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Surrealism and the holy 'nuff
While the text Surrealism and the Holy Crap addresses important issues concerning an uncritical appraisal of esoteric, mystic and symbolistic traditions, it tends to display that same amount of one-sidedness that it intends to critize. Rationalism and science are not in themselves something good, something that advances our struggles. Another problem is that what is needed is not to launch another battle in the field of ideas. Rationalism versus supernaturalism, skepticism versus hoaxism, etc. What is needed is an investigation into the material conditions that give rises to such ideas, their geneaology and relation to existing power structures. Our critique should not be aimed at the ideas as such, but their material base, the suppressing environment that surrounds them, the specific practices which sustain them. How interesting is it to be against an idea? Who cares about ideas anyway? Doesn't the very idea of being able to fight an idea necessarily involve a commitment to a bürgerlicher Öffentlichkeit, to a tradition no more than 200 years old and seriously integrated with capitalist ideology?
Let’s discuss the specifics.
Two quotes from the text:
"Science and the scientific method are among the greatest achievements of the human mind."
"That scientists are often bought and sold and used for commercial and repressive purposes – much in the same way as artists – is an altogether different affair."
The scientific method is a great achievements when it comes to understanding the mechanisms of nature, yes, but while some might argue that it is a great achievement of the human mind (what does that mean?), it's main achievement is as a tool for developing the productive forces of capitalism. And these productive forces are not neutral; the capitalist mode of production has an internal drive to maximize the productive forces in order to subdue more of mankind under the toil of labour. There is no such thing as a neutral discovery, a neutral science, a neutral machine: the capitalist relations of production imbues science with its specific logic. Thus, while science definitively has increased material wealth in society, it has at the same time been instrumental in intensifying labour, repression and global domination of capital. Let me stress this one more time: there is no such thing as a 'pure science', there are specific practices, by specific institutions in specific historical circumstances. Science is one such practices, and while it's method might be very sound, it's employment is not. And this has nothing whatsoever to do with this or that scientist being bought up and used for commercial and repressive purposes. On the contrary, science itself is an internal affair under capitalism, and the individual scientist is completely irrelevant in the broad picture. What is needed is not a naive and uncritical praise of science, but a vision, outline and practice of what the science of the future, i.e. Communist science, might look like: how is its method employed, how will it be related to other practices of knowledge, what is its epistemology and most important, what will its relation to rest of society look like?
The same naiveness shows itself in the one-sided praise of rationalism. I'm not sure what rationalism is exactly – perhaps a specific mode of thought related to logical investigations of causality, perhaps a practice in society related to the construction of a public sphere where debates and critical analysis could be conducted, perhaps a philosophical tradition which places emphasis on the ability of the human mind to grasp the totality of nature without empirical investigation – but I'm quite convinced that rational thinking is not bestowed upon us by the grace of our own mind to critical analyse our surroundings and concoct how society best should be constructed. Rational thinking is – just like science – employed through the practices of the capitalist machinery as a means to repress, subjugate and intensifiy the exploitation of mankind. This is of course the dialectic of enlightment, the darkness that springs forth from the back-alleys of rational thinking, where fordist production, colonial enslavement, concentration camps, IBM, the modern HSB-kitchen and such all are based on the same mode of thought.
In the text, one gets the sense that there is a confusion about causality. How can one state that fighting priests is the same as fighting capitalism? While the priest serves ideological purposes, capitalism is not an ideology.
Committing oneself to ideological battles is a dead end. If one could gladly choose ones enemies from the realm of ideas, I for one would pick a more interesting and worthwhile opponent than supernaturalism. And if teaming up with other ideological fighters was important, The Skeptics homepage would not be my first alliance (aren’t they just scientific Sverker Olofssons?). When it comes to ideology, the first and foremost task of surrealism is to not become ideological.
Let us not forget who is the real enemy. While local schamans and charlatans might hoax people into buying their useless medicine and miracle potions, it is the major medical companies who on a daily basis exclude a major portion of mankind from vital medical supplies. It it is the major medical companies who put a large portion of the citizens under the spell of pharmaceutics which deterriorates our senses and holds us in a state of chemical conformism. It is the major medical companies who are the chemical landlords of modern capitalism and dominating agents in the sphere of biopolitics. Oh, and it's the major medical companies who use science and the scientific method as their chief productive force.
Therefore: while rational thinking and the scientific method are important practices in the formation of a surrealist mode of thought, they should not be uncritically appraised outside of their historical context. What we seek is the surrational (what the hell is that?), the transgression of the boundaries between rationality and irrationality, and the deployment of specific techniques of attaining knowledge of our surroundings that are neither exclusive nor instrumentalizable. What we don’t need is boring, common sensical, debating this-or-that, one-sided rationality. We are not Noam Chomsky.
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