Sunday, June 27, 2010
"... I think the problem with the objectification of women is largely the same: it is a symptom of a larger problem of the commodification of humanity and heartless consumerism: it's not that individual artists or evil; rather, they are buying into a system that promotes the visual prostitution of women. While that is wrong, certainly, they are not as culpable as we make them out to be. In a sense, none of us are to blame, and all of us are to blame at the same time.
However, this always gets lost in the microcosm of gender politics in the classroom, and it becomes a "girls against boys" discussion, as if we're playing hide and seek on an elementary school playground. I think the problem with discussions like that is when a woman says, "I disagree with that kind of objectification and I think we should work against it," a lot of men hear "it's all YOUR fault, you patriarchal pig!" In all fairness, some women are like that, but not so many as a lot of men I talk to think..."
"...I suppose that it's hard not to feel blamed when these discussions come up. I know, talking about race politics, I have this desire to yell, "it's not my fault you were sold into slavery and a bunch of people took your land!" and, you know, neither my ancestors nor my gender were the culpable ones in a systemic sense (we were peeling potatoes in Ireland) though I have benefited from the systemic advantages given to whites (and if you think they don't exist, you're a fool); I can't imagine how culpable I would feel if I were a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant man: priviliged and culpable simply by being born; thrown into a flawed world not your making, but being blamed for it regardless. The amount of guilt that I have seen white men take on themselves is just unreal. And what good does it really do? Next to none, I would say. We've just got a bunch of middle class men feeling really shitty.
...Just the 'middle class' ones, right?
So I think the answer (however obvious it sounds) is that we have to stop blaming people and start trying to fix the problem. Easy to say, not so easy to do. And I don't just mean the oppressed should stop blaming the so-called oppressors; the so-called oppressors should stop holding themselves responsible and feel that everyone else is holding them responsible, as well. When I talk about gender constructs, I don't mean, "men are sexist bastards and they should all just fuck off and die." Rather, I mean, "this is a problem we are all suffering from and we should deal with it."
Class bias not withstanding, Ward makes an excellent observation about gender politics. One that can be applied to Capitalism quite easily. The reason that we don't have a viable Green Party in this country (yet), stems from the fact that progressives by and large tend to be completely divisive and blame-based in their thinking. We need to find some common ground if we are ever going to have a positive impact. Pinko is certainly not the first to make this observation.
And While it's easy to label all capitalists as 'pigs' and to state flatly that anyone participating in a capitalist economy is part of the problem... We all need to eat.
Capitalist conservatives (by and large) tend to be decent people with a strong work ethic and a belief in mertiocracy. Unfortunately, as a result they also tend to confuse slavery with wages, despotism with success and poverty with laziness. Flawed logic.
It's not really their fault though. They have been so thoroughly indoctrinated by the meme of so-called 'rational self interest' that they have essentially lost any ability they might have once had for independant thought. "Forgive them for they know not what they do."
Thus, when we here at Pinko talk about The Deep Green Socialist Revolution, capitalist myopsy, Resouce-Based Economies and Deep Democracy... What we're not saying is: "Capitalist are all a bunch of greedy pigs and as-such should be led off to slaughter." Rather, what we are saying is: "This is a serious problem that we are all suffering from and we need to deal with it immediately if our species intends to survive!"
By: User from Millbrook, NY - Nov 3, 2008 1:17:20 PM ET
I am a Republican who plans to vote for Senator Obama but I am worried about the fact, that neither Senator Obama nor Senator Biden have, to my knowledge, ever mentioned the ocean in their environmental statements. The oceans are our life support system, whithout them the human race cannot survive. 1,000 scientists from around the world have sent a letter to the UN saying, that by 2048 there will be no more commercial fishing in the world because the oceans will be empty. This is a serious situation for all of us and I would like to hear Senator Obama address it.
We have not heard about big companies like Alibaba and its partner Yahoo, who together are the largest dealer in the world, selling shark fins to the Asian market.
We have not heard about big fisheries who are looting our oceans with long-line fishing vessels, throwing 90% of their catch back into the sea, which amounts to billions of pounds of marine life. Unfortunately they have killed everything before returning it to where they stole it.
We have not heard about countries like Japan and their killing of a thousand whales and tens of thousands of dolphins every year, or about Costa Rica, Taiwan, Spain and others, who make money by cutting off the fins of sharks while the sharks are still alive and throw the animals back into the ocean, where they die a horrible death, and we have not heard whether the Senators are in the least concerned about the fact that all those people are helping to bring the oceans to a level, which is not viable anymore.
If we lose the oceans we'll lose 70% of our oxygen supply and then we'll have no chance of survival either. Instead, all we hear is whether or not we should drill for oil off shore.
Everybody, including the two Senators, is talking about Global Warming. It has become a popular cocktail hour conversation ever since Vice President Gore received an Oscar and the Nobel Peace Price for his "Inconvenient Truth". But if we lose the oceans and 70% of our oxygen with it, we will not even live long enough to feel the impact of Global Warming.
So, what should we worry about first, the chicken or the egg? I think that the ocean is the chicken and Global Warming the egg. Let's give the chicken first choice. I can only hope that I will not regret my vote because the two Hon. Senators forgot about the chicken.
Jupp Kerckerinck www.sharkprotect.com
Pinko's Commentary: This guy's a Republican for god's sake and even he knows that our lives depend on protecting the environment.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
President of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, 475 Gate Five Road, Suite 300, Sausalito, CA 94965, USA
A major value shift in industrialized countries in the same direction as the core values of the Greens movements suggests that there is a cultural phenomenon involving far more people than the overt political manifestation of it. This article links such a value shift with something more fundamental, namely a movement away from confident scientific positivism towards some kind of ill-defined transcendentalism. Related cultural and social movements in the industrialized countries and global attitudes in the developing world are examined. It appears that even if the Greens movements weaken or disappear in their present form, they are political manifestations of a broader cultural thrust that seems unlikely to diminish.
From: Jump Cut, no. 29, February 1984, pp. 6-8
Copyright: Jump Cut - A Review of Contemporary Media, 1984, 2005
“The ‘therblig’ is the ultimate attempt to turn man into machine: his unique concrete capacities into optimal standard labour. It is difficult to argue for the variety of modern labour in the face of the ‘therblig.’ In its robotisation of a ten-thousandth of a minute, capitalism shows us its desire to make robots of us all — all of the time. "
— Paul Willis, Learning to Labour
Nightmare visions of futuristic societies, or dystopias, are a major 1970s science fiction genre and stand as signs of a crisis in U.S. ideology.(1) Dystopias are negative utopias, negative images of future worlds. Instead of being places where people might dream of living because everything is so perfect there, dystopias represent places from which, given a chance, people would prefer to flee because everything is so imperfect. Most post-1970s Hollywood films about the future portray worlds that contain extreme environmental pollution, overpopulation, violent cities, bureaucratic administration, and economic exploitation. Conservative dystopias project fears of breakdown of law and order (ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR), the disintegration of the family, and the curtailment of individual freedom by centralized governments (THX 1138, LOGAN'S RUN, ROLLERBALL). The films frequently valorize escape to nature (e.g., THX 1138, LOGAN'S RUN) and yearn for the past. In sum, conservative dystopias present individualism, the couple, the family, and other contemporary institutions and ideologies as more “natural” and desirable than their debased future forms.
In contrast, liberal and radical dystopia films focus on the dangers of increased pollution, nuclear war, and economic exploitation. Some contain veiled allegorical critiques of advanced capitalism (e.g., ALIEN, OUTLAND, BLADE RUNNER). They therefore make a critical commentary on current forms of life and social organization with images of what intensified corporate capitalism, political repression, and contemporary forms of dehumanization might produce in the future. However, not all dystopias can be easily categorized ideologically. Some articulate complex and often contradictory attitudes toward, and anxieties about increasing mechanization and commodification of life in advanced capitalism, reveal possible ideological conflicts in such societies. We suggest that BLADE RUNNER provides such a case of an ideologically ambivalent dystopia. It is open to a diagnostic critique which analyzes its forms of ideology, the film's critique of traditional and contemporary dominant ideologies, and the limitations of the film's critique. We believe that the critic's diagnostic act provides an insight into contemporary society and ideology and indicates areas for radical political intervention — points that we shall return to later.
URBAN IMAGES, FILM NOIR
AND THE REVIVAL OF EXPRESSIONISM
Nightmare visions of futuristic cities predominate in a series of films which portray the socio-ecological consequences of contemporary problems such as war and pollution. In a sense, these films are thematically related to disaster films since they articulate fears about nuclear, ecological, and socio-political catastrophe. Such fears stand as symptoms of the structural anxiety most people feel as they experience the instability of an irrational marketplace society. More conservative urban dystopias project fears of the breakdown of law and order in the polis. These often evoke a yearning for stronger authorities and legal institutions to eliminate "criminal elements" and to rectify anxiety through a pacifying force (e.g., ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR). BLADE RUNNER, however, like Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS, presents a more critical dystopia in that it projects a future city which perpetuates corporate capitalism's distinguishing features — urban decay, commodification, overcrowding, highly skewed disparities of wealth and poverty, and authoritarian policing. The film's urban images present a world where advanced capitalism's worst features have coalesced to produce a polluted, overpopulated city in a society controlled by giant corporations.
As does Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS, BLADE RUNNER contrasts an upper city containing the powerful and privileged (the Tyrell Corporation offices, the police station) with a lower city containing the masses.
The story of BLADE RUNNER is based on a science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick entitled DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? It is directed by Ridley Scott (ALIEN, 1979). The film version focuses more directly than the novel on the relation between capitalism and technology, and between androids (called "replicants" in the film) and human beings.(2) In the film's society, the Tyrell corporation produces "replicants" to work and serve humans. Replicants look exactly like humans and even have memory functions. But because they progressively become more and more "human" by acquiring feelings, they are programmed to live only four years. Some have rebelled against their subjection, so a special police, Blade Runners, exists to "retire" unwilling replicants. The story concerns four such replicant rebels who have returned to earth to get their "maker," the Tyrell Corporation, to reprogram them so they can live longer. A Blade Runner, Deckard (Harrison Ford), is called out of semi-retirement to "retire" them. Deckard falls in love with Rachel (Sean Young), one of Tyrell's most advanced replicants. Deckard manages to kill three of the rebel replicants, and fights a climactic battle with the fourth, Roy (Rutger Hauer). At the end, a police colleague allows Deckard and Rachel to escape from the city and flee into nature.
The images of a futuristic city under late, late capitalism allow BLADE RUNNER to be read as a social critique. The opening images of the industrial city's flaring smoke stacks and hazy pollution signify a world of total industrialization — Gary, Indiana, writ large. Industrialization has destroyed nature and forced all "fit" individuals to flee from earth to space colonies. The colored neon billboards and corporate ads dominating the skyline signify commercialization and are the dominant source of light in an otherwise obscure environment. The gaudy neon pink and red evoke a reference to Hell. In their sharp contrast to the dark streets below, the neon colors suggest the incongruity in late capitalism between the dazzling promises of consumption and the harsh realities of production and everyday life. The mixture of signs from Japanese, European, and U.S. capitalism points to a future society where trilateral capitalism has achieved its dream of a world economic system.
The cinematic play of bright, artificial images against a hazy background creates unsettling effects through which the urban scenes express social fears about urban decay and anxieties about total domination by corporations. The urban images portray a devastated environment with many houses abandoned and streets full of garbage. Crowds of people mill through rain-soaked streets, evoking common fears about overpopulation and "foreigners" overrunning future cities. On the East and West coasts of the U.S., for example, Japanese ramen and sushi cafes have replaced U.S. fast food chains, and visibly prominent are many Asian merchants and street people. The film here seems to articulate paranoia about Japanese capitalism "taking over" the United States. Nevertheless, the film’s city (Los Angeles) seems under the hegemony of U.S. capitalism, which now seems to have incorporated its rivals into its structure. The society’s economic structure combines small, street-merchant-style, "free enterprise" with paternalistic capitalist control. Most of the merchants in the film are Asian or European, whereas the corporate president and executives of the Tyrell Corporation are all North Americans.
Predominant in the film's setting are images of buildings which stand like fortresses towering above the masses of people milling through the streets. These towers contain corporate headquarters and look like Mayan temples. Inside, they have the trappings of palatial mansions and are often filmed in hazy golden light. The set design and narrative use of sets create an atmosphere of splendor and mystery. The high towers are accessible only by special flying vehicles, limited to the police, or by controlled access elevators. As does Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS, BLADE RUNNER contrasts an upper city containing the powerful and privileged (the Tyrell Corporation offices, the police station) with a lower city containing the masses. BLADE RUNNER also features monumental buildings and stairways as interiors, eccentrically lit and photographed at distorted angles, designed to make them appear overwhelming and ominous. There are other cinematic parallels to Lang's METROPOLIS. For example, the tycoon Tyrell has a marked physical resemblance to Metropolis boss, John Frederson, and Deckard's final duel with Roy copies in some respects the confrontation between Freder, the capitalist's son turned revolutionary, and Metropolis' evil Dr. Rotwang, who like the Tyrell Corporation created robots to serve as laborers.
In fact, BLADE RUNNER’s formal style throughout is neo-expressionist with dark shadows, hazy lighting, and odd camera angles. Thematically, too, the film contains marked expressionist elements.(3) The android chief Roy's poetic speeches seem like abbreviated versions of the ideologically ambiguous, rhapsodic monologue found in much expressionist theater. And his conversion from poet-warrior to Christ-like savoir recalls expressionist "transformation drama." Moreover, BLADE RUNNER borrows entire sequences from German expressionist films. In addition to the METROPOLIS parallels, the sleazy bar where Deckard finds the android Zhora is reminiscent of Mrs. Greifer's party in Pabst's film THE JOYLESS STREET, even down to the insect-like hats on the women. An image of Deckard, silhouetted on the stairway, parallels a similar moment in NOSFERATU. Overall, BLADE RUNNER's emphasis on the degraded, alienating city parallels that of expressionist "street films" taken together. Thus one could read BLADE RUNNER as a reprise of Lang's vision of a futuristic city, featuring a final combat which conspicuously does not repeat METROPOLIS' appeal for class collaboration. BLADE RUNNER concludes by promoting the myth of transcendent romantic love in as desperate a way as another expressionist film, DESTINY.
Historically, expressionism has often contained a social critique, but usually an ideologically ambiguous critique, partly because of the very style. Basic to expressionism are techniques of distortion, essentializing, and exaggeration, not only of the physical environment but of character traits and behavior as well, In BLADE RUNNER, expressionist aesthetic techniques both articulate critiques of capitalism and embody sexist, individualist and romantic ideologies — just as they did in 1920s German expressionist art, where expressionist style and techniques were used by both the Left and Right.
Moreover, many stylistic elements of film noir make BLADE RUNNER even more aesthetically complex. Deckard appropriates the voice-over, first-person narrator role of the film noir detective, and Rachel acts as a classic femme noire — dark, sensual, mysterious, and seemingly morally ambivalent. Like the noire woman, Rachel wears furs, red lipstick, man-tailored suits with padded shoulders, and a 1940s Andrews Sisters hairstyle. Film noir’s "corrupt society" ethos also dominates and shapes this film's overall mood of cultural pessimism.
Consequently, expressionist and film noir elements serve more than a simply formal function. Historically, both styles have conveyed malaise and disillusionment. However, expressionism generally has conveyed an active, outraged sense of justice or ethical idealism, while film noir's underlying point of view has been more amoral, cynical and resigned. BLADE RUNNER attempts to bring these elements together in an ideological amalgam that combines philosophical ruminations and economic critique with extremely regressive sexual politics and an individualism and romanticism historically typical of bourgeois ideology. This amalgam results in a play of conflicting ideological elements.
CAPITALISM, EXPLOITATION, AND REVOLT
BLADE RUNNER uses its highly stylized images and convoluted story to articulate fears of capitalist exploitation, technological dehumanization and the collapse of values such as love, empathy, and community. It sets into opposition the conflicts between these values and new forms of technology and social life under advanced capitalism. The technology/ humanity opposition is delineated by three characters: Roy, a machine, longs to be human and fears death. Deckard, a human, increasingly sympathizes with the replicants. And Rachel, a replicant, thinks she is human and eventually enters a love relationship with a human, Deckard. Although most dystopias express fears of technology and depersonalization, BLADE RUNNER attempts to depict some mediation between technology and human values. Deckard says,
"Replicants are like any other machine. They can be a benefit or a hazard.”
The film concludes with what seems a happy marriage of humans and replicants as Deckard and Rachel flee the city together.
The replicants stand for capitalism’s oppressive features and, to a lesser degree, rebellion against exploitation. The Tyrell Corporation invents replicants to have a controllable labor force that will perform difficult and dangerous tasks. Similarly, capitalism today makes individuals into machines disciplined to fit into the labor system. The Tyrell Corporation has as a motto, "More Human Than Human." Ironically, the replicants carry out a very human rebellion, while most of the human characters seem to submit to corporate domination and a very dehumanized life. Intact, the narrative line establishes a clear similarity between Deckard's recognizing how the Tyrell Corporation exploits him and the replicants' rebellion, since both sides — killer and killed — reject their status as servants of the corporation and refuse further exploitation.
BLADE RUNNER presents a future society which blurs the line between human and machine, and it contains philosophical meditations on what it means to be human. Awareness of finitude and fear of dying are shown as distinctively human traits, along with knowledge of one's past. The replicants treasure their (faked) pictures of early life and their (programmed) memories of earlier events. They are characterized as being especially fond of pictures of their "childhood" and "families." Thus the film presents the family as a naturalized social unit. On their own, the replicants form surrogate families, and the film ends with Rachel and Deckard’s forming a family. And as the replicants become aware of their limited life spans, fear of death drives them to seek a longer future commensurate with their implanted memories and growing love of life. Roy especially treasures his warrior memories of past battles and aesthetic spectacles, and he is driven by fear of dying to discover his maker and to be programmed to live longer. When Roy learns that this is impossible, he murders the corporate president Tyrell and also the toymaker Sebastian, who had felt pity for him and taken him to see Tyrell.(4) When Roy discovers that Deckard has killed his female replicant partner, Pris, Roy becomes inundated by very human feelings of love and loss and rage at Deckard.
Roy, who had been presented as a Nietzschean poet-warrior, renounces his program as a ruthless killer and instead chooses pity and compassion; the Nietzschean Übermensch (Superman) thus becomes a Mensch, a human being.
In the final showdown between Deckard and Roy, Roy could kill Deckard but chooses not to. Before saving Deckard, Roy says,
"Quite an experience to live in fear isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave."
Roy's transformation stands as one of the narrative’s most bizarre and interesting aspects. Roy breaks Deckard's fingers and sadistically torments the detective. He removes most of Deckard's clothing and prances around howling like a wolf. When Roy sees that his own hands are beginning to freeze up — the sign of his impending death — he pierces his hand with a nail to stimulate motor activity. Then suddenly he gains compassion and pity. Whereas he began as an Aryan warrior, he ends a Christ figure with a nail through one hand and a symbolic dove in the other. As Roy contemplates Deckard desperately hanging onto the edge of a roof, Roy strokes the dove and releases it before sparing Deckard, a symbol of liberation and peace. Deckard later says,
"I don't know why he saved my life. Maybe in those last moments he loved life more than he did before. Not just his life. All life."
And Deckard goes on to escape with Rachel, portraying the possibility of symbiosis between humans and machines.
BLADE RUNNER privileges empathy as the distinctively human trait, the basis of morality and solidarity with one's fellow beings.(5) In BLADE RUNNER, the replicants' revolt is portrayed positively as a slave revolt. Deckard empathizes with the replicants' rebellion, refuses orders to kill Rachel, and flees with her with the aid of a sympathetic policeman. The film implicitly rejects aggression and violence, for both the replicant Roy and Deckard renounce their warrior roles. BLADE RUNNER's vision of possible harmonious relations between humans and replicants can be contrasted to the technophobia in many science fiction films and the simplistic anthropomorphizing of robots in George Lucas' STAR WARS series. Furthermore, STAR WARS celebrates Jedi warriors and military action as high adventure and proof of manhood. BLADE RUNNER progressively renounces violence. This is especially obvious when we look at other recent Hollywood films that celebrate violence and militarism.
SEXUAL POLITICS, ROMANTICISM, AND INDIVIDUALISM
Despite its thematic complexity and questioning of contemporary values and institutions, the film has reactionary features. It is especially regressive in its sexual politics. The two female replicants that Deckard kills are derogatorily portrayed. One seems a whorish temptress, replete with snakes; she violently assaults Deckard. Another, a punk blonde, appears as a symbolic castrator in a combat scene where she uses scissor-like legs to attempt to snap Deckard's neck. In contrast, the "good" female replicant, Rachel, fulfills the common male fantasy of the completely pliant woman who serves all a man's needs. She is usually on hand when Deckard needs her and she even kills another replicant to save his life.
Moreover, the film uses her in a characteristic narrative way to arouse sexual tension, in a scene of threatened rape. Deckard tries to "humanize" her by "liberating" her sexuality. This scene is disturbingly close to presenting male power and violence in the form of forced sexuality as okay. It's shown as a way to 'educate' women as to "what they really want" or about "what is good for them." In contrast to the pliant Rachel, the other female characters are her opposite and thus explicitly more threatening. They are killed, whereas the more submissive Rachel "gets her man," rewarded with the couple's romantic bliss,
Indeed, BLADE RUNNER ends by evoking romanticism. The heterosexual couple is presented as the route to happiness, The scenes showing Rachel and Deckard's embraces and their escape into nature are unusual in being brightly lit. The final escape and the dove release scene are the only times that the film employs natural color and light. However, the flight from the city into nature is ideologically ambivalent. Previous dystopias, like THX 1138 and LOGAN'S RUN, also show protagonists escaping from regimented authoritarian, bureaucratic regimes into nature. In these films, the escape would be to a conservative haven. It sanctions the return to more traditional (i.e. "natural") political, economic, and social institutions and arrangements.
In general, nature in dystopias plays different roles in different films. For instance, nature can take on a progressive value when it is used to criticize the destruction of the environment or the reduction of life to a profitable machine. In BLADE RUNNER, nature seems to represent a non-capitalist, non-oppressive, ecologically balanced world of compassion and community, a world of peace which rejects violence and exploitation.
Most returns to nature operate within a liberal individualist framework that privileges individual self-possession and natural right. Thus we see many urban technological dystopias critique the loss of natural land and spontaneous, individual selfhood. BLADE RUNNER shares some of this familiar liberal individualism, but it also explicitly critiques corporate capitalism.
Yet the film's ending contains sexist, individualist, and overly romantic elements. The couple's flight embodies a male fantasy of escaping from social responsibility with a submissive woman. In effect, the ending advocates withdrawal and retreat from the inhumanity of capitalism rather than any collective struggle. Whereas the replicant Roy represents militant struggle against capitalist oppression, Deckard represents individualist revolt and flight. In many respects, Deckard is presented as a typical Hollywood individualist hero, the tough guy with a conscience whose rebellion merely amounts to getting away with his woman. The audience is led to identify more with Deckard's safer rebellion than with Roy's. Consequently, the idea of rebellion in BLADE RUNNER becomes defused and contained within conventional images of individual rebellion and flight.
The images of Roy, the replicant warrior who finds compassion, are also ambiguous. On the one hand, he serves as an icon of oppression and rebellion. He renounces the warrior role assigned to him by his programming. His poetic meandering combined with warrior posturing, however, makes this character susceptible to being read as a tragic fascist warrior. In fact, Rutger Hauer's Roy has unmistakably Aryan features, so much so that Philip K. Dick told an interviewer that after viewing the initial shots of Roy in action, he thought that he was
"seeing one of those Nordic supermen, one of those blonde brutes that Hitler dreamed of creating in the laboratory."(6)
Roy's motive for his transformation is also unclear. The film privileges Deckard's explanation, as it suggests that the experiences of finitude and empathy are distinctive human traits. In the face of his own death Roy renounces his warrior program. Although the combat scenes seem to celebrate violence and the warrior role, both Roy and Deckard give up violence at the end. Viewers may see this renunciation of violence as a preferred reading of the film.
Yet BLADE RUNNER offers no clear vision of liberation. The film's ambiguity in many ways reflects its conflicting views about liberation. Liberation is shown as rejecting exploitation in favor of more rational and humane forms of social and economic life; as renouncing violence and revenge in favor of empathy and compassion; as personal escape or withdrawal; and as the undifferentiated expression of suppressed passions, whatever they may be, and the experience of intensity for its own sake. Roy, in particular, embodies these conflicts. In him, the experience of passionate intensity and revolt against oppression are not merely valorized but are the same.
BLADE RUNNER's ambiguity, then, makes it hard to appraise the film's ideologies. On the one hand, the film seems to advocate flight into privatism, into conventional romance as escape. At times it seems to privilege an undifferentiated celebration of intensity. But unlike much expressionist art which prefigured fascism in a similar socio-cultural landscape in Weimar Germany, the film does not flee into atavistic mysticism or into a mystified celebration of the fascist warrior or ecstatic surrender. What BLADE RUNNER's conflicting views of liberation suggest most clearly is that segments of U.S. society are seriously disenchanted with capitalism but cannot envisage how a liberated society can be collectively constructed or what it would look like.(7) This confusion leads to privileging havens of privatized empathy and romance so as to resist institutional exploitation and violence.
Such resistance — rejecting dominant public values of corporate exploitation, militarism, and commodification — cannot simply be dismissed as bourgeois privatism. The flight to an empathetic and romantic interior space away from the external realm of public callousness suggests a general human aversion to capitalist market values. In addition, the film's constituting a private realm of resistance provides a space for explicitly anti-market values and suggests that there are needs that corporate market capitalism cannot hope to fulfill (except in the form of religious ideologies). The flight to romance and to nature thus gives rise to at least a double reading. Romance signifies escape but also resistance. It atomizes the collectivity in ways conducive to domination. Yet it also creates a protected arena where a humane autonomy is possible, one founded in compassionate values and one that would be the basis for genuine collectivity. Thus if BLADE RUNNER exaggerates privatism, it may be because in contemporary capitalism humane values are only possible in the private sphere.
Moreover, although these commendable values fit into contemporary U.S. sentiment, their ideological use is sometimes quite conservative. And the film undercuts conservative romanticism in several ways. First, nature is not quite posed as a romantic, positive term against negative society (i.e., technology, the city, industry, etc.). This opposition is undercut through Rachel's flight with Deckard. It is a marrying of machines and humans in a symbiosis that deconstructs nature-technology oppositions despite the film's more general ideological portrayal of nature as an otherness that lies outside of human culture.
The film also questions another romantic opposition, that between analysis (or science) and feeling, an opposition based on traditional distinctions between intellect and emotions. Analysis, instrumental rationality, is represented in the film by machines that dissect human and objective reality. For instance, the police detect replicants with analytic instruments that observe minute emotional reactions expressed in the respondent's eye. Analysis is presented as an instrument of power. Posed against this as a positive opposite is feeling, which the film presents as resisting analysis. In fact, the first replicant shown, Leon, literally blows the analytic machinery away with a gun when it encroaches even on his "programmed" feelings. As with the first opposition, the film performs a limited deconstruction of this second opposition while nonetheless remaining within an essentially romantic ideological framework that poses feeling against analysis.
In the deconstructive moment, however, feeling is shown to have a rational basis, to be more human than analytic rationality. Empathy and feeling for others are shown to be the basis of human solidarity. Analytic rationality is depicted in turn as irrational and anti-human when used instrumentally in a policed, exploitative, and inegalitarian society. Although the film restores the opposition and finally makes a norm of feeling while denigrating analysis, it can only do so ironically, after questioning the opposition. Deckard's ironic parting line concerning Rachel – “I didn't know how long we'll have together. Who does?" — helps retrieve the film from being too romantically maudlin. By simultaneously questioning and affirming a set of romantic oppositions (nature-culture, analysis-feeling, humans-machines), BLADE RUNNER avoids the conservative sentimentalism that characterizes other romantic filmic sci-fi texts, like E.T. and Spielberg's other recent films.
Although we see multivalent possibilities for reading the thematics and style of BLADE RUNNER, we also clearly see its negative features. Humane values seem to be accessible only through the couple, not publicly. Such an opposition between public and private needs to be undone, and we can interpret the split between public and private spheres as a product of capitalism. From this perspective, in a humane, socialist society, private values would be respected and supported in the public sphere. Vice-versa, social values could be realized in the private sphere.
The exaggerated privatism of BLADE RUNNER represents contemporary capitalism where the only space that social and humane values can be practiced is the private arena. In addition, the concluding "utopia" represents a white male projection: Rachel follows Deckard, and Deckard actively drives the car with Rachel passively observing the landscape.
Moreover, the film deliberately establishes Deckard as a white macho figure set apart from the masses of largely non-white street people. Sexism and racism remain acceptable even if apologies for capitalism do not. This suggests that rejecting capitalism may be more thinkable to many people than rejecting patriarchy and racism — as some feminists, blacks, Hispanics and other racial groups have claimed. The striking sexism in a film about exploitation and liberation is revealing and testifies to deep-rooted sexism ingrained in male artists and to the threat that feminism poses for most males.
BLADE RUNNER's contradictory mélange of elements suggests that it can be read as a symptom of ideological confusion and conflict. On one level, BLADE RUNNER reflects the conflicting input of the film's producers and then suggests that collaborative art, if not necessarily democratic, will represent more and more a contradictory mélange of views. As ideological differences sharpen, mass art tries to accommodate these differences, at the same time that it tries to appeal to differences in the mass audience that it seeks.(8) On the other hand, this film's attempt to produce an amalgam of diverse ideologies points to the absence of a dominant monolithic ideology here. It suggests that ideological conflict, within certain limits, characterizes the contemporary United States.
Conflicting readings of an ideologically complex film like BLADE RUNNER are possible and even necessary. Even BLADE RUNNER's individualist and escapist elements can represent cultural pessimism and crisis. The culture industries seem incapable of or unwilling to legitimate ideologies or advocate attractive models of social change. Doing so would make them advocate radical social transformation outside the ideological boundaries of mainstream Hollywood film. Dystopic films like BLADE RUNNER open up to critical scrutiny both social crises and various ideological solutions. They thus provide possibilities for a diagnostic critique. This would analyze the contradictory ideologies of contemporary Hollywood films and what the films themselves reveal about contemporary society and ideology. Such a cultural critique can be utilized to develop political strategies around the needs, desires, fears and fantasies articulated in popular film. Film can be one index for radicals to use as they seek to develop ways to intervene in contemporary culture which will evoke a popular response. A study of dystopias like BLADE RUNNER reveals fears in the United States about losing individual identity and freedom. It also reveals people's compensatory desire for a space of compassion and empathy, one immune to administration, mass leveling and commodification. As BLADE RUNNER indicates, the solutions offered for these problems in the contemporary United States are limited by the ideologies of liberal individualism, neo-Christianity, moral romanticism, and the family.
BLADE RUNNER demonstrates the limitations of these contemporary ideologies while seeming to celebrate them. A diagnostic critique of the film heeds points of internal dissymmetry — where the problem depicted exceeds the solutions offered, where what the film describes undoes what it declares to be a way out. The sunnyvale nature at BLADE RUNNER's end, for example, would ultimately relaunch the problem that the film depicts, for the ideology of nature forms the basis of the capitalist ideology that the film critiques. This ideology romantically conceives of nature as freedom, as a self-regulatory and harmonious organism. It thus becomes precisely the legitimating ideology of the capitalist "free market." BLADE RUNNER’s apparent escape from monopoly capitalism is thus operated by an amalgamated ideology that combines elements which traditionally legitimate monopoly capitalism. Moreover, as a practical course of action, flight into nature is prohibited by the very features that the film critiques — alienated labor's need to earn wages, total corporate control of the economy and society, and the dominance of exchange value over use-value.
Thus, a diagnostic critique of BLADE RUNNER can disclose that the solutions available in U.S. political culture are limited and often related to ideologies that underwrite oppression. A diagnostic critique of film seeks to outline the contours of those limitations and to point beyond them to solutions which are both attentive to these limitations while seeking to transcend them. It is in such a way that the reading of film might be of use for the development of political strategies for radical social change.
1. On dystopias as a literary genre, see Harold L. Berger, Science Fiction and the New Dark Age (Bowling Green: Popular Press, 1976). On post-1970s dystopia films, see the study in Douglas Kellner and Michael Ryan, Politics and Ideology in Contemporary Hollywood Films (forthcoming), and on the cultural pessimism in recent science fiction films, see H. Bruce Franklin, "Future Imperfect,” American Film (March 1973), pp. 47-49.
2. L'écran fantastique, 26 (1982) contains a full dossier of interviews with Dick, Scott, and various other members of the film's production team. We shall draw on this material in the course of our reading.
3. On the styles, themes, and historical origins and environment of German Expressionism, see Stephen Bronner and Douglas Kellner, editors, Passion and Rebellion: The Expressionist Heritage (South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin Press, 1983).
4. In an earlier script, after Roy kills Tyrell, he discovers that Tyrell is a replicant too and that Sebastian is really his creator! Roy than becomes furious that "God is Dead," and kills Sebastian! See L'écran fantastique, 36.
5. Jurgen Habermas tells of how in his last talk with Herbert Marcuse, Herbert stated, "I know wherein our most basic value judgments are rooted — in compassion, in our sense for the suffering of others." "Psychic Thermidor and the Rebirth of Rebellious Subjectivity," Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 25 (1980), pp. 11-12. In L'écran fantastique, the screenwriter Hampton Fancher states that for him, "Empathy is the key to the entire story" (p. 26).
6. See the interview with Dick in L'écran fantastique, p. 21.
7. According to the discussion in Franklin's article on recent science fiction films (see note 1), ANDROID contains a story where replicants actually and successfully carry out a collective slave revolt; unfortunately, we have not been able to see the film.
8. The L'écran fantastique dossier reveals that screenwriter Hampton Fancher saw BLADE RUNNER as primarily a tale about empathy (p. 26), while scenarist David People said he considered it essentially a police story (p. 31). Sean Young, who played Rachel, said she treated the film as "a romantic thriller, like CASABLANCA" (p. 48). Harrison Ford (Deckard) perceived it as a detective story in the tradition of Philip Marlowe (p. 47). Ridley Scott interpreted it both as a "philosophical work" and as a futuristic police thriller (pp. 34ff.). Finally, the producer of BLADE RUNNER, Michael Deeley, speaks, who earlier produced THE DEER HUNTER. We suggest that this heterogeneity of input into the film, and the quite diverse ideological positions embodied in the film itself have produced a contradictory ideological amalgam, and that this sort of film requires multivalent readings that unpack the contradictory aesthetic and ideological components.
It is often said in the field of normative ethics that "ought" implies "can". The Luciferian Perfection Order adheres to this precept and acknowledges that, sadly, structural constraints bar all but a few people from realising their full potential. For this reason, we are ardent social activists.
A drastic restructuring of society is necessary if individuals are to have the opportunity to pursue intellectual, scientific, and aesthetic accomplishment!
Capitalism != Individualism
The Luciferian Perfectionist Order promotes an ethic of "soft egoism", for we . . . We prefer to the qualified term, if we use it at all, because, unlike certain more familiar egoist worldviews, egalitarian perfectionism could not be more opposed to dog-eat-dog capitalism.
The disasterous consequences of capitalism for individual achievement are too many to list. For one, maximization of profit is the highest virtue of the market economy. Those who attempt to deviate from this norm risk . . . People are forced to accept mentally stultifying jobs merely to stay alive . . .
Current Conditions Mandate Drastic Social Reform!
As has been stated repeatedly, Luciferian Perfectionists believe self-actualisation to be the highest goal in a person's life. That does not mean, however, that we disregard others in our quest for personal acheivement. On the contrary, we realise that many persons are currently denied the opportunity to seek this goal, due to social ills that are no fault of their own. Thus, rather than turning a blind eye to the needs of society, we .... As we strive towards personal excellence, the needs of others remain at the forefront our mission. We will not retreat from society until . . .
Note that the specifics mentioned under the following headings are directed towards the United States, since this is the current location of the LPO HQ. (We are, however, explicitly anti-American, hence our predilection for British English.) Luciferians in other nations, if they exist, are also encouraged to work towards appropriate social reform. It is supposed that a perfect system does not yet exist, not even in Sweden.
Precept 1: Guaranteed Decent Standard of Living
No one can enjoy knowledge, art, et cetera when his life is consumed with the demands of day-to-day survival. No one can think properly when he has no food to eat, no shelter, no health care. No one can put energy into scientific and cultural pursuits when he works two full-time, low-wage jobs just to afford life's basic necessities. No child can learn in this environment, regardless of how well-funded his schools. Any civilised society must provide its citizens with some basic standard of living--and preferably something above the poverty level!
First of all, . . .
Secondly, health care should be a right to all persons, not a privilege of the wealthy. This seems quite obvious, but given the vehemence of American outcries against "socialized medicine", it is necessary to state the obvious. . . . Keep in mind, however, that by far the most expensive health care system in the world is also the most privatised (and it is not a particularly effective system, either, judging from the indicators).
Precept 2: Education, Education, Education
Yes, schools need more--and, especially, more equitable--funding. No, money is not the answer. Money can only accomplish so much. While it is doubtful that children can learn in unsafe, dilapidated buildings with only a few decaying "See Dick run" books, it is equally doubtful that
What is needed is more efficient, more effective school system.
Generally speaking, America's school system has little to do with education but a whole lot to do with creating capitalist slaves. The reproductive function of schooling is most obvious in vocational "tracking" programs, which train working-class students for working-class careers. The college-prep kids fare no better. In high school and often earlier, they develop career goals, take career assessment tests, and are often advised to structure their college plans based on projected employability. College is damn expensive, they are told, but the returns on investment are high, since decent employment is this day and age demands a college degree. But, hell, everyone has four-year degree these days, so let's say you'll need your master's, your doctrate . . . better stay in school forever and earn yourselve a massive debt--but why?
Precept 3: Leisure, Leisure, Leisure
In general, it is during leisure, not work, that self-actualisation is accomplished. Unfortunately, however, some work will always be required, even in utopia. Society would cease to function if, say under a guaranteed minimum income system, all workers chose to quit their jobs for a life of education, art, and adventure.
Automation of labour, it must be pointed out, is a good thing. A very good thing. Labour-saving technology that expedites the worker's work but does not replace him is second best. . . .
Outsourcing of jobs is not as good as automation, but it still pretty good. (If George W. Bush did anything good for America during his first term, it was not that he killed foreigners, killed Americans, violated civil liberties, or violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment; it was that he "lost jobs", as the critics put it.) One stipulation, however, is that foreigners, as much as Americans, deserve fair wages and work hours. Nevertheless, companies tend to relocate to impoverished areas in which wages far short of a decent American wage could still provide a substantial increase in living standards. . . Far superior to foreign slave labour is the removal of trade barriers. Ideally, . Practically speaking, the political element of international trade is an issue demanding constant consideration. . . .
In general, the causes of corporate downsizing are good. The failure of a company
Precept 4: No Dogmatic Censorship of Knowledge
Precept 5: Secular Government
Supposedly, the United States maintains a separation between church and state--ha! Take one look at the federal government (and at the electorate and its rationale for its grevious decisions) and tell me that this is the case. The fundies will be quick to criticise that "'separation of church and state' is not in the Constitution", and in the details they are correct--but the First Amendment does state that "Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". Moreover, the United States Constitution is not the final arbitrator of moral concerns! Luciferian Perfectionists strive for a universal ethic, one that predated the United States and will succeed it.
The Christian ethic states that what is right is whatever is decreed by an absolute despot--even when this despot decrees bigotry, hatred, or the unconditional slaughter of a despised out-group. The morals of the Bible have no place anywhere in a civil society, least of all at the forefront of politics. (And the same could be said of any authoritarian religion--Islam, most certainly.)
It must be noted, however, a government founded upon non-religious dogmatism is equally reprehensible. Soviet Communism. Enough said.
Where exactly Precept 5 falls with regard to policy reform is difficult to say. Faith-based initiatives must go, for sure. Weird concepts such as "ensoulment" have no place in medicine, and . . . Churches should be taxed like any other corporation. But how does one transform the mental backwardness of a frighteningly large group of Americans? Not through policy, not through force. The Luciferian Perfectionist Order suggests education, free-speech, and empathetic understanding of divergent worldviews.
Precept 6: The Sanctity of Persons
Note that our suggested reforms do not force Luciferian Perfectionist behavior upon any individuals. Under egalitarian perfectionism, individuals can still choose ignorance, dogmatic religion, mindless entertainment, wantonness, etc. Of course, we hope that more will choose to adopt the Luciferian lifestyle! All we ask, however, is for a society in which all members are free to make this choice.
From: The Lucifarian Perfectionist Order (Katarina Procell)
Submitted by InternationalReview on November 28, 2004 - 21:52.
There is not one international organisation of the bourgeoisie – World Trade Organisation, World Bank, OECD, IMF – which doesn’t proclaim its intention to do everything it can for “sustainable development”, so concerned are they for the future generations. There’s not one state which doesn’t proclaim its deep respect for the environment. There’s not one ecologically-oriented Non-Government Organisation (NGO) which hasn’t organised all sorts of demonstrations, petitions or memorandums. There’s not one bourgeois newspaper which hasn’t featured a pseudo-scientific article on global warming. All these fine people, with all their fine intentions, had their representatives at the conference in The Hague from the 13 to the 25 November 2000, which had the aim of defining the ways in which the Kyoto protocol (1) would be put into effect. No less than 2000 delegates, representing 180 countries, surrounded by 4000 observers and journalists, had the job of concocting the miracle recipe for putting an end to climatic abnormalities. Result: Nothing. Strictly zero. Or rather, there was one result: one more proof that for the bourgeoisie, considerations about the survival of humanity fall a very long way behind the defence of the national capital.
Ten years ago, in our article “Ecology: It’s capitalism that’s poisoning the Earth” (International Review n°63), the ICC declared: “The ecological disaster is now tangibly threatening the very life-support system of the planet”. Today we have to say that capitalism is carrying out this threat. Throughout the 90s, the plundering of the planet has continued at a frenzied rhythm: deforestation, soil erosion, toxic pollution of the air, water tables and oceaables and oceans, pillage of natural fossil resources, dissemination of chemical or nuclear substances, destruction of animal or plant species, explosion of infectious diseases, and finally the steady increase in average temperatures over the surface of the planet (seven of the hottest years for millennia were in the 90s). Ecological disasters are becoming more combined, more global, often taking on an irreversible character, with long term consequences that are hard to predict.
And while the bourgeoisie has proved itself incapable of doing the slightest thing even to slow down this destructive folly, it has done a great deal to hide its own responsibility for it behind a multitude of ideological covers. What the ruling class has to do is present ecological calamities – when it cannot purely and simply ignore them – as outside the sphere of capitalist social relations, outside the class struggle. It thus produces all the false alternatives, from government measures to the anti-globalisation speeches of the NGOs, to obscure the only real perspective for taking humanity out of this nightmare: the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist mode of production by the working class.
For revolutionaries, the real issue here is capitalism's own productionist logic, as Marx analysed in Capital: sed in Capital: “Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake: by this formula classical economy expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie, and did not for a single instant deceive itself over the birth-throes of wealth. But what avails lamentations in the face of historical necessity?” (Vol 1. Chapter XXIV). Here lies the logical and the unlimited cynicism of capitalism: the accumulation of capital and not the satisfaction of human needs is the real goal of capitalist production, and therefore the fate of the working class, or of the environment, is of little import. With the saturation of markets which became evident in 1914, capitalism entered into decadence. In other words, the accumulation of capital increasingly became a source of conflict and convulsions. During this period, “capital's ruthless destruction of the environment takes on a different scale and quality…This is the epoch in which all the capitalist nations are forced to compete with each other over a saturated world market; an epoch, therefore, of a permanent war economy, with a disproportionate growth of heavy industry; an epoch characterised by the irrational, wasteful duplication of industrial complexes in each national unit, the rise of the megacities the development of forms of agriculture that have been no less ecologically damaging than most forms of industry” (International Review n°63). This tendency has taken a further step in the final phase of capitalist decadence, the phase of decomposition, in which the system has been rotting on its feet for two decades because neither the proletariat nor the bourgeoisie has been able to impose their solution to the crisis: proletarian revolution or generalised war.
Capitalism has put chaos and destruction on the agenda of history. The consequences for the environment are catastrophic. This what we are going to illustrate (in a very partial way, because there are so many examples of the damage being done), while also showing how at every stage the bourgeoisie sets up ideological firebreaks to head off all those who are legitimately asking the question of whether this barbaric cycle of destruction can be stopped.
Capitalism throws the ecosystem out of joint…
Because of its global character and implications, the question of climate change is of primary importance. It’s no accident that the bourgeoisie has made it one of the major axes of its media campaigns. The pedants may claim that “in matters of meteorology and climatology, man has a decidatology, man has a decidedly short memory (Le Monde 10.9.2000), or talk about classic millenarian fears, but such an attitude – which the bourgeoisie itself doesn’t wholly share anyway – is an implicit defence of the status quo, of a dominant position in which one feels oneself to be well-protected. The proletariat can’t afford such a luxury. Physically, it’s always the workers and the poorest sections of the world population who are hit the hardest by the apocalyptic consequences of the disruption in the cycles of terrestrial life which the capitalist apprentice sorcerer has brought about.
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which is in charge of synthesising scientific work on climatic change, in its ‘Report to the Decision-makers’ dated 22 October 2000, summarised the basic elements which had been observed, all of which show a qualitative rupture in the evolution of the climate: “Average surface temperature has increased by 0.6% since 1860…New analyses indicate that the 20th century has probably seen the most significant warming in all the centuries for the last thousand years in the northern hemisphere…The area of snow cover has diminished by about 10% since the end of the 1960s and the period in which lakes and rivers are under ice inrivers are under ice in the northern hemisphere has diminished by about two weeks in the 20th century…..the thickness of the Arctic ice has diminished by 40%… Average sea levels have risen by between 10 and 20 cm during the 20th century…the rhythm of these rising sea levels during the 20th century has been about 10 times higher than in the previous three thousand years…Precipitation has increased by between 0.5 and 1% by decade during the 20th century on most continents in the middle and higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere. Rain has diminished in most of the inter-tropical regions”
This rupture is even clearer when we look at the concentration of so-called greenhouse gases (2), seeing that “since the beginning of the industrial era, the chemical composition of the planet has been through an unprecedented evolution” (3), a point that the IPCC doesn’t deny: “Since 1750, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has grown by a third. The present concentration has never been superseded for 420,000 years and probably not for 20 million years…The level of concentration of methane in the atmosphere has multiplied by 2.5 since 1750 and continues to grow”. In fact it’s essentially in the 20th century, especially in the last few decades, and not since 1750, that these changes have been observed.
The simple fact that you can place in one column the period of the decadence of capitalism, and in the other column periods lasting hundreds of thousands, even millions of years, is in itself the most striking condemnation of the insane irresponsibility of capitalism as a mode of production. It is an undeniable fact that these mutations are the direct result of the savage and anarchic activity of industries and transport systems based on the burning of fossil fuels. It goes without saying that although in the same period capitalism has considerably developed its productive capacities, the working class and the majority of the planet’s population has not reaped the fruits. From this point of view, the overall human and social balance-sheet of capitalist decadence, with all its accompanying war and poverty, is far more sombre than the ”climatic” balance-sheet in itself, and therefore cannot provide any attenuating circumstances (4).
Furthermore, the IPCC report points out that the “proofs of human influence on the global climate are stronger today than at the time of the second report” in d report” in 1995. This is further evidence against the bourgeoisie, which has not ceased manipulating scientific discourse throughout the 90s, always trying to pose the wrong questions. Thus, once global warming was admitted (still very late in relation to the scientific studies), the bourgeoisie’s question has been: what is the formal proof that global warming is linked to industrial activity and not to a natural cycle? Posed in this direct manner, it is difficult to respond scientifically. On the other hand, what has always been particularly flagrant is that we have this qualitative rupture in the observed evolution of the climate as described above, at a time when the cyclical tendencies in the climate (which are well known and can be easily modelled because they are determined by astronomical parameters such as the variations in the terrestrial orbit, the inclination of the Earth’s axis, etc.) place us in a period of relative glaciation over the last 1000 years and for the next 5000 years. And if that weren’t enough, two other parameters would also point towards things getting colder: the cycle of solar activity and the increased amount of particles in the atmosphere – an increase also due to industrial pollution (but also to volcanic eruptions). This says quite enough about the hypocrisy of the bourgeois of the bourgeoisie waiting for ”proof”! Now that it is difficult to deny the capitalist origin of global warming, the new question occupying the media is: can it be demonstrated formally that there is a link between global warming and the extreme climatic phenomena we have seen recently (cyclones Mitch and Eline, storms in France, floods in Venezuela, Britain, etc)? Again, the scientific community is hard placed to answer this not very scientific question, whose sole aim is to instil the idea that perhaps global warming won’t have very tangible consequences. Official organisms like Météo-France have come up with some delectably Jesuitical formulations: “It has not been shown that the recent extreme events are signs of climatic change, but when this climatic change is fully perceptible, there is no doubt that it will be accompanied by extreme events!”
And between now and 2100 the expected climatic change are extremely grave. Again according to the IPCC: “the average rise in surface temperature is estimated to be between 1.5 and 6%…such an increase is without precedent in the last ten thousand years”; meanwhile the rise in sea levels will be an average of 0.47 meters, “which is two to four times the rate observed during the 20th century”.
century”. Again, these predictions don’t take into account the real rhythm of deforestation (at its present rate, all the forests will have gone in 600 years). The probable consequences of these climatic variations and will be terrible and murderous: floods and cyclones in some regions and drought in others; scarcity of drinking water, the disappearance of animal species, and more. But for Dominique Frommel, the research director at INSERM, “the main danger is not there. It resides in man’s dependence on the environment. Migrations, the over-concentration of human beings in the urban milieu, the diminution in water supplies, pollution and poverty have always [but capitalism has developed mega-cities, poverty and pollution far more than any other system!] created conditions which facilitate the diffusion of infectious micro-organisms. We know that the reproductive and infectious capacities of insects and rodents, the vectors of parasites or viruses, is connected to the temperature and humidity of their surroundings. In other words, a rise in temperature, even a modest one, gives the green light to the expansion of numerous agents which are pathogenic to man and animals. This is why parasitic diseases – such as malaria, schistosomiasis) and sleeping sickness, or viral infections like dengue ions like dengue fever, certain forms of encephalitis or haemorrhaging fevers – have gained ground in recent years. Either they are reappearing in areas from where they had previously disappeared, or they are now hitting regions which had previously been spared…The projections for the year 2050 show that malaria will menace 3 billion human beings…In the same way, the number of diseases transmitted by water is also spiralling. The warming of fresh waters facilitates the proliferation of bacteria. The warming of salt waters – particularly when they are enriched by human effluent - allows phytoplanctons, which are the real breeding grounds for the cholera bacillus, to reproduce at an accelerating rate. After virtually disappearing from Latin America around 1960, cholera claimed 1,368, 053 victims between 1991 and 1996. Meanwhile, new infections are appearing or have begun to advance beyond the ecological niches in which they had previously been confined…Medicine remains disarmed, despite the progress that has been made, faced with this explosion of so many unexpected pathologies. The epidemiology of infectious diseases….could in the 21st century take on a new visage, notably with the expansion of zoonoses, those infections which can be passed from vertebrate animals to humans, and vice versa”d vice versa” (Manière de Voir, no.50, p77).
...and does everything it can to hide its responsibility
At this level of historical responsibility, the ideological response of he bourgeoisie has been to organise gigantic media rodeos, from the Earth Summit at Rio in 1992 to The Hague via Kyoto and Berlin, aimed at making us believe that the ruling class has finally become aware of the dangers menacing the planet. The mystification operates at several levels.
First it aims to give the impression that if the objectives fixed at Kyoto had been attained, that would be a significant first step. But by all the evidence, not only have these objectives not been attained, but, even if they had, the targets were quite derisory and would not have much effect on global warming. All the NGOs and all the ecological parties who take part in the discussions about how to apply the Kyoto protocol are thus part of this mystification. Not even a step sideways has been achieved, let alone a step forwards.
Secondly, to make us believe that if the states still don’t understand each other, it’s because they have a different vision of the way to reach the common goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, each state knows quite well what it’s doing when it defends its natwhen it defends its national interests and thus uses the negotiations to impose production norms which best suit its own levels of production, technological capacities, energy sources, etc. For example, neither France nor the USA have kept to the Kyoto agreements (since 1990 carbon emissions have gone up by 11% in the US and 6.5% for France), but when president Chirac declared that “it is above all to America that we look for hope for an effective limitation on greenhouse gases (Le Monde 20.11.2000), we should translate this as: in the trade war between us, we would really like to put a ball and chain around your feet. It’s the same when it comes to setting up an ”observation” system as demanded by the European Union, involving taxes on those who exceed their pollution quotas (here again, it’s not a question of preventing pollution). You might as well ask the USA to finance the European Airbus and to limit the production of Boeings! For the countries of the third world, it’s even more simple: the weight of the crisis, of debt and of poverty result in the systematic pillage of natural resources and a laissez-faire attitude to the big western companies, who feed local corruption. All this is the unavoidable reality of capitalism. In this framework, any support for one measure against another boils down to plther boils down to playing the game of one or several states.
Finally, the last mystification, one dear to reformists of all stripes: the idea that we should struggle for a clean capitalism that respects the environment, a capitalism without competition – an imaginary capitalism. This holy crusade is being carried on today in the name of anti-globalisation and addresses its humble supplications to the state, asking it to legislate against, tax, and otherwise reign in the nasty multinationals. But just as labour legislation does not in any way limit capitalist exploitation, unemployment and poverty, and above all does not prevent such legislation being bypassed when needs must, so any legislation, fiscal constraint or other measure which claims to have an ecological value can only do things which are perfectly acceptable to capitalism, in fact which are favourable to the modernisation of the productive apparatus. Either this, or it’s purely and simply a disguised form of protectionism or a convenient justification for anti-working class measures (lay-offs when you close polluting factories, wage cuts to absorb the cost of anti-pollution measures, etc). From this point of view, eco-taxes ('I pollute, but I pay for it….a bit') and the market in greenhouse gas emission permits, whose principle has beenose principle has been accepted, show the way forward for capitalist realism when it comes to fighting pollution and global warming!
It’s for this reason that the most coherent ideologues of political ecology always try to justify the measures they advocate in terms of capitalist profitability; and that’s why you often see them working as consultants in the centres of bourgeois decision making. This is clear with the ‘Green’ parties which participate in a number of governments (France, Germany) but also for the NGOs like the World Conservation Monitoring Centre which has become an antenna of the UN and argues that “policies and measures concerning climate change must have a relationship with efficiency and cost so that they ensure global benefits at the lowest possible cost”. In the same way, the main peddler of anti-globalisation (concretely, anti-US) ideology in France, Le Monde Diplomatique, is outraged that “the combined impact of the social cost of automobile transport – noise, air pollution, traffic congestion, use of space and lack of safety – could represent up to 5% of Gross National Product” (Maniere de Voir no. 50, p70). This conversion to ecological realism can also take the form of an effective aid to the state, as we saw when Greenpeace offew when Greenpeace offered its services after the sinking of the chemical transport ship Levoli-Sun off the French coast in November 2000.
It’s characteristic of all the ecological currents, parties or NGOs to make the capitalist state the guarantor of common interests. Their mode of activity is fundamentally a-classist (since “we are all concerned”) and democratic (they are in particular champions of local democracy, and insist that through popular pressure, citizens’ action, we can oblige the state, which is imagined to be sincerely moved by such demonstrations, to take measures in favour of the environment). It goes without saying that such a form of protest, which puts into question neither the foundations of the capitalist mode of production nor the power of the ruling class, can be totally assimilated by the bourgeoisie. And for those who don’t believe in such fairytales, their demoralisation is also a victory for the bourgeoisie.
We have seen that it’s quite illusory to think that there can be mechanisms within capitalism that would enable us to put an end to ecological disasters (5), since the latter are the result of the most basic functioning of capitalism. It is therefore the social relations of capital which have to be wiped out if we are to estabout if we are to establish a society in which the satisfaction of human needs, which would become the motive of production, is not achieved at the expense of the natural environment, since the two are intimately connected. Such a society, communism, can only be brought about by the proletariat, the only social force that can develop a consciousness and a practise that can “revolutionise the existing world”, “practically transform the present state of affairs” (Marx, The German Ideology).
Since its appearance as the revolutionary theory of the proletariat, marxism affirmed itself against bourgeois ideology, including its most advanced materialist conceptions, which saw nature as an object external to man, and not as a historical nature. The mastery of nature , for the proletariat, has thus never meant the pillage of nature: “At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature – but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all the other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly” (Engels, Dialectics of Natls, Dialectics of Nature).
It remains the case that the development of an awareness about the gravity of the ecological situation cannot in itself be a factor for mobilising the struggles which the working class has to wage between now and the communist revolution. As we said in IR 63, and as has been confirmed over the past 10 years: “the issue as such doesn’t allow the proletariat to affirm itself as a distinct social force. Indeed…it provides an ideal pretext for the bourgeoisie’s inter-classist campaigns…The working class will only be able to deal with the ecological issue as a whole when it has conquered political power on a world scale”. But the aberrations of this decomposing capitalist system also directly touch the workers (health, food, housing, etc) and at this level can serve to radicalise future economic struggles.
As for all the elements from outside the proletariat who are sincerely rebelling against the horrible spectacle of the massacre of the planet, the only constructive way forward for their indignation is to make a critique of ecologist ideology, and, as the Communist Manifesto invites them, to raise themselves to a general understanding of the history of the class struggle and to join the combat of the proletariat in its revolutionary organisations. organisations.
The destruction of the environment is not a technical problem, but a political one: more than ever, capitalism is a mortal danger for the survival of humanity; more than ever the future of humanity is in the hands of the proletariat. This is in no way a mechanical or abstract vision. It’s a necessity which has its roots in the reality of the capitalist mode of production. To cut the knot between communist revolution or a plunge into barbarism, the proletariat must act quickly. The more time passes, the more the accelerating decomposition of capitalist society will leave an apocalyptic inheritance to the communist society of the future.
1. The Kyoto protocol (December 97) is the list of principles agreed by the states which signed the convention of climate change at Rio in 1992, committing themselves to a 5.2% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2010
2. The greenhouse effect is a process which brings about a considerable role to gases which are a minority in the atmosphere (water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, ozone): by preventing infrared radiation from leaving the planet freely, they retain enough of the sun’s heat to make the planet habitable (otherwise it would have an average temperature of –18 e temperature of –18 degrees centigrade)” (Herve Le Treut, research director at the Laboratoire de Meteorologie Dynamique in Paris – Le Monde 7.8.00
3. Herve Le Treut, ibid
4. See the article ‘The most barbaric century in history’ in IR 101
5. We don't have the space here to develop on the other facets of the ecological disaster: uncontrolled desertification and deforestation, disappearance of animal species with the potential medicinal losses that this implies (between now and 2010 20% of known species will have disappeared, a third of them domestic species), poisoning of food as in the dioxin scandal, massive use of toxic pesticides, scarcity of drinking water (a child dies every 8 seconds because of lack of water or because of poor quality water), military and civil nuclear contamination, pillage of entire regions for oil exploitation, exhaustion of marine resources, all the damage created by local wars, etc. As for global warming, the ‘solutions’ of the bourgeoisie are aimed at hiding reality, while things continue to worsen.