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<nettime> Beyond Berlusconi?
Soenke Zehle on Mon, 14 Oct 2002 19:41:08 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Beyond Berlusconi?

I'm only interested in some of the issues that have been raised. But then,
it's hard to respond to the wholesale charge of collective misconduct -
nettimers as collective mastermind of a regressive movement for cultural
authenticity and against the dangerous hybridization of corporate
globalization? An interesting thought, I may have to let that one sink in :)

On the one hand, there is the dynamic of what you might call the
'ethnicization' of international relations. A huge field, including the
politics of indigenous - or really any ethno-cultural - sovereignty, the
terrible www.UNPO.org but also useful critiques of the statism at the heart
of the international system put forth by Richard Falk et al. From what I've
read, most arguments about IPR-alternatives (sui generis systems) are tied,
in one way or another, to this agenda/logic of sovereignty, a debate that is
already transforming the concept of sovereignty itself.

Christoph Scherrer has been trying to shift the analytical vocabulary away
from 'ethnicity' toward 'ethnicization', since it makes much more sense to
talk about a comprehensive dynamic of ethnicization - including the role of
state, economy, and geopolitics in the articulation of 'collective'
identities - than an isolated 'ethnicity' (whose attributes, or whose
involvement in an 'archaic' politics of inter-ethnic contestation, then
become the subject of analysis, including the usual foregone conclusions).
For me, that's the institutional/conceptual context for any kind of
discussion/assessment of whether a 'culturalism' could ever be tactically
useful or not, whether it might be able to avoid its own biologization etc.

This would include much more than minority politics, of course, ranging from
phenomena like the US anti-Japanism of the 80s to the German cultural
nationalism of the 'Berlin Republic' or the situation in Iraq today, where
the structural malaise of the Baath-party and the embargo-induced weakening
of state apparatuses has resulted in a revival/re-instrumentalization of
tribalist politics (http://mondediplo.com/2002/10/02saddam).

Even if the ethnic chauvinism of Berlusconi's politics (incl. the
rehabilitation of Mussolini) 'share' structural features with the (self)
ethnicization of minorities in the course of a politics of sovereignty, one
can only dismiss the logic of culturalisms in the abstract to some extent.
Nativism lurks everywhere, I am not saying that there are easy answers to
this. But it might make sense to point out that there is not yet agreement
on the conceptual terrain we're on. My sense has been that if you don't have
some kind of process-approach, you end up blaming individuals/groups for a
politics of identity whose terms are hardly entirely within their control,
and what should be analyzed as a dynamic of subjectification becomes reduced
to an essentialist politics of victimhood.

On the other hand, the IPR regime: some of the most comprehensive proposals
on something like traditional resource rights (including trust solutions)
have been articulated by the late David Posey and his colleague, Graham
Dutfield (see esp. Dutfield, Graham. Intellectual Property Rights, Trade and
Biodiversity: Seeds and Plant Varieties. London: Earthscan, 2000, also a
bunch of papers on TRIPS that are online). Good stuff, the questions you
raise (how to determine beneficiaries etc.) have been discussed in some
detail, even though the concept of farmers' rights hasn't gone anywhere and
remains controversial to begin with because it assumes market access etc.
But the development of alternative property rights system (sui generis),
community seed banks, local knowlegde banks etc. is pretty fascinating.

> What could be more likely to impede the progress of science and
> technology,
> or less likely to promote harmony among different cultures, than a scheme
> that would monetize the exchange of knowledge and culture across tribal
> and
> racial lines?  But then again, another recent post to nettime has
> condemned
> Darwinism. Another has condemned the use of GPS-assisted precision
> farming.

Well, I guess I'm a little less enthusiastic about the political neutrality
of 'the progress of science and technology.' In the case of so-called
precision-farming, I see no reason to support an extension of the
military-industrial complex into agriculture when issues of hunger and
poverty are no longer matters of technologically-mediated productivity but
distribution. The well-documented controversy over GM food aid in Africa is
a case in point: would you really want to describe the politics of USAID and
the desperate attempt to find overseas markets for biotech crops failing at
home in the naive terms of a technology-transfer fueld by the the spirit of
mutual enlightenment?

One might add that the 'ecological knowledges' of indigenous peoples have
only recently been included in the general celebration of progress and
science, primarily because of the obvious failure of the green revolution,
pretty much a benchmark of progress and science just a few decades ago.

On 'open source science,' well, the push toward proprietarization through
the CBD occurred because the 'commons' idea didn't quite work out. One of
the debates in that area that I really like is the 'ecological debt' debate
(http://cosmovisiones.com/DeudaEcologica/). From the point of view of
someone trying to drum up support for 'science & progress,' these people
look like a bunch of ingrates, I guess. But I find their sweeping claims
quite charming, and a useful antidote to the complacent economism of other
kinds of 'third worldisms.'

The disenchantment with 'science and progress' is a consequence of sobering
experiences with projects carried out in their name, not a nettime
conspiracy. It seems odd to me to uphold a neutral vision of science and
progress when these constitute a fiercely contested, constantly shifting
terrain on which decidedly non-scientific issues are being negotiated.
Science policy has been a major instrument of politics both at home and
abroad; in the case of the HGP, probably one of the most celebrated events
in the 'annals of science,' there's little on 'progress' and 'harmony' in
the US Department of Energy documentation on its own involvement in the HGP,
but quite a bit on biowarfare, biotech as national security issue, the
commercial benefits of pharmacogenomics and so forth.

> One cannot fight racism
> with the doctrine that ideas themselves are racial, not universal, and
> should circulate only subject to racial control.  And one cannot build a
> theory of democracy using the very same books that were used to construct
> historical Fascism and Nazism. Tactics only go so far.

It's a bit of a stretch to argue that the mere acknowledgment that the ideas
patented by corporate biotech labs often originate outside (including 'lay'
scientists like, in this case, small farmers) and therefore some mechanism
for compensating them could/should be developed is itself akin to Third
Reich fantasies of racial purity.


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