The Therapy Sessions
Friday, March 19, 2004
Science and culture
I’m always amazed by the lack of depth in science education in American society.
I’m not worried that people don’t remember the anatomy of a paramecium or any other science trivia.
I’m referring to the discipline of scientific inquiry: the scientist’s habit of withholding judgment until all the facts are in, all the experiments complete.
As a former liberal, I noticed that many of my peers had a near pathological hatred for science and scientists. Some of this was just disgust with the way it was taught (“I hate memorization…”). Some of it was fear of the products of technology (“frankenfoods” and chemicals). And often there was a sense that scientists, who often tend to be white and male, are part of some oppressive conspiracy.
I never understood any of it.
In my experiences with scientists, I found them to be more human and less likely have personal hang-ups than most of the artsy types I knew. They were easy to talk to and work with, less likely to be offended by offhand comments, and more willing to cut loose and have a good time.
The scientific method is like a discipline, and people who refuse to think in a disciplined manner often find themselves enthralled by many specious theories and silly superstitions. These people tend to be quite common in the humanities, where specious theorizing often passes for deep thought.
For example, many of fellow English majors (yes, my wasted youth) proudly declared themselves communists. At the time, I let it go. But as I hear more from the Ivory Tower, I find it striking that many of these people are still there, and their beliefs are unchanged (after 1989, no less!). The communist parties continue to be a decisive influence in European politics. The large global “peace” protests (attempting to protect Saddam's right to kill his countrymen) of February 15th, 2003 were sponsored by International Answer, a communist front. And no one even blinked.
How can any rational person be a communist (or even a socialist)? Hundreds of attempts have been made to make communism work, and all have failed (most miserably). These experiments are useful in so much as they produce evidence: there is not one economic success, and there are hundreds of millions of failures buried in mass graves in every continent on the planet. Can anyone show me a single communist state that has managed to grow economically and while protecting human rights?
The lack of one would mean either that communist theory is ridiculous, or that it is to difficult to mold to human reality and thus impractical as a global goal.
Yet people believe, they really do!
Europe currently appears to have given in to its pacifist inclinations. Pacifism, like communism, can be shredded by the evidence. Would the world be better place had our ancestors used a non-violent approach against despots? Would the Constitution ever have been produced without blood? Would slavery have been eliminated without cannons?
Pacifists consider such questions to be rude, evidence of a brutish ignorance, and they evade the answers because they don’t like them: Pacifism is, after all, resignation to tyranny. But these ideas still appeal to the undisciplined thinker, most of whom consider themselves to be very well educated.
Marxism, in fact, is like a religion with its own ideas of salvation: everyone sharing, everyone living equally well in a fantasyland where all needs are met by the benevolent state. Its facts are more articles of faith than evidence. This explains something else: Communism’s discomfort with religion. Its so inflexibly athiestic that even weird movements, like China’s Falun Gong, aren’t tolerated. “You shall have no Gods before me” is also Marx’s first commandment.
Marxism and pacifism may be extreme examples, but the problem of unscientific thought extends further. Islamism – the idea that fundamental Islam is going to take over the world – is the fantasy that has most of the Arab world in thrall today. The facts don’t even come close to supporting it, but they have their own TV network to take care of that inconvenience.
Unscientific thought muddies our politics, too, trying to make political debate look like struggles between good and evil. One party wants to help everyone and the other party wants to help themselves.
We all know which is which.
One party wants to pay for everyone’s education and everyone’s drugs (they even want to remind you to take them everyday). They want to help you get a house, and give you one if you are poor enough. They make no distinctions about who ends up poor and who ends wealthy. They consider impolitic to discuss why some people consistently end up poor, but only because they are confident of the answers anyway (its obviously racism or the wake of capitalist greed). These benefits are expensive and the high taxes to pay for them are a bitter pill, but these wonderful people promise to take care of you.
Their motto appears to be: we care about your future as much as you do!
It sounds great. Great in the sense that the words to a rock song seem perfect until you see them written down.
It’s then that you realize that they don’t make any sense. Wait a second! Nobody cares about my future more than me! It makes sense that I be trusted on spending my money on ways to secure my future as I, not the benevolent government, see fit. That is what America is all about: trusting in the little guy take care of his own business!
In addition, the Democratic Party seems right now to be consumed by the politics of emotion. Where does John Kerry stand? It doesn't matter. Democrats just hate Bush, they seem to be saying (Geoff Castle is a prime example).
They complain about jobs (though the unemployment rate was higher throughout much of Clinton's presidency), but they have no plan (that they mention) to bring back all the "lost jobs." They want to protect American jobs from foreigners, but they are not protectionists (or so they say). Economic growth (4+%) has been stellar, but they gripe that it is meager. They complain about Iraq, but they are unclear what they would do differently (Kerry calls it a mess, but says we have to stay the course and get the UN (which already ran away once and has little desire to run things) in charge...huh?). The Democrats fall over themselves to say they will "preserve" Social Security and Medicare without reform, but both programs are wildly insolvent. Without reform they will collapse.
Don't be distracted by these things! Believe! Have faith! Vote for Kerry!
I can't stand such emotionalism.
I guess such sentiments put me in the sphere of the other party, the selfish party.
They have some strange beliefs, too. Large numbers of them have a real problem with the idea of a right to privacy (it may not be in Constitution, per se, but I believe it falls under “the pursuit of happiness”). Some of them want to indoctrinate my children with bizarre interpretations of religion, and many are very distrustful of anyone who doesn’t share the same ethnic background.
So that's me: a former Democrat and now a skeptical Republican. Where else can a fiscally conservative, socially moderate student of history fit in?