Issa Clubb on Thu, 19 Jun 1997 23:40:37 +0200 (MET DST)

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Re: <nettime> Declaration of the Obsolescence of Cyberhy

Hi all -- this is my first post to the list. I'm impressed with the quality
of the debates; things seem to be picking up just as almost all other lists
fall asleep for the summer. I'd like to respond to the debate about
potential correspondences between biology and economics, a topic I find
fascinating and quite productive. Mark Dery and Alberto Gaitan, among
others, have written engaging, serious attempts to get at the problem.

First of all, I've read in a couple of posts a formulation which goes
something like, "Humans are part of the natural world, therefore anything
humans come up with is in a sense part of Nature." Surely the process of
putting an idea like this into words must throw up SOME kind of red flag --
like when you're writing a script (coding, not screenwriting) and you're
forced to write some nasty workaround because you can't figure out how to
force what you want to do into the given conceptual framework of the
language. A statement like this is *not* semantic squabbling, as Gaitan
suggests, rather an attempt to force the argument in one's favor. I'm all
for problematizing (dread word) the division between Nature and Culture,
Raw and Cooked, etc etc, but it seems to me that using a statement like
this to argue that the constitutionalist political concept of "inalienable
rights" is "in some sense natural" is entirely useless, even if
superficially, sure, I guess it's kinda true. Under this rubric DDT would
be "natural". Whether we can find behaviors in nature that *resemble* a
political concept -- though I like the idea of a jackal taking the Fifth --
is a different matter entirely.

What I *am* comfortable with, is the notion that the contents of the
concept "system" at a given point in history are what inform, shape and
often determine debates anywhere the word gets used: biology, economics,
neurology, whatever. That is, since we understand all these formations as
"systems", we can talk about their correspondences and differences; as
Gaitan says, metaphors are necessary but limited. What I'm concerned about
in the history of cross-pollination between science and politics is the
constant slippage from metaphor to fact, and from study to ideology. Social
Darwinism stands as an example of what can happen when we forget that the
metaphors are limited, indeed that they are metaphors at all. (BTW, I don't
mean to suggest, by using the term metaphor, that these correspondences are
somehow not real -- I'm part of the crowd that thinks that metaphors are
indispensable to saying anything meaningful in the first place.)

Gaitan writes, "Human culture defines itself using the paradigm of the day."
Granted. But it's also crucial to remember that human culture defines
*nature* using the paradigm of the day. It's a feedback loop of metaphor,
from which science is not exempt. Scientists use the metaphors, figures,
and images available to them from the society they belong to, some of which
apply when tested and some of which don't. It is not necessarily an
indicator of a given metaphor's political viability, that it exerts some
kind of explanatory power when brought to bear on the behavior of algae

Another problem with this superimposition is that even when it doesn't lead
to the kind of ideologizing you find among the Bionomics crowd (I highly
recommend their website -- it's a hoot), it tends lead to a kind of
declawing of democratic political action. Again, Gaitan writes,
 "As egregious as I find the short-sighted exploitation of the
environment and of labor, I know that corrective measures will be
taken only when it becomes counter-productive to persist along those
The question becomes, when is it ever counter-productive to those in
control of a society's production of meaning, without some kind of
"denaturalization" of prevailing ideology, to loosen their grip on that
society's production of wealth? Do we wait until this is true?
Or, put another way, the tyrranies which are dismissed as naive -- Jim Crow
laws, for instance -- actually at the time (to whites, of course) seemed
like natural responses to a potential threat to the homeostatic equilibrium
of the system. And the same, as Gaitan mentions, is true now -- the
"threats" are different, that's all.

Ok, so, even though I've already gone on too long, and it will remain to be
seen if anybody's had the patience to get this far, I'd like to ask a
question which will no doubt expose my pathetic grasp of the discipline of
If we can claim that a given ecological system is most often viable or
successful (I've heard the term "sane" used here, is that standard?) based
on its complexity, density and flexibility (proliferation of many different
species, etc.), can we not also claim that an economic "ecology" which is
made up of a dense arrangement of varied "species" -- government, private
companies, unions, NGOs, etc -- is likely to be more successful than a
system optimized for just one type of institution? And that the second
system is *more* likely to become a desert?

--issa clubb

Issa Clubb
Voyager Art Dept.

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