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Science and Technology - Angelo Baracca

Building together the foundations and the methods of a new science, for a global and environmental justice

Angelo Baracca


« Rather than saving the economic and financial system in crisis, it is important to save the human life and protect the viability of the planet. Science must serve for this superior purpose  »
[Leonardo Boff, il manifesto, October 2nd 2010: I replaced with the word science the word economy used by Boff ]

Introduction: the challenge we are asked to face

The setting of this conference is a real challenge. A convenient challenge, because it makes necessary to combine the critical considerations about the evolution and the disturbing perspectives of the world we are living in with a constructive effort to identify, although (and unavoidably) in problematic terms, suggestions and positive solutions. On the other hand, the crisis we are experiencing is so serious, profound, epochal, that we can’t confine ourselves to an analysis and an accuse: the future of humanity is at stake, and depends only on us. I will try to face this challenge in the more general possible way, although for this reason my considerations will be much more problematic.
I am also aware of the risks taken when extrapolating general considerations towards the future. I know I’m venturing on a steep and narrow ridge, marked by even more cliffs.

On one side – the one that looks at the evolution of scientific and technical discoveries and of the increasingly perverse mechanisms of power - it's easy to fall into the "science fiction", meant in its most noble terms: the forces that move around (and on) us are so powerful, the pace of change (especially technical and scientific) is so relentless and uncontrollable, that it is difficult to avoid the temptation to extrapolate - perhaps exaggerating (but also if minimizing, however deforming) - some trends to predict doomsday scenarios of a dehumanized world , equipped with increasingly powerful and invasive control tools. On the other side – the one of the opposition movements and the growth of social awareness and of communication - I see (and I seem to find) also the risk of overestimating the capacity of resistance and opposition, and the concrete experiences of choosing and organizing alternative ways of living.

After all I believe that for a serious but concrete consideration on a "New Civilization" from current Civilization (or incivility), it is impossible disregarding developments and trends under way, which are often hidden from common observation from a real barrier (political, technical, etc.).. Thus I think unavoidable for me venturing on that impervious ridge.

Science and technology against Mankind and Nature

I think that, about the current situation and its trends, there are most of all two levels from which to start: and that they already reflect the ambivalence I mentioned before.
The first is about the contradiction between the opportunities offered by the development of transportation and communication systems, increasingly powerful and global, and the more and more repressive, brutal and pervasive nature of our societies (which uses as well those same means of communication and control ): the most striking aspect is posed by wars, but they are just the clearly visible branches of a plant whose roots deeply penetrate, in more subtle ways, into the mechanisms of society. I will not move on this ground because it's farther from my expertise.

The second level concerns the nature and the importance of scientific and technical developments: which undoubtedly provide means and opportunities unknown in the past, but also involve disruption of natural processes and resources, with unpredictable and uncontrollable consequences (for the overwhelming pace of innovation, and for the huge interests at stake) on the environment, also referred to our fundamental life processes, which are not separable from the external environment. This is the field that I would like to discuss mostly: but for the objective limits posed by these speeches, I must refer to the paper I presented at the Symposium on Non-Violence on 24-25th April 2009.

However, I must at least mention the perhaps most delicate and neglected aspect, which I think is anyway the most important and harmful. The more frightening and insidious perspectives, in my opinion, are the ones regarding the bio-medical technology field, in which on the one hand the developments involve the most powerful interests (we speak about biotech empire, big-pharma), but on the other hand they disrupt the biological processes at the base of our life and of the biosphere, with unpredictable and uncontrollable, but certainly momentous consequences! It is a real pity that several circumstances have today precluded the presence of Dr. Ernesto Burgio, who is a profound and competent observer of these issues.

In this field vanishes the divide between fundamental and medical developments and military applications (biological warfare):

«"The real danger today is that a global biological warfare explodes without any chance  to prevent it, rather than because of someone’s deliberate will. ... [It is impossible] to distinguish between offensive and defensive uses of research on micro-organisms and, at least since the '80s, with the enormous economic interests linked to the new field of genetic biotechnology. "[1].»[2]

The great “penitent bio-technologist” Mae Wan Ho strongly underlined

«… the dangers to the entire biosphere, don’t came from the misuse of biotechnology, namely from bioterrorism and biological warfare, but from a technology that is deliberately breaking the species-specific barriers nature has built in defense of individual living species. ... A real undeclared war against the entire biosphere. An immense danger, perhaps the greatest danger ever for humanity, and totally unpredictable ...
... No one today can say with confidence that the effects and the products of the biotechnologies in theory with "good" goals won’t prove themselves to be, especially in the medium to long-term, less hazardous than the ones with "bad" goals» [cit. in Burgio2]

The most advanced researches are aimed to the production and massive introduction of artificial organisms that threaten to disrupt the bio-evolutionary process which is billions of years old, but is considered "imperfect because of its lack of understanding" by "apprentice sorcerers" scientists  (sic!).

Still inside this perverse logic, we have declared a "war against bacteria and viruses" (let’s think about the criminal advertising on "absolute hygiene!), which is a contradiction because viruses are the basis of life (which seems to constitute about 20 kg of our body), and that we are bound to lose: but every defeat will result in the introduction of new "scientific" innovations and especially in more profits. Just think of the so-called "antibiotic resistance", which hides the fact that antibiotics are vital factors for communication between cells that exist in nature, so the upheavals that we are introducing are deleterious, unknown and uncontrollable.

Another implication of these practices is the danger of a momentous pandemic, launched with warnings which are instrumental to the interests of the billion dollar industries that produce vaccines (producing more stress and vulnerability for the immune systems), but that now seems only a matter of probability (therefore time) in a way that then will be difficult to be stopped and that could cause millions of deaths!

The picture is obviously much more complex: we should consider many other aspects.

Some difficulties for a line of resistance

It seems necessary to me starting from this framework, and its severity, in order to try to build a collective line of resistance, and especially to try to reverse the trend, to impose a new collective line - I would say the 'common interest' - as long as we time (at least to limit the damage).
I think it's necessary, once again, to clarify very well the background difficulties.

The first is, in my opinion, built on ignorance and indifference, the first arising from the monopoly of information and its mystification by the strong interest (and degradation put on public and free education), the second by the logic of 'private interest’ and by the corruption both imposed by this system, whose message, neither so hidden, is "do your own thing, without scruples, just think about making money"!

But I see a further difficulty in the fact that the critique to Science often takes the shape of totally anti-scientific attitudes: either in the form of let’s say “mystical” positions, or as an outright denial of science. Legitimate positions, mind you, which are not new (think about  "Luddism" nineteenth century), and also explainable, but which in my opinion do not lead anywhere. This science, and scientists, are produced by the logic of the dominant relations of exploitation, and I don’t believe that’s thinkable being able to stop them: that’s why we can’t evade the basic problem about how to change these processes and reverse this logic. The absolute denial seems to me a manifestation of weakness, not of strength.

We should however recognize and analyze a fundamental point, which can be a hinge for the previous two trends: it’s about the power constituted by scientific and technologic “knowledge” (know how). Either because those in power always send back, and mistify, the “solution” of any problem to a technological level (think about major public works, such as nuclear programs), and also because scientists on their side are presented as a Caste custodian of "the  knowledge ", which they convert into an instrument of power, acting as accomplices of the dominant classes and trends.

An example for all. The logic of cost-effectiveness, based on GDP and on the quantitative concept of development, affects the public opinion mystifying "scientific"  projections of alleged "needs" (induced) for the coming decades, rather than starting from the real needs of a good living, which obviously is not a good source of profits! Just think that the proclaimed elimination of world hunger (is there a greater need?) has never been a real priority, but was subordinated to the stronger interests, and therefore absolutely kept marginal and unrealistic.

Reversing the trend, overturning the logic

The fundamental point is, in my opinion, about spreading awareness of these problems and building a collective will able to impose a logic and a practice of the "common good" (common not only to mankind, but to a re-equilibrium of the whole environment, we are disrupting in an irreversible way, but that is the foundation and the condition of our existence itself).
There’s no lack of encouraging aspects.

If on one side the (even scientific) potential for controlling the masses has never been so great, the global real time communication and information media, have never been so powerful: everyone can know everything! The underlying problem seems to me that those in power are much better and stronger than the community in monitoring, and in using these resources and capabilities to their advantage (as well as the ignorance of the masses). The examples are endless, but if we think the most resounding misrepresentations, when Bush and Blair were blatantly lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, neither the huge peace movement has been able to spread this knowledge, nor  the glaring contradictions and inconsistencies in the 9 / 11 official version are perceived by most people. It’s here that the first difficulty I mentioned before occurs, the majority preferring to lay down instead than getting active, often pretending to believe to have no problems, or being resigned to the force of power. They prefer to be fooled by the farce of "the Millennium Goals” and the eradication of world hunger, while spend astronomical sums - useless and deadly – are spended, as the $ 1.5 trillion of world military spending, and $ 3,000 billion to save the same banks that led us to ruin (but that do a roaring trade).

Even for this, a second point in our favor is that we don’t have to invent everything. Proposals and alternative routes exist, even if they must be adapted and developed, but they may provide a basis with which we can lever to reverse the situation. Just think about the claims of many native peoples of Latin America, which are not tamed after half a millennium of domination and extermination, and claiming not only their rights - undeniable, against any property deed imposed by force - but also their conceptions and practical relationship with the Earth, the old Pacha Mama, diametrically opposed to the one of brutal exploitation. We can no longer accept living in our affluent society (though eroded by the crisis, and distorted by social injustice), based on the reckless exploitation and expropriation of resources and wealth from entire populations!

But already on this point: are we capable, we at first, to do this epochal leap? Are we aware of what would mean an outright renunciation to oil and raw materials literally plundered from those who "own them"?! Already this awareness would imply a radical change, a true reversal our lifestyles: no more private transport, reduction of air travel to close needs (and of many media, popular and recklessly abused by the logic of profit). That is limiting the opportunities offered by technology to their actual usefulness and necessity, rather than meeting the needs imposed, and then presented us as "comforts". Are we are able to perceive and assimilate ourselves the awareness that a society based on these resources for profit purposes (not a society that uses these opportunities to the common good) does not provide us a better life, but on the contrary a more alienated one, more and more separated from and opposed to Nature, which is the basis and substance of our own nature? I want to clarify that here I’m not referring to individual choices, whose legitimacy and value I do not deny, but that (I think) remain elitist, limited (they don’t prevent the harmful effects of the system) and do not trigger the collective change.

Honestly I’m not able propose concrete routes. I believe that facing such a high challenge it is necessary a joint research, a social experimentation, which certainly is not starting from zero: there are countless grassroots experiences seeking to build alternative realities and solutions,  rooted and shared. So far they have not produced a generalization, and this shows how strong the dominant power is, and how difficult and complex is our task.

Let me briefly mention one important example, which is related to the examples I proposed about biology and medicine. Nowadays inside the medical class is ruling a genetic paradigm for many illnesses, first of all cancer, functional to the interests of the Bio-Tech Empire. In contrast a different paradigm is emerging, which on the contrary argues with an increasingly solid evidence base, the role of environmental factors in the origin of many diseases. The strength of this paradigm is increasingly confirmed by the attention of authoritative  media  (New York Times, Time), but remains a very strong resistance to it from medical professionals.

Let’s try to imagine what disruptive perturbations would be introduced by this new paradigm, on the one hand transforming the doctor-patient relationship and reducing the power of the drug industry, on the other in linking the struggles for environmental protection and those for health protection, raising awareness and involving large groups still little sensitive to these issues.

It is for sure no coincidence that the modern world is dominated everywhere by the economic mechanisms of neo-liberalism and by narrow elites: on the historical level they won. Even modern science is a product of Western society and has introjected the logic of exploitation of resources and of human labor for purposes of profit. A different logical and a different structure, alternative, can spread and in perspective establish themselves, only if they first of all become aware properties of the majority (because we do not want any more a way to prevail by force), but secondly, they succeed in contextually building the structures necessary at the whole society level: structures do define which I can’t find a different word than power, provided we are clear that it should be a power not based on force and tyranny, but rather on sharing and on the common good, a power based on both control and legitimacy from below, collective, for which nobody has yet found concrete or definitive ways.

Only along this path it will be possible to ensure that the collective needs, respect for and development of each individual, his health and balance, the recovery of a balanced relationship with nature and its resources, this translates into new knowledge, in scientific and technical tools that will be with no doubts different, able to adapt to the mechanics and processes of nature and to the true human balance, rather than forcing them, to exploit them, with the presumption of Sorcerer's Apprentices.

[1] Susan Wright, Biological Warfare and Disarmament: New Problems/New Perspectives,Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.
[2] Ernesto Burgio, Bioterrorismo e Impero Biotech, “L’Ernesto online”, 01/07/2003,
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