Mormons In Space George Caffentzis & Silvia Federici

     

Space is but Time congealed. An arrangement of Work/Life in integrated sequences. The Earth is another Matter however. So why this urge to get out of Earth? To simultaneously destroy it and transcend it?

Is this capital’s nasty little secret: the destruction of the final recalcitrant Body? The in-itself of capitalist functionality, the residue of a billion years of noncapitalist formation . . . why should there be Mountains here, Rivers there and an Ocean exactly here after all?

Why indeed space shuttles, space colonies mixed with such a density of bombs, bombs and still more bombs . . . to destroy the Earth n-times over as if to assure not the least roach existence. Why the simultaneous attempt to re-code the chromosomes and the neural system?

Why if not to define a truly capitalist BEING, in a purely capitalist plasm and a final purely capitalist sequence of work events. Weightless, formless neuro systems unwebbed and ready for infinite rewebbing.

Why if not a search for a being unprogrammed by millenia shifting at the bottom of a ton of oxygen luging all this weight around, this gravity against work.

Space is ultimately the obstacle of Time . . . Bergson got it wrong . . . Luckacs too . . . capitalism is not the spatialization of Time but rather the temporalization of Space, the dissolving of distance, of the Just-Thereness of where we come from.

«Outer space» is not Space as we know it, but a final merging with the relations of time. It is lusted for not because of the minerals on Mars – no more than the gold and silver in the rivers of the Caribbean isles was – but what they can do to you on Mars when they get you there.

This is why the working class is so archaic, such a malfunctioning machine. The early Hobbesians were only partly right: Humans are not Machines but only poor copies of them. Their desires are too limited and then again too wide. They have a desperation for a housework built on a million years of non-capitalist pleasures and pains and a revulsion of their own archaicness that is too arbitrary.

The Lebensraum of Hitler was really an Arbeitsraum that required an immense destruction of «leben» to achieve and then finally failed. So too with porcelain tiles glued on, computers in a soap opera of «You don’t understand me»: the return of the space shuttle is heralded with a desperation that you wonder at this desire for a biologically pure realm, freed from the seasonal, diurnal and lunar cycles, airless, weightless and open to infinite reductions.

This has always been capital’s fatal attraction: its indifference to Space. For the Here-Now disappears when your essential problem is not what I need, desire and want now but what another needs, desires or wants of what I need, desire or want. The Here vanishes in an abstracted There-Here-There.

You can see capital from its space stations looking down . . . «Those poor, slightly crazed machines! Their needs have been so thoughtlessly defined, their sexuality is inconsiderate, and their desires are fixed by biochemical cycles so local that they make you want to cry! When will we finally be able to rid ourselves of these Bodies?»

If one tried to define the Zeitgeist breathing through the New Right today one would be confronted with a seemingly undecipherable puzzle. On the one side these are the spokesmen for a scientific and technological revolution that a few years ago would have smacked of science fiction: gene-splicing, DNA computers, time-compression techniques, space colonies. At the same time the circles of the New Right have witnessed a revival of religious tendencies and moral conservatism that one would have thought was buried once and for all with «our» Puritan Founding Fathers. Falwell’s Moral Majority is the most vocal of this return to the values of Calvin and Cotton Mather, but by far not the only one. Wherever you turn, Godfearing, Satan-minded groups, detemmined to reshape the country on the model of the Puritan colonies, are sprawling like mushrooms: Christian Voice, Pro-Family Forum, National Prayer Campaign, Eagle Forum, Right to Life Commission, Fund to Restore an Educated Electorate, Institute for Christian Economics. Seen in its general contours, then, the body of the New Right seems stretching in two opposite directions, attempting at once a bold leap into the past and an equally bold leap into the future.

The puzzle increases when we realize that these are not separate sects, but in more than one way they involve the same people and the same money. Despite a few petty squabbles and a few pathetic contortions to keep up the «pluralism» facade, the hand that sends the shuttle into orbit or recombines mice and rabbits is the same that is fretfully pushing for gays to be sent to the stake and is drawing a big cross not just through the 20th, but the l9th and 18th centuries, too.

To what extent the Moral Majority and Co. and the science futurologists are one soul, one mission, is best seen, if not in the lives of their individual spokesmen (though the image of the «electronic minister» and of a President who in the same breath blesses God and calls for stepped up nerve-gas production and the neutron bomb are good evidence of this marriage}, then in the harmony of intent they display when confronted with the «key issues» of the time. When it comes to economic and political matters, all shreds of difference drop off and both souls of the New Right pull money and resources towards their common goals. Free-Market, laissez-faire economics (for business, of course), the militarization of the country (what is called «building a strong military defense»), bolstering «intemal security,» i.e., giving the FBI and CIA free rein to police our daily life, cutting all social spending except that devoted to building prisons and ensuring that thousands will fill them; in a word, asserting U.S. capital’s ownership of the world and setting «America» to work at the minimum wage (or below) are goals for which all the New Right would swear on the Bible.

A clue to understanding the double soul of the New Right is to realise that its mixture of reactionary social policies and scientific boldness is not a novelty in the history of capitalism. If we look at the beginning of capital – the 16th and 17th century to which the Moral Majority would so happily return – we see a similar situation in the countries of the «take off.» At the very time when Galileo was pointing his telescope to the moon, and Francis Bacon was laying the foundations of scientific rationality, women and gays by the thousands were burnt on the stake throughout Europe, with the universal blessing of the modernizing (sic) European intelligentsia.

A sudden craze? An inexplicable fall into barbarism? In reality, the witch hunt was part and parcel of that attempt at «human perfectibility» that is commonly acknowledged as the dream of the fathers of modem rationalism. For the thrust of the emerging capitalist class towards the domination and exploitation of nature would have remained a dead letter without the concomitant creation of a new type of individual whose behavior would be as regular, predictable and controllable as that of the newly discovered natural laws. To achieve this purpose one had to destroy that magical conception of the world that, e.g., make the Indians in the overseas colonies believe that it was a sacrilege to mine the earth, or in the heart of Europe assured the proletariat that people could fly, be in two places at the same time, divine the future and (most important) that on some «unlucky days» all enterprise had to be carefully avoided. The witch hunt, moreover, ensured the control over the main source of labor, the woman’s body, by criminalizing abortion and all forms of contraception as a crime against the state. Finally, the witch hunt was functional to the reorganization of family life, i.e., the restructuring of reproduction that accompanied the reorganization of work on a capitalistic basis. On the stake died the adulteress, the woman of «ill repute,» the lesbian, the woman who lived alone, or lacked «maternal spirit» or had illegitimate children. On the stake ended many beggars, who had impudently launched their curses against the refusal of some «ale and bread.» For in the «transition» to capitalism it was primarily the woman, especially the woman in rebellion, (destined to depend on a man for her survival) who became pauperised. The fathers of modem rationalism approved; some even complained that the state did not go far enough. Notoriously, Bodin insisted that the witches should not be «mercifully» strangled before being given to the flames.

That today we find a similar situation prevailing in the USA is an indication of the depth of capital’s crisis. Always – in its beginning as, we would hope, in its end – when uncertain of its foundations, capital goes down to basics. At present this means attempting a bold technological leap which on one side (at the developing pole of production) concentrates capital and automates work to an unprecedented degree and, on the other, consigns millions of workers to either wagelessness (unemployment) or to employment in intensive-labor types of jobs, paid at minimum rates, on the model of the much acclaimed «workforce.» This involves, however, a reorganization of the process whereby labor is reproduced – a project in which women are expected to play a most crucial role.

The institutionalization of repression and self-discipline along the line of the Moral Majority and the New Christian right is today required for both ends of the working class spectrum: For those who are destined to temporary, part-time subsistence level of wages (accompanied by long hours of work or a perennial quest for jobs) as well as for those who are elected to a «meaningful wage» working with the most sophisticated equipment capital’s technologists are now able to produce. That the holy trinity of God/Work/ Family is always crucial in times of repression is a well-tested truth capital has never forgotten. What could be more productive than a life of isolation, where the only relations we have with each other are relations of reciprocal discipline: Daddy controlling Mommy, Mommy teaching the children that life is hard and survival problematic, neighbors getting together to keep the neighborhood «clean,» sociality shrinking to those occasions that help us find or keep a job? And if life is pain there is always God, in whose name you can even justify nuclear war against the infidels who, like the rebellious Sodomites, deserve to be wiped out from the face of the earth (even if a few of the righteous get wiped out too). And you can even justify a nuclear war that will wipe out yourself too: after all, what’s the big deal about life if you have already accepted to bargain cancer for a wage, renounce all your desires and postpone your fulfillment to another world?

Let us not be mistaken. Weinberger needs Jerry Falwell, as does Reagan. From Wall Street to the Army, all capital’s utopias are predicated on an infinitesimal micropolitics at the level of the body, curbing our animal spirits and redefining the meaning of that famous Pursuit of Happiness that (so far at least) has been the biggest of all constitutional lies. And Jerry Falwell is even more needed for the development of the high-tech (computer, information, energy, genetic) worker who – unlike those at the lower echelons of the working class – cannot be run by the stick (in case God failed); for the damage he can do (should he slip in his duty) is infinitely greater, because the machines he works with are infinitely more costly.

What the launching of high-tech industry needs mostly today is a technological leap in the human machine – a big evolutionary step creating a new type of worker to match capital’s investment needs. What are the faculties required by the new being our futurologists advocate? A look at the debate on space colonies is revealing in this respect. All agree, first of all, that the main impediment today to the development of human colonies in space is bio-social rather than technological, i.e., you may be able to glue the space shuttle’s tiles together but gluing the right space worker-technician is a project that even the present genetic breathroughs are far from having solved. An individual is needed who can:

  • endure social isolation and sensory deprivation for long periods of time without breaking down,
  • perform «perfectly» in an extremely hostile/alien and artificial environment and under enormous stress,
  • achieve a superb control of his bodily functions (consider: it takes an hour to shit in space!) and psychological reactions (anger, hate, indecisiveness), our all-too-human frailties which can be disastrous in the fragile, vulnerable world of life in space,
  • demonstrates total obedience, conformity and receptivity to commands, for there can be little tolerance for social deviations and disagreements when the most minute act of sabotage can have catastrophic consequences to the very costly, complex and powerful equipment entrusted in their hands.

Indeed, not only will the space technician have a quasi-religious relation to his machine but he himself must become more and more machine-like, achieving a perfect symbiosis with his computer which, in the long nights of space, is often his only and always his most reliable guide, his companion, his buddy, his friend.

The space worker, then, must be a highly ascetic type, pure in body and soul, perfect in his performance, obedient like a well-wound clock and extremely fetishistic in his mental modes. Where is this gem most likely bred? In a fundamentalist type religious sect. To put it in the words of biologist Garrett Harding:

What group would be most suitable to this most recent Brave New World (the space colony)? Probably a religious group. There must be unity of thought and the acceptance of discipline. But the colonists couldn’t be a bunch of Unitarians or Quakers, for these people regard the individual conscience as the best guide to action. space colonies’ existence would require something more like the Hutterites or the Mormons for its inhabitants . . . integration could not be risked on this delicate vessel, for fear of sabotage and terrorism. Only «purification» would do.

Not surprisingly, a few days after landing, the first space shuttle astronauts were greeted by Elder Neal Maxwell at the Mormon Tabernacle. ‘We honor tonight men who have seen God in all his majesty and power,’ he said and the 6000 member congregation responded, «Amen.»

The fight between creationism and evolutionism is just an internal capitalist squabble as to what are the most adequate means of control. Until our social biologists and genetic engineers – the heros of today’s scientific breakthrough – have found the means to create a perfect robot, the whip will do, particularly in an age still infected with the anarchic ideologies of the ’60s, when a lot of bad germs have already been implanted in children and parents alike.

Moreover, the asceticism, self-control, the flight from the earth and the body which is the substance of puritan teaching is the best soil in which capital’s scientific and economic plans can flourish. Indeed, today, more consciously than ever, in its attempt to relocate itself on safer shores, capital is embracing the dream of all religion: the overcoming of all physical boundaries, the reduction of the individual human being to an angel-like creature, all soul and will. In the creation of the electronic/space worker, the priest of scientific exploration-exploitation of the universe, capital is fighting once again its historic battle against matter, attempting to break at once both the boundaries of the earth and the boundaries of «human nature» which, in its present form, present irreducible limits that must be overcome.

The thrust to the organization of industries in space and the dematerialization of the body go together. For the former cannot be accomplished without the remolding of a whole nexus of needs, wishes, desires, that are the product of billions of years of material evolution on the planet and which up to now have been the material conditions of bio-social reproduction – the blues, the greens, the nipple, the balls, the hair of the anus, the texture of oranges, beef, carrots, the wind and sea smell, the day light, the need for physical contact, SEX!!!

The dangers of sexuality are emblematic of the obstacles capital encounters in the attempt to create a totally self-controlled being, capable of spending nights and nights alone, talking just to his computer, with his mind focused on nothing but the screen. Can you afford to be homy or lonely in space? Can you afford to be jealous or have a marital breakdown??

What’s the right attitude in this respect is indicated by a report on the South Pole Station in Antarctica that ostensibly was set up to study meteorological, astronomical and geographical conditions at the pole, but in reality is a big center for human experimentation: the study of human beings in conditions approaching that of space (isolation for many months, lack of sensuous contact, etc.). This report states:

As for sexual relations . . . all candidates were warned of the «dangers» of sexual liaisons under the supercharged conditions here. Celibacy was the best course… men think of nothing but sex for the first few weeks, then it is submerged until nearly the end of the winter. One worker reported, «You just basically put it out of your mind. You are working all the time; there is no privacy.»

Celibacy, AIDS, abstinence: it is the last step in a long process whereby increasingly capital has decreased the sensuous-sexual content of our lives and encounters with people, substituting the mental image for the physical touch. Centuries of capitalist discipline have gone a long way toward producing individuals who shrink from others for fear of touch. (See the way we live our social spaces: buses, trains, each passenger closed in its own space, its own body, keeping well-defined, though invisible boundaries; each person its own castle.) This physical as well as emotional isolation from each other is the essence of capitalist cooperation. But it – as well as the dematerialization of all forms of our life – finds culmination in the inhabitant of the future space colony whose success depends on his ability to become a pure, totally purified angel – who does not fuck, does not require the sensuous stimulations which are our daily nourishment on earth, but can live by solely feeding on its self-sufficient, self-centered will power.

Increasing the abstractness of the enemy body, reducing the person you destroy to a blip on a video machine: this is another essential element of death production which is likely to be the central product of space industrialization. Indeed, electronic war can become so abstract that unless your image is put into the video screen you’re likely to forget that you can be destroyed yourself. The abstractness of the object of aggression is the essence of the lesson that is being taught to fundamentalist youth, who from an early age are told that all «deviants» are the same – perfectly interchangeable – as equal expressions of the abstract powers of evil.

Communism = Homosexuality = Drugs = Promiscuousness = Subversion = Terrorism = Lesbianism = . . . = Satan. From this point of view, all questions of «who,» «what,» «where» and «when» become irrelevant: a good practice for a politics of repression, and an excellent one for a policy of massive nuclear destruction, which requires building a type of being who can accept the destruction of millions of bodies as an unpleasant, perhaps, but nevertheless necessary goal to cleanse the earth from all social deviation and struggle – a pollution much worse in the eyes of the fundamentalist than strontium 90.

To achieve this, a strategy of systematic isolation is necessary: breaking all bonds between ourselves and others and distancing ourselves even from our own body. The electronic church completely dematerializes the healer, who becomes a cool image duplicated on thousands of screens or a «personal» comment in a letter written by a computer. One’s main «feedback’ with the preacher is the monetary one: you send your money and he begins to pray for you. If you fall back on the payments, the prayers begin to lose their fervor until they end with the «final notice.»

With the electronic preacher, social relations become so abstract that they are virtually substituted by an image: the radio-TV sermon serves the same function as the home computer for the high tech family: reproducing for you, in a purified-disembodied form, the relations/experiences of which you have been deprived in day-to-day life. They substitute dangerous – because unpredictable – human encounters with a gadget produced sociality that can be turned off and shut down at will. It goes directly to the soul without passing through the body: clean, efficient, infinitely available at all hours of day and night. (In fact it can be recorded and replayed whenever you want – time, too, not only space, is won!!!)

Living with the machine, becoming like a machine: a desexualized angel, moving in the interstices of the engine, perfectly integrating work-space and life space as in the astronauts’ pod, infinitely weightless because purified of the force of gravity, of all human desires/temptations – the ancient refusal of work finally negated. Capital’s old dream of «human perfectibility» that loomed so prominent in the 16th and 17th century utopias, from Bacon to Descartes, seems ready at hand. Not only can we now answer the famous Puritan question, «What do the angels do in heaven?» but we even know how they feel. Here it’s Wally Shirra talking:

Feeling weightless … I don’t know, it’s so many things together. A feeling of pride, of healthy solitude, of dignified freedom from everything that’s dirty, sticky. You feel exquisitely comfortable, that’s the word for it, exquisitely . . . You feel comfortable and you feel you have so much energy, such an urge to do things, such an ability to do things. And you work well, yes, you think well, you move well, without sweat, without difficulty, as if the biblical curse In the sweat of thy face and in sorrow no longer exists. As if you’ve been born again.

How petty life on earth seems from such heights . . . No wonder capital is so careless with our earthly home, so eager to destroy it – the big bang of nuclear explosion – destroying in one second millions of tons of matter – the perfect embodiment of the victory of the spirit over the earth-matter – as creative as the first act of God! Big Bang Big Phallus . reduced to its pure, power-hungry essence, fucking this rotting Earth in its god-like aspiration to be free from all constraints. Faust in an angel/astronaut/spaceworker face, a superman who does not need any-body, neither his own nor another’s, to have his will, not just on earth but in the universe as well.

A society of angels, ruled by God, and motivated by purely spiritual-religious-patriotic concerns. The adventure of space colonization will not be a «New America» in the sense of being the dumping ground of castaways, misfits and slaves. The need for total identification with the work-project, total obedience, total self-discipline and self-control, is so high that, according to NASA, even the old forms of reward should be immediately ruled out:

High monetary incentive should not be used for space colonization recruiting because it attracts the wrong people. Furthermore, it would be unhealthy for the community as well as for the individuals concerned to make efforts to retain ‘misfits’ in the extraterrestrial community. It would be healthier to return them to Earth, even though this might seem more expensive.

Work without a wage. It is the essential capitalist utopia where the work and repression becomes its own reward, and all the refusers are cast out into the cold stellar night. We have finally reached their limit.

SEMIOTEXT[E] USA

 

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