Monday, August 6, 2012

The Curse of Science

"A rational world, a world that will protect the ecosystem and build economies that learn to distribute wealth rather than allow a rapacious elite to hoard it, will never be handed to us by the scientists and technicians. Nearly all of them work for the enemy."

Thus writes Chris Hedges in his latest column on Truthout. The occasion of his latest reflections was the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, acts of barbarity that he, quite rightly, I think, believes were totally unjustified by the necessities of war and which stand with the Nazi killing camps at the pinnacle of the mountain of horror we have constructed with our science and technology. It's in our natures, he argues, for us to act like beasts. And we have made a false and cruel god out of science. "Science is for us," he writes, "what totems and spells were for our premodern ancestors. It is magical thinking. It feeds our hubris and sense of divine empowerment. And trusting in its fearsome power will mean our extinction."

I certainly see little reason to disagree. Freud, Hedges reminds us, that human beings are creatures of dark impulses, "powerful yearnings for death and self-immolation." Scientific knowledge didn't free us from this. And then, this sobering observation:
The future of the human race depends on naming and controlling these urges. To pretend they do not exist is to fall into self-delusion. The breakdown of social and political control during periods of political and economic turmoil allows these urges to reign supreme. Our first inclination, Freud noted correctly, is not to love one another as brothers or sisters but to "satisfy [our] aggressiveness on [our fellow human being], to exploit his capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him."
Of the guys I regularly read, Hedges is the most overtly moralistic. For me, his passion is perfectly understandable. He looks around at the world and what he sees frightens and disgusts him. Humanity is choosing its own destruction. It persists in "innate human barbarity."

So during our own period of political and economic turmoil, we should probably expect the worst, unless something miraculous happens that lets us see.
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