the government had anything to do with causing 9/11.


HOST GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Does the president believe that he is the victim of a smear campaign or does the president think that Jones actions and words merit resignation?

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS: Well what Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual. The president thanks Van Jones for his service in the first eight months helping to coordinate renewable energy jobs and lay the foundation for our future economic problem…The president accepted his resignation, but Van Jones as he said in his statement he was going to get in the way of the President.

STEPHANOPOULOS:  So the president doesn’t endorse in any way the things that Van Jones said before but the president doesn’t want him to go?

GIBBS: He doesn’t but he thanks him for his service.

Here’s another example. The blogs and websites I frequent are places where most people, regardless of their politics, think the “two”-party stranglehold is loathsome. So I rarely have sightings of actual Obama supporters, or self-identified Democrats. But I’ve wondered what people like that must be saying among themselves these days. Just by coincidence today I paid my first visit to MyDD and read two pieces on the Jones blowup.
The pieces were on target, but in the comment threads, while there were some commenters who had the right idea (and some trolls), it was sickening to see how many Democrats (I assume that’s what they were) agreeing that Jones had to go, that he was going to be a distraction from health reform (what reform?), that Beck’s allegations were indeed severe, that Obama did the right thing, and plenty more attempts at defensiveness and apology…
It was sickening. What must it be like to go through life as such a coward, afraid of your own shadow, pusillanimous to the point that when an obnoxious little mouse squeaks you leap screaming onto a chair?
Let’s be clear on one point: even to this day the Right and the Republicans cannot do anything to Obama. Everything he’s done to appease them he has done 100% to himself.
And with this latest cave-in he has dramatically emboldened them. Now they know all they have to do to put strings on him and make him dance is to start screaming about even the most trivial nonsense, making some absurd demand, and it’s certain that Obama will cower and cringe, and there’s an excellent chance he’ll cave.  

September 6, 2009

Collateral Death Obligations

I first read about this yesterday, and I’ve been doing a slow boil over it ever since.
DBRS, a financial company, has a new “innovation” in the works, called “life settlement”. Sounds like some new kind of hippie commune, right? Not quite.
They want to buy up life insurance policies from the sick, the elderly, the destitute, the desperate, at lowball prices. They’re going to slice and dice them and securitize them. The security holders will continue paying the premiums. Their profit will be the function of a quick death for the “underlying”.
This is only a ghoulish new level of the same parasitic casino capitalism which has long been imposing a huge tax on the economy and society, has contributed nothing to the economy or society, and which has now crashed the economy. But they need never have feared any consequences from society for their capital crimes against it.
On the contrary, the treasonous government, guided by (cheaply) bought and paid for enemies of the people, has been the FIRE sector’s tool for seizing the biggest opportunity for disaster capitalism yet. They’ve been completely bailed out. Not only have they had all their losses socialized, but Bush and Obama have even seen to it that all their projected profits which they were standing to lose were made good. (For example, Goldman Sachs not only had its AIG ante bailed out; its bet was paid out in full as well.)
And now that they’ve been made whole, and now that as far as the Obama administration, Congress, and the MSM go the political coast is clear, it’s time to blow up the next bubble. From here on the pattern, already in place since the 80s, is as clear as day. Boom and bust, bubble and crash. Rent-seeking on the way up, disaster capitalism on the way down. Turn society into a casino, play the high roller with house money while crooked dealers ensure the house always loses while letting you play on credit. And then, when your biggest bet finally does fail, the house not only forgives it, but pays off as if you had won anyway.
Who pays for all this? The slaves who must toil to keep the roulette wheel spinning and the lights flashing and the showgirls dancing.
So today the finance, insurance, and real estate sector (FIRE) are looking around for ways to blow up another bubble, impose new taxes on the real economy, in order to rake in cash they won’t have to work for.
Any new securitization “innovation” will fit the bill. Today it’s life insurance.
As for how bubbles get blown, we’re all very familiar with that by now. Make bets on the price of an underlying asset. In this case the “cash flow” is a little different. Instead of flowing in like to an MBS holder, it’ll be flowing out as the holders of the collateral death obligations must keep paying the premiums.
But that’s a price worth paying, because this underlying asset is a bet guaranteed to pay off. The policy-holder will die.
(Here insert black humor about ways they might seek to hasten the process. It’s really not unprecedented;  
there was a notorious incident in Rome during the Renaissance where a doctor was in cahoots with a priest. The priest was aware of the wealth of some of the sick or injured. In some cases he encouraged people to go to that particular hospital. There the doctor would poison them. The priest would personally administer last rites, together they’d seem on the up and up, and meanwhile they’d manage to loot most of the patient’s money. That doctor was also in the habit of going out early in the morning with a crossbow, shooting passers-by in order to rob them.
Since that’s the moral caliber of the people we’re dealing with here, I suppose if they could see a practical way, they’d seriously consider it.)
Since the premiums are actuarially calibrated to ensure the insurers a certain profit level, based on the premiums they’ll receive versus the benefits they’ll pay out, since the death derivative holders will only be paying a portion of these premiums (on policies where much of that cost was already paid), collecting the full benefit will be a big windfall to them.
So we see the typical parasite activity of the finance sector. It produces nothing, contributes nothing, innovates nothing, adds nothing of social value, but simply “innovates” ways to manipulate the money-transferring activities of the real society, in order to mine society, to collect rents, to reap windfalls while doing no work. There have never been worse useless eaters.
This leads to the tax they impose. As Yves Smith wrote at Naked Capitalism, these premiums have priced into them the expectation that many policyholders, for one reason or another, will let the policy lapse before it ever pays out the full benefit. In particular policyholders fallen upon hard financial times are likely to do so.
But if they can instead sell their policies at pennies on the dollar to Wall St outfits like DBRS, the security holders will certainly continue to pay the premiums (after all, they’re using taxpayer dollars) until “maturity”.
If this becomes widespread, if many policies are subject to it, it’ll wreck the actuarial calibrations. In order for the life insurers to maintain their profit, they’ll have to raise premiums on everyone.
So just as any decent human being who wanted to buy a home for his family had to pay a whopping tax imposed by parasite MBS holders and house flippers, so anyone who buys life insurance wanting to provide for his children will have to pay this obscene tax to support these obscene people.
Why do we tolerate this? And why do we tolerate politicians who allow this to continue? Even if you ever believed the bailouts were necessary to save civilization, even if you think some of the financial “innovations” were actually worthwhile, by now isn’t it long past time to stand athwart the road of financialization and say “Stop. That’s enough of your innovation. There have been enough of your instruments. We had to bail you out, and that’s bad enough. We’re at least going to prevent you from continuing to play the same games.”
That America’s governing officials have not only failed to do this but have rolled out the red carpet for yet another, bigger, more disgusting round of games, is not any sort of normal corruption and capture. It is treason. 
Then there’s the sheer aesthetics of this. How ugly is it, how repulsive, to watch those who have already become rich as leeches and as thieves and as looters of the public treasury, now seeking ways to become professional vultures, preying upon the sick, the dying, the frightened, the desolate. How horrible is it to have to live in a world where we must endure the very sight of these wretched, vile criminals?
When you go about your day this week, picture this. As you drive to work, as you walk into the building, as you go to get something for lunch, as you run errands, as you head home, picture several times a day having to pass through a tollbooth. The tollbooth is not there for any reason; it’s not collecting for any service being provided, any infrastructure being maintained. It’s just there, because some lazy crook wants something for nothing, and his political friends have let him set up a toll booth. And you have to pass through it, and in order to pass through it you have to pay $5, $10, $20, whatever. (It keeps going up.)
Picture having to pass through and pay the toll several times a day. That’s exactly the kind of tax the finance sector is imposing on America. That’s exactly the kind of tax we’re all paying.
We’re going to continue to pay it for as long as we submit. Is there still time and space for decent, moderate people to come to their senses, rouse themselves, put a stop to the crimes, arrest the criminals, and put them in prison where any moderate would think they belong?
It’s either that, or submit to serfdom. At which point the only way to regain our freedom will be to root out the malefactors with fire and sword.    

Note on Technology Posts

Filed under: Peak Oil, Scientism/Technocracy — Russ @ 4:31 am

(This was originally a reply to a comment, but I figured I’d put it up as a post as well. Karl questioned the connection of my thoughts here with other things I write about.)

I’ve been living with all my ideas for years, while I’m only now presenting them in small blocks, so to me the underlying unity is clear, but maybe it’s not always so from the outside.

The basic idea is that faith in techno-progress is organically part of faith in the “progress” ideology in the first place, and it is faith in this, with its concomitant economic (“growth”) and aggressive foreign policy implications which have brought us to such an untenable crisis.

I also believe technology is not some neutral “tool” but has its own inertia. Even without reference to the bad intentions of corporations and the government, by its nature technology seeks domination. You don’t need to be a “totalitarian” by nature to look at technology and naturally be dragged into the mindset of “more, bigger, faster, ever more comprehensive, ever more all-encompassing”.

What are the basic attitudes toward it? “If it can be done, it’s going to be done, and there’s nothing that can prevent it”, and, among engineers themselves, “If it can be done, it should be done simply because we have the capability, and what happens afterward is society’s responsibility, not mine.”

Those two attitudes, the first redolent of determinism and defeatism, the second of pure sociopathy, are both part of human nature, but both seem maximized in the presence of modern tech.

(And as I said, that’s all prior to any bad intentions of greed, violence, will to tyranny on the part of corporations and government. But these are almost always present as well.)

All this modern hyper-tech also depends upon the platform of cheap, plentiful fossil fuel. So as energy descent sets in, civilization is going to have to relinquish much of the techno-structure anyway, or have it forcibly rolled back.

In this sequence the biggest danger will be the kind of ideological revanchism we’re already seeing in America’s imperial transformation. If people are still absolutely committed to the belief in infinity of things like debt, growth, and hi-tech, they’re going to respond ever more tyrannically and violently, looking for political solutions in authoritarianism and scapegoating, in order to avoid facing up to the physical nature of the limitations, and to forestall as long as possible the full consequences of these limitations.

This is what I’ve been calling “resource fascism”.

Then there’s the better-intentioned but intellectually just as pernicious belief that greener hi-tech will save us. But green cornucopianism is still just another doomed attempt at escapism.

Whether the escapist attempt is politically noxious or not, it still prevents us from rationally preparing to enter the next stage of civilization: post-fossil fuel, which technologically will almost certainly be alot like the pre-fossil civilization.

So that’s a brief account of where I’m coming from with this. If it seems like I’m being hard on the CERN guys, it’s just that since I first started reading about that years ago, long before the thing actually failed to work, and even when the economy was booming and Peak Oil was barely a glimmer in anyone’s eye, there’s always been the question of whether it was a good use of resources. Even then it looked like a luxury boondoggle.

And the response of the physicists involved always had this tone of arrogance and entitlement, that “Who are you to question what we want? We have some ideas we want to work out, and whether or not this working out is of any significance to the world, it’s going to cost untold billions, and it’s the world’s responsibility to cough up those billions and then shut up and go away.”

This just always struck me as exemplary of the high priesthood. This project couldn’t even be argued to provide some kind of macroinspiration to man the way they used to argue (and still try) for the space program.

I also thought that if a man seeks intellectual fulfillment, he can do it the way the ancient Greeks did.

He doesn’t need all the billion-dollar bells and whistles today’s intellectual artists claim to need.

It bespeaks an inner impoverishment. But I guess that’s another criticism for another day, though I’ve touched upon it in these posts.

Like I said, I don’t mean for technology to be a main theme here. But I do want this idea to be part of the groundwork, so it’s as a contribution toward that goal that I wrote these scientism posts.

That even if people don’t agree with me right away on that particular point, they’ll maybe at least be more questioning of some things they maybe hadn’t questioned so much before.

September 5, 2009

Nietzsche and Science (Scientism 3 of 5)

Filed under: Nietzsche, Peak Oil, Scientism/Technocracy — Tags: , , , , — Russ @ 4:17 am
This post will trace the development of Nietzsche’s ideas on science and its relation to the human condition. I’m writing about this both because I think it’s intrinsically interesting (and helps me clarify my own ideas on both N and science) and because I believe that more than any other thinker N has analyzed our predicament and can help us find our way through the maze.
In particular for our purposes today, N was rare among great modern thinkers in considering science as such to be problematic. It was N’s way to be ambivalent toward almost everything important, and as we know today this ambivalence should have been modern man’s default from the outset. Instead, to our misfortune, the opposite – uncritical enthusiasm, triumphalism, progress dogma, political and technological conformism – has been the norm.
Now we confront the great resultant energetic, environmental, and spiritual crises which inevitably followed. To Peak Oil, resource depletion, climate change, biodiversity eradication, and land monopoly we can add spiritual desolation.
Whether or not humanity survives will depend in large part on reassessing all this.
Texts for the works cited in this piece can be found here, except for On the Genealogy of Morals which will be found here.
I’ll use the following abbreviations:
BT: The Birth of Tragedy, 1886 preface
HH: Human, All Too Human
GS: The Gay Science
Z: Thus Spoke Zarathustra
BGE: Beyond Good and Evil
GM: On the Genealogy of Morals
TI: Twilight of the Idols
WP: The Will to Power (posthumously edited notes)
1. The basic dilemma of science: As Nietzsche came to see it retrospectively, the questing intellect was his core concern right from his first book, BT (1872), even though in that book he wrote mostly about art.
The question, as reframed in his 1886 preface, was Why should the ancient Greeks, the most healthy and vibrant people ever, have “needed tragedy” [BT 1]? Greek tragedy expressed the ruthless will to look fate directly in the eye, without flinching from all of its most frightening and horrible aspects. It was something which could induce pessimism. Why should the exuberant Greeks have embraced something so pessimistic? Could it have been precisely the “overfullness” of their spirit, a surplus of health and exuberance, which drove them to confront and affirm even the most terrible aspects of life? Was this a “pessimism of strength”? This is the core of what by 1886 N called the Dionysian. (In the 1872 BT the term “Dionysian” was used differently, to signify tempestuous, chaotic release of passion, while “Apollonian” meant calm, restrained spiritual expression; N’s eventual concept of the Dionysian was a synthesis of the two, passion under control, and was counterpoised to “the Crucified”, the Christian drive to eradicate passion completely.)
By contrast, what must have changed in the Greeks that they lost their strong, pessimistic will to confront the tragic, and instead embraced anodyne Socratic equations of rationality with virtue and happiness? Why did this new rational outlook accompany an ever more attenuated spiritual and artistic life? Was this a symptom of spiritual exhaustion, of decadence? The pessimism of strength seemed dead and replaced by a picayune urge to comfort oneself. And what was the significance of the development of science in all this?
That of which tragedy died, the Socratism of morality, the dialectics, frugality, and cheerfulness of the theoretical man – might not this very Socratism be a sign of decline, of weariness, of infection, of an anarchical dissolution of the instincts? And the “Greek cheerfulness” of the later Greeks – merely the afterglow of the sunset? The Epicureans’ resolve against pessimism – a mere precaution of the afflicted? And science itself, our science – what is the significance of all science, viewed as a symptom of life? For what – worse yet, toward what – all science? Is the resolve to be so scientific about everything perhaps a fear of, an escape from, pessimism? A subtle last resort against – truth? Morally speaking, a sort of cowardice and falseness? Amorally speaking, a ruse? [BT 1]
So we have the question posed. Has scientism been a symptom of man’s spiritual decadence, as he lost the will to the pessimism of strength, the vibrant outlook of tragic pessimism? This question became more pressing with the twin and interlinked developments of modern times: the total erosion of Western religious faith, and the domination of technology. Today science really can make a bid to supersede religion and become the new religion.
At the end of this post I’ll return with N to the hopes for a revitalization of the pessimism of strength. First we have to explore the downward paths of anodyne rationalism and its paradoxical culmination in the abnegation of Christian morality.
Before this we confront a pivotal question: can science and reason justify themselves?
2. In post 1 I explored Nietzsche’s flirtation with the self-justification of science in HH. As I said there, he kept exploring this issue, eventually rejecting the bootstraps position and, in GS 344 (1885), giving his definitive answer:
To make it possible for this discipline to begin, must there not be some prior conviction – even one that is so commanding and unconditional that it sacrifices all other convictons to itself? We see that science also rests on a faith. The question whether truth is needed must not only have been affirmed in advance, but affirmed to such a degree that the principle, the faith, the conviction finds expression: “Nothing is needed more than truth.”
The root of this is not even the utilitarian will not to let oneself be deceived, since we cannot know the practical extent to which truth is more useful than deception. No, the root is the moral will against deception, of others or of ourselves.
Thus the question “Why science” leads back to the moral problem: Why have morality at all when life, nature, and history are “not moral”? Those who are truthful in the ultimate sense that is presupposed by the faith in science thus affirm another world than the world of life, nature, and history; and insofar as they affirm this “other world” – must they not by that same token negate this world, our world?..
It is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests – even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire from the flame that was lit by a faith thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine. – But what if this should become more and more incredible, if nothing should prove to be divine anymore unless it were error, blindness, the lie – if God himself were to prove to be our most enduring lie?
This is the underlying, true justification for science, a moral justification, the idealization of “truth”, which originated in Christian theology. The will to truth means the will to another world. “Will to truth” has the same source as belief in god. And now that god is dead, what about will to truth?
Thus we see the religious basis of the “moral” faith in science, the faith always cited by apologists for the real-world corporate activity of technicians.
(And in turn, scientism seeks to extend this faith and this apologia to the instrumentalist corporate practice itself. Science in the abstract, “pure science”, is morally justified. Then “applied science”, science as the sociopathic tool of corporate power, and the practice of technicians as a self-driving nihilistic process, are piggybacked on this original truth morality. Thus we have the ideology of scientism.)
N continued to explore this question for the rest of his life but did not change his answer. His assessment in GM essay III, section 24 (1887) is the same. These “men of knowledge”, these “philosophers and scholars”, the “last idealists of knowledge in whom alone the intellectual conscience dwells and is incarnate today…They are far from being free spirits: for they still have faith in truth.
N regarded this as a manifestation of the “ascetic ideal”, the will to negation of diversity in experience and passion, again an outgrowth of religiosity. The idealists are not free spirits because they remain bound by faith in truth. They are fanatics about it.
That which constrains these men, this unconditional will to truth, is faith in the ascetic ideal itself, even as an unconscious imperative – it is the faith in a metaphysical value, the absolute value of truth, sanctioned and guaranteed by this ideal alone (it stands or falls with this ideal)…. 
….A philosophy, a “faith”, must always be there first of all, so that science can acquire from it a direction, a meaning, a limit, a right to exist. 
Science itself henceforth requires justification (which is not to say there is any such justification). Consider on this question both the earliest and most recent philosophers: they are all oblivious of how much the will to truth itself first requires justification; here there is a lacuna in every philosophy – how did this come about? Because the ascetic ideal has hitherto dominated all philosophy, because the truth was posited as being, as God, as the highest court of appeal – because truth was not permitted to be a problem at all. Is this “permitted” understood? – From the moment faith in the God of the ascetic ideal is denied, a new problem arises: that of the value of truth.
The will to truth requires a critique – let us thus define our own task – the value of truth must for once be experimentally called into question. 
Just as the Judeo-Christian morality, as an absolute, taken for granted, stands or falls with belief in the Judeo-Christian god, so does the value of truth, and the pursuit which stems from it, science.
Scientism has attempted to elide this “lacuna” and substitute itself for the missing god. But in the same way that the fossil fuel civilization cannot continue to run as it has without cheap, plentiful fossil fuels, and no cornucopian technological dreams will change that, so the Christian civilization, including its scientistic/technocratic manifestation, cannot continue as it has without the religious faith which built it, and no synthesized cult of scientism/technocracy can change that.
As N said, truly free human beings must experimentally call it all into question. Peak Oil shall afford this opportunity.
Some other sections pertinent on this point:
BT 2: We must confront “the problem of science itself, science considered for the first time as problematic, as questionable….to look at science in the perspective of the artist, but at art in that of life.”
TI (1888)”The Problem of Socrates” 10: “When one finds it necessary to turn reason into a tyrant, the danger cannot be slight that something else will play the tyrant.”
WP: 424 (on forms of scientific hypocrisy, denying the underlying presumptions), 440 (on how scientific training can either help one resist sloppy faith concepts, or on the contrary render one more susceptible)
Here we stand at the inherent nature of science/rationalism/scholarship. We have the highest respect for it in itself. But where does it lead? There can be no question: the pursuit of knowledge leads to our trying to fabricate something beyond knowledge. As human beings we cannot do any differently. The question is whether this fabrication is decadent or sublimatory.
We’ll first have to head further downward before we can ascend.
3. Science, which is supposed to embody not just technical but spiritual progress, has perhaps on the contrary been one of humanity’s refuges from life, once the pessimism of strength began to erode. Perhaps “progress” itself, the progress cult, far from representing a greater capacity to grapple with the knots of being, has instead really been an escapist cult.
In GM III:23 Nietzsche asked, has science been able to posit its own goal to replace the ascetic ideal?
They tell me it is not lacking, it has not merely waged a long and successful fight against this ideal, it has already conquered this ideal in all important respects: all of modern science is supposed to bear witness to that – modern science which, as a genuine philosophy of reality, clearly believes in itself alone, clearly possesses the courage for itself and the will to itself, and has up to now survived well enough without God, the beyond, and the virtues of denial. Such noisy agitators’ chatter, however, does not impress me…..the abyss of the scientific conscience does not speak through them – for today the scientific conscience is an abyss – the word “science” in the mouths of such trumpeters is simply an indecency and a piece of impudence. The truth is the opposite of what is asserted here: science today has no belief in itself, let alone an ideal above it – and where it still inspires passion, love, ardor, and suffering at all, it is not the opposite of the ascetic ideal but rather the latest and noblest form of it.
Contrary to the pretensions of scientism, science has not imposed itself upon civilization as a self-generated, confident ideal, but has only furtively recycled the dregs of the old religious faith, albeit on a nobler intellectual level.
And for many of its practitioners it does not even do that: 
..But that one works rigorously in the sciences and that there are contented workers does not prove that science as a whole possesses a goal, a will, an ideal, or the passion of a great faith. The opposite is the case, to repeat: where it is not the latest expression of the ascetic ideal – and the exceptions [those who truly do find a self-justifying creative ideal in science itself] are too rare, noble, and atypical to refute the general proposition – science today is a hiding place for every kind of discontent, disbelief, gnawing worm, 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 does science 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?
…sufferers who refuse to admit to themselves what they are, drugged and heedless men who fear only one thing: regaining consciousness.
This kind of cubicle-dweller is familiar enough nowadays, though like so much else of Nietzsche’s prescience, it wasn’t understood in his own time.
But the technocratic ideology allows those cubicle-dwellers and rat-racers and treadmill-walkers in the “sciences” to comfort themselves that they work on behalf of some grand ideal rather than as the same old corporate cog.
BGE (1886) 204-208 provides a more detailed dossier on the modern scholar, “solid man of science”, specialist, “scientific average man”, “objective spirit”, “ideal scholar”, “selfless man”, the weak and degenerate form of skeptic, the weakling interpretation of Hamlet; these are all contrasted with the true creative philosopher, the stronger, harder skepticism, the pessimism of strength. (I’ll get to this contrast at the end of this post.)
204: The scientist affects superiority over the philosopher – either because philosophy hasn’t found the final answers yet, or out of disillusionment with some particular philosopher, or because often philosophy itself has abdicated. (Transposed to conformity vs. activism, these are all familiar in the politics of today.)
206: The scientist is not self-reliant or noble, spiritually or intellectually. (We can add, economically.) We see the “Jesuitism of mediocrity…which seeks to break every bent bow or, preferably, to unbend it.”
Bent bow – the uncommon man, the free spirit.
Break it – what religion or totalitarianism would seek to do.
“Unbend” it – “reason”, liberalism, scientism.
207: “Objective spirit” – weak, threadbare, may have good will but the flesh is weak. Today’s scholars are like this.
208: Same for today’s “skeptics”, for example the celebrity atheists. To still believe in something, to still possess the will to power, is terrifying to them. This spiritual sickness goes hand in hand with overcivilization, while it diminishes where original “barbarism” peeks through once again.
Some other sections:
Z Book IV (1884) “The Leech” presents as one of its characters the “conscientious in spirit”, the nook scholar seeking security, a fanatic about puny truths. He believes in science (“On Science”, book IV) as sublimated fear. (He’s not being referred to as a leech; rather when Zarathustra comes upon him he finds the man contemplating a leech on his arm. The leech is a metaphor for his obsession with blood-sucking petty truths.) 
TI “Problem of Socrates” 9: Socrates was the “synthetic product”, the extreme version, of Athens’ spiritual malaise. The instincts were in anarchy. Hyper-rationalism was the escape.
10: Hyper-rationalism: the only defense. One is too weak for one’s own instincts.
11: The cure was really another form of the disease. “To have to fight the instincts is the formula of decadence: as long as life is ascending, happiness equals instinct.”
WP 68, 71, 95 (middle part), 424 (false objectivity)
So we have the scientific mindset and practice as a symptom of decadence. And this can be leading down to the doldrum.
4. At BT 5 Nietzsche asks, “What, seen in the perspective of life, is the significance of morality?” In the original BT he wrote that art is the truly meaningful activity of life and is opposed to the moral world view. The pessimism of strength is something beyond good and evil. Morality is demoted to the realm of aesthetics – not just appearance as such, but as lies. Christianity, the radical opposite of this, would moralize everything including aesthetics.
Where does science stand in this perspective (in spite of its claims to stand outside)? As we have seen, science arises out of the moral world view. It carries the same water that religion used to, but is better at concealing this so it appears, not even as appearance let alone a lie, but as self-evident and self-supporting truth, when in fact it had surreptitiously asserted the “will to truth” as moral dogma.
If scientism could achieve the domination it seeks, it would place an immobilizing clamp upon freedom of the spirit as religion once sought to do and often succeeded. This is because any moral dogma, from the most irrational theology to the most allegedly rational will to truth, is a smothering of the soul. All dogma must be critiqued, questioned, the subject of irreverence. This is the proper task for philosophy which, in its most intrepid, most creative form, is the quintessentially human activity, the daily hunting ground for the free spirit.
This is what N came to believe, as he overcame his original worship of art. He came to realize that both art, as an aspect of the world of appearance, and science, an aspect of morality and appearance, are only among the imperfect modes of spiritual expression. Science still conceals its moral basis. Art is extramoral, but still dogmatizes about appearance. Both viewpoints are incomplete at best.
Can all of this lead us somewhere better?
Cf. also WP 442-443
5. I mentioned earlier how the moral need underlying the quest for knowledge leads us inevitably to seek to create something beyond knowledge. This has been the source of religions and ideologies and has contributed to art.
In BT 6 Nietzsche describes his own misguided attempt in the 1872 text to find a new ideal and goal precisely in the wallowing decadence of 19th century romantic pessimism, as exemplified in Schopenhauer and Wagner, when these in fact represented the antithesis of the pessimism of strength, what he later came to call the Dionysian.
Nor shall we find it in science:
No! Don’t come to me with science when I ask for the natural antagonist of the ascetic ideal, when I demand: “where is the opposing will expressing the opposing ideal?” Science is not nearly self-reliant enough to be that; it first requires in every respect an ideal of value, a value-creating power, in the service of which it could believe in itself – it never creates values. Its relation to the ascetic ideal is by no means essentially antagonistic; it might even be said to represent the driving force in the latter’s inner development. It opposes and fights, on closer inspection, not the ideal itself but only its exteriors, its guise and masquerade, its temporary dogmatic hardening and stiffening, and by denying what is exoteric in this ideal, it liberates what life is in it. This pair, science and the ascetic ideal, both rest on the same foundation – I have already indicated it: on the same overestimation of truth (more exactly: on the same belief that truth is inestimable and cannot be criticized). Therefore they are necessarily allies, so that if they are to be fought they can only be fought and called in question together. A depreciation of the ascetic ideal unavoidably involves a depreciation of science: one must keep one’s eyes and ears open to this fact. [GM III:25]
Science cannot create values, but can only serve as a pre-existing value, or else serve instrumentalism and nihilism. As ascetic ideals, science and religion both are based on the fanatical belief in “truth”. To fight one you must fight all.
The section goes on to say that physiologically, science and reason are exalted where life and the will to power are in decline. That science has destroyed man’s theologically-derived sense of self-importance has not at all harmed the ascetic ideal. On the contrary, the will to truth as ascetic ideal in the form of rationalism and scientism has thrived. Channeled into nihilism, and with Kant’s delineations of the limits of knowledge, transcendentalists everywhere have been liberated again. Knowing the limits of knowledge, they now feel free to start making stuff up wherever knowledge ends.
Since Copernicus, man seems to have gotten himself onto an inclined plane – now he is slipping faster and faster away from the center into – what? Into nothingness? Into a penetrating sense of his nothingness? Very well! Hasn’t this been the straightest route to – the old ideal?
All science has the effect of “dissuading man from his former respect for himself”, his religious certainty. But does it modestly remain content with this diminution, an admission of the unknown? No – it seeks a new transcendentalism precisely here:
Who could hold it against the agnostics if, as votaries of the unknown and mysterious as such, they now worship the question mark itself as God? Presuming that everything man “knows” does not merely fail to satisfy his desires but rather contradicts them and produces a sense of horror, what a divine way out to have the right to seek the responsibility for this not in “desire” but in “knowledge”!
“There is no knowledge: consequently – there is a God”: what an elegant syllogism! What a triumph for the ascetic ideal!
We should remember this when scientists, politicians, and corporatists try to “philosophize” about the spiritual justifications for spending billions on particle colliders or space travel. To the extent that anyone believes the exalted but hazy rhetoric, it is precisely this worship of the question mark, and the billions are spent to construct a temple to it.
But haven’t we really had enough of monumental religion by now?
A more artistic personification of the fabrication-beyond-knowledge occurs in Z book IV in the character of the Magician, who sings a song of conscious deception, of the “ascetic of the spirit”, the disillusioned seeker after truth as an ideal, as a way to greatness, who finally succumbs to nihilism. (Earlier Zarathustra had predicted the coming of the ascetics of the spirit, arising out of the disillusioned poets. Here with the Magician we see a devolution of poet -> ape of the poet ideal (failed poet). Soon -> commissar. Thus we see the downside risk of art as well in our spiritual crisis.)
Two supplementary sections are WP 95 (the latter part on Kant) and 457 (truth as a weapon; martyrdom; science becomes fanatical).
And then I already discussed N’s own proto-scientism at HH 22, 24, 25 (1878) in part one of these science posts.
So in these ways N described the ineradicable urge to go beyond knowledge, the ways of abdication of intellectual integrity, of spiritual decadence.
But is there a fabrication which leads upward? What is the upside risk of art and science, as we mingle them in order to begin our quest to create new values?
6. WP 466: “It is not the victory of science that distinguishes our nineteenth century, but the victory of the scientific method over science.”
Art, in which precisely the lie is sanctified and the will to deception has a good conscience, is much more fundamentally opposed to the ascetic ideal than is science: this was instinctively sensed by Plato, the greatest enemy of art Europe has yet produced. Plato versus Homer: that is the complete, the genuine antagonism – there the sincerest advocate of the “beyond”, the great slanderer of life; here the instinctive deifier, the golden nature. To place himself in the service of the ascetic ideal is therefore the most distinctive corruption of an artist that is at all possible. [GM III:25]
With all these conceptions the steady and laborious process of science, which will one day celebrate its greatest triumph with a history of the genesis of thought, will in the end decisively have done; for the outcome of this history may well be the conclusion: That which we now call the world is the outcome of a host of errors and fantasies which have gradually arisen and grown entwined with one another in the course of the overall evolution of the organic being, and are now inherited by us as the accumulated treasure of the entire past – as treasure, for the value of our humanity depends upon it. Rigorous science is capable of detaching us from this ideational world only to a limited extent – and more is certainly not to be desired – as it is incapable of making any essential inroad into the power of habits of feeling acquired in primeval times: but it can, gradually and step by step, illuminate the history of the genesis of this world as idea – and, for brief periods at any rate, lift us up out of the entire proceeding. Perhaps we shall then realize that the ding an sich [thing in itself] is worthy of Homeric laughter: that it appeared to be so much, indeed everything, and is actually empty, that is to say empty of significance. [HH 16]
While that last selection is from the proto-scientistic part 1 of HH, except for the “limited extent” and the “brief periods”, where he would later deny any such extent or period, that’s vintage Nietzsche.
7. And now at long last we come to the best part, the hope for spiritual renaissance and ascent from the great crisis of the age. We began our visit with Nietzsche (BT 1) by witnessing the confrontation of the Dionysian pessimism of strength as embodied in the ancient Greeks and Greek tragedy, with the Socratism of the instincts, hyper-rationality, science itself, the escape from pessimism, and from there to scientism, technophilia, and the cult of technology-will-save-us.
To be lifted out of the labyrinth we need a new value. If we are to use the world-historical opportunity offered by Peak Oil, our business must be to create new values. Nothing less than this is the mission of the free, creative human spirit. From here all of N’s philosophy opens up in a spectacular vista, and there are an infinite variety of paths we can take.
But to finish up for today I’ll conclude the thread of the pessimism of strength.
BT 4 presents us with the essence of the Dionysian:
The question of the Greek’s relation to pain, his degree of sensitivity, is basic: did this relation remain constant? Or did it change radically? The question is whether his ever stronger craving for beauty, for festivals, pleasures, new cults was rooted in some deficiency, melancholy, privation, pain? Supposing this was true – and Pericles (or Thucydides) suggests as much in the great funeral oration – how should we then have to explain the origin of the opposite craving, which developed earlier in time, the craving for the ugly; the good, severe will of the older Greeks to pessimism, to the tragic myth, to the image of everything underlying existence that is frightful, evil, a riddle, destructive, fatal? What, then, would be the origin of tragedy? Perhaps joy, strength, overflowing health, overgreat fullness? And what, then is the significance, physiologically speaking, of that madness out of which tragic and comic art developed – the Dionysian madness? Is madness perhaps not necessarily the symptom of degeneration, decline, and the final stage of culture? Are there perhaps – a question for psychiatrists – neuroses of health? of the youth and youthfulness of a people?…
Should the Greeks, precisely in the abundance of their youth, have had the will to the tragic and have been pessimists?
This may sound remote from our concerns of today, even irresponsible. But the age seethes with energy which has nowhere to go, and it will, one way or another, find a way to strike as lightning.
Just as Peak Oilers, deep environmentalists, and other reformers who appreciate the critical pivot of these years strive to frame the options of meeting the challenge in a rational, ordered way, or driving off a cliff, so we who concern ourselves with the spirit must ponder the same stark option.
Robinson Jeffers, my favorite poet, a tragic pessimist with the first-hand acquaintance of the 20th century nightmare which Nietzsche, happily for him, could only forecast as the weatherman he was, wrote a poem on the subject, Apology For Bad Dreams, which better explains what I’m getting at here. I’ll soon write a post discussing this poem.
Earlier I referred to BGE 208, its description of the feckless type of modern “skeptic”, who is really a skeptic simply because he is too weak and cowardly to believe in anything and fight for it. I referred to the misinterpretation, all too common, of Hamlet as such a weakling.
But a counter example is at hand. In the very next section, BGE 209, N offers up a description of Frederick the Great: a stronger, virile skepticism, a real life embodiment of the true Hamlet as he was and would have been had he lived, the pessimism of strength incarnate. (Note how the description has everything to do with Frederick’s character and nothing to do with his military achievements. It also describes Frederick as exemplary of the 18th century “German spirit and its critical and historical mistrust.” We’re talking about the intellect and scholarship. That’s how it always was with N, though he’s often slandered as having been some sort of militarist. No; as this typical example shows, Nietzsche cared about character, mind, and spirit, never temporal moving and shaking.)
Meanwhile there grew up in his son that more dangerous and harder new type of skepticism…This skepticism despises and nevertheless seizes; it undermines and takes possession; it does not believe but does not lose itself in the process; it gives the spirit dangerous freedom, but it is severe on the heart….a new concept of the German spirit crystallized gradually in spite of all romanticism in music and philosophy, and the inclination to virile skepticism became a decisive trait, now, for example, as an intrepid eye, now as the courage of hardness and analysis, as the tough will to undertake dangerous journeys of exploration and spiritualized North Pole expeditions under desolate and dangerous skies.          

September 4, 2009

Tech Monuments as Consumerism and Class War (Scientism 2 of 5)

In post 1 we saw how something like CERN comes about. From the scientistic point of view, society is simply another resource to be mined for its own narrow purposes. In this, it is an extension of modern shallowness and selfishness in general. At the same time it allows science itself to become the prostitute of corporate interests. So it happily works as a slave in the mine it has helped rip open. 
It’s just like the space program. Obscenely expensive toys for overgrown children to play. It’s an extreme version of the high-maintenance hedonist consumer culture. Technicians of physics who want this toy to play with are no different from a suburbanite who just needs a McMansion, a Hummer, a plasma TV.
Do these scientists consider themselves “thinkers” or “artists”? No, they’re just technicians who don’t even produce anything. Any freelance mechanic or carpenter contributes far more social value.
And what would these tinpot Edisons do without the boss man to give them their laboratories and their marching orders? Is it even possible to be a technician without spending one’s life repeatedly bought and sold? All they are is a commodity.
And then we behold an absurd “prestige” project like a particle collider, something which looks like a parody of the Titanic, which itself had made itself farcical before it even sank, what with its absurd rhetoric about being “unsinkable”. If it had been a character in the drama you would know it was going to sink.
Today we are in the age of resource depletion, of Peak Oil. Today all realistic people look at any massive capitalization and think of Ozymandias. CERN, the space program, geoengineering, nuclear power, CCS, Dubai, Las Vegas, Atlanta….these are all one spectrum of hubris. And not even the glorious if fatal Greek pride, but a snivelling, spiritual picayune brat’s pride which seeks to compensate for its puniness and paltriness through big, noisy things. Deep down it’s the same bigger-is-better, flashier-is-better consumerist mindset which got us into this whole mess.
But net entropy declares this is all vanity. We should look at a parking lot full of unsold cars (even a potemkin “market” like cash for clunkers can only go so far), or a high-rise condo with all the units unsold and empty, and then compare a high-tech toy like CERN.
Of course no one really thinks a particle collider or anything that can be learned from it is going to be of any use at all post-Peak Oil. I guess using that money for real scientific investment, say to develop better post-fossil fuel agricultural varieties, isn’t sexy enough for the scienticians.
I fear we cannot afford to waste all this money. Not one cent of it.
I don’t know what kind of science could come of such massive capitalizations which would be beneficial to the non-rich during energy descent.
I’d be willing to bet two things about CERN:
1. It wasn’t funded by private capital. (Costs socialized, including the risk of generating a black hole, however infinitesimal that may be; the guys at Alamogordo thought it theoretically possible the first atom bomb blast would set the atmosphere on fire. At least then there was a war on.)
2. Any benefits will be for the wealthy, any profits private.
As for spending billions to experimentally validate quantum ideas, why? Spiritually, philosophically, aren’t the ideas enough? It’s an insult to the real spirit of science to assume you need billions of dollars for a toy in order to study science. On the contrary, it’s the mark of a creatively sterile technician.
A creative thinker finds all he needs in nature, in the works of the philosophers, in the writings of the mystics, poets, and revolutionaries. Archimedes, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton didn’t need billions worth of technological monstrosities. All they needed was their ideas and some pre-fossil fuel tools. That’s all we need today. (Boscovitch anticipated quantum theory in the 18th century using no special equipment. The idea for black holes also dates to that time.)
The issue becomes especially ridiculous when we consider plummeting net energy and EROEI (energy return on investment). It was Newton who said he was “standing on the shoulders of giants”. And today? We have grasshoppers on the shoulder of the Statue of Liberty, and it costs an astronomical amount to lift them up there.
The “SROI”, science return on investment, is less favorable by now than Peak Oil’s EROI will ever be.
(This provides a good object lesson regarding EROEI and the prospects for tyranny to try to use force to overcome it. All the wealth transfers of corporatism are exercises in not requiring capitalism to earn its keep by actually creating value and generating valid profits. Monumental technology indulgences like the collider or the space program are similar examples of wealth redistribution upward.
So in the same way that ROI is overcome in all these cases through politically enabled embezzlement and theft, they will if they can try to overcome the EROEI ramifications of Peak Oil and resource depletion through direct force: slave labor and repression.)
Even if any of this “investment” actually produced a return, it would go only to the power and wealth structure. If the technology-will-save-us myth ever did come true, it would only be to power elite fortresses while the serfs freeze in the dark.
Do you enjoy the internet? Consider it very useful? In ten years connections probably won’t be available for the non-rich, let alone in libraries.
Of course, it’s possible that things won’t turn out this way. Check out this piece from the Washington Post. The writer is clear on the economic devastation and technological stratification likely to befall us. Yet he’s expecting the power elite, out of some newfound goodness of their hearts never before in evidence, to spread the wealth at their own expense. Suddenly, after trickle down failed everywhere else, every time, it will work this time as simple charity.
Are we going to count upon this?
Do scientism and technology any longer serve man? They do not if they rig up an economy which destroys all meaningful jobs, sets up a totalitarian surveillance system and database, and concentrates all wealth in the hands of a few, who we must then beg to bestow welfare upon the superfluous masses.
Politically, that welfare state can never exist. The rich would never contribute to it. And why would the people be willing to live like that? Free-minded human beings would not be willing.
No, if it were ever possible to beg for welfare from thieves, that would only be because the thief feared the beggar, and that would only be because the beggar was strong enough to be, not a beggar, but an avenger.
These are the inevitable end choices for the technological corporatist state as it enters Peak Oil. Enslavement or revolution.
Technology and capitalism are in the same position. Any good they were going to do they’ve long since done. They now add only delusions, oppression, and waste, and misdirect mankind from truly confronting its problems.
There is no more “innovation”. This economic crisis and Peak Oil prove that once and for all. What we need to innovate is the wisdom to constructively use what we have.
By now it’s obvious, looking at any issue, any problem, what measures could be part of the solution, or could at least help ease the impending suffering, and what just helps build the Tower of Babel higher.
Industrialized civilization will have to devolve regardless of what we do. Every class-war cent we spend on self-indulgent monster toys is not only wasted but a crime against the suffering people of today, and against all the people of the future.
We have no thinkers left, only appendages of machines. The machines themselves produce nothing but oppression. Without the fossil fuel platform they’ll produce only cobwebs.
So much wealth and time wasted……

September 3, 2009

Scientism (1 of 5)

Filed under: Corporatism, Nietzsche, Scientism/Technocracy — Tags: — Russ @ 7:01 am
The CERN particle collider is a $9 billion, 17 mile metal doughnut dug in the ground in Switzerland. Here subatomic particles are supposed to be accelerated to extreme speeds and smashed together to generate even more fundamental particles.
The physicists who lobbied for this project claim to be something more than extremely high-spending Nascar yahoos waiting for a crash. Their higher edification will come in the form of confirmation of abstruse mathematical equations, and from that the formulation of even more tenuous equations.
On a more practical level, this project, like any other, is promising to make all technology “better” – stronger, faster, tastier, more synergized, more silky-smooth, more job-destroying, more weaponized, whatever. It’s hard to tell what the alleged benefits are supposed to be.
At any rate, any new technology coming out of this publicly-financed venture will certainly be very profitable for some private interest. Corporatism is a constant.
But after all that money and hype, they’re having problems getting this thing fired up. It doesn’t work. Their first attempt to fire it up blew up in a hail of sparks. Also the magnets inexplicably stopped working and need to be “retrained”. They hope to maybe be able to start running it in November at diminished capacity: 3.5 trillion volts, 50% of hyped capacity. then gradually ramp up to 5 trillion over the course of 2010, and if all goes well, maybe reach the full 7 trillion sometime after that. So maybe for now they’ll only be able to work on 50% of their equations, and we can cancel the Theory of Everything parade for the time being.
(“GUT” they call it. Grand Unified Theory. Sounds reminiscent of NUT and MAD, for anyone who remembers those. Came from the same people, too.)
Why, in a time of economic crisis, where the rich world was on a crazed debt binge just cruising for a crash, while billions remained impoverished, did anyone think it was a good idea to sink billions into a glorified pinball machine? The answer lies in the nature of scientism.
Scientism is a form of instrumental reason. A scientist, who is often no kind of creative thinker but usually more of a technician, an engineer, has no underlying principle, but only a tactic. This tactic is simply the scientific process unanchored from any comprehensive frame of reference. In need of an ideology, he takes the tactic itself as the self-justifying principle, and from there seeks world domination with it and for it.
The basic “principle” of scientism and technology runs, “If it can be done it should be done, and there is no other question of ‘should?’ or ‘why?’ “. It therefore dovetails perfectly with fundamentalist economic libertarianism. Both are expressions of what T.H. Huxley called administrative nihilism.
Since there is no principle, in practice science therefore becomes the mere tool of wealth and power.
Scientism, although an enemy of the spirit, is for that very reason part of the spiritual crisis of modernity. When this question is posed there’s seldom a better guide than Nietzsche, and here too he can illuminate the path. Nietzsche began his career asking the question, what is the relationship of science to life?, and he never ceased from asking this.
In part 3 of these posts I’ll trace Nietzsche’s quest regarding the place of science. For this post, I’d like to focus on the ideas he offered in Human, All Too Human. This was the first of his so-called “aphoristic works”, or what he called his travel books (I like that term best). Human is also called the book of Nietzsche’s “positivistic” period, because here, in his first complete traversal of all his thinking, he was most inclined to reduce everything to psychological mechanism. And it’s here that he tentatively tried to offer a self-justification for science, since it seemed to him at that point that only science could truly be said to deal with “real” things. (He would later and definitively reject this position, but I’ll get to that in post 3.)
I’m here concerned with sections 22, 24, and 25 of Human. N starts by recognizing that god is dead (although he doesn’t yet use that famous formulation): “The belief has ceased that a God broadly directs the destinies of the world and..is leading mankind gloriously upward” [25]; we have felt “the cessation of the metaphysical outlook” [22].
Yet at this time he still believes in “progress” in the conventional sense of that term (this is a position he later rejects):
But men are capable of consciously resolving to evolve themselves to a new culture, whereas formerly they did so unconsciously and fortuitously: they can now create better conditions for the propagation of men and for their nutrition, education and instruction, manage the earth as a whole economically, balance and employ the powers of men in general. This new, conscious culture destroys the old, which viewed as a whole has led an unconscious animal- and plant-life; it also destroys mistrust of progress – it is possible. It would, of course, be rash and almost nonsensical to believe that progress must necessarily follow; but how could it be denied that progress is possible? [24]
Later N would sublimate this idea, hold out hope for it on intellectual and spiritual levels, but here he is displaying the thought process by which, in the aftermath of receding religion, science tries to fill the void itself as a self-justifying authority and goalsetter. The spiritually unanchored individual is the target of a new cult of scientism.
N at this time does not doubt that such an authority is necessary: “Man has to set himself ecumenical goals embracing the whole earth” [25]. We have lost religious faith:
Can science, too, awaken such faith in its conclusions? The fact is that science needs doubt and distrust for its closest allies; nonetheless, the sum of unimpeachable truths – truths, that is, which have survived all the assaults of skepticism and disintegration – can in time become so great that on the basis of them one may resolve to embark upon “everlasting” works. [22]
In fact N’s own skepticism and disintegration would eventually lead him to reject both the concept of “unimpeachable” truth as well as finding scientific truth to intrinsically provide the basis for everlasting works. I’ll trace this intellectual journey in part 3.
For now he is experimenting with believing it, asking the question of whether this can be the case. He is careful to stress that we must “doubt and distrust” even science, subject it to our “skepticism and disintegration”, especially from points of view outside science. This is precisely the distrust and skepticism the scienticians and technocrats deny and disparage.
In [25] N already feels the tension between the noble quest for “ecumenical goals” and the nihilistic reality such a quest is likely to manifest. He tries to plunge ahead anyway and, in a spectacular display of cognitive dissonance, engages in the classical totalitarian lie of accusing the opponent of doing exactly what you intend to do (even citing free trade as his alleged anti-example!):
The former morality, namely Kant’s, demanded of the individual actions which one desired of all men: that was a very naive thing; as if everyone knew without further ado what mode of action would benefit the whole of mankind, that is, what actions at all are desirable; it is a theory like that of free trade, presupposing that universal harmony must result of itself in accordance with innate laws of progress. Perhaps some future survey of the requirements of mankind will show that it is absolutely not desirable that all men should act in the same way, but rather that in the interest of ecumenical goals whole tracts of mankind ought to have special, perhaps under certain circumstances even evil tasks imposed upon them.
While Kant was sincere in his call for absolute morality, the perfect harmony of duties, and that no man ever be used as a means but only seen as an end, in practice we know that such a philosophy, wherever instrumentalized, becomes a fig leaf for class war. 
As we see, N both here and throughout his philosophy acknowledges the real-world untruth of Kantian moralism. He correctly analyzes “free trade” as an example of such an ideological Big Lie even though he cared nothing for economic issues. And yet even as he rejects the moral integrity of the real-world process toward such a goal, he still at this point wants to salvage the goal itself, which puts him right back in the position of the alleged absolutist who really seeks relative advantage.
But what can salvage the situation? Science!
If mankind is not to destroy itself through such conscious universal rule, it must first of all attain to a hitherto unprecedented knowledge of the preconditions of culture as a scientific standard for ecumenical goals. Herein lies the tremendous task facing the great spirits of the coming century.
As I said, N would later consider the placing of science and technology in its proper place, as a tool and never an end, as part of this tremendous task. But here he still prefigures the spirit of scientism and technocracy.
(To be sure, N never wanted any kind of gutter tyranny. Here he no doubt dreams of something like a technocratic version of Plato’s Republic. He was still enough of an enthusiast to believe in philosopher-kings, or in this case scientist-kings.)
And yet he already senses how that path cannot avail us. To go back to [22], we find a fitting conclusion:
In the meanwhile, the contrast between our agitated ephemeral existence and the slow-breathing repose of metaphysical ages is still too strong, because the two ages are still too close together; the individual human being himself now runs through far too many inner and outer evolutions for him to venture to establish himself securely once and for all even for so short a span as his own lifetime. A completely modern man who wants, for example, to build himself a house has at the same time the feeling he is proposing to immure himself alive in a mausoleum.   
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