Subject: ON DRAGONFLIES, NEOPHYTES, AND ONE-TERM WONDERS.
6 June 2009
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
My two daughters decided the other day, at a picnic beside a nearby stream where we were wadding, not to catch the slow-moving dragonflies which flew lazily over the muddy river bank next to where our blankets lay on the grass under a large, morose weeping willow tree. These exotic looking creatures --emerald green, with patches of blue, black, yellow, and red-- floated like living rainbows above the brown water, occasionally darting back through a thicket of cat tails, then gliding low across the uncut grass where fragrant daisies grew. Five years of gestation in ugly larval form, we later read, before these beautiful creatures bosomed into their full splendor, living usually for no more than a few weeks, if they were lucky. My children were amazed and a little saddened by the irony that such stunning beauty was manifested in this bucolic life for such a short period. I thought that there could be no better lesson in a materialist concept of immortality than the life of these memorable creatures. Life indeed must appear as a miracle to anyone with the time and attention to think about it. And this, of course, is the goal of teachers, to prepare students to think about "the good life" . . . .
After our successful colloquium several weeks ago at The University of Paris in Nanterre on Ethics and Social Class Relationships in the U.S.A., CEIMSA continues its independent investigation into ethics and social relationships. This week we held a local conference, in the form of a cours alternatif on the Grenoble campus, inviting students and colleagues to watch Herbert Biberman's classic film Salt of the Earth. This remarkable film depicts at several different levels the constraints placed on a specific group of working people who expressed their will for emancipation from the indifference to social inequalities and cruel injustices which accompany the modern division of labor. The historic context of this film, which was made at the height of the McCarthy Era, in early 1953, was an actual strike that took place in New Mexico in 1951. By then, the Second World War veterans had returned to the United States and their strong democratic urges presented a real threat to U.S. capital investments after the war. The Cold War served U.S. capitalists to kill two birds with one stone: (a) it served to justify the unprecedented continuation of profitable U.S. military production in time of peace, and (b) it provided a political justification for repressing democratic movements and cultural expressions in post-war America that might grow to challenge economic inequality and social injustices. The ideology of Anti-Communism was just that, an ideology of hate: anyone who did not prove himself "anti-communist" was suspected of being "pro-communist," and risked seeing his/her career ruined, and his/her life destroyed.
Three American institutions were greatly weakened by McCarthysim: The U.S. State Department suffered severely from President Truman's witch hunt, depleting it of its most skilled and resourceful professionals who had served with distinction under the Roosevelt Administration, and leaving in its wake for generations to come the most mediocre civil servants whose most important credentials were their willingness to conform to the ideological line of Anti-Communism and serve as agents thuggery in the "politics of hate." In addition to depriving the U.S. State Department for the ensuing decades of creative, independent intellectuals, McCarthysim had a long-term affect on another American institution: U.S. labor unions. The labor movement under the Roosevelt Administration had been energized and thousands of labor organizers and union activists had walked that extra mile to bring millions of American workers into the movement so that they could demand higher wages, shorter hours, and better working conditions. Unions were targeted in the 1950s by the same ideology of hate, and most talented labor activists were removed and replaced with mediocre bureaucrats who pursued their careers conforming to the destructive paranoid tenants of Anti-Communism, as promoted by J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy, and their army of opportunists. Another institution greatly weakened by McCarthysim was the Hollywood film industry, and like the two other institutions mentioned above, the effects were felt into the 1970s and beyond, when hundreds of low quality films were produced each year by a hierarchy of mediocre writers, actors, and directors, whose commitment to Anti-Communism exceeded any interest in aesthetics. Again, we see the sharp decline in creativity and talent, as American culture became a shipwreck, stranded on the iceberg of the politics of hatred.
Herbert Biberman was one of those film makers who were blacklisted in Hollywood. The story of how his film, The Salt of the Earth, was made, itself became an extraordinary event, and a documentary film was made on the police harassment and adverse conditions which had to be overcome in order to complete this film which offers another important lesson in history, as well. The positive result of this effort was an extraordinary film which reflected the cooperative creativity of all involved --writers, actors, producers, laborers-- all were present at the making of this work of rarely achieved cinematic art. The production of "Salt of the Earth" became, as well, an exercise in autogestion, and the subject of the film depicted the cultural qualities of social relations that led to the successful strike against the Delaware Mining Company operations in New Mexico. It is the story of how New Mexican mine workers and their families went on strike together against the racist, sexist hierarchy which served to manage this mining company and eventually produced the crystallization of solidarity in their social relations against the science and technology that was used to dominate them. Instead they demanded and won an improvement in their lives.
Turning from ethics in art to science and technology, Stanley Aronowitz's powerful "critique of critical criticism" in his book, Science as Power, discourse and ideology in modern society (1988), offers a criticism of science viewed as a political configuration which claims independence from social and historical context. This "socially constructed discourse," according to Aronowitz, legitimates its power by presenting itself as Truth. Science and technology, Aronowitz claims, have attempted to establish themselves as an hegemony rivaling that of religion in centuries past. Only a social theory of science, which combines critical distance with historical analysis, can return these useful instruments to the hands of their rightful owners --the people whose lives they affect so deeply and in so many ways.
Aronowitz guides us through a labyrinth of discourses on science and technology pointing out the various culs-de-sac, intersecting paths, slippery slopes, and steep assents --a trip which produces at the end a monumental map of the limits of old essentialist scientific thinking and where it leads. Back on the other side of the labyrinth walls lies voluptuous reality offering a great diversity of sensuous experiences and real friends with whom to share them. Reductionist thinking has lost its appeal, and for good reasons. Science and technology necessarily reduces reality, it reveals but it also hides phenomena, and this thinking of gray on gray with its carefully cropped perceptions and mathematical calculations must not be taken too seriously or it risks displacing the real life of the mind with caricatures from a world of abstractions.
The narrow, provincial arrogance and sometimes astonishing social ignorance of "the politically privileged few practitioners of the scientific method" must be liberated; these self-proclaimed elite must be held accountable to society for the cultural forms and the productive forces they have created. The managers and owners of capital can no longer rely on this hegemony to perpetuate the division of labor; just as religious hegemony declined with the debacle of the feudal social order in Medieval times, so the alternative to scientific and technological hegemony in the bourgeois era will give rise to a culture in which social relations will prevail over the Scientific-Technological Revolution, known as STR.
There is a paradox embedded in this point of view, however: namely that when the ephemeral becomes eternal (in the dialectical meaning of the term) and the positivist science of being is displaced by a revolutionary science of becoming; only then will we begin to genuinely seek to know more, and in doing so we will learn to appreciate how very little we really do know. At this point of non-reductive social relations, we will turn away from all forms of leadership and toward new friendships. The new forms of science and technology will no longer be simply instruments of control (of nature and our fellow humankind), but rather "tools for conviviality" that we use to enhance our lives.
In the 7 items below we offer CEIMSA readers a glimpse outside the labyrinth of pure reason, to stimuli that abound in the real world where there exit social relations to which many of us have become blind, by remaining in the mental ghetto of mechanical determinism that has colonized our brains.
Item A. is the video and full transcript of the speech given by President Obama's in Cairo, Egypt on 4 June 2009.
Item B. is an article by Noam Chomsky discussing "the grim side of President Obama."
Item C. is an article by Robert Naiman analyzing Obama's promises in Cairo, Egypt this week.
Item D. is a message sent to us by the Council for the National Interest Foundation announcing the June 8th meetings in Washington, D.C., where Israel's 1967 attack on the American ship USS Liberty will be discussed.
Item E. is a free video copy of the award-winning and recently censored 64-minute documentary film, "Torturing Democracy."
Item F. is an article by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship on the significance of the film "Torturing Democracy."
Item G. is an article by Paul Craig Roberts describing the "leaders" of U.S. economic recovery as "incompetent".
We conclude this CEIMSA Bulletin with the recent Democracy Now! program on the Latin American author, Eduardo Galeano, as he speaks about centuries of European-led imperialism in Latin America, West Africa, and elsewhere; and what it has meant for humanity on this planet.
And finally, for an outsider's view from the inside of Washington, D.C. today, we pass on to you the recent issue of William Blum's
Anti-Empire Report, June 5, 2009
from Truthout :
Date: 6 June 2009
Subject: President Obanma's promises in Cairo.
US policy in the broader Middle East over the next four years will be judged in the region according to whether the pledges that President Obama made in Cairo Thursday are kept.
from Information Clearing House :
Date: 4 June 2009
Subject: "Treasury Secretary Geithner is another economic incompetent."
The hubris is extraordinary. A bankrupt government that has to send its Treasury Secretary begging to China thinks it can spend limitless amounts in a futile effort to control the culture, mores, and political system of distant Afghanistan.
Illiteracy in High Places
Forgetting What We Learned
By Paul Craig Roberts