Lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living

Actually existing cybernetic communism

While infinite thought was in San Francisco recently, we talked a bit about Shulamith Firestone’s amazing concept of “cybernetic communism.” Regrettably, my mind has been warped by teaching introductory comparative politics classes, so that the term “cybernetics” now makes me think, not of our glorious robot future, but of systems theory, the impetus behind David Easton and Robert Dahl’s invention of political “science” in the 1950s. Not only is systems theory pseudo-scientific nonsense, it’s fundamentally reactionary, as it constructs society as an object to be manipulated by elites (I’ve been listening to Žižek’s “Embedded in Ideology” lectures recently, where he makes the point that American pluralism is a fundamentally elitist doctrine; Dahl particularly is one of the chief architects of this).

So given this, I was interested to discover that the USSR had its own analogous cybernetic moment. According to this review of the splendidly titled 1959 work, Cybernetics at Service of Communism (3 volumes, US Department of Commerce), cybernetics seems to have been adopted in the USSR as something like an extension of Taylorism to the whole of society. This brings up all kinds of Dialectic of Enlightenment-type questions about whether the rationalization of society doesn’t also always involve an objectification of society and hence unfreedom. Firestone is interesting here because she applies a Marxist method of a sort, without the productivist assumptions that made rationalization seem like a non-problem. Now, Firestone is certainly a rationalist of a sort (most obviously in her resolutely anti-psychoanalytical account of post-revolutionary sexuality); is this a rationalism which, enlightenment-style, transforms into its other? Or will the future cybernetic communism acheive what actually existing cybernetic communism only parodied?

Secular religion?

Dinosaur in church John Gray in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago joined the trend of writing kind of stupidly about religion and secularism. Gray rather wants to have his cake and eat it, arguing that secularism is based on religion and, anyway, secularism is worse than religion. Now, the first  half of this argument is true; contemporary western secularism really does draw a lot on early Christian arguments against paganism, reformation arguments against Catholicism, and enlightenment arguments against a personal God, which is a tradition of ideas central to Christianity. But true as this is, it doesn’t constitute the knockdown argument against secularism that Gray seems to think it does. On the contrary, secularism’s relationship to religion is no argument against secularism at all. Read more↴

Look at me still talking when there’s science to do

Perhaps this is a mere contingency of scheduling, but there’s an interesting pairing of exhibitions at SFMOMA right now. Read more↴