A Bronx Cheer for Science and a Reply: Is Science Just Ideology?
By Peter Goodman and Denis White (April 23, 2017)
Many of you will march for science this Earth Day. In the context of massive state power and it apparatus of coercive control, in the context of mega corporations, in the context of mass culture pause to consider what it is that you are supporting.
Science is so intertwined with power in our era, so in the service of power, so powerful in itself as an ideology, it would be false to consider science “neutral” or somehow more objective, more true than human subjectivity. Subjectivity has a democratic base as it resides in the experience of the individual while big science is embedded in big universities, big corporations and big government bureaucracies in support of their massive projects of social control. The scientific method produced the atomic bomb and rationalized and facilitated the logistics of the Holocaust. Science didn’t save the redwoods or the native forests of the Northwest. The scientific worldview has stripped people of their vernacular, local and personal wisdom and replaced it with the cold numbers that translate into the horrific age we live in. There is the science of Francis Bacon and there is the wisdom of indigenous peoples. These two world views are incompatible. One elaborates human hubris, the other supports a respect and coordination between the natural world and the human world. We are reminded by the indigenous worldview that the human project is, in fact, part of the natural world.
“Disinterested” science is a myth and a rapacious world view in the service of extraction, exploitation and power. Ethical positions come from personal experience informed by social struggle. “Scientific Socialism” was neither scientific nor socialism. As it turned out, Marxist was a moral perspective not a scientific perspective. In social struggle as opposed to the iron certainty of presumed “scientific rationality”, classical Marxism turned out to be a false and tragic sham partially because it claimed the authority and logic of science . The liberal consensus floating on a sea of false rationality and denial failed to protect the natural world and human society because it believed that Capitalism could reform its essential dynamic and that the state could act as a buffer to greed. It could not. The state and Capitalism are twin aspects of modern civilization justified and reinforced by science. Science and technique can never promote human freedom and social liberation. New forms of domination are always appearing and the scientific viewpoint is one such system of thought and social control.
The ultimate justification for social agendas are moral and cannot be “scientific”. The “facts” are essentially irrelevant when weighing what is the right thing to do personally or socially. It is a matter of values not facts that should inform human action. Human beings can make the “facts” fit any agenda. Facts should bolster the moral argument, but science cannot and should not determine values. Only values are the real justification for action. To use science to justify social programs is illusory and concedes the wholesale dismissal of human subjectivity which is at the heart of human values. Religions are false subjectivity, based on illusion. Religion serves the interests of coercion , hierarchy and power. Religion and science have similar purposes in social life although, a casual glance seems to observe them as opponents which is a false dichotomy. Truth comes from human struggle in all forms not from the scientific method nor from the pulpit nor from mass elections.
Truth comes from individual freedom expressed in human solidarity. Truth is an experiment which is often aborted by the apparent necessity of “rationality” and the artificially induced constraints of class, gender and race. Science limits and corrodes that freedom by its “objectivity”, its denial of human subjectivity and support of mass culture. Religion also constrains and corrodes human freedom by infantalizing the human genius with authoritarian myth, dogma and fear. The point is to make our own social/personal reality not be the passive recipients of a reality handed down in the form of rational coercion.
So what can we learn of the world without exploiting that world for the profit of a few and the destruction of that world? I suggest our sense of what “knowing” can or could be is crucial. May we say that some things, the most important things, may not be knowable in scientific terms or religious terms but are true and real in other more emotional, personal and subjective ways? These fuse with others subjectivities to create powerful social struggles waged in human solidity among truly free individuals. No myths, religions or science, governments or private property are needed to inform the process. No myths, religion or science are needed to falsely excuse and justify the subjugation of the human project.
The idea is not to possess the truth but to live it. We are active agents in making our collective truth not the passive objects of power’s truth.
Thank you for your words about science. Yes, I agree that much of the science of modern western societies operating under capitalism is a tool of government, elites, and corporations. However I think the bigger picture of the relationship of science to human life is more complicated and less black and white than you make it.
There are moral and other value judgments inherent in all of science. We may not agree with many of those judgments when they foster a science that leads to destruction, oppression, or domination. Yet there are scientists trained in the western tradition who practice a science that embodies wholeness, respect, and love for what they study.
Furthermore, facts and values are not two totally separate domains. Facts are ultimately discovered or obtained (or created) within systems of values, and are thus always connected to values.
Two examples. The attached satellite-based photo of the Oregon Coast Range is ostensibly a value-free set of facts about conditions on the ground.
Even though these facts came from a huge corporation, Google, they are provided at least in part because that corporation believes that presenting information of this type is good for their business. Of course, they could alter these facts if that would help their business but in this case we tend to believe what Google is showing because there are corroborating facts of these conditions by people including scientists who have themselves been there or looked at separately obtained imagery. This particular image of facts on the ground and many others like it have a clear moral message for me about how the very civilization that made it possible to make such images is simultaneously ruining the material support for our species’ existence.
I have recently been introduced to a group of scientists and others who are devoted to turtle knowledge and conservation. These people, clearly to me, love turtles and spend much of their intellectual, emotional, and physical energy in working to know and save these amazing and beautiful species. When they publish quantitative facts like these,
“Of the 335 total species of turtles and tortoises, 107 (31.9%) are Critically Endangered or Endangered, 167 (49.9%) are Threatened (Critically Endangered, Endangered, or Vulnerable), and 175 (52.2%) are Threatened or Extinct. If we include recently Extinct species, and also adjust for Data Deficient species, then circa 60% of all modern turtles and tortoises are either already Extinct or Threatened. These numbers and percentages of threatened species have increased substantially since our last checklist. Turtles are among the most endangered of the major groups of vertebrates, surpassing birds, mammals, cartilaginous or bony fishes, and amphibians.”
it is not because they are under the thumb of corporations or governments but because they love these animals and want people to know what we are losing of our natural heritage.
Indeed, some of the best in the western tradition of science is indeed very close to the indigenous knowledge of nature. This is called, pejoratively by scientists devoted to what they call an “objective” and “quantitative” approach to their work, natural history. Indigenous knowledge is not radically different from natural history, in fact, the approaches are similar. One discussion that came through today, for me via Portside, but here referenced to the original article, is
To our continued camaraderie and sharing,