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What’s Happening? — Reports from Groups and Chapters
by The Boston Science Teaching Group (collected by David Jhirad), Rush Wayne, Mike Teel, Joe Neal, Al Huebner, the Madison Collective, New York City SESPA, Stonybrook SESPA, & West Germany SESPA
One of the better Boston SESPA/Science for the People general meetings, in our judgment, was in February at MIT where the Women’s Issue Group gave a presentation of their work. The group describes itself as follows:
The Boston Women’s Issue Group of Science for the People was formed in the fall of 1971, when a few of us saw the similar ideological stereotyping used to oppress women and blacks, as exemplified in Herrnstein’s “I.Q.” article (Atlantic Monthly, November, 1971). We saw how these ideologies could be used as an attack on the present women’s movement, and as we met throughout the year, we studied past as well as present uses of science in forming ideologies which prevent social change. Our research and conclusions will soon be available as a special issue of Science for the People.
Wanting those outside of Boston to know of their work and of the forthcoming special issue, we asked them to submit a summary.
The present women’s liberation movement has been steadily growing in strength, permeating through all segments of society and all political persuasions. The early concerns of a few small cells of radical women are now being taken up by the very women who were once firmly enmeshed in the feminine mystique. The demands which have arisen are both cultural (an end to sex role stereotyping of women as passive, unintelligent, etc. and defined by man), and economic (equality in pay and job opportunity, freedom from total responsibility for child care) in scope. The implications of these demands are radical: to implement them would require a restructuring of the society. Feminism is indeed a threat to the status quo. Resistance to this threat is exemplified by attempts at co-option, especially in the media; more salient, however, is the misuse of science in attempting to preserve the ideology which rationalizes the present inferior position of women.
The growth of a women’s movement and the uses of science in a threatened society are not unique events in American history. ln examining the sources and repression of contemporary feminism, we have been struck by their historical counterparts in American society of the 19th century. Of course, we cannot blithely apply the events of the past to a solution of the present, but the major developments of the 19th century reveal the patterns of our socio-economic system and its ideological trappings.
The women’s movement itself was really a conglomerate of separate activities and critiques; labor class women protested physical and economic· oppression and some middle class women were concerned about other contradictions and limitations in America’s “democratic” institutions, e.g., education and politics. Thus, radical feminism posed a genuine threat to the institutions and ideology of a maturing capitalist society. Various tools were used to reinforce the traditional definition of women (The Cult of True Womanhood) and thereby to repress the spreading challenge. After mid-century, science was replacing religion as the source of truth and values. By 1900 every social and biological science had contributed to the ideology that natural laws dictated social and sexual properties. Anthropology, evolutionary biology, physiology, medicine, psychology, and sociology all added scientific legitimacy to the view that women were inferior, maternal and passive “by nature”. Science proved to be a cooperative and authoritative tool for rationalizing the system. Under the weight of social opposition, aided by scientific argument, radical feminism virtually collapsed by the first decades of this century. A collection of liberal organizations and appeals which posed no threat to the system were the lone survivors. If we, as feminists, want to achieve radical change, we must understand this general historical pattern and prevent its repitition today.
The development of science as a source of reinforcing and formulating the stereotypes of women presently, parallels historically its misuses in the late 19th century. Some of the more popular scientific studies of today are involved with investigations of the hormonal, ethological and psychological differences between men and women. The nature and interpretation of such studies are relevant in their reinforcement of prevailing attitudes concerning women and their position in society.
With the present threat of feminism to the basic structures of our society it is no wonder that hormone studies concerned with behavioral differences between men and women have become popular. Arguments which purport to show I.Q. differences between the privileged groups and various oppressed groups are receiving a great deal of attention. Studies of animal behavior and its extrapolation to human behavior have appeared, applying animal sex role differentiation, aggression and position in animal society, to a rationalization of our human society and its sex role definitions. The underlying theme of all these studies is that human behavior is determined by genetic inheritance. Inequities between men and women are read as nature’s will. Women are being told that they must accept their present position limited to the domestic sphere, for it is what nature intended.
We are attempting to demonstrate the degree to which science is being used for social purpose (maintaining status quo) through an examination of the manner in which science is conducted and the way “scientific” conclusions are disseminated. For example, is the science truly objective or do the researchers have inherent bias before undertaking their work? Do the questions which science is asking indicate a responsiveness to the needs of the people, or are they merely reflections of the ideas of the ruling class?
In addition to fortifying ideology, science is used in more direct ways, against oppressed groups, such as its use in birth control technology; its use is facilitated by prevailing ideology. In examining the political aspects of birth control, our group has focused on the connections between birth control, women’s oppression, and the exploitation of the third world. Contraception is necessary to women’s liberation, but not sufficient. Women’s function must no longer be merely maternal, but must be expanded to include their active participation in all phases of the society’s life. A radical restructuring of society will be necessary to achieve these ends.
Excess population is singled out as the cause of poverty in the third world; this approach masks the fact that “underdevelopment” is due not to overpopulation, but to the exploitation of these countries by the imperialist powers. Third world women are the targets of the thrust to defuse the threatening “population bomb.” In addition, these women are also used as guinea pigs, to develop new contraceptives to be subsequently used by women in “advanced” countries.
We have found that there exists a network between the U.S. government and its international agencies, drug companies, population control groups, and the scientific establishment, whose aim is to maintain the status quo. Their brand of birth control has nothing to do with women’s liberation, but rather is devoted to reinforcing the exploitation of all oppressed groups, including women.
Not only birth control misuse, but also the application of psychosurgery on predominantly women mental patients illustrates that “science”-supported ideologies result in direct and physical manipulation of women at this moment.
The SESPA Science Teaching Group held a science conference on Saturday, March 10 at the Cardinal Cushing High School in South Boston. The 150 participants included students and faculty from local high schools and colleges.
The conference was organized in response to a need felt among science teachers to begin a process of continuous contact with other science teachers in the area, rather than the once-a-year strategy of the past. It was felt that such an option should be available to those of us who were too isolated to do any effective workplace organizing.
The object of the conference was not to lay down heavy dogmatic raps. It was rather to raise questions and make connections about the role and function of science and science education in this society.
What follows is a brief account of the workshops that were given, as reported by their respective organizers.
The Energy Crisis and World Resources
The workshop was built around the “energy game.” This contained a series of facts about the present rates of energy production and consumption, the effects on the environment of the ways in which we obtain and use energy, and projections for the future. Workshop participants broke up into small groups—the purpose of the game was to arrange the facts into various categories, and to then draw some general conclusions about energy priorities and usage. This seemed to be an effective way to get people involved on both the factual and conceptual level.
The workshop organizers gave short talks on their experiences in running energy-related courses and provided each participant with a package of pertinent facts and an annotated bibliography.
Science and Society Courses
Two related problems were dealt with. The first was the use of science and technology to rationalize and strengthen the existing social order and to keep people under control. The second was how to bring the first problem up in the classroom. The morning session was monopolized by the organizers, out of their anxiety to get a good discussion going. The afternoon session achieved a much better balance between informative examples provided by the leaders and a stimulating and lively general discussion.
It appeared desirable that a general analysis of the relationship between science and society come first in the curriculum, in order to provide students with the incentive and rationale to learn specific sciences and techniques. The resistance of some students to such an approach was discussed and traced back to the myth that science is neutral, objective and infallible, and to the social pressures to achieve in a competitive society. In particular, the role of testing and grading in the classroom and the needs of female and working class students were discussed. The necessity to repeat and expand the analysis of the social and political role of science at different levels in high school and college was emphasized.
Nutrition and Food Additives
The Nutrition and Food Additives workshop decided to focus on problems in the American diet, the influence of advertising, the whys of eating habits, and the profit motive of the food industries—their influence on governmental agencies and on what is available in the market. We began the workshop by having the participants answer a one-page questionnaire on food attitudes and knowledge. This was used as one basis for discussion throughout. A major activity (particularly of the morning session) was the reading of labels. Each participant was given a package and the subjects of standards of identity, vitamin fortification, ambiguous labeling, additives and changing regulations were discussed. We found that the packages got most of the participants actively involved in the group. We also presented, both orally to the workshop and by a full collection of handouts, information on vitamins and food content and several ideas for curricula or more limited lesson plans. One of the most exciting mini-curricula was a plan for having students “buy” on paper the groceries for a family of a specified number on a specified budget; this would provide a context for learning about diet as well as about economics and the relationship of both. We tried, whenever possible, in both sessions to lead the discussion from what individuals can do with their own diet to the real whys of the food market. We varied our emphasis from an involving discussion in the morning session to a more information-giving session in the afternoon; but we were unable to achieve a blend of the two formats satisfactory to most of the participants.
Health Care and the Pharmaceutical Industry
The workshop began with a general statement about the crisis orientation and the inequitable distribution of health care in the United States. One component of the medical-industrial complex — the pharmaceutical industry — was discussed in some detail to provide an example of the consequences of profit as the major motivation for health-related industry. Alternatives to the U.S. model, such as medical care in the United Kingdom and China, were reviewed. A discussion of how this material could be integrated into the high school classroom with emphasis on courses taught from the book, Our Bodies, Ourselves, (presently available from SESPA/Science for the People, 9 Walden St., Boston) was presented. Finally selections from the slide-show prepared by Gretchen Muller on the portrayal of women through drug ads were presented.
The format of the Genetic Engineering workshop consisted of a brief introductory lecture, two introductory movies on the social consequences of genetic engineering made by BBC and CBS, and general discussion. A position paper on genetic engineering written by the organizers of the workshop was mailed to participants in advance and was useful in providing a common background for discussion. An annotated bibliography was passed out at the workshop itself. The participants (about 50) were initially interested in learning about basic scientific techniques used in genetic manipulation. However, the discussion gradually shifted to the ethical and political questions regarding how to prevent the research from being misused. Unfortunately, many people misinterpreted our position as advocating a total cessation of research in genetic engineering technology, despite the fact that we tried to emphasize our belief that science could be controlled in a just society. In general, the workshop seemed well received and many people participated in the discussions although almost everybody involved agreed that for future workshops it would be useful to conduct more focused discussions.
There were also workshops on overpopulation and ecology.
There seems to be a great deal of enthusiasm about trying to put the conference papers and materials together as a book, and plans are afoot to follow this up with future organizational work.
— Collected from the Science Teaching Group by David Jhirad
Berkeley SESPA, having completed the story of Jason, Science Against the People, is continuing with efforts to distribute the booklet and to raise the issues it entails in a variety of places (most recently, over local radio in a SESPA discussion program; in a series of speaking engagements in Los Angeles, and at the national conference of the Scientists’ Institute for Public Information (SIPI) in Berkeley).
New projects starting are a Shell Strike Support Committee, a group to work with other organizations opposing Nixon’s budget cuts, and a China Study Group. Additionally, the chapter has initiated a series of nighttime discussions to clarify our members’ goals and priorities. At one of these meetings, members listed thirty two separate ideas for projects in the space of several minutes, clearly demonstrating that there is no lack of things for SESPA people to do. However, the principal problem became one of establishing priorities, since it is clearly not feasible to do 32 major jobs and do them well with an active membership of only 15. This remains a contradiction for future discussion, most of the group in the meantime tending to focus on those activities which appear the most pressing because of time factors or crisis value. Also in the future are discussions of political line, style of work, structure, the Gorz article, and so forth.
— Rush Wayne
The last chapter report from Boston (Nov. 1972) described our organizational problems. We have since taken a few steps towards solving them: set up a steering committee (on an interim basis until it can be evaluated), and freed one person to do work as office coordinator.
The interim steering committee consists of volunteers coming from most of the Boston subgroups. It has concerned itself with the overall functioning of the Boston chapter, “made intermediate level decisions, written a flyer describing SftP, put out the Boston newsletter, and organized general SftP meetings.
The general meetings take place about every six weeks. About 75 people usually attend. The format now in vogue centers around a report from one of the project groups. This has served to keep us all informed and allow us to help each other, to attract new people and introduce ourselves, and to take a critical look at ourselves. Important decisions are also reserved for general meetings. The meetings have taken place at different universities in order to reach new people. We have had difficulties assimilating new people into our project group structure, so the steering committee is trying to set up new groups at each of the places where we have had general meetings.
The office coordinator has been acting as information funnel, organizing and doing office work, working as part of the steering committee, and doing other political work. This has resulted in less reliance on the people who live above the office. and has produced one more harried person.
Success in dealing with our own problems will still take some time because we have yet to do away with the causes. These are mixed and inter-related-growing size, lack of agreement on the focus and goals of SftP, the low priority placed on the functioning of the Boston chapter as a whole, and tensions between individuals.
The office coordinator not only cannot do away with these causes but cannot even function in the midst of them. The steering committee can do more. It has already enabled us to respond more advantageously to opportunities for political work and it is now taking up the task of proposing further remedies to our problems.
Most of Boston’s subgroups have been functioning well and working hard. The Science Teaching Group has just completed a successful conference (p.40), and the Women’s Issue Group is preparing for a special issue of the magazine (see p.39). The China Group will swing into action when the SftP delegation returns from China, planning activities and helping write a book. Off-Control, the group on social control technologies, is on the rocks—until some people volunteer to pull all the materials together in some· way. The AAAS-Mexico City Group is working with others in the U.S. and Latin America to prepare for the upcoming meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of (imperialist) Science. The Industrial Group works twice a month in the office and is organizing discussion sessions near their workplaces. The Chemistry Collective is dormant.
— Mike Teel
I left Arkansas and have been traveling about to Florida, working, reading and writing, thinking, living at a different pace, changing. I am on my way back to Arkansas, will have my new place in little Rock, get a job and live there a while.
At this time I don’t think it would be honest to term my SESPA affiliation as “active”. More than a scientist, I am a historian, writer who needs to be involved with a consciousness which I would term, “literature for the People” people interested in literature that grows from a consciousness of the need for change at all levels, and to create a realistic literary tradition which loves and respects the everyday person, sees the trap of modem America. SESPA turned me on to serious response to the crisis of science and technology on the road to 1984 and Super-Vietnams, but besides the turn on, my value to the group is minimal, as I am neither a scientist nor a regular science worker. I’m at best a para-scientist, interested. [SftP needs all those affected by science. As Gorz indicates, technical workers must join in struggle with other workers to avoid “self-justifying ideology”. Ed.]
I talked with a lot of people, telling them about SftP when it seems realistic or of value. In this way I’ve informed some others about it, but not in anything that could be termed an organizational way. I would like to continue as a contact in Arkansas until such a time as a scientist-organizer emerges to do the trip, at which time I’ll step down and be the follower I really am.
— Joe Neal
Our group has devoted most of its attention to community organizing activities—health care, community-oriented educational projects, food conspiracies, and child-care. There is also strong involvement in the development of radical political parties—Peace and Freedom and La Raza Unida. These activities reflect the orientation and efforts of members of the group before the formation of the chapter; in fact, before the formation of SESPA.
Our major effort is devoted toward working with other local people to establish a community free clinic. We are well aware of the kinds of problems that free clinics face, both from observation of what has happened to other clinics in the Los Angeles a~ea, and from our direct experiences. (See, for example, Science for the People, January, 1972.) We are working to develop a clinic that will serve the community’s health needs, educate the community to the inadequacies of the present system of health care, and serve as a model for an improved system. We are also trying to broaden the narrow perspective from which health care is usually viewed, by relating health problems to conditions of everyday life in this society, e.g., the workplace, the school.
Activity of this kind needs all the assistance that it can get from committed radical humanists. We would like to share experiences and ideas with others working in similar areas, and work with them directly wherever possible.
— Al Huebner
We, in the Madison collective, have for a long time faced the problem of an inability to sustain a long-term political effort. Much of this seems to stem from the conflicts of our role as political activists in the world of science professionalism. Most of us are situated on the University campus and only when classes, research or other demands permit do we engage in the tasks of Science for the People. Many projects begun enthusiastically are often not completed because of those demands which, in our case, make the development and progression of the tasks and actions uneven, and at times discontinuous or disruptive. This lack of momentum stymies the development of an on-going and growing movement, and the collective can tend to become a hobby wherein people seek respite from their alienating jobs. We felt the need to develop concrete organizing abilities in conjunction with, and made an integral part of, our usual daily work scedules and involvements.
We felt that supporting a full-time organizer would be a first hard step and a tool in this process, helping us to overcome our limitations. About four months ago, following a series of discussions, we decided to pool our financial resources to provide funding for one, and possibly two, full-time organizers. With monthly pledges of $10 to $50, we readily assembled the $200 a month, enough for two subsistence incomes. But we did not want just an office worker or a coordinator. We did not want to be “hiring” someone, but wanted to provide the means for someone to make a full-time commitment to develop and grow politically, and at the same time help us overcome our limitations.
For example, we wanted to free someone to really take hold and lead one or two projects with the time available to gain momentum and evolve a clearly moving effort. This would have two important spin-offs. First, we have found that the best organizing tool is to have a well-defined clearly moving project. New people can relate to the project, quickly fit in and become a partici ·ant; and also the organizer has that all-important time to relate to and work with the new people before they drop out of the group from a sense of boredom, loneliness or frustration over a lack of feedback on the myriad political questions that Science for the People raises. Second, the best political education develops around specific, real examples. We hoped the momentum arising from the organizer’s efforts would create a better climate for our own political growth as a collective.
We did have several fears in establishing “hired-hands” within our collective. By donating monthly sums, would we feel absolved from our responsibilities? Because the organizer would be in a vantage point of greater knowledge and awareness of the group’s movement would we end up delegating the responsibility of overall policy decisions and actions of the group and interchanges with other groups to the organizer? Would we thus lose our cooperative spirit? Would there be pressure on the organizer to sublimate his or her ideology to ours simply because of the salaried status?
We hoped that by carefully selecting someone on the basis of past activism, political beliefs and style of work we could minimize some of the potential dangers. Fortunately two people whom we knew and liked and had worked with us for some time, expressed serim.s interest in our idea. One has already started.
It is too early to make a definitive statement, but so far our fears have not materialized. It has been far easier to come up with the monthly pledges and liberate someone than to overcome our limitations. We have become aware of crucial problems we must understand about our relationships with one another. We are working on developing better communications among ourselves, with the organizer, and with the community. With two full-time organizers and our motley crew, we may yet become an effective movement.
— The Madison Collective
NEW YORK CITY
A new SESPA chapter with a specifically socialist orientation has been established in New York City. We originally got together to take part in the SESPA actions at the AAAS meeting last fall, and to try to hash out among ourselves some understanding of the state of the movement, the state of science, and our relationship to both, to serve as a basis for future action.
Together with out of town SESPA members and people from the Committee for Social Responsibility in Engineering, we were an explicitly socialist presence at the APS meeting in New York last February. Throughout the meeting, we maintained a literature table, solicited donations to send Physical Review to Cuba and showed the NARMIC slide show on the automated air war. In addition, we put in an appearance at a forum on Physics in China, where we stressed the central role of socialism (rather than “Chinese national character”, etc) in the indisputably remarkable achievements of the Chinese people.
China speaker Marvin Goldberger, when challenged on his JASON membership, agreed to participate in an open meeting on JASON the next day. This session, jointly sponsored by SESPA and the APS Forum on Physics and Society, was well attended, although less effective than it could have been. We were poorly prepared and Goldberger’s delivery was smooth.
Things went very well at a Forum on unemployment, where several of us spoke on the ways in which “professionalism” is used to keep scientists feeling alone, impotent and distrustful of each other in the midst of the current crisis. We are now trying to work these talks into an article worthy of Science for the People [We hope the present issue is worthy of N.Y.C SESPA! Ed.] while we prepare for upcoming meetings and continue our long range analysis.
— NYC SESPA
Toward the end of January we held a meeting to discuss the Gorz and Rose articles. At this meeting it was also suggested that we try to relate to the Eastern Farm Workers’ Association (EFWA) on Long Island. Three of us attended their next meeting, and a few days later two of us met with one of their organizers, who suggested that SESPA could contribute by organizing strike support on campus. Also, some of us might help repair some of the half dozen or so inoperable EFWA cars. We thought we might be able to cooperate with the VVAW in this effort since they already had “plans to open a garage to do automotive repair for movement groups.
SESPA people and others had a meeting in early February to discuss Medical Aid to Indochina (MAJ) particularly fund-raising for Bach Mai Hospital. There was a lot of discussion about whether this was a correct way to direct our efforts at the present time. Several people were critical of the politics of MAl in Cambridge, particularly about their increasing liberal tendencies since MAl week in October. Another meeting was held a week later, which was very poorly attended, despite notification by mail of all those who attended the first meeting, as well as other.s. This indicated to us that the energy level was too low to attempt a big effort for Bach Mai Hospital, but that we should always be aware of opportunities to tell people about what happened there and why. There was also some discussion of a regular film showing as an educational effort about revolutionary movements in other countries.
Because of a sabbatical leave and the SESPA China trip, we are without four of our most active members. Of those remaining, at least two plan to leave the Stony Brook area in the near future. So at present, our level of activity is fairly low.
— Stonybrook SESPA
Our discussion of the Gorz article led to controversy about whether it makes any sense for us to organize at a social science research institute where (a) almost anyone considers himself a radical in some sense and (b) our relationships of production are marginal and removed from the working class situation in almost every aspect. Debate was about potential uses of radical social theory, and the dangerous potential of becoming absorbed into totally apolitical efforts while working on such theories. Alternatives: some favor working in or for counter-institutions (e.g., communes), others feel they should get involved in unions and the left wing social democracy in order to achieve some “subversive” effects there. “Subversive reformism” was a key phrase in these discussions, implying that we should work in these institutions without claiming any superior insight about the course of world history, but simply by offering our practical and intellectual skills for the achievement of modest and relatively short-term political activities. In addition, there is something like a class struggle in the field of social theory: we submit papers on counter-institutions and the role of intellectuals—more for your information than for publication. [The papers are in German. Interested readers should contact C.O. directly, see West Germany address at back of magazine. Ed.]
— West Germany SESPA