Science is as science does, but science isn’t infallible. In fact, as global information democracy trundles on we can start to see just how fallible the scientist really is. Neither our methods, nor our ontology, nor our epistemology provide us with a privileged preview of the truth. The capital “T” truth is, we are subject to political, economic, sexual, even class based bias just like everybody else. The only difference between us and the priests discredited by the scientific revolution? We admit our bias…. Sometimes….
Science is about boundaries — the building of boundaries, and the smashing thereof. Indeed, it is true. Science was born when Galileo, Copernicus, et. al. smashed the epistemological and ontological boundaries of Christian gatekeepers (i.e. the priests and cardinals and popes of the Church). Before Galileo the peeps and popes of the church claimed to be the only ones who could speak the Truth. Back in the bad old days, only priests, and only if you were worthy, and only if you had been called, and only if you followed tradition, only then could you speak. Priests claimed epistemological and ontological supremacy and would justify it by saying God had chosen them for that, or that they actually spoke for God. Of course, as Galileo pointed out, it was a pile of steaming caca. Priests, demonstrated Galileo, did not even understand the most basic astronomical facts (e.g., that the earth revolved around the sun) so how the heck could they claim to be speaking the Truth about cosmology and God? Of course, the priests didn’t like that and threatened excommunication (had he not been so famous in his own lifetime they might have simply burned him, like they did the pagan women (see film The Burning Times)), but the damage was done. After Galileo showed the world just how foolish they were being, after he smashed the epistemological and ontological boundaries of Church ideology, priests and popes had not an epistemological leg to stand on. And then, the questions began. Whereas before Galileo it would have been considered heresy to question the authority of the priest, after Galileo people did it all the time and there was nothing that the priests could do to stop it but cry “have faith [in us] for we know the truth.” Several centuries later the questions culminated in the basic Sociological realization that the priests of the “dark” ages were simply protecting the interests of the rich people who built for them their churches, cathedrals, and Vatican centers.
The priests were, for the most part, working for the nobility!
They helped the nobility ease their consciousness by providing “spiritual” justifications for wealth and privilege (“divine right of kings” it was called), but they also suppressed the anger and resentment of the peasants by saying “follow the king” because “God wants it that way.” The priests, it turned out, where in bed with the nobility, sometimes literally I imagine, and they served in the interests of wealth and privilege. Personally, I doubt it was always that way. I’m not a Catholic but I know enough about Jesus’s supposed life to know he wasn’t to fond of greedy people (he threw the money lenders out of the temple, didn’t he?). Based on his example people probably became “Christian” for the high moral standards and general compassion of its leader. But time passed and corruptions entered and eventually the Church was built (with the funding of the only people who had cash back in those days), inquisitors were appointed, and infidels and heretics where tortured and murdered…
But I digress…
The point is, the intellectual and emotional boundaries that had protected the opinions of the Church, that had made the words of the priest seem like the holy gospel of the Lord, and that had justified horrendous levels of torture and abuse were, during the “enlightenment” smashed and the modern scientists, champion of Truth and defender of all that is philosophical, empirical, and natural, was born.
Yay the scientist!
Taking the moral and intellectual road the scientists followed the example of Galileo and began searching after the Truth and nothing but. This new breed of person didn’t care that the priests said this, or the pope said that, or the bible said creation was only seven days long, they wanted to know the Truth and they set out to find it themselves!
And, if the technological world that surrounds you now is any indication…
If the spread of democracy (however flawed) in the world is any reflection…
The Truth did set them (and us) free.
And I think we should acknowledge that contribution.
But I also think we have to examine the limitations, and question the foundation, and admit to some error because frankly, from where I’m sitting, modern day science has become co-opted in service of wealth and privilege just like the ethical and emancipatory spirituality of Christ had been co-opted before.
Don’t believe me?
Watch this movie (GenerationRx).
From the atomic bomb to the dopamine droplet science now serves in the interests of power and privilege. And it’s not just that we serve in the interests of power and privilege, we justify it as well. We coin erroneous phrases (phrases used to justify the hierarchy and the domination of the weak as “natural”), develop erroneous indicators like “IQ” and the bell curve (which help “explain” why some people have more than others), and force people into irrelevant gender boxes. It is like we don’t understand the basic facts of life, and before you huff and puff, read this. Our entire North American culture is based on the erroneous concept of the alpha male, a concept used to justify male domination of women, corporate domination of peasants, and managerial domination of employees.
How embarrassing is that?
And while we do not torture people who do not submit and obey, we do medicate them.
Can’t sit in class?
Can’t follow the rules.
Don’t believe our truths?
Well Mr. “The problem is with you,” we have a pill that will help with that.
It is true.
We provide technology for the industrial mill, armaments for the economic wars, justifications for the status quo (with more or less awareness of our role), and chemical straightjackets for those who don’t fit.
So what is a unsatisfied scientist to do?
Well, rather than participating in the the miscalculations, falsifications, and error, and rather than waiting for a new Galileo to come along and point out the steaming piles of horseshit we maintain, we can do what Galileo did and smash the boundaries that prevent us from seeing the truth. The communication-technology hammer is in place, and the writing is on the wall. The epistemological and ontological foundations are crumbling and rather than reinforcing the foundations, something that can only delay the inevitable, we should jump on the boat and do what needs to be done now before before somebody else comes along and embarrasses us to the point where we will never recover from the embarrassment. I don’t know about you but as a scientist the last thing I want to be reduced to is the lonely “you must have faith in us” lament of our spiritually discredited forefathers. I got into this to discover the Truth and I want to be known for that. I want us to correct our errors, expose the ideology, undermine the justifications, and take back the scholarly and scientific highroad. There are no excuses. Modern communication technologies have advanced to the point where we can now speak without mediation, outside of classrooms, and without worrying about the stodgy gatekeepers who police the boundaries of our discourse, and we should do so. I don’t think we should wait. If we do we just might find ourselves in the same boat as the priests before us, struggling to maintain legitimacy, and begging those who trusted us to “just have faith.”
About the Author: I'm a sociologist at Athabasca University where I coordinate,amongst other things, the introductory sociology courses (Sociology I and Sociology II). FYI I did my dissertation in the political economy of scholarly communication (you can read it if you want). It's not that bad. My current interests lie in the area of scholarly communication and pedagogy, the sociology of spirituality and religion, consciousness research, entheogens, inequality and stratification, and the revolutionary potential of authentic spirituality. The Socjourn is my pet project. It started as the Electronic Journal of Sociology but after watching our social elites systematically dismantle the potential of eJournals to alter the politics and economies of scholarly communication, I decided I'd try something a little different. That something is The Socjourn, a initiative that bends the rules of scholarly communication and pedagogy by disregarding academic ego and smashing down the walls that divide our little Ivory Tower world from the rest of humanity. If you are a sociologist or a sociology student and you have a burning desire to engage in a little institutional demolition by perhaps writing for the Socjourn, contact me. If you are a graduate student and you have some ideas that you think I might find interesting, contact me. I supervise graduate students through Athabasca Universities MAIS program.