On the X-37B

Note: Not the actual X-37B.

Science needs those who disobey it.”

Theodor W. Adorno1

It is said that the U.S. military recently tested the functionality of a machine described by one observer as a ‘space-fighter’2 by launching it with an Atlas V booster-rocket into space.  The Pentagon apparently refers to the device as the ‘X-37B,’ or ‘Orbital Test Vehicle’; it reportedly carries no human pilot.

While the military has been reluctant to share much of any information on the X-37B, Gary Payton, a U.S. Air Force deputy undersecretary for space systems, stated in a 20 April press conference that “[i]n all honesty, we don’t know when it’s coming back [to Earth] for sure.”3 Zhengyan Fang of Takungpao-Hong Kong reports that the X-37B could be used to intercept satellites or fire projectiles at terrestrial targets; putatively, it carries solar panels that afford it enough energy to be able to maintain itself in space for at least 270 days.4

Whatever the X-37B’s test-launch may mean for spectacular interpretations of technological progress, this development should surely be considered an alarming one.  Taken together with recent revelations about the Conventional Global Prompt Strike (CGPS) weapons system the Obama administration is developing—a non-nuclear weapons system that would allow the U.S. to attack any target on the Earth’s surface in less than an hour5—and the U.S. government’s strong penchant for militarism and aggression in general, such developments bode rather badly. The existence of these programs is entirely consistent with processes that the Zapatista Army of National Liberation have referred to as “the international of death,” the “globalization of war and armaments.”6 That such weapons systems as the X-37B and CGPS continue to be developed belies Hegelian accounts that legitimate the present Weltlauf, or world-course. Indeed, in light of this, Walter Benjamin seems correct to claim that, precisely because “things are ‘the status quo,’” we face “catastrophe”7—-this, 70 years after he died while attempting to flee fascists.  “The astonishment that the things we are experiencing in the [twenty-first] century are ‘still’ possible is by no means philosophical. It is not the beginning of knowledge, unless it would be the knowledge that the conception of history on which it rests is untenable.”8

The X-37B is not the X-Wing or B-wing fighters used by the Rebel Alliance.  Rather, it far more resembles a creation of the Empire; its likely utilization will be for imperial—that is, dominative—purposes, ones that promote repression in service of extant domination.  The efforts dedicated to the creation of the X-37B are clearly rather far from Murray Bookchin’s “liberatory technologies”9 or Herbert Marcuse’s “new science,”10 both of which seek to de-link technological development from “systematized horror”11 and, in place of such, hold out the prospect of directing technology toward rational, humane ends.

The importance of subjecting existing technologies to reason is rather great today, given the various barbarous irrationalities that presently reign.  Could the resources used to develop the X-37B and the CGPS not more humanely be directed toward giving providing for the basic needs of the billions of humans who are today violently denied them?  Could they not better be dedicated to launching solar receptors into space, where they could provide abundant energy for all of humanity while allowing for the abolition of fossil-fuel use, which today threatens humanity and life itself with looming catastrophe?

Given the hegemony of barbarism and irrationality in prevailing society, it sadly seems to be that Max Horkheimer’s following characterization of contemporary society, made in the mid-twentieth century, still applies today: “At no time has the poverty of humanity stood in such crying contradiction to its potential wealth as in the present—at no time have all powers been so horribly fettered as in this generation, where children go hungry as the hands of the fathers are busy churning out bombs.12


1 Qtd. in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, eds. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt (New York: Continuum, 1997), p. 371

2 Zhengyan Fang, “America’s Space Fighter: New Threat to Humanity,” trans. Daniel Kuey, Takungpao-Hong Kong, 5 May 2010

4 Fang, op. cit.

5 Bill Van Auken, “Obama administration spending billions on new global strike weapons,” World Socialist Web Site, 24 April 2010

6 Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, Nuestra Arma es Nuestra Palabra, ed. Juana Ponce de León (New York: Siete Cuentos, 2001), p. 127

7 Selected Writings. Volume 4: 1938-1940, trans. Edmund Jephcott et al. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard Univ. Press, 2003), p. 184

8 Ibid, “On the Concept of  History,” trans. Dennis Redmond, 1940

9 Cf., inter alia, Post-Scarcity Anarchism (Oakland, California: AK Press, 2004), The Ecology of Freedom (Oakland, California: AK Press, 2005 [1982]), Remaking Society.(Montreal: Black Rose, 1989)

10 One-Dimensional Man (Boston:  Beacon Press, 1964)

11 Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life, trans. E.F.N. Jephcott (London: Verso, 2005 [1951]), p. 113

12 “Materialism and Morality,” Between Philosophy and Social Science: Selected Writings, trans. G. Frederick Hunter et al. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1993), p. 35

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