Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Your Life Sucks? Blame Science!

I have always been conflicted on the issues that emerged from the Enlightenment. Their defense of self-ownership, individual liberties and natural rights have always been a cornerstone of my thinking on politics, government, society and culture. I have always, however, sided with the Romantics in questioning the reach of science into our daily lives.

As a concession, I will admit that I enjoy many of the products of science. Who dosen't? They, for better or worse, helped to make the world what it is today with warts and all. I like my computer, my portable CD player (the MegaJam 3000) and all that happy crap.

It is many of the larger issues raised by the primacy of science that cause me trepidation. First off, the blind faith in science to produce all the answers that we need for any question. Science, said the brilliant Thomas Kuhn, is one of many ideologies with its prejudices and systems. In this summation, science becomes what it should be: one of many ways of looking at the world and solving problems. We should never trust anything that easily. It should have to stand up to questioning and doubt from the outside.

It was in the 19th century that we developed our faith in science and technology (which I believe are two very different things) and also the idea of progress as the goal of life. This was the birth of modern factories, government's interest in public health, science as a faith and a way of life. Since they could seemingly definitively explain everything, they seemed like gods. As I mentioned before, the Romantics were trying to react to this, but they were too busy chasing women around Italy high on opium and wearing a silly shirt. Science ruled the day with the help of the state and now it forms a two-pronged attack on our minds and society.

Science is seen as the benevolent bringer of gee-whiz goodies and also life-saving cures for killer diseases. While it is hard to argue with the use of curing disease, the technogoodies can take a hit and needs it badly. As I said, it is just the happy crap that keeps us too occupied and takes all our money and time. It is fun, but it (like all enjoyable things) can begin to have negative effects. This is part of the divide between science and technology. This is technology; science, in its pures form, is the deep, theoretical stuff that may never have a use. One never knows, but this sort of science seems more like philosophy than industrial production.

Where does this leave us? We need to view science (especially anything that the state has a hand in) with a critical eye and remember that this faith in science came about in a time when most people would be awed by canned food and the lack of killer epidemics. Always be critical, and don't let them off with confusing explanations. It can be explained so that anyone can understand.

If they truly want to help, they have nothing to fear, right?

Never let them go easy. Expect answers and get them.

They are not gods. Let's remind them of this.

No comments: