The “reiterated” end of history

Alejo Stark at the encounter The Zapatistas and ConSciences for Humanity

“It is said, it is repeated, it is taught, it is imposed that world history progressed on a path to where money would come to reign, that those from above would win, and that we, those of the color of the earth, would lose. The monarchy of money presents itself this way, as the culmination of the end of history; the realization of humanity.”
—Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, closing remarks at the Encounter of the Indigenous Peoples of America in Vicam, Sonora (October 14, 2007)

We refer to that mass and energy that has the capacity to act as a type of repulsive gravity, as ‘dark energy.’ Physical cosmologists propose that this so-called dark energy will come to dominate the dynamics of the universe. That is, that dark energy appears to be the only power capable of determining the future of the universe in its grand scale.”
—Alejo Stark, “Dark Energy and the End of History,” presented at The Zapatistas and ConSciences for Humanity  in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas (December 27, 2016)

It is said that the dominance of dark energy announces the end of cosmological history, but as astrophysicist Alejo Stark suggests in his presentation at the encounter, The Zapatistas and the ConSciences for Humanity, this interpretation of the universe’s dynamics may not be conclusive and perhaps may be too hasty. For not so long ago, here on Earth, at the same time that the universe’s final destiny was being pin-pointed and announced, Francis Fukuyama was declaring that the evolution of humanity throughout the ages had reached its final destination. It was with capitalism, he decreed, that civilization had attained its apex. In this way, he argued that the social dynamics of subversion and rebellion had been defeated once and for all, and with them, any possible radical transformation of society. Such is what was sought in the deepest desires of Fukuyama and those in power, as Stark puts it, that “capitalism had triumphed and, consequently, the fate of human society was to be determined by it from now on.”

Making use of similar terminology on the other side of the coin, the trend of postmodernism was  announcing the end of grand narratives, the end of universal explanations, the end of great truths, and the end of the great social movements. Behind such disenchanted notions of reality, and operating under the premise of “different explanations for different realities,” was an underlying critique of rationalism which, curiously timed, coincided with the rise and consolidation of neoliberal policies across the world.  Postmodernism’s disenchantment with modernity, a product of the heightening effects of capitalism’s advance, was lending weight to the grand acceptance (or maybe, complicity?) of easy, uncritical explanations of social phenomena from within academia and then into wider society.

There is a common thread to be found within these three seemingly disparate themes: the definitive explanation (or lack of the definitive explanation—it’s the same thing) of historical evolution, whether it be the supposed definitive explanation of the universe’s dynamics; the alleged end of an outside to capitalism that represents the culmination of civilization’s processes and with it, the end of class struggle; or the predominance of resignation in the face of modern disenchantment and the impossibility of a true social transformation. In each of these cases, the background has been the establishment of one truth (or of a non-truth—it’s the same thing), which is erected as the dominant, ultimate paradigm which, at the same time, involves certain behavioral codes to navigate: docility and conformity in the face of something that is impossible to change or to confront.

But there is something else: this morass that is promoted from above has taken place neither in a vacuum nor at the margins of a particular historical moment in capitalism’s development. Returning to Stark’s presentation, it is not his intention, he clarifies, to establish “a causal relationship between the end of history paradigm advocated by capitalism’s ideologues, and scientific production”—in this case, of the end of history in cosmological terms. However, he remarks, “it is not surprising that a totalizing conception of the universe’s dynamics is dominated by the dominant social conceptions of contemporary capitalism.” This, the astrophysicist points out, could explain why certain theories or scientific trends become accepted or rejected. “Putting it another way,” he says, “the quick and easy acceptance of an idea that is highly productive but still incomplete, owes its sudden success to a climate of ideas that trend in the same way—toward the supposed end of history.”

In the same way that postmodern trends coincided at the same time with, or were favored by the context of already shaped neoliberal policies in which they were introduced, so, too, have theories of outer space in relation to more earthly phenomena. “It’s not that the evolution of social history has caused scientists to produce X or Y theory,” Stark says. “It’s that ideologically, social processes create certain conditions of possibility so that a given rupture in the production of knowledge is accepted or not.”

In this encounter between scientists and Zapatismo, the alchemist Galeano puts forward a provocation—well, another one—in respect to the proliferation of explanations without scientific backing that swarm around us today. “It is said that religion arrived in indigenous communities through the sword; that is true,” he says. “But what is forgotten is that pseudoscience and anti-science have arrived through good vibes, naturalism as non-religion, esotericism as ‘ancestral knowledge,’ and microdosing mushrooms as neo-medicine.” In this regard, we can recall some of Stark’s words in his presentation: “The fact that a model can describe observed phenomena does not mean that it is a faithful model of reality.” For example, “both the heliocentric model and the geocentric model can explain with precision the movement of the planets. But their physical implications and mental conceptions are radically different. One argues that the Earth is at the center of the world, and the other does not. Thus, it is not enough to explain what we see,” the astrophysicist emphasizes.

“The challenge that we are faced with as the Zapatistas that we are,” Sup Galeano pointed out, “requires tools that, I regret to disappoint more than one person out there when I say this, only scientific science can provide us with.” That is, science that “actually is science.” Within the many contributions and provocations that Zapatismo has presented that which has been called “revolutionary practice,” cultivating critical thinking in the face of “lazy thinking” is something that, as is the Zapatistas’ custom, continually refreshes the rebellion from below and, at the same time, offends and remains a thorn in the side of the old left—that is, of the new faces of the right.

This critical thinking demands questioning, testing, and refutation. But it also demands that “we dare to imagine alongside other ways of doing science,” such as we are doing at this very Encounter, the biologist Mariana Benítez pointed out. But this imagining needs to be necessarily from the point of science and it needs to revalue scientific knowledge that has been negated and rendered useless to a postmodernism where “all truths are valid.” We would do well here to remember compañero Alejo’s comment that: “scientific production does not operate outside of social processes.” The predominance of these commodities called pseudoscience is not outside these processes.

“In a conjuncture where the forces of social change are said to be defeated,” says the scientist, “it may appear obvious that a cosmology that adapts itself to this ideological-political situation [capitalism] like a ring to a finger, has certainly won out. But this wouldn’t be the first time in either human or cosmological history that the end of history has been declared. In this sense, it may be too hasty to decree the end of history and the challenges to it. Perhaps in the little known crevices of both processes, unsuspected ruptures are currently nesting. Perhaps a new revolution in our conception of our universe is currently being structurally repressed.”

And he concludes: “Surely, just as it has happened here in the mountains of the Mexican Southeast, history will continue to surprise us and will continue to escape those schemes that try to capture its radical heterogeneity, one which oscillates between the limits of the necessary and of the contingent.”

Translated by Linda Quiquivix. First published in Spanish by Pozol Colectivo as “El -reiterado- fin de la historia,” December 29, 2016