"Pay my troops no mind; they're just on a fact-finding mission."

Towards Understanding Anti-Science Terrorism

Common to most terrorist groups, we find a somewhat incoherent set of beliefs and a method of change that isn’t very effective. I doubt our anarchist friends could tell us the differences in reactor designs, or the components that make up one. So the first answer is that the general public isn’t educated about the risks and rewards of Nuclear Power.  This is the problem James Burke brought up in his last episode of Connections, how do we give the man in the street enough information about technology so that he isn’t alienated by it? How do we overcome demagogues who will take advantage of people who are disenfranchised by technology? Europe in particular is becoming very technophobic, while some of it’s more innovative scientists flee for more welcoming territory. There has been a spate of attacks recently that has fueled this debate:

Four days later, in a rambling and often cryptic letter to an Italian newspaper, a group calling itself the Olga Cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility for the attack. It described Adinolfi, head of the nuclear energy company Ansaldo Nucleare, as “one of so many sorcerers of the atom” and warned: “With this action of ours we return to you a tiny part of the suffering that you, man of science, are pouring into the world.” The cell has threatened to carry out more attacks.

The non-fatal shooting in Genoa in May was the latest in a series of alleged anarchist attacks on scientists and engineers, including the attempted bombing of nanotechnology labs in Switzerland and Mexico. This wave of politically motivated violence has raised the question: why do anarchists hate science? Beyond the unsubtle threat of brute force, there are deeper issues that merit attention.

There is a notable strand in anarchism in which science is seen as highly politicised and thoroughly intertwined with corporate globalisation, militarism, securitisation and a growing web of “techno-fascism” that is yielding severe social and ecological consequences. Anarchism also has a primitivist undercurrent which plausibly suggests that, through science and technology, humans have lost more than we have gained. Link

Of course some of that paranoia is well founded, our tech giants are working hand-in-hand with governments to sell our data. And then selling them the software to make sense of that data. In the 21st century, paranoia is a critical thinking exercise, not a delusion.

We have popular science personalities like Neil deGrasse Tyson, but he doesn’t have the reach or wealth of a celebrity politician like Al Gore. Ultimately, Gore is just channeling the Gaian impulse lurking in all humans. But is the root of this impulse really the desire to connect to nature?

Let’s talk about the now legendary movie, Avatar, which features a team of scientists and a marine transferring their consciousnesses into large cat-biped bodies to join a tribalist culture in fighting against (betraying) humans and their machines:

James Cameron’s completely immersive spectacle “Avatar” may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora.

On the fan forum site “Avatar Forums,” a topic thread entitled “Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible,” has received more than 1,000 posts from people experiencing depression and fans trying to help them cope. The topic became so popular last month that forum administrator Philippe Baghdassarian had to create a second thread so people could continue to post their confused feelings about the movie.

“I wasn’t depressed myself. In fact the movie made me happy ,” Baghdassarian said. “But I can understand why it made people depressed. The movie was so beautiful and it showed something we don’t have here on Earth. I think people saw we could be living in a completely different world and that caused them to be depressed.”

A post by a user called Elequin expresses an almost obsessive relationship with the film.

“That’s all I have been doing as of late, searching the Internet for more info about ‘Avatar.’ I guess that helps. It’s so hard I can’t force myself to think that it’s just a movie, and to get over it, that living like the Na’vi will never happen. I think I need a rebound movie,” Elequin posted.

A user named Mike wrote on the fan Web site “Naviblue” that he contemplated suicide after seeing the movie.

“Ever since I went to see ‘Avatar’ I have been depressed. Watching the wonderful world of Pandora and all the Na’vi made me want to be one of them. I can’t stop thinking about all the things that happened in the film and all of the tears and shivers I got from it,” Mike posted. “I even contemplate suicide thinking that if I do it I will be rebirthed in a world similar to Pandora and the everything is the same as in ‘Avatar.’ “ Link More from the forum here 

I had the exact opposite reaction, halfway through the movie I was imaging myself gunning the bastards down in my awesome mecha-suit. [For the record, I still think people have undersold the power of biology because they never looked into the nature of consciousness and psychic activity.]

Cameron channeled an important dysfunction of the modern human’s psyche – the lack of an extended tribal family unit to reign in and stabilize the individual ego. This would reign in the fickleness and self-importance of females, and give structure to help the males make sense of their lives in the context of the community. To have a tradition and rites of passage. Structure, meaning, purpose, and a sense of belonging, a connection. That’s what these people lack.

Part of purpose means having something to work towards. An achievable but difficult goal that will give you a sense of pride and confidence when you complete it. The stagnation of academia and widespread underemployment of talent is partially to blame for people having lost a sense of meaningful work. The other part is the loss in faith in traditional leadership institutions, tech companies like Google have more trust than most governments.

The common view is that there are no secrets left. It’s a plausible view. If it’s wrong, it’s not obviously wrong. To evaluate it, we must first understand why people don’t believe in secrets anymore.

A. Anti-secret Extremism

The extreme representative of the conventional view is Ted Kaczynski, more infamously known as the Unabomber. He was a child prodigy. IQ of 167. A top student at Harvard. PhD in math from Michigan. Professor of math at UC Berkeley. But then he started a solo bombing campaign after becoming disenchanted with science and technology. He killed 3 people and injured 23 more. The victims included computer store owners, technical grad students, geneticists, etc. Finally he was found and arrested in 1996.

But in late 1995 the FBI didn’t really have a clue who or where the Unabomber was. Kaczynski had written a manifesto and anonymously mailed it to the press. The government gave the go-ahead to print it, hoping for a break in the case. That ended up working, as Kaczynski’s brother recognized the writing and turned him in.

But more interesting than how Kaczynski was caught was the manifesto itself. It was basically a long, crazy anti-tech diatribe. The core of the argument was that you could divide human goals into three groups:

  1. Goals that can be satisfied with minimal effort;
  2. Goals that can be satisfied with serious effort, and;
  3. Goals that are impossible to satisfy.

It was the classic easy/hard/impossible trichotomy. Kaczynski argued that people are depressed because the only things left are (1) easy things or (3) impossible things. What you can do, even kids can do. But what you can’t do, even Einstein couldn’t do. So Kaczynski’s idea was to destroy technology, get rid of all bureaucracy and technical processes, and let people start over and work on hard problems anew. That, he thought, would be much more fulfilling. Link

Some of these anarcho-primatavist intellectuals like John Zerzan, have gone as far as denouncing the invention of language saying the binging of symbolic consciousness lead to our fall as a species… from something. This idea that we must give up abstract thinking, and therefore mathematics and anything beyond our current sensory input is something only an intellectual could convince himself as being a good thing.

Another one is Leonard Shlain, who makes the interesting connection that widespread literacy leads to dark ages, sort of:

Shlain contrasts the feminine right-brained oral teachings of Socrates, Buddha, and Jesus with the masculine creeds that evolved when their spoken words were committed to writing. The first book written in an alphabet was the Old Testament and its most important passage was the Ten Commandments. The first two reject of any goddess influence and ban any form of representative art.

The love of Mary, Chivalry, and courtly love arose during the illiterate Dark Ages and plummeted after the invention of the printing press in the Renaissance. The Protestant attack on holy images and Mary followed, as did ferocious religious wars and neurotic witch-hunts. The benefits of literacy are obvious; this gripping narrative explores its dark side, tallying previously unrecognized costs.

Yeah, so, he wrote a book about why we should be illiterate? He wrote a book about how the founder of logic, who had a huge following consisting almost entirely of men, was a feminine movement? Well disregarding that the left brain right brain thing is a myth, it was still one of the most original concepts I had ever heard of. The point of this is, there is no limit to the amount of crazy shit you can get people who are reasonably smart to believe if it feels good to them. And the smarter the person, the easier it will be for them to defend themselves against attacks on the foundations of his or her beliefs. Telling people what they want to hear is quite a bit easier and more lucrative in the short term. Something will fill the gap during this decline of legitimacy, and that something will be pants-on-head fucking retarded if we don’t do something about it.

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