World in View: Nihilistic ‘science’

November 19, 2021

From the November-December 2021 issue of News & Letters

by Gerry Emmett

The ever-growing surveillance state is as much a part of contemporary capitalism as the digital marketplace, on-demand supply chain, and gig economy—in fact, it is becoming intimately connected to these phenomena.

Despite all the technological innovations, this surveillance regime was prefigured in Karl Marx’s discussion of capitalist centralization in Capital, Vol. 1. Marx points out that this process of centralization doesn’t depend upon the growth in magnitude of capital, and so it can take place at a moment of crisis like our own.

In attempts to control people, counter-revolutionary methods—from facial recognition technology to the growth of “smart cities”—have become common tools of government.


This has been reflected in dystopian science fiction. But French popular science writer Sebastien Bohler’s non-fiction book The Human Bug (2020) has one foot over dystopia’s borderline.

In it, Bohler, who has written fiction about reprogramming brains with neuronano technology, claims that society’s current problems are traceable to a “primitive” layer of the brain called the striatum. It is this body that allegedly rewards activities like eating, sex, competition, and learning with a dopamine rush.

Bohler suggests behavioral modification as a way of reprogramming these needs, but the implication is clear. Since these “needs” can easily be translated as history, and freedom, this is a “scientific” expression of the worst kind of nihilism and anti-humanity.

A sign of the times, this work won an award for best book of the year in neuroscience.

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