A Modern Archimedes Hypothesis

How to get There from Here:

A Modern Archimedes Hypothesis

I will raise the Earth! * The Archimedes Hypothesis * The Lever of Planetary Solidarity * Divided We Fall * The Internet as a Planetary Platform * Internet, Democracy, Emergence * The Fulcrum of Planetary Consciousness * Our Age of Absolutes * Simple, One-Sided Negation * Utopia, or the Negation of Negation * Connectivity, Complexity, Quantum, and Emergence * An Ecotopian Manifestival * Conclusion
Supposing then that we do bet on Ecotopia, our next problem is imagining how we can possibly get from here to there without supernatural or extraterrestrial help? In other words, what are the human (social), material (technological) and ideological (spiritual) elements – actual or latent in globalized capitalist society – that can combine to enable the emergence of the planetary movements capable of stripping the Billionaires of their power and creating sustainable post-capitalist societies?
I will raise the Earth!
They say that in ancient times, that bold philosopher and inventor Archimedes of Syracuse boasted: Give me a lever long enough, a fulcrum, a place to stand, and I will raise the Earth! Of course, we know Archimedes’ amazing feat was only a hypothesis – a ‘thought experiment’ that could take place only in the mind. But Archimedes’s discovery was no less powerful for being a ‘mere’ idea dreamed up by a philosopher. In the centuries after Archimedes, inventions based on his hypothesis vastly multiplied the puny strength of human beings so that they were able to circumnavigate the globe and eventually to dominate it – for better or for worse. Can anyone then doubt the ability of an idea – a thought experiment – to multiply human power?
Our problem, if we want to successfully imagine a plausible science fiction scenario with a happy ending, is to think up a similar hypothetical formula for multiplying human power so that our passengers and crew can lift the Earth out of its destructive orbit before it is shipwrecked. Our mutineers will need a lot of leverage to overpower the officers who are fighting among themselves, looting the ship, and steering it toward disaster. How to imagine such a lever, platform, and fulcrum? History seems to indicate that whenever people are ready to pose new questions, the means of resolving them are already present.
The Modern Archimedes Hypothesis
In our scenario for ‘Mutiny on Spaceship Earth’ the three elements are already on board, ready to be configured into a new power strong enough to halt the onrush of global self-destruction and release the human energy to build a new society. I call them: The Social Lever, The Electronic Platform, and The Philosophical Fulcrum.
Archimed BWll
Archimed BWll

  • The Social Lever is the vast untapped power of planetary solidarity. Once the Billions of passengers and crewmembers aboard Spaceship Earth unite and act together, no force can stop them. Divided, they are pitiful and weak. United, their power is irresistible.
  • The Electronic Platformis the Internet. Its emergent technology is tentacular, infinite in its connections, interactive, and indestructible because its center is everywhere and nowhere. Accessible to nearly everyone on the globe, the Internet provides a place to stand large enough for Billions to interact. The Internet is a planetary platform where each can speak for her/himself on equal footing, where Billions of passengers and crew-members can connect, unite, empower themselves and take initiatives on a planetary scale – the only scale on which it makes sense to confront the power-mad officers of predatory global capitalism.
  • The Philosophical Fulcrum is planetary consciousness: the awareness that planets are mortal and that we are all in the same boat. It is a vision which places the survival of Spaceship Earth and its inhabitants at the center of all things. It is the affirmation of Life on Earth as a new universal, as the common spiritual and practical basis around which Billions can unite.
The Lever of Planetary Solidarity
Solidarity is the most familiar of the three powers. As the radical poet Shelley put it: We are many, they are few. We all know that there is strength in numbers, and it’s six Billion of us against about six thousand Billionaires. It follows that united we stand, divided we fall, for in the words of the old song ‘union makes us strong’. Solidarity is not merely a realistic tactical, practical necessity; it is a positive social ethic and a fundamental human value as well. The old labor slogan sums up the lesson of all the great religious teachers of the past two thousand years: ‘An injury to one’to the humblest child among us – ‘is an injury to all’. In the case of our Mutiny scenario, it is obvious that if the passengers and crew imprisoned below decks in sealed compartments don’t find a way to come together and unite, they won’t be able to take over the bridge before the money-crazed officers wreck the ship.
If, for the sake of realism, we base our successful mutiny scenario on recorded human history, it turns out that the potential power of mass solidarity has shown itself at revolutionary moments from ancient times. Ever since the revolt of Spartacus and the Roman slaves, the poor, the downtrodden, the exploited have shown their ability to unite and use their numbers to win concessions from their powerful oppressors – even to overthrow them. Down through the ages – from the vast peasant uprisings in Feudal times to the mass revolutions of the 18th, 19th, 20th centuries down to the Arab Spring of 2011 – numbers, united, have overcome armed entrenched power structures… At least momentarily.[1]
Make no mistake. In no time or place have the wealthy ever shared any of their power or privileges without a struggle. It was only by uniting in mass movements, unions, and political parties that ordinary working people won such democratic rights as universal suffrage, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, the eight-hour day, and legislation mandating universal education, healthcare, job safety and social security. Moreover, such reforms – today under attack – were achieved only after generations of struggle and so far only in Europe, the Americas, and a few Asian and ex-colonial countries.
Today, neo-liberal capitalism is attacking these basic rights on a global scale, even in the wealthy advanced countries. Moreover, in vast portions of the world, the common people still have not won personal freedom, civil liberties ora say in government – in spite ofgenerations of mass sacrifice in the name of democracy and national independence. As a result, their labor is cheap. Globalization allows transnational businesses to exploit that cheap labor, and capital has been flowing from the democracies – where employees can still protect their rights to some extent – to the dictatorships, where they can’t. Moreover, authoritarian rule – the business-friendly, security-driven police state – is on the rise even among the traditionally liberal democracies: a contaminated export blowing back to the capitalist homelands along with ‘third world’ poverty in first world cities.
Solidarity must be international to be effective. This is what the workers of Europe concluded after the defeat of the Europe-wide 1848 national-democratic revolutions. In 1864 they formed the first International Workers’ Association. Nearly a century and a half later, under globalized corporate capitalism, it is all the more obvious that unless the lever of solidarity is extended across borders, it is no longer an effective tool against the profit-driven ‘race to the bottom.’ Without it, the Billionaires – who can move their money electronically and ship their factories cheaply from country to country – will always dominate the Billions, who are rooted at home and barred from crossing national borders seeking work in the so-called free labor market. Thus the same ruthless U.S. corporations who moved their operations to impoverished Mexico after imposing NAFTA are now relocating to Asia, where the wages are even more pitiful.
… Divided We Fall
Why did the advantages won by people-power in the past remain partial and temporary? Largely because they remained isolated. By uniting, the slaves of Ancient Rome were able to win military victories under the leadership of the gladiator Spartacus. But they were eventually hunted down by fresh Roman Legions brought in from other provinces of the Roman Empire. In modern times, the same isolation seems to have condemned every revolution to the same sorry fate. At various times, the common people in France (1789, 1830, 1848, 1871, and 1968), Russia (1905, 1917), Spain (1936), China (1911, 1949), Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) have united to successfully wrest power from the hands of feudal, capitalist or Communist overlords. But as long as their revolutions were confined to one country, they were doomed to ultimate defeat – just like Spartacus and the slaves of Rome. These revolutionary moments flash out like solitary beacons across history, illuminating at once the liberatory potential for mass self-organization latent among oppressed people – as well as the seemingly inevitable doom of their struggles when left isolated. Some more recent examples:

1871. Following the French Emperor Napoleon III’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the workers of Paris took power in the besieged French capital, held out against the invaders, organized elections and took charge of defense, administration and education on an egalitarian basis. But this Paris Commune, isolated from the rest of France, was crushed after two glorious months by the official French Army with the help of the Prussians.

1917. The useless slaughter of the First World War provoked mutinies in many armies, and a wave of mass revolts followed the Armistice in 1918. But the revolutionaries took power first during the War in 1917, in backward, impoverished Russia, where there was no basis for building a modern socialist society. Worse still, the Russian people were cut off from the workers of Europe first by the War and then by the intervention of counterrevolutionary armies and expeditionary forces financed by France, Britain, Japan, Poland, the U.S. and other capitalist governments which feared the revolution would spread. Isolated, the Russian Revolution degenerated into a totalitarian dictatorship – thus discrediting the dream of socialism or communism in the eyes of many workers for nearly a century.
1936. Under the Spanish Republic, a fascistic junta led by General Franco staged a coup d’état against the elected government, but the workers and small farmers rose up in arms and held out for three years, despite betrayal by the liberals and Communist leaders. To crush revolutionary democracy in Spain, Franco had to import troops and weapons from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while France, Britain and the US – worried about their investments under a Spanish democracy – isolated the legitimate Spanish Republic with a one-sided embargo. Ironically, the democracies’ abandonment of the Spanish people made Hitler’s conquest of Europe inevitable.
1944-45. At the end of World War Two, the leaders of the democratic West, Churchill and Roosevelt (later Truman) turned Eastern Europe over to the tender mercies of their ally Stalin, the Russian Communist dictator, in return for Stalin’s promise to call off the Communist-led armed Resistance movements threatening to take power in post-war France, Italy and Greece under the popular slogan: ‘From resistance to revolution!’ In Greece, the red partisans refused to submit to a British-imposed puppet government, and resisted, in isolation, for several years. In East Europe, Stalin bypassed the (Communist-led) local anti-Nazi resistance fighters and imposed loyal (to him) Communist puppets who had spent the war in Moscow. Yet within a few years, East European workers and intellectuals began rising up against the pitiless, slave-driving ‘Communist’ police state: uniting in a general strike (Berlin 1953); creating Workers’ Councils (Hungary 1956); establishing ‘socialism with a human face’ (Czechoslovakia 1968); and setting up independent Solidarity trade unions (Poland 1981). Russia was able to crush these heroic revolts only because until 1989 they remained largely isolated within individual Communist satellites and took place at different times. And although the Western powers urged anti-Communist resistance via Radio Free Europe, they turned their backs on these actual workers’ revolutions and allowed the Russian tanks to roll over them without so much as lifting a finger.
In the 1950s and 1960s colonial peoples all over Asia and Africa fought their way to independence. But new bureaucratic-military elites – espousing ‘nationalist, ’‘democratic,’ ‘religious,’ or ‘Marxist’ ideologies – took over the reins of power and instead of realizing the dreams of Pan-African or international socialist Unity, squabbled among themselves, exploited tribal politics and got rich on sweetheart deals with the former colonist and multinational corporations, who today continue to lay waste to the lands and the peoples of Africa in their greed for petroleum and precious metals.
1968. That year a wave of popular rebellions broke out in a number of countries challenging simultaneously both Russian and Western imperialisms. Yet despite similar goals and mutual sympathies, these revolts remained isolated and were finally repressed by the police and armed forces of the various governments. These movements certainly inspired each other -- from Vietnam to Paris to Prague to the U.S. – and they shared common goals. However, the rebels of 1968 were not connected globally and had no means tocoordinate their movements in real time on an international scale – divided as they were by the Iron Curtain and lacking the kind of interactive information and communications systems activists take for granted today.
1989. By the time the Berlin Wall actually fell and the Moscow-imposed dictatorships of Eastern Europe were overthrown, the Utopian spirit of 1968 in the West lay buried under twenty years of capitalist counter-revolution epitomized by Margaret Thatcher’s doctrine that ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA) to neo-liberal globalization. Thus, the newly free Russian and East Europeans, instead of being greeted by the solidarity of rebel students and workers, were instead overwhelmed by capitalist speculators: AFL-CIO union representatives preaching the gospel of private pension plans, neo-liberal ‘Chicago boys’ preaching ‘shock therapy’ and Mafia-capitalists privatizing the collective factories and houses the Soviet workers had labored to create and still officially owned under Communist laws – truly the robbery of the century![2]
Are the revolts and freedom struggles of ordinary people condemned to remain forever isolated and easily coopted or crushed? Today, more than ever, the motto ‘United We Stand, Divided We Fall’ must be understood globally. An injury to one is an injury to all, everywhere on the planet. We have learned that movements for justice and equality can never succeed if they are confined to a single country. No boss will pay $20 an hour to a U.S. worker when he can outsource her job to some (U.S.-supported) low-wage dictatorship for 80 cents an hour. This lesson becomes more and more urgent as capitalist globalization imposes a ‘race to the bottom’ of pay and conditions on wage earners in every land. It is becoming increasingly obvious to all that in a globalized economy, human rights, social benefits and popular reforms must be enjoyed by working people in all countries before they are secure in any, and that movements for human and environmental rights must be international to succeed. The Lever of Solidarity must be planetary before it can ‘lift the world.’
Thus, if we want our Sci-Fi scenario for a successful Mutiny on Spaceship Earth to be politically realistic, we must visualize it breaking out on a world-wide scale : think of global movements directed against multi-nationals like GE, Coca Cola, BP and Montsanto and other corporations that exploit their workers, displace local populations, pollute the earth, and support dictatorships. Imagine these social movements coming together in a series world-wide workers’ general strikes, supported by demonstrations and consumer boycotts, leading to an international wave of uprisings and takeovers broad enough to surround and isolate the Billionaires and their reactionary allies. Throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries, such a planetary revolution scenario would have been rightly considered a mere ‘Sci-Fi’ fantasy. In the 21st Century, thanks to the possibilities of mass self-organisation opened by the new global information technologies, a successful Mutiny on Spaceship earth practically possible, a realistic one chance in a hundred.
Indeed, it could happen tomorrow.
The Internet as a Planetary Platform
Historically, advances in communication and transportation technology have generally gone hand in hand with advances in popular self-organization. During the democratic revolutions of the 18th Century, cheap printing and the post office (both recent developments) enabled the revolutionary Committees of Correspondence in the American colonies and the French provinces to share local grievances, discuss ideas, organize congresses, inform each other of plots, publish and circulate the revolutionary broadsheets and pamphlets that made the revolutions of 1776 and 1789 possible. In the 19th Century, railroads, steamships, the telegraph and the daily newspaper spread the democratic revolutions of 1848 all across Europe within months. Unfortunately in the 20th Century, radio and later television – organized as one-way, top-down broadcast media – became the favorite tool of totalitarian dictators like Hitler and Stalin, manipulative politicians like Churchill and Roosevelt, and wealthy advertisers whose right-wing commercial media monopolies dominate the airwaves in the so-called free countries…
In the 21st Century, on the other hand, Internet technology and social media promise to give the advantage back to people-power. They may also give a new meaning to informational democracy. For the first time in history, this new technology has placed at the disposal of the Billions an uncensored sources of information like WikiLeaks as well as a planetary platforms large enough and accessible enough for all to participate, decide and act together. With its infinite interconnections, the World Wide Web enables groups in struggle to communicate, exchange information, discuss ideas, work out common programs and coordinate actions on a planetary scale in real time.
The technology of the Internet has the potential of creating vast, world­wide assemblies where true international democracy can take form; forums where consensus can be reached onan ongoing basis; platforms where massive planetary actions can be coordinated from hour to hour around the globe. With ever more powerful computers joined together, even problems like translation – the curse of Babel -- are being solved. At last the passengers and crew of Spaceship Earth have the tools they need to talk to each other, so they can break out from below decks, swarm the bridge and take over from the squabbling, pilfering officers.
The Web is also a vast 24-hours/day 7-days/week public library where the passengers and crew can find and propagate not only uncensored information but also the critical, revolutionary ideas they will need to unite. The collective creation of Wikipedia, the cooperative, multi-lingual, ever-expanding, self-correcting information resource, is a model of this kind of Internet emergence. So is the non-sectarian Marxist Internet Archive www.marxists.org/ For the first time in history, the storehouse of revolutionary internationalist thinking and the recorded experiences of centuries of struggle is accessible to all. Thus the Web potentially weaves together ideas and planetary communication, connecting the Lever of Solidarity with the Fulcrum of Planetary Consciousness.
Before going further, I want to make it clear that I do not believe that technology can substitute for active human solidarity and collective organization on the ground. ‘Revolutionary’ chat rooms can never replace face-to-face workplace and neighborhood organizing; radical websites are no substitute for popular movements, or for unions, parties, newspapers, alternative broadcasting, international meetings and other forms of human interaction. Indeed, it was the ‘one-two’ combination of spontaneous self-organization via Internet networking and mass occupation of public space on the ground that produced the most revolutionary results.[3] When I first put forward these ideas in 1997, my friends on the Left also raised the objection that Internet technology was ‘elitist’ – yet today people in the poorest parts of the world are using their cellphones to organize. They also objected that the big corporations were ‘taking over’ the Internet, forgetting that cyberspace is nearly infinite, leaving room for both the Trusts and the Trotskyists.
On the downside, despite Obama’s 2008 campaign pledge to preserve an open Internet, the efforts of big business and the communications lobby in the U.S. to pressure the FCC into ending ‘Network Neutrality’ so as to establish a two-tier Internet with the big advertisers in the fast lane squeezing out the pubic is a very real threat. Another serious danger is way the algorihthms used by Facebook and other sites to ‘personalize’ peoples’ accounts end up feeding them only information which the machine ‘thinks’ they want, thus reinforcing their prejudices and insulating them from unpleasant information (for example about global warming).
Nor do I maintain that the Web is immune to police-state censorship and spying by authoritarian regimes, as for example in China, where the authorities are often able to block discussion of subjects like democracy (with the complicity of ‘do-no-evil’ Google). The Chines also mine emails (with the help of Yahoo and Facebook) in order to spy on and punish dissidents, as does the U.S. government. Obama and Clinton preach ‘Internet Freedom’ abroad while cracking down hard on WikiLeaks and heroic whistle-blowers like Private Bradley Manning.
Recently in the Middle East, dictatorships faced with uprisings coordinated by Facebook and Twitter have simply shut down the Internet. On the other hand, when dictatorships clamp down on the Internet, they deprive themselves of the creativity and technological ferment necessary for economic development and end up stagnating. This kind of censorship was arguably one of the causes of the collapse of totalitarian Communism in Russia, which lagged way behind the West in computer technology. In any case, networked technology is a major headache for the world’s dictators and would-be censors, who can no longer just seize your newspaper or smash your printing press. Thus, in 2007, when the Burmese dictatorship shut down websites during the ‘Saffron revolution’ led by Buddhist monks, the demonstrators used their cell-phones – another new form of electronic networking in the hands of the people – both to coordinate their movements and to get photos of the repression to the world press. Three years later, the same revolutionary cyber-tactics brought the dictatorships of Tunisia and Egypt to their knees.
In any case, hackers in China and around the world eventually find ways to get around the hated police-state censors and their U.S. corporate accomplices. Indeed, the Chinese Internet went wild with joy in May 2011 when a student hit the exalted Fang Binxing, the ‘Father of the Great Firewall,’ with his shoe and got away.[4] Paradoxically, the U.S. has been supporting the development of an alternate internets that governments can’t shut down through hacker-developed “suitcase’ technology that can allow cell phones to communicate in a peer-to-peer manner, directly with one another without going through a central authority. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/29/world/asia/29china.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&ref=todayspaper microblogs expose truth of train crash http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/27/world/asia/27weibo.html?ref=todayspaper
The hacker mentality and the ‘freeware’ movements have long incarnated a Utopian spirit in themselves and should be considered as the allies of social movements around the world. Private Bradley Manning, the martyred hero of the anti-war movement who released thousands of pages of government secrets to WikiLeaks, was a teenage hacker imbued with the ideals of the hacker ethic. So for that matter, was Julian Assange, who created WikiLeaks. Freeware challenges the commodified basis of human creativity. It rejects the privatizaion for profit of collectively developed use-values from computer software to healing plants cultivated by Native Americans under the monopoly capitalist ‘intellectual property’ laws.
So like everything else in capitalist society, the Internet remains a contested space. However, by 1997, when I first elaborated the ‘Modern Archimedes Hypothesis,’ three points were already becoming clear:
  1. The Internet is a powerful and increasingly accessible new tool for struggle whose revolutionary potential is beginning to be seized upon by popular movements around the globe.
  2. The Internet makes technically possible the internationalist dream of a global movement of working people uniting in real time to overthrow the bosses and establish a sustainable, self-governing post-capitalist world.
  3. The Internet’s web-like global network, whose ‘center’ is everywhere and nowhere, may turn out to be a more effective model for the emergence of planetary, democratic and working-class movements than the traditional hub-and-spokes, center/periphery, top-down model of centralized parties and ‘internationals.’
To be sure, the Internet can isolate people in front of their computers, but it also allows them to get to know each other, to feel less alone, to access information, to mobilize massively for action. Despite it origins as a Defense Department program, from the beginning the Internet was eagerly appropriated by global justice movements and has proven itself an invaluable tool on the ground. Some examples:
    • In 1994 the Zapatistas opened the anti-globalization era with their anti-NAFTA rebellion and used first the Internet to moblise global support against the invading Mexican Army’s attempt to repress them.
    • In 1997 the locked-out Liverpool dockers and their supporters organized a successful international dockers’ boycott of scab ships, which were turned away by dockers in the US and Japan.
    • In 1997 the workers and students of South Korea used the Internet to coordinate their massive General Strike.
    • In 1998 a piece of software named meetingtool developed by the website MoveOn.org allowed potential antiwar activists to find each other in isolated localities.
    • In 1999 anti-corporate globalization protesters in Seattle (and later at Genoa, and Cancun) succeeded in crippling the IMF and WTO; they also coordinated their movements via Internet.
    • In 2001, the first annual World Social Forum was organized in Brazil, attracting representatives social movements from around the globe connected via Internet.
    • In 2002 in Caracas, Venezuela the demonstrators who freed President Chávez from the US-backed right-wing coup plotters mobilised the barrios via Internet.
    • In April 2003 millions of demonstrators in 57 different countries organized the first planetary anti-war demonstration to protest US plans to invade Iraq. The N.Y. Times heralded the birth of a ‘new superpower:’ world public opinion.
    • In 2006 rebels in China reportedly pulled off 83,000 strikes and uprisings against overwork and pollution.
    • In 2009 the people of Iran used cellphones, texting and social media to organize mass demonstrations to protest election fraud by the leaders of the Islamic Republic.
    • In January 2011 in Tunisia, in response to the posting on Facebook of the self-immolation of a desperate protestor, the social media were used to bring people into the streets to successfully oust longtime dictator ben Ali, whose corruption had been exposed by Wikileaks and publicised by the semi-independent Arab news network, Al-Jazeera.
    • In February 2011 this ‘rolling Arab revolution’ spread to Egypt, where the corrupt Mubarrak dictatorship was overthrown, and thanks to the same new media. The Arab Spring has not stopped ‘rolling’ yet – spreading to Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Yeman and across the oceans to Wisconsin, USA, where it inspired workers to resist neo-liberal attacks on unions and public services.
    • In Italy, despite intense propaganda from President Berlesconi’s media monopoly, voters recruited through Twitter turned out in huge numbers to reject nuclear power, privatized water and presidential impunity in the May 2011 Referendum.
Internet, Democracy, Emergence
Today, no one can deny the potential of on-line networking for revolutionary self-organization. Less obvious, however, is the potential of the Web to enable new types of organization, based on the network model rather than the traditional hub-and-spokes model. In Latin America, the symbolism of the woven web, powerful yet delicate, had already been proposed by activist women as an alternative to male-dominated, top-down power. Self-organized, autonomous groups of peasants and indigenous peoples have been networked all over the Americas since 1992, when the Internet helped bring them together to celebrate 500 years of survival and resistance to colonialism. In recent decades, new forms of horizontal organizations began emerging in the region, rooted in urban neighborhoods and rural communities, in factories and on the land, yet networked nationally and even internationally.
Today, activists from these movements network online and at World Social Forums, connect with networks of workers, ecologists, and activists, compare conditions, discuss strategy, and organize global solidarity with similar movements as far off as Asia. In the context of national politics, these autonomous networks are at the base of the vertical power of progressive presidents like Lula, Kirchner, Correa, Chavez, and Morales pushing these leaders to challenge the power of local landowners and the global corporations and openly criticising them when they fail. These wired indiginous are in today’s planetary vanguard: challenging capitalism, protecting the land and saving nature from the ravenous corporations. Far from being ‘historically backward,’ rural communities have successfully appropriated 21st Century capitalist communications technology at its highest level and used it as a weapon for their own emancipation. So now have the allegedly ‘backward’ Arab masses.
What about the future? If the Web model of a ‘network of networks’ continues to prove effective as a structure for an expansive, flexible, practical transnational organizing, might it not also foreshadow the structure of a future self-organized planetary society? The Achilles’ heel of democracy has always been the necessity of delegating authority to representatives, who all too often end up forming a separate political class with its own interests. But what if direct ‘town-meeting’ type participatory democracy could be organized not only locally, but also regionally, and globally via Internet hookup? What if every citizen of the planet could make her/his voice heard equally with every other, get access to experts’ advice and unite with others of the same persuasion? And then vote – whether in their own mass assemblies or internationally via a secure Internet hookup? What if the great issues facing humanity could be debated everywhere and then decided in global referendums via the Internet? What if economic planning on a global scale could be combined with worker self-management and maximum local autonomy? What if every individual could participate in decision-making in each of her capacities as resident, producer, consumer and citizen? What if, after centuries of successful revolutions being hijacked and perverted by new bureaucratic elites, the common people were able to control the destiny of a new society as it emerges from below?
Back in 1958, when computers were in their infancy, the (then) Marxist philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis was the first to imagine such a computer-connected self-managed society in his essay ‘The Content of Socialism. [5]A critic of bureaucratic top-down management as exemplified by Russian Communism and the American corporation, Castoriadis saw socialism emerging out of workers’ self-activity. A professional economist, he was able to elaborate in concrete detail a complete national economy, free of the waste and coercion of corporate Communist central planning. In Castoriadis’ Utopia, ‘Planning Factories’ produced alternative plans – to be debated and eventually voted by the producers via wired hookups – explaining in simple terms the relative costs and consequences of each proposal in terms of labor time, resources, growth and consumption levels – giving society the choice between enjoying more leisure or working harder for future goals. The concrete images in Castoriadis’ Utopian model made such an impression on me a half-century ago that I have never since doubted democratic socialism’s practical ‘do-ability.’
Castoriadis’ vision derives from the traditional Marxist notions of revolution as evolution in the fullness of time. It recalls Engels’ image of the new world emerging out of the shell of the old – adopted by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). What was original in 1958, was Castoriadis’ appropriation of the theories of the socialist-minded mathematician Norbert Weiner, the pioneer of computer science of who explored the feed-back principle and recognized the emergent quality of cybernetics.[6]Today, physicists, biologists, mathematicians, cyberneticists and scientists in other fields are studying and analyzing the emergent phenomena of spontaneous self-organization from below in the context of Chaos/Complexity/Emergence Theory to which we will return below.
Daniel! Stop translating here! Rocky road ahead.
Flockin g phenomenon and strikes:http://guava.physics.uiuc.edu/~nigel/courses/569/Essays_Spring2006/files/Sinkovits.pdf
The Fulcrum of Planetary Consciousness
Matilda (huit ans): ‘Regarde, c’est une pierre de Cro-Magnon.’ (Montre un caillou cassé en deux)
Jade (six ans): ‘Comment?’
Matilda: ‘Les CM c’était des hommes d’autre-fois comme des singes (imite leur démarche). Ils cassait des pierres en deux pour couper leur viande.’
Jade: ‘Ah, la préhistoire.’
The Fulcrum of Planetary Consciousness is the philosophical base on which the Archimedes Hypothesis stands. As such it isless familiar than the Lever of Planetary Solidarity (whose existence is historical) and Internet’s electronic Platform. Moreover, like the Internet itself, Planetary Consciousness is still in its infancy.
Today, most of the world’s six billion human inhabitants are aware that they are living on a vaste globe populated by many other peoples (and species). I consider this awareness a revolution in human consciousness whose power and depth have as yet not been realized. For tens of thousands of years, human horizons were limited to the immediate range of the band or tribe or agricultural settlement. About two thousand years ago, Greek philosophers first speculated that the Earth is a planet and plotted its orbit, but only in the last five hundred years did people actually learn to map the globe and sail around it. And only in the past century thanks to two world wars – have the vast majority the earth’s human inhabitants been made aware of lands and continents beyond their own village or province. For example, even in the heart of Europe, many French country folk didn’t speak French and had never ventured beyond the next village prior to WWI (1914).[7] And it was WWII that finally brought the impact of the outside world to much of Asia and the South Pacific. By the 1960’s, the proliferation of battery powered transistor radios to exposed millions of Africans, Asians and South Americans living on the land to news of the outside world, but only in our own times have humans actually seen, via photos taken from space and viewed by millions, the amazing, cloud-swirling blue-green globe we live on. Seeing is believing: One world. One humanity. A revolution in thought.
Tragically, this revolution in planetary consciousness coincides with growing planetary awareness that life on our planet is menaced with extinction. Since 1945 – since Hiroshima and Nagasaki – it has become more and more evident that our survival as a species is threatened by our own ingenuity in inventing machines of unprecedented power and destructiveness. Since the annihilation of the two Japanese cities – followed by sixty years of nuclear proliferation and stockpiling – intimations of humanity’s mortality have slowly been imposing itself on all but the simple, the selfish and the self-deluded. Likewise, awareness of the slower, yet deadly destruction of the natural world, ruthlessly ravaged for corporate profit, is becoming universal. More and more humans are experiencing the palpable effects of pollution and global climate change, and as the massive (Internet connected) food riots indicate, 21st Century peasants and villagers are increasingly likely to attribute these dramatic droughts, storms, floods and epidemics to global causes – indeed to global corporations – than to local gods or spirits. Another revolution in human consciousness as yet unevaluated.
Thanks to 20th century revolutions in scientific consciousness, men (mostly) learned to split the atom and manipulate the genome. Like overgrown children, scientists began playing with the very building blocks of matter and of life. We are also breaking them. Our technical abilities have developed far beyond our level of social and political organization, and as a
result, atomic power and genetic engineering have been used exclusively for military domination and private profit. What an irony that the discoveries of Albert Einstein, who was a socialist and one-world internationalist, have been hijacked by business and government for the production of unsafe, cheaply-built nuclear reactors and stockpiles of megabombs sufficient to destroy life on earth ten times over. Likewise, the genetic revolution has been hijacked to produce genetically modified seeds: patented imposed by force and fraud on farmers so as to turn them into corporate serfs and destroy self-sustaining peasant agriculture.

If we don’t take control of this technology soon, the planet that emerged out the first Big Bang will go out in another big ‘bang’ (or perhaps a ‘wimper’ -- when the fresh air runs out). Marx wrote that ‘one basis for science and another basis for life is a priori a lie.’ Our species, which Victor Serge once depicted as ‘intelligent monkeys toiling on a green globe’ has become too smart for its own good. Human monkeys have monkeyed around with genome and the atomic structure of matter-energy and unleashed powers they are unableto control within the limits of our profit-oriented capitalist society. Planetary Conscienceness mean learning to connect up our collective brain before engaging gears!
What irony that Humanity’s discovery that we all share one planet coincided with Humanity’s (less acknowledged) discovery of our capacity for self-destruction. Like the proverbial elephant in the living room, there is no getting around the looming specter of extinction, whether it takes the form of Nuclear Winter or of the gradual death of the polluted biosphere. Stepping out of denial and acknowledging the increasing possibility of annihilation in the foreseeable future is the second stage of Planetary Consciousness.
At this level, Planetary Consciousness confronts us with the unavoidable existential choice between absolute and irreconcilable opposites: Profits versus People, Money versus Nature, Death versus Life. On the one hand, the increasing likelihood of destruction of human life on earth. On the other, a possible one chance in a hundred for a positive revolution in human relations leading to a new society based on solidarity and cooperation, rather than greed and conflict.
Our Age of Absolutes[8]
At the core of the ‘Ecotopian Bet’ is the unavoidable existential choice between two Absolutes: Life or Death.If planetary destruction is an idea that confronts us as an Absolute end (end of life as we know it) it follows that its opposite – Life itself – must be taken as an Absolute end in itself. Thus, the material prospect of universal Death forces us to consider Life – Life on this planet – as a universal. For no other reason than that all other ideas would be unthinkable without it. But what do we mean by Life?
The consensus of scientists is that Life developed out a process that began at the Big Bang with particles of swirling gas solidifying into a geological entities – stars and planets. At least one such planet – Earth – at just the right distance from its star to capture its energy without burning up -- developed a biosphere as proteins and amino acids developed into proto-viruses, formed DNA, and reproduced themselves endlessly by morphing minerals, air, water ane solar energy into life-forms of greater and greater complexity. Life can thus be understood as the ability of matter to reproduce itself according to code – that is to say, information, intelligence – with greater and greater complexity until it achieves animal intelligence and eventually human self-consciousness. So Life can be seen emerging as unity of interacting opposites, combining spirit (code, information) and matter. Would it then be a stretch to say that Life -- from the earliest proto-virus to the brain of an Einstein -- means spirit actualized in matter.
Intelligent Design? My Leftist friends may jump on me for saying this, but I think that evolution, the process of intelligence emerging through matter, may be usefully described as intelligent design (or rather as ‘self-design by intelligence’). Not of course on the analogy of God the watchmaker with his elaborate preconceived plan and total control of his material, but in the sense that complexity emerges spontaneously out of the interaction of myriad infinitesimal bits of matter imprinted with code. So it is not really a stretch to assert that it was code, information, the logos, the spirit, intelligence itself that breathed life into inert matter. (‘In the Beginning was the Word.’) Evolution can thus be described as the developing emergence of intelligence in matter. Not Nature created a priori by a Divine Intelligence of course, but Nature becoming conscious of itself through evolution and human history.
What are the implications of this realization? If we understand Life as what a Hegelian would call an Absolute, thenwe must follow it through to its logical end, allowing no other considerations to divert us. Holding fast to our subject – Life on Earth – thus becomes a kind of ‘absolute method’ – in which awareness of the planet’s destiny becomes the crux, the touchstone, the absolute reference for all our thinking. Because outside of planetary survival there is simply nothingness – at least in so far as our species is concerned – survival becomes the prism through which we examine all economic, social and political problems, indeed the basis on which everything must henceforth be criticized and judged. Precisely because the 21st Century may be the last century, it is the Century of Absolutes.
Socialism or Barbarism? A half-century before Hiroshima, Rosa Luxemburg had already posed the alternatives facing humanity as socialism or barbarism (the slogan adopted by the group formed by Castoriadis and his comrades following WWII). The barbarism Luxemburg feared would triumph if capitalism were not defeated on a planetary scale following World War One took the forms of Nazi fascism and Stalinism, of Auschwitz and the Gulag, of Dresden and Hiroshima. Following this Second World War, U.S.-Russian rivalry provoked a 40-year global ‘Cold’ War – based on the barbarous doctrine of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD) – which kept humanity permanently at the brink of a nuclear holocaust. Today, with nuclear proliferation and the U.S. embarked on an, open-ended global war for single superpower imperialist domination – the so-called ‘War on Terror’ – we are arguably even closer to the brink. In the 21st Century, with the environment within decades of irreversible catastrophe, Luxemburg’s ‘socialism or barbarism’ has become an Absolute.
Today, any political or moral vision that is less than planetary must perforce be rejected as irrelevant – if not dangerous. The planet can no longer afford the Me-First philosophies of particular nations, religions, corporations, elites, genders and so-called races, each absurdly claiming that God or History or the Right is on its side. These ‘Me-Firsters,’ who dominate the media everywhere, deafen us with the clamor of their competing self-interested claims for this or that God, this or that state, this or that ethnic identity, economic system, or reigning political class. So loudly do the Me-First ideologues hawk their deadly wares that no one dares point to the obvious fact that their claims cancel each other out.
Indeed, all the competing Me-First brands on ‘god-market’ use the same advertising slogan: I alone hold the Truth, the Light, the Way. And they all add: Our competitors are all liars and their gods (or nations, or identities, or economic systems) are inferior fakes. (In this alone they are all telling the truth.) In fact, the fundamentalist ideologies of the Me-Firsters serve mainly cover the selfish interests of one or another Me-First elite, whether ‘free-market’ or ‘Communist,’ Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Islamic, Serbian or Croatian, fair-skinned or dark. Moreover, these competing Me-Firsters ultimately rely on the same intimidating argument: If you’re not with us, you’re against us. It is an argument which they usually back up with an offer to maim, kill or imprison you if you try to argue.
Simple, One-Sided Negation
Nonetheless, we do argue, protests, resist. But experience shows that it is not enough merely to struggle against this or that war, this or that corporation, this or that oppressive policy, or dictatorial regime, although obviously we do and must continue to protest. But we must also remember that simplistic, one-side opposition leads inevitably to one of two fatal fallacies: the Lesser-of-Two-Evils Fallacy (LTEF) and the The-Enemy-of-my-Enemy-is-my Friend Fallacy (EEFF). One-sided opposition to an identifiably evil Me-First politician, party, or policy (e.g. George W. Bush and the neo-cons) leads to the logical trap of choosing the Lesser Evil. This usually means picking the least bad among the competing Me-Firsters and losing touch with the ultimate goal – changing society and saving the planet. By falling into the LTE trap, we not only automatically give our support to an evil Me-Firsters (albeit the ‘lesser’ one); we also abandon our philosophical ground and accept the ground of our status-quo opponents.
The LTEF trap has been the fatal error of many promising mass movements of the past. For example in the U.S. during the 1970s and 80s the movements for a Nuclear Freeze, the Environment and Women’s Liberation mobilized millions of citizen activists at the grassroots levels. Through massive demonstrations and persistent non-violent blockading of dangerous facilities, these movements forced governments to listen, to sign a few treaties limiting nuclear weapons, and to pass some legislation protecting the environment and women’s reproductive rights.
Unfortunately, the leadership of these movements fell into LTEF trap. In the name of ‘practicality’ these organizations channeled vibrant grass-roots movements into the narrow electoral and lobbying channels in the hope of acquiring ‘inside influence.’ Of course the Me-First politicians of the Democratic Party, once elected, took their support for granted and dropped their issues –peace, the environment and women’s rights – off their political agendas. As a result, the ultimate goals of the mass movements were lost from view, the activists were demobilized and discouraged, and the organizers were co-opted by the establishment. The practical logic of ‘let’s get real and elect the LTE’ turned out to be ‘crackpot realism.’
The same sorry scenario was played out a generation later in the wake of the massive, world-wide protests against Bush’s invasion of Iraq. In 2004, the U.S. anti-war movement collapsed into the Democratic presidential campaign (remember John Kerry?) and then disappeared after their candidate failed to oppose the war and then lost the election for flip-flopping. Meanwhile Exxon (as in Exxon-Valdez) and Montsano (as in Dioxin) paraded as Green corporations (the color of their dollars?) along with former Vice-President Al Gore, who helped Clinton sabotage the Kyoto Accords (an inconvenient truth they don’t mention about the ‘green’ Nobel Prize winner). In any case, there is no longer time for LTE reformism, even if it did occasionally result in some temporary incremental gains.
On the other hand, simplistic, one-sided opposition can lead to an equally dangerous logical trap in the opposite direction. As I argued above in ‘Who are the Good Guys (if any) in Iraq?’ and ‘Alice in Imperialist Wonderland,’ people can get so outraged by a particularly evil regime that they jump to the conclusion that ‘the Enemies of Our Enemy are our Friends’ (the EEF Fallacy) and support the other side – however barbarous. If we fall into the EEFF trap, we not only loose sight of our goal – Life, survival, a new society – we actually get dragged into taking sides in the destructive wars among the competing violent Me-Firsters! Yet this is the curtailed logic of many on the Left, who in their rage against the machine have forgotten what every schoolchild can tell you: two wrongs don’t make a right.

Utopia, or the Negation of Negation
Our Age of Absolutes demands that we get past simple againstness and look to the Second Negation, the Negation of Negation that represents the Positive alternative to the system that is destroying the planet. It also insists on asking the questions: What happens after we get rid of this or that Evil we are against? Won’t we be stuck again with another successful revolution turned into a new tyranny? It insists for example that the needs of women, of ecology and of oppressed people be made paramount before and during the revolution instead of being put off until the day after (‘Tomorrow never comes.’)
The Second Negation grows out of the negation of Life under predatory capitalism. It arises from within that alienated society dominated by Mammon-worshipping businessmen who bow down to the graven images they have stamped on the money that is their true idol. From within the contradiction between Life and Money, from within that alienated society where Billions toil, suffer and starve to earn profits for corporations, Humanity cries out Ya basta! – the Earth is not a commodity to be bought and sold! Life is not a commodity to be bought and sold, I personally am not a commodity to be bought and sold.
Planetary Consciousness means understanding that the same human ingenuity which threatens the planet with destruction also holds the promise of a life of abundance, once it is liberated by freely associated human subjects. For if creative humanity manages to unite on a planetary scale, if our species, instead of destroying the planet comes together to save it, if we are able to build a new society based on intelligence and love, balancing community and individual freedom, competition and cooperation, ingenuity and harmony with nature, then we may discover a new, truly ‘human’ nature and begin true human history – a post-history, a truly ‘common era’ whose infinite development we can barely imagine. A new society in which humans, liberated from the bonds of fear, greed, competition for survival, solitude, self-alienation, class antagonism, war, hatred, and servitude, will be reintegrated into the biosphere and free to develop the full human potential for creativity, discovery and spirituality.
This final stage of Planetary Consciousness consists in realizing the necessity of a positive revolution in human relations, the emergence of a new society based on solidarity and cooperation rather than on greed and oppression. This planetary consciousness speaks in the new voices now being heard around the planet. Thousands, perhaps millions of people have begun proclaiming in chorus: Another world is possible! By organizing and resisting corporate globalization, by educating themselves and others, these global justice movements are helping to save the planet on a practical level by fighting pollution, forest-destruction, privatization of social and natural resources. In the meantime, these alter-mundialistas – like all of us – are searching for alternatives, for a planetary vision of a possible better world, for an idea capable of drawing together Billions and focusing their power. In other words…for Utopia.
Connectivity, Complexity, Quantum and Emergence
This new Planetary Consciousness has great historical potential, but time is short and Starship Earth seems to be accelerating its course toward disaster. Admitting for the sake of argument that my New Archimedes’ Hypothesis provides a theoretical basis for a successful Mutiny among the passengers and crew, it is hard to imagine it taking place within the next few years without Divine or Extra-Terrstrial intervention. How will all these Billions get together? How will the vast, untapped force of humanity become conscious of itself and emerge before it is too late? To answer these questions, let us return to the Internet, specifically to the underlying scientific principles of Connectivity and Emergence that account for its stupendous growth.
The new factor that makes the age-old dream of humanity rising actual in the 21st Century is connectivity. It has recently been demonstrated that there are on the average only six degrees of separation between each of the six Billion humans on the planet. That means that you probably know someone, who knows someone else, who knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone who knows me –or even more unlikely, who knows a certain peasant in Setchuan, China named Mrs. Wu. These are weak connections, of course, but another of the paradoxes of Emergence is that weak connections are the fabric that makes up the strength of complex network structures like the Internet and the human brain.
Connecting up the cells of the collective brain of humanity is precisely what is needed to save the world from the pseudo-rationality of the corporate profit system that is consuming it like a cancer. The Internet provides the connectivity for the emergence of what can be called ‘Planetary Consciousness’ – the fulcrum of the modern Archimedes Hypothesis. And although the phrase ‘the collective brain of humanity’ sounds mystical, recent experiments and research have confirmed what Wall Street Journal and New Yorker business columnist James Suroweicki’s recent book calls The Wisdom of Crowds. (Subtitle: Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies, societies and nations.) It turns out experimentally that the judgment of large numbers of randomly chosen people is often strikingly superior to that of the experts. What is the explanation? The diversity and impartiality of opinions in a freely associated group or random mass apparently combine in positive ways to create this collective intelligence. But it only works when people are free of the kind of hierarchical constraints that produce ‘group-think’ in committees, hence the pitiful failure of the ‘experts’ in authoritarian, bureaucratic organizations like the CIA to deliver accurate ‘intelligence’ (for example about Saddam’s WMDs).
This ‘wisdom of crowds’ can be seen as awired version of the ‘wisdom in the heads of many’ we old socialists used to talk about. The creation, by thousands of individual contributors in a dozen languages, of Wikipedia the free online encyclopedia, is a splendid example of collective wisdom, far surpassing the long-revered Encyclopedia Britannica in scope. As for accuracy, Wikipedia is always correcting itself, whereas the elitist Britannica, which cost hundreds and rarely revised itself, was full of upper-class prejudice and long neglected the achievements of native peoples.
In any case, there is nothing impractical or unscientific in the romantic image of the collective brain of humanity connecting up its myriad nodes through cyberspace. Or of humanity acting with collective wisdom and strength of Billions to take charge of our poor world. ‘Only connect!’ could be the motto of a modern revolutionary network. Quite the contrary, the concept of Emergence is common to much 21st scientific thought in fields as diverse as Quantum mechanics, cybernetics, and brain physiology. Emergence – the spontaneous creation of order and complexity out of chaos – has now been observed in various natural phenomena which were previously inexplicable in terms of the standard top-down scientific models of cause/effect, leader/follower.[9]For those of us without access to higher mathematics, biology provides a more graphic example of emergence in the slime molds that appear and disappear as if from nowhere in the woods. Under certain favorable conditions, thousands of autonomous cells spontaneously come together and form new, more complex autonomous organism – the slime mold, a goopy vomit-like blob, which emerges, changes shape and moves. Not only that, it thinks, sort of. When placed by experimenters between two bits of food, it sent out pseudopods in both directions. However, when conditions change, the organism disaggregates into individual cells and seems to vanish. Scientists spent years searching for the ‘leader’ cell. Only after advanced computer techniques allowed researcher to model this behavior mathematically was its bottom-up nature accepted.
Similarly, scientists long rejected well-documented reports from Asia of thousands of chirping crickets or flashing fireflies suddenly chirping or flashing in unison – just as human concert audiences sometimes start clapping in unison without any leader intervening. Emergence has long been observed in the complex organization of ant and bee ‘societies;’ it is also visible in the development of the infant human brain, where Billions of brain-circuits spontaneously grow out of a few cells and connect into complex networks; we see Emergence as well in the history of the world’s cities where people of many trades came spontaneously together, each pursuing his/her own interests, and ‘accidentally’ produced what we call civilization. Social movements are also a form of spontaneous self-organization from below, as Rosa Luxemburg observed in 1905, the year of the revolutionary mass strikes she analyzedin Poland-Russia. Order and complexity are thus observed emerging out of chaos, based on connectivity between large numbers of free agents following their own paths.[10]
However, for this complexity to emerge, there must be a critical mass of individuals. ‘Many is different’ is the rule in Chaos-Complexity-Emergence theory. The other critical condition is freedom to communicate and interact ‘horizontally’ free of distortions imposed by a ‘vertical’ one-way organizing power, for example by corporate or government bureaucracies which generate group-think. A corollary of complexity theory is that free of such interference, tiny events may trigger huge changes, like the proverbial beat of a butterfly in China provoking a hurricane in Bermuda. Such is the nature of epidemics, fads, and religions, which grow exponentially once they reach the ‘tipping point.’ Utopia may turn out to be such an ‘idea virus,’ spreading through the Web and provoking the emergence of planetary consciousness. In any case, the recognition of emergence as a powerful natural phenomenon makes it scientifically plausible to visualize the emergence of a world-wide movement of multitudes of ordinary working people connecting and joining forces to save the planet.
Materialist Spirituality Victor Serge’s artist son Vlady Kibalchich ironically referred to his father’s ‘materialist spirituality.’ Indeed, Serge derived his spirituality directly from his materialist scientific worldview rather than from any tendency toward religious belief i.e. ‘superstition.’ To be sure, Serge’s vitalistic philosophical materialism is closer to Spinoza’s materialism, Darwin’s Hegelian-Marxist dialectics, Bergson’s élan vital, Verdnatsky’s noosphere and Edgar Morin’s complexity than on mechanistic positivism or vulgar scientism. The immaterial wrote Serge is not in the least unreal, but on the contrary an essential form of the real (thought) completely unexplainable by yesterday’s scientific rules. Indeed, it was after reading two recent books about new discoveries and theories in genetics that he noted: The old materialist schools would wax indignant and yet it is quite evident, however mysterious nature may be, that thought is the product of life, consubstantial with life, and that there would be nothing particularly bold in maintaining that it [thought] is itself life coming to discover and know itself. Fifty years after Serge’s death, this kind of planetary consciousness is emerging and propagating itself on the ‘material basis’ (if electrons are considered ‘material’) of planetary network connectivity. Now that nearly all of humanity’s scientific and intellectual insights are accessible to Billions of humans, life is coming to discover and know itself on a planetary scale. Our only hope is that humanity will use this technology to connect up its collective brain and multiply it calculating power like computers all connected together.
Such a visualization requires a major revolution in our way of thinking. The ‘vertical’ model of top-down organization, whether in society or in nature, has such a hold on our minds that it is difficult for us to think ‘horizontally’ much less in three or four dimensions. We have all inherited the 17th Century ‘scientific’ mindset of Descartes and Newton with its discrete atoms and billiard-ball physics. Our social thinking is still based on Adam Smith’s 18th Century theories of humans as unconnected individual economic atoms. Our political notions – whether establishment or ‘revolutionary’ – rely on simplistic top-down models of expert leaders and hierarchical organizations. Our logic is confined to mechanical notions of Cause and Effect and the crude duality of Either/Or, A or Not-A. Yet Quantum mechanics has been telling us for nearly a century that the universe is unstable, elusive, multiple, contradictory, holistic, and that it doesn’t work mechanically the way scientists used to think. Impossible? According to Zohar and Marshall, Quantum physics is like the Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass: it asks us to ‘believe six impossible things before breakfast.’ Quantum logic is based on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, where the act of observing phenomena itself alters them. For example light can be understood either as a particle or a wave, depending on how we measure it, but it can never be observed as both. It also turns out that electrons don’t spin in orbit around atoms like the stable planets revolving around the sun in Newton’s model. Not only do they leap from orbit to orbit for no apparent reason, ghostlike they appear to occupy several potential orbits simultaneously. This potentiality is like the mental ‘trial balloons’ in our minds as we imagine various possible futures. Moreover, not only is the position of electrons indeterminate, apparently everything in the universe is interconnected in a holistic system so that particles are observed in ‘ghostly’ action and reaction over distance and over time. Quantum reality was described by one of its discoverers as ‘a vast sea of potential.’ Indeed, Quantum systems interact and interpenetrate, retaining their integrity (their ‘particle function’) while at the same time merging (their ‘wave function’).
An Ecotopian Manifestival
Physicists have often compared these Quantic interactions to people dancing. As the dancers move together rhythmically (the wave function) they retain their individuality (the particle function) while at the same time creating a new emergent holistic system (the dance itself). Dancers love the feeling of getting ‘swept up’ or ‘lost’ in the dance, yet somewhere we are always aware of our own individuality. There is no ‘contradiction’ between our individual and social selves. The dance itself emerges as we interact with other dancers, mirroring their movements and being mirrored in turn. Like all emergent holistic systems, the dance is a ‘whole greater than the sum of its parts’ (another ‘impossible thing’ we were taught not to believe in). Humans apparently crave this kind of creative interaction, according to Barbara Ehrenreich in her brilliant Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. Ehrenreich shows that ecstatic danced religion – still practiced in indigenous societies – was humanity’s earliest expression of spirituality. On the other hand, down the ages organized religious and political authorities have uniformly tried to repress this tradition because of its revolutionary potential. Collective joy has been the enemy of power from Greek King Pentheus’ tragic attempt to suppress the worship of Dionysius to Puritanism’s suppression of the participatory tradition of Carnival and its replacement by spectacle and individual consumption under capitalism. Ehrenreich, a leading U.S. Socialist, ends her History of Collective Joy with a hopeful ‘Possibility of Revival,’ and I think she’s on the right track.
What better metaphor for the potential of humanity’s radical Emergence than the image of Billions of people dancing in the streets? Instead of a monolithic, militaristic, top-down revolutionary vanguard liberating the Masses, why not imagine multitudes of people everywhere descending non-violently into the streets and dancing up such a storm that even the hired mercenaries of the capitalists put down their guns and join the joyful throng! It wouldn’t be the first time that dance epidemics have swept across the world. According to ancient Greek historians Paucities and Plutarch, female worshippers of Dionysius called maenads used to abandon their spinning and children and run out into the woods in a frenzy of dance. In the Middle Ages, an infectious ‘dance plague’ called the Tarantella swept from village to village across Italy, irresistibly drawing people into the streets to dance until they dropped. Even in the most repressive societies, women still retain their traditional female circle dances, and I suspect that women – including women of faith – will take the lead in dancing our way out of self-destruction. And if men are irresistibly drawn into the dance, they will have to lay down their weapons before they are allowed to join in. ‘The Dance Craze that Saved the World?’ Why not, in this age of planetary connectivity where fads, fashions and financial disasters are propagated literally at the speed of light? Instead of organizing a centralized World Party, we eco-revolutionaries should be calling a Party for the Planet, like Dr. Earth, whose new London eco-club Surya[11] has shock absorbers beneath the dance floor which convert dance motions into electricity to run the club’s air-con system. The club’s tables are made out of recycled magazines and the walls crafted from old mobile phones. ‘We are now at the 11th hour of a global Armageddon caused by climate change,’ says Dr. Earth. ‘Clubbing should not be about escapism, alcohol and drugs. It should be about bringing people together in the name of hope, planet Earth and a positive future for mankind.’ Right on, Doc!
Party for the Planet!is only one of a number of Mutiny on Starship Earth scenarios consistent with contemporary science that the Archimedes Hypothesis permits us to imagine – perhaps the most pleasant imaginable – as one chance in a hundred. But aren’t love and joy more powerful than hate and shame? The world’s great Teachers all seemed to think so. To hold fast to such an idealistic planetary vision – I frankly admit it – demands an existential ‘leap of faith.’ Or at the very least the kind of ‘temporary suspension of disbelief’ we bring to a good film or novel. At every moment, the headlines seem to undermine our assumptions, while the voices of despair invite us to recline into cynicism and expediency, or to embark on self-defeating dangerous shortcuts. But however much we are tempted to doubt the power of these assumptions, our existential commitment directs us to behave as if the assumptions on which survival depends were demonstrably true before the fact. That is the Utopian Bet, and the only way to verify the validity of its assumptions is to play them out to the end. To win the Bet we must start with the assumption that we really do have a chance and then bet everything we have on that one chance. What do we have to lose that we aren’t losing now?

The Archimedes Hypothesis proposes a theoretical model for visualizing the material-historical possibility of a planetary revolution in our age of globalized corporate capitalism and planetary connectivity. The power of solidarity has proven itself capable of overcoming tyranny again and again, wherever people have united. The consciousness that a new society is necessary if the planet is not to be destroyed is more and more widespread. Today’s Internet technology at last provides a space for people around the planet to connect and take positive action on a global scale. Scarcity is no longer an issue. Modern technology produces such an abundance of food and material goods that overproduction undermines market stability. Inequality, not scarcity, is the cause of want. Utopia may thus be a realistic possibility – however remote it may seem at the moment. At the very least, the Archimedes Hypothesis permits us to imagine realistic science fiction scenarios about successful Mutinies on Spaceship Earth. It gives us the theoretical right to dream. And if one or more of these scenarios is compelling enough to fire the imagination of people around the world, who knows what may result from these small beginnings when the idea-virus of Utopia reaches the tipping-point and becomes an epidemic?
That, at least, is our Utopian bet. On the one hand, nothing to lose but the dismal spectacle of a dying world; on the other, a chance in a hundred to save ourselves and the beautiful blue-green planet we live on. In any case, it’s a bet we can’t refuse. In the 18th Century – the age of scientific and political revolutions – radical writers like Voltaire, Diderot, Thomas Paine and the Encyclopedists boldly proclaimed, The pen is mightier than the sword. History proved them right. Feudalism was overthrown. Today in the 21st Century – the age of connectivity and emergence – the Archimedes Hypothesis entitles us to state a claim of our own: The electronic keyboard is mightier than the nuclear missile!
All Power to the Imagination!

P.S. Please join me and my friends at www.wikitopia.wikidot.com and help dream up realistic scenarios for Mutiny on Spaceship Earth.

Patriotism or Planetarism? The idea of ‘the nation’ as something to which one owed loyalty (instead of just taxes) and from which one derived identity (as opposed to the family, the tribe, the village or town, the trade, and the ethno-linguistic group) is a modern invention, along with total war. Previously, people owed allegiance to a local lord or paid tribute to the capital of some remote, multi-ethnic empire (e.g. Rome). At the time of the French Revolution, which invented the idea of the Nation, few Frenchmen could sing the Marseillaise since most peasants (the vast majority of the population) did not speak French and had only the vaguest idea of ‘France’ (represented only by the annual visit of the tax collector). A hundred years ago, my paternal family lived in Krakow, then a part of a non-existent ‘Poland’ carved up between the Austrian, Prussian and Russian Empires. At the time, Krakow was incorporated into the relatively liberal, multi-national Austro-Hungarian Empire (whose administrative language was church Latin). My great-grandfather spoke Yiddish at home, studied classical Hebrew at the synagogue, and dealt with the outside world in Polish, German, Lithuanian or Russian. In those days, passports were only for diplomats and rich travelers; merchants and artisans routinely wandered from country to country plying their trades.Some, like Aaron Greeman, ended up in the U.S., whose most radical Founding Father, Tom Paine, agitated in Britain, America and revolutionary France famously declared: The world is my country!

[1] Women and Children First But what about human nature, people object. To be sure, the aggression, competitiveness and greed exemplified by the brawling, pilfering officers of Spaceship Earth (and by most of us average folks on petty, personal levels) are based on natural human instincts – traits which capitalist society magnifies both by cultivating and rewarding them. But cooperation and solidarity are also instinctive human survival traits – arguably more essential, if less obvious, because we take them for granted. Yet, without the nurturance and attention of parents, extended families and local societies, no human infant could survive our prolonged early helplessness or ever learn to speak. In humanity’s long past, solidarity and collaboration have been more effective than competition and aggression for our survival. As Barbara Ehrenreich points out in Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War, early humans – naked, hairless, clawless bands of men, women and children armed with sticks and stones – were easy prey for mega-mammals like the saber-toothed tiger. How then did these early human bands protect themselves and their young when faced with huge ravening predators? Apparently, our ancestors drove them off by forming a chorus line, donning costumes, waving branches, making horrible noises with voice and instruments and putting on a rhythmic group dance! This is not a joke. Put yourself in the place of a tiger looking to pick off a slow-moving human child for an easy snack and suddenly faced with an organized band of fifty men, women and children all wearing branches on their heads to look ten feet tall, waving more branches like claws on long, outstretched arms, jumping up and down, pounding their feet, agitating their branches and beating on drums altogether in the same rhythm while advancing in a body -- a 100-foot Chinese dragon screaming like a banshee. ‘Well, I wasn’t really in the mood for human child today, anyway.’ According to Ehrenreich, it would be hundreds of thousands of years before a class of aggressive, male predators armed with hi-tech bows and spears emerged to drive off other predators, call themselves chiefs and dominate society – like the officers of Spaceship Earth.

[2] On the other hand, we can only imagine what kind of world we might be living in today if instead of waiting until 1989, East had met West in 1968, when from Prague to Paris to Peking youth and oppressed people everywhere were rising up and demanding Utopia. For more about the Sixties, from the viewpoint of a participant-observer, please see my ‘Where Are The Riots of Yesteryear?’ in Beware of Vegetarian Sharks, www.lulu.com/content/923573 (free dowloads).
[3] It is interesting to note that the vast power of self-organized masses first manifested itself historically in the 1905 revolution in the Czarist Russia, where mass strikes and mass assemblies (soviets) spread like wildfire across the whole Czarist Empire thanks to the spontaneous, informal networks that linked largely ‘unorganized’ workers. A century later, just when the neighboorhood networks and social connections so important for human solidarity had largely been destroyed or atomised through suburbanisation, mass media, and consumerism, solidarity got a new lease on life thanks to the virtual networks of Facebook and Twitter.
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/20/world/asia/20china.html?ref=asia
[5]‘Sur le contenu du socialisme’ by P. Chaulieu (pseudonym for Cornelius Castoriadis) was first published in Socialisme et barbarie (Nos 22 and 23, 1957-58) – the year before I joined the group in Paris. Castoriadis’ inspiring text was quickly translated and published in England as a Solidarity pamphlet by ‘Paul Cardan’ and eventually in French in 1979 under Castoriadis’ real name – which I only learned years later. At that time, Castoriadis, a Greek revolutionary, who was living as a refugee in a France militarized by the Algerian revolution – a cause which Socialisme ou Barbarie openly supported. Trained as an economist, he worked under his real name for the Paris-based OCED and knew everything about the world economy (and everything else). It was in conversation with Castoriadis that I first heard about Norbert Weiner (then at Harvard) and cybernetics.
[6] See Norbert Weiner, The Human Use of Human Beings (Anchor, NY, 1954).
[7]Graham Robb, The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography From the Revolution to the First World War, W. W. Norton 2008.
[8] I have borrowed this concept, and the Hegelian-Marxist dialectical logic which flows from it, from the Marxist-Humanist philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya, who in her classic Marxism and Freedom (1958) and her more Hegelian Philosophy and Revolution (1989) revived the dialectic and humanism of Marx and showed the relevance of Hegelian Absolute Method to our epoch.
[9]See The Quantum Society: Mind, Physics and a New Social Vision by Danah Zohar and Ian Marshall, 1993. Also ‘Quantum political economy’ by Marxist physicist David Hookes (Univ. Liverpool).
[10] The grandfather of Chaos/Complexity/Emergence theory was probably Blaise Pascal, the 17th Century French mathematician, scientist and religious philosopher – from whose Pensées (Thoughts) I borrowed the ‘Bet’ argument – and who contributed to probability theory, infinitesimal calculus and invented the first mechanical computing machine. In the early 20th Century the Soviet geologist Vladimir Vernadsky developed his theories of the interconnected geosphere, the biosphere and the noosphere (human thought) which seem to be confirmed by modern science. My own highly superficial knowledge of these theories comes from reading the books of Edgar Morin (who was part of Socialisme ou Barbarie in the early ‘50s) and scientific popularizations, often written by practicing scientists. For example Steven Strogatz (Cornell Applied Math), one of world’s leading researchers into chaos, complexity and synchronization, author of SYNC: the emerging science of spontaneous order (Penguin Science 2003); Mark Buchanan, former physicist and Nature editor, author of Small World: Uncovering nature’s hidden networks (Phoenix London 2002); Albert-Lásló Barabási, (Physics, Notre Dame) Linked (Penguin 2003). The best of the science writers is Steven Johnson, whose Emergence (2001) is a classic for beginners. See also Roger Lewin, Complexity, Life at the Edge of Chaos (Phoenix London 1993); John Gribbin, Deep Simplicity, Chaos, Complexity and the Emergence of Life (Penguin 2004); and James Gleick Chaos, Making a New Science (Penguin 1987). The same research bolsters Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference (Little, Brown & Company 2000) which focuses on exploiting the PR potential of complexity theory.