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Techno-Utopia


By Bruce Gagnon

TECHNO-UTOPIANISM SEMINAR REPORT

I have just returned from San Francisco where I attended a private seminar called Techno-Utopianism: Killing the World with about 30 leading environmentalists, scientists, economists, writers, and activists.  I was asked to represent the Global Network and report on the latest space technology issues including drones, global strike systems, surveillance, and the like.  It was quite an honor to be invited to attend this event and I learned a great deal from those assembled.

 
The event was led by Jerry Mander (Int’l Forum on Globalization), Andrew Kimbrell (Int’l Center for Technology Assessment), Randy Hayes (Foundation Earth), Stephanie Mills (Post Carbon Institute), and Doug Tompkins (Foundation for Deep Ecology).
 
The three-day event began with Mander outlining the vision of the meeting, which was to report on current anti-technology struggles, discuss root causes and begin to define next steps.  Mander said that the techno-machine had not only transformed our planet in negative ways but had also dominated the consciousness of human kind.  He labeled our current situation a “techno-dictatorship” which calls itself progress.  The Internet, he suggested, creates the illusion of resistance to the machine.
 
Physicist and ecologist Vandana Shiva stated, “Technology is really about appropriating resources”.  In India the chemical industry subsidy is as big as what is spent on the military.  Forty percent of greenhouse gases come from industrial agriculture.  Public relations have replaced science.  “No village is safe under globalization’s resource war”, Shiva said.  “The state comes under corporate control and then becomes a militarized state.”
 
Randy Hayes reported that our present “Brush fire fights are not connected enough to systemic change.”  Our social movement’s critique of mega-technology is weak.
 
Andrew Kimbrell (who represented the Florida Coalition for Peace & Justice in federal court in 1989-1990 when we sued NASA opposing the Galileo and Ulysses plutonium rocket launches) told the assembled, “Nano-technology is the next industrial revolution.  When you make molecules smaller their properties change.  Worker safety becomes a big issue.”  Nano particles are already getting into our rivers and into the brains of fish.  Carbon nano-tubes are stronger than steel and some are talking about using them to make elevators into space.  The Pentagon is heavily funding nano-tech research and development.  Kimbrell called Nano-tech and GMO’s the “Hail Mary technologies.”
 
Gar Smith (editor emeritus of Earth Island Journal) spoke about nuclear power with particular emphasis on the impacts of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.  Nearly half of children in the area now have thyroid cysts.  Forty tons of water per day are being used to keep the radioactive rods cooled and the water will eventually end up in the ocean.  Smith reported, “One fish found in the ocean off Fukushima had 2,500 times the radiation levels over ‘safe’ limits.”  The radioactive wastewater will reach the US west coast in five years and will “be the end of the west coast fishing industry.”
 
Mander, who authored the best selling book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, reminded us that “We are living inside media and media is living inside of us.  We are receiving 30,000 commercial images per year and once in the brain they are there forever.”  Our minds essentially become colonized by corporate branding.
 
Eileen Crist (Associate Professor in Dept. of Science & Technology at Virginia Tech) warned us that our movements have not developed a “compelling alternative [to capitalist destruction of the planet] for her students.”  “The pieces are all there but not put together in a compelling vision,” she said.  She reported that the “new environmentalism”, heavily funded and influenced by the corporate technologists, “is warmed over nature conservation” where “human aspirations are primary”.  We must “name these environmental groups as corporate serving groups. The corporate agenda wants to break the emerging alliance between the ecological and social justice movements,” Crist said.  There is a “battle [underway] for the branding and soul of the environmental movement.”
 
Filmmaker and former monk Godfrey Reggio told the assembled, “We are all cyborgs, and we have become the environment we live in.  We are aliens…. I want the courage to be hopeless about this present situation so I can be hopeful about the future.”
 
Chet Bowers (author and professor of Environmental Studies at University of Oregon) told us “When we are born into a language community our imagination is restricted by the silence of our elders.”  During that silence “our alternative vocabularies get excluded” thus widespread thinking and debate about our way out of the techo-mess gets limited to more corporate techno solutions.
 
Lisi Krall (Professor of Economics at the State University of New York, Cortland) suggested, “Difficult economic conversations have fallen out of favor.  Technology is our last refuge before we face what we don’t want to face.”  We must “deal with techno-industrial culture and talk about reducing consumption.  The world made by hand takes a vibrant healthy eco-system.”  The current and coming economic “depression brings clarity,” she said.  “We can’t be afraid to use the word planning…. how do we reallocate labor and resources?”
 
In our hand-held device world of  “communication” we’ve become strangers from one another and increasingly violent.  Charlene Spretnak (professor emerita in philosophy and religion) well illustrated this point by sharing, “Studies show that talking to people leads to better mental and physical function…. Children who witness violence see a shortening of life…. the part of kids’ brains where empathy is found is shrinking from playing violent video games…. Nature helps increase empathy.”
 
In one of my own interventions during the seminar I suggested that the “business model” has also colonized our “progressive movement’s” method of organizing.  We are in a state of competition with one another in our isolated quest for funds, members, media coverage, and personal recognition.  Our “resistance has itself become a corporatized monoculture,” I suggested.  We will find no real solution and positive alternative vision and direction without first learning to work in unity and diversity by connecting the dots between our single-focused-issue organizing. This must be done locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally.
 
Jerry Mander urged us “not to be afraid to get rid of something that is destroying us and the natural world.”  Vandana Shiva insisted we must “talk about the new slavery” to corporate technology.  One participant suggested that we have been a “nation of hustlers” that has become “a nation of thugs who use technology for global domination.”
 
Research scientist Michael Huesemann told the seminar participants “techno-fixes are ineffective.”  Dealing with traffic congestion by building more roads and making electric cars won’t work.  We’ve got to get rid of the cars.  “Technology increases the separation from the environment,” he said.
 
Mander, who has a new book out called The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System, reminded us “In order to save capitalism, government had to intervene and rescue it by regulating it.”  Part of a new economic vision he suggested would include some of these ideas/principles: Cooperatives (now 9% of the US economy); Small-scale efforts (when they fail they don’t bring the whole system or environment down with them); Nature come first; Hybrid economics.
 
The fatal flaws of capitalism “can’t be fixed” Mander insisted.  The present system relies on ecologically devastating “economic growth”, is inequitable, has a propensity to militarism and war, occupies democracy and our consciousness, and does not make people happy.  Global capital is the problem.
 
“We’ve got to name the system if you want to change it,” Mander concluded.  Capitalism means endless “expansion” and by now we know that means death.
 
Wes Jackson (Land Institute in Kansas) handed out small bags of Kernza whole grain flour to all the seminar participants.  Kernza is a perennial grain with deep roots being developed by his institute.  He reminded us “nature’s eco-systems are the only true economies.”  We must “Bring the wild to the farm,” he said. 
 
Mander and others at the seminar are working toward a major Teach-In in 2014, which will likely be held in New York City.  We must all increase our ability and resolve to make these vital connections between rampant capitalism, ecological destruction, and endless war. 
 
Technology impacts each and every one of our movements and the corporate oligarchy fears our collective response.  Let’s step up our critical analysis of capitalism and articulation of a nature-based economics.   

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