The Thinker blog

Science and its Discontents

It is ironic that a promise of biblical myth should come to be fulfilled by science. Humanity has accomplished incredible things and has done so on the basis of great advances in scientific knowledge and technology, made possible by the enormous expansion of the productive forces. People have walked on the moon, probes have been sent to Mars, spacecraft have penetrated the outer reaches of our solar system. From the theory of evolution to the tremendous power of nuclear fission and fusion, science has allowed us to shape the world around us and accomplish feats that go far beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. There is a grandeur to science that far outshines all age-old superstitions, and promises wonders beyond imagination if only we take the time and trouble to study and develop it further.

Yet beneath the towering peaks of scientific achievement boils a vast sea of precapitalist ignorance and religious bigotry. We live in a society where access to education is limited to those who can afford it and the intellectual fate of little children is determined by the fate of their parents’ checkbook. Keeping the masses ignorant of the potential power of science to change their lives plays a crucial role under capitalism. Ancient religions, primitive superstitions, and irrational pseudoscience run unchecked through vast sections of society, infecting those who can’t afford the only real treatment to cure ignorance: quality education. Furthermore, in a phenomenon that recalls the explosive growth of various cults and religious sects before the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the number of believers in “traditional” religions has suffered a sharp decline in the recent period, while belief in paganism and superstitions such as astrology has tended to increase.

According to a Gallup Poll from May 2014, over 40% of Americans believe that God created the world and everything in it within the last 10,000 years, a belief that only 27% of college graduates share and one that had been overwhelmingly refuted by modern science. Likewise, US citizens spend approximately $3 billion dollars every year on homeopathic mixtures, apparently in the belief that duck liver diluted in water to 200C cures the flu. From the delusions of Ken Ham to those of Deepak Chopra, all sorts of nonsense is literally sold to the public as absolute truth and foisted upon those without enough familiarity with scientific principles to sort it all out.

The enlightening power of science loses much of its beauty when the knowledge it provides is denied to the majority. The marvels of modern technology seem somewhat less marvelous when they are used in a completely undemocratic and unplanned fashion, for the purposes of war, exploitation, and environmental degradation. Science under capitalism is conducted behind closed doors, doors only a golden key can open, and bound to the dictates of profit. Many are tempted to turn away from the mess modern science under capitalism has made of the world, yearning for the past when times were simpler, traditional values were respected, and everything seemed more innocent and pure. Yet this idealized past is completely imaginary; there never was a time when capitalism was peaceful and idyllic: it came into the world dripping blood and filth from every pore and has not ceased to do so since. The way forward is not to turn against science, but to move forward through science.

The expansion of the productive forces under capitalism has laid the basis for a new and higher form of society: socialism. The coming socialist revolution will establish universal high-quality education, placing the wondrous power of modern technology at the feet of the people and allowing it to be used according a democratic plan in the interests of all. This revolution will be the negation of all traditional faiths and superstitious rituals, as people voluntarily drift away from these, on the basis of material wealth and security, available for the first time to everyone. With the liberation of the human stomach, will come the liberation of the human intellect. In the meantime, however, countless people are being miseducated and indoctrinated into dark age mythologies and pseudoscientific quackery. It is necessary to combat this wherever it may be found and, in so doing, defend the genuine method of science from the perversions it is subjected to under capitalism.

In its senility as a class, the bourgeoisie has forgotten the revolutionary and progressive ideas of its youth. It has thrown up a layer of right-wing demagogues as its representatives. A whole section of the ruling class engages in science denial. Its members have declared war on science and become the most prominent exponents of anti-evolutionary, climate change denial, homophobic, and transphobic rhetoric. They prey on the uneducated and superstitious and push them to act as attack dogs for the bourgeois. In some cases, they are as ignorant and extremist as they portray themselves to be, in others they are cynical manipulators.

Nevertheless, these politicians aren’t the source of the problem, but merely a symptom of it, and simply removing them without also abolishing capitalism, without the socialist revolution, would change nothing fundamental. They are a clear expression of the intellectual decay of the bourgeois social order, which serves as a sure indicator of the decay of capitalist society as a whole. To end ignorance and superstition, end capitalism!

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