Marxism and the Philosophy of Ideology, pt. III

See Part II of this series here.

Historical consciousness develops along with the material forces of history, and not through abstract rationality, as Hegel thought. Today, the mass of rational human subjects discovers their environment not as something self-alienated – that is, produced both by themselves and for themselves, as Hegel’s conservativism led him to regard in his own Enlightenment culture – but rather as an environment imposed with the hegemony of capitalism’s cultural, political, social, scientific and economic spaces. This point, of course, does not disprove the dialectical synthesis of Hegel’s view – it only adds to it a necessary material dimension. The mass of human subjects is entirely subordinated to the hegemonic rationality of the bourgeoisie, in the logical space carved out by capitalism. The reality of this logic is based entirely on abstractions, fictions drawn from the material forces of history and distorted in order to perpetuate the cultural authority and political power of the bourgeoisie.

Because the social existence of the proletariat is not at the same time its existence within a proletarian culture, ideology is driven into the working class, rather than revealed, in the last, to be something of themselves and for themselves. Althusser calls this driving force “interpellation”, which also means ‘hailing’ or ‘calling-forth’. Ideology calls us forth in the same way that police officers do when they hail you (‘Hey, you there!’). In the eyes of the Repressive State Apparatus, your existence is only as an abstract quantity, until so hailed, at which point said existence is qualitatively transformed, in this case, into that of a suspect.[1] It is the same with ideology.

This is, perhaps, the trickiest part to grasp of the philosophical puzzle concerning the functioning of ideology. Ideology hails us from the very instant we are born, at which moment we take on the label of being a son or a daughter, hence starting us towards developing a consciousness of ourselves as within the bourgeois family unit. Althusser makes some rather paradoxical comments at this stage about the nature of ideology: first, claiming that “ideology has no outside,”[2] meaning simply that the illusion of ideology is ever present, the task of science (specifically, of historical materialism) being to shatter this illusion; and second, that ideology “has no history,”[3] which makes sense if we consider that history belongs to the material processes which, in the last instance, determine particular ideologies, and are beyond them. If there is an outside of ideology, it is in the material processes of history. The history of ideology, because imaginary, is necessary immaterial.

Marxist science studies material processes and the most general dialectical laws that govern them. It does not deal in abstractions or imaginaries. However, it is necessary to understand the expression of the general laws in the imaginaries as well, in order to fully grasp the functioning of ideology. Individuals hailed by ideology are hailed as individual subjects. What does it mean to be a subject? Althusser offers an instructive example, in the case of Christian religious ideology:

… there can only be … a multitude of possible religious subjects on the absolute condition that there is a Unique, Absolute, Other Subject, i.e. God… God thus defines himself as the Subject par excellence, he who is through himself and for himself (‘I am that I am’), and he who interpellates his subject, the individual subjected to him… i.e. the individual named Moses. And Moses, interpellated-called by his Name, having recognized that it ‘really’ was he who was called by God, recognizes that he is a subject, a subject of God, a subject subjected to God, a subject through the subject and subjected to the Subject. The proof: he obeys him, and makes his people obey God’s Commandments.[4]

The God of the market is a many-faced God, but the general laws of ideology are the same. Ideology mirrors itself in its subjects, and individual subjects mirror themselves in ideology. Xenophanes of Colophon once remarked that, if oxen and horses had a religion, their gods would be painted with hooves[5] –Althusser adds that the oxen and horses would recognize themselves as real oxen and horses only on the condition of their semblance with their behooved gods. This generally holds true in the case of commodity fetishism under capitalism. The forces of capitalist production become fetishized, inscribed with a certain commodity value, and this recognition is doubled by that of the workers, who recognize themselves as commodities – that is, they recognize their embodied labour as obeying the logic of the commodity value-form. They recognize their labour power as a quantity of money, which can be exchanged with other commodities.

Fetishization occurs when the concrete or use-value of a product is invested entirely with abstract and imaginary quantities, detached from the actual processes of production that created the product in question, as in the transformation of productive processes by capitalism into commodity-production. Ideology overflows with the logic of fetishization, producing facts and formal logics completely separated from the material processes that gave rise to them. Religious iconography provides an overwhelming wealth of examples, but we may also observe this in the case of scientific revolutions, where old hardened dogmatists have often struggled not to give up belief in some entities, once thought real, which came to be thoroughly disproved in the face of new evidence; such was the case in Antoine Lavoisier’s discovery of oxygen in the 18th-century, having first observed the process of oxidization, against which one Joseph Priestley defended the old theory of dephlogisticated air to the bitter end.

Under the general logic of fetishization, what-there-is is completely detached from how what-there-is is produced. The chemical dispute of Lavoisier and Priestley was but a trite example compared with the more devious ways in which ideology and fetishism combine in capitalist society to carve out imaginary divisions between concrete individuals. We often hear of the fetishization of gender, and race. The history of the western fetishization of Asian women, for example, extends back to the 15th-century, taking an upturn in the 18th, at the dawn of industrial capitalism, when European – mainly British – trade with Japan and China sharply increased. The sexual stereotype of Asian women as exotic and submissive is directly tied to the colonial history of western imperialist powers; this is an example of fetishization, because it leads to a valuation and, fundamentally, a misrecognition of individuals, having nothing to do with their material reality. Naturally, elements of the ideological apparatus combine in various ways. The fetishization of Asian women in the early days of British imperialism combines with the existing bourgeois ideology of the family, which envisions women as an extension of private property.

Fetishization becomes particularly dangerous in the era of capitalist globalization. The façade of multiculturalism is paraded before the material reality of capitalism’s cultural hegemony. As capitalism conquers the cultural sphere, the logic of the fetish becomes a way not only to misrecognize others in an imaginary way, but also to misrecognize oneself. Consider the self-experience of a transgendered person. At a certain point, their material reality as an embodied subject breaks with the ideological categories of gender imposed by capitalism and the rise of the state in institutions extending property rights into persons, which are typically identified as the structures of patriarchy.[6] Similarly, the proletariat exists for the most part under the stupor of bourgeois ideology driven by the culture industry; fetishization is driven by consumption, and it often takes some earth-shattering material event, such as a general strike or a steep and prolonged economic crisis, to shake workers from the consumption of their own manufactured submissiveness to exploitation. Both are conditions for the reproduction of capitalism’s productive forces.

The only way to break definitively with ideology and the logic of fetishization is with a scientific view consistently grounded in material reality. This is precisely the project of dialectical materialism. Just as with the example I gave of the transgendered individual, the revolutionary proletariat has the potential break with ideology by discovering its material reality. The science that aims at this is inherently revolutionary, because the material reality of the proletariat as a class is one and the same with the motor force of history, which is a real material force. The material reality of the transgendered person is as an individual; the material reality of the working class is as a collective. This thesis underlies the science of historical materialism.

As was seen in the case of the Christian religious ideology, the condition of the unity of individual subjects was external, subjected to and imagined to be of God’s will. With the working class, this condition of unity is intrinsic to their very material reality. The functioning of ideology disrupts the ability of the proletariat to recognize its own material reality, by carving up relations between individuals with imaginary divisions and distortions. Fetishization serves both to multiply and crystallize these divisions.

This misrecognition is at the heart of the functioning of ideology, which aims to root the building class consciousness of the proletariat out like a weed. But weeds will drive through every crack, and so too with the revolutionary will of the workers.

We have only to take on the additional task, as builders of the subjective factor of the revolution, i.e., of the revolutionary party, to attack ideology wherever it exists. This can be done only by subjecting ideology and ISAs to a consistent material critique, revealing the productive forces and reproductive dynamics underlying them.

Postscript – on the subjective factor, the revolutionary vanguard party.

Some of you might be asking, what of the subjective factor of the revolution – the need for a revolutionary vanguard party, to combine with the objective, material factor of the mass of workers and their incipient class consciousness? Is this Subject another form of Absolute, like God, unique to a particular form of ideology? Any worker who believes this will have gravely misrecognized their material reality. Hegel says,

Self-consciousness is in itself and for itself when and because it is in itself and for itself for another; that is, that it is recognized as such.[7]

This recognition is accomplished when the subjective and objective factors enter into a unity – when the mass of workers definitively combines with the theoretical understanding and advanced consciousness of the revolutionary vanguard. This recognition is possible because it accords with the material reality of the proletariat; it is historical because this material reality is also the motor force of history. Thus, articulating the Marxist philosophy of ideology does not force us to abandon the subjective/objective factor distinction, but rather reminds us that the relation of these two factors is dialectical in nature, with each pole interpenetrating with the other.

[1] Althusser (2009), 48.

[2] Ibid., 49.

[3] Ibid., 34.

[4] Ibid., 52-3.

[5] Ref. in Alan Woods & Ted Grant, Reason in Revolt, 2nd ed. (London: Wellred Books, 2012), 42.

[6] Engels, Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), especially Ch. 2-4.

[7] Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), §178. My translation and emphasis.


Marxism and the Philosophy of Ideology, pt. II

See Part I of this series here.

We need only think of Wal-Mart’s notorious anti-union propaganda ‘training’ videos to see the force of ideology in action. Unions are a counterbalance to the unbridled anarchy of capitalist production. They’re also a threat to the power of the capitalist class. Producing an anti-union consciousness is a particularly effective, and pernicious way of reproducing capitalist power and production.

Now, most instances of ideology in action aren’t as obvious as the Wal-Mart example. Capitalism is not only an economic system – it is a cultural force. Capitalism is able to reproduce its relations of production in countless ways, both on the factory floors and beyond them. This insight takes us from ideology as it exists in concrete relations of capitalist production, to ideology as it exists as a state apparatus under capitalism. It is this which leads Althusser to turn our attention from ideology in general, to the historical development of Ideological State Apparatuses, in general.

An Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) is a special breed of Repressive State Apparatus, the latter of which secures through the direct use of force the political conditions for the functioning of the former. The Repressive State Apparatus is the direct arm of state power: police, the military, etc. Thus, a division of labour exists between the two kinds of state apparatuses. Althusser does suggest that a particular state apparatus is not likely to operate wholly either by ideology or by direct repression, but rather holds that “the (Repressive) State Apparatus functions massively and predominantly by repression, whereas the Ideological State Apparatuses function massively and predominantly by ideology.”[1]

For much of humankind’s social development during the pre-capitalist historical period, the Church was the singular, dominant ISA in society.[2] During the French Revolution of the 18th-century, it was absolutely essential that the burgeoning capitalist class challenged not only the absolute right to property and ownership of the means of production of the feudal aristocracy, but also the intellectual authority of the Church, as the main ideological support of monarchial power and land right throughout Europe, and beyond.

In the modern period of capitalist development, the central authority of the Church ISA becomes fractured and dispersed through a plurality of new institutions. Education becomes largely the responsibility of a professional class of teachers, rather than priests, in institutions owned and operated either by the state, or privately (which is increasingly the case in the current period of capitalist crisis). In school, we learn bourgeois history, thoroughly revised and “purified” of any revolutionary content; we also learn all of the basic skills required for us to become productive members of capitalist society. Today, even kindergarteners are learning computer programming in school. Just as yesterday, when we trained today’s civil and industrial engineers in the best available physical and social sciences. The basic education one is entitled to receive under capitalism is entirely at the sway of the productive forces in society.

There are other ISAs in the modern period. The parliamentary-political ISA combines universal suffrage with rhetoric and a smattering of reformist policies to produce a basic false consciousness – recently touted quite fervently by Rex Murphy in one of his vacillating centrist CBC rants – that voters possess the ultimate power under bourgeois democracy. Scientific institutions have long produced an understanding of the natural world that consummates the authority of bourgeois rule, for example, through Charles Darwin’s vulgar theory of natural adaptation, which continues to inform much research in evolutionary developmental biology, leading to a view of capitalist society as a social ecology in which the bourgeoisie thrive and survive as a class not off of the backs of exploited workers, but simply because they are the “fittest”. Lastly, broadcast-media ISAs, which create an additional layer of representation atop any experience of material reality, represent not our real conditions of existence as such, but only their imaginary distortion, biased by corporate owners or state sponsors in support of the aims of the capitalist class.

We can see that ISAs exist not only in order to reproduce the forces of capitalist production, but also to reproduce the value-framework of capital, which, in the last instance, amounts to the same thing.

Countless beliefs and representations, signifiers of the capitalist order and the bourgeois imaginary, circulate through the ideological superstructure of society. Now, there is one more element of the functioning of ideology that we have not yet considered. If ideology in ISAs is at its core the totality of beliefs and representations that exist in the bourgeois imaginary about capitalist society, and ideology in general functions to reproduce capitalist productive forces by bringing workers over to belief in the bourgeois worldview, then ideology must, in its functioning, make it so that the working class takes the thought of the bourgeoisie immediately to be its own. If this was not the case, then the mass of workers would quite easily witness the reality of their alienation in the struggle between frameworks of ideas – proletarian and bourgeois, revolutionary or reformist – on the factory floors themselves. The proletariat is not consciously convinced of the bourgeois worldview; rather, no other worldview seems to exist, from the perspective of the individual effectively subdued by the spell of the ISAs.

We should note here that the very crux of Hegel’s early dialectical method, from the Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), proceeds by the overcoming of media (mediations/representations), to a point where consciousness becomes increasingly certain both of itself and the concepts of its understanding; that is, certain of them, immediately. This process iterates itself in each case that the knower – a rational human subject – discovers some part of their environment as self-alienated.

To be continued…

[1] Althusser (2009), 23. My emphasis.

[2] Ibid., 25.

Marxism and the Philosophy of Ideology

This is the first of a multi-post series based on a leadoff I gave June 10th, 2016, for a Montréal branch of Fightback: the Canadian Section of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT). It approaches the question of ideology from a perspective largely inspired by the structuralist Marxism avowed by Louis Althusser in the late 60s to early 70s.

A prefatory note: Althusser occupies the slightly uncomfortable historical position of having simultaneously given structuralism is clearest theoretical formulation as a critical theory, while demonstrating its limits. Naturally, one asks of the question of ideology, a cui bono – that is, an ideology for whom? from the perspective of which subject? Structuralist critique cannot stand against itself without coming undone – from the perspective of a subject yet to come, or a subject in a different historico-factical situation, what is taken as the material of a science is called ideological, and vice versa. Let it be said that Althusser’s always was an explicitly partisan philosophy. “Class struggle in the field of theory” was for him definitive of philosophy. Thus, that the following presentation is presented from the position of the proletariat as the subject of history, that is, as its motor force, an a priori assumption of the science of historical materialism, should not be considered as a substantive critique, but merely as a partisan difference (with empirical consequences).

Let’s begin with a quote, from the Preface to The German Ideology (1845-6/1932), to help us define our scope.

Once upon a time a valiant fellow had the idea that men were drowned in water only because they were possessed with the idea of gravity. If they were to knock this notion out of their heads, say by stating it to be a superstition, a religious concept, they would be sublimely proof against any danger from water. His whole life long he fought against the illusion of gravity, of whose harmful results all statistics brought him new and manifold evidence. This valiant fellow was the type of the new revolutionary philosophers in Germany.[1]

Our question is a philosophical one: what is ideology? And how does it function? It is also a practical one. How does ideology relate to the oppression and exploitation of the masses in capitalist society? What sorts of material conditions give rise to ideology as an extension of bourgeois power? And, perhaps most importantly, how does one differentiate between ideology and scientific fact? These will be the guiding questions of our present discussion.

First: what is ideology? As Marxists, we are materialists. We are not the sorts of vulgar materialists, who, like Feuerbach, would reduce all of the realm of ideas to the level of material reality, while at the same time holding that the essence of what is material only becomes real in ideology, for example, in Christian theology.[2] Engels skilfully detects this contradiction in Feuerbach’s thought in the 1886 work on the latter.

For Feuerbach, our ability to conceive of an idea so grand as the gods, and to base entire religions around them, showed that ideas somehow have a greater reality than matter. Feuerbach once said of the emergence of rational thought in human subjects as we evolved from the apes, that he agreed with the dialectical materialist view “going backwards, but not forwards”. As dialectical materialists, we argue that rational thought, that consciousness itself, is not beyond matter, but is instead the highest realization of matter. Religion does not surpass matter; religion, at base, has a material reality.

In the same way, ideology has a material existence. This is one of the theses on ideology argued by Louis Althusser, in “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”.[3] Ideology exists in the rituals and practices of concrete individuals in material institutions: priests in the Church speaking hocus pocus (‘hoc est corpus meum’) over the Eucharist; Wall Street bankers who perceive the world through the spectacular calculations of bourgeois economics, shuffling about in a panic as the market fluctuates, in a virtual microcosm of the anarchy of capitalist production.

However, if this was all that there was to the substance of ideology, then it would be enough that we seize all of the factories tomorrow in order to topple bourgeois ideology wherever it exists. This is clearly not so. Ideology is an element of the superstructure of bourgeois society. The superstructure is dialectically related to a society’s material base. So, how we function materially produces in us a certain consciousness – ideas about how we ought to function – which we then apply concretely as a way of organizing our labour, along with the productive forces in society. Marx describes the dialectical relation between superstructure and base in The German Ideology, and Althusser further develops this idea in his own work.

This is how, by owning all of the means of production in society, the ruling class also comes to dominate society ideologically. Here, we should recall Marx’s well-known slogan: the ruling ideas in society are the ideas of its ruling class.

Now, how does ideology function – and what does it function to do? The first part of this question, according to Althusser, was not adequately considered by Marx, who instead answers to the second part of the question. Says Althusser,

… it is not their real conditions of existence, their real world, that ‘men’ ‘represent to themselves’ in ideology, but above all it is their relation to those conditions of existence which is represented to them there. It is this relation which is at the centre of every ideological, i.e. imaginary, representation of the real world. It is this relation that contains the ‘cause’ which has to explain the imaginary distortion of the ideological representation of the real world.[4]

Let’s make this a little more clear. If workers represented their real conditions of existence to themselves in ideology, then they would eventually, without fail, develop an advanced class consciousness, simply as a result of the material social relations of their labour. They would recognize themselves as a collective force and will, rather than as individuals, with relative ease. Wouldn’t that simplify the task of the revolutionary party! So, it isn’t the real conditions of the base of society that workers represent to themselves in ideology, but rather the imaginary representations of those conditions, which make up the superstructure of bourgeois society.

For the most part, the working class is not awake to the reality of their exploitation. This is the result of a manufactured social reality imposed by the ruling class, which produces in workers a submissiveness to exploitation. It is not that workers know themselves to be exploited and are unaffected by this fact, but rather that the bourgeois ideology produces a consciousness in individual workers which leads them to believe that their material exploitation is in fact the best of all possible worlds. Ideology is principally a force that reproduces capitalist relations of production, by representing to individuals a positive understanding of themselves as within the framework of capitalist production.

This was the point already made by Marx: “The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means of subsistence they find in existence and have to reproduce.”[5]

To be continued

[1] Marx, The German Ideology (1932). My emphasis.

[2] Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of German Classical Philosophy (1886), §2-3.

[3] Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (1970) in On Ideology (New York: Verso, 2009), 39.

[4] Ibid., 38.

[5] Marx (1932), Part I. A: “Idealism and Materialism”. My emphasis.


Parasitic Wasps, Biopolitics and the Tree of Life

Last week, we learned of a species of parasitic wasp, which through the transmission of a symbiotic virus produced in its ovaries to a caterpillar host, has actually been able to transfer parts of its genome into the host’s lineage.  The evolutionary history of this horizontal gene transfer, scientists estimate, dates back as many as 100 million years.  Apparently, certain species of moth and butterfly have appropriated the virally transmitted wasp genome, adapting it in order to provide some resistance against the common pathogen baculovirus, similar in structure to the symbiotic bracovirus produced by the wasp[1].

Genetically modified organisms occur in nature; the image of the atomic individual adapting solutions to problems presented to it by its environment, in competition for its survival, is problematized.  The genetic expressions of some species histories are characterized by reciprocity, if not outright mutual aid (most caterpillars die while performing the role of host.)  Thus, the orthodox conception of evolutionary adaptation, which problematizes the environment for individuals and reduces organisms to struggling organs of behaviour and which views populations as breeding pools, stands in need of some revision.

This orthodox adaptationist view is perhaps most recognizable in the image of the “Tree of Life”: the phylogenetic portraiture of evolutionary histories and ancestral relations, which so transfixed the early Darwinists, such as Haeckel…

Haeckel's Early Darwinian

Though Haeckel’s particular depiction is heavily dated, the figurative phylogenetic tree hangs over evolutionary biology even today – perhaps a consequence of modern Neo-Darwinism’s post-Enlightenment hangover.  Just this summer, a tremendous research project mutually supported variously by institutes of computational biology and natural or evolutionary history across the United States has resulted in the publication of the Open Tree of Life, a collaborative platform for the synthesis of phylogeny and taxonomy into a comprehensive tree-model[2] (whose “tips” number several orders of magnitude higher than those seen in Haeckel’s earlier depiction.)

But we have seen how parasitic wasps and archaeal viruses complicate this model, which establishes hard species barriers outside of ancestry and thereby obscures the possibility of genome fusion and horizontal gene transfer in evolutionary histories.  New phenotypic models that attempt to account for these phenomena have illustrated trees with deep and circular primordial root systems[3].  Further conceptual options include bushes, forests, and nets[4].  It makes sense to ask what kind of shape our tree is in: whether it is indeed standing strong despite countervailing evidence, or whether it is withering.

The tree-model depicts species histories as stratified and progressing (towards optimal adaptation vis-à-vis natural selection at the levels of genes, organisms, and/or cultures) as a result of competition within a shared environment.  Just as the Copernican Revolution brought about a shift in cultural consciousness, from a view of human existence under God as residing in His universal center to being just another speck in a godless sky, so has the Darwinian Revolution ushered in the era of biopolitics: the social and political being of humankind is seen as capable of reduction to biological explanations, and of subject to biological controls.  The competitive struggle for life results in genetic winners and losers emerging from the game of nature; the ethos of struggle and savagery is supremely vindicated.

The participation of the sciences in the early development of capitalism across Europe allowed science to serve “as an externality of the capitalist expansion, like roads and lighthouses, and as a way to solve particular problems”[5].  For the rising European bourgeoisie, the question of its own freedom was a problem for it, just as the question of the expression of freedom through ownership and exploitation is for it in the modern day of neoliberal capitalist globalization.  The early biopolitics thus opened as a theatre for the ideological ascendancy of a class rising to rule; this class was the bourgeoisie, who across Europe could wield scientific knowledge as an ideological weapon by which to unshackle itself from old feudal oppressions and religiosity.

Darwin’s theory of evolution was not widely supported at the time of its publication in 1859.  Historians of evolutionary history have long emphasized that that the reception of a theory is as much a result of the particular sociopolitical context into which it is introduced (or by which it is given birth), as it is of the theory’s actual content[6].  Major conflicts arose between the early evolutionary theory and church dogma, but these mostly gave way by the end of the century, having only recently resurfaced after points of disagreement fell out of favour even among theologians and other church scholars (as in the case of Christian fundamentalism in the United States, which has embraced anew Ussher’s infamous date for the creation of the Earth in 4004 B.C.)  Interestingly, this resurgence resembles an ideological counterrevolution from the fundamentalist Christian Right, against the ideologically bourgeois revolutions whose avatars are Copernicus and Darwin.  Who knows the essence of life, controls it.

In the modern theatre of biopolitics, life continues to be imagined on the basis of oppressive ideology: of “freedom” expressed only through individualism.  The “Modern Synthesis” of the Neo-Darwinists between evolutionary laws operating at the level of populations and the laws of classical genetics has gone so far as to reduce evolutionary histories to the competitive instincts of autonomous selfish genes.  But,

What of the autonomous individual organism, often the conceptual target of attempts to define life, and the thing that is assumed by models of evolution through competition and selection? To the extent that such individual autonomy requires just an individual life or life history, then it surely applies much more broadly than is generally intended by biological theorists. Countless non-cellular entities have individual life-histories, which they achieve through contributing to the lives and life-histories of the larger entities in which they collaborate, and this collaboration constitutes their claim to life. But – and this is our central point – no more and no less could be said of the claims of individual life histories of paradigmatic organisms such as animals or plants; unless, that is, we think of these as the collaborative focus of communities of entities from many different reproductive lineages. In much the same way, whatever sense we might try to make of the Dawkinsian idea of selfish genes, molecular replication is always, and has always been from the pre-cellular molecular community to the present, the achievement of ensembles of molecules, not of individual molecules…[7]

Prions, archaeal viruses, organelles and symbionts, parasitic wasps and mutant moths: these all challenge our notion of the evolutionary tree, of the reduction of life and lineage to individual life histories, and of the characterization of evolutionary progress as through competition instead (and to the exclusion) of collaboration.  What if the Tree of Life, instead of revealing the ultimate elucidation of the ascendancy of (some) humans towards freedom and progress, resembled another outmoded Enlightenment model?

Petrus Camper's Racist Model of Human Intelligence

Petrus Camper, in the late 18th century, studied the various human races and placed them in a hierarchy, with whites at the top, in his model of a correlation between the angles created by certain facial features with intelligence (whites were held to be closest to the ideal, represented by classical Greek statues, while blacks were seen as barely distinct from apes.)  Racist science, although in decline, has existed and will continue to exist in real contexts of racial oppression.  Classist science has also existed and will continue to exist in the context of class struggle, but it is reinforced by the neoliberal management of research institutions in advanced capitalist countries, where scientific knowledge is itself transformed into a commodity.

The fetishism of biotechnology, genetic determinism, no doubt, is one of the most important ideologies of biocapitalism. It declares the omnipotence of the gene, which not only prescribes the fundamental vital movement, but also internally determines the evolution of culture, so any physical and mental purpose can be achieved through the intervention on the “blueprint of life” and the subjugations of bodies. Ultimately, “life” is equated to “gene,” then reduced to the carrier and slave of gene.[8]

Biology is not merely the stage of the discovery of life.  Biopolitics invites us to consider biology as a space of Becoming, as a space where the human being is free to define her living as a social organism.  We can also treat this space as a space of Becoming into the Being of living ecologies that transcend the immediate experience of our spatiotemporal bondage.  Furthermore, this space can be seen as freely imagining the functioning of organisms within a body politic: be their vital force competitive, collaborative, or perhaps a sublation of the two.

The current age of biocapitalism has sought to restructure political rationality through the hegemony of western reductive science over the imagination of life and livelihood.  Perhaps the sublation of the dialectic between competition and collaboration is one which invites us to understand more complex forms of life, such as diverse ecologies or even sociopolitical organisms, in terms of the complex reciprocal relations between parts and wholes; where each is understood as the negation of the other and neither is monopolized through the exertion of biotechnological extensions of the power of capital over all social and political forms of life.

[1] See “Recurrent Domestication by Lepidoptera of Genes from Their Parasites Mediated by Bracoviruses” (Multiple Authors) in PLoS Genet 11(9): e1005470. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1005470.

[2] See “Synthesis of phylogeny and taxonomy into a comprehensive tree of life” (Multiple Authors) in PNAS 2015 : 1423041112v1-201423041 (

[3] Rivera & Lake, “The ring of life provides evidence for a genome fusion origin of eukaryotes” in Nature, 431, 2004.

[4] Lucio Florio, “The Tree of Life: Philosophical and Theological Considerations” in Studia Aloisiana, 4(1), 2013.

[5] Levins & Lewontin, “The Commoditization of Science” in The Dialectical Biologist (1985).

[6] See, for example, Peter J. Bowler’s Evolution: The History of an Idea (3rd ed. 2003).

[7] Dupré & O’Malley, “Varieties of Living Things: Life at the Intersection of Lineage and Metabolism” in Philosophy and Theory in Biology 1:e003, 2009.

[8] Yu & Liu, “The New Biopolitics” in Journal of Academic Ethics 7, 2009.


A Crook against the “Evidence for Technocracy”

I’d like to blow some hot air on the kindling of what may become the hot new election issue in Canada. In a recent CBC debate hosted by The 180, Katie Gibbs – a biologist from the University of Ottawa, and executive director of (the science-lobbyist group) “Evidence for Democracy” – discusses the efforts of her organization to have specific science-policy questions addressed as a part of the current federal leaders’ debates. Clive Crook, Bloomberg View columnist (and author of such enlightened articles as “The Meaning of Donald Trump” and “Are You Rich? No Need to Apologize”), argues that science and policy ought not to mix. Let’s review.

There is a dialectic at play here, between the old economists and a microcosm rising within the bourgeoisie. We are in the epoch of the 21st century technocratic ‘Knowledge Society’. Intellectual property, shifts from a public (military-industrial) to a private (anarchic free-market) funding model for universities, and the overextended farce of patent law, all point to sites of conflict over the ownership of knowledge capital. In Harper’s Canada, declining funding for and the muzzling of government scientists have driven two spears into Galileo’s sides, in what has been called a war on science.

It is important to realize that science as a social institution has been structured on a neoliberal model[1]. Most of us are consumers in the marketplace of facts, while this debate falls between the owners/managers and the producers, whom are a modern technical intelligentsia. Gibbs claims that scientific research is an important element of all political decision-making. It is not clear to me why environmental assessments, ecological impact statements and psychological indices of cross-cultural conflict are important elements, for example, in decisions about whether to build unwanted and potentially damaging oil pipelines through the traditional and oft sacred lands of indigenous communities, except for on the basis of such a model.

Of course, scientists are also citizens, and like any other they will be predisposed to making value judgements based on the evidence that confronts them. There is a question as to whether (or to which extent) the facts discovered by scientific researchers have any value-content. Crook defends a dated view of objective neutrality in the sciences; in his view, the facts discovered by scientists are bereft of value-content. The role of scientists is to present the bare facts to politicians, who then attend to the ethics and make value judgements.

Gibbs’ view puts value-content not into the facts discovered by scientists, but into science itself. Usually scientists and philosophers of this persuasion appraise whichever their notion of the scientific method: used to arrive at facts by way of the testing of hypotheses against empirical observations, through the fuse of several degrees of abstraction. The facts themselves do not have any value-content, but the scientific method does. Her view envisions greater autonomy for researchers and rings of class individualism and elitism, affording value to an epistemic culture in-demand rather than their specific product. Crook’s view, on the other hand, is conservative against the progressive element contained in the rising intellectual microcosm within the capitalist class.

Neither view seems quite correct to me. Facts have value-content, both inwardly and outwardly. Consider the fact, “75% of all casualties in World War II were civilians”. If you’re interested, that’s nearly 50 million people. Value-content comes into this fact through the productive means which birthed it. For example, does a person who succumbs to a lingering lung infection from having inspired a modicum of Mustard Gas several years after the end of the war count as a casualty? What about the countless infants in the following generation that would die simply for having been born into crushing war-torn poverty?

Outwardly, the fact is harrowing to hear. It makes me unhappy. It makes me dislike war. No doubt my reaction upon hearing this fact is socially and culturally conditioned, but this does not rob it of its value-content. If anything, it correlates value-content with shared evaluative practices and norms. It seems that we are inclined to make use of facts when we reason, and that we evaluate facts according to our own worldviews and against our own experiences.

Methods, such as experimental practices and statistical models of inference, do not have value-content, but are value relevant in their factive manifestations. Value judgements are made even in ostensibly minute methodological details. But ‘science’ (supposing a group of spuriously connected methodologies) has no intrinsic value. Science is the dominant epistemic culture living in a postcolonial and multicultural society. Public uptake of the scientific worldview is as much a role for the scientist-as-citizen as it is a role for science journalism. The understanding of and receptivity to scientific facts is a function of the ideological outgrowth of the institution, whose expansion under the neoliberal model is fueled by market forces.

Crook’s view consigns science merely to be the scullion of capitalism. I am inclined to agree with Gibbs, that scientists must strive to be engaged citizens. The question is how we, as a critical and engaged public, should react to their involvement. Though bound by the strictures of neoliberal management, and displaying some of the class characteristics of the liberal bourgeoisie, there exists a progressive element relative to the current balance of power in the Canadian political context. In my view, we should even encourage scientists – beyond what Gibbs suggests – to make specific policy recommendations, rather than merely advocating for the value of science in general.

Hypothetical science policy directive for a new Canadian socialist party: fully decentralize knowledge production. In the interim, leading up to the revolutionary stage, foster a program of epistemic revolt against the neoliberal scientific institution. The revolution in the means of production made possible on the condition of capitalism, when transitioning to a socialist stage of history, could evenly redistribute the sublime bourgeois luxury of leisure time, ushering in a new post-scientific Enlightenment. The scientific institution assumes the role of the church: the crumbling tradition against which new progressive elements are tested.

In fact, this is happening even now, with insurrectionary pockets papering from within the intelligentsia to resist the neoliberalization of academia. Of course, even if science policy is successfully introduced into the arena of federal leaders’ debates, the Canadian political spectrum runs only from just-left-of-center to far right; only a radical left party could be expected to take this tone. But many parties to the far left accept the sciences of the day uncritically, as many others do. ‘Scientific’ socialists should be careful not to unwittingly adopt neoliberal predilections based on their aspirations to the status of a science.

A discussion of the sort which Gibbs envisions should not be seen as a truly progressive shift. It is a horizontal shift in hands between powers, primarily centred on the question of ownership. Since the first Canadian federal leaders’ debate in 1968, a total of zero science policy questions have been asked of the candidates. Surely it is time to discuss these matters inside of our official political infrastructure. I suspect that parties to the left are weakly positioned to take a stance on the science policy question, with perhaps only the Lysenko affair as an embarrassing lesson from history. Efforts should be made to bring the culture of epistemic revolt out from their dark corners in the universities, into the public whose uptake of scientific facts is considered to be such an important metric.

[1] This is the current suasion from within the social studies of science (STS). A 2010 Issue of Social Studies of Science (40/5) was focused on the impacts of neoliberalism as “a regime for scientific management”. (Lave and Mirowski, “Introduction: STS and Neoliberal Science” (2010), in the aforementioned issue.


Madness Under Modern Capitalism

Let’s talk about madness. Schizophrenia: from the ancient Greek schizo, meaning ‘split,’ and phrene, meaning ‘mind.’ But of course, in recent history, since around the 19th century, our ways of thinking about ‘schizophrenia’ have become much more complicated: a growing function of social and psychiatric progress. The history of our understanding of this complex manner of madness boomed in around the 1980s, with a neurophysiological descriptive explosion spurred on by new research, resulting in new pharmacological treatments and an eventual explosion in subtypes. This expanding bubble of complications popped somewhat in 2013, when the DSM-5 recommended dropping all subtype classifications, leaving us with alone again with just ‘schizophrenia,’ itself.

Hanging before our psychiatric institutions, our own schizoid selves.
Hanging before its religion, policing morals and condemning to Hell.

Hanging before us, quite intimately, as a reflection on the nature of the self and the possibility of our familiarity with it. Staring at us as a phenomenology of the Other – but, is it also an othering ontology? The majority consensus on schizophrenia since as early as the 19th century has been to regard it primarily as a physical disorder: today, a mental disorder symptomatically contingent upon neurophysiology and specific patterns of neurological decay. However, as Ronny Turner and Charles Edgley argue, “only after behavior is labeled as deviant can it be identified as such & diagnosed as chemically caused.”[1] The specific causal mechanisms of schizophrenia remain elusive. The neurochemicalists put social disorder at only a brain scan away from mental disorder and pharmacological normalization. Their strict materialist conception of the disease downplays or outright denies the significance of sociocultural causes. And this conception is reflected in treatment.

Never mind that recovery outcomes for people suffering from schizophrenia have been shown across a multitude of international studies commissioned by the World Health Organization to be significantly greater for patients in developing countries, where pharmacological intervention is not the standard of care, over developed countries. “Far from being mere incidental cultural music … therapeutic benefits [appear to be] forgone under circumstances of enforced supported dependency.”[2] Never mind that male African Caribbean immigrants to the United Kingdom are as much as ten times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than young Brits, in spite of the orthodox epidemiologist’s taxonomy of environmental and genetic factors predicting deviations of rates of incidence of schizophrenia within only about a single percent across cultures[3] (similar figures exist in studies of immigrants to the Netherlands.) Even differentiation between rates of early onset in males and females, for a time thought to be one robust and well-replicated result in the tome of our largely uncertain knowledge of schizophrenia, has recently been found to be a confounded finding.[4] The data is simply not as secure as we are led to believe by psychiatry and its affiliated institutions. (Perhaps the nice old owners of the pharmaceutical firms responsible for producing antipsychotic drugs have no vested interests in these matters.)

There are many questions: why the better outcomes for sufferers of schizophrenia in developing countries? Why the increased risk for culturally dislocated immigrants? Social causes and socially structured care. Perhaps these questions jointly suggest an answer, pointing to a radical reconceptualization of schizophrenia as a socially constructed disorder. Of course, this does not detract in any way from its reality, simply put. It is just that we should consider both treatments for and causes of the disease to have a fundamentally sociological character. The mental trauma endured by child sufferers of abuse can be tracked in distinct physiological characteristics of the developmental brain later on in life. Why think that the daily traumas experienced in life within the totalizing technosphere of modern capitalism could not equally mark their tracks in the brain?

We will not lapse into full-blown dealings with Deleuze, here. However, our conception of schizophrenia is determined by several of the various institutions within Western medical science, and so it is suitable to seek answers to these questions somewhere in the framework of sociopolitical assumptions that creates the context in which said institutions lay their foundations. From Levins,

The bourgeois atomistic view of society, as applied to science, asserts that progress is made by a few individuals (who just happen to be “us”) … Individualism in science helps create the common belief that the properties of populations are simply derivable from those of the uncharged atoms (genes) of populations or societies…

The specialization of scientific labor and of command functions from research creates a model of scientific organization that is easily seen as the model for the organization of the world. Nature is perceived as following the organization chart of our company or university, with similar phenomena united under a single chairman, distinct but related phenomena united under a common dean. Thus specialization in practice joins with atomistic individualism to reinforce the reductionism that still predominates in the implicit philosophy of scientists.[5]

Individualism and reductionism: sever the individual from society, reduce the cause of the patient’s condition to something entirely material, or physical. Correct neurological imbalances with powerful dopamine reuptake inhibitors, enforcing treatment within the confines of special types of prisons called mental health hospitals. In India, greater health outcomes for schizophrenics have been attributed to a highly attentive family based care model, based on the specific needs of the suffering individual and typically carried out in the home. Pharmacological interventions are significantly less common.  A recent sixteen month ethnographic study on the standards of psychiatric treatment for schizophrenics in ‘developing’ India finds that “a model of medical care that deemphasizes patient autonomy [i.e., individualization] and the rational understanding of pathology [i.e., reductionism] benefits those diagnosed with schizophrenia.”[6]

It is not that all scientists in the West are themselves bourgeois, but they are largely the ideologues of the ruling class. An inter-institutional struggle between the old Enlightenment ideals for science and its unending search for Truth, and the post-positivistic research cartels racing to some finish line just to finally get it right and to get the last word (and more often than not, to patent it as intellectual property) has created a rift between the laborers of science based on their support or repudiation of commoditization. The poor outcomes of Western medical science with respect to schizophrenia points to a point of contradiction, where the values imposed from the top-down through enforced institutional arrangements that benefit the ruling class might be exposed as oppressive. To root out these oppressive values, we must take aim at the commoditization of science. And this, in turn, will lead us squarely to a critique of the great modern romance between science, technology, and capitalism.

[1] See “From Witchcraft to Drugcraft: Biochemistry as Mythology,” in The Social Science Journal 20.4 (1983).

[2] Hopper and Wanderling, “Revisiting the Developed Versus Developing Country Distinction in Course and Outcome in Schizophrenia,” in Schizophrenia Bulletin 26.4 (2000).

[3] Jones and Fung, “Ethnicity and Mental Health: The Example of Schizophrenia in the African Caribbean Population in Europe,” in Ethnicity and Causal Mechanisms (2005), 227-61.

[4] Jablensky and Cole, “Is the earlier age at onset of schizophrenia in males a confounded finding?” in British Journal of Psychiatry 170 (1997).

[5] Levins & Lewontin, “The Commoditization of Science,” in The Dialectical Biologist (1985).

[6] Sousa, “Pragmatic ethics, sensible care: Psychiatry and schizophrenia in north India,” available in Sociological Abstracts.


An Open Letter to Thomas Mulcair

The following letter was sent to the office of opposition leader Thomas Mulcair, on the evening of May 18th, 2015. 

Dear Thomas Mulcair,

You do not know who I am in particular, although you may recognize my face. You would recognize it from among the faces of supporters whose hands you shook at a rally for the New Democratic Party in Victoria on Thursday. I heard an ex-producer of the recently passed B.B. King interviewed on the CBC earlier this week, who proclaimed that anyone who shook the blues guitar legend’s hand would right then become a friend to him for life, as a testament to the King’s good character. As I plan to support the New Democratic Party in the upcoming election, and as I encourage other young voters like myself to do the same, I find myself inclined to test the character of its leader, in a way hopefully distanced to some degree from the often purely performative spectacle of parliamentary politics. My name is Anthony James Gavin. Having extended your hand to me as an invitation to amicable support, so too do I hope that you will now accept my invitation into a political discourse.

I would like to discuss the question of the middle class, a cornerstone of your party’s platform: “New Democrats are committed to strengthening the middle class and raising up all those who have fallen out of the middle class due to the economic policies of both the Liberals and the Conservatives.” The problem, Mr. Mulcair, is that the ‘middle class’ is a myth. It is a myth of political utility and convenience. My hope is that we might dispel this myth, to reawaken a more realistic class view of society among the countless disenfranchised voters in Canada – particularly the youth – so that we might speak openly about the daily struggles that they face.

If I may briefly introduce a different, but related myth: that increasing numbers of young Canadians are failing to vote because they are either not interested in, or have never had sufficient educational opportunities in order to become actively engaged in politics and civic life (see, for example, a 2010 article in the Canadian Parliamentary Review, “Why Youth Do Note Vote?”) There may be some truth to this attitude, but we miss the mark on a much greater issue by stopping here. Rising numbers of overeducated and underemployed young Canadians are of a prevailing attitude which says (forgive my candor) that politics is bullshit. It is not that this layer of the youth are disengaged with civic life – quite the opposite. Many are activists operating on the fringes, or otherwise completely outside of provincial or federal political infrastructure (you are no doubt aware of the presence of this section of the youth from your time in Quebec.) Many others are actively engaged in the discourse of Canadian politics, but see that parliamentary democracy utterly and systematically fails to serve them. It fails to serve them, because it fails to recognize them. They do not see themselves as middle class. And despite facing record levels of debt, and the rapidly rising costs of housing in urban centers where most of them live (Vancouver is close to my heart, with housing costs skyrocketing in a foreign ownership inflation scandal, but also in Toronto), they do not aspire to ascend to the level of the elusive middle class citizen, with all of his traditional trappings. We are daily faced with the sheer inconceivability of ever purchasing something like a house, a new car, or of the possibility of working in a job that gives us anything beyond purely economic fulfilment – even then granting us only basic subsistence if we’re lucky – leaving us alienated by our labor.

This is a basic portrait of the young Canadian social progressive – an economic underclass. I speak now as an ‘us,’ rather than a ‘they.’ While Ottawa seems doomed constantly to fail to sing our tune, nonetheless you will find that we strike upon harmonious chords, Mr. Mulcair. No doubt the New Democrats are aware of this and have consciously crafted their platform to speak to these ideals, even if the Party fails to completely grasp the young Canadians who take them most to heart. The Party’s policy to repeal Bill C-51 speaks especially to this demographic, with many young Liberals having denounced Justin Trudeau for his complicity in buckling to the anti-terror legislation of the Conservatives. From a recent call to action from Youth Vote Canada,

A growing number of youth choose to take part in more “radical” actions, such as blockades, occupations, hacktivism, and intense ideological debate. Bill C-51 targets these actions, taking away our freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and conscience. If we continue to stigmatize actions like this, we are stigmatizing the democratic coming of age of an entire generation.

The expressed attitude of the Party over the freedom of Omar Khadr strikes the same chord again with these young social progressives, who have fervently denounced Stephen Harper’s disfiguration of Canada under a politics of fear. Finally, the mandate of the New Democrats to introduce a federal minimum wage of $15/hour is perhaps most directly, albeit least significantly, targeted at this group. I say ‘least significantly’ only because real political significance is married to ideology, and the social ideologies of these young progressives are less likely to ride on the coattails of economic gains than their parents were when change in Ottawa is on the docket, for just the reasons described above.

I reiterate; so that we may speak more directly to this group, let us dispel of, or at least suspend all that which leaves them feeling disillusioned. The ‘middle class’ is a myth which does not serve us. Our social dislocation is the result of a different class reality, the reality of class antagonism. We have realized this idea and manifested under it time and again, from the Western to the Eastern world, from the Occupy Movement to the Egyptian revolution in 2011 alone. The ‘middle class’ is an ideal of Western liberalism: a fictitious type of citizen who parasitizes the social neither from the top-down – as the ultra-capitalists that earn almost all of the wealth off of the backs of those whose labor creates the value of the goods that they sell – nor from the bottom-up, as those favourite social scapegoats of the upper-class bourgeoisie, those whose circumstance is such that they are forced into stigmatization and consequent indignity under the crumbling architecture of social services and welfare. The ‘middle class’ represents a theoretical point between exploiter and the exploited, between oppressor and the oppressed. A point nebulously based on income and the combined economic value of all of our property, introduced as an excluded middle between mutually antagonistic extremes, each deriding the other as parasite. The ‘middle class’ is a pernicious myth that disguises class antagonisms in society for those who find themselves defined by it.

Which takes me to my next point, Mr. Mulcair. For these ideological reasons, everyone is climbing over each other to identify themselves as middle class Canadians. This demonstrates the political utility of the myth. Up to 90% of our nearby American neighbours self-identify as middle class citizens. The number of Canadians is more respectable, down from a peak of nearly 70% prior to the global economic collapse that led to the 2008 recession, to 47% last year. In just one year since, the number has climbed again up to 52%. Interestingly, these numbers are based solely on income figures; when asked to consider both their financial and social place in society, 73% of Canadians self-identify as middle class. While we’re at it, I will point out that 36% identify as working class, rather than middle class[1]. Does this year’s being an election year help to explain the 5% jump in middle class self-identification, owing to broad sweeping political rhetoric? – after all, each party in Ottawa (save perhaps for the Greens) have made it their mandate to appeal to just this demographic. It makes sense. Present an image of the values of the ideal Canadian citizen, broadcasting one’s political platform as widely as possible among the many who wish only to be good, honest people, rather than parasites. The figures on numbers of Canadians who self-identify as middle class are endlessly more telling than any of the many types of median income calculations or other vectors of social standing which try to describe who the middle class citizens really are. The most conservative estimates of these sorts depict the middle 20% or so of Canadians as bona fide middle class. Could such a calculation ever serve parliamentary politics?

There is no room in the calculations of the 99% for solidarity with a wavering middle 50%-ish. The ideals presented in Ottawa fail to capture the minds of this youthful demographic which I have primarily been speaking of – although if we are being truthful, the demographic also includes that 36% slice of your ‘middle class’ who prefer to call themselves workers – because this demographic is crushed by its realities. Young Canadians are crushed by record highs in unemployment and student debt, but still only 38% voted in the last federal election. This is not because we are uneducated and unaware, but rather that none of the parties in Ottawa are speaking to us. Indeed, we are over-educated and hyper-aware, too educated for our wage-slavery, bright young minds from undergraduates to PhDs to the many excluded from the outset by the financial burden presented by university or college, working as baristas and paint shop clerks and under the banners of corrupt telecommunications brands in cramped shopping mall kiosks, or not working at all. We may not be a portrait of the old proletarians, but we are their closest comrades in ideology, in every sense an economic underclass faced with age-gaps and wage-gaps and drowning in unpaid internships. Our reality is the reality of class antagonisms in society, of capitalism in decay and breaking down all around us, and the rhetoric of the old ideals doesn’t sing our tune. We like our leaders like our B.B. Kings, somehow always echoing their influence through the music of the youth. Speak to us, and we will hear you.

This demographic, whose support you try to speak to through your policies, is not ultimately hearing you. Some are like me, who will invite you into a political discourse directly, and who will not hesitate to involve themselves in political activity both inside and outside of our traditional political infrastructure. But many are not, because many do not feel that they have been invited into the conversation in the first place. To speak figuratively, Mr. Mulcair – you have not given many of us a handshake. I implore you to do so, and to begin by engaging us in the discourse which I have opened up here. We are leaking into your ranks on all sides, from the young student MPs in Quebec to those in Rachel Notley’s provincial government in Alberta. Let us in, and we will happily engage you in discussions, lending you our support while maturing the radical politics of our generation on the outside. Because, as a tactical measure, it makes sense to launch our attack on all sides whenever we are able, both from within and without.

I hope that you will deliver a thoughtful reply to my letter, Mr. Mulcair. Because I find you to be a respectable man, and because we young people deserve it.

Sincerely yours,

Anthony J. Gavin

[1] These numbers published in Hennessy’s Indices by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.


May the Force Die Through Us

Hot off the press, a fresh new piece of pure gonzo journalism, brought to you louder than ever in the style of the immortal Hunter S.   Watch out! – here comes Dionysus, derailing the chariot of Apollo. Five friends stoned on death find justice at the end of a violent – but colourful! – and noisy intergalactic civil war. A ship’s captain confronts his ownmost end and avows to surrender himself to the Goddess. Five friends smoking cigarettes like AK47s (chronically palatable) plunged into a world of real science fiction, inviting the interruption in as time’s uninvited guest, serving earth magic in their mugs. The day was May the 4th; we are met with our cultural inheritance, ‘artifactuality’ as brought to you by the one and only George Lucas, incorporated.

May the force be with us. The time forces the occasion, the event of celebration. May the 4th – Star Wars Day: an invitation. None among us, none among our generation, remembers the first time that they saw a Star Wars film. We were too young to witness the rising tide, the crest of A New Hope carrying waves of a cosmos at war – good versus evil, light versus dark, sagacity versus sin – through the desolation and despair of Empire, and on at last to the figure of the fallen son: Luke the redeemer, resurrected for but ever after the fall, corruption consuming the ghost of the hand that dares strike the father. Two times the sacrificial son, the resurrected and the damned, the Northern and the Morning Star, Christ and Lucifer tortured and entangled in the cold light of the day.

There is a calmness, a stillness in the balance of the opposition, the counterposition of the light and the dark sides of the force. Frozen in time, the freedom fighters are few and far between, rebel X-Wings lonely as a painted ships upon a painted ocean. But even a painted ship makes waves. We are connected by the force, waving through time and space as a tide anchored between two moons. The stillness of the tide is an illusion, speaking the presence – the speed – of celestial bodies. We are beings in time, defined by the speed at which we burn towards our own end. The son engulfs the moon in its last eventual breath: pneuma and aither, the logos and the order, ordered through the force of the great conflagration. We are beings of light, driven from darkness, drawn to wherever we can see.

Icarus, the truest of angels, falling from the sky. Escape the maze of the body, else the idea will die. The Skywalker melts his wings playing with fire.

This is our inheritance. This is a backdrop to our being. This is our time, this time – our historicity! But it wasn’t quite our gift. New movies for the new generation. We are drowned in the grandiose, speed and noise, action and impact, always in greater-than-living colour. Dangerous lightsaber acrobatics, clanking battledroid antics: a galaxy suffused with comedy over the cathartic, echoing through an empty hall – the hollowness of its tragedy. New wave Star Wars Ambush: a ‘young’ Yoda destroys a Toydarian coral reef and forces the other aliens into submission. The Othering aliens, and the alien Other. The galaxy far far away no longer captivates us, enchants us thereby drawing us towards it – no! The galaxy is younger, less sagely but all the more spritely: a cosmos in its adolescence, perhaps. We submit ourselves – are brought to submission – under duress, by force and coercion, by the attacking constancy of sheer everywhereness. By force!

The time arrives for us to acknowledge the presence of this different force; media meets us in the marketplace with a bombardment of midi-chlorians, cultural saturation and consumer goods so that we can sense its presence. Propagandisms: the constancy and necessity of war, the necessity of special powers to be invested in an intellectual and political elite, the self-justifying and always receding secrecy of the actual (the elusive Jedi Council struggles to strike the Supreme Chancellor’s strings, a hidden and puppeteering realpolitik.)

Before we can arrive, we must depart – even if our arrival is a return. Five friends stoned on death make earth magic noise like mushaboom bombs (with one lucid lad to our company.) We take off towards our end, driven but by telos through time: our only purpose. We are painted on the beach. The tides move in us in our stillness. Infinite azure expanse, an image greater than outer space before our eyes. The perfection of the image breaks all geometries. Lose the sunglasses, folks, and keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times. Forget the vehicle. We drink it all in and are still left starving after the aesthetic (salt water dehydrates.) A structure interrupts; driftwood deckhouses punctuating soft silt in several places. One castle (no taller than a man) holds the lot of us, pulls us in once or twice at a time. I am frozen, entranced, burning up upon the infinite at the edge of a front-row seat. A rainbow lives in thunderclouds. I am Being beyond language (the most insidious structure of all): the structure is a trap! How to escape it? Confound it? Confuse it? Stretch its boundaries? Make its letters bleed off all its pages!

We take to the structure. It is to our liking, for a time. A pocket knife among paraphernalia, but none of us could carve. Escape is soon on order. Anthony, you’re blocking the exit – ‘but everything is an exit! – isn’t that the point?’ We bleed out of the walls, humors rejecting the body, like lonely ghosts without a trace left in the soft white sand. Slowly we race for familiar land: grass is always greener where it is. Who can remember what time it is – what day it is? We found a new school in the yard by the beach, under the tree which puzzles monkeys like us (they will call us the Araucarians.) First teaching: time is the fire in which we all burn. We are like moths towards brilliant lights, illuminated by our ends, driven towards our ends of time like booby traps: false lights, everywhere.

The light is turned on inside. Pure Appollonian glow. We are overwhelmed by the darkness of the outside. We built Apollo. He is our God. Dionysus is there, too (never in mere parentheses.) I am frozen again, ponderous and heavy, anchored like a grounded mind and growing roots, writing furiously my furious thoughts. Indoors, they build shrines to young Yodas (not quite wise.) The force is seen for what it is: violent and oppressive, always in the everywhere, insinuated into our being as an element of cultural consciousness. The lightsaber sound is always an exclamation, a noisy shout attracting attention. We pay hardly any mind to the television shrine until the familiar sharp flash-crash-and-hum makes maps for the blind. Two leave, including our lucid lad. Four friends remain, dead and held in the Gorgon gaze to varying degrees. Earth magic bulwarks our home at the coastline. We make friends with philosophy. A discourse is distilled from the static of the stars, like stories of eternity read off of background radiation. The uninvited guest is dismissed. We are beings in time, but hospitality is our own. The day is dismissed. Time is dismissed. George Lucas, incorporated, exits through stage left.

Four friends remain to find justice at the end of intergalactic civil war. We trade Wars for the Trek. Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Justice,” season one, episode eight. Boldly we venture into the realm of the human, where no man wants to go anymore. Gonzo inner galaxies for intrepid psychonauts.

Captain’s log, Stardate 41255.6. The crew of the Enterprise faces the arbitrariness of the divine, of law and order and ordering principles. Conflict of the absolutes: the prime directive versus the unquestioning execution of guilty (but quite innocent) alien others. A young Wesley Crusher breaks Edo law, an alien custom unjust by the idealized human standard (unbridled post-techno-Capitalist socialism: or, Roddenberryism.) Crusher crushes nascent flowers – an affront to the aesthetic. The timing was all wrong. Crusher crushed flowers in the punishment zone, under the mediators’ purview; the punishment zone is randomly selected each day to the knowledge of no one (in God’s great wisdom.) The structure of an old game tries to play outside of the rules, which is always to submit to the rules of some other. The Edo play at free love, seemingly at all ages (of course Edo is etymologically rooted in hedone, the Ancient Greek for ‘hedonism.’) Young Wesley introduces the foreign game of violence to the alien culture. I know a game we can play, but we’ll need a bat… you know, a bat? – the introduction of the phallic, patriarchal oppressive violence, disruption and domination. All beauty crushed underfoot by the reckless playing of games. The perpetrator freely admits his crime. The punishment – the only punishment for all crimes – is death.

Hedonism, a starving after the aesthetic: xeno-ethics, altogether unfamiliar. The face of the other occasions the question of justice. Derrida would tell us, Marcel Mauss would tell us that it is the face which says, do not kill me. Humanity has excommunicated its every last Thrasymachus. The Edo seem unapologetically post-Platonic; the aesthetic is an idea, the ethics a living-towards truth or beauty. A trial ensues. A discourse of values and the apologia (a defense.) Meanwhile, a God is learning to speak. A ship’s captain opens communications with the divine. The captain unable to state his purpose, God interfaces with Data: the Holy Ghost becomes robotic body. Data the cyborg, the pinnacle of craft and all of our techno-romanticism. The telos of the human uncovered by the divine in pure techne. All of our purpose, the laws we have created and imposed to build it, exchanged for cheap upon visiting a new world.

Where does humanity fall on the question of justice in this utopian science fiction future? – in our very real present, the presence of visual distortions and navigation of the depths of inner space, of chattering teeth and living breathing shadows and hands trailing behind our hands (gonzo: gone into the future.) Wesley Crusher, the young son, is not to be sacrificed. Captain Picard makes a promise to the mother Doctor Beverly, to save his life at all costs. Two trinities: humanity’s defense is weighed up by the man, the mother, and the machine (Jean-Luc, the Doctor and Data discuss); the God of the Edo is introduced by the captain to His makeshift Mary Magdalene, and His people are competing for their right to the sacrificial son. But God is dead, and Nietzsche is dead. Justice for the human is justice for the mother. At all costs, save the son, for the love of the mother. We profess love of beauty beyond the aesthetic – it is the love of an idea, the ideal of justice. And we are vindicated by it.

Submission to the Goddess: the words to an old math metal song of protest booms through the chambers of my ears (our Goddess gave birth to your God.) Vindicated by submission to the mother, the Goddess, the very form of truth and beauty. Submission without sacrifice: a mother never gives death to her children, as the father has often done. Living for, from, and towards the idea (another trinity.)

12:50am May 5th – CATHARSIS

Here I am, pen trembling in my hand, preparing to confront an idea… I do not know how I know this… and I do not know why. But I will die before the rest. I feel every part of my being unwinding into its ideas. An idea which I am always at the edge of, forever drinking it in at top speed frantically trying to hand out sips to weary passengers along the way. An idea I am as yet building, as yet constructing… but still always shouting, raw and uncut the message is still strong enough. Let the others fill in the gaps I leave behind, while I burn out of existence.

Pneuma and aither: fire, breath and life. I put myself out at the end of a cigarette, always smoldering like hot ideas, sometimes meandering but always directed, if only by time: the fire in which we all burn. How to burn? How to die? Is there any choice in the matter, any longer?

Every sinew of my soul is torn between being a humble, loving, dedicated man, and a man who burns out into the idea. I am forever drawn to light (and a faithful pen or pencil) torn from my love, my life and every comfort, my every council, the lips I’ve ever searched for, the woman who shapes me in my entirety into an honest man. Here I am tortured and bereaved for the sense of looming loss…

It is my own. She will lose me. She will lose me. Who knows how. And I will lose everything thereby. The man, and the idea. Apollo was a god, that man will never be. Nietzsche is dead. My goddess is my woman. And my eternal pain is the sense that I will be her sacrificed son. She is stronger than I will ever be. And if and when I go I must know that I will live forever in her.

Open into the shamanistic. Death is a deeply introspective drug. It frightens us to our core, and I am no exception.  This is how I awaken in the morning, having confronted my death at night. I awaken into the idea. I awaken in order to write.

Five friends interrupt the all-encompassing everywhereness of the force, withholding their hospitality from the uninvited but always eventual guest. We seize the time to disengage with what arrives when upon it. Our inheritance is not our necessity. May the force free us from its shitty chatterbox comedy droids and the entire swelling opera of oppressive ideas, of mind-numbing cacophonious choruses, of crashes and clashes and enough action to blow your lungs out when you’re screaming down a highway in the desert in a top-down bright cherry red lipstick steel shark at a hundred miles an hour alternating between mescaline and ether cloths, chasing the ever elusive ‘American Dream’ (brought to you today by the one and only George Lucas, incorporated: “slap a sticker on that shit!”) – gonzo pop culture journalism mixed with philosophy and an anxiety over the existential. Sure the book was great, but you really should have been there, to unwind through an episode in time.

Let us cease to be a people at war. We are on a collective voyage: a journey; a trek. A discourse on justice stokes the embers of a new society – a society of the ideal. This idea is as old as the Socrates of Plato’s Republic, and has echoed through our history ever since. But it has become untraceable static, a silent hiss amidst the noise, its influence flattened as all is taken as its average by the background. Distill the static; better yet, change the channel. It is time for the next generation.


Dialectical Biology // Cognitive Maoism

Modified from my forthcoming, ‘Epistemic Dynamics of a Revolutionary Science.’

Of course the speed of light is the same under socialism and capitalism, and the apple that was said to have fallen on the Master of the Mint in 1664 would have struck his Labor Party successor three-hundred years later with equal force. But whether the cause of tuberculosis is said to be a bacilus or the capitalist exploitation of workers, whether the death rate from cancer is best reduced by studying oncogenes or by seizing control of factories – these questions can be decided objectively only within the framework of certain sociopolitical assumptions (Levins & Lewontin 1985, 4-5).

By ‘science,’ we speak of variously many things.  There are scientific theories – explanatory hypotheses about the natural world – and even technological commodities, which are the products of science.  Then, there is a network of social actors, orthodoxically thought to consist primarily or even exclusively of ‘scientists,’ the fruits of whose collective efforts constitute the social production of these products.  Finally, there is a third respect in which we speak of science; in this sense, there is a worldview, approximately but not exclusively defined by the socially productive modes and products of science, which presents the manifest image of reality as the scientific image (see Bas Van Fraassen, The Scientific Image (1980) on the distinction between the manifest vs. the scientific image of reality.)  I do not mean to suggest that there is a single ‘worldview’ that is consistent across the endless spectrum of scientific disciplines and subdisciplines; worldviews differ significantly between Mendelian and molecular genetics, between Newtonian mechanics and relativity theory; indeed, historical cases abound in which some such cases of collisions between worlds had significant sociopolitical consequences.  Here, I mean only to articulate the relation between the historically contingent social worldview and the productive modes of science.  The mode of this scientific worldview is primarily ideological; by understanding this ideological mode in an Althusserian vain, we see that social relations of knowledge production in science are both materially and ideologically productive; in this sense, both the theoretical products of the first, and the scientific worldview of the third senses in which we speak of science are essentially ideological.  The dominant Western scientific ideology operating in and between each of these layers has been variously critiqued by philosophers of the Left: for its deeply methodologically entrenched oppressive patriarchal values, exposed by feminist philosophers of science; for its bourgeois Capitalist values and culturally imperialistic violence, decried by epistemological anarchists and Marxist scientists alike.  Arguments for the value-ladenness at each of these levels abound.  The Mertonian myth of value-free objectivity of the early twentieth-century has only served to engender a certain disinclination among interested parties of scientists and stakeholders to challenge (or even to see) the framework of sociopolitical assumptions in which these social and material relations of knowledge production are arranged.

The scientific worldview sets epistemological boundary conditions that narrow and define our conception of ‘truth.’  When this feedback loop is allowed to continue, the result is a paradigmatic period of Kuhnian ‘normal science’; for many, this is not a vicious circle, but rather a precondition of scientific progress.  I hardly need to state that the story of stable progress along the lines projected by the status quo characteristically fails to convince those who detect oppression in the orthodoxy.  Epistemic features of theories are designed to aim at ‘truth’; however, minimally insofar as our conception of ‘truth’ is refined by ideological production and for the sake of ideological reproduction (a further Althusserian notion), we should expect that the idea has a material existence that exerts its force on the social means of knowledge production.  The ‘framework of sociopolitical assumptions’ raised by Levins and Lewontin is an idea which directly challenges the question of ‘truth,’ by challenging the proper construal of standard epistemic features in biological theories.  They reject Cartesian reductionism as a manifestation of oppressive ruling class values being insinuated into scientific methodology as a guiding epistemic principle, presenting work from across the fields of evolutionary and population sciences, molecular biology and zoology, to demonstrate the value in adopting a dialectical ‘truth-concept’ as an epistemic aim in the sciences.  The selection of truth-concept is established with express political motivation.

An epigraph is set in the beginning of The Dialectical Biologist (1985); it reads,

To Frederick Engels,

who got it wrong a lot of the time

but who got it right where it counted

So too did Levins and Lewontin get ‘it right where it counted.’  The form of ideological revolution presupposed by dialectical biology amounts to scientific or cognitive Maoism; it is thereby ill-equipped to fulfil its mandate, to be an ideologically emancipatory science, counterposed to the dominantly Cartesian orthodoxy.  We can conceive of an alternative view – with a Trotskyist spirit – in Longino’s contextual empiricist approach to the study of the social relations of knowledge production.  Longino’s view pushes for greater diversification among practitioners of science, to maximally widen the array of background beliefs employed in the production of knowledge; however, diversification within the constraints of Western science is effective only up to a point.  Barring the revolutionary abolition of class antagonisms, the material reality of Western science is such that oppressed beliefs remain alienated from the centralized, sanctioned body of permissible bourgeois-ified background beliefs.  Thus, the ideological erosion of the scientific worldview on a material basis must serve as a precondition for ideological emancipation; furthermore, this erosion must proceed from the bottom-up, under the unity of an educational program, rather than from the top-down, under the forcible instilment of dialectics.  As is so often seen in the realpolitik of emancipation, spontaneous solidarity builds between sectarian pockets of the revolutionary Left.  Likewise, my predominantly Marxist analysis benefits here from the groundwork laid by Feyerabend’s epistemological anarchism.

The question may arise as to what sorts of concrete results we might be entitled to expect as a result of the program of ideological erosion, and of the transitional program of a subsequent dialectic reconstitution of science in society.  Feyerabend argues that separate and distinct traditions of knowledge are likely to be mutually enriched as a result of open theoretical discourse.  If correct, then epistemic enrichment is a beneficial consequence of the ideological erosion of the scientific worldview on the material basis of the elevation of the intellectual and cultural authority of non-scientific worldviews.  But however serendipitous, the matter quite misses the point.  My argument proceeds on the basis of the view of sociopolitical emancipation as historical necessity, in a Hegelian sense.  What would it mean, say, to have one’s body of theories epistemically enriched in the sense that they now more reliably produce justified true beliefs, when epistemological reliabilism is fed back into science methodologically as an epistemic aim inspired by evolutionary biology and psychology? – only that we have successfully reinforced the status quo, ‘progressing’ in a dull Lakatosian vain.  While I do consider enrichment of this sort to be likely, it is merely a coincident to the final emancipatory cause.



They call us ‘illegal’ demonstrators from the very first step. Bylaw P-6, passed in Quebec during the massive student demonstrations of 2012, requires any organized form of protest to provide police with an itinerary. Students on the streets in 2015 have made the point most clear – a protest with an itinerary is called a parade.

The question of legality is not just so much empty rhetoric – it is a stratagem of war waging ideologues. Bodies pour into the streets by the thousands, and we are a loud voice. We are at once a spectacle of opposition (a manifestation of counter-ideology), and a material force. Calling a movement ‘illegal’ does not rob it of its material force, any more than bearing the mantle of Capitalo-parliamentary state-approved ‘legality’ adds to this force. All rhetoric attached to the question of legality amounts to a form of ideological oppression and attempted subordination by the state of the movement; it is first and foremost an ideological assault.

We are a parade if we are ‘legal’ – what is a parade but pure spectacle? As revolutionaries are made into court jesters, sanitized by the official histories, so too are mass movements transformed into parades. Material surrender is ideological suicide. Acquiescence to this safe ‘legalized’ form of opposition would make us all no more than a tolerable nuisance – an empty symbolic bourgeois gesture; a controlled burn; an illusory apparition of the ruling class as being open to receiving criticism from the oppressed layers of society. A jester is never a revolutionary, for he accepts the provisions offered to him by the King, and thus accepts the mythology of the divine right to rule. We cannot – we must not – be legalized. If at first we surrender the streets, we shall thereby surrender the stories of our struggle to sanitization by the official histories.

Keep it illegal to keep it strong. Like alcohol during prohibition, we’re dirty but desired. But we are attacked on all sides, beset by oppressive forces bursting over the bulwarks we built, like the ones in the middle of rue Rene Levesque built with toppled trash dumpsters and police barricades and steel fencing torn off the faces of roadside construction sites. The question of legality is ideological assault. The matter of illegality serves as justification for direct material oppression. We are illegals: subhuman, starving for punishment, breaking our teeth on nightsticks for social justice. The loudspeakers of the SPVM squad cars are harbingers of dystopian noise:

You are committing an offense – and we are ordering you to disperse and leave. Otherwise, we will have to intervene.

This marquee has been etched on our minds – who was there on Friday night who does not still feel the rattling of this robotic voice? If we are legal, we surrender the streets; materially we surrender. Conversely, illegality is an abject refusal. Materially, we refuse to disperse, and are met with brute physical force. Nobody needs reminding about the specific armaments deployed in the name of ‘keeping the peace’ (‘peace’ for whom? – for the bourgeois, naturally.)

As long as we are kept illegal, the ideological assault will be allowed to continue only at the periphery of the movement. Layers of society not yet sympathetic to our cause will be treated to empty rhetoric and reactionary narratives from bourgeois media outlets, placated by their societally reinforced ignorance. But many are sympathetic, and more are becoming so. We are not only students, but workers – even the police themselves, though the hour has not yet come when they awaken to this immediately obvious fact (nous avons tous vu l’image, le carré rouge qui pointe son arme à un carré rouge). Many layers in society are just beginning to awaken, or awaken anew to the reality of their own oppression. We are storytellers, poets of revolution and counterculture. Our best weapon against ideological assault is to guard and grow our material strength, always to strengthen for another day and never to surrender.