I just read Maureen Mullarkey’s post “The Toxic Legacy of Rachel Carson” on First Things. Well-written and thought-provoking, as always. I will pursue the Rachel Carson references further. But it reinforces my beliefs about the ugly transformation of science in our time.
At least consciously, it starts with Nietzsche, who said what clever individuals have always believed: Truth may be awkward, annoying, and inconvenient; but what really matters is power. We say “What is Truth?”, when we would rather talk about what we want to do. Truth is subjective illusion; power is real. You can tell because the powerful individual can silence the truthful individual.
Science, like religion, can easily find power more attractive than truth.
Once science served capitalism (e.g., Social Darwinism). Now it serves the New Elites (government bureaucracy, news and entertainment media, schools). Once the Comtian positivist invention “social science” was the leading edge of the science of power. Now it has expanded into any science that can be used to “save the world” (i.e., strengthen the New Elites), particularly the environmental sciences. As Francis Bacon observed long ago, “Knowledge (i.e. Truth) is Power.” But the knowledge/truth produced (on demand) by today’s “sciences” have several things in common. These sciences are highly speculative, often resulting from computer models extrapolating uncertain data into uncertain futures (global warming). Or they may be based on highly subjective “data” collected and massaged by agenda-pushing “scientists” (transgendering, i.e. genital self-amputation, is not a sign of mental illness). Either way, they are inherently untestable.
The distortions that result from such “science” can be seen in the now-discredited but very influential classics Coming of Age in Samoa (Margaret Mead), Silent Spring (Rachel Carson), or Population Bomb (Paul Ehrlich). Or the timely and convenient findings that same-sex marriage is just fine for children. Wise judges such as Vaughn Walker, ruling that the voters of California have no right to decide so important a question, wrote:
“The gender of a child’s parent is not a factor in a child’s adjustment… The research supporting this conclusion is accepted beyond serious debate in the field of developmental psychology…Children do not need to be raised by a male parent and a female parent to be well-adjusted, and having both a male and a female parent does not increase the likelihood that a child will be well-adjusted.”
The worst effect that such empowerment of science is that once the New Elites close ranks around a satisfactory finding that confirms their ideology, the likelihood of contrary findings diminishes to the vanishing point. Vaughn Walker and Al Gore agree: once the science is settled beyond serious debate, so…Shut Up! Imagine that you are a university researcher and your studies demonstrate that children need both mothers and fathers, or that CO2 plays a minimal role in global warming, or that homosexuality is not genetically but behaviorally caused. How eager will you be to publish, knowing that you will be blasted as a liar, a “science denier”, and a bigot; and knowing that funding for your next research grant will be limited to what you collect selling pencils on a street corner? So the conclusions of “science” are not only untestable, but also irrefutable.
Originally truth was primarily moral: “the things we cannot not know”. As Aristotle demonstrated, science only added to this base of knowledge what we clearly see around us. We always knew right from wrong, evil from good, sense from nonsense. Of course there were also always those who knew the value of being able to muddle our sense of truth: men like the Greek Sophists (lawyers, activist judges, politicians, community organizers) whom Socrates/Plato fought against.
Now our only source of truth is “science”. (It earned its quotation marks when universities accepted “social science” as legitimate.) And science is only of real value when it disproves what we think we know (like children need mothers and fathers).
With all human institutions, what starts as pursuit of truth and freedom suffers a sea change when its initial triumphs carry it to power. As soon as that happens, the battle begins for the institution’s soul. Continue to pursue truth and freedom, or use the power to “improve the world” (i.e., strengthen the New Elites).
The battle for the soul of the institution can be brutal or it can be swift and painless. For in many minds, truth is less attractive than power (for power is never inconvenient to the powerful). And for many, truth is of value primarily as a means of achieving power. The illusion of Truth is just a means; Power is the end.
Which brings us right back to Nietzsche.