Do you ever ask yourself “what’s going on?” I’m sure you do. There’s a trend which seems to be at it’s peak just now (at least, I’m hoping it’s about to decline!), which you can trace back to Enlightenment, the development of positivism as a philosophy and, emerging from that background a belief in the power of capital and reductionist science to produce both our globalised financial/political power elite and scientism (the belief that science, and only science, can reveal “truth”).
I recently watched Inside Job. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so. It’s the clearest explanation of the 2008 financial crash and its roots I’ve read or heard. The frustrating thing about Inside Job is how it reveals that the same elite is still in power, still in the money, and still in control.
Then I read an article by Sam Harris in The Nation.
More a habit of mind than a rigorous philosophy, positivism depends on the reductionist belief that the entire universe, including all human conduct, can be explained with reference to precisely measurable, deterministic physical processes. (This strain of positivism is not to be confused with that of the French sociologist Auguste Comte.) The decades between the Civil War and World War I were positivism’s golden age. Positivists boasted that science was on the brink of producing a total explanation of the nature of things, which would consign all other explanations to the dustbin of mythology. Scientific research was like an Easter egg hunt: once the eggs were gathered the game would be over, the complexities of the cosmos reduced to natural law. Science was the only repository of truth, a sovereign entity floating above the vicissitudes of history and power. Science was science.
What’s the connection between this and the financial crises? -
During the past several decades, there has been a revival of positivism alongside the resurgence of laissez-faire economics and other remnants of late-nineteenth-century social thought. E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology (1975) launched pop-evolutionary biologism on the way to producing “evolutionary psychology”—a parascience that reduces complex human social interactions to adaptive behaviors inherited from our Pleistocene ancestors. Absence of evidence from the Pleistocene did not deter evolutionary psychologists from telling Darwinian stories about the origins of contemporary social life. Advances in neuroscience and genetics bred a resurgent faith in the existence of something called human nature and the sense that science is on the verge of explaining its workings, usually with reference to brains that are “hard-wired” for particular kinds of adaptive, self-interested behavior.
Beginning to see the connections?
Then along comes Adam Curtis’ new documentary on BBC2, All Watched Over by Machines of Love and Grace. What a strange title! It comes from a poem of that title by Richard Brautigan. It’s a three part series, and this first episode focused on Ayn Rand and her disciples, including the still influential Alan Greenspan. What a disturbing piece! I found it alarming to see such an emphasis on selfishness, such disdain about altruism, and such delusional belief in the power of “rationalism” to control outcomes. But these ideas still seem to be the foundation of the current power base in the world.
When I started this blog, and titled it “Heroes not Zombies”, I wrote about how to make zombies – and, later, I wrote about limits to control. Are there signs of change?
I do think the next wave will be based on an understanding that the world is not predictable, not controllable, and that human beings are not best served by being dominated by power elites, or so called “experts” (“scientific” or otherwise!)
But it’s a long road ahead……!
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