The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.
[Karl Marx: Theses On Feuerbach, 11]
Scientists, like philosophers attempt to interpret the world (but with the emphasis on the ‘how?’ rather than the ‘why?’). But though the whole discipline stems from a desire to alter and control that world, some branches, particularly those concerned with our branes, now seem more concerned with giving us reasons to give up trying.
The old cliché about wanting the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference is all well and good. Even though major advances are often made by folks who refused to accept that ‘wisdom’, it is also worth bearing in mind the classic verse:
They said it couldn’t be done.
He smiled and said he knew it.
But he tried that thing that ‘couldn’t be done’ …
… and he couldn’t do it.
Siggy Freud and the other fathers of psychology hoped that by discovering and understanding the roots of a neurosis or even a psychosis somewhere in the patient’s youth or childhood, its current manifestations could be alleviated or even ‘cured’. This may now look overoptimistic, but it’s unlikely they’d be impressed with an industry in which the discovery of a traumatic juvenile encounter with a flock of skittish Herdwicks at the root of an adult terror of men in chunky-knit jumpers justifies suing one’s parents for negligence and a compensation claim against the Wool Marketing Board, not to mention insisting on trigger warnings for films like Babe.
And now neuroscience is getting in on the act. At a time when the nature of truth and belief is being questioned from all sides, and manipulated by the EVL-right, there seems to be a constant drip of articles like this one from the New Yorker (Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds). We are informed that people’s politics and opinions are all but set in genetic stone, if not at birth, then very soon after. Concepts like ‘confirmation bias’ are bandied about and exaggerated stories of how ‘big data’ is being used to target voters by their prejudices (even helping to dissuade the irredeemably humane — sorry, ‘snowflakes’ — from voting). In fact it’s tempting to think that the very prevalence of this fatalistic message is itself being encouraged by the alt-meanies to dispirit liberal-leaning folk.
Ever since the 1980s, the art of politics has shifted away from any attempt to sell a vision, right, left or otherwise, to the general populace. Instead the agenda now is driven by focus groups and an attempt to give the people what — no, to make the people think you’re giving them what they want. Yes, it’s true that all the effective methods of campaigning, particularly in so-called ‘representative’ democracies (see Democratic Blisters in this blog series) will concentrate on floating voters and marginal constituencies (like ‘swing states’), so there has always been a pragmatic concentration on lines of least resistance, but now it seems to be simply about identifying and mobilising your army and attacking the other’s.
In a recent discussion on antisocial media, your friendly blogger commented to a Canadian fan of Objectionalism that Ayn Rand was a nasty, fucked up piece of work with an even nastier Weltanschauung. His response was that this is a nasty world, so I should ‘suck it up’ and get with the only sensible programme (despite the fact that Rand herself couldn’t even live by her ‘principles’).
The tragedy of all this is that one ends up with a totally defeatist world view, societies doomed to repeat and endless Viconian cycle of exploitation (as propounded by S Bannon Esq in his fillums), revolution, chaos and repression, punctuated, if we’re lucky, by brief spells of some form of peaceful social democracy, prosperous for some and with a safety net for the rest (any state, even the USA, with some form of welfare provision fits somewhere on this wide spectrum). After all, no attempts to establish a thousand year Reich or a socialist workers’ paradise have yet come to much, certainly not to Orwell’s eternal boot in the face nor Karl’s withering away of the state. Whereas in the continuation of reasoned debate there is at least some hope that a longer term solution can be arrived at. No Utopias, but at least meaningful reform, a chance to stop the treadmill now we know how it runs.
No doubt there will always be the charismatic psychopaths, getting off on power for its own sake, and those who will follow them blindly but other studies show that such people are effective mainly in fucking things up, so society should really be taking steps to learn to overcome the ovine tendency to follow and finding ways to neutralise such people — while making use, if possible, of the positive sides of such determination and self-belief. We should surely not be encouraging a mindset which leads to Trumpo stating, quite rightly, that he could shoot someone in broad daylight in Times Square in front of news cameras, and not lose a single vote, whereas that statement alone ought to be enough to lose him all of them.
Despite all the negativity, we’ve all experienced people, even ourselves, undergoing radical
Bloody hell it’s late! I’ll finish this next week.