From the Center for Peripheral Studies (OAC Branch). After Lance, the sky's the limit!

The papers discussed in our online seminars are often excellent, but this one is apocalyptic, as well as being an exercise in fine writing. Lee Drummond was once a Chicago anthropology PhD specialising in the Caribbean and later in San Diego's tourist attractions. He taught at McGill University for over a decade before retiring to the wilderness (Palm Springs!). July and August there are his winter when he withdraws into his airconditioned study to avoid the heat. The OAC is a principal beneficiary of this aestivation, as witnessed by the paper attached here. All I can say is you gotta read it, whether or not you participate in the seminar.

Lee's point of departure is Lance Armstrong's confession on the Oprah Winfrey show. The man who perhaps deserves to be known as the greatest American athlete ever admitted taking performance enhancing drugs, thereby triggering an intense public outcry. Lee deconstructs what he takes to be a key feature of the American ideology, the opposition of nature to culture, showing that biology and technology have been inextricably woven together throughout human evolution and even before. If it is impossible to identify the unequal influence of technology in sporting performance, what about other areas of cultural achievement, like literature for example? Should Hemingway's Nobel prize be taken away or Coleridge's poetry eliminated from the canon because they wrote under the influence of mind-altering substances?

Not content with this reductio ad absurdum, Lee then launches into a savage critique of American civilization and of the cultural anthropology it has spawned. Drawing on Marx's happy phrasing in the 18th Brumaire, he argues that the American tragedy (New World genocide) now reappears as farce (reality TV shows), one of which actually replayed the former in a grotesque reenactment of the competitive ideal. Anthropology tends to celebrate cultural achievement around the world, whereas in Lee's view, the current state of American society suggests that culture may be a disease killing off its carriers just as their ancestors once killed off the original inhabitants of what passes for the land of the American dream.

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Lee, welcome back. When it comes to our readings of Wiener, you and I are on the same page. The Fred Turner book that Mark recommended is also excellent. To me it suggests an interesting angle on Wiener, indicating to me that, since he was part of the same milieu with Bateson, Mead, the Bauhaus crowd, etc., he was concerned with an issue they all confronted—how to fight totalitarians without becoming a totalitarian yourself. The central question is how do you mobilize free individuals without reducing them to ant-like creatures. Comparing Wiener's and other proposals would be a good way to deepens our understanding of the problem space (=semiospace) in which they were all developing their ideas.


"Fat Man" and "Little Boy" were the context in which "The Human Use of Human Beings" was written.  Scientific research focused on TERRORIZING entire populations.  Social science, in particular, devoted to "coercion" under the bland heading of "communications."

"Control" takes on a very special meaning when the goal is to "force" people to *behave* in "appropriate" ways.  Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson and Kurt Lewin were among the most innovative and dedicated social scientists focused on getting people to "behave" appropriately.

Wiener wrote the book (that is to say, the 1950 edition) *against* these people -- who he had specifically named in the Preface to his 1948 "Cybernetics."  By talking about probability and entropy and contingency -- particularly in the *expurgated* "revision" that you have been reading -- he was trying to warn against what anthropology was to become.  "Imitating the gods" (by trying to make a new sort of human) is precisely the tragedy he was talking about.

Did that make him a "pathologist of his culture"?  Not really.  But he was a pathologist of the Rockefeller/Ford/ARPA funded culture of science that backed all of these people who he refused to work with, to be sure.

It's easy to take pot-shots at the "rubes" but far more difficult to take a scalpel to your own kind.  The problem Wiener was dealing with was the University of Chicago, where you trained, not the audiences who watch Oprah.  Wiener wasn't a "mass" audience sort of a guy.  He was interested in those at the top of the pile.

That's why my paper for the MIT/IEEE conference is titled "Wiener's Genius Project."  What interested Wiener was the outstanding "genius" individual who would remind us about what we have forgotten, without a teacher, remembering what it means to be a human -- instead of trying to use (psychological) science to scare the *CRAP* out of them, in the name of "progress" and "better living through chemistry."

Nietzsche was totally ignored in his own lifetime, by his own design -- printing only a few hundred copies of his books and mostly giving them away to his (few) friends.  He was completely unconcerned with his own "culture" (or their morality) and on a very *internal* trip, fueled by a bevy of psychoactive chemicals.  He was trying to IMITATE the Gods, not rediscover what it means to be a human.  According to Wiener, that approach is the "problem"; not the "solution."

When Wiener talks about "tragedy," he is talking about Nietzsche -- who he likely would have considered an "anti-genius" and those who championed his work as being among those who he, Wiener, was fighting against.

Nietzsche's standin, directly in Wiener's life, was Gregory Bateson.  He, with his LSD (mimicking Fritz's "Eleusinian" initiation in Leipzig) along with his sidekick John Lilly's ketamine-fueled "altered states," was trying to fundamentally reshape what it means to be human.  Bateson's "project" was the *inhuman* use of the humans.  Wiener, along with his own touchstones, particularly the life's project of Leibniz to reunite Christendom, was doing the opposite.

Lilly repeatedly injected himself with ketamine while floating in a "isolation tank."  After 15-or-so rounds of this, each one building on the "plateau" achieved by the last, he met the ALIENS who "control" life on earth.  He called them ECCO -- Earth Coincidence Control Office.  Put that in your "control" pipe and smoke it! <g>

Bateson's protege Stewart Brand, previously the chief "publicist" for LSD and the "electric cool-aid acid tests" in Golden Gate Park, started his first enterprise with the words "We are as Gods . . . ," identifying himself with something that has always been considered to be INHUMAN.  The *human* use of human beings cannot come from that direction.

So be warned!  Norbert Wiener would have opposed any notion that the "nature" of the humans is up-for-grabs.  He was *not* a fan of Nietzsche.  He was *not* a fan of Bateson.  Both of whom you began this seminar and, in particular, your exchanges with me, praising them with what appeared to be great interest that I also knew of their work.  Of course I know their work.  But, that doesn't make me a "fan"!

What matters here isn't how we treat the other species on earth (as the Bateson/Brand et al version of "environmentalism" would have it) but how we treat the humans.  There is no confusion about who they are.  Everyone one of them is easily identified.  Not monkeys.  Not Gods.  Merely Humans.

The problem here is that some humans want to be "as Gods" (which immediately raises the question of what it means to be human.)  That is, in theological terms, what is known as "gnosticism."  Jung, Bateson and Nietzsche were all *gnostics* -- operating as-if they possessed a "spark of the divine."  Descended from the Cathars, via John Calvin and the Rosicrucians etc, they represent the *religion* that Christianity was instituted to combat.  

They are what we needed to be *saved* from (i.e. our own Original Sin, based on Eve wanting to be "as God" by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.)  Jung, Bateson and Nietzsche all tried to eat from that tree, as have many others.

Wiener wasn't one of them.  Neither was Leibniz.  Neither am I.  How about you?


Wiener had no "proposal" for how to "mobilize free individuals without reducing them to ant-like creatures."  He knew that humans are not ants.  It never even occurred to him.  If they are to be "mobilized" (an interesting word, like "mob" coming from Latin "mobilis," meaning "movable, pliable, flexible, changable, fickle"), it would have to happen as HUMANS.

Bateson, on the other hand, is chock-full of *inhumane* "proposals."  That's why he talked about "rigging the maze" in 1941. That's why he took his lead from Jung, who had "reduced" humans to the "collective unconscious" (which, when you think about it, is just a fancy term for an ant-hill.)

There is no "collective unconscious."  We are not ants and to treat us as such would be INHUMAN. As advertising does.

Wiener knew this.  McLuhan did also.  Bateson did not.  You have "voted" with your career on this issue.  I'm curious about whether Lee has as well . . . ??

Lee, could be your time has come. With a tip of the hat to Richard Powis at Savage Minds.

Mark, thanks again for the pointers to Wiener and Turner. If you don't mind, I will do my Protestant thing and read the books for myself. Meanwhile, here is some possibly relevant data (albeit from a corporate anthropologist).


Feeling appreciated?  Like those "roses" that were just delivered?

Remember, "Advertising is an attempt to seduce the target of its affections. The elementary form is a guy trying to pick up a gal."

Sounds like a date with Ms. Vagina Dentata (1985) to me ( . . . !! <g> 

Mark writes,

Wiener had no "proposal" for how to "mobilize free individuals without reducing them to ant-like creatures."  He knew that humans are not ants.  It never even occurred to him.

Let us look more closely at what Wiener himself writes in The Human Use of Human Beings, Chapter 3, "Cybernetics and Society. The following quotes are from pages 51 and 52.

The businessman who separates himself from his employees by a shield of yes-men, or the head of a big laboratory who assigns each subordinate a particular problem, and begrudges him the privilege of thinking for himself so that he can move beyond his immediate problem and perceive its general relevance, show that the democracy to which they pay their respects is not really the order in which they would prefer to live. The regularly ordered state of pre-assigned functions toward which they gravitate is suggestive of the Leibnitzian automata and does not suggest the irreversible movement into a contingent future which is the true condition of human life.... [emphasis added]

It is a thesis of this chapter that is aspiration of the fascist for a human state based on the model of the ant results from a profound misapprehension both of the nature of the ant and of the nature of man....

I wish to show that the human individual, capable of vast learning and study, which may occupy almost half of his life, is physically equipped, as the ant is not, for this capacity. Variety and possibility are inherent in the human sensorium—and are indeed the key to man's most noble flights—because variety and possibility belong to the very structure of the human organism.

Here we learn two things of importance. Wiener did not imagine that human beings are ants—but he was clearly aware that others might see them so. Also, being a scientist, he was not content to assert a difference; he proceeds to describe and explain it in detail. He begins by noticing their similarities,

Both the insect and the man are air-breathing forms, and represent the end of a long transition from the easygoing life of the waterborne animal to the much more exacting demands of the land-bound. This transition from water to land, wherever it has occurred, has involved radical improvements in breathing, in the circulation generally, in the mechanical support of the organism, and in the sense organs.

But within these broad similarities, ant and man represent two radically different approaches to the changes required by moving from water to land. The insect's exoskeleton sets rigid limits to growth. The only way for an insect to grow larger than the dead chitin in which its muscles and other organs are encased is to shed one shell and grow another (remaining extremely vulnerable in the interim). In contrast, the man like other vertebrates, grows around his skeleton. The skeleton can grow bigger and the human grow bigger around it. When it comes to the sensorium, the insect is locked into its world. It can react to change but can neither anticipate or adapt to it. Here is where humans are truly different—the ability to do both. But how is this possible?

Now Wiener returns to the central theme of his book, his theory of communication and control, in which, as Lee as observed, messages pass between all sorts of things, two chemicals interacting as well as two individuals, of whom we might say that they display either good or bad chemistry. Here the critical difference is that between two types of circuits, one locked in, the other capable of learning. This brings Wiener back to Ashby and the observation that unpredictable randomness lies at the heart of learning, whether the learning in question is that of natural selection or a scholar's entertaining a new idea. It is in random, some might say chaotic, departures from established routines that the possibility of learning lies. 

Note, however, that, while plainly different from the ant in several important ways, the man, the human being in question, is not categorically different. He (and she as well) are, along with the ant, equally creatures constrained by the laws of nature (and, for those who need reassurance, the laws of nature's God). The behavior of both can be analyzed within the same intellectual frame. There is no theological separation of man and animal here, only different evolutionary paths and matters of degree. 


Note, however, that, while plainly different from the ant in several important ways, the man, the human being in question,is not categorically different . . . There is no theological separation of man and animal here, only different evolutionary paths and matters of degree.

Marvelous!  That is exactly the way that a "dialectician" (you) tries to grasp the work of a "grammarian" (Wiener) -- missing the whole point in the process.

First you look for "categories" (when, as the grammarian knows, there really aren't any), then when this fails, you look for some spacial and/or quantitative ways to "measure" the situation.  "Paths" provides you with a *map* and "degrees" provides you with the hope that some categories can be found that can then be "counted."  Six feet, two feet etc.

Because all this happened to the West in earnest starting in the 16th century, with Peter Ramus (about whom McLuhan's student Walter Ong wrote his PhD thesis), and ultimately led to the "Enlightenment" (or rather, one of many, since nothing is so clearly "singular"), it was very much wrapped up in the effort to *kill* the Catholic Church -- the home of "theology," which, when done right, isn't "logical." 

Being a good Protestant, forcing you to "read it yourself" (which then leads to the obsessive attachment to "texts"), you can't help yourself from throwing in the "no theological separation between man and animal here" -- as if, reading texts as you do, you would see it if it smacked you between the eyes. <g>

In this regard, you might enjoy reading Leo Strauss' "Persecution and the Art of Writing."  The text you have been poring over was written by Wiener for his "jailers," making it a fine example of "persecuted" writing.  Furthermore, since, as we know, McLuhan insisted that the *audience* is the formal cause of any work-of-art, your "reading" has to start with that audience -- unless, of course, you prefer to ignore formal causality and make yourself the "efficient" cause of all you survey.

Grammar and Formal Cause.  Both "expunged" from the human record by your English Protestant forebears (in favor of "utility" or the *engineering* of society that still dominates the social sciences and underlies the advertising profession) -- or so they thought.  Thanks for this display of their virtuosity!


You will be amused to hear that your ol' pal Giordano Bruno has made it onto the "little" screen in a BIG way!

Last night, the first episode of the hugely-hyped TV series "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" aired on Fox and "Danny" was the hero of the show.  Surprise, it turns out that he was killed because the evil Catholics couldn't tolerate a "visionary" who understood that the Universe is "infinite."  Now, all that would have been dicey to stage with real actors (and impossible to do to anyone other than the Catholics), so the show dropped into a cartoon to tell his "real-life" story.

Nope, no mention of Bruno working for Wallsingham or the actual context of Bruno's life given the burgeoning encirclement of Rome.  Galileo was saved (mostly) for a future episode, so no mention of Giorgio Desantillana's "The Crime of Galileo" or the astronomer's employment by Venice.  Hey, what do you want -- this is television!

No mention of Dame Francis Yates or Aby Warburg promoting Bruno's cause on behalf of the "ecstatic."  But, in the sequence that follows the lighting of the faggots, Bruno does perform a fine imitation of taking a psychedelic (or should I say, entheogenic?) flight of fancy.  I'm sure the kids were impressed!

The show will air again tonight on NatGeo, so prepare your DVR and we'll await your analysis but here's a teaser . . . <g>

P.S. LATimes review of Cosmos (the kids were impressed) --

"Giordano Bruno was an Italian mystic who was among the first to adopt the Copernican cosmology at a time when doing so could prove hazardous to your health. In fact, he went one step further and suggested – based on a vision when he was 30, perhaps because he read the forbidden text of Lucretius, "On The Nature of Things" – that the sun and its planets were just one of millions of other solar systems in an infinite universe. It made sense to Bruno. God was infinite, he reasoned, so why shouldn’t the universe he created be infinite too?

"The Catholic Church begged to differ and excommunicated him. So did the Protestant church. In fact, Bruno was hard-pressed to find any sympathetic ear for his message, and we are treated to many scenes of poor Cartoon Bruno being cast out, shivering, into the cold cruel wilderness. But would he keep his mouth shut? No, he would not. Bruno was a True Believer. He was also a bit of a hothead, with a long history of becoming embroiled in disputes wherever he went. In short, Bruno was not a people person. That and his stubborn refusal to recant his weird beliefs eventually got him imprisoned, tortured and burned at the stake. 

"But as Tyson points out, the dude was right. Sure, it was a lucky guess, and he wasn’t really a scientist, but “It gave others a target to aim at, if only to disprove it.” And just 10 years later, Galileo looked through his telescope and saw the moons of Jupiter, and our view of the universe would never be the same.

"The Bruno sequence was hands down my favorite part of the episode, a fresh take on what was, to me, a familiar story. Now I want to see an entire animated series that just tells stories of famous scientists throughout the ages, with all the accompanying melodrama and gory details. I‘m thinking an edgy, "Family Guy" kind of vibe would be just the thing. Get on that, Seth MacFarlane. Or give us more of these in future episodes. Thanks".

Mark, I have asked before, but let me ask again. What do you mean by "grammar" and "formal cause"? No need to go Chicago and provide definitions in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. An example or two would be enough to counter the claim that you have nothing to offer but good book recommendations, ad hominem and appeals to authority.




Grammar: Me (forest: seen as lacking evidence and unable to make a logical argument by dialectics)

Dialectics: You (trees: seen as ignoring context and "missing the whole point" by grammar)


Formal Cause: "The Medium is the Message"/"In the beginning, was the Word."

Final Cause: Singularity/2nd Coming/Noosphere

Material Cause: Life/Entropy/Information/Thermodynamics/Emergence

Efficient Cause: Engineering/Utility/Manipulation

Suggested Reading


"The Classical Trivium"


"The Laws of Media"

"Media and Formal Cause"



OAC Press



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