Why farmpunk?

A farmpunk could be described as a neo-agrarian who approaches [agri]culture, community development and/or design with an anarchistic hacker ethos. "Cyber-agrarian" could supplant neo-agrarian, indicating a back-to-the-land perspective that stands apart from past movements because it is heavily informed by conceptual integration in a post-industrial information society (thus "forward to the land" perhaps?) The art and science of modern ecological design—and ultimately, adapting to post-collapse contexts—will be best achieved through the combined arts of cybermancy and geomancy; an embrace of myth and ritual as eco-technologies. In other words: the old ways of bushcraft and woodlore can be combined with modern technoscience (merely another form of lore) in open and decentralized ways that go beyond pure anarcho-primitivism. This blog is an example of just that. Throughout, natural ecologies must be seen as the original cybernetic systems.

**What we call for at the farmpunk headquarters**
°Freedom of information
°Ground-up action + top-down perspectives
°Local agricultural systems (adhering to permaculture/biodynamic principles) as the nuclei of economies
°Bioregional autonomy
°Computers are optional but can be used for good—see peer to peer tech, social media for direct popular management of natural or political disasters (e.g. Arab Spring), or the mission of the hacker collective Anonymous

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Queering the Sciences: A middle road between Postmodern Thought and Scientism?

This post is somewhat dated (two or three years old to date, perhaps) but I'd like to publish it since it is more or less complete and has been saved as a draft for quite a long time now.

There has been created in American intellectual (and pop) culture a sort of postmodernism on steroids that is somewhat of a Frankenstein. I have been influenced very positively by postmodern thought and critical theory myself, and I certainly believe there is a proper place for it in the methodological toolbox. But there are ways in which postmodern thought has gotten "out of hand" and I think threatens to create an atmosphere of moral nihilism that ironically isn't too dissimilar to the spiritual nihilism that postmodern theologians criticize scientists for. Simply put, the goal of postmodern theory/critique is deconstruction, and as such it is a provisional lens, a necessary perspective along the path to wisdom. But it cannot be used by itself, it is auxiliary. It should not eradicate all possibility of subjective construction and creation of meaning toward some perceived (and naturally culturally constrained) goal. And it should not ignore or devalue the functional realities of meaning-making. Because if we are not careful it will destroy all myth, including the benign, even enchanting ones we hold about ourselves, that help us navigate through life.

There is also a worrying bifurcation occurring at this moment in Western culture.
As academic discourses reach new heights of abstraction and linguistic focus, popular culture becomes more and more visual. But the worst ethical ramifications of postmodern thought trickle through to find validation within a consumer culture. The worst notion by far is the one in which there is no universal morality, corresponding to the notion that there are no overarching truths. And if there are, the thinking goes, it is dangerous to calibrate one's moral compass by them, lest one be disappointed and stepped on by an increasingly immoral and disenchanted world.

The anarcho-primitivist John Zerzan dishes out a blistering critique of it as he sees it:

So Postmodernism reveals that autonomy has largely been a myth and cherished ideals of mastery and will are similarly misguided. But if we are promised herewith a new and serious attempt at demystifying authority, concealed behind the guises of a bourgeois humanist "freedom", we actually get a dispersal of the subject so radical as to render it impotent, even nonexistent, as any kind of agent at all. Who or what is left to achieve a liberation, or is that just one more pipe dream?

I think that postmodern thought can be reconciled with cognitive science and evolutionary psychology. Both areas of inquiry contain great truths that should be synergized, but ironically they can also both be used to discredit each other.

Here are my thoughts on this matter.

Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is an interesting moral problem here to be solved. Like many other humanities students I have been at times very concerned about the attitude of scientific imperialism, and the on-the-ground politics and machinations within scientific research. I think that there have also been significant stumbling blocks in many branches of science—such as neuro and cognitive sciences, as well as ecology and economics—that have led to frameworks of extreme reductionism, atomism and determinism, not to mention a sort of spiritual nihilism that is more or less socially useless and at best a desperate counterweight measure for anti-scientific and anti-intellectual sentiment. This can make some scientific discourse seem polemical and reactionary, which is of course not very intellectually seductive.

Postmodern principles are essential for compassionately navigating, and being open to, a pluralized, globalized world because they caution against moral, ethical and social truth-claims, and they provide radical ways of re-conceptualizing identity and personhood, and the ways in which culture constructs things that otherwise seem very fixed to us subjectively. Postmodernism is also pivotal in deconstructing the cultural and social processes through which any meaning is made, not just that which is pertinent to identity.

But all the same, postmodernism is not some form of logic that you can blindly apply to every issue you encounter. As the internet meme quips, "You must be new here..."

Naturally, universalist claims—such as some made by the scientific studies of human brains and behavior—are called into question because clearly our world-views and belief systems are self-supporting, and there's no way we can step outside of our cultural embeddedness to gain a total vision of humanity... I agree that such a bird's eye view does not exist. I can see that it probably seems to many that scientists arrogantly claim to be perched atop just such a vantage point.

But this is where a truth of this intellectual battle comes out. Maybe such arrogance and lack of empathy is a social problem, located in individual people, and not inherent in the ethics of science or the scientific method. Or, if such attitudes ARE somehow vestigal in science, remnants of a white supremacist, colonial past, they CAN be disconnected and discarded, with some work. Just the same, the benefits of science can be disembedded from certain histories of use.

I'm annoyed that those who take PM to its (illogical) conclusions often think that they are the ones whose worldviews most closely resemble one free of presuppositions and biases. This is a form of elitism that is a mirror image of what it criticizes in scientism.

The truth, as usual I think is somewhere in the middle.

Many historians and humanities scholars have a problem with the theory, central to cognitive science of religion (for example) that since brains, being products of a common evolutionary past, are common to all humans there must exist universal constraints to behavior delineated by biology. And that biology is in fact very important in understanding culture, and engaging in a true comparative study of human cultures.

Now, these days many scholars in the humanities, especially religion, are very wary of comparativism because of the ostensibly discredited (as culturally biased) work of the likes of Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell. For many, the only safe thing to do is to study one thing, and the whole notion of comparing different religious behaviors, myths or symbols in service of an idea (or ideal) of a universal and perennial human spirituality is deeply problematic, and I've even heard it called "crypto-theology" (Which I guess is an insult) I get where they are coming from, but personally I think Eliade and Campbell were onto something.

Cognitive science entered the humanities scene in the past decade, and I think it has billed itself as the "new comparativism", replacing Eliade's idea of a universal human desire for a return to one's origins with the architecture of the brain and the lasting legacy of our evolutionary past, that is literally inscribed into our flesh. And as such it has been particularly threatening to postmodern ways of thinking about culture, society and gender. But yet, I think that neuroscience has come to some of the same conclusions as Eliade, as evident in Andrew Newberg's research and the related field of neurotheology on how we are neurologically predisposed to mysticism and magical thinking. Moreover, such beliefs may not just be large scale hallucinations, "opiates of the masses" or "delusions", but might actually have beneficial effects, regardless of whether their symbolic content is "true" or not (and indeed, I think spiritual and mythic realities really destabilize the rational, scientific Western ideal of "truth—as one scholar puts it myth is in fact a cosmological theorem). Such beneficial effects may operate on many scales, from individual physiology to group solidarity and even beyond. Notably, Newberg's works include a book about the various neurological (and physiological) benefits of religious belief and/or practice.

That said, eventually I hope that the discussion about religion, or for that matter any other human cultural behavior, will turn to something beyond "benefits" and "detriments" to the individual self—as if we were all hanging out in the self-help section of the bookstore—and will expand into a more dispassionate (yet more empathic) discussion about ecological dynamics.

Personally, I think Postmodernism, against claims to the contrary, does make its own universalist claim, one that is I think not so different from the claim about the universal explanatory power of cognitive science.

For PM the grand organizing factor, the one responsible for the development and learning of every human being... is culture. It is once the universal constant and the universal variant.

But "culture," whatever that is, and the brain with its hallmark process we call "mind" are partners in crime, co-creators of human life on earth. They are intimately coupled, self-regulating relational processes, one [the brain/mind] flesh-and-blood, bound to the wheel of time, and the other [culture] the handmaid of the flesh, the symbolic order that has one foot outside of time, while another stays firmly rooted in the temporal world.

You just can't pick one in lieu of the other to use as a critical lens—they are both equally responsible, important and real, though real in very different ways.

I suspect that through inter-theoretic reduction and transdisciplinary work, postmodern thought and evolutionary and brain sciences can be reconciled. They do need each other, or something like each other, because the brain sciences are too chauvinistic and PM theories are in too much of a perpetual existential crisis.

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