October 11, 2010
Already Existing Leftism
Kim Stanley Robinson on science, democracy and capitalism:
[W]ithin capitalist society, science has struggled from its beginning as an alterity, an already existing utopian community, because its distinctive power in the real world has managed to create a counter-hegemony to capitalism itself. Science is a praxis - it’s what theory or the humanities always call for, sometimes as if it is entirely absent. But it’s already being enacted, in inevitably compromised ways, because of the overarching structure of capitalism within which science has always moved. Science has always had to seek funding, and capitalism has always tried to buy science and to own the results of science - to aim science’s creation of ability and capital in certain easily owned directions, and to own that capital...From an interview in Polygraph extracted at Gerry Canavan's weblog.
Why is this ideology, the scientific method, so different, and so powerful in its real world effects? ... [I]ts constant efforts to test its assertions against perceived reality ... in order to see whether the assertions actually hold up to tests of various kinds. The move to quantification came from an effort to ask questions that were amenable to this kind of test. But the method can range beyond the quantifiable, and often does. There is a utopian underpinning to these underlying questions of value that science attempts to answer along with the more obviously physical and quantifiable questions. Who are we? What might make us happy? Does this or that method work in making us healthier? These too have become scientific questions, with distinctive answers born of science’s desire to create testable assertions and tweak them in repeated reiterations and revisions.
They’re not the same answers created by capitalism to these same questions, where desires and habits are encouraged that lead to profits for a certain portion of society, but deteriorating health and happiness for most people, and for the biosphere.
How do we liberate science from capital? We believe what science tells us, as our strongest method and ideology, instead of believing advertising and the consumption habits of our culture and our time. That in itself would make a huge difference. It might move us to support democratically a government that became increasingly scientific, and the utopian project would then proceed on a collective basis. Science would be aimed at different goals and technologies than it is now, and the public would own the resulting capital, with life’s necessities all conceptualized and legalized as “public utilities” and private capital finding its power reduced to something like a kind of superstructural efflorescence, a playground for the space beyond the necessities. If that change could be made nonviolently it would be an amazing accomplishment, and yet because of the existence of democratic governments and the supposed rule of law, it is theoretically possible. But it takes a different view of science than the one ... that one sees expressed pretty frequently in left and progressive circles. What if science and democratic government are both leftist praxis itself, both “already existing leftism,” struggling with capitalism as best they can? I think it helps to think of them this way, and I think the evidence is there to support the notion.