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The March for Science Under the Anti-Capitalist Microscope

 

The March for Science Under the Anti-Capitalist Microscope

The title of this blog post, unlike the signs at the March for Science, is a little uninspired.  To tell you the truth, I regret that did not attend the March for Science this past Saturday.  This is not because I am against science, but because I had worked the night shift the night before and didn’t want to short change my sleep.  I support the march and was glad to see that Duluth had a great turnout.  It was wonderful that individuals who do not normally attend marches went to the science march. I was also glad to see that there was a great turnout across the country.  Science is important for society and should be defended.  The fact that it was defended with a march is important, since it normalizes protest which is an essential organizing tool as it is the public, mass, visible sharing of ideas and demands.  Thus, I am elated that another protest has happened and that it was attended by hundreds of thousands of people.  However, I couldn’t help but notice that the media treated the science march very differently than the women’s march.  I think that this is because science is less of a threat to the functioning of capitalism than the liberation of women.



To be fair, I am very biased.  And, to be fair, this isn’t a very scientific analysis of the issue.  Nevertheless, I noted very positive media coverage of the science march.  For instance, an article in Forbes described the march as happy, delightful, and funny.  Various articles highlighted fun costumes and signs.  Fortune also called it fun and a “celeprotest” with signs that were more clever than other protests.  Many articles pointed out that it was non-partisan, though certainly a reaction to the Trump administration.  The coverage discussed the large crowds and hearty, fun protesters who braved the rain.  Now, there was certainly positive coverage of the Women’s March, but there was also negative coverage about the signs left behind, the lack of diversity, problematic pussy hats, partisanship, etc.  There was some critique from fellow scientists regarding the march, but this seemed centered upon the idea that science should be neutral and apolitical.  There was a lot less criticism about the lack of diversity or that the science march was a display of white privilege.  The science march was not called out in the same way for not supporting Black Lives Matter.  The lack of scrutiny worries me, as certainly the March for Science could have been more diverse and certainly science has played a role in the oppression of various groups in society.  This is not to let white feminism off the hook, but to note that many social movements struggle with their role in oppression.  To me, the glowing media coverage represents the fact that science does not represent a real threat to capitalism or the status quo.  At the same time, the Women’s March was covered more positively than Black Lives Matter and the Occupy Movement.  Black Lives Matter calls into question police authority, the entire criminal justice system, the state’s right to kill, and racism.  In reaction, politicians have scrambled to limit the right to protests that block traffic and have sought to impose fees on protesters.  The Occupy Movement called into question banking, finance, social inequality, the right to occupy public space.  The media portrayed protesters as frivolous, unruly, and even dirty.  While the BDS movement does not receive as much media coverage, Democratic and Republican senators in Minnesota worked together to pass restrictions against offering contracts to vendors who boycott Israel.  These movements are/were denigrated because they are very direct in their threat to the existing order.

Image result for science march sign

 

The reason why I don’t think that science is a direct threat to capitalism is that, on some level, capitalism needs science to operate.  While the capitalist economy is irrational in its destruction of the planet, focus on profits over human needs, and tendency towards crisis, it is very rational in other aspects.  The process of extracting profit from labor is pretty rational.  It is no wonder that the art of extracting more profit from labor was called “scientific management.”   Frederick Taylor realized that labor output could be treated scientifically.  Capitalism also seeks to generate more profits by increasing production.  Increasing production often requires the use of technology, again, a very rational aspect of capitalism.  Capitalism also requires wars, as this destroys competition, opens up new markets, and defends a country’s access to raw materials and cheap labor abroad.  Science is necessary for the creation of more powerful machines and weapons.  Research and development was actually been an all time high last November, as $499 billion was spent on R&D in the U.S. in 20015 (numbers released 2016).  Over half of that money went to defense alone.  Finally, where would capitalism be without science?  There would have been no industrial revolution and no subsequent imperialist conquest of the globe.  This does not make science bad, but, it should illustrate that science is actually pretty useful to capitalism.

Image result for atomic bombing

Despite the many ways that science serves capitalism, it remains controversial in society.  It seems odd that religiosity, irrationality, alternative facts, spirituality, etc. have any appeal in this system.  Why does this conflict arise?  Why are things like evolution and climate change at all controversial?  There are many reasons for this.  For one, Karl Marx observed that nothing is sacred in capitalism.  For instance, children are nothing more than future workers and soldiers.  If not for the efforts of the labor movement, the childhood enjoyed by many American children today would not exist at all.  A woman’s womb is a machine to produce more workers and soldiers.  A family is useful inasmuch as it reproduces labor and controls women’s sexuality and unpaid labor, but there is nothing good or virtuous about the family itself in the context of capitalism.  Capitalism actually stole holidays or holy days from the masses in the interest of creating a disciplined workforce with a reliable, year round, schedule.  I am sure many readers who have worked on Christmas or Thanksgiving can understand how nothing is sacred in the economy.  Time off is treated as a privilege.  Work divides families.  It keeps people away from their children and makes them decide whether to take an unpaid day off work to see a school concert or attend to a child’s illness or face the economic consequence.  In many ways, it would serve capitalism better if workers were nihilists with no love of their family, no joy in friendship and romance, no faith in religion, and no belief in any liberating ideology.  Yet, no only does religion persist, it often exists at odds with science.  Why?


Both science and religion play important roles in society.  Karl Marx famously called religion the opiate of the masses.  In Marx’s time, opium caused two wars between Western countries and China, meaning that like opium, religion is used by those with power to cause division and conflict in society.  At the same time, opium was used to soothe pain.  Religion therefore soothes the pains wrought by capitalist society by creating community and offering hope of a better world.  The first function of religion is particularly important in capitalism.  While science is generally pretty useful to capitalism, it can sometimes be pesky.  Environmental science is pretty irksome.  Climate change is very nettlesome.  Rabid religiosity that is anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-environment, anti-trans, etc. is wonderfully divisive.  It allows capitalism to chug along without unified opposition to the pillage of the planet.  It allows capitalism to chug along as workers do not recognize their common oppressions and blame social problems on liberal teachers, feminists, gays and lesbians, atheists, or other religions.  Religion is a useful tool in capitalism’s toolbox.  And, since most religious folks focus their dismay about science to decry climate science or evolution rather than say, nuclear physics or science used in the interest of the U.S. war machine, capitalism can allow some degree of anti-science sentiments.

Image result for anti science

(I am not sure if this is a photo of a real event or fake, mockery of an anti-science protest)

Besides the fact that anti-science is helpful in dividing people and thwarting environmentalism, because of its role in capitalism, science has been used to oppress people.  Social Darwinism and scientific racism were used to justify the exploitation and colonization of people of color.  Eugenics used notions about genetics to justify segregation, forced sterilization, forced abortions, institutionalization, and euthanasia.   The knowledge and experiences of women, Native Americans, African Americans, poor people, immigrants, and other oppressed groups is routinely ignored as emotional, irrational, backwards, or foolish.  Science hasn’t been used in kind ways.  Psychologists have classified some groups as deviant or sick.  Until 2012, being transgender was considered a mental illness.  Today, only gender dysphoria is listed as an illness.  Homosexuality was viewed as a mental illness until 1973.  Members of those groups may feel a certain antagonism to the science that has classified them as sick.  African American men were lied to and denied treatment for syphilis so that the progression of the disease could be understood in the famous Tuskegee syphilis experiment.  Many marginalized groups such as racial minorities, prisoners, and the mentally ill, have been experimented upon.  In the 1800s, medical institutions arose and monopolized professions and knowledge that was once more democratically available.   If there is some hostility towards science, it is quite understandable considering this history.


To return to the March for Science, these sentiments should in no way diminish the importance of this march.  Scientists need to march.  They need to stand up for science that promotes social justice.  Science is not neutral.  It is very political.  Neutrality is political.  A better world is possible and science can help us achieve a better world.  Just as science has been a tool of capitalists, it can be a tool of the masses.  The sentiment of the march was that science should be used for creating a greener, safer, healthier, easier life for everyone.  To this end, I hope that scientists and supporters of science acknowledge the dark aspects of science’s role in capitalism.  I hope that oppressed groups can feel welcomed by future events and that their experiences and knowledge contribute to a full understanding of our world.  If “scienceism” emerges as a social movement, I hope that it is called to task in the same way that the Women’s March and feminist movement has.  I also hope that protest continues to be viewed as a legitimate response to social problems.  At the same time, I do not think that science itself will liberate us.  It would be helpful if everyone believed in climate change, as this would shift the discourse from “is it real” to “what can be done?”  However, the “what can be done” that is promoted by mainstream institutions will always serve capitalism.  It will never take us beyond market and individual solutions.  We could collectively buy electric cars or green lightbulbs.  We can compost and recycle as the world continues on its path towards the next mass extinction.  The warm response to the protest indicates to me that the powers that be are not particularly afraid of science.  They are mildly afraid of millions of women in pussy hats and extremely afraid of militant Black people.  Protests should be fun.  There should be snappy slogans.  I am up for whatever it takes to make it appealing and normal to the broadest and most diverse segments of society.  This should be done with the hope of pushing for bigger, better, more intersectional, more revolutionary actions.  In the end, the goal of any social movement should be to create fear of the unyielding power of the masses.   This may or may not involve hats.

Image result for pussy hat at science march

photo taken from: https://longreads.com/2017/04/25/pussy-hats-and-brain-hats-the-revolution-will-be-handmade/

 

https://www.forbes.com/sites/haroldstark/2017/04/23/the-march-for-science-in-dc-and-around-the-world/#32eed3395d65http://fortune.com/2017/04/24/science-march-worked/http://reason.com/blog/2017/04/24/march-for-science-rd-funding-is-not-fall

Trumpwashing: Corporations Against Trump?

Trumpwashing: Corporations Against Trump?

H.Bradford

2/2/17


There are a lot of confused and disturbing ideas in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.  I get it.  People want answers.  People want hope.  But, one of the more disturbing things in the past few days has been the amount of praise given to corporations that have come out against Trump’s policies.  Once again, there seems to be some confusion about how to evaluate what is just and good in society.  It seems that many people believe that anything that stands up to Trump is positive.  At the same time, anything that Trump is for or associated with is negative.  In other words, Starbucks and Nike are viewed positively because they stand up to Trump.  They are corporations.  Corporations are not our friend.  This is why.


Starbucks:

trump_cup

A few days ago, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks announced that Starbucks would hire 10,000 immigrants over the next five years.  These hirings would take place within the 75 countries.  Suddenly, Starbucks became an icon of rebellion.  Don’t be deluded.  Starbucks has 7,600 stores and 160,000 employees in the U.S. alone, so a commitment of hiring 10,000 immigrant employees in 75 COUNTRIES, really doesn’t amount to much.  Even within the U.S., it would only amount to 1.3 people per store in the next five years.  But, numbers aside, Starbucks is a non-union workplace which pays an average of $9.34 an hour for a barista and $11.65 for a supervisor.  While employees may qualify for benefits if they work over 20 hours, many of them are not given enough hours to survive.  This prompted over 11,000 people to sign a barista driven petition in California last summer, which decried the “gross underemployment” that they experienced at their jobs.  The CEO who is so adamant about standing up against Trump was also against the $15 an hour minimum wage bill in Seattle.  The store also has a reputation for using prison labor.  The company notoriously used prisoners to package its holiday coffees through a sub-contractor. So, basically, Starbucks profits from the slave labor of our largely racial minority prison population.  Starbucks has gotten a lot of flak over the years.  It is an icon of globalization and homogenization.  The company has faced lawsuits for disability discrimination, as one store refused to serve a group of 12 deaf people and an employee was accused of falsifying documents when she had dyslexia.  Starbucks has even gotten into trouble for failing to recycle its cups!  It seems that if there is a corporation that is clearly TERRIBLE, it would be Starbucks.  However, it promised to hire those refugees….so maybe we can all forget the environmental, labor, criminal justice, and disability rights issues.  The CEO did come out in favor of same sex marriage, but this does not redeem the corporation.  If anything, it is pink washing, or using LGBT support as a veil that hides other injustices.  In the same way, support of immigrants is a branding ploy to sell more coffee and hide the numerous ways in which Starbucks promotes injustice in the world.


 

Nike:

nike-sweatshops-05 Nike’s CEO, Mark Parker, came out against Trump’s immigration ban with the statement,  “Nike believes in a world where everyone celebrates the power of diversity. Regardless of whether or how you worship, where you come from or who you love, everyone’s individual experience is what makes us stronger as a whole. Those values are being threatened by the recent executive order in the U.S. banning refugees, as well as visitors, from seven Muslim-majority countries. This is a policy we don’t support.”  Well, this might seem encouraging, it does not redeem Nike from its history of sweatshop labor and environmental issues.  Just as Starbucks was equated with the dark side of globalization in the 1990s, Nike was equated with sweatshop labor.  Because of pressure from protests and boycotts, Nike has sought to clean up its image by increasing the wages of its workers and inspecting factories.  However, most of its factories continue to be located in Asia in countries with low wages, poor working conditions, and lack of union representation.  For instance, in 2014, workers at a Chinese Nike factory went on strike.  They made just over $1.50 an hour and often worked over 60 hours a week.  In response, Nike threatened to move production to Vietnam.  Nike was also accused of dumping hazardous chemicals into the Yangtze river in 2011.  Globally, ⅓ of Nike’s employees work in Vietnam.  Certainly the CEO of Nike was looking forward to the TPP, as this would have ended the $3 tariff placed on each shoe.  Trump’s backing out of the TPP was probably met sourly by the company hoping to extract more profits from Asia.  Perhaps this is where the critique of Trump’s immigration policy really comes from.  In any event, Nike may have cleaned up its image, but it continues to operate in countries with notoriously awful labor conditions.


All Corporations:

kfc

Nike and Starbucks are on my radar this week because of their recent announcements related to Donald Trump.  I felt that I should write about them to offer some clarity on the issue of corporations.  Really, all corporations are terrible to varying degrees.  This is because all corporations seek profit.  Profit inevitably and essentially relies on the exploitation of workers.  This is the source of all profit.  Thus, corporations like Nike and Starbucks seek out the lowest wages or cheapest coffee beans (materials).  That is, they do this until enough public protest mounts and they must change their ways or risk losing business.  Or, they do this until workers organize and demand better wages and conditions on their own behalf.  In either case, there is nothing good or noble about these corporations.  If they change for the better, it is a survival strategy.  At the same time, I do not want to overstate the power of consumer sovereignty in changing corporate practices.  While you can “vote with your dollar” to some degree, due to the alienation of labor a.k.a. our separation from production, the exact conditions of production are often unknown to us.  I do not know the exact wages and conditions of Nike factories.  This is information that I must research and even then, it is not always easy to find.  Since we come in contact with thousands of products each week, it is impossible to know every aspect of the production process.  Some consumers may be more knowledgeable than others, but none of us know the full picture.  Further, even if we have a good idea of the conditions of production, there are larger social forces such as trade policies, advertisement, and government interventions which play a big role in what appears in the market, how it appears on the market, and social desire for these goods.


It is true that some companies attempt to give more consideration to workers and the environment.  Some companies may sacrifice some profits to pay better wages or have better worker conditions.  Some may invest profits into better environmental practices.  But, at the heart of each company is a reliance on the conditions of the larger economy and a drive for profit.  So long as a company seeks profit, workers will not be paid the full value of their labor.  In harder economic times or under greater competitive pressure, those companies that seek to be more ethical will always have to chose between survival and profit.  At the same time, many companies brand themselves with progressive causes to attract more consumers and draw attention away from labor conditions.  For instance, Kentucky Fried Chicken put pink breast cancer awareness ribbons on their buckets.  How much does KFC really care about breast cancer or women?  What does eating a bucket of fried chicken do to further the cause of ending breast cancer?  Perhaps if KFC cared about women, they could instead provide a living wage and health benefits to workers.  Another example is greenwashing.  Everything from oil companies to bottled water companies have tried to greenwash their products.  That is, they promise consumers that their product is environmentally friendly.  Green packaging and promises of re-investment into nature trick consumers into thinking that somehow buying the product is ethical.  This newest trend of “Trumpwashing” is just the latest version of pinkwashing and greenwashing.  It is part of a corporate tradition of deceptive branding.


Trumpwashing:

The biggest lesson I want to impart in this post is simply to beware corporate driven rebellion.  The CEOs of Facebook, AirBnB, Twitter, Nike, Starbucks, Apple, Netflix, and others have come out against Trump.  Some of these, like Apple, Nike, and Starbucks, certainly benefit from open borders and free trade, especially in Asia, since this provides access to low cost labor.  While I am certainly for immigration, so are many corporations, as it provides a cheap supply of labor!  If companies know that people are angry, they will co-opt that anger by building a rebellious brand.  There is no rebellion in buying.  Thus, just because a company is against Trump, it does not make it good or ethical.  Take these corporate announcements with a grain of salt and a dose of skepticism.  In the meantime, continue to build the power of the people by organizing in protests, boycotts, petitions, labor organizing, and the like.

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