The armed wing of science

Original title: Il braccio armato della scienza, ‘ProvocAzione’ no.7, September 1987, p.8

There is a precise relationship between the means we have at our disposal and our capacity to self-manage and defend ourselves against any form of power and exploitation. The more effective and sophisticated the means, the easier it is for them to fall into the hands of a minority who use them for their own projects to control the rest of us. It derives from this that developments in technology—the ‘armed wing’ of science—are going towards a perfectioning of dominion running parallel to the few minimal improvements conceded in general living conditions.
I do not know if the present level of scientific (and consequently technological) development should make us fear that catastrophe is imminent. I do not give much credit to catastrophe theories personally, in fact I believe they could be designed to scare people. Nevertheless I am certain that not only is it no longer possible to control technological advance because of the incredible speed at which it is developing new means and perfectioning new instruments, but also that the rulers themselves are no longer able to coordinate them in a rationally planned project. Not only would it be impossible to put much of what is being produced to any good use, most of it is no more than a reproduction of conditions that cannot be brought to a halt, at least in the present political and social situation.
Over the next few years each single technological innovation could give rise to an exponential growth of unknown dimensions, both in terms of their effects and application. This will lead to an ‘explosion’ not in the specific atomic, genetic or electronic sense so much as an uncontrollable spreading of even more technological developments.
Many comrades see technology in terms of the friendly computer, the super fridge, the old TV set that gave us a few pleasant evenings (disturbed at times by the criticism of overbiased theorizers), so a condemnation of technology as a whole shakes them. On the contrary, we believe that the danger lies not in specific technological choices but in the speed—now crazily out of control—at which they are being applied, This has led to a widening of the distance that has always existed between ‘knowledge’ and ‘technical means’. We now find ourselves faced with an unbridgeable gap. Not so much in terms of ‘controlling’ the means, understanding them and using them within the limits and awareness of the risks that any ‘prothesis’ implies. We are convinced that this distance has grown, not just concerning the exploited class who have been led far away from any possibility of taking over the available technology by force, but also as regards the dominant class, the so-called included with their highly specialised technicians and scientists.
This disturbing thought can be illustrated by looking at some of the experiments carried out by the ‘apprentice sorcerers’ in the past. Certainly having fewer means at their disposition, but presenting just as many dangers that were faced with the same superficiality. The exploitation of the planet’s resources, atomic energy, the division of the world into areas of influence with projects of genocide concerning the most economically backward populations, capitalist accumulation, the cynical arms market and many other such nice activities are but a few of the consequences. And these are all quite rudimental if we consider the risks that an uncontrolled acceleration in technological experimentation could give rise to today.
We do not know what consequences the genetic changes in the animal and vegetable selection presently being experimented will lead to. What scares us most is that we do not know what the results of an advance in the technological application of this research will make possible in the near future. The first fear would still hold even if technology were to put a brake on itself and science were to stop ‘thinking’. That being impossible, the second is more than well-founded.
All this constitutes a real danger, one that technology as the armed wing of science is no longer able to put a halt to, making us risk more and more as each year goes by.
How are the social and political (therefore also political and moral) structures responding to this situation? With pitiful calls to scientists to act with prudence and a sense of responsibility, to politicians for more control, along with vague denunciations of the dangers of this or that branch of research. As though there was such a thing as good and bad technology, and as though the whole of science (including its armed wing) were not involved in a process of development that will require something far more complex than the bleating of reformist politicians or proposals for an ecological orientation to put a stop to.
Behind science stands international capital, behind each individual scientist (but how many of them are there now, certainly no more than a couple of dozen in the world, for the rest it is a question of highly specialised workers) there are massive State investments, military projects of control and economic projects for capitalist accumulation. And above all there is technological development.
That is why we are against the whole of technology and do not agree that it can be divided in two, one part to be rejected (where to?) and the other accepted. Our road is quite a simple one. It does not stumble over a thousand obstacles like that of the opportunists, in fact it is the only practicable one in the present state of affairs. The propulsive outlet must be revolution. A profound upheaval of social political, cultural and moral relations. These are the only conditions under which it will be possible to put an end to the exponential processes of technology with all their consequences.
We all know, and there is no need to continually be reminded of it, that this revolutionary outlet seems far away today. But we must not forget that it is precisely the perverse mechanism of the productive structure itself that we must take as our point of reference, as our subterranean ally. On one side, the side of the exploited, we have the will and determination of a few revolutionaries capable of working constantly within the various contradictions caused by the production process as a whole. On the other, the perversity of the technological process along with the obtusity of the managerial class and their incapacity to control the means at their disposal. A new model of class division is emerging, a different way of conceiving the struggle and involvement in the clash.
We are convinced that today’s technology will never be of any valid use. Not because we are luddites. Or if we are it is certainly in ways and with aims that are quite different to those of the last century. The fact is that as a whole, technology today is moving unequivocably and unchecked towards a quite perverse accumulation. The struggle against technology is therefore in itself a revolutionary struggle, even though we know perfectly well that in an acute phase it will not be possible to reach its abolition completely. But objective conditions will have changed, and the field that this technology finds itself operating in will be different. For the same reason we find those who accuse us of using the technology we hasten to condemn ridiculous. It is certainly not by coming out in crusades against the peripheral products of technological capitalism that we will be able to face the class struggle and the new (vertiginously new) conditions of the clash. To simply refuse this technology would lead to sclerotisation, a sacralisation of fear, creating myths where we would end up playing into the hands of all those who have an interest in increasing fragmentation and endless circumscribed sectors.
The same goes for science, the concepts of science, not the people who set themselves up as scientists to better qualify their role as the servants of power. We are not against ‘thought’ of course, what we are against is ‘specialisation’. No matter what area it comes from it is always the harbinger of new power systems, new forms of exploitation. Thought is free activity and we anarchists will certainly not be the ones to propose its limitation. But we are not so stupid as to request ‘self-limitation’ by those who gain huge profits from thinking as well as the benefits of status and a career. The first prospect would be authoritarian and liberticide, the second simply stupid.
Those who make thought an element of privilege in order to ensure the continuation of power today will unfortunately continue to act in order to maintain the underlying conditions that make such forms of thought possible. In the meantime some of them could be brought to face the weight of their responsibility, but that would be a question of marginal deeds that cannot clean out the sewer completely.