Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, July 31, 2006

Murray Bookchin Has Died

Murray Bookchin died yesterday in his home, from heart failure. He was 85 years old. Bookchin was a libertarian socialist and social ecologist who wrote a number of wonderfully provocative, promising, poetic, uncompromisingly radical works.

Among these was a book called Post-Scarcity Anarchism which had a profound early influence on my own political thinking. I was deeply inspired by Bookchin's advocacy of a radical democracy inseparable from sustainability, his advocacy of an ecological consciousness inseparable from a demand for emancipatory technoscience. I drew abiding clarity and confidence from his uncompromising repudiation of corporate-militarist vocabularies of global "development," from his repudiation of uncritical technophobia or nostalgic luddisms, and from his refusal of the facile biological determinism that freights so much of the discourse of technoscientific culture to this day. My own insistence that technoprogressives should never speak of "technological development" but always of "technodevelopmental social struggle" (despite the gawky awkwardness of the phrase) derives ultimately from Bookchin's own insistence that technologies are never politically neutral.

An online archive of works by Bookchin is available here , and I can think of no better tribute to Bookchin than to encourage those who do not know his work already to begin an exploration of his thinking online today.

Here are the opening paragraphs from a piece published in 1969, Toward a Post-Scarcity Society:
The twentieth century is the heir of human history -- the legatee of man's age-old effort to free himself from drudgery and material insecurity. For the first time in the long succession of centuries, this century has elevated mankind to an entirely new level of technological achievement and to an entirely new vision of the human experience.

Technologically, we can now achieve man's historical goal -- a post scarcity society. But socially and culturally, we are mired in the economic relations, institutions, attitudes and values of a barbarous past, of a social heritage created by material scarcity. Despite the potentiality of complete human freedom, we live in the day-to-day reality of material insecurity and a subtle, ever-oppressive system of coercion. We live, above all, in a society of fear, be it of war, repression, or dehumanization. For decades we have lived under the cloud of a thermonuclear war, streaked by the fires of local conflicts in half the continents of the world. We have tried to find our identities in a society that has become ever more centralized and mobilized, dominated by swollen civil, military and industrial bureaucracies. We have tried to adapt to an environment that is becoming increasingly befouled with noxious wastes. We have seen our cities and their governments grow beyond all human comprehension, reducing our very sovereignty as individuals to ant-like proportions -- the manipulated, dehumanized victims of immense administrative engines and political machines. While the spokesmen for this diseased social 'order' piously mouth encomiums to the virtues of 'democracy,' 'freedom' and 'equality,' tens of millions of people are denied their humanity because of racism and are reduced to conditions of virtual enslavement.

Viewed from a purely personal standpoint, we are processed with the same cold indifference through elementary schools, high schools and academic factories that our parents encounter in their places of work. Worse, we are expected to march along the road from adolescence to adulthood, the conscripted, uniformed creatures of a murder machine guided by electronic brains and military morons. As adults, we can expect to be treated with less dignity and identity than cattle: squeezed into underground freight cars, rushed to the spiritual slaughterhouses called 'offices' and 'factories,' and reduced to insensibility by monotonous, often purposeless, work. We will be asked to work to live and live to work -- the mere automata of a system that creates superfluous, if not absurd, needs; that will steep us in debts, anxieties and insecurities; and that, finally, will deliver us to the margins of society, to the human scrapheap called the aged and chronically ill -- desiccated beings, deprived of all vitality and humanity...

The debasement of social life -- all the more terrifying because its irrational, coercive, day-to-day realities stand in such blatant contradiction to its liberatory potentialities -- has no precedent in human history. Never before has man done so little with so much; indeed, never before has man used his resources for such vicious, even catastrophic ends. The tension between 'what-could-be' and 'what-is' reaches its most excruciating proportions in the United States, which occupies the position not only of the most technologically advanced country in the world but also of the 'policeman of the world,' the foremost imperialist power in the world. The United States affords the terrifying spectacle of a country overladen with automobiles and hydrogen bombs; of ranch houses and ghettoes, of immense material superfluity and brutalizing poverty. Its profession of 'democratic' virtue is belied daily by racism, the repression of black and white militants, police terrorism, Vietnam, and the prospect of Vietnams to come.

1 comment:

Tim Barton said...

Hi,

Re Murray Bookchin passing away.

I run the websites:
http://www.bluegreenearth.com
http://www.europeansocialecologyinstitute.org

The latest issue of blue (BlueGreenEarth Vol.5 #11 - August 20th 2006) has run two Bookchin pieces

Whither Bookchin? - Obituary, by Tim Barton
Obituary, by Rob Allen (for Freedom Anarchist Fortnightly)

We also republished our review of Re-Enchanting Humanity

In the previous issue we had run a reprint of our Local-Global Organising feature from November 2005's Lancaster University KnowledgeLab (UK), at which I gave a Social Ecology related seminar.

Our Institute is still in its early stages, despite plans over 15 years ago to get it running, However, in the last few months things have begun to forge ahead and in 2007 we hope to have several courses available. These may be in Hastings, Ipswich, or Cork, and we hope offer them further afield over the next few years.

I hope this is of interest to you. We too were very sad to hear of Murray's death, though aware it was kind of due.

Regards
Tim

PS I also run the blog:
http://socialecologyinstitute.blogspot.com