An evaluation of four early 20th century British scientists and their
radical social inclinations.
Comments too on some contemporary theorists of eco-domesday
and the appalling failure of conservation measures
regarding sites of industrial dereliction.
(The following is a theoretical drift which originally saw the light of day as a letter to a very intelligent guy in Huddersfield with a passion for moths and, on a more general level, a fellow traveller on the same eco-revolutionary wavelength. It has since been amended, somewhat altered and put in a more coherent sequence)
Dear Huddersfield Mothman,
Thanks for your appreciative remarks on the www.dialecticalbutterflies.com website. Excuse the delay in replying but have been very busy.
Regarding melanism have you read the little book Of Moths and Men by Judith Harper? The title is suggestive of a feminist approach to the subject (i.e. women would never have been so easily duped!) and is subtitled: 'Intrigue, tragedy and the Peppered Moth'. But it appears Kettlewell may have falsified the evidence and the question of industrial melanism a far more complicated matter than has been made out hitherto. As is well known both EB Ford and the great Haldane uncritically accepted Kettlewell's findings. I do know the controversy over the Peppered Moth has cast considerable doubt on the EB Ford/Kettlewell thesis that it was an evolutionary response to industrialization and one we could see happening before our very eyes. Everyone wants to see evolution happening before their eyes but even so there can be no doubt that urbanism and industrialization has profoundly affected wild life and we are only just becoming aware of how deep and on going the process is.
I was going to send you a short resume I had been wrestling with regarding Marxism and science particularly in relationship to four notable 20th century British scientists. Haldane, (a geneticist, amongst other things) Bernal (a crystallographer), Levy (a mathematician and physicist) and Needham (a biochemist chiefly interested in embryology who in 1932 founded the Theoretical Biology Club to counteract the eugenic thinking of the Rockefeller Foundation that was promoting a reductive 'science of man' which was also a science of social control. Nothing has fundamentally changed since, though the term eugenic has been discreetly dropped from the scientific vocabulary though the concept is still very much alive and kicking).
However, such a resume requires a return to basics and raising that most difficult of subjects, the relationship between dialectical and scientific reason. Even this division is suspect because Hegel would argue dialectical reason is scientific in fact more rigorous than mathematical or formal logic. The more I puzzle over it and think about it the more questions it inevitable raises and the more my mind goes dark pondering these thorny questions - ouch.
I read two essays by Levy and Bernal on dialectical materialism as a general science or a higher science, whichever way you like to put it. Levy, an honest man, who was eventually expelled from the Communist party (and to his credit the Labour party also!) clearly had great difficulties with its scholastic categorisations. He refers to the 'laws' of dialectical change as written in 'almost medieval language' and is 'repellent to the scientific man'. (See his essay: A Scientific Worker looks at Dialectical Materialism 1934). Interestingly the only scientist Henri Lefebvre respectfully mentions in his little book Dialectical Materialism written in the late 1930s is Hyman Levy. He most have felt attracted to Levy's lack of dogmatism and thought here was a fellow spirit who cannot easily be made to toe the party line even though Lefebvre continued to do so well into the 1950s.Though Bernal and Levy were friends, Bernal pretty much remained a faithful scientific apparatchik of the Soviet Union all his life and had no difficulty in accepting Engels's Dialectics of Nature as the new Soviet Sermon on the Mount. Lefebvre's Dialectical Materialism was important in reviving the long lost themes of reification and alienation so essential to a critique of capitalism. (Would that scientists could take up these themes today and it must remain one of the great mysteries of our time why a scream of pain, powerful enough to burst the ear drums and which has no equivalent in scientific history, has not rent the world's scientific laboratories). Lefebvre almost pokes fun at Hegel's triadic formulation of thesis, antithesis, synthesis central to dialectical thought, citing no less an authority than Hegel himself : 'If one wants to count them' says Hegel').
In a forward to the fifth edition of 'Dialectical Materialism' written in 1961 Lefebvre apologises for his adherence, twenty-five years previously, to dialectical materialism as a philosophy of nature i.e. the natural sciences. He blames Stalin and Zhdanov for this error ' perhaps crime would be a more appropriate word - but he would have done better had he gone back to basics and indicted Engels 'Dialectics of Nature' (c.1873) and before that Hegel's Philosophy of Nature. It is a commonplace of Marxist hagiography that Marx turned Hegel's dialectic right side up, giving it a materialist foundation. However as Lefebvre reminds us: 'It was only with great caution that Marx embarked on this path (as in his application of the dialectical method to economics)'. Engels, a connoisseur of Hegel if ever there was one, was more ready to throw caution to the wind believing the dialectical materialist method possessed a universal truth i.e. was applicable to all sciences. And he also thought he was turning Hegel right side up whereas Engels's critique, when it comes to nature, is basically the same as Hegel's who was the most materialist of all idealist philosophers, though Engels did recognise this when he perceptively wrote 'idealist systems also filled themselves more and more with a materialist content'. What other aerie fairy, wilting philosopher with their head in the clouds has wallowed in shit like Hegel, realising without it humanity would starve? To see in this a remarkable anticipation of the importance of the nitrate cycle is not to confer on Hegel the benefit of hindsight!
Hegel's philosophy of nature is a summation of tendencies begun by Kant within classical German philosophy. It is a strain to even attempt to read it today though my foreign languages publishing house copy of Engels's Dialectics of Nature was mislaid, without undue regret, years ago. It would be unfair to say Hegel's Philosophy of Nature died without issue but it did take the deification of Engels to successfully imprint its spirit on a third of the world.
In fact 'naturphilosophie', of which Hegel's work forms a discrete part, was once hugely influential and, it has to be said, more scientifically consequential as regards actual discoveries than dialectical materialism ever was. (Its proper field of application I will repeatedly stress is the history of science and I unhesitatingly agree with Hyman Levy's considered judgement 'the so-called laws of the dialectic, couched as they must be in very general terms, must have there principal application in the field of social and economic development. They appear to add little or nothing to the detailed methods of analysis of scientific workers'). We have only to think of Goethe's anatomical studies and great work on plant morphology. That most influential of 19th century geologists and naturalists, Louis Aggasiz (1807-73), was a naturphilosophe - and the first to suggest, as a result of meticulous observation, there had been several ice ages. So was the nasty Richard Owen, the life-long opponent of Darwin and coiner of the word 'dinosaur'. However to say that all naturalists who subscribed to the argument for God's existence from design, like William Paley, were nature-philosophers in the strict German meaning of the term would be wrong. Paley could point to the blue yonder and say that's where God is. But following Kant, the high priests of German nature philosophy rigorously rejected any ontological proof of God's existence but retained it as a regulative if not a constitutive hypothesis. The philosophers that immediately followed Kant introduced an ever greater dynamism ('praxis'!) into their respective systems with the result that God became ever less a preformed entity but something that was continually developing towards an ever greater perfection in nature and man.(In fact it was on the specific nature of the relationship between the two that finally caused Hegel to distance himself from Schelling, preferring to see in nature the 'otherness' of man, or the 'idea', and hence the alienation of man, or the 'idea'.) Whew! I have already pointed out the close materialist/idealist parallels between Hegel's and Engels's conception of nature but Hegel's conviction, which he loved to throw in the face of German romanticism, that nature had been tamed and bent to mankind's purpose was one he shared with Marx. In the margins of a lecture he gave in 1805-6 he wrote: 'Wind, mighty river, mighty ocean, subjugated, cultivated. No point in exchanging compliments with it ' puerile sentimentalities etc'. This comment is all the more fit for my purpose in so far as it was part of a lecture dealing with tools - yes tools ' and the teleology of labour, which sounds more grounded if we call it the labour process. And then compare it with the following quotation from Marx's 'Grundrisse' (1857-8) 'Where does Vulcan come in as against Roberts and Co? Jupiter as against the lightning conductor? And Hermes as against the Credit Mobilier? All mythology masters and dominates and shapes the forces of nature in and through the imagination; hence it disappears as soon as man gains mastery over the forces of nature'. What must be at once apparent to anyone reading this today is that we haven't gained control over the forces of nature and that nature is set to take the most terrible revenge.
(A little aside: Having discovered what has to be Britain's most unusual Grayling colony in Healey Mills Marshalling Yards midway twixt Wakefield and Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, I began to look into the origin of the yards, turning up an old photo of a huge iron foundry, the property of Roberts and Co! Could this be the very company Marx was referring to? And how odd that the foundry has long since gone and in its stead there is this most unusual colony of butterflies.)
What happens now? And what impact will this awareness have on the future trajectory of science? It all seems a very far cry from the glowing positivism of dialectical materialism. Suppose a hellish catastrophe is just around the corner? Despite the destruction of lives, by far the greatest Homo erectus as a genus has ever endured and its bitter, even insupportable aftermath, it also seems unlikely a nature religion will once more take root with all its myths, attendant rituals and suspension of disbelief. The handful of survivors will be living in a state of acute existential agony and bereft of that most precious gift, the dream of utopia. They will have no past worth remembering and no future to look forward to, and perhaps even incapable of reproducing themselves. The guilt over what that meaningless abstraction 'humanity' has done in the past may be such that the survivors spontaneously abase themselves before any living object in the natural world, ready to beg forgiveness. There will certainly be no 'exchanging of compliments with it' analogous to Hegel's cynical depiction of romantic nature schmaltz. The horrors that the soviet state philosophy of dialectical materialism (in fact the philosophy of state capitalism - a concept that now must never be given a renewed airing) strove to conceal is mild in comparison, even though it did involve the deaths of millions in the gulags. So let us now return to the cosier comforts of those years, which seem positively humane in comparison to what will undoubtedly come to pass short of an anti-capitalist revolution.
I have in my possession the first edition of Bernal's Science in History (1954!) in which he denies, under the influence of Lysenko, the existence of genes. ('genes were supposed to be material bodies - but ' neither then nor since have they been isolated and their nature still remains hypothetical'- in later editions the offending sentences have been mercifully removed). What is amazing Bernal even managed to convince the great populational geneticist Haldane of it - but not for long and scientific integrity won out in the end when Haldane was forced to denounce Lysenko as a fawning, politically manipulated impostor. (In fact Julian Huxley had irrefutably exposed Lysenko as a fraudster and if Haldane had continued to ratify this perversion of scientific integrity he would have become the butt of ridicule in a scientific community that previously went in awe of him. As it was, Haldane remained a great scientist and both Crick and Watson were deeply indebted to him and the discovery of the DNA molecule may have been delayed if it wasn't for Haldane).
I don't know if Haldane wrote on dialectical materialism as a ' as the - philosophy of science but would be interested to know more. And as for Needham - who cannot but be impressed by his four volumes on Chinese Science? I went on the internet to see if I could find a copy of his book The Sceptical Biologist and was amazed to find several copies for sale, all in America and Canada. (This came out in 1929 a year or so before Bukharin made an entrance at the international conference on science in which he strove to press upon scientists the acceptance of 'dialectical materialism' as a guiding philosophy to their studies. The worst depression in the history of capitalism was beginning to bite and this conference, precisely on account of Bukharin's well-timed intervention, had a huge influence on scientists around the world. It also marks the beginning of the canonization of dialectical materialism as the Soviet Union's new religion which was then assiduously promoted by Stalin who, incidentally, seized hold of Bukharin's ideas on science whilst vehemently rejecting his proposed economic reforms which were an anticipation of Gorbachov's some fifty years later. After an infamous Moscow show trial Bukharin was bundled off to the Lubyanka prison and shot). However to repeat, it is mainly within the domain of scientific history, not actual scientific method, that dialectical materialism has scored its greatest success. Bukharin's scientific proselytising was greatly aided by what was generally regarded as a brilliant and innovative interpretation of Newton by Boris Hessen in Science at the Cross-Roads, a collection of papers edited by Bukharin and presented to the International Congress of Science and Technology held in 1931. This essay endeavoured to show how the general mechanical problems Newton set himself to solve were conditioned by the current needs of technics, particularly the technics of military and naval warfare. Later Bernal would write a lengthy book on science (op. cit. Science in History 1954) in which he argued as a matter of principle technical innovation tended to come before that of 'pure' scientific theory, which essentially was an extrapolation after the fact. And today Needham is chiefly remembered for his volumes on Chinese science. The volumes are also intended as a necessary corrective to the arrogance of western scientists. He claims for instance that the Chinese discovered the circulation of the blood before William Harvey but have never been credited with that discovery. By all accounts Needham remained a humble, approachable man all his life and he comes across as an attractive personality which is more than can be said for most scientists today, drunk as they are on petty power and the ethos of business ' rather, in fact, like installation artists ever looking to hand out their autographs.
Needham also wrote on Coleridge in an essay entitled 'Coleridge as a biologist' in The Sceptical Biologist which I would be very interested to read. Under the influence of German philosophical idealism, the clash of opposites and their interpenetration began to play an increasingly important part in Coleridge's thought and I rather think Needham was perhaps the last biologist capable of tackling such a tricky subject. (Coleridges's favourite proverb was 'extremes meet'- the debt to dialectical philosophy is obvious though surprisingly he never once mentioned Hegel to my knowledge, though he does Schelling who, for a time, was theoretically close to Hegel to the point of actually collaborating on some texts together. Coleridge is credited with bringing classical German philosophy to Britain almost unaided. He had plunged in at the deep end actually reading Kant in German, which is no mean achievement. However he must have found the Kantian antinomies repugnant and constantly strove to find a way beyond them, writing in his truly astonishing notebooks things like 'the reconciliation of the many with the one ' of a plurality with unity'. He found this reconciliation in the realm of the imagination which 'reveals itself in the reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities'. This, in essentials, is little different to Kant's view as expressed in The Critique of Judgement his last great work on aesthetics and natural organisms in particular ' which revealingly takes up a major part of the book - and published shortly before the French Revolution of 1789. This latter work is commonly acknowledged as reconciling the two formerly opposed antinomies of pure and practical reason and was immediately seized on as pointing to a practical resolution of the problem. What a pity then these half-buried ideas in Coleridge were never subsequently taken up and given a more practical field to play in other than that of art or poetry and which, as the 19th century turned into the 20th century and then the 21st, became an ever more empty substitute for genuine, practical creativity. Who knows but we could have had an 'English' version of Marx's - Thesis on Feurbach - the summation of romanticism if you like - and which would have been of huge relevance to our time. I will end this protracted digression with a couple of conjoint quotes from Coleridge's notebooks penned during the revolutionary West Country years of 1794-9: 'Property intended to secure to every man the produce of his toil - as at present instituted, operates directly contrariwise to this. (NB', 'Poetry ' excites us to artificial feelings ' makes us callous to real ones'. This very remarkable combination of thoughts needed the merest tweaking to become truly explosive).
The more quietist, reconciliatory, reactionary side of Kant's aesthetics, is nonetheless there in the attitude of some of today's scientists who are patently close to the end of their tether and ready to clutch at the ghost of a straw. This will no doubt come as a surprise to them but there is a definite correspondence. I was particularly struck by a review of Steve Jones book Coral by Richard Fortey (author of Trilobite! and The Earth etc) who censures Jones for being insensitive to the beauty of coral reefs. This must surely be a plea entered on behalf of the bleakest nature aesthetic ever. In Keats' Ode to Melancholy beauty must die but in the scheme of things it will also be reborn. But not so today and after Keats, the definitions of beauty that really mattered were heavily ironic and designed to shock - the very opposite of 'beauty'. If Lautreamont were alive today and something of a lepidopterist ' which he could easily have been - he may well have supplemented his remarks on the beautiful trembling of an alcoholic's hand, with something along the lines of 'as beautiful as the last, disorientated Dingy Skipper and a bulldozer on a Yorkshire colliery spoil heap.' In so far as it implies the opposite, irony is a dialectical mode of expression and if the axiom was to lead to uproar and the eventual saving of the Dingy Skipper on these spoil heaps then ' yes - it would be truly 'beautiful'. But make no mistake about it, in today's increasingly repressive climate it could mean the ugliest of set-to's.
And the worst of it is there is scarcely a scientist alive today who dare tell it like it is. Neither Fortey nor Jones, for example, will come clean about capitalism and prefer in the last instance to opt for all manner of evasions rather than acknowledge it. The fact that Steve Jones never mentions capitalism to my mind vitiates his 'Coral' book. Excuse me for thinking that it is blindingly obvious capitalism plays a preponderant role in the destruction of the world's coral reefs. Rather than admit it, Jones plumps for a lame Darwinism as though this mass extinction at present under way is a natural rather than social event and cannot therefore be prevented. Someone like Steve Jones is more open to such questions but yields to a Duchampian readymade Darwinism, patently a cop out, at least avoids the indignity of being ostracised from a highly conservative scientific community increasingly afraid of its own shadow. (Just how much, intellectual humiliation and abuse is a scientist prepared to put up with before she/he joins a picket line?) His co-conspirator in remaining silent has to be Richard Fortey who is also aware of the impending destruction but mounts a desperate final plea on behalf of nature's beauty commending us to enjoy it while we can though it is fast fading from the scene. Colin Tudge is prepared to speak his mind and is doubtless regarded as somewhat off it by the academic community. I greatly benefited from reading his book on trees and one day must get around to reading his: 'And so shall you reap.' Yet in our opinion his critiques of political economy remains rudimentary despite his increasingly vociferous condemnation of capitalism. He wants the democratisation of money rather than its abolition. None the less, the guy very recently (The Guardian July 31st 2007) probably accurately predicts that the outcome of the Summer of Floods will be 'that Britain's farming should go the way of its coal-mining' seeing the county's climate has become too fickle for agriculture. (Globalisation's answer is always to up the ante closing down the offending object/subject.)
Most paid-up scientific intellectuals are however fearful and/or benign in their critiques so it is hardly surprising that conservation practise, if one can even call it that, is what it is. The naivet' of groups like Butterfly Conservation and Buglife when faced with the all-devouring ogre beggars belief. Ted Benton the bumble bee expert is prepared to call into question the profit motif which in every case takes precedence over conservation matters. But even so his nascent critique of political economy must be pushed further - much, much further. As for James Lovelock the question does not even figure in his analysis though few who have bothered to study him would doubt the conclusion spilling over from his Revenge of Gaia that if things continue as they are the end result will be billions dead. The two hundred millions who died in the two world wars become almost paltry beside Lovelock's death certificate for Homo sapiens. The fact that he is prepared to countenance this unprecedented catastrophe, the worst by far in the entire history of the human species, with such equanimity is indeed chilling. And what about the survivors of such a holocaust? Will they be able to function as per normal? Lovelock never once raises the question what life will be like for the survivors of such an unimaginable holocaust. Psychologically it will be wretched in the extreme. There will be nothing to look back on or even forward to and humanity's utopian impulse will be extinguished forever. The pitiful remnants of humanity may well fizzle out because the hell of continuing to live on in the aftermath of all that suffering will be just too much for the human mind to bear.
Dialectical Materialism as a term has, of course, long fallen out of use. Maybe it is due for a more thoroughly worked-through revival, maybe not. However it does strike me certain concepts belonging to what may loosely be called dialectical materialism find their way into the work of Fritjof Capra, particularly his Tao of Physics (1971) and The Turning Point (1982). Significantly Needham receives a honourable mention in the latter book. I also think it significant The Tao of Physics' commences on a beach in California with a surf-city, tableau vivante, epiphany resembling one of those dreadful alternative collages of psychedelic quantum particles set against a shadowy backdrop of Hindu deities that Allen Ginsberg could easily have cooked up. In a sense Capra is concluding what Robert Oppenheimer (the tortured inventor, with others, of the atomic bomb) initiated and it is not difficult to imagine the despairing Oppie, taking time-off from reading the Mahabarata, singing along to 'Hari Krishna, Hare Rama'. Finally Capra's two books have almost certainly been influenced by the anarchist Murray Bookchin and the Institute of Social Ecology he set up first of all in the 1960s. But of course Capra discreetly avoids mentioning Murray as did Rachel Carson of Silent Spring fame, way back in the 1950s because Murray made no bones about his anti-capitalist convictions. None the less she pillaged Murray's themes, the book being a nauseating example of recuperation ' the means whereby the essential sting is taken out of valid arguments ' thus making them somewhat acceptable to the powerful system which imperiously rules this impossible world.
However, Capra believes 'the revolution' will come from a revolution in perception alone. It won't. It can't. By itself a change in outlook will not change society and no where in his books are basic questions like funding, the role of the state and big business ever raised. Consequently it should come as no surprise that what Capra is condemning ('mechanism', 'domination', 'self-assertion', the 'yang' rather than the 'yin', the 'pong' and not the 'ping') in his books has only grown worse - infinitely worse - over the last thirty years and this despite his lauding of feminism and ecologism ' both by now 'isms' by the way and like all isms compromised to the hilt by the biggest ism of them all, capitalism. What a relief then to get away from this obfuscation and read the final sentence of Levy's previously cited essay written over 30 years prior to the Tao of Physics and, which seems obvious to silly old me: 'But to expect such a revolution in outlook without a corresponding change in the whole structure of society would be itself undialectical'.
James Lovelock the author of Gaia fulsomely praised The Turning Point when it came out in 1982 describing it as 'an essential guide for anyone inquiring about the place of science and metascience in our contemporary culture'. Lovelock was by this time just beginning to savour a growing fame but what on earth could he mean by metascience? It is certainly true his theory of a live earth was reinstating a long dead, though non-mythological, animus (the only concession to mythology is in the name Gaia, the Earth Goddess) but a word like metascience does imply a metaphysic of science and in that sense can be bracketed alongside dialectical materialism, a corpus of ideas and laws Lovelock would beyond a shadow of a doubt find ludicrous. Or could 'metascience' be code for the need for a new totality, a totality Lovelock, and a rapidly growing number of other scientists, are forced to knock their heads against yet at the same time are set on dodging and, rather than confront the self-evident, lash out in all directions? This is a very real, growing dilemma and more often than not it leads to a chilling, generalised apoplexy rather than a coherent knitting together ' 'a totality' - of separated fragments. Lovelock's Revenge of Gaia (2006) unfortunately falls into this category. Apart from his nimbyism and support for nuclear power there is never much more than a nebulous mention of consumerism or globalisation, certainly not the forces - unfettered international capitalism - that have led to it - subjects, surely, essential to tackle if the revenge of Gaia is to be halted. Once really threatened one does wonder if the increasing number of people like Lovelock will not hesitate to resort to the utmost barbarism. The answer to this question will certainly come over the next thirty years or so.
Lovelock in the book paints the blackest of pictures, truly a scientistic, Rodchenko-like, Black on Black. On the back cover of the penguin edition, Mark Lynas is quoted as saying it is an 'utterly terrifying' book. Now Lynas has just built himself a reputation by writing a book '6 Degrees' (2007) that describes what happens to the planet with each one-degree increase in temperature. At six degrees fireballs are exploding in the air. Is he depressed by this? Well, if he is he hardly shows it, for Lynas is one of the growing band of eco-operators seeking to profit from apocalypse by landing himself a superannuated position on the board of a global company. Never the less Lynas's book describes in an easy to read, popular manner - and with much graphic detail - the horror which awaits us and for that we must give him credit. As for Lovelock he is too well established to hanker after the job of businessman of domesday. He is too comfortably off to want more and that makes Lovelock the more dangerous because his crazed opinions are free from the taint of money and consequently that much more attractive and potent. Meanwhile, as a foretaste of what's in Lovelock's store, sample the following: 'Whatever form future society takes it will be tribal, and hence there will be the privileged and the poor' - or - 'Most of us prefer an urban existence, provided that predatory low life is kept invisible'. And by that he does not mean urban foxes!
In fact Lovelock has no feel at all for brownfield sites. He says rightly that the majority of people now live in cities and that consequently they are cut-off from mother earth (Gaia) and have no awareness of the natural world. There is some truth to this but it also fails to explain the growing popularity of nature programs on TV. This also raises a host of other important issues Lovelock is blind to, like the valorising of nature program presenters able to increase their net worth and nest egg with each fledged brood of tits or swallows. (In addition to presenting Springwatch, the enormously popular nature-soap, a life-sized cut out of Bill Oddy is to be found in lots of garden centres promoting some horticultural disaster or other. He also has no qualms sales-pitching for B&Q either, a DIY store that epitomises the de-industrialisation of Britain and the lightning, subcontracted industrialisation of China, international capital attracted there by a limitless industrial reserve army, able temporarily to offset the falling rate of profit. However to insist on this degree of logic and to argue that it is two sides of the same coin is largely frowned on in wild life circles and considered irrelevant, churlish and bad form.)
That said it should come as no surprise to find Lovelock's unrepentant class snobbery translates into a rural, almost chocolate box, idyll. 'By good countryside I mean farming land and communities that live well with the earth and presents an ecosystem which ' has ample room for woodlands, hedgerows and meadows. Most of southern England was like this before 1940, and the largest remaining parts are in the West Country especially Devon'. He illustrates his book with a number of colour plates one of which especially caught my eye on account of its beauty. It is a typical scene from the next county down the peninsula and is captioned: 'Cornwall, England. Land devastated by tin and copper mining'. The objection I have to Lovelock is not just that he has no eye for the beauty of industrial dereliction, but that he also has no appreciation of the growing awareness that sites like these are becoming wildlife havens.
In a recent radio program broadcast on Radio 4, May 31st 2007 entitled Costing the Earth - an examination of brownfield sites even I was astonished to hear one of the interviewees claim that the bigger the city the more bio diverse they are, a claim I still have trouble believing. On the same program the redoubtable Ted Benton author of the definitive work on bumblebees (Bumblebees The New Naturalist 2006) could be heard kicking off about 'the profit motif' and, which has in every case won out as opposed to conservation. Would that Butterfly Conservation could say the same and not mince matters, which makes it all but impossible in the long run to conserve butterflies. Benton is keenly appreciative of the wonders that have come have to light in the industrial graveyard of the Thames estuary and his discovery of the Scarce Emerald Damsel Fly (lestes dryas) in the late 1980s on the abandoned Occidental site on Canvey Island was one of the factors leading to a closer examination of this breathtaking, sublime place.
Since he wrote his book on bumblebees an edge has crept into Ted Benton's voice knowing that he can do little to halt the destruction of the former Occidental site and what rightly has been described as 'England's rain forest'. Of course we need to say more about the structure of capitalism than just point the finger at the profit motif. But it is a start and prompted me to look through the index where I chanced on William Blake's name. Going to the relevant page I found that Benton had indicted William Blake for introducing a sharp division between urban and rural life ever since he compared the 'dark satanic mills' with 'England's green and pleasant land'. I would disagree with this characterisation of Blake for of all the great romantics he was the closest to industry and the industrial working class. And he was the most consistently revolutionary. But the fact that Ted had been able to put Blake into perspective and felt it appropriate to mention his name linking it to the need to preserve brownfield sites meant that here at last was a person one could have a fruitful discussion with and so widen and push the whole matter of conservation forward. We would have much to learn from each other, which is how things should be. But not so Butterfly Conservation who have closed their doors to a wider questioning such that to query, for example, the increasing control of the Treasury over urban, particularly housing, development must inevitably lead to riots in Pall Mall and the abolition of the monarchy (if only!). They are that paranoid. For the life of me I cannot help feeling there is something Stalinoid about the organisation requiring absolute obedience and obeisance ' or else!
During May of this year (2007) I also listened to a radio program on beetles which I wish now I had recorded. Tongue in cheek and chuckling slightly one of the coleopterist's interviewed described beetles as the proletariat of the insect world whilst butterflies were the middle class! In fact he had a point. Beetles are everywhere and have invaded every nook and cranny and to illustrate his point this coleopterist went off to see what he could find in the way of beetles under a gasometer. Butterflies are far pickier and until the last couple of decades they were firmly associated in everyone's mind with the countryside. This is no longer the case and strictly speaking it never was true - certainly not as regards moths, though looking through a major work like Richard South's 'Moths' published in the first decade of the 20th century, the name Shipley crops up now and again whereas I have yet to find a reference to Bradford. (For those who don't know Shipley is the posher part of Bradford!) Old habits die-hard and unfortunately Butterfly Conservation have yet to truly emancipate themselves from a Lovelockian hankering for a vanished rural idyll that will never return except as a brutal parody of its former self, perhaps even as an armed gated community.
The prejudice against industry and brownfield sites is such that one top official went so far as to describe old railway sidings as eyesores! What chance of saving the Dingy Skippers on the pit spoils heaps of northern England given this degree of rural chauvinism? These arcane, very traditional attitudes were nurtured way back and spring from the counterattack launched against industrial capitalism by a landed and commercial aristocracy miffed at the repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1830s. Of course the last thing I want to do is to cast myself in the role of an apologist for industrial capitalism but I do wish to stress how fundamental these attitudes are in this country and what an invasive, stuck-up, petty-minded (a pettiness that ultimately comes from a courtly respect for the minutiae of hierarchy), jaundiced, carnivorous plant it is, becoming stronger by the moment the more industrial capitalism and a manual proletariat is routed and finance capitalism takes over. I stressed this country because the surprising fact mentioned previously regarding big city biodiversity came from a study of German cities and Germany in 2006 generated a '60 billion trade surplus in manufactured goods. Clearly there is nothing like the same prejudice against industry as in this country and this also applies to industrial dereliction because in Germany in the Ruhr at least one industrial park has been created and the old steel works in Duisberg left to oxidise and rot down and nature free to invade as it so pleases. But in England in particular all traces of the industrial past are assaulted with such a pathological ruthlessness and sheer vindictiveness that shortly not a hint of it will remain, including the wild life that was beginning to take up residence there. To its abiding shame Butterfly Conservation at worst has lent its authority to this terrible destruction (actually a holocaust of the Dingy Skipper) and at best stayed silent. We did, in fact, 'discover' a lot of colonies or if not that, gave them profile. Only one of these discoveries, the Penistone railway station colony is still for the moment thriving though perhaps half has been destroyed through development since coming across it in 2004.
Recently, it seems according to friends, things have taken a sinister turn and Butterfly Conservation together with other wildlife organisations are helping local councils to supposedly recreate Dingy Skipper and possibly other habitats for other flora and fauna on the Notts/Derbys spoil heaps, after they've been destroyed by government/commercial diktat with utterly disastrous results. Is this face saving or sheer cynicism or a mixture of both? This is especially so at Warsop Vale in North Notts where in the last three years or so, an expensive makeover has taken place which inevitably has destroyed an abundant colony of the Dingy Skipper but (hey!) the developers, fearing recriminations perhaps, have had the bare-faced cheek to do an about turn and supposedly re-create the original sympathetic wildlife terrain while retaining their chocolate box, essentially southern England image of nature so beloved of the estate agent sell. And who have been their best friends in this skull-duggery? Why no other than Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation who have sanctioned this con whereby a nutrient rich meadowland base, no matter that there maybe a fair mix of crushed limestone, maerl and paper crumble thrown in for good measure, has been imposed over the necessary nutrient poor cover which so favours the Dingy Skipper along with many other species. It painfully hasn't worked yet the truth of a tiny emergence or extinction of the butterfly has been effectively silenced. These on-going Nottinghamshire makeovers have not only destroyed the Dingy Skipper but the Grizzled Skipper and Small Blue too, despite media sound bites proclaiming the contrary. Butterfly Conservation tells you to inform the authorities if you find something of importance as it's a step in the right direction. Don't bother as all you're going to do is give the authorities the information they need to swat the natural invertebrate bastards before anybody else realises what's on their doorstep.
The point here is: it is now impossible to work with developers in any capacity whatsoever simply because they are so brutally draconian though very skilled in the black art of spin. Absolutely everything they turn their hand to is wrong, wrong, wrong. What genuine conservationists must do is expose this arrogance, throw up their hands in horror and stop placating these monsters, even if it means saying 'there's nothing we can do about it'. At least that would be honest. In South Yorkshire, the developmental umbrella bodies knowing well they have destroyed the rich and getting ever-richer biodiversity of the spoil heaps have stealthily gone back (in the dead of night one wonders?) and in the case of the Dingy Skipper planted birds foot trefoil here and there after the original plants were destroyed wholesale. Well it shows they finally care doesn't it? The trouble is they've seeded the new fluorescent green rye grass with the broad stem, tall trefoil favoured by the horticultural sales pitch and which is anathema to the Dingy Skipper. But the pet ecologists in the pay of the developers don't care. Why should they; just gimme money honey!
As for destruction the same fate awaits the Grayling colony in Healey Mills Marshalling Yards between Wakefield and Dewsbury. Essentially, the colony has been left to its devices for it was indeed remarkable to see how the butterflies were availing themselves if the rotting industrial detritus choosing to perch on rusting points levers rather than on birch bark, a favourite resting spot and which prompted Niko Tinbergen to describe the butterfly as 'the bark with wings'. To my mind it is the most remarkable Grayling colony in the country which has been left to perish. Again we are disgusted with Butterfly Conservation and local biodiversity groups in Wakefield's and Kirklees council for failing to do anything about the butterfly allowing a now rampant carr woodland to invade the broad expanses of rusting tracks, hardcore and decades old remnants of coal heaps which the grayling would frequently rest on. I doubt if the EWS management is even aware of the butterfly's existence and for sure I'm no longer prepared to risk arrest in the yards in the hope that something may eventually be done about it. Haphazardly situated on the Calder flood plain, on the all but abandoned yards which will never be developed because of subsidence, I'm sure an approach from a biodiversity group or BC could at least succeed in getting rid of some of the invasive carr woodland which will eventually kill off the Grayling in a few years time. However I have come to the conclusion that is just what these bodies wants because it saves them from an embarrassing conundrum and once the butterfly has gone the top management will breathe a sigh of relief and are clear to continue with their main concern which is the preservation of spin not butterflies. Saving the butterfly here is a very simple, uncomplicated, matter though it's like asking for the moon. If my brother is expelled from Butterfly Conservation for speaking the truth well then bring it on!
Further to your e-mail I should point out we are not Trotskyists despite Trotsky's fascination with in butterflies, a passion he found he shared with the surrealist Andre Breton when they met up. In fact Trotsky for all his insights (he was something of a polymath hence his interest in butterflies) never developed a theory of state capitalism or how it was nourished within the heart of the Bolshevik party right from the start. Admittedly he came close to it and then shied off at the last moment as though the whole issue was just too contentious for words. Whether the world will ever go back to state capitalism or variants of it (and which was very much part of the post war settlement and consensus) is a moot point. Arguably there are signs of it in Putin's Russia and Venezuela and possible eventually throughout the whole of Latin America should the new Bolivarianism become more of a reality.
I also should point out that the four British scientists I have previously mentioned never once questioned the role of the Bolshevik party or rejected the need for a vanguard party though Hyman Levy perhaps came the closest to that fundamental recognition. In the late 1960s more scientists than ever took that step, junking at the same time the pursuit of a career in science. The real history of this movement, the passions, the aspirations, the reasons for rejecting the science of our time has yet to be written. In truth the surface has barely been scratched and in twenty years time or less it will be lost forever. There was certainly more to it than a revolt against the military/industrial complex (though that was important) and involved the large scale bureaucratisation of science and the rejection of the consumer life style that went with it - the house, the nuclear family, the family car, the yearly holidays, the in-laws, Christmas, birthdays etc. Dropping out the scientific rat race for good and unable ever to rejoin the scientific fold, I know at least one that went mad (Jerry B) and another that committed suicide (Spooks) and both oriented around the King Mob loose grouping we helped put together. Not for them the idea of redefining themselves as a scientific 'worker' (which required they stay put like a cog in a machine) which had satisfied a Levy or Bernal. Once rid of such rebellious spirits, the scientific community was able to concentrate on what really mattered - business. Scientists today are encouraged to see themselves as businessmen and women, potential plcs' with a stock market valuation and flotation price. How one yearns to travel back not only thirty five years but to recover some of the unworldliness of a Needham even if we do find his secretaryship of the Guild of St Luke, a society aimed at promoting spirituality among doctors and medical students, not to out taste, for it is better than what we have today.
However we are unshakeably convinced the only solution to the mounting horrors confronting this little planet is a form of eco-socialism (or social ecology), one of collective/individual autonomy which is anti-money, anti-statist, cooperative and international. Obviously new forms of organisation are required, ones that are built from the ground up, that are open and democratic and function according to the best traditions of 'the workers' movement' as expressed in the workers' councils. However work has become a four-letter word and most work carried out today is socially irresponsible and destructive and in the interests of the survival of the species (rather than that of the fittest ' an idiotic concept when applied to humanity as if ex PM Blair got where he is through Darwinian edict rather than media fiat) should be instantly abolished and redefined from scratch. Unwise though it is to anticipate forms of mass organisation we can at least say the revocable mandate operative at all times and in all places will be central to them. How this will work out with niche organisations like those concerned specifically with butterflies, beetles, birds, plants etc it is difficult to say but at least some kind of debate should be initiated along these lines instead of expecting the membership to go along with a set of principles drawn up behind closed doors by species experts and by people fresh out of university with little experience of reality and struggle and who impose their own version of TINA. (There Is No Other Way). Behind this adamantine negative formalism there undoubtedly lurks the fear of direct action and that people will start to do things for themselves and thrust established green organisations to one side as happened with the anti-road protestors, especially at Twyford Down in the early 1990s and which finally broke the resolve of the Tory Party to continue with their road program. That Labour stealthily resumed it is one more indication of the need for constant vigilance and never on any account to trust what politicians say. One thing for sure disillusionment with green organisations has never been so low when in fact it should be at an all time high. Beyond the apathy and fear there is also a growing awareness of how inept green organisations are at confronting ' even naming - the accumulating horrors of international capitalism, a system which is now patently bent on suicide and has been appropriately labelled suicide capitalism by the enlightened French (who else?)
We likewise belong to the more libertarian wing of the communist movement, (though like the situationists ' that influence is obvious throughout the www.dialecticalbutterflies.com web - we reject the term communist because it is a description that has become too devalued) believing in control from below. This was the guiding idea behind Anton Pannekoek's 'Workers Councils' though it is perhaps ill-advised to employ such a term today seeing that most work today is socially destructive and should be instantly abolished. (Pannekoek was also an astronomer and a philosopher of science who dismissed Lenin's 'Materialism and Empirio-Criticism' as bourgeois materialism mirroring the bourgeois, rather than proletarian, revolution then under way in Russia. Dialectical Materialism was to him an infinitely more subtle instrument because of its approach to causation, even because it denies causation altogether. I have to admit I do find Pannekoek's ideas a bit quirky in this respect and to my mind it is simply a more modern version of Hume's empiricism - with the crucial proviso Hume was a social conservative which Pannekoek patently was not. If pushed to extremes empiricism can appear to easily dispose of 'the truths' of science so is it to be wondered that Hume gave liberal vent to his spleen, ill-liberally repeating such terms as 'cant', 'mystical jargon', 'hypocrisy', 'fury', 'fanaticism' over and over again when describing in his six volume 'History' (1754-62) the forces opposed to Charles 1 in the English Civil War of 1640-5).
For more precise comment on the failure of conservation go to the Dingy Skipper filmscripts plus the videos section on the Revolt Against Plenty web: