Frank Hartmann on Fri, 20 Jun 1997 03:21:17 +0200 (MET DST)

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Re: <nettime> Dery on neo-biological cant (Barlow, Kelly)

An underlying point in the discussion on bionomics (or whatever you name
it) that is higly irritating is the notion of democracy as seen by the
neoliberalistic mind. Let's dig into that a little more. Think of those
second hand techno/ecologist like Kevin Kelly, who fosters the idea of a
new biology of machines, with ideas of 'emergent control', just to bring
in another fine example: "The biggest crowd wins. It's like an election
hall of idiots, for idiots, and by idiots, and it works marvelously.
This is the true nature of democracy and of all distributed governance."
(Hive Mind, in: Out of Control, p.9) Nature never lies, nature tells us
the truth. 

To fathom the reference, let us take a brief excursion in the history of
science at this point. It was in 1899 when the zoologist Ernst Haeckel
published his WELTRAETSEL (= world mysteries), as studies in monistic
philosophy. An internationally bestselling author also by today's
standards, he caimed to solve all existing epistemological riddles by
introducing the principles of nature in sociology and philosophy. All
knowledge is a natural process, never a metaphysical one. He appealed to
commonsense that social progress would be granted if we adapted our
world view to the process of nature: let all man-made formalities aside
and politics will benefit. Study the cells and organisms and you have
the best blueprint for a functioning society. 

Haeckel coined the term *ecology* and introduced Biogenetics. This had a
horrid aftermath in the popularisation of eugenics. He had many
followers, and a dark chapter in the history of ecological thought was
opened. The young and later Nobel-price winning Austrian sociobiologist,
Konrad Lorenz, came on the scene not only to dismiss forever Kant's
philosophy by way of the naturalisation of reason in sociobiology, but
also to write articles on 'racial hygiene' for the ruling Nazi breed,
justifying the 'weeding out' of 'inferior humans' which could be
identified by scientists like him, who prevent the VOLK from cancer, and
so forth. He sure smoothed his words after 1945, but not his ideas.
Nature always saved his argument. So it did for leadership, ethnic
cleansing, and so forth.

As Voltaire's 'Zadig' searched solid relief from his matrimonial
troubles by studying nature, his 'Candid'  looked for cure from the
nonstop chatting 'Pangloss' on the compost heaps in his garden. Nature
was always there when the tension got unbearable. Nature explains it
all, and don't we love nature. The invocation of a slippery term like
"nature" should trip alarms everywhere, as Mark Dery pointed out. But
this also goes with ecology, sustainability, emergene, autopoiesis and
so forth, especially in relation to organisational aspects of society.
These terms do not solve, they conceal the real problems we have in a
society of transition. This is why, in train of a deregulation of
markets, neoliberalists and other 'cognitive dissidents' love them so

Now search for Internet and Network in Kelly's book index. Organic of
course. You will find a pointer to Hive and Swarm and there on the page,
an apology of the Invisible Hand (control without authority, sure).
Which leads us back to the above quote. We may marvel why all this
gabble on nature then, in other parts of the book, needed such an
emphasis on genetic engineering to improve natural selection. Mother
nature seems to need yet another face lift. 

~Frank Hartmann

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