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Remarks on Science, Epistemology and Education in Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth

Bruno Latour, in his book Où atterrir? Comment s’orienter en politique (La Découverte 2017)/ Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime (Polity Press 2018), lends us a diagnosis of the Trump era, which highlights the climate debate as a war, and all other geopolitical problems as related to this war. Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accords 2015 and the extensive rise of protective nationalist movements, emphasize the inertness of Modernism’s idea about Globalization and the need for geopolitics to look elsewhere in order to answer the question: What to do? Latour’s answer is to look at man’s belonging to a territory, to a ‘soil’, in order to, in the first place, describe how ‘the earthly’, the belongingness, is put together. Painstaking description necessarily precedes political action, he declares. However, what is it, exactly, that stands in need of description? From which epistemic stance can a soil be seen, and how, precisely, is the ensuing description carried out? This paper addresses these questions.

Latour argues that any effort to sustain life in the critical zone of our planet must leave behind the modern epistemologies, which both reify and partition nature and science. In order to clear the ground for a proper descriptive stance, he dismisses ‘the view from nowhere’, ‘a view from out there’ and corresponding epistemic notions like ‘naturalism’, ‘scientism’, ‘rationalism’ and ‘Galileism’.[1]

I argue that Latour’s fight against the scientific-epistemological stances he calls ‘Galileism’ and ‘the view from nowhere’ is misguided and wrong in the details. Also, at best, it is largely irrelevant for the constructive use of science in the guidance of political action. At worst it risks to impede reaching the ultimate goal he has in mind through redescribing the earthly conditions for Mankind – the goal of landing on Earth, and, perhaps, saving our planet.

The premises

I take Latour’s premise, that a geopolitical change would be powerless considered as a philosophical idea, to be true. Indeed, isn’t this a mere truism? Ideas need to be contextualized in order to get hold of people. They need transformation in order to be recognizable as ideas important to their own particular life. A number of ideas aren’t useful anymore (if they ever were) for helping us out, or so Latour thinks. Thus, there are several respects in which we are conceptually unprepared for the present situation, according to him. As he already argued for in Facing Gaia (2017)[2], we are unprepared politically, ethically and epistemologically for the challenge of the New Climate Regime. I’d like to add ‘educationally’ as a fourth dimension of our life, along which we might not be properly prepared for this challenge. Interestingly, Latour is indeed quite dismissive with respect to a potential for the educational system to contribute in a positive way (Down to Earth, p.25), although he does not justify this claim. I have a few remarks on the educational dimension, following my analysis of Latour’s critique of the scientific-epistemological stance. I leave the political and ethical dimensions pretty much untouched.

What is it then precisely Latour criticizes in Down to Earth, when it comes to epistemology and science? Latour’s earlier critiques of a number of classical perspectives in theory of science are well known. There is a long history going back to what the 1990s witnessed as the so-called ‘science wars’ between ‘realists’, who held that facts were objective, isolable and freestanding, and ‘social constructionists’, such as Latour, who argued that such facts were created by the scientific research.

These issues, however, are not at stake in Down to Earth. With respect to epistemology and science, Latour’s stance has now changed. The hot wars of science have indeed come to an end. No winners, just casualties. Latour for his part would probably say that history has proved, that he and researchers of his ilk in science and technology studies were right: With respect to, say, the new climate regime, scientific facts appear to remain robust only when supported by a culture which is trustworthy, by reliable media, and by a decent public. And nowadays there is indeed a strong acknowledgement from research communities and politicians of the social dimensions of science: dissemination of knowledge, the peer-review systems, bibliometric concerns, the importance of ‘research management’, etc.. But at the same time, most natural science pretty much unaffected tugs on in a traditional way: by endorsing realism in the belief that it carves nature at its joints, little by little accumulating facts and thus contributing to the extension of the set of true propositions.

In addition to the de facto, but not declared ceasefire in the science wars, a number of particular concerns has for Latour’s part also mitigated his bellicosity and made him change direction. Hence, for the purpose of clarifying the premises for his particular critique in Down to Earth, it is useful to look into the 2004 paper ’Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern’. In this paper the reasons for Latour’s change are made clear. Latour expresses deep concerns and worries about the threat of an equivocation between constructivism’s sceptical attitude towards the existence of ‘pure, objective, scientific facts’ and a strong, rampant, tendency to systematically distrust matters of scientific fact for ideological reasons: “[…] dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives.”[3]

Latour’s concern is about the argumentative pattern, which says that since evidence is never complete, we would have to distrust scientists, even when an overwhelming majority of them tell us, that, say, largely man-made pollutants cause global warming. In the light of this danger of equivocation, Latour distinguishes between ‘matters of fact’ and ‘matters of concern’. The purpose is to demonstrate the possibility of cultivating a critical, realistic stance, which doesn’t fight with empiricism (like old days’ constructivism), but instead indeed seeks to renew it, by dealing with matters of concern, not matters of freestanding facts (cf. 2004, p.231). He asks for a new powerful descriptive tool, looking back at the long tradition from Enlightenment preoccupied with matters of fact, and, on the other hand, the recent, debunking critical attitude against ‘matters of fact-realism’ so prominent during the science wars. Latour instead wants a critique which turns around and engage with ‘matters of fact’ in order ‘to protect and to care’ about those facts which really are of our concern. By adopting and developing the Ding/Gegenstand bifurcation from Martin Heidegger[4], he attempts at pointing in a new direction for a critical thinking: “What would happen, I wonder, if we tried to talk about the object of science and technology, the Gegenstand, as if it had the rich and complicated qualities of the celebrated Thing?”[5]

Although Latour in the 2004 paper is dissatisfied with Heidegger’s strict bifurcation between Gegenstände (objects) and Dinge (things) – and at one point even re-digs the war hatchet by expressing the strong anti-realistic claim that all matters of fact, in order to exist, require a bewildering variety of matters of concern[6] – Latour implicitly admits ‘matter of fact’ an independent meaning. He now worries about ‘an excessive distrust of good matters of fact disguised as bad ideological biases’ (2004, p.227). Hence, Latour suggests that matters of fact are considered as processes of entangled concern instead of being debunked as fictitious. In the words of Puig de la Bellacasa, who has further developed Latour’s suggestion:

The purpose of showing how things are assembled is not to dismantle things, nor undermine the reality of matters of fact with critical suspicion about the powerful (human) interests they might reflect and convey. Instead, to exhibit the concerns that attach and hold together matters of fact is to enrich and affirm their reality by adding further articulations.[7]

These considerations are part of the premises for the critique launched in Down to Earth. Thus, the very real concern for Latour in Down to Earth is of course our home, Planet Earth. This home is of primary concern when we acknowledge what we have done to it. The climate crisis now threatens the conditions for our life ‘at home’. And what is of a very real concern to Latour is the denial of the existence of a climate change, one of the phenomena he sees as a symptom of a new, historical situation: The dawning awareness, that there is not any longer any common world for Human Mankind to share (Down to Earth, pp.1-2). The bankruptcy of the idea of Globalization, the huge amounts of refugees, the rise of nationalism, the flee towards the Local, towards colonization of Mars, towards gated communities, and the idea about self-sufficient, bio-dynamical farming, are all either symptoms of this situation or exemplifications of it.

On the one hand, then, Latour in Down to Earth puts the theoretical discussions of the science wars at rest; he leaves them in epoché, because his concerns are much more pressing. As a matter of fact, we are facing a serious climate crisis, threatening to end our lives on Earth. On the other hand, he also has reservations with respect to the adequate scientific-epistemological stance along which our concerns can and should be addressed, since the tools pertaining to our Planet Earth are of a peculiar kind. The reason for this is that the very object of research is peculiar. Our conception of ‘nature’ is wrong: “We need to be able to count on the full power of the sciences, but without the ideology of “nature” that has been attached to that power. We have to be materialist and rational, but we have to shift these qualities onto the right grounds.”[8]

The dichotomies between nature and culture, necessity and freedom, objective and subjective block the way to describe and understand the Terrestrial. The problem is, that in order to mold a politics, you need agents, but agents are not objects, external to society, which, according to Latour, they keep appearing as if we continue doing science from the epistemological stance which dictates that ‘to know is to know from the outside’ (Down to Earth, p.68). Thus, Latour’s main objection is against the conception of science where we gain objective knowledge by adopting, ideally, the ‘view from nowhere’ perspective.

This perspective is traced back to Galilei, who gave a mechanistic description of movement conforming to the model of falling bodies. The application of this epistemological perspective through the mechanical model of the whole universe treated the earth as just one planet among other planets in an infinite universe. In natural science, this is the outcome of a radical transition from a perspective on our closed world to one on the infinite universe.[9] Although the success of the mechanical model is undeniable, Latour thinks that it isn’t of much use as a tool in the description of the rich variety of processes taking place at our planet. He is not alone with this critique. A strong tradition in epistemology and theory of science going back to Edmund Husserl has vehemently argued against the idea that natural science gives us the ultimate basis for epistemology and the norms from which the understanding of our lifeworld must be taken. This critique against a ‘one-eyed view from nowhere’ and the invention of abstract ‘Galiean objects’, also briefly alluded to by Latour[10], found an extensive expression in Husserl’s late work Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie[11] and it has been a standard theme in orthodox phenomenology ever since.

In politics, Latour argues, we have seen a move away from the Terrestrial toward a problematic ideal of ‘Globalization’, to the extent that a one-eyed, single vision, conceived by a small elite, representing only a small number of interests, has replaced (the idea of) multiplying viewpoints ‘registering a greater number of varieties, taking into account a larger number of beings, cultures, phenomena, organisms, and people’ (Down to Earth, pp.12-13).

Latour’s worry is of a very similar sort when it comes to the scientific tools and the underlying epistemological perspective necessary to describe the Terrestrial in order to begin anew. Instead of moving away from the earth and adopt what he calls a perspective where ‘everything has to be viewed as if from Sirius’, we must adopt a much closer view, which makes it possible to see, register and acknowledge the varieties of Terrestrial life. It isn’t as if Latour does not admit the existence of the ecological movements and parties and their attempt to raise people’s interest in and concern for ‘nature’. But as long as their concept of ‘nature’ really is the ‘nature-universe’, seen from nowhere, a conception which puts neutron stars on the same level as cells of a body, it can’t seriously motivate people and mobilize any politics, he believes:

There is no point looking any further for the slow pace of mobilizations in favor of nature-as-universe. It is completely incapable of churning anything political. To make that type of beings – the Galilean objects – the model for what is going to mobilize us in geo-social conflicts is to court failure.[12]

The flipside of this critique of science and epistemology is Latour’s defense of the Actor-Network Theory (ANT). Only through this particular scientific approach, we shall be able to achieve a secure scientific understanding of Planet Earth that in the end can help us out, and give us a basis for a new politics, he seems to think.[13] ANT doesn’t take up much space in Down to Earth, and it is not my intention to go into a discussion of ANT here. I am only interested in putting forth the basis for Latour’s critical remarks on epistemology and science. A number of valuable remarks and considerations in Down to Earth of an ANT kind should, however, in fairness to Latour, be mentioned in order to round off my exposition of the premises of his critique of ‘the view from nowhere’ and its preoccupation with ‘Galilean objects’. Three things related to ANT stand out.

Firstly, it is important for Latour to stress, that the only relevant sciences for dealing with a new description of Planet Earth are those that fully acknowledge that the Earth system is not a system of production, but a self-regulating system of actors reacting against other actors, including against human beings, because it suffers from the actions of these. It is a question about coming to consciousness about a much richer, varied set of objects for science by adopting a new epistemic stance towards ‘nature’: “[…] if we take the model of falling bodies as the yardstick for movement in general, all the other movements, agitations, transformations, initiatives, combinations, metamorphoses, processes, entanglements, and overlaps are going to appear bizarre.”[14]

The important – and difficult – thing is to understand the role of living beings, their power to act, their agency. The overlap of themes from Latour’s earlier book Facing Gaia, his inspiration from John Lovelock’s Gaia theory, is evident. Still, however, it should be noticed, that Latour also remarks that there is no need for adopting Lovelock’s approach as such (Down to Earth, p.76). The important point is rather the possibility of a political revitalization through the reorientation of the natural sciences if (and only if) these were ‘encompassing all the activities necessary to our existence’ (Down to Earth, p.77).

Secondly, it is important ‘to try to single out the sciences that bear upon what some researchers call ‘the Critical Zone’’. This refers to a minuscule zone a few kilometers thick between the atmosphere and bedrock, of central and sine qua non concern and interest for understanding the Terrestrial and ultimately for survival – ‘a biofilm, a varnish, a skin, a few infinitely folded layers’ (Down to Earth, p.78).:

It is Earth’s permeable near-surface layer […] It is a living, breathing, constantly evolving boundary layer, where rock, soil, water, air, and living organisms interact. These complex interactions regulate the natural habitat and determine the availability of life-sustaining resources, including our food production and water quality.[15]

Thirdly, a new libido sciendi is required. ‘Earthseeking emancipation’ calls for other virtues than ‘weightless emancipation’, Latour claims. This means another psychological mindset, another sensitivity required for the different, scientific task and the new politics. Latour doesn’t say much about this issue, but it is interesting in itself, and I deal with it below in relation to my critical points.

Critical remarks

The central problem with Latour’s critique of science is his ambiguity in his own reliance on science and scientific results. On the one hand, he appears to endorse the results of science, and on the other denounces the epistemological stance, which is constitutive for the scientific approach, that lends him those very results.

Let me be precise. What I have in mind here is not the epistemological outlook of ‘the new sciences’ (say ANT), and the results gained from them. Not in the first place. It is rather the ‘good old science’ (let me refer to it as ‘GOOSE’), which ‘pretty much unaffected tugs on in a traditional way: by endorsing realism in the belief that it carves nature at its joints, little by little accumulating facts and thus contributing to the extension of the set of true propositions’, as I described it above. Thus, Latour acknowledges the facts about the climate condition, all the accumulating results from statistics achieved by geophysics, meteorology, biology and so on and so forth. By means like satellite-photos, ice core samples and much else besides he indirectly acknowledges GOOSE, which brings forth these facts. Facts, that are neither more nor less than examples of ‘hard-won evidence that could save our lives’. Matters of fact – of concern. Latour undoubtedly would respond to this by pointing out, that he certainly approves the obtained GOOSE facts which helped to draw our attention to the climate crisis and which justified the assumption, that it is a man-made crisis. But he would not approve these sciences as helpful when it comes to the task of doing research in the critical zone or describing the Terrestrial conditions for human life.

If the choice is between GOOSE and ANT as the scientific approach to the actors on Planet Earth, ANT wins.

But let us look more closely at the differences between the denounced ‘view from nowhere’ and the replacing stance toward the Terrestrial, Latour is arguing for.

‘A view from nowhere’ is for all practical purposes a contradiction in terms, but occurs as a useful abstract conception of the ideally, disinterested objective description of an entity. I shall return to this purely abstract notion below. But Latour also denounces concrete points of view far away from Planet Earth. He indeed transforms the abstract idea into something very concrete: The perspective of the infinite univers – ‘from Sirius’. And from that observation site, there is pretty much about the Terrestrial, the life on Earth, you cannot see and which therefore is of no concern whatsoever. Latour is of course right about that, and makes a vivid point out of the absurdity of our interest in far-away objects in an infinite space compared to the critical condition of Planet Earth, at home, right here. But if you move from Sirius towards Planet Earth, you reach an orbit of observation sites which should be of utmost importance to Latour: This is the geostationary orbit, some 35.786 kilometers above Earth’s equator, and following the direction of Earth’s rotation, from where the critical zone and much besides on our planet can be observed by satellites. Thus, favorable observation points appear in a good distance from where earthly actors live their lives; as a matter of fact observation points for those of the earthly actors we call ‘human beings’. Whereas Heidegger could allow himself to be shocked when he saw the first pictures of the earth taken from space[16], Latour cannot and should not.  Mediated by satellites we gain valuable information about the critical zone, the important stratum for the ‘proper sciences’ dealing with the Terrestrial. Latour at one point passes by this favorability of observation points from space (Down to Earth, p.78), without noticing the mild irony of our having this important orbit of outer observation posts, considered his occupation with a Terrestrial point of view. This at least demonstrates, I believe, that it is not an easy task to draw a line between the importance and unimportance of adopting a point of view distant from the Terrestrial. It also shows that facts from GOOSE might blend in and become very useful – indeed essential – for ANT or other non-GOOSE type of sciences doing research in the critical zone. Latour would perhaps admit these points, and argue, that a view from nowhere considered as an abstract ideal makes us blind in the real world to what we experience and consequently turn actors into objects, which implies mis-describing and devaluating them:

If we swallow the usual epistemology whole, we shall find ourselves again prisoners of a conception of “nature” that is impossible to politicize since it has been invented precisely to limit human action thanks to an appeal to the laws of objective nature that cannot be questioned. […] Every time we want to count on the power to act of other actors, we’re going to encounter the same objection: “Don’t even think about it, these are mere objects, they cannot react,” the way Descartes said of animals that they cannot suffer.[17]

Whether or not Latour is right in his historical consideration about the motifs for inventing the conception of ‘objective nature’, I believe that ‘the view from nowhere’ is not only highly useful (in addition to being potentially demeaning), but indeed an inevitable epistemological element of any thinking endeavor. The ability to form conceptions towards a view from nowhere is constitutive for being able to think. I take the liberty to include Latour here. ‘Towards’, but without ultimately succeeding. We are apparently able to put our respective subjective points of view in epoché in our attempts to reach a more objective understanding in a variety of human endeavors, including science, philosophy and education. But it is our fate that we never succeed in escaping ourselves completely when reaching towards an objective understanding, and we certainly know a number of examples from the history of philosophy and science, where claims about successful ‘escapes’ are made, but eventually end up as classical, prominent examples of mistaken reductions. Some of these are certainly grandiose and keep attracting us; (probably) mistaken they nevertheless are.[18] Thomas Nagel in his book The View from Nowhere from 1986[19] has argued in detail for this epistemological ‘fate’ of human beings – a kind of ‘double vision’, since we can transcend our subjective selves – although not fully so: “Double vision is the fate of creatures with a glimpse of the view sub specie aeternitatis.”[20]

Somewhat surprisingly, Latour neither refers to Nagel nor to this influential book in Facing Gaia and Down to Earth.[21]

With respect to a strive towards objectivity, I believe that it is an essential part of our pursuits of truth – that we are able to attempt at putting ourselves to a side, including being able to acknowledge another subject’s point of view. This is neither to say that we are ever able to fully succeed, nor to say that scepticism in any easy way can be rejected.

Latour’s discussion of the genesis of the conception of ‘the view from nowhere’ through the invention of ‘Galilean objects’, gives rise to another critical point, we need to take into consideration in order to understand his use of the notions ‘point of view’ and ‘vantage point’ :

From the fact that one can, from the vantage point of the earth, grasp the planet as a falling body among other falling bodies in the infinite universe, some thinkers go on to conclude that it is necessary to occupy, virtually, the vantage point of the universe to understand what is happening on this planet. The fact that one can gain access to remote sites from the earth becomes the duty to gain access to the earth from remote sites.[22]

I do not know whom the thinkers Latour is referring to here are, and I don’t understand what he means by a duty to gain access to the earth from remote sites. But notice that Latour is very concrete here in his use of ‘vantage point’. He is not thinking of vantage point in an abstract way like when we disregard the sensible properties of a physical object in order to conceive it ideally for the purpose of explaining and predicting its behavior from the laws of mechanics. However, he also remarks that: “[…] this vision from the vantage point of the universe – “the view from nowhere” – has become the new common sense to which the terms “rational” and even “scientific” find themselves durably attached.”[23]

Thus, he apparently mixes up the existence of concrete vantage points with the abstract, ideal notion of ‘a view from nowhere’. This is a mistake. He might be right, that there are points in space – e.g. the view from Sirius – that it doesn’t make sense to occupy in order to see anything of concern at Planet Earth. But the existence of an abstract view from nowhere is something differently, qua abstract – whether or not it is constitutive for our ability to think and do science. Latour thinks concretely about the vantage points, and is therefore only in a banal sense right when he claims, that even when it becomes a duty to gain access to the earth from remote sites, it will always in practice remain a contradiction in terms. Offices, labs, instruments, the entire production and validation of knowledge etc. etc. has never left the old terrestrial soil (Down to Earth, pp.67-68). Put differently, Latour’s discussion of ‘vantage points’ is not addressing the question about the genesis, power and possible constitutive role of adopting an abstract ‘view from nowhere’. He refers to Husserl as the source of the notion ‘Galilean objects’, but his discussion of these issues is consistent with the view, that Husserl’s critique of the scientific-epistemological stance ‘Galileism’ and ‘the view from nowhere’ implies a total dismissal of this stance. This is not correct, however. Husserl’s objections in Krisis were not directed against natural science adopting ‘a view from nowhere’ and the possibility of describing and explaining natural phenomena as ‘Galilean objects’, but instead and only against natural science if this is taken as the true and only epistemological basis for understanding our world and ourselves in this world.

With these remarks I have indicated where I believe Latour is mistaken with respect to his fight against certain scientific-epistemological stances. He has valuable points about our conceptions of ‘nature’, but does not succeed with the demonstration that the epistemic notion of ‘the view from nowhere’ is neither unsound nor useless. I have tentatively argued for the possibility along Nagelian lines, that the ability to form conceptions towards a view from nowhere is constitutive for being able to think and fortiori for doing science – be it GOOSE-, ANT-, or otherwise. Still, the risks of our exploitative and disparaging behavior towards nature would not be less imminent, even if my critical remarks are correct. Latour’s points about the dangers of treating actors as objects still stands.

This is where his idea about a new libido sciendi is to the point. I am not sure what he precisely means by the virtues ‘weightless emancipation’ – needed for heading toward the Global – and ‘earthseeking emancipation’, which is required if we decide to turn toward the Terrestrial. (Down to Earth, p.81) Latour probably believes, that what is needed is a different sensitivity towards those actors which before were treated as mere objects. It is a question about taking the Earth’s reactions to our actions into account (Down to Earth, ibid.). But even if we for the sake of argument grant Latour, that a redistribution of agency/actors is required, and new ‘positive bodies of knowledge’ is sought for, why should this situation involve different laboratories, instruments, and researchers (Ibid.)? What are the reasons for that? After all Latour sometimes also writes much more liberally as if many different sciences could be involved. ‘We must count on the full power of the sciences – but get rid of the ideology about ‘nature’; and ‘we have to be materialist and rational, but we have to shift these qualities onto the right grounds.’ (Down to Earth, p.65). So GOOSE and ANT can work together after all? It seems all too adventurous to call in new sciences, instruments, researchers and labs in order to address our ‘new Earth’ scientifically.

Consider a small thought experiment, in line with the idea about a redistribution of actors: Assume that plants are phenomenally conscious. Certainly, that would have an enormous effect on the discussion about the attribution of rights to them, just as much as the acknowledgement of animals’ capability for suffering and having experiences of pain had on the discussions of animal rights back in 1970s. If plants indeed have pain qualia and are capable of being consciously aware of their immediate surroundings, we will probably think very differently about what we experienced, when we went for a walk in the forest or ‘into the wild’.[24] We would think and act differently when it came to producing and consuming plant-based food and cloth, about bringing cut flowers into our sitting room etc., etc. But should we really stand in need for whole new sciences, researchers, instruments and labs? I don’t see any reasons for that.

Preparing for landing

Latour in Down to Earth is deliberately vague about what ‘an Eartly stance’ comes to. One thing is his inclinations towards ANT and the role of sciences in general. But he also, in parallel, hints at a required, new description of the multifarious ways we inhabit our soil, the conditions for the Terrestrial, for life, for living at our Earth. Latour’s tentative gesture is partially due to his invitation to the reader to co-develop this stance; to contribute in the positive, if Latour’s geopolitical diagnosis is sound. He indeed suggests the initiation of a massive, new descriptive task: “What to do? First of all, generate alternative descriptions. How could we act politically without having inventoried, surveyed, measured, centimeter by centimeter, being by being, person by person, the stuff that makes up the Earth for us?”[25]

Latour reminds the reader of an episode in the history of France, between January and May 1789, where a ledger of complaints was constructed, at the request of the king.[26] The purpose was to let the corporations, cities and estates all have a voice, all have a chance to describe their environments, conditions for living a live, their privileges, taxes etc. Latour’s idea now is that all actors in a similar way should be granted the opportunity to (in principle) define their dwelling place:

To define a dwelling place, for a terrestrial, is to list what it needs for its subsistence, and, consequently, what it is ready to defend, with its own life if need be. This holds as true for a wolf as for a bacterium, for a business enterprise as for a forest, for a divinity as for a family. What must be documented are the properties of a terrestrial – in all the senses of the word property – by which it is possessed and on which it depends, to the extent that if it were deprived of them, it would disappear.[27]

Surprisingly, Latour himself cannot refrain from coming up with his own defence of and effusive tribute to EU’s Europe as the best place, by his lights, to live right now at Planet Earth (Down to Earth, pp.100ff). This is surprising, since landing somewhere on Earth is supposed to follow after the description of the properties of an environment, the conditions for living a live, has taken place. But no attempt at drawing such a list is presented. Certainly, Latour points at moral reasons for choosing Europe as a (his?) landing site:

It is as though Europe had made a centennial pact with the potential migrants: we went to your lands without asking your permission; you will come to ours without asking. Give and take. There is no way out of this. Europe has invaded all peoples; all peoples are coming to Europe in their turn.[28]

But whether or not Europe and the European Union for historical reasons has a special moral obligation towards refugees and migrants, this is not a description of basic needs and properties of an individual actor, or of a type of actor, it is not ‘to list what it needs for its subsistence, and, consequently, what it is ready to defend, with its own life if need be’ (Down to Earth, p.95). Pointing towards EU and Europe harmonizes poorly with Latour’s conviction, that a redescription of a dwelling place unlikely coincides ‘with a classic legal, spatial, administrative, or geographic entity’ (Ibid.). His pointing appears more like a geopolitical manifestation, the first draft of a political programme – what he himself warns against: “Any politics that failed to propose redescribing the dwelling places that have become invisible would be dishonest. We cannot allow ourselves to skip the stage of description. No political lie is more brazen than proposing a program.”[29]

Another surprising fact is, that just as much Latour invites the reader to think and act, he airs a pessimism with respect to any role whatsoever for education toward raising a consciousness about the climate crisis and the motivation for a new geopolitics (cf. Down to Earth, p.25) . This is surprising, because it is very difficult to see a direction from which collective, massive mobilization should come, if not the educational system. I believe that Latour’s pessimism in this regard is locally grounded in the problems with the French school system (L’Éducation Nationale).[30] Be that as it may, he is also inconsistent in his attitude towards education. He notices a strong and long lasting tendency to see other peoples’ attitudes, myths and rituals as ‘mere vestiges of old forms of subjectivity, of archaic cultures irreversibly outstripped by the modernization front’. Accordingly, such cultural remains have been seen as belonging at the ethnographic museums. But he also remarks, that: ‘it is only today that all these practices have become precious models for learning how to survive in the future’. (Down to Earth, p.75) Learning about other ways to live Terrestrially takes place. If practices have become models for learning, there is no principled hindrance to educational institutions for transforming these models into their practices. And after all: When it comes to Latour’s critique of ‘the view from nowhere’, of ‘the Galilean objects’, of ‘the nature-as-universe’ – what else is this but an attempt in the direction of a new heuristics, a pedagogy for doing science in new ways? Perhaps Latour is right in his critique of science and epistemology. Or perhaps a massive, buildup of GOOSE, invariably addressing the climate crisis, really is what is needed.

Either way education will have a mandatory role to play through the concrete pedagogical tasks of reflecting and informing on our situation, developing models for how to address the climate situation in the classroom and for motivating geopolitical action in order to save our home, Planet Earth. Education lends us hope.

Whether or not the current global corona pandemic extinguishes this hope due to recession and ensuing depression – or on the contrary leaves us with a window that is open for a very short period, enabling Global or even Terrestrial reflection and political action – remains to be seen.


Heidegger, M. (1976). ‘Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten’, (Ein Spiegel-Gespräch mit Rudolf Augstein und Georg Wolff geführt im 1966), Der Spiegel, 23, 193-219.

Heidegger, M. (2000). ‘Das Ding’, in Gesamtausgabe, 1. Abteilung: Veröffentlichte Schriften 1910-1976. Band 7, Vorträge und Aufsätze. Vittorio Klostermann GmbH, Frankfurt am Main.

Husserl, E. (1976). Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die Transzendentale Phänomenologie. Eine Einleitung in die phänomenologische Philosophie. Hrsg. von Walter Biemel. Martinus Nijhoff, Haag. (Husserliana, bd. 6).

Koyré, A. (1957). From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe. The John Hopkins Press, Baltimore.

Latour, B. (1987). Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

Latour, B. (1996). ‘On actor-network theory. A few clarifications’, Soziale Welt, 47, 369-381.

Latour, B. (2004). ’Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern’, Critical Inquiry, 30, 225-248.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Latour, B. (2017). Facing Gaia. Eight Lectures on the New Climate regime. Polity Press, Cambridge, Medford, 2017.

Latour, B. (2017). Où atterrir? Comment s’orienter en politique. La Découverte, Paris.

Latour, B. (2018). Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime. Polity Press, Cambridge.

Nagel, T. (1986). The View from Nowhere. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Puig de la Bellacasa, M (2011).‘Matters of care in Technoscience: Assembling neglected things’, Social Studies of Science, 41(1), 85-106.

Shapiro, G. & Markoff, J. (With contributions by Timothy Tackett and Philip Dawson) (1998). Revolutionary Demands. A Content Analysis of the Cahiers de Doléances of 1789. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.


[1] These themes are legio in Latour’s writings. In the present book, particularly chapter 14 deals with these issues.

[2] Latour, B. Facing Gaia. Eight Lectures on the New Climate regime. Polity Press, Cambridge, Medford, 2017.

[3] Latour, B. (2004): ’Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern’, Critical Inquiry, 30, 225-248, p. 227.

[4] The inspiration for Latour comes in particular from Martin Heidegger’s paper ‘Das Ding’, in Gesamtausgabe, 1. Abteilung: Veröffentlichte Schriften 1910-1976. Band 7, Vorträge und Aufsätze. Vittorio Klostermann GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 2000.

[5] Latour 2004, p.233.

[6] Op.cit., p. 247.

[7] Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2011): ‘Matters of care in Technoscience: Assembling neglected things’, Social Studies of Science, 41(1), 85-106, p. 89.

[8] Down to Earth, p.65.

[9] Latour refers the reader to Alexandre Koyré’s book From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe in which this transition is described.

[10] Down to Earth, p.67, see also note 64.

[11] Husserl, E. Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie. Eine Einleitung in die phänomenologische Philosophie (Husserliana, bd. 6).

[12] Down to Earth, p.73.

[13] For a recent formulation of the theory, see Latour, B. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005. Latour, B. (1996): ‘On actor-network theory. A few clarifications’, Soziale Welt, 47, 369-381 is an attempt to clarify the basic elements of ANT and respond to objections. An early influential presentation of ANT is Latour, B. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1987.

[14] Down to Earth, p.76.

[15] Critical Zone Observatories/ US NSF National Program https://criticalzone.org/national/research/the-critical-zone-1national/ (retrieved April 12th, 2020).

[16] Cf. The interview with Heidegger ‘Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten’ from 1966.

[17] Down to Earth, p.65.

[18] Psychologism and biologism are examples.

[19] Nagel, T. The View from Nowhere. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1986.

[20] The View from Nowhere, p.88.

[21] A curiously fact is, that Nagel and Latour have chosen the same cover illustration for Facing Gaia and The View from Nowhere: Caspar David Fridrich’s ‘The Large Enclosure near Dresden’, a painting from 1832.

[22] Down to Earth, p.67.

[23] Op. cit., p.68.

[24] This might sound a bit more adventurous, than it perhaps is. See e.g. this call for papers from Journal of Consciousness Studies on plant sentience and consciousness: https://philevents.org/event/show/80510 (retrieved April 21th, 2020).

[25] Op. cit., p.94.

[26] Cahiers de Doléances. See e.g. Shapiro, G. & Markoff, J. Revolutionary Demands. A Content Analysis of the Cahiers de Doléances of 1789. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 1998.

[27] Down to Earth, p.95.

[28] Op. cit., p.103.

[29] Op. cit., p.94.

[30] I thank the audience at École des Arts de la Sorbonne, Université Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, on March 31st, 2019, for sharing valuable information with me on this issue.

Ecological Feedback Effects Affecting Arctic Biodiversity in Response to Glacial Melt

A changing Arctic

The Arctic is a geographic region situated in the northernmost part of earth. It marks the latitude above which the sun does not set on the summer solstice and does not rise on the winter solstice. The Arctic is considered an area within the Arctic Circle that draws an imaginary line that circles the globe at 66° 34′ N. The Arctic Circle region includes the Arctic Ocean basin and the northern parts of Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, Greenland, and the U.S. state of Alaska. This region is characterized by its distinctive polar conditions caused by the angle of the Earth to the Sun, which creates strong differences in climate and photoperiod between long, dark, cold winters and the short, cool summers with a period of continuous daylight.

The Arctic is made up of several different ecoregions that support different communities of plants and animals. These include permanently frozen tundra, grasslands, wetlands, boreal forest, and glaciers and ice sheets (AMAP, 2016). Even though most of the Arctic is covered by water, the Arctic Ocean is the world´s smallest ocean, accounting for just 1% of the world´s ocean water (AMAP, 2016). This is due to the fact that most of the water in the Arctic is freshwater. The Arctic accounts for about three-quarter of the world´s total freshwater resources and the majority of this water is found in a frozen state (Reinwarth & Stablein, 1972).

Arctic freshwater systems are undergoing abrupt changes associated with global warming. The responses to these variations are, in turn, interconnected with many other processes, producing a rebound effect that ultimately has consequences that affect the whole world as we know it.

In this paper, we will present an overview of the various environmental effects caused by climate change and how they interconnect, with the aim of raising awareness of the gravity of the consequences that follow these cross-related processes and the importance of maintaining the stability of the ecosystems.

Ice bodies in the Arctic and their formation

When we talk about the melting of ice, we are referring to all perennial surface ice on land, which includes ice sheets or continental glaciers, sea ice, ice shelves, glaciers, and ice caps (UNEP, 2008). Ten percent of the total world´s rivers flow into the Arctic Ocean. The high amount of freshwater flowing into this ocean forms a less saline water layer that sits on top of a denser saltwater layer. The surface layers freeze and, in this way, sea ice is formed (AMAP, 2016). There are also other types of freshwater bodies that have different formation processes, such as ice caps and ice sheets, cirque and alpine glaciers, or valley and piedmont glaciers.

A glacier is defined as a persistent large body of ice that moves slowly over land, propelled by its own weight. Glaciers can move down a slope or valley or they can spread outwards on a land surface. They are dynamic stores of water which vary greatly in size and are constantly exchanging mass and energy with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and other parts of the earth system (Benn & Evans, 2010).

Glaciers are formed when the snowfall accumulation far exceeds the melting and sublimation in a certain area over a period of time. They begin as snowflakes that start to accumulate and gradually, as the snow becomes denser, the weight of the accumulated snow buries the older snow and compresses it. The seasonal snow gradually densifies and becomes more tightly packed. The dense grainy ice that has survived a one year melt cycle is called firn (Paterson, 1994). When the ice grows thick enough, the firn grains fuse and the interconnecting air passages between the grains are closed off, turning into a huge mass, called glacial ice (Paterson, 1994).

The fact that they are created by snowfall means glaciers are primarily composed of fresh water. Over 68% of the world’s freshwater is held in ice caps, ice sheets, and glaciers (Shiklomanov, 1993) and out of that percentage, 20% comes from glaciers and icebergs that are in the Arctic region (National Geographic Society, 2016).

Glaciers are not static despite their appearance. When the ice reaches a certain thickness, there are constant pressures acting on it and varying levels of heat, molecular actions, and movement are produced within the glacier (Paterson, 1994).

The ice mass flows under the influence of its own gravitational weight, chemical changes in the surroundings, and the Earth’s own natural movements. It moves to lower latitudes, where it undergoes extensive loss by melting; these areas are known as ablation areas (Benn & Evans, 2010). The total glacier mass evolves through time depending on the balance between accumulation and ablation, which depend on climate and local topographic factors (UNEP, 2008). Accumulation and ablation areas are separated by the equilibrium line, where the balance between gain and loss of mass is 0 (UNEP, 2018).

Arctic’s shrinking cryosphere

Some parts of the Arctic Ocean remain ice-covered all year-round, but the edges of the ice cover melt in summer, causing the ice to break off and float away with the ocean currents. Each year, Arctic sea ice follows a general trajectory, growing late September through April, and melting from April through mid-September (NSIDC, 2020). There is three times more ice in winter than in summer (Thomsen et al., 2016). However, recent years have experienced lower extents in all seasons, especially summer and early autumn, although the shape of the yearly trajectory has not changed. The most dramatic collapse in the satellite record occurred in September 2012, where the average extent for the entire month of September was 3.57 million square kilometres. This is a highly unusual drop from the previous years (NSIDC, 2020) and covers less than half the area that was occupied decades ago. In the 1970s, before the Arctic sea cover started to melt, it would average 8 million square kilometres a year (Raj & Singh, 2013).

The floating sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean is, without a doubt, shrinking. Snow cover over land in the Arctic has decreased, notably in spring, and glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, and northern Canada are retreating. In addition, permanently frozen ground in the Arctic, known as permafrost, is warming and in many areas thawing (NSIDC, 2020).

Raj and Singh report in a new study that the radial decline in sea ice around the Arctic is at least 70% due to human-induced climate change. Climate change induces complex responses to the Earth’s cryosphere (Bamber & Payne, 2004) because there is a complex chain of processes linked to climate change; changes in atmospheric conditions, such as solar radiation, air temperature, precipitation, wind, cloudiness, etc. (Kuhn, 1981). This means that the increase in glacial melt is related to the fact that the earth’s average temperature has been increasing dramatically for more than a century. Since scientists first started to see evidence of changes in Arctic climate, the changes have only become more pronounced. Nowadays, glaciers and ice caps are used to act as indicators of climate change and global warming (UNEP, 2018).

The Arctic is changing faster than any other place on our planet. In fact, the global warming rising temperatures have been twice the global average over the past 30 years. This phenomenon is known as Arctic amplification (NSIDC, 2020; IPCC 2007). Most glaciers around the world are presently retreating; the ice is declining by more than 10% every 10 years (Dyurgerov & Meier, 2005). However, The Fifth IPCC Report (2013), shows that areas in the Arctic, such as Alaska and Northern Canada, are among the areas where glaciers have lost most ice mass over the past decade. Continued sea ice declines are expected and a seasonally ice-free Arctic is predicted to occur well before the end of this century (Kwok et al., 2009).

Glaciers play a huge role in Earth’s water cycle and condition in all Arctic ecosystems. As the ice cover shrinks, balance between all of the interconnected factors that make up the ecosystems is lost. All of the processes are cross-related and when they are subject to changes, they have repercussions on other processes that in turn cause responses on others, creating feedback loops that lead to further warming. This feedback is the reason climate change affects the Arctic more and faster as we move forward in time. As crucial biological and biogeochemical processes suffer variation, ecological regime shifts associated with possible losses of biodiversity are induced (Agustí & Duarte, 2010). The rapidly diminishing ice cover has also unlocked opportunities that set even more pressure on the biodiversity of the Arctic ecosystems, such as the exploitation of natural resources that were unreachable until now, increased tourism, as well as new transportation and shipping routes (Michel et al., 2012).

Glacier retreat compromises glacier ecosystems and the loss of a pool of genes adapted to the cold that live only in these ecosystems (Vincent, 2010). These changes are linked through different atmospheric, marine, and terrestrial systems and they cascade through the entire food chain, from small ice-associated species, such as microbes, to megafauna and marine mammals (ACIA, 2004; Mueter et al., 2009). It also affects terrestrial species and overall all ecosystems, landscapes and environmental systems because it brings climate feedbacks that cause major changes to the earth surface (Ims & Ehrich, 2013).

These changes impact processes that set the framework for the global climate system, influencing regions all over the world (White et al., 2010). Some of these changes are well understood, while there is a considerable uncertainty around other projected changes. The impacts it will have on human society range from the decrease of water that will be available for consumption and irrigation because of long-term loss of natural freshwater storage in frozen form, effects on hydroelectric energy generation capacity, to the emergence of new diseases, parasites and contaminants (Kutz et al., 2005; Sommaruga, 2014).

As climate change leads to glacial melt and feedback loops conducive to further warming are created, all ecosystems are being affected. In this paper the cross-related processers caused by climate change are linked to one another in order to explain the consequences this has on ecosystems and the biodiversity that we rely on. Biodiversity keeps the ecological system we live in working. Changes in the Arctic ecosystem affect our resources directly and indirectly, having an impact on our society as we know it. These ecosystems ultimately influence us by conditioning science, development, management, recreation, economy, religion, cultural heritage, and resources for the maintenance of human livelihoods.

The goal is to raise awareness about the importance of this biodiversity that is being destroyed and to gain consciousness on how important it is to cooperate in implementing a conservation management plan that relies on sustainability and makes ourselves responsible for the alterations to the earth that we are causing.

Biodiversity and Climate Change

Biodiversity in the arctic
The Arctic is made up of a number of different communities of plants and animals supported by specific ecoregions; permanently frozen tundra, boreal forests, grasslands, wetlands, and ice sheets and glaciers (AMAP, 2016). Arctic biomes are often defined by how water moves through or is stored within them because they are characterized by a variety of freshwater ecosystems. As the Arctic water cycle changes, the biomes and their ecosystems are changing as well.

Without taking into account the microorganisms, the Arctic ecosystems support more than 21,000 species of plants, fungi, and animals, or even endoparasites (Barry et al., 2013). This is without taking into account that many species remain yet undescribed or undiscovered (Bluhm et al., 2011). If we compare this to other areas, the Arctic has relatively few species, but even though they are less rich in species, the Arctic region contributes significantly to global biodiversity. This is because Arctic ecosystems are recognized for their highly adapted, extreme environment-resistant species that fill multiple unique ecological niches.

According to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the term “biodiversity” means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems and ecological complexes of which they are a part. This includes diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.

Biodiversity is important because it refers to the variety of life on earth that keeps the ecological system we live in working. Each species has a unique niche or role to play in an ecosystem since living creatures depend on each other to survive. The strong interaction between species leads to cascading impacts from one species to another, which is why the loss of specific species greatly conditions the survival of others that benefit from the previous.

This polar region is recognized for its cold-adapted species that have developed genetic diversity, reflecting great adaptation. The pool of genes developed in the Arctic is therefore unique and contributes greatly to planet biodiversity. In addition to these distinctive genes, the Arctic ecosystems indirectly contribute to shaping global biodiversity because of the impact it causes on the rest of the Earth’s climate and ecosystems (Michel et al., 2012).

Glacial ecosystems
Anesio and Laybourn-Parry (2012), argue that the cryosphere is a biome even though it isn’t characterized as a biome in most textbooks. Although they haven’t always been given this credit, glaciers and ice sheets are Earth’s largest freshwater ecosystems and they comprise several biodiverse habitats. Glacier ecosystems occur on the ice, in the ice, and under the ice and they can be divided into supraglacial, englacial, and subglacial ecosystems (Hodson et al., 2008). The biome they form is very distinct from others and it is dominated by microorganisms, both autotrophs and heterotrophs (Hodson et al., 2008; Anesio & Laybourn-Parry, 2012).

Cold-adapted (psychrotrophs) and cold-loving (psychrophilic) microorganisms that are actively metabolizing on glaciers and ice sheets have a range of unique genes and adaptations. They have the ability to produce anti-freezing proteins, cold-active enzymes, and exopolymeric substances that provide cell protection against the damaging effects of the cold (Anesio & Laybourn-Parry, 2012). These microbial communities also play an interesting role in biogeochemical transformations (carbon fixation and respiration, iron cycling and methanogenesis) with implications that reach global scale (Hodson et al., 2008).

We have relatively little information about the functional diversity of glacial microbes, and their role in biogeochemical processes, but we are aware that they are valuable organisms able to adapt and thrive extreme habitats and, as explained in Green´s et al. (2008) paper, studying these organisms can offer us possible responses to climate change. Climate change compromises the survival of this pool of distinctive genes and conditions biodiversity as alterations to glaciers and ice sheets translate to surrounding ecosystems that, at the same time, have repercussions on the rest of the world. It is not just about the loss of the polar hemispheres, but about how this conditions the world as we know it.

Terrestrial Ecosystems
The Arctic terrestrial ecosystem is normally saturated with water as a consequence of always being covered in snow, excepting the warmer months of the year. Moreover, permafrost lies underneath the tundra, also helping to keep moisture, as well as nutrients, during the summer months (Callaghan et al., 2005).

Tundra plants survive by adapting to extreme conditions. In the winter, they are protected by the snow that covers them (Callaghan et al., 2005). In the spring, plants come alive by obtaining warmth from the soil, keeping moist and unexposed by growing in mats close to the ground.

The arctic terrestrial ecosystem is recognized for its low primary production and plant biomass (Schmidt et al., 2002). The low production is a consequence of the fact that the area of available tundra is small. In addition, there is a short growing season due to the temperatures, snow cover, permafrost, and the high proportion of photosynthetically less efficient cryptogams in the plant communities (Shaver & Jonasson, 2001).

There is an accumulation of organic matter, as a result of the higher production than decomposition rate, caused by the temperature dependence of microorganisms. This leads to a high food supply that diverse species, such as saprophagic arthropods as well as vertebrates, come to take advantage of (Jonasson et al., 1999). In addition, plants are generally nitrogen- and/or phosphorus-limited (Schmidt et al., 2002) and compete against microbes for nutrients, resulting in a high proportion of biogenic salts being microbially fixed (Jonasson et al., 1999; Shaver & Jonasson, 2001).

Marine Ecosystems
The Arctic Ocean is a young ocean with an evolutionary origin of seaweeds, marine invertebrates and mammals that dates back to 3.5 million years ago (Adey et al., 2008). The seasons without ice date to the last 10,000 years, which means that ecosystems belonging to Arctic coastal waters are even younger (Weslawski et al., 2010). The fact that it is a young ocean causes it to have lower biodiversity compared to marine ecosystems that are found at lower latitudes (Adey et al., 2008; Michel et al., 2012). Even though there appears to be a comparatively smaller number of species that support the marine food web, these species are of great complexity and diversity and they can be found in abundant biomasses. These species hold an immense ecological importance since they are essential to maintain diverse trophic pathways within Arctic marine ecosystems.

As stated in Michel’s et al. (2012) paper, the current biodiversity estimates suggest that, while there are many species yet to be discovered, the marine Arctic includes several thousand species of microbes and protists, over 2000 species of algae, and 5000 animal species, including hundreds of zooplankton taxa dominated by crustaceans and thousands of unicellular and multicellular benthic taxa.
The Arctic ecosystem is considered phagophyllic, which means it is associated with seasonal ice and the functioning of marine arctic ecosystems is linked to key physiographic and hydrographic features of the Arctic Ocean, which include temperature, salinity, stratification, connection to other oceans, etc. (Michel et al., 2012). Fluctuations in these features affect the organisms that are conditioned by them. The Arctic ecosystem is based around algae which is one of the most abundant organisms and depends on this sea ice and is at the bottom of the food chain, supporting all other species (Barnes & Tarling, 2017). These organisms are found in such considerable biomasses that they create clear, nutrient-free water in the winter months and intense blooms in the summer (Smetacek & Nicol, 2005; Barnes & Tarling, 2017). In the summer, production becomes high due to 24 hours of sunlight that allows continuous photosynthesis to be possible. There are also high near-surface nutrient concentrations due to vertical mixing through a combination of wind-mixing and upwelling. Diatoms, which are very efficient producers, are dominant in these conditions (Dunbar, 1982).

Marine organisms are distributed unevenly in the ocean because of the uneven mixing and the upwelling (Stempniewicz et al., 2007). Regions such as glacier fronts, marginal ice zones or estuaries, where different water masses mix, are often rich feeding sites (Dunbar, 1982). Continental shelves are highly dynamic environments where most of the biological production in the Arctic Ocean takes place and a broad range of biodiversity is found. They are habitats that support unique communities of organisms because there is a wide range of environmental conditions on these shelves. The conditions go from gradients in temperature, salinity, and nutrient concentrations to changes in the biogeochemical cycling of carbon caused by the influence of the annual sea ice (Steffens et al., 2006).

Climate change impact on the biodiversity in the Arctic

Effects on the different Arctic ecosystems
The ice that covers the poles has a high albedo, which means that it can reflect solar radiation, helping to cool the earth. As this ice cover shrinks, the albedo effect that cools the poles and essentially refrigerates the earth is being eliminated (IPCC, 2007) because snow and ice have a greater albedo effect than the bare or vegetated ground that is replacing it. Surfaces with a lower albedo that are getting exposed, absorb more heat, contributing to even more warming (Raj & Singh, 2013). Less sea ice covering the ocean exposes more of its surface to solar energy and also wind. This causes a higher evaporation which increases air moisture. The warmer the atmosphere, the more moisture it can hold, which implies a feedback effect. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas, therefore more moisture also contributes to rising temperatures, thus creating an additional feedback effect that leads back to the melting of ice. Higher winds caused by the lack of sea ice ‘’protecting’’ the water provide a rise in the mixing of surface layers with underlying waters. Because deep water in the Arctic is warmer than surface waters, heat is brought up from lower depths, which results in further water temperature variations (AMAP, 2011a).

Moisture in the atmosphere contributes to more precipitation in an increasing proportion as rain, which at the same time contributes to more defrost. In addition, climate change is also leading to the transport of more moisture from lower latitudes towards the pole (AMAP, 2016). Increased precipitation, river flow, and discharge from melting glaciers and ice sheets are all channeling growing volumes of freshwater into the Arctic Ocean. This also contributes to rising sea levels. According to NSIDC (2019), if all land ice melted away, the sea level would rise by almost 70 meters with the Greenland ice sheet contributing to a rise of about seven meters, and thus submerge many of the world’s greatest cities (IPCC, 2007).
Melted fresh water causes less dense water on the surface and an increased stratification, which results in higher surface water temperatures and lower biological activity because phytoplankton can be isolated from deeper layers that are richer in nutrients (Oliver et al., 2018). Warmer water in the surface absorbs less carbon dioxide which then stays in the atmosphere and further warms the earth (Oliver et al., 2018). Alternatively, a longer open water period can also be linked to increased primary production (Arrigo et al., 2008) due to the higher wind mixing rates that create favourable conditions for upwelling of nutrient-rich waters (Michel et al., 2012). In addition, phytoplankton receives more light in the open water (Arrigo et al., 2008). This means that, as explained in Oliver’s et al. (2018) paper, depending on local conditions, sea ice losses can enhance or reduce primary production.

The layer of permafrost covers approximately 25% of the land area in the Northern Hemisphere (Yang et al., 2010). It is a significant carbon store that contains remnants of plants and animals accumulated over thousands of years; by some estimates, it contains twice as much carbon as there is currently in the Earth’s entire atmosphere (AMAP, 2016). Observations and measurements show that the temperature in the permafrost has risen by up to 2-3°C in most places in the last 40 years (IPCC, 2007). The total area of the northern hemisphere with surface permafrost is expected to decrease as much as 80% by the end of this century (IPCC, 2007). Thawing permafrost contributes to the release of greenhouse gases (mainly methane) that are currently stored in the ground which leads to the previous effects and allows microbes to break down this organic matter, producing greenhouse gases. Furthermore, when permafrost thaws, water from small lakes and tarns is drained away, affecting the hydrological cycle in the area (AMAP, 2012). Permafrost melt allows plant growth but can also cause areas to experience perennially waterlogged conditions, suppressing forest growth (AMAP, 2016).

There are important warm ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream that brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico into the Arctic pole. In the North Atlantic the water brought from warmer lower latitudes will be cooled. As the warmer water flows in, colder, denser water sinks below and begins flowing outwards from the Arctic Ocean and moves south. These currents circulate within the Arctic marine system, and then flow southwards, having an important role in driving global ocean circulation. Increased flows of freshwater and changes in salinity could disrupt this mechanism that plays a key role in global climate regulation and is known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) (Palter, 2015). Disturbances in the Gulf Stream can dramatically impact the weather on land.

Ocean currents and rivers also play a big part in supplying nutrients that form the basis of marine food webs of global importance (Palter, 2015). For example, extensions of the Gulf Stream, such as the North Atlantic current, have branches that are warm-water currents that carry small calanoids that impact Spitsbergen. Other currents like the Sørkapp Current, influence Spitsbergen by bringing cold, Arctic water from the northeast with a zooplankton community (Stempniewicz et al., 2007).

The jet stream is a high-level airstream that circles the globe at mid-latitudes and affects the track of pressure systems and storms over North America, Europe, and Asia (Raj & Singh, 2013). It can also be influenced by glacial melt because it is driven by the difference in temperatures between cold Arctic air and warmer air from the south.

When the ice melts into freshwater and precipitations increase, there is plant growth (Callaghan, 2001). A surface covered by plants has a lower albedo and, therefore accentuates climate change and leads to some of the effects we explained previously. In the ocean, the lack of cover provided by the ice, will also result in new habitats available for seaweed colonisation in the ocean (Weslawski et al., 2011).
In both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, more plants mean more photosynthesis. This could be counterproductive due to an enrichment in nutrients and minerals from permafrost and the enhanced flow of water that could potentially support excess heterotrophic activity and cause eutrophication. As explained in Agustí et al. (2010), a transition towards an ecosystem with a reduction in export matter that causes an increased heterotrophy is taking place (Agustí et al., 2010). The shifting of the net metabolism of the Arctic Ocean from autotrophic to heterotrophic implies a change from a net sink to a source of CO2 (Agustí et al., 2010).

In terrestrial ecosystems, this can alter local food webs and the range of wildlife supported by an ecosystem (Zarnetske et al., 2012). It also leads to an abundance of commensal species impacting Arctic endemics, such as predators or competitors and outbreaks of insect herbivores and plant pathogens (Ims & Ehrich, 2013).

In aquatic ecosystems, this leads to blooms of algae that reduce water quality, crowd out other species, and are toxic for animals. Cloudiness can block the light needed for photosynthesis and potentially clog filter-feeding fauna (AMAP, 2016). The supply of clean water is also an important service provided by natural systems. Again, toxic algae blooms caused by excessive nutrient inputs can affect drinking water quality.

Other changes being experienced in the Arctic tundra are small variations in nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) The Arctic tundra is dominated by plants that have low nutrient requirements (Jonasson et al., 1999). Small variations in N and P cause a strong increase in plant productivity (Shaver & Jonasson, 2001), which is why changes in the cycling of nutrients will bring changes to the community structure (Stempniewicz et al., 2007).

As explained on the Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (Barry et al., 2013), changing landscapes and vegetation will bring loss of unique animal species from certain areas of the Arctic. Species rely on seasonal indicators that are changing, and they have different ecological responses to these variations. Changes in the sea ice or sea ice surface generates the direct loss of habitats. Fluctuations in stratification, light attenuation, and nutrient availability indirectly affect unique communities of organisms, such as pelagic and benthic communities. These communities support associated food webs having repercussions on higher trophic levels and also impact the reproduction and foraging success of ice-associated species (AMAP 2011; Michel et al., 2012).

While it is hard for specific species to adapt to these gradual changes in the timing of the seasons, new species from the south that are already accustomed to those parameters can expand their breeding ground and have access to places they could not before (Jensen et al., 2008). The pattern that will be most often repeated will be that milder environmental conditions in the pole may provide new habitats for temperate species that may outcompete polar species and disrupt the ecosystem (Michel et al., 2012). Replacement by subarctic species that have extended their distribution range northward have been observed in the last 30 years for different animal species (Michel et al., 2012). Increased human activity in the Arctic also contributes to bringing invasive species (Kortsch et al., 2015). There will also be alteration to the predator–prey interactions because of the change in habitat and seasonality. Many species depend on sea ice for their dispersal and access to feeding (Descamps et al., 2017). Although these species could have a short-term benefit because there will be higher prey densities gathered in smaller ice-covered areas, in the long term it will result in their extinction (Thomsen et al., 2016; Descamps et al., 2017).

Variations in diversity are taking place, with a trend towards a community of smaller cells, such as bacteria, small algae, and zooplankton. If these organisms, which are a strong determinant of trophic pathways and carbon fluxes in marine ecosystems, continue having a competitive advantage, it can lead to reduced biological production at higher trophic levels (Li et al., 2009). Changes in the size and energy content of key zooplankton prey affect energy transfer in the pelagic food web having important consequences for the animal species that tap into this food base (Weslawski et al., 2000).

An increase in bacterial respiration which is also supported by an increase in temperatures, increased inputs of carbon, and the strengthening of the pycnocline, also means a challenge for the capacity of the Arctic Ocean to act as a sink for CO2 (Cai et al., 2010). The dominant microbial loop in the upper water column will lead to decreased exports of biogenic material to the sea floor. This will again help the planktonic ecosystem shift from a CO2 sink to a CO2 (Agustí et al., 2010). Bacteria and other microorganisms will have a higher supply of organic matter that they can convert to carbon dioxide and the ocean can experience a reduction in calcium ions and higher ocean acidification generated by an increase in carbon dioxide. The ocean also absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere which will be at higher concentrations. This means more dissolved CO2 in the ocean which is a threat to calcareous organisms and may have cascading impacts on marine ecosystems, biodiversity, and fisheries. Calcium ions and carbonate are used to build shells and skeletons which species rely on (Barry et al., 2013; AMAP, 2016). Studies have detected an undersaturation in aragonite which is essential for the formation of the shell of an important plankton species in the Arctic caused by ice melt (Yamamoto-Kawai et al., 2009).


The Arctic is undergoing crucial changes in many of its elemental physical components. These alterations have important impacts on the chemical and biological processes, having repercussions that are coupled with many ecological feedback processes and will cause unpredictable reorganizations of ecosystems in the region and potentially on a global scale.

Loss of biodiversity is one of the effects we are already experiencing due through climate change and we need to be aware of why this is so severe. Biodiversity keeps the planet healthy since it keeps a balance. If there is a big change and functioning ecosystems disappear, then the earth might not be able to ever recover from this loss of balance. It is not just for the wellbeing of other organisms, but our own wellbeing is affected, too. They are just the first to experience it. It also impacts our lives in a direct way because less biodiversity compromises the resources that we take advantage of. Since we need these resources to survive, we must learn to take care of them. That is why it is of great importance that we combine our interests with sustainability, promoting an innovative and respectful society that is dependent on stability and well-functioning cooperation. There are ways to use our knowledge in technology, but the upcoming efforts to preserve Arctic biodiversity and resources must be as innovative and wide-ranging as the unknown stressors that are being experimented by Arctic ecosystems now. The impacts of climate change will give rise to coordination challenges among nations, as well as for regional levels of government.

The Arctic offers major opportunities for development with multiple sectors that have a great potential for economic growth and requires a management plan based on sustainability that takes account of environmental and social considerations. The fact that the Arctic is an unexplored source of unique resources joined with the current situation that demands solutions to remediate global warming, makes research related to new industries, such as marine bioprospecting, indispensable. Science plays a crucial role in the adaptation and mitigation of climate change since it has the ability to positively reduce the effects that have been explained. The upcoming efforts to preserve Arctic resources and ecosystems, as well as to study and understand them, must be as novel and expansive as the unknown challenges that are being experimented by the Arctic region now.

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Winning the War of the World

Not even prophets like Chris Hedges decode it. Journalists are trained not to. Not even moral philosophers question the system worship masked as ‘the free market”. Freedom means no accountability to human and world life, while competition means competing to externalize all costs onto the lives of citizens and environments. The value driver behind it all is no more questioned than the Almighty. It can do no wrong. But one underlying lock-step of false equations propels this unnamed war on the world through its mutations and metastases:

Rationality = Self-Maximizing Choice

= Always More Money-Value for the Self is Good

= Self-Multiplying Sequences of Ever More Money to the Top as the Ruling Growth System

= All Else is Disposable Means to this Multiplying Pathogenic Growth


My 15-year study, The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure diagnoses this ruling value mechanism as cancerous. It is, in short, a deregulated self-multiplication of transnational money sequences accountable to nothing but their own multiplication with no committed life functions. With the Hayek-Reagan-Thatcher crusade to reverse the history of the world into a moronic ‘free market’ and ‘conservative values’, the march was on. Marxists would not engage this Great Reversal on moral grounds because morality was believed to be only ruling class ideology. This left no value ground to stand on. From the transnational victory of corporate world rule from 1991 on, reversals of social states were portrayed as ‘market miracles’ whatever the results for people’s lives. ‘The magic of the market’ was the new world religion, ‘the end of history’. The mass media were  consolidated into one collective corporate organ across cities and borders. Death squads erased community opposition in the South. The academy was and is still defunded to serve the global corporate market and commodity development.

The nations of the world are all ‘restructured’  to be subordinate functions to the supreme moral goal of transforming humanity and the world into ever more private commodities and profits. Society itself s does not exist to this ruling value mechanism. Its logic of growth is totalitarian and malignant to the marrow. More precisely, deregulated global corporate money sequences abolish by treaties and wars all barriers whatever to their free multiplying growth through all that exists whatever the destruction of natural and social life support systems. My work has been to decode this globally life-invading value system. Predictably the diagnosis is taboo to mention in the press, however confirmed by the facts and predictions. No social disorder allows its ruling program to be publicly unmasked. Thus the malignant value code marches on. Alarm bells at the degenerate symptoms increase, but policies of solution only extend the system further and deeper. Life-value economics is as unspeakable as the fatal disorder itself.


The Essential First Step in Winning the War of the World is Comprehension of It

The essential first step in winning the war of the world is comprehension of it. Only system analysis can lay bare the underlying value program, but it is avoided. The sciences do not study values and specialize in domains of self-referential meaning. Journalists report facts, spectacles and impressions, but not the underlying values governing them. Philosophers seldom analyse the ruling value system of the societies within they live from social habit and fear. In the age of instant culture, value-system comprehension does not sell. Together these blocks of normalized avoidance make the value code selecting for all the degenerate trends invisible to us. As in immune system failure, the life host fails to recognise the disorder devouring it.

Lacking any unifying framework of comprehension, people are lost. Thus when millions rise in the Occupy Wall Street movement, there is no diagnosis or policy demand. Although Wall Street had indisputably defrauded masses and had failed to its knees broke, no policy shift arose – not even public control of the public money infusing the system cancer, $16 trillion dollars by Senate  count in the U.S. alone – thanks to the heroic Bernie Sanders. Nor was there movement for a needed public mortgage system – even after the private system had perpetrated the biggest fraud in history, indebted tens of millions into ruin and collapsed the economies of the West in irreversible debt. The lost alternative of public banking on which the U.S. revolution was founded, Lincoln won the war of Union, North Dakota has had 100 years of debt-free prosperity, the West itself managed the 1939-45 war and post-war years to unprecedented full employment, and first Japan and now China wins in productive investment – all is  amnesiac in the West.

Fast forward to today, and the underlying system cancer advances on. The financial giants causing the 2008 Crash are bigger and richer in criminal impunity. They speculate with publicly supplied trillions on food and water futures. They control even Rio + 20 as the life-ground catastrophe they finance explodes on one front after another. Transfused with endlessly with more public money to bleed and indebt the world dry, the money-printing system metastasizes further – now occupying the once prosperous social democracies of the European Union with public money bled out of peoples’ lives and life bases to private banks with no limit . Refusing any regulatory limits, converting pensions into more stockmarket feeding troughs, investing nothing as youth unemployment and debt spike ever higher – where does it all end? It ends when public money and human rights stop being fed to the failed system. It ends when commodity cycles of destructive waste are stopped. It ends at the base of the disorder when the 97%-counterfeiting of debt and credit by private financial institutions is publicly controlled.


Economic Doctrine Allows Money-Cancer System Free Reign

Neo-economic theory is a pseudo-science. Its defining postulates are unfalsifiable by facts. All organic, social and ecological life requirements are absurdly assumed away. Infinite demand on finite resources is presupposed as sustainable. Mechanical reversibility of everything is taken for granted. Whatever does not fit the doctrine is rejected. Endlessly self-maximizing atomic selves are believed to necessitate the best of all possible worlds by the market’s invisible hand.  

Is this not a fanatic religion? Supra-human laws dictate commands across peoples. No deadly consequences lower certitude in the miracles of the market God. Even when the ruling value mechanism visibly depredates the very life bases of the world, the only reforms are to globalize it further. Corporate-lawyer treaties coined in secret rule as the new laws of nations, while hostile zones are subjected to covert forces sponsoring civil wars, as promised in 2001 – Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Syria Iraq, and now the Ukraine as I write.  All is believed in and pursued as a world crusade, even if fascists lead it. One supreme goal governs underneath bizarre beliefs –  multiplying growth of transnational money-sequences at ever higher velocities and volumes with no life limits tolerated. This is the moral DNA of the ruling value mechanism. In theory, it is expressed well by University of Chicago professor and godfather of the U.S. National Security Council, Leo Strauss, who wrote in his canonical Natural Right and History (p. 60): “limitless capital accumulation” is “a moral duty and perhaps the highest moral duty”.  On the ground, Strauss’s patron, David Rockefeller, expressed the moral-political program more concretely at the turning point in 1991, “A supranational sovereignty of an intellectual elite and bankers is surely preferable to the national auto-determination practiced in past centuries”.  The promises are kept. There is no binding regulation to protect any life carrying capacity on earth from the loot-and-pollute bank money system in the years since.

Many blame capitalism, but unlike classical capitalism this mechanism is not driven by productive force development. It is driven by transnational money-sequence multiplication with no productive standard which despoils more means of life than it produces. It eliminates the working class itself. The ruling idea that the system is peerlessly productive is increasingly contradicted by far more life goods disappearing than are created. Something much more sinister is afoot.  The social and natural life bases by which the human species evolves are reversed and overrun. Yet not even the opposition defines what ultimately counts – humanity’s universal life necessities themselves. The meaning of ‘the economy’ itself – to produce and distribute life goods otherwise in short supply through generational time – is lost. While the very air humanity breathes is going more toxic and acidic, the contradiction to ‘productive growth’ is unseen. As the waters of the world are simultaneously destroyed, the dots are not joined. Even as there are mass extinctions of species, youth without futures, and irreversible debt servitude of the world, all is well if ‘more growth is returning to the system’ which causes all of them. That at the same time the earth’s very soil cover taking tens of millions of years to evolve is simultaneously mined, acidified, salinated, degraded and exhausted as forest and mineral covers are stripped from one continent to the other are not connected into common meaning. The ruling value mechanism devours the life substance of humanity and the earth, but remains assumed as ever ‘more productive’ even by angry unions. 

Well at least, someone might reply, climate warming has been recognized by a blue-ribbon economic panel, Britain’s Stern Review, as “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen”. This is a step towards rational observation. But even with a UN panel of over-1600 scientists on the case, there is no connection to the other basic life carrying capacities driven towards collapse by the same organizing value mechanism. No secret is more unspoken. So more rights to pollute and profit are instituted, and the climates and hydrological cycles spiral to more deadly extremes. “The world’s poor suffer first and most”, Lord Stern also rightly observes, but this fits the reigning value mechanism. Those without money do not exist.


Unmasking the Ruling Code of Value Driving the War on Life  

Let us summarize. Behind every step of the Great Reversal lie failures of knowledge and value understanding: (1) failure to diagnose the regulating value mechanism at work; (2) failure to connect across the domains of life despoliation as predictable from the system’s blind money-sequence multiplication; (3) failure to define or demand any public policies against its feeding on life support systems with public treasure; (4) failure to recognise any life-value principle or the life ground of the economy itself.

This knowledge black-out is understandable once one recognises that the vaunted “knowledge economy” has no criterion from the start. All it means is what can be controlled, sold or manipulated to grow the ruling value mechanism. Pause on that general fact. This is why true knowledge is now so often denied or attacked as “uncompetitive’.  Look for exceptions to this spread of the ruling money-value mechanism into the very capacities of human understanding.  Diagnosis of this disorder is the knowledge most needed, but unspeakable. Who even now recognises that ‘new efficiencies’, ‘reforms’ and ‘cost cutting’ are always attacks on people’s lives, means of life and life functions?  Who connects across the one-way falls of life standards and regulations, public science and testing, agrarian communities and lands, workers’ rights and unions, social infrastructures and protections, and social life security while money demand multiplies out of control at the top? Who names the innermost ruling code driving all – whatever protects or enable human and ecological life is eliminated as a barrier to private money-sequence multiplication. This is the source code of the cancer system. It explains why transnational corporate, equity and bank profits grow to ever new records as the world’s majorities are dispossessed. It explains why social and natural life-carrying capacities are despoiled across continents.  The war on life is built in.

The ideals of “freedom”, “democracy”, and “economic growth” are thus reversed in the name of them. The big lies become so automatic that few notice them– for example as I write, food-stamp slashes reducing 47 million hungry U.S. people below $1.40 a meal and $90 less a month for life necessities “protects the most vulnerable Americans” (President Obama, Jan. 29, 2014). There is a recourse against lies which is as old as the species. Humanity’s deciding evolutionary advantage is that knowledge wins in the end. Above all knowledge evolves through recognition of how life is enabled or disabled by material conditions and social rules. For example, the binding abolition of the most profitable commodity of world trade ever, human slaves, won. Knowledge won again from the 1929 Crash and subsequent World War when the collective life security of peoples evolved by known facts and social policies more in 30 years than in the prior twenty-five centuries.  

The missing link for this long life-and-death struggle is the life value code. We do not know it because we are without a reference body in a vast ocean of self-maximizing money-sequences for which the goods are only what sell for private profit. A life-ground and compass almost emerged after 1945 when peoples recognised how ruling delusions of self-maximizing fanaticism almost destroyed civilisation. Learning from the greatest war and depression in history, societies forged binding international covenants for collective life security and free human development. Universal education, health, and income security infrastructures were publicly formed across societies. But no unifying life-value code underlying them was found. In absence of any sound life base of understanding to re-ground in, the Great Reversal from 1980 on has gone from one extreme of life-blindness to the next with endless lies of better days to come – even as there is ever more joblessness, meaningless employment, deprivation of more majorities, commodity diseases across the globe, debt servitude chaining the futures of peoples, and deepening ecodidal trends advancing one way with the system’s growth. Locked into the ruling frame of thinking, people blame humanity for the catastrophe unfolding even as the demands of the ruling value mechanism have been imposed every step by a secretly negotiated and adjudicated transnational corporate system backed by global armed force, financial sabotage and embargo, and limitless lies. From secret codification by corporate lawyers of treaties overriding constitutions to free looting of human and natural life-carrying capacities across borders, ever more money-sequence ‘investor’ rights are prescribed and multiplied across nations. Those who resist are ‘against competition’ or ‘terrorists’. Reverse projection rules.

An absurd metaphysic is assumed throughout. The economy’s provision of goods through time mutates to ‘laws of supply and demand’ that are fatuous caricatures of both. Demand is never people’s needs or necessity. It is private money demand minted by private banks without the legal tender to back it to indebt people and gamble on their future means of life. ‘Supply’ is not the life means people require to survive and flourish. It is ever more priced commodities for profit promoting more human and ecological ill-being across continents. The supreme moral value of the system is then equated to its opposite as well. Freedom = freedom for private money demand only = in proportion to the amount controlled = ever less freedom for those with less of it = no right to life for those without it.  

When mass uprooting, joblessness and misery follow, more reverse meaning is proclaimed. “Uplifted out of poverty” headlines proliferate over a money-gain equal to the cost of a coffee for subsistence farmers who have been forced into city slums without any means of natural and communal life support left. Peoples are too distracted by competitions for vast prizes to notice. The global struggle for life is displaced by ever more contest spectacles as global mass-marketing sites – the meaning now of ‘sport’.  But behind the perpetually revolving mirrors, the meaning is taboo. People may see “greed of the rich”, but not that greed is the global system’s r driver at every level. “More productivity”   is liked across classes, but who sees that it only means less cost per unit of profitable commodities bringing more life waste and destruction. Workers and left thinkers may no more want to see this than the corporate press.

The meaning of ‘the free market’ itself is reversed. Over centuries it has meant the opposite of the global corporate system – public places of local life goods, all exchanged for legal tender, featuring real foods and crafts, no mass conditioning ads, no debt servitude, no dominance of transnational money-sequences, no throwaway packages and waste, no lobbies controlling government, no invisible head offices pulling puppet strings, and no bribery controlling supply and demand. Yet the free market like the real economy is overwhelmed. There are only more absentee money sequences with no required life functions or accountability to the communities and life conditions they competitively bleed. The enemy is undefined. The common life capital it attacks is unknown. But the life and death choice cannot be made without knowing both.  


The Life-Value Turn as the Next Stage of Civilisation

Reality hides in the language of the past. So ‘capitalism’ is blamed by critics when real capital is, in fact, destroyed every step. Journals report ‘global wealth has soared 68% in 10 years’. But life wealth is devoured as fast as the money-sequence system can grow.  Always the underlying life ground  is lost beneath the competitive self-multiplication of money demand invading all that exists. With no life value anchor and compass, the degenerate trends only deepen beneath reference body to recognise them. I have spent most of my life as a professional philosopher on the problem of life value and social value systems. Although the sane may agree life value is what ultimately matters, nothing has been less understood.  People called ‘pro-life’ usurp the woman’s body in the name of fundamentalist religions. Nations absurdly assume that ‘standard of living’ is measured by the private money spent. Animal rights theory has no criterion to tell the life value of a snail from a person. ‘Life sciences’ sacrifice billions of animal lives a year for private money-value gain. ‘New and better technology’ has no life-value standard to decide better from worse.  

Life value is the missing base. But there are as many proxies for life value as there are values. Specialist domains like physiotherapy and medicine recognise life-value in organic functions, but without principled meaning to apply to wider life systems. In general, life value ignorance defines the age. This is how the greatest of all fatal confusions has mutated: that money-sequence growth = life value growth. Just as the multiplying grotesque cells eating the life-host alive are not recognised on the micro level, so too on the social level. Thus tidal bank notes of bets, credit and debt without legal tender drive ‘financialization’ across the planet. They must loot life and life bases to keep growing without inflation as trillions of new dollars are printed without life function. Endless slashing of life goods in wages, benefits, social security, pensions and environmental protections result, as money-demand powers multiply at the top. This is why endless bonuses for financial failure, stripping of the middle classes and the poor, squandering of public wealth on rich corporations – the list can go on – are demanded as U.S.-led wars for resources, lands and corporate markets never stop and taxes on the rich are reversed. All is predictable once the cancer system is diagnosed.  


An ultimate question arises. What is the ground of response to this ruling value mechanism which cumulatively plunders human and other life to feed itself?  We know the ultimate ground is life value. But what is life value? To roll thirty years of research now in three UNESCO volumes – the objective standard and measure can be defined in three steps:   


(1)           all value whatever is life value,

(2)           good versus bad  equals the extent to which  life is more coherently enabled versus disabled,

(3)           by greater/lesser ranges or capacities of thought, felt being and action through time.


Visions of world peace, the classless flourishing of peoples, a planetary ecology in which humanity is its conscious understanding – all such ideals express this underlying life code of value.  But “who decides?” skeptics ask. No-one decides because gains and losses in life capacity are as objective as the laws of biology and medicine. Anything is better or worse by the greater or lesser range of life capacities it enables. This value code is built into evolution itself. It is no more a matter of opinion than people’s life necessities are: that without which life capacities are always reduced. The ruling value mechanism is the polar opposite. It attacks life and life conditions everywhere as ‘externalities’ to its self-multiplying growth. Because this growth is assumed to be life value, however, the greatest value reversal in history goes unseen.


The three-step life code of value provides the generic value compass and base which has been missing. It is objective because it is true independent of anyone’s perception of it. It has unlimited validity because there is no exception to it (which is testable by searching for one). It is presupposed in value judgements – as you can observe when these judgements are defended. Life value is also universalizable because all values derive their worth from it. Finally life value is sovereign because it trumps any other value in cases of conflict. All are testable generalizations.


But what of measure of more or less life value? Life value is measurable in degrees by greater/lesser capacities of thought, felt being and action shown through time – for example, how much life capacities gain or lose by nourishing versus junk foods. Today the macro trends are in one-way loss of life capacities. Knowledge is the exception. It forms the way stations of life understanding passed onto others and subsequent generations across epochs, the distinguishing life capacity of our species. But even knowledge is threatened by corporate rights against its dissemination at the same time as there is mass propagation of public lies. New electronic communication capacities without corporate control still win the war by the greatest civil community development in history. But the life-and-death fields of invasion by the ruling money-value mechanism are not decoded – the money tides of hit-and-run buying and selling of lands and currencies across the world, free and growing use of ecocidal extraction methods, life-starving hours, wages and no benefits in global dispossession of workers’ century-long gains, one way global growths of disease commodities and lethal arms trading, oil-guzzling and air-polluting noise vehicles of multiplying kinds, big oil and big pharma looting of public lands and health dollars growing business on ill effects, a world-wide pension raid for corporate-stock gains at the life cost of hundreds of millions of people, and most invisibly, full-spectrum assault on humanity’s thinking and feeling sides of living itself – the zombie effect.  


Where we might ask do the transnational money-sequences not destructively invade the evolved fields of life of humanity and fellow species? The movement is by exponentially multiplying money-sequences eating away at the margins of every private transaction, public funding, life exchange and substance within and across borders. Consider all the bites every moment across business and exchange sites – before and beyond the ‘carrying trade’ in exploiting lower interest in one country to flood another with the cheaper money advantage, beyond the trillions in derivatives betting every day, beyond the raids on sovereign currencies and bonds without tax or regulation. On the local level, hardly a shop, a buyer, a builder, a home-dweller, anybody who lives today is not invaded by the same financial mechanism with ever more rights to demand at every exchange site with no function while enforcement is paid by the public being stripped by it. The apparently free credit-card system, for example, imposes a 2% charge to the seller for sales at a hidden 33% annual debt-charge rate, before the debt predation of poorer consumers begins. There is no end to the invisible lines of life devouring demands now deeply into higher learning and public health themselves while destroying workforces and companies overnight by hostile takeovers, bid-up mergers, asset strippings, capital flights, and straight-on funding of civil wars and destabilizations from which fire prices and dominant positions are extracted. Ruining societies is the medium of metastases. How else would a cancer system behave? 


The world-choosing choice begins with what you buy. Clearly for example eating, selling or supplying junk foods is objectively bad to the measure that it disables human life and produces global epidemics of obesity, heart failure, cancer and diabetes. Yet even economic ‘science’ calls them all ‘goods’ whatever the rising disease effects. Simultaneously violence entertainments flood public airwaves and play-spaces before the same consumers – most avidly the young – with images of humanity being killed, tortured, injured and humiliated. As the sugar-salt-lard concoctions are ladled into bloodstreams and throwaways clog the earth`s circulatory channels at the same time, we begin to see the multiplying destructive occupation of the fields of life and life substance as built into these runaways growths and their ‘goods’. Life capacities at every level are attacked as ‘market freedom’. Only life-value ground and measure can penetrate the disease mechanism none define – to addictively disable human life capacities for more transnational money-sequences through ever more lives from infancy onwards.  Where is there exception to the pattern?  Life-activity-replacing motors and commercial games in multiplying life occupation, endless unneeded and non-recycled conveniences locking into habits of life, political-junkie election images and spectacles where the truth is what sells corporate lines and candidates, and commercial internet and television hooks everywhere in front of which children spend 11 waking hours. Which of any of these is not geared to addict consumers to compulsive consumption against life capacity development? Which does not input toxic wastes into the circulatory flows of ecosystems at the same time? But all is optimal for the ruling economic model for which life and society are reduced to atomic desiring machines propelling more money demand to money controllers as the nature of the growth the official world calls for..  


The moving line of the true war of liberation begins with what we are able to control, our own lives. Consider your own life, what you know best.  Every value you enjoy, lose or gain has a bottom line – its life capital, what enables life to reproduce and grow rather than degrade and stagnate through time. We defend it and our health by buying life goods and nothing else. The turning point is as old as physical and cultural evolution. Every human advance is by knowing what enables life from what does not. Collective life advance is transmitting this life-and-death knowledge across selves, space-time and generations. The life value code holds across cultures. But the universal life goods and necessities are not even known. Their meaning is obscured everywhere, but are exactly definable. Life goods are always that without which life capacities decline and die. All real needs are known by this criterion. Every human life suffers and degenerates towards disease and death without breathable and unpolluted air, clean water and waste cycles, nourishing food and drink, protective living space, supportive love, healthcare when needed, a life-coherent environment, symbolic interaction, and meaningful work to perform. All are measurable in sufficiency across cases. (author note: a systematic explanation is available by google of “Universal Human Life Necessities”). Yet all universal human life needs and capacities are attacked, polluted or perverted by the ruling value mechanism in product, process and lobby demand across the world. Yet where are the universal life needs named and  connected against the malignant growth system spreading through ever more nodes?


Not zero growth, but zero bad growth is the way. A real economy by definition regulates for these universal life necessities and against toxic junk, and individuals would not buy 99% of corporate commodities if they did. Victory or loss in the war of the world lies in how we live.. So why does anyone buy such commodities? System addiction is how it grows, and knowledge of life goods versus bads is the through-line of the good life and human evolution itself. What deeper motivation could there be? I like others have long lived without corporate-ad television, regular private auto or gas-vehicle use, any junk food or beverage, any throwaway  item, any new fashion or commodity not more life enabling than the old, or business with big private banks –  selecting solely for life goods at the local level. The organizing principle is the spirit of the Tao-te Ching and the free autonomy of the wise. It is as old as the good life. The life-code formula is clear: minimal market demand to enable life capacities to flourish. This value imperative defines transformation to true economy and liberates life wherever it moves.


Collective Life Capital as the Common Value Ground and Measure Across Divisions

We know the war of the world can be won. The plague addiction to corporate cigarettes has been conquered by 30-50% of the developed world’s population. This shows how the life code can select against habituated system harms of the most compulsive kind, and everyone live better the more it is done.  At the personal level, it begins with zero-base accounting with money demand only justified by life-enabling gain. Yet for collective life goods, we do not have a principled ground and measure. Collective life capital does not exist in public or expert meaning. Any common life interest or agency at all is excluded unless it promotes profits. The implications are fatal but unseen. Collective provision of the universal human life necessities that have evolved by long social organization and human evolution are blinkered out of the ruling value mechanism. It sees only mechanical ‘growth’ by commodity sales and profits. Everything that makes a society civilised or liveable is blinkered out – common water and sewage systems for all, free movement pathways and life spaces without cost to use, public libraries with unpriced books and films, non-profit healthcare and disease-prevention by public institution, public income security from disemployment, old age and disability, life-protective laws including sufficient minimum wages and environmental regulations, primary to higher education without multiplying debts, and family housing, food and means of life assistance for children without parental money. Yet all these are defunded or eliminated to pay debt-services to private banks and grow business, with the IMF to the Tea Party leading the charge as ‘new efficiencies’ and ‘savings’.


From this built-in erasure of common life ground, the hollowing out of collective life goods  proceeds without any feedback correction. Public wealth is privatized at every level to feed corporate money sequences. Thus fed with endless giant tax and subsidy hand-outs and deregulations to invade further, the demands of the ruling value mechanism multiply further. The collective life base to steer by and regulate does not exist. For example, when Amartya Sen titles his Nobel Laureate monograph “Social Choice”, even he can get no further than atomic aggregates of individual preferences. No collective life goods in themselves are conceivable within the market paradigm. When another progressive economist, Elinor Ostrom, wins the Nobel Prize for Economics years later for her book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution and Institution of Collective Action, she is trapped within the same paradigm. No principle of common life interest or agency beyond mutual self advantage can be conceived. “The commons” and “collective action” are posted on the cover, but no civil commons or agency is seen from universal health care to a public bicycle path. Common life bases can no more compute through the ruling prism than the collective actions required to provide them.  

In fact, the underlying problem is ancient. We have lacked a common life-ground since the genocides of first peoples began. It is a very ancient blind spot which has become increasingly fatal with all-powerful technologies of destruction and the deranged money-value code driving them. The eco-genocidal streak goes deep – from the old-testament tribal god command to exterminate all other peoples in Palestine to, millennia later, the first peoples in the New World saying to their modern invaders: “When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.” Even “life, liberty and freedom” in the US Constitution reduces to the commerce clause and corporate rights by Supreme Court interpretation. Abdication of life responsibility is built into the-system. The Global Market God rules, and the common life interest and its agency do not exist to it.  

How are we to ground beneath this life-blind paradigm whose global mutations threaten evolved life on earth? In the end, the organizing principle crosses the lines of death itself – the life code of value at the collective level. But this common life interest is usurped in its very name. That is why, for example, the young can be killed in masses and arms budgets bankrupt U.S. public sectors  to enrich Big Oil, or people’s homes can be expropriated for private developers as ‘the public interest’ and ‘eminent domain’.  This is the dark side of history, one oppressor rule after another. But the collective life interest is the true bottom line of legitimate governance. The proof is in the conditions of its definition. It must be consistent with the life carrying capacities of all through time. It must be open to life-enabling change. It must go deeper than family, gender, and culture differences. It must include past as well as future generations. It must supersede the ruinous man/nature, economy/environment splits and individual/society duality of interests. It must realize the Three R’s of ecological literacy to be life coherent. It must bridge the past to the present to the future as one process to steer development beyond the holocausts of history. It must embody the economic principles of efficiency, productivity and innovation in life-serving form. It must make all freedom responsible to its life conditions of possibility. It must embed the life bases of all as supreme so it cannot in principle go wrong. 


Such a moral code seems impossible. Every demand of the ruling value mechanism is structured against it. Opposing ideologies do not find its common life base. Postmodernism and relativism deny any universal principle of value except the actually ruling one. Political policies are confined to what serves the corporate market system. Issue politics rule fixated on sexual preferences. There is no common life ground recognized or life-value compass to steer by. Collective life capital re-grounds us. It is the life base of the common interest – that without which humanity’s life capacities degrade and die. It is the bridging concept across the ‘the economy-environment’ division as well as cross present and future generations. It is the true meaning of economic necessity and the sole substance of growth and development. In all, collective life capital transcends all divisions by impartial principles that cannot go wrong: (1) a unifying life value regulator enabling all, (2) a generic life-value measure to tell greater from lesser by margins of capacity loss or gain in any case, (3) production of more life value capacity through generational time, (4) cumulative life gain as the organizing goal of the process throughout, (5) the more coherently inclusive in enabling life the better. In this way, the common interest is provided an exact progressive meaning, and collective agency is built into its inner logic of life progression.       


Conversely, whatever person, group or system destroys common life capital is objectively evil to the extent of life capacity destruction through time – for example, corporate U.S. oil wars or leisure vehicles destroying natural life. Advancing collective life capital, in contrast, is what “make the world a better place” means. It could be by cures to diseases, more ecological methods, life infrastructure building, advancing knowledge, new ways of seeing, or life-protective laws. All more inclusively enable life without loss and cumulative gain. No real progress is ever made without satisfying this logic of value.  Feeling with across species and tribes, for example, may bind many of us in this room. So too even more so advancing life-coherent knowledge and visual comprehension, as Peter’s films do. The understanding and feeling sides of life keep extending despite death and moral numbing by the ruling value mechanism. Public knowledge via the Internet commons wins against corporate media silencing and propaganda. We see here the underlying struggle across the fields of life. The rising and falling of life capital base and compass can in fact be found in every social policy, decision or movement that goes right or goes wrong. There is no exception. The war of the world is everywhere, and so is our task of life commons awareness and building.


This is not hope without substance. The common life interest is already built into our lives over millennia without our knowing it – the ‘civil commons’ of language, collective water sources and sewage, common safety regimes, shared pathways everywhere, community health rules and healing sites, and everyday life-enabling knowledge institutions at every level – all collective life capital formations that keep advancing beneath notice despite and through diseases and wars. Unseen too is that all are more threatened now by the ruling value mechanism than ever before.   The defining general meaning is all social constructs which enable universal access to life goods. This too is no utopian ideal. It is the measure of true development across all cultures before and after our lives – from environmental economy to universal libraries and education to public water and waste cycles to life-serving laws before which all are equal. These are all forms of collective capital in continuous development without loss and cumulative gain but all are attacked bite by bite by the multiplying money-sequence system now out of control.

The collective life capital developments that are needed now are many, but can be crystallized into three system shifts in general:

(1) public banking for credit and investment in individual and collective life capital growth,

(2) ecological quotas for all consumption of non-renewable energies and materials,

(3) citizen income security guaranteed in return for life-enabling hours of public service.


Movements of masses to demand them completes knowledge in public action.


Under the ruling value mechanism today, in contrast, evolved life on earth is under totalizing attack. 95% of all gains go to 1% with no required life function, while 95% of the world’s life support capacities are pillaged by life-blind money-sequences.. Yet life-value steering is easier than not. Norway for example has led the world in holding onto and advancing its common life capital bases through the system sickness, and emergent Latin America is implicitly building collective life capital deciders from decades of death-squad and foreign money-sequence ruin. Before the Great Reversal, societies everywhere were becoming governed by public policy patterns of similar kinds  – national recovery of control over public owned resources, progressive taxation, public banking and investment, and policy-led elimination of structural depredation of the poor and the environment.  All are methods of collective life capital formation inclusively enabling the lives of individuals across time. “Inclusiveness” is a concept much invoked today, but not with the life capital bases and compass required in the real world.


Let us overview the condition we face. Once upon a time in the distant past, capitalist organization under public control mass-produced healthy food, clothing and utensil commodities despite brutally exploitative methods.  There was a long painful taming of it over 200 years, and then the Great Reversal from 1980 on usurped progressive social development at every level possible. Since then, the private transnational money-sequence system has been increasingly deregulated to competitively multiply and override all life carrying capacities as its supreme goal – propelling endless wars, public and public sector debt slavery, mass disemployment and majority dispossession for obscene riches. This is the global cancer system which occupied states subsidize, enforce and grow as fast as they can – stripping the soils and forests, poisoning the waters, disemploying peoples and producing disease-causing junks in ever greater volumes. Re-grounding in common life capital, however, exposes every disorder and directs solution to it – the long missing base and measure of ‘the moral science’. It re-sets evolutionary theory itself in which only selfish gene multiplication counts – the biological correlative of the self-multiplying money mechanism. Self-maximizing game theory dominates both and military doctrine, justice and moral analysis besides. Yet common life capital bases are excluded from all of them as the lost life-ground and reference body of our capsizing planetary condition.  


New ‘natural’ and ‘social capital’ categories may seem to assist us here. But they now only repeat the vicious circle. ‘Natural capital’ is what can be exploited for more money. ‘Human capital’ is more future private money-demand for its owner. ‘Social capital’ is lower transaction costs for profit. ‘Physical capital’ follows suit. Life capital remains without a name. Collective life capital does not exist. All must be steered back into conserving and producing life goods rather than destroying them, the ultimate policy imperative of the world. The public authority, policies, subsidies and right to issue sovereign money now lavished upon the life-destructive mutations of private money capital thus end without a shot fired. They are now so dependent on counterfeit money-sequences, treaty edicts, public hand-outs and resources that they cannot go a day without them. The public needs only to reclaim them, not to take a thing. .


“Let the Market decide!” all money interests cry. This ruling superstition is more barbaric than any before – essentially, ever more for those with more money to suck the lifeblood of humanity and the earth dry.  Its  ruling delusion is that the best of all possible worlds must follow by the invisible hand. In fact, a deregulated global chaos of private transnational money-sequences exponentially multiply while the world of life capital and goods is cumulatively destroyed. The life capital alternative is self-evident once seen. It grounds in common life capital – life wealth that produces more without loss and new gains for successive generations. Its moral logic is, in fact, the through-line of all human development since language and the cooperative provision of means of life. Unlike the global market of atomically self-maximizing corporations devouring the world for more private profit extraction without end in the delusion that an unseen hand directs all to the best of all possible worlds, collective life capital steers across divisions by an objective and universal life-value base and measure in exact progression which cannot  as life-coherent go wrong. Ecological capital and knowledge capital are its baselines of value compass and coordination across life capital domains, and the unifying principle of all is already implicit in the architecture of modern human thought.


All that is lacking is life value, ground and measure. They connect life, the ultimate onto-ethical concept, to capital, the ultimate concept of political economy: and so by transitivity, to law, human rights, sustainability and intergenerational equity. The meaning is clear. Valid law is a collective life capital formation providing the rules to live by that coherently protect and enable life.  Human rights are instituted claims of all to what enables their life capacities to be realised as human. Sustainability is of collective life capital, or it is a fraud. Intergenerational equity is access to collective life capital across generational time without loss, or it is a lie. Throughout we see a missing life base presupposed but not yet conscious or defined. Throughout we see that the ruling money-sequence value mechanism is incompetent to comprehend it. Building without loss and for better life across generations is what is ultimately worthwhile. No-one might deny it, but ignorant usurpation of its meaning is what rules. All universally life-enabling progressions of human evolution and history to now are the result of its implicit understanding. You cannot take a clean breath, meet a child safely, enjoy a drink of water, without their support from the past. The warped streak of epics and histories of power is opposite, but even state mass murderers and Wall Street bankers think that they are improving the world – the primary delusion which received theory rationalizes so that few understand.  


The lost life-ground is already implicit in healthy lives. Our organic fitness and powers, our depth and breadth of knowledge acquisition, our abilities to perform productive tasks of needed kinds, and most of all our sustained intent to create more life wealth without loss and cumulative gain are the generic parameters of a life code already built into us as human. More than ever we know the plague is ruling, and “the 1% and the 99%” expresses it. But a real economic law holds beneath opinions and times. Public investment in common life capital capacities is the only allocation that works over time.  We know this from America and Canada before their falls, Germany, Japan, Korea after 1950, and the post-1945 age of social life standards across the world. It has been proven again despite sabotages, coups and financial strangulations in Latin America after 1999. The unseen enemy is borderless money sequences with ever more rights. The missing map is diagnosis of the ruling value cancer. The missing link is the life-capital economy all breathe and move by. The war of the world today is won by knowledge action.   


It is the age of forgetting everything,

It is the age of remembering all.

It is the age of competing to death,

It is the age of our coming together.

It is the age of ignorance and falling apart,

It is the age of more knowing more than ever.

It is the age of losing all that lives,

It is the age of finding common life ground.

It is the age of ever more commodity diseases,

It is the age of choosing world life.

It is the age of sleepwalk

to catastrophe,

It is the age of awakening

to shared life meaning.

It is the age when capital destroys the world.

It is the age when life capital wins.




Stjórnmál og vísindi: eða af hverju er stundum bullað svona mikið?

English-language synopsis of the paper

Politics and science: Or why there is sometimes so much bullshit?

Science and politics as fields of human communication have many things in common. The following six statements apply to both:

  1. People present their believes and make statements.
  2. The statements that people make are about the world.
  3. People criticize the statements that are made about the world.
  4. People use various kinds of data and evidence to support what they say.
  5. Very few of the statements that are made are immune to criticism.
  6. People use general principles or rules to understand and explain what the statements are about.

Harry Frankfurt has written an essay called On Bullshit (Frankfurt, 2005) in which he offers an analysis of what bullshit is and also tries to answer the questions why there is so much of it. Frankfurt writes:

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. (Frankfurt, 2005, p. 1)

Frankfurt notes that bullshit is typically unconnected to a concern with the truth. This can take several different forms. Furthermore, although bullshit is generally unconnected to a concern with the truth, it is different from lying.

What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to. (Frankfurt, 2005, p. 54)

Turning to the question why there is so much bullshit in politics, the ideas of Georg Orwell are illuminating. He argues that accepting political responsibility means that one must obey a kind of political authority which makes it impossible to discuss certain things with full sincerity.

But unfortunately, to accept political responsibility now means yielding oneself over to orthodoxies and ‘party lines’, with all the timidity and dishonesty that that implies. As against the Victorian writers, we have the disadvantage of living among clear-cut political ideologies and of usually knowing at a glance what thoughts are heretical. (Orwell, Writers and leviathan)

Both in “Writers and leviathan“ and in “Politics and the English language“ does Orwell discusses why the political culture tends to encourage people to misuse the language.

In a recent talk, Mikael M. Karlsson suggests that the subject matter of ethics could be demarcated as the preconditions of willful human communication. This raises interesting questions about moral status of politics. Should one expect that a field of communication, which is characterized by lack of concern for truth, be willful human communication?




Ég vil byrja á að velta fyrir mér spurningunni: Hvernig hafa málin þróast hjá okkur? Og mig langar að hafa efnistökin hálf leibnizísk, þ.e. einskorða mig ekki við lítinn hóp fólks á afmörkuðum tíma heldur gjörvalt mannkyn frá upphafi vega. Einhvers staðar aftur í fornöld finnum við fyrir mannskepnur sem hafa mjög frumstætt mál og mjög frumstæð tjáskipti. Svo líður tíminn, tungumálin þróast og fólk fer að eiga flókin samskipti. Loks rekumst við á samskipti sem einkennast af eftirfarandi atriðum.

(1) Fólk setur fram skoðanir eða staðhæfingar.

(2) Þær staðhæfingar sem fólk setur fram eru um veruleikann.

(3) Fólk gagnrýnir þær staðhæfingar sem settar eru fram um veruleikann.

(4) Fólk notar margvísleg gögn til að styðja það sem það heldur fram.

(5) Mjög fáar staðhæfingar, sem settar eru fram, eru ónæmar fyrir gagnrýni.

(6) Fólk beitir almennum lögmálum eða reglum til að skilja og rökstyðja það sem staðhæfingarnar eru um.

Samskipti sem einkennast af þessum sex atriðum eru að sönnu mjög háþróuð og komu kannski ekki fram fyrr en fyrir nokkur þúsund árum. En hvaða svið mannlegra samskipta gæti þetta verið? Einhverjum virðist kannski augljóst að hér sé um að ræða vísindin. Einkennast þau ekki af þessum sex þáttum? Í skemmtilegri grein sem Mikael M. Karlsson hefur hvergi birt leggur hann til eftirfarandi skilgreiningu á vísindum:

Vísindi eru kerfisbundin og gagnrýnin leit að viðeigandi skilningi á lögmálsbundnum fyrirbærum sem á sér stað innan ramma viðurkenndra almennra viðmiða um hvað telst sönnunargögn og hvernig skuli fara með slík gögn.[1]

Þessi skilgreining hefur meðal annars þann kost að vera stutt og hnitmiðuð. Auðvitað segir hún samt ekki mjög mikið nema maður útskýri frekar hvað átt sé við með orðum og orðasamböndum eins og „gagnrýnin leit“, „viðeigandi skilningur“, „lögmálsbundin fyrirbæri“, „viðurkennd almenn viðmið“ og „sönnunargögn“. Margt er óljóst og það væri kannski hæfilegt viðfangsefni fyrir meðal námskeið í vísindaheimspeki að útskýra þessi atriði. Ég ætla að láta þau standa óútskýrð þannig að við ættum kannski að líta á þessa skilgreiningu sem einhvers konar skema frekar en efnislega skilgreiningu. Ég mun þó koma að seinasta liðnum síðar í þessari grein.

Nú vil ég benda á að þessi sex atriði sem einkenna vísindin sem vettvang samskipta eiga líka við um stjórnmálin. Stjórnmálaumræða einkennist af því að menn setja fram skoðanir, þessar skoðanir eru gagnrýndar og fátt er ónæmt fyrir gagnrýni á þeim vettvangi. Stjórnmálaumræða er líka um veruleikann og er stútfull af allskyns vísunum í gögn; tölfræði, reynslusögur og rannsóknir eru meðal þess sem fólk dregur fram máli sínu til stuðnings. Fólk styðst líka við margvísleg almenn lögmál, bæði í hagfræði og félagsvísindum, til að skilja og rökstyðja mál sitt. Samt eru stjórnmál og vísindi mjög ólík svið og eitt af því sem gerir þau svo ólík er allt bullið sem einkennir stjórnmálin en ekki vísindin. Hvernig skyldi standa á þessu?

Hvað er bull?

Það er ekki ný tesa að stjórnmálaumræða sé full af bulli. Heimspekingar hafa samt ekki skrifað mikið um hvað bull sé þótt þeir hafi annars skrifað ókjörin öll um stjórnmál og tungumál. Á þessu eru reyndar undantekningar. Fyrir nokkrum árum gaf heimspekingurinn Harry Frankfurt út lítið kver sem heitir einfaldlega On Bullshit (Frankfurt, 2005) og myndi vísast heita á íslensku Um bull. Í þessari bók leitast Frankfurt við að skilgreina hugtakið „bullshit“ og jafnframt leita skýringa á því hvers vegna samtíminn einkennist jafn mikið af bulli og raunin er. Annar höfundur sem skiptir máli í þessu sambandi er George Orwell, en í greinunum „Stjórnmál og ensk tunga“ og „Rithöfundar og levíatan“ fjallar hann um tungumálið, hvernig því er misbeitt og hvernig þeir sem leggja sig fram um að nota það með trúverðugum hætti, t.d. rithöfundar, verða að forðast vettvanga þar sem beinlínis er gert ráð fyrir að fólk noti málið með vafasömum hætti.[2] En víkjum fyrst að Frankfurt. Hann byrjar bókina On Bullshit á eftirfarandi orðum:

Eitt af því sem einkennir menningu okkar er hversu mikið er af bulli. Allir vita þetta. Hvert og eitt okkar leggur til sinn skerf. En við virðumst taka ástandinu sem gefnu. (Frankfurt, 2005, bls. 1)

Eftir að hafa skoðað skilgreiningu Max Black á orðinu „humbug“ sem Ensk-íslensk orðabók þýðir m.a. sem þvætting, vitleysu, uppgerðarlæti og sýndarmennsku, snýr Frankfurt sér að eiginlegri greiningu á hugtakinu „bull“.

Bull og vanvirðing við þekkingarfræðilegar forsendur

Í þessu litla kveri um bull segir Frankfurt m.a. sögu sem hann hefur eftir Faniu Pascal, sem var vinkona Wittgensteins á fjórða áratuginum í Cambridge. Pascal hefur orðið:

Ég fór í hálskirtlatöku og var á Evelyn hjúkrunarheimilnu að vorkenna sjálfri mér. Wittgenstein hringdi. Ég umlaði full sjálfsvorkunnar: „Mér líður eins og hundi sem ekið hefur verið yfir.“ Hann sagði með þjósti: „Þú veist ekkert um það hvernig hundi sem ekið hefur verið yfir líður.“ (Frankfurt, 2005, bls. 24)

Frankfurt getur sér þess til að það sem hafi farið fyrir brjóstið á Wittgenstein, og einmitt það sem skiptir máli fyrir skilning okkar á bulli, er að það sem Pascal hafði sagt var „ótengt umhyggju fyrir sannleikanum“ („unconnected to a concern with the truth“). Það má vel segja að viðbragð Wittgensteins hafi verið næsta fráleitt og einkum til merkis um að hann hafi ekki skilið að Pascal hafi bara verið að nota litríkt mál til að lýsa líðan sinni. Það skiptir ekki máli hér því okkur varðar ekki um samskiptahæfileika Wittgensteins heldur skilning á bulli. Og það sem skiptir máli í því sambandi er að Wittgenstein virðist líta svo á að Pascal hafi verið að taka þátt í málleik þar sem greinarmunurinn á því sem er satt og hinu sem er ósatt skiptir máli en án þess að taka alvarlega hvort það sem hún sagði hafi heldur verið satt eða ósatt.

Hér birtist skortur á umhyggju fyrir sannleikanum í því að eitthvað er sagt, sem lítur út eins og lýsing á staðreynd en er í raun alltof ítarlegt til að geta verið slík lýsing. Þar fyrir utan gerir lýsing eins sú sem Pascal notaði ráð fyrir að hún hafi haft upplýsingar sem hún sannarlega hafði ekki og gat raunar alls ekki haft. Pascal gat vissulega getið sér til um að hundi, sem ekið hefur verið yfir, liði ekki vel, en það er örugglega svo miklu meira um líðan slíkst hunds að segja en einfaldlega það að honum líði ekki vel, og hún hafði engar forsendur til að ætla að hennar eigin líðan væri einhvern veginn eins og líðan slíkst hunds. Hér birtist skortur á umhyggju fyrir sannleika í skorti á því að málnotandinn taki alvarlega þekkingarfræðilegar forsendur þess sem hann segir.

Bull og óljós orð

Aðra birtingarmynd á skorti á umhyggju fyrir sannleika má lesa í grein Orwells, „Stjórnmál og ensk tunga“. Í þessari grein beinir Orwell athygli sinni að tilteknum orðum þar sem einhvers konar tilfinningarlegt yfirbragð þeirra hefur rutt í burtu eiginlegri merkinu.

Þar sem um er að tefla orð einsog lýðræði, þá er ekki nóg með að ekki sé til nein viður­kennd skilgreining, heldur hefur sú tilraun að búa hana til mætt mótstöðu úr öllum áttum. Það er nánast undantekningarlaust litið svo á að þegar við segjum að ríki sé lýðræðislegt, þá séum við að lofa það; þar af leiðir að málsvarar hvaða stjórnarfyrirkomulags sem er halda því fram að það sé lýðræði … (Orwell, 2009, bls. 220-221)

Þau dæmi sem Orwell tekur eru gjörólík dæminu af Pascal, en áhrifin eru á vissan hátt þau sömu. Sannleikurinn víkur, en hann víkur ekki fyrir alltof ítarlegum lýsingum sem sniðganga þekkingarfræðilegar forsendur tungumálsins, og heldur ekki fyrir lygi eða hreinum ósannindum, heldur fyrir einhverju sem er hvorki satt né ósatt. Calep Thompson lýsir þessu á eftirfarandi hátt í greininni „Philosophy and the corruption of language“.

Að nota orðið „hetja“ í tilviki þar sem maður vill að einhver birtist í jákvæðu ljósi, algjörlega óháð því hvað viðkomandi hefur gert, er að afmá allt nema tilfinningalegt inntak þess. Orðið fer þá að merkja í senn ekkert og hvað sem er. (Thompson, 1992, bls. 20)

Áður en lengra er haldið með greiningu á bulli, er rétt að skoða nokkur raunveruleg dæmi. Lítum fyrst á nokkur tilvik úr dæmigerðri pólitískri orðræðu. Hér talar formaður stjórnmálaflokks í setningarræðu á landsfundi flokksins í upphafi árs 2013:

Ef við ímyndum okkur að framfarir komi af sjálfum sér munum við ekki aðeins standa í stað heldur færast aftur á bak. Staða okkar nú er lík þeirri sem Roosevelt Bandaríkjaforseti lýsti þegar hann tók við embætti í heimskreppunni miklu, að því leyti að við höfum ekkert að óttast nema óttann sjálfan. Tækifæri Íslendinga hafa aldrei verið jafnmikil og nú, en við nýtum þau ekki, nema við trúum á okkur sjálf, trúum á landið og þjóðina og framtíð hennar. Það er ekki langt síðan Íslendingar voru bláfátæk þjóð. En eftir áratuga baráttu hefur Ísland skipað sér á bekk meðal farsælustu þjóða heims. (Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, 2013)

Í þessum texta eru nokkur orð eða orðasambönd sem eiga að bera hitann og þungann af því sem sagt er, t.d. „framfarir“, „tækifæri“, „trú á landið og þjóðina“ og „farsæld“. Þessi ræða er ekki ólík mörgum öðrum ræðum og raunar er vart hægt að ráða af þessum orðum hver talar eða í hvaða flokki hann er. En er það sem sagt er satt eða ósatt, trúlegt eða ótrúlegt, raunhæft eða óraunhæft? Um þetta verður ekkert sagt vegna þess að þó svo að ræðan hafi yfirbragð staðreyndabundinnar orðræðu, þá skortir hana alla umhyggju fyrir sannleika. Pósitífistarnir á fyrri hluta 20. aldar, með mælikvarðann um sannreynslu að vopni, myndu eflaust dæma þessi orð merkingarlaus rétt eins og hverja aðra skólafrumspeki (Ayer, 1946, Ólafur Páll Jónsson, 2012). Með því að dæma ræðu stjórnmálamannsins merkingarlausa hefðu pósitífistarnir þó gengið of langt, orðin eru ekki merkingarlaus. Það sem er sagt er einhverskonar bull, en vissulega merkingarbært bull, því það er bull jafnan.

Hér er svo önnur tilvitnun sem gengur jafn vel enn lengra í bullinu en sú fyrri:

Framsóknarflokkurinn er flokkur róttækrar rökhyggju. Þegar okkur þykir blasa við að eitthvað sé óréttlátt eða skaðlegt berjumst við gegn því af öllu afli og þegar við höfum komið auga á tækifæri til að láta gott af okkur leiða beitum við okkur af einurð fyrir því að þau tækifæri verði nýtt. (Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, 2012)

Orðasambandið sem höfundurinn beitir sérstaklega fyrir sig og ber uppi bulleinkenni efnisgreinarinnar er orðasambandið „róttæk rökhyggja“. Þessu orðasambandi er ætlað að senda þau skilaboð að sá sem talar sé einmitt maður sem talar merkingarþrungið mál en það er samt mjög erfitt að festa hendur á hvað átt er við.

Frankfurt veltir talsvert fyrir sér muninum á bulli og lygum. Í fyrri tilvitnunni í stjórnmálaorðræðuna, þar sem ræðumaðurinn segir „við höfum ekkert að óttast nema óttann sjálfan“, þá er það að vissu leyti augljóslega ósatt. Auðvitað er margt sem við ættum að óttast, sjálft hrunið sýndi okkur það. Við ættum til dæmis að óttast að gráðugir og almennt siðlausir menn taki fjármál þjóðarinnar í sínar hendur. Við ættum líka að óttast að óábyrgir og skammsýnir stjórnmálamenn vaði um náttúruna eins og naut í flagi og virkji og spilli, eins og ýmsir þeirra hafa reyndar lagt til að verði gert. En það er ekki þannig sem orðunum er tekið. Svipað má segja um setninguna „Framsóknar­flokkurinn er flokkur rótttækrar rökhyggju“ í seinni tilvitnunni. Hún er beinlínis ósönn, a.m.k. ef við skiljum orðið „rökhyggja“ viðteknum skilningi heimspekinnar. Og ég veit ekki til þess að það sé til nein önnur viðtekin merking þess orðs. Alltjent reynir mælandinn ekki að útskýra það nánar. Þannig virðist bullið oft vera lyginni líkt, en samt án þess að vera beinlínis lygi. Frankfurt lýsir muninum svona:

Það sem bull lýsir ranglega er í rauninni hvorki kringumstæðurnar sem það vísar til né skoðanir mælandans á þessum kringumstæðum. Þetta er það sem lygi lýsir ranglega í krafti þess að vera ósönn. Þar sem bull þarf ekki að vera ósatt þá er það ólíkt lyginni hvað varðar þá ætlun að lýsa ranglega. Bullarinn þarf ekki endilega að blekkja okkur, og það þarf ekki að hafa verið ætlun hans, hvorki um staðreyndirnar sjálfar eða um það hverjar hann telur staðreyndirnar vera. Það sem hann ætlar sér nauðsynlega að blekkja okkur um er fyrirætlun hans. Það eina sem ófrávíkjanlega einkennir hann er að hann lýsir ranglega hvað hann hyggst fyrir. (Frankfurt, 2005, bls. 54)

Frankfurt bendir á að í venjulegri lygi er villt til um tvennt. Sá sem lýgur því á þriðjudegi að það sé miðvikudagur, hann lýsir ranglega því hvaða dagur er og villir einnig um fyrir áheyrendum sínum um hvaða dagur hann heldur að sé. Frankfurt bendir síðan á að bullarinn geri þetta ekki og því sé hans fyrirætlun önnur en lygarans. Við sjáum þetta vel ef við skoðum dæmin að ofan, hvort heldur dæmið frá Pascal eða ræður stjórnmálamannsins. Pascal var augljóslega ekki að reyna að telja Wittgenstein trú um að henni liði eins og hundi sem ekið hefði verið yfir, og stjórnmála­maðurinn er heldur ekki að reyna að telja fólki trú um að ekkert sé að óttast eða að flokkurinn aðhyllist sérstaka tegund af rökhyggju.

Bull og skeytingarleysi um gögn

Stjórnmálaumræða er einnig morandi af bulli sem er til komið af enn öðrum ástæðum. Eftirfarandi dæmi um þetta er úr kosningaumræðu fyrir Alþingiskosningarnar 2013. Hér er frétt af vef Ríkisútvarpsins:

Bjarni Benediktsson formaður Sjálfstæðisflokksins segir að þriggja þrepa skattkerfið ekki ganga upp. Lækka þurfi tekjuskattinn og einfalda skattþrepin. Lyfta þurfi launamarkaðinum upp frá botninum og hafa hvetjandi skattkerfi en ekki letjandi eins og nú er. (RUV, 2013)

Fjölþrepa skattkerfi var tekið upp á Íslandi árið 2009 og í umræðunni þá skrifaði Jón Steinsson hagfræðingur við Columbia háskólann í New York grein í Fréttablaðið undir yfirskriftinni „Er fjölþrepaskattkerfi okkur ofviða?“. Í greininni segir hann m.a.:

Að þessu leyti er umræða um skattamál á Íslandi afskaplega frábrugðin umræðu um skattamál í öðrum efnuðum ríkjum. Það vill nefnilega svo til að öll önnur efnuð OECD-ríki búa við fjölþrepaskattkerfi. Ísland er bókstaflega eina ríkið í Vestur-Evrópu sem ekki starfrækir slíkt skattkerfi. Í flestum OECD-ríkjum eru fleiri en þrjú skattþrep. Í Bandaríkjunum eru til dæmis sex skattþrep. Og pólitísk umræða þar í landi er þannig að meira að segja George W. Bush vogaði sér aldrei að leggja til veigamiklar breytingar á fjölda þrepa. Þar í landi teljast rökin um aukið flækjustig fjölþrepaskattkerfis léttvæg í samanburði við önnur rök (bæði með og á móti). (Jón Steinsson, 2009)

Hvað sem um fjölþrepa skattkerfi má segja þá er alveg ljóst að slík kerfi ganga vel upp. Það er meira að segja svo augljóst að Bjarni Benediktsson gat alls ekki búist við því að nokkur tæki orð hans bókstaflega, þ.e. sem staðhæfingu um mögulegar útfærslur á skattkerfi. Það er því hvorki hægt að líta svo á að Bjarni hafi lýst eigin sannfæringu né að hann farið með hefðbundnar lygar, því lygar gera ráð fyrir því að það sem sagt er sé trúanlegt.

Í orðum Bjarna Benediktssonar um að þriggja þrepa skattkerfi gangi ekki upp höfum því dæmi um staðhæfingu sem er skýr og gerir ráð fyrir þekkingarfræðilegum forsendum sem eru alls ekki óhóflegar en samt er það sem sagt er ónæmt fyrir þeim gögnum sem til staðar eru. Taki einhver orðin bókstaflega og bendi á að um augljós ósannindi sé að ræða, eins og t.d. Jóns Steinsson hafði gert þegar samskonar staðhæfingar voru settar fram nokkrum árum fyrr, þá er staðhæfingin ekki dregin til baka heldur látið sem ekkert sé og staðhæfingin jafnvel endurtekin við næsta tækifæri.

Bullið í stjórnmálunum

Greining Frankfurts á bulli er bæði vönduð og skemmtileg – og gagnleg að auki. En af hverju skyldi samt vera svona mikið bull í stjórnmálum? Undir lok bókarinnar tilgreinir Frankfurt þrennskonar ástæður fyrir því að það skuli vera jafn mikið af bulli í samtím­anum og raun ber vitni. (1) Fyrsta ástæðan er sú, að mjög oft koma upp kringumstæður þar sem einhver neyðist til að tala um hluti sem hann hefur ekki vit á hvetji til bulls. (2) Önnur ástæðan, sem er reyndar skyld þeirri fyrri, er sú að það er viðtekin skoðun að á borgurunum hvíli sú lýðræðislega ábyrgð að tjá sig um málefni þjóðarinnar. (3) Þriðja ástæðan liggur í efahyggju sem neitar því að við höfum aðgang að hlutlægum veruleika og hafna þar af leiðandi þeirri hugmynd að við getum vitað hvernig hlutirnir eru í raun og veru.

Önnur ástæðan sem Frankfurt nefnir, sú að fólki finnist það nánst knúið til að tjá sig um pólitísk málefni án þess þó að hafa vit á þeim, skýrir auðvitað hluta af bullinu. En þessi ástæða skýrir ekki hvers vegna atvinnustjórnmálamenn ganga jafnvel lengst í bullinu, þrátt fyrir að hafa helgað sig stjórnmálunum, hafa jafnvel unnið á þeim vettvangi í fjölda ára, og hafa aðgang að margvíslegum sérfræðingum og upplýsingaveitum. Hvers vegna er bullið ekki bara leikmannsgaman, heldur alvara atvinnumannanna? Hér sleppir greiningu Frankfurts, en innsæi Orwells tekur við.

Í greininni „Rithöfundar og levíatan“ veltir Orwell fyrir sér ritskoðun og því hvort og hvernig rithöfundar geta tekið pólitíska ábyrgð. Framarlega í greininni segir hann m.a.:

En að gangast við pólitískri ábyrgð nú á dögum þýðir því miður að maður beygir sig undir bókstafskreddur og „flokkslínur“, með öllu því hugleysi og þeirri óráðvendni sem það felur í sér. Andstætt rithöfundum Viktoríutímans er okkur það til óhagræðis að búa við klippta og skorna pólitíska hugmyndafræði af ýmsu tagi og að vita yfirleitt undireins hvaða hugsanir eru villutrúarhugsanir. (Orwell, 2009, bls. 288)

Þessi hugmyndafræði sem er svo klippt og skorin afmarkar í raun hvað hægt er að ræða um. Þessi afmörkun byggist ekki á því að þeir sem aðhyllast annarskonar hugmyndafræði vaði fram með gagnrýni og geri manni lífið óbærilegt, heldur að einmitt þeir sem henni tilheyra afmarka hvað er tækt til umræðu og hvaða skoðanir er leyfilegt að setja fram. Um þetta tekur hann m.a. dæmi af bresku heimsvaldastefnunni, dæmi sem má heimfæra uppá samtímann með því að skipta breska heimsveldinu út fyrir Vesturlönd og nýlendu­kúguninni út fyrir arðrán á náttúrunni. Gefum Orwell aftur orðið:

Allar götur frá því á nítjándu öld höfðu þjóðartekjur okkar, sem að hluta ultu á ávöxtun af erlendum fjárfestingum, og á öruggum mörkuðum og ódýrum hráefnum í nýlendum, verið gífurlega ótryggar. Það var áreiðanlegt að fyrr eða síðar færi eitthvað úrskeiðis og við yrðum knúin til að koma á jafnvægi í útflutningi okkar og innflutningi: og þegar af því yrði hlytu lífskjör Breta, þar á meðal lífskjör verkalýðsins, að verða lakari, að minnsta kosti um tíma. Samt lögðu vinstrisinnuðu stjórnmálaflokkarnir þessar staðreyndir aldrei á borðið, jafnvel ekki meðan þeir gengu hvað háværast fram gegn heimsvaldastefnunni. (Orwell, 2009, bls. 292)

Orwell heldur svo áfram:

Nú virðist það nokkuð ljóst að svo er komið að ekki er hægt að viðhalda lífskjörum verkalýðsins, hvað þá bæta þau. Jafnvel þótt við kreistum hina ríku til ólífis, verður allur fjöldinn annaðhvort að draga úr neyslunni eða framleiða meira. Eða er ég að ýkja klandrið sem við erum í? Það kann að vera, og hafi ég á röngu að standa, mun ég taka því fagnandi. En það sem ég vil leggja áherslu á er að meðal þess fólks sem sýnir vinstrihreyfingunni hollustu er ekki hægt að ræða þetta mál af hreinskilni. (Orwell, 2009, bls. 293)

Hér er komið að kjarnanum í því sem mig langar að ræða: Í stjórnmálum er ekki hægt að ræða um sum mál af hreinskilni. Þeir sem taka þátt í stjórnmálum gangast við þessu, ekki bara vinstrimenn heldur allir. Calep Thomspon segir að í stjórnmálum víki sannleikurinn fyrir metorðum.

Almennt talað þá er orðræðu stjórnmálanna ætlað að stýra skynjun fólks á aðstæðum á þann hátt sem samrýmist hagsmunum stjórnmálamannsins og flokki hans, hagsmunum sem þurfa ekki að vera samrýmanlegir hagsmunum áheyrenda. Slíkri orðræðu er ekki ætlað að kveikja hugleiðingar um mál, heldur frekar að losa þau undan þeirri kvöð að vera tekin til athugunar. Þegar verst gegnir er lítil eða engin áhugi á tengslum á milli þess sem talar og hvað hann segir, eða þess sem sagt er og þess hvernig hlutirnir eru. Nákvæmni tungumálsins er kastað fyrir áhrifamátt þess; sannleikurinn víkur fyrir metorðagirnd. (Thompson, 1992, bls. 19)

Lýsing Thomspons á orðræðu stjórnmálanna, sem hann rökstyður að verulegu leyti með vísun til hugmynda Orwells, er síður en svo jákvæð þótt hún sé kannski ofur hversdags­leg. Rifjum nú sem snöggvast upp skilgreininguna á vísindum sem ég hafði eftir Mikael M. Karlssyni í upphafi greinarinnar:

Vísindi eru kerfisbundin og gagnrýnin leit að viðeigandi skilningi á lögmálsbundnum fyrirbærum sem á sér stað innan ramma viðurkenndra almennra viðmiða um hvað telst sönnunargögn og hvernig skuli fara með slík gögn.

Hvernig gæti viðlíka skilgreining á stjórnmálum verið? Ég veit það ekki, en þó virðist mér að þar sem vísindin tala um „ramma viðurkenndra almennra viðmiða um hvað telst sönnungargögn og hvernig skuli fara með slík gögn“ þá einkannast stjórnmálin af annarskonar ramma um hvernig skuli fara með gögn og staðreyndir. Í stjórnmálaumræðu er til staðar einhverskonar rammi viðurkenndra almennra viðmiða um hvernig megi tala, hvað megi nefna og hvernig sé viðeigandi að bregðast við. Lykilatriði er að meðal þeirra sem aðhyllast eina eða aðra hugmyndafræði, styðja einn eða annan flokk eða fylkingu, þá eru alltaf einhver mál sem ekki er hægt að ræða um af hreinskilni. Orwell lýsir þessu vel þegar hann veltir því fyrir sér hvað sé bókmenntalegt viðbragð við bók. Hann segir:

Raunveruleg viðbrögð manns við bók, ef hún yfirleitt vekur einhver viðbrögð hjá manni, eru alla jafna á þessa leið: „Mér líkar þessi bók“ eða „Mér líkar hún ekki“, og það sem á eftir kemur er réttlæting. En að segja „Mér líkar þessi bók“ er ekki, að ég held, óbókmenntalegt viðbragð; hið óbókmenntalega viðbragð er: „Þessi bók er mér hliðholl, og þess vegna verð ég að sjá kosti á henni.“ (Orwell, 2009, bls. 286–287)

Þótt vísindi og stjórnmál séu að mörgu leyti sambærleg svið mannlegra samskipta, eins og staðhæfingarnar sex sem ég setti fram í upphafi greinarinnar bera með sér, þá er samt sá munur á þessum tveimur sviðum sem Orwell dregur fram. Í vísindum er hægt að ræða af hreinskilni og spurningin um hvort eitthvað sé manni hliðhollt er ekki ríkjandi (þótt hún sé vissulega til staðar). Í stjórnmálum verður aðalatriðið hins vegar hvað sé manni hliðhollt og fyrir því verður hreinskilnin að víkja. Það má því kannski segja sem svo, að á meðan hið almenna samkomulag sem vísindin byggjast á feli í sér viðurkenningu á aðferðafræðilegum viðmiðum og reglum sem eiga að stuðla að hlutlægni, þá einkennist stjórnmálin af almennu samkomulagi um að gera sannleikann bitlausan.

Stjórnmál og siðleysi

Í fyrirlestri Mikaels M. Karlssonar, „Siðasúpan: Skilaboð til þeirra sem sitja í súpunni“, setti hann fram hugmynd um það hvernig mætti afmarka svið siðferðisins, eða m.ö.o. hvernig mætti afmarka viðfangsefni siðfræðinnar. Í fyrirlestrinum sagði Mikael m.a.:

Ég legg til að siðferði í þeim skilningi sem leitað er að hér lúti að grundvallar­skilyrðum viljugra mannlegra samskipta eins og ég kýs að kalla þau. (Mikael M. Karlsson, 2013)

Nú langar mig að nota þetta viðmið Mikaels til að greina það svið mannlegra samskipta sem við köllum stjórnmál. Spurningin sem hann leggur til að við spyrjum er þessi: Hver eru grundvallar­skilyrði viljugra mannlegra samskipta? Hér er raunar tvennt til skoðunar. Annars vegar hvað viljug samskipti séu og hins vegar hvað séu grundvallarskilyrði slíkra samskipta. Um hið fyrra sagði hann m.a.:

Viljug samskipti eru samskipti sem hver og einn mögulegur þátttakandi myndi fallast á að vera aðili að, af frjálsum og fúsum vilja, þrátt fyrir fyrirsjánlega ókosti, óþægindi, eða ójöfnuð, þótt hann vissi ekki hvaða þátt hann myndi taka í þeim. Hann er sumsé að fallast á það að hvar sem hann lenti í þessum samskiptum myndi hann fara með aðra eins og hann væri sáttur við að aðrir fari með hann. (Mikael M. Karlsson, 2013)

Spurningin sem mig langar að spyrja er þessi: Getur verið að samskipti, þar sem sannleikur­inn er bitlaust og hreinskilni er vikið til hliðar, séu viljug mannleg samskipti í þessum skilningi? Ef við svörum þessari spurningu neitandi en föllumst jafnframt á afmörkun Mikaels á siðferðinu, þá höfum við komist að þeirri niðurstöðu að stjórnmálin séu siðlaus. Og þau eru þá siðlaus ekki bara vegna þess að tilteknir stjórnmálamenn séu siðlausir heldur vegna þess það er byggt inn í hvaða stjórnmálamenningu sem er, sem lýtur þeim samskipta­hefðum sem Orwell lýsir, að stjórnmálin hljóti að vera siðlaus. Og stjórnmálin eru ekki bara siðlaus, þau eru líka vitlaus og byggða á bulli.

En kannski ættum við að svara spurningunni játandi, þ.e. játa því að samskipti þar sem sannleikurinn er bitlaus og hreinskilni hefur verið vikið til hliðar, geti verið viljug mannleg samskipti. Við vitum jú vel að margvísleg bullsamskipti eru dæmi um samskipti sem fólk fellst á að vera aðili að af frjálsum og fúsum vilja, þrátt fyrir fyrirsjánlega ókosti. Stjórnmálin eru þá kannski ekki utan við siðferðið heldur hluti af því, en kannski ekki hluti af þesskonar siðferði sem við hefðum kosið.


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Frankfurt, Harry G. (2005). On Bullshit. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Jón Steinsson. (2009). Er fjölþrepaskattkerfi okkur ofviða? Fréttablaðið, 03.12.2013. http://www.visir.is/er-fjolthrepaskattkerfi-okkur-ofvida-/article/2009571345613 (Sótt 25.04.2013).

Mikael M. Karlsson. (án dagsetningar). Siðasúpan: Skilaboða til þeirra sem sitja í súpunni. Fyrirlestur á vegum Siðfræðistofnunar og Heimspekistofnunar, 1. mars 2013.

Mikael M. Karlsson. (án dagsetningar). Science and social science. Óprentað handrit.

Orwell, George. (2009). Stjórnmál og bókmenntir, Uggi Jónsson þýddi. Reykjavík: Hið íslenzka bókmenntafélag.

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Róbert H. Haraldsson. (2004). Frjálsir andar: Ótímabærar hugleiðingar um sannleika, siðferði og trú. Reykjavík: Háskólaútgáfan.

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Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. (2013). Horfum til framtíðar, horfum til framfara! Ræða við setningu 32. flokksþings framsóknarmanna. sigmundurdavid.is/horfum-til-framtidar-horfum-til-framfara-raeda-vid-setningu-32-flokksthings-framsoknarmanna/ (Sótt. 29. apríl 2013).

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Thompson, Calep. (1992). Philosophy and the corruption of language. Philosophy, 67, (259), bls. 19-31.

[1]           Mikaels M. Karlssonar, „Science and social science“, óprentað handrit.

[2]           Aðrir höfundar hafa vitaskuld fjallað um það sem kallað hefur verið spilling tungumálsins (e. corruption of language) og má þar nefna Simone Weil, Calep Thompson (Thompson, 1992) og svo auðvitað ýmsa heimspekinga sem kalla má sporgöngumenn Wittgensteins með einum eða öðrum hætti. Af íslenskum heimspekingum hefur Róbert H. Haraldsson einkum gert þetta að sérstöku viðfangsefni (Róbert H. Haraldsson, 2004).