Having been gifted a copy of Klaus Maeck’s film ‘Commissioner of Sewers’ (thanks Jo and Howard), I’ve also been reading again about Uncle Bill’s schoolboy education at Los Alamos. He attends a ranch school in the mountains, a rural retreat – evocative of all things heroic in the west. Yet, soon after this formative adventure playground scenario, the rustic homestead scene has grafted upon it the think tank of advanced military science. The Oppenheimer and Roosevelt gang move in, about to wreak ‘destroyer of worlds’ god-like devastation upon Japan. I think there are several reasons to worry here. The colonial conquest context of the old West continues today in the hybrid science of nuclear physics, as militarized space exploration and the commercializaed death of the weapons program, with new metals et cetera, stress-tested in space, not always with success. The spin-offs include both the development of building tiles and security cladding, as well as laser technologies and satellite surveillance, all of which have practical use in imperialism’s ‘war on terror’ as war on Islam, and which continue to enforce U.S. economic hegemony in business.
So when they turn your school into a think tank you gotta be concerned that the wrong kind of space mission is underway. What I am saying is that the little biographical curiosity about how Burroughs’ school was turned into the lab that brought us the atomic bomb is not just a salutary lesson about hi-tech boffins hiding in the hills. The corporate turn that turns your school into an ‘incubation centre’ has the same underlying motive and murder-death-kill mentality that stretched from the slave trade to international labour law. Education in the pursuit of dollars, the teaching factory privatised and commercialised, calculation favoured over thinking.
That said, did the courses Burroughs did at Los Alamos prepare him for the critique of mugwumps, centipedes and space invaders that brought the world to the ruin that it is today?
If it has become too easy to join the rapid-mouthed pundits who denounce ‘the spectacle’ for, as it were, a living (an easy living), then equally it is too easy to hope that setting out an alternative thinking to the society of the spectacle can be achieved by saying nothing more than the name ‘Debord’. But it certainly is not furthered by hiring other pundits to rebrand your space as a lab, and even a lab without boffins. What is that about? (goldies’ students and staff can see the college rebranded today in the great hall – I’m sure I’d prefer the skull-and-bones to any logo FutureBrand will come up with). Maybe we will institute a Burroughs think tank (dream on), or a Debord think tank (nightmare), but we will not think (more dream) that this will mean the end of tanks. OK, next movie pleasde. Where is that tank girl when I really need her?