I look to the near future and see so much potential. I study and learn open-mindedly, willing to hear out other opinions so long they’re reasonable and to the point. Modern science and technology have become the very tools to which anyone seeking to push positive fundamental change in the world needed. I grasped onto socialism, for it was the socialists throughout history who were there, on the frontlines, fighting for positive social and economic change.
great article! You’ve nailed down what is often wrong with socialists, and anyone else who regards their selected political or faith-based ideology as “The Truth”
Instead of approaching facts objectively, many people only accept data that bolsters what they have already decided to believe in.
This happens not just in churches and fringe groups, it also happens in the best universities, where sociologists battle biologists on issues like Does Race Exist? Does Gender Exist? Can Intelligence Be Quantified?
I’ve been reading about the academic war between Steven Jay Gould and E O Wilson - Gould’s objectivity, it seems to me, was ruined by his Marxism.
Thanks for the great essay and good luck - keep trying to do good work.
Good piece overall that touches on some problems in the left when it comes to science and technology.
I think some in the left take the reality that science always takes place inside a context and take the next step and say that it is always problematic because the system is problematic. I would disagree with this assumption, but also think that criticism of science and its role in a capitalist society is required. This is not in a means to condemn science as a study, but to enhance it by building a wider picture that can demonstrate that science inside of the context it sits in. Without that, I find it all too easy to skip to the assumption that science will save us from social problems, which it simply wont. Though some could help improve conditions on some level, it is hard to argue that it will alleviate social problems, class, power, and oppression, etc.
I think the socialist left is sometimes too willing to adopt reactionary liberal assumptions about science and technology in order to adhere stronger to the environmentalist movement that often makes bad assumptions about science and technology. Certainly science and technology are used in some pretty disgusting ways to negatively affect biodiversity and negatively impact the environment when we should be working to integrate with it (with the assistance of science and technology). Some socialists tend to tailor their politics to the groups they want to attract, which is profoundly idiotic.
I wouldn’t make the generalization that “most socialists” are Luddites when it comes to technologies. I’d like to hear more from BJ about which groups and ideologies he is speaking of specifically, because my experience is a bit different.
Posted by B.J. Murphy on 08/24 at 12:19 AM
Thank you for your comments.
Let me first off point out that I didn’t argue that “most socialists” adhere to Luddism - at least not in the sense of Luddism in its entirety - but rather many socialists do. Whether or not this accounts for most or not is debatable, and honestly I’d love to see some kind of poll on this one day to really get a better understanding in where the revolutionary left really stand as a whole.
Having said that, I’d like to make a point here that Luddism is a very broad term and doesn’t always necessarily mean the complete opposition of technology as a whole. Franco Cortese, a contributing writer for IEET, had written a very good article making note of this, where Luddism attains a variety of different approaches of opposition towards technology. You can access it here:
The point being made in my article, however, is that the various forms of Luddism - whatever they may be - can be found throughout the revolutionary left. Whether they be the Ted Kaczynski types, where they declare open warfare against technology as a whole, or the Francis Fukuyama types, where they enjoy technology but feel advancing technology towards a Transhumanist phase is wrong, several people among the revolutionary left adhere to these ideals. Malthusianism is also a form of Luddism that has a loud voice among the revolutionary left segments as well, especially those who are members of the Green Party as I’ve come to realize over the last few months.
Honestly though, the radical environmentalist movement is the one I’m most worried about. Their policies tend to be quite detrimental to the environment, as ironic as it may seem, seeing as how they have a seemingly deep love for the environment - albeit a misguided love. Their views on GMOs, nuclear energy, etc. are just incredibly asinine and counter-productive. Honestly, they’re deadly!
As a fighter for the poor and working class, while I certainly understand that science and technology by themselves won’t uplift them out of poverty or injustice, but they can be used as tools. Actually, they SHOULD be used as tools. Ignoring them would result in nothing but negative implications, not to mention a lost opportunity of expanding your means of organizing, fighting, and outreach. Knowing this, I’ve come to greatly respect and follow what Freeman Dyson once said, that is:
“The great question for our time is, how to make sure that the continuing scientific revolution brings benefits to everybody rather than widening the gap between rich and poor. To lift up poor countries, and poor people in rich countries, from poverty, to give them a chance of a decent life, technology is not enough. Technology must be guided and driven by ethics if it is to do more than provide new toys for the rich.”
Posted by Nikki_Olson on 08/24 at 02:58 AM
“Where positive change occurred in the world, it was the socialists who made it happen. Organizing and fighting for the FUTURE, not the past. They stood against the dogmatic, reactionary ideologies of homo economicus, Luddism, Malthusianism, nihilism, and right-wing conservatism. We saw the Industrial Revolution as a means of uplifting the working wo/man. Not a new technology set out to destroy him or her. We understood that technology was a double-edged sword and for it to be used in our favor we had to wield it, not oppose it, ourselves.”
I have a hard time seeing how the Industrial Revolution was at all a socialist phenomenon, or even how it could have been embraced by socialists. For one, Marxism arose by and large as a response to the Industrial Revolution, as he saw it as furthering capitalism, perfecting its evils. Long working days (10-12 hours for the majority, while still making ~30% less than a decent living), child labor, factories with mind-numbing repetitive tasks, unsafe working conditions (absence of laws regulating businesses in terms of worker safety) ... major labor unions formed and strikes throughout ... human labor viewed as a commodity ... employers enjoyed abundant wealth, workers were poor, seen as cogs in a machine ...
Could you explain what you mean when you equate a socialist spirit to the Industrial Revolution? As far as I understand it, a socialist mindset would have been in direct conflict with the Industrial Revolution from the very beginning. Moreover, the Industrial Revolution can be understood as a primary catalyst of Marxism and other left-wing political and philosophical sensibilities.
BJ- Thanks for those comments that makes a lot more sense. I’ve seen a lot of what you describe among the socialist and organized anarchist left for years. I am not particularly keen on nuclear energy because of the waste byproduct and mining operations that genuinely hurt workers and the poor, particularly the extremely poor, so I’d lve to hear whatever thoughts you have on that issue.
In terms of GMOs, a lot of the radical claims as to how they harm people are just not accurate, however a lot of companies have used patented GMO crops to attack farmers, which is more of a systemic problem. Biodiversity is a good thing which helps prevent a lot of disease in plants and humans. I would like to see technology be used to advance humans and integrate us more with the environment around it, which I think would contribute to a greater diversity, not to mention we still have some pretty solid ecological systems that would be hard to replace writ large at the moment with technological ones.
Luddites represented a common tendency among workers at the time of industrialization that rejected technology because of the reasons listed in previous comments. That was a wholesale rejection of tech. As long as the term isn’t used to attack critiques on the uses of future tech, it makes sense. Not saying that anyone is, but in the left I’ve heard a lot of political disagrements being reduced to this group or that group is “counter-revolutionary” or (on the anarchist left) “fascist” - which is insulting and counterproductive.
My reading is that early socialists rejected industrialization because of the exploitation connected to it, but since then have generally leaned towards using industrialization to improve societies. The Soviet Union in the early years industrialized faster than any other nation in history. They certainly had problems as time went along and we can argue about that, but they industrialized incredibly fast. Most other socialistic nations have industry at the heart of their economy. This is ironic as a lot of lefties in the US often reject some technologies wholesale, almost adhering to some religious type fantasy of the divinity of the planet.
I’ve said enough for now, I’d like to hear what others think.