Leftists should wage a culture war for Science and Technology.

joel-filipe-200538

In the  english speaking internet, a cultural war wages between the Left and the Right, that is perhaps representative to an extent of anglo society as a whole, which was recently chronicled by the controversial book “Kill All Normies” by Angela Nagle.   The Left side of the war, which is embodied in tumblr, “social justice warriors”, etc., usually explains the disadvantages faced by women, transgender people, and people as color, as  produced by socially constructed systems, such as  rape culture, the patriarchy, white priviliege, etc. – constructs that were developed in the annals of humanities’ academia. The online right wing, in contrast, explains the disparities and inequalities  faced by women and marginalized minorities as rooted in biological sources, using a  “scientific” language that refers to  evolutionary psychology, behavioural psychology, the distributions of IQ, etc., as  evidence.  The ontologies used by both sides are in some sense incommensurable – the Left uses humanities’ assumptions such as the relevant social forces being  abstract and socially constructed and therefore hard to measure – while the right wing  explains  perceived social disparities   as sourced in biological variables that are tractable and measurable.

Previously, I criticized the “pseudo-scientific” aspects within the far-right for their tendency to correlate complex social phenomena with one or a couple of biological variables. I speculated that a psychological source of the “univariate mind” of right wingers  is the training of the people who make these sort of arguments – typically engineers, programmers, and system administrators,  and the like, who were exposed to simple, univariate systems and beginner statistics in their undergraduate curricula.  However,  a similar   epistemic cage of method also constrains the Left (although I am using the term “the Left” this post specifically addresses the Left in the english-speaking world, rather than the Left in general).  Since the Left’s march through the academe in the 60s, the Left has acquired an alienating  language and methodology  that can only be parsed by the “initiated” (hence the term “woke”).  One of the main, alienating assumptions is  that the categories and frameworks we use to make sense of reality, from common sense, all the way to experimental science, are shaped by the ideology  of the powerful to the point that  these frameworks are always suspect. Furthermore, the Left, because it refuses to embrace a sort of universalism – a common human experience that transcends gender and race,   is unable to reach out to those who aren’t “initiated”, given that the Left is not vested in creating a universalized language. Instead, the Left has produced a labyrinth of “woke” signalling, that can only be understood  and accepted by members of a specific subcultures – in this case, the Left, and the humanities. The Left’s hostility against universalism is related to  the post-structuralist turn in academia, where all broad statements about humanity are rendered suspect, because all knowledge, even the superficially objective type,  is always tainted by power structures. For example, a common  post-structuralist attack against “positivism”, the tendency of science to abstract all social and physical phenomena into well defined, quantitative laws,  is that it is rooted in euro-centric understanding of the world; in other words, the fact that we accept positivism as valid is connected to the dominance of western civilization.

Given the language and assumptions embraced by the Left, namely that  all knowledge is tainted by the power, including   scientific knowledge, scientists will sometimes find the Left ridiculous and alienating.   An interesting example of this phenomenon happened the 90s, with the so called science wars, where Alan  Sokal, a physicist and   sympathizer of the old, materialist Marxist left, submitted a bunk article to one of the top humanities’ journals at that time, Social Text. His troll article, which got accepted,  argued that quantum gravity was a social and linguistic construct.  One could criticize his approach as bad faithed and counter-productive, but what was interesting about the affair is that he wasn’t really looking to discredit literary criticism and “postmodernism”, but to defend the Left from what he thought as negative anti-scientific  influences:

My goal isn’t to defend science from the barbarian hordes of lit crit (we’ll survive just fine, thank you), but to defend the Left from a trendy segment of itself..

It’s useful to analyze the history of the relationship between the Left and science.  Before WWII, it seems that Marxism and social anarchism, both which postulated a knowable, material world as the  basis of  social reality, had a friendly,  even if sometimes contentious, relationship with science.  For example,  Einstein had well publicized anarchist and socialist sympathies, and  the American state purged the Manhattan project of  “communist physicists”, such as Oppenheimer and David Bohm.  Nowadays, however,  the presence of the Left in scientific and technical milieux has dwindled, atleast in the United States.  Superficially, this lack of prescence is obvious in the “online wars”, where most of the writers  and social media personalities that  promote leftist views are overwhelmingly from the humanities,  while the right wing  that peddles anti-feminism, libertarianism, and “pseudo-scientific” racism have almost always technical backgrounds. Nowadays,  you can always guess that any public intellectual that leans to the Left has some sort of humanist background – from Richard Seymour to Zizek.  Furthermore in  the  United States, professionals and workers outside “blue-collar work” that tend to be unionized are public servants, such as teachers, university white collar workers, and bureaucrats – which tend to come overwhelmingly from the social sciences/humanities backgrounds. This contrasts to technical workers, such as programmers, which tend to not be unionized.

Is there an unbridgeable chasm at play – with anti-positivistic “critical theory” versus science? Since the abandonment of the pre-suppositions of the old materialist left, such as enlightenment and scientific humanism, the chasm  seems real.  However I don’t think the chasm is unbridgeable, and the raison d’être of this blog is partly  a leftist “intervention” of sorts  into the scientific and technical millieux.  For example, I think the talk of “systems” in some of the more “materialist” minded left, such as white supremacy, capitalism, or the patriarchy, can be  translated into “mathematical” language using the tools developed by complexity theory and nonlinear dynamics, namely, that society exhibits complex emergent phenomena, such as systematic discrimination of women, exploitation of workers, and systemic racism, that cannot be reduced to the properties of the individual units of the system – such as how psychology cannot be reduced to the action potentials of a neutron, or  temperature to the random motion of one molecule.  This stands in contrast with the pseudo-scientific crackpots  from the right that try to reduce gender disparities in STEM or  income inequality amongst races, to a couple of biological variables such as IQ or amount of testosterone.  Finally, capitalism, and its increasingly more intricate division of labour can also be blamed for the widening of this chasm – scientifically minded people fall into “everything can be explained by a measurable number” idiocy and humanists retreat to textual and cultural analysis,  frolicking in their innumeracy, and flaunting their cultural capital with increasingly more opaque and polysyllabic language.

We shouldn’t leave STEM at the hands of libertarians, racialist crackpots, and resentful anti-feminists, that recuperate the language and methods of technical workers and scientific professionals for reactionary agendas.   Instead, we leftists should wage a  culture war within STEM,  and make it understood that science can be used to build a better and freer world, rather than leaving science at the hands of myopic reactionaries with hard ons for biological essentialism and bad statistics. Therefore, leftists should become more educated in the “hard” sciences, rather than dismissing them as irrelevant for explaining social phenomena. Finally,  we should embrace a universal human experience as the basis of our politics, with scientific discourse forming part of the universalist language, rather than posit that humans of different nationalities and genders are divided by incommensurable experiences, which is implicit in much of the “post-structuralist” left.

 

10 thoughts on “Leftists should wage a culture war for Science and Technology.

  1. “make it understood that science can be used to build a freer better world”
    To do that one needs to understand what “better” means to a libertarian or an authoritarian conservative.
    What better means to a progressive is not the same thing. So I would guess that even before waging a war for science ones needs to persuade the libertarians and the authoritarians that the progressive understanding of better is in fact better than what they currently think better is.
    On the more general subject of converting people on the other side of the isle, people from both the left and the right know that they are getting cheated but one side or the other clearly has been fooled about WHO it is that is cheating them.
    In addition there is a problem understanding what economic conditions in the USA would be like if the foreign policies of the USA, and the rest of the world were different. The reason I bring this up is assuming that large groups of people, who could live anywhere, are being cheated by special interest groups here in the USA, any number of people in the USA could unintentionally be net beneficiaries of special interest group cheating. For example, iF, the Saudi oil export policy is not actually made to benefit the masses in Saudi Arabia the Saudi Royal family might benefit enormously, US Oil companies might reap huge benefits, as a result that American people might benefit handsomely. Now divided up among 330 million people the benefit to any one American might be small but it is possible that this one American might reap the rewards of many small benefits. It is also possible that under the same conditions another American justs breaks even and yet another American falls even further behind.
    But it is not only American special interest groups that seek to make unfair profits. What is going on is super complex. I doubt that there is a single person on the planet that completely understands it. Yet no doubt there are people who think they do. Certainly some who will try to make money by convincing people that they have a handle on the business of the world economy. What all of this complexity means is that it is very hard for a person with years of training let alone a biologist or high school graduate to evaluate competing claims about what is better(for them, for the world) let alone what policies will more efficiently change things in that direction.

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  2. If I could do a second draft I would begin the third paragraph like this:
    I think that the reason people are easily fooled about who is cheating them is because due to the complexity of a world wide economic system people are incapable of imagining what the results of any changes to the economic policies of the country that they live in would be. For example, if large groups of people, who could live anywhere, were being cheated by special interest groups…. …….. …………

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  3. Ya and not only that just what the hell is cheating? Do, or can, libertarians and conservatives and progressives agree on what cheating is? How about a definition of exploitation? Is cheating the same thing as exploiting?

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  4. I applaud your efforts to bring some intellectual rigor to the academic left, as I fear that C.P. Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’ are fast becoming H.G. Wells’ Eloi and Morlocks.

    That said, I fear that, considering the fact that as the current academic trends are to maximize economic profitability, and as it is estimated that half of the U.S. budget goes to the military, current STEM research will be going toward more and more effective ways of killing people and destroying property. In short, I fear that you are waging an uphill battle. This is not to say that what you are doing is wrong. Rather, it is said to note that you will probably face opposition, if you make an open battle of it.

    I would only suggest that, if you have not already done so, that you make a more rigorous study of libertarian and contrarian thought. It is easy to dismiss, say, Mencius Moldbug as ‘Alt-Right’. It is more difficult to address what he has to say, or the erudition and gedankexperiment which he brings to the table. That said, I would suggest that you might want to look at, say, moldbuggery.blogspot.com, which serves as a precis and organization of his thought, and a reading list of his sources. Cheers!

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  5. right on!! In a nutshell it is premature to wage a war in stem until a war has been waged over whether the most important thing to due politically is to maximize personal freedom or the maximize collective solidarity, or perhaps solidarity could be called harmony. There can not be a scientific (objective) answer to this question because how a person answers it ultimately depends not on facts but on values. Values are subjective not objective.
    But that does not mean that one answer is a good as the next because each answer, and there is not one answer to how one can or should balance freedom and solidarity but a continuum of answers, has CONSEQUENCES. Any consequence could be favorable for one person and painful for another. Or as it is often said your pain is my gain.
    But can it be said that all pains are equal? Is the pain of starvation, or being burned to death by napalm, or being denounced to the secret police by a spouse who wants to get you out of the way, equal to the pain of being forced to work as waiter instead of a peonist, or making 250,000 dollars a year before taxes and having only a 100,000 dollars a year after taxes, or of only being allowed to buy double barrel shotguns instead of pump action shot guns, or of being limited in automobile choice to a Yaris or Smart Car and on and on and on.
    So I dare you, be honest with yourself and tell me, are all pains equal?
    So I dare you, be honest with yourself, you did not create feudalism, you did not create slavery, you did not support imperialism, so do you have any responsibilities or obligations to those who have been harmed by it?
    So I dare you, be honest with yourself, are you even allowed to question authority, let alone consider it your duty to question authority? What have you done to prepare yourself to question authority?

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  6. Here is a link that covers a lot of material that is quite challenging for me to make heads or tails of. This link has a lot of material that is so unorthodox it is quite hard for me to evaluate it. Although I will never be a Christian again I read the article because it seems that the author hopes to build a bridge between (his brand) of Christians and leftists. The author of the linked article puts his emphasis on stories as the means by which people have their values shaped. I sense that there is some valuable insights buried in this lengthy post. Maybe I have been suckered. See for yourself.
    http://chasinjesus.blogspot.com/2017/08/notes-against-strategy-and-for-creole.html#more

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  7. Science can certainly help us build smarter transportation systems. But what good is that if people do not want smarter transportation systems because they have incorrectly defined what a smarter transportation system is? Well the science of psychology can help us to understand how to convince people to redefine what they understand a better transportation system is. The thing is, is psychology a science or an ART?
    Or perhaps an art that makes use of a few scientific principles? Does it matter? I think that it matter at least a little. Well it leads me to the conclusion that non scientific leftists do not need to become better educated in the hard sciences but that hard scientists need to become better artists. But chances are no one is going to tell them that. Just like no one told me that I should read the history of Haiti. That just happened by accident when I was over 50 years old.

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  8. Dear Phd student,
    When you say that leftists should wage a cultural war for science and technology an implication of such a suggestion is that you will take part in this cultural war. Well since you have apparently not been involved with this sort of thing in the past I would like to warn you. You will be talking to people who are largely mentally retarded when it comes to political thinking.
    I can give an example of this political mental retardation that came to my attention yesterday. I was talking with a medical doctor. He asked me where I was from. During our conversation I told him that I had been living in Germany for more than 20 years where I had met my wife while I was in the US Army during the early 1980s.
    He thanked me for defending America’s freedom. I told him that there was no need to thank me. I had never defended America’s freedom. I then asked him if he knew who Lt. Ehren Watada was. He said no. I then told him about Lt. Watada and myself. I talked further about a war of aggression being the worst crime that there is and that if the Iraq war did not fit the definition of a war of aggression no war would.
    His reply was that it was good that all political opinions were represented in the US military.
    To him, a well educated person, politics is a realm with out facts only opinions.

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  9. Important information economic information was released today in our local newspaper.
    In our state which is perhaps in the top 15 of the 50 states to be in the top 25% of family before tax income a family would have to earn 150,000 dollars a year. In this state 58% of college educated white adults live in a family with a family income of more than 150,000 dollars a year.
    Such wealth brings with it large homes with 3 car garages filled with large expensive SUVs, boats, international travel, antique cars, eating at the best restaurants, (well kind of as that is a matter of taste). In addition there are no charges for the economic and social externalities of such a life style. In fact there is not even any recognition that there are such externalities. In fact this computer does not even recognize the term externality. Could my English be outdated?
    Even earning 100,000 dollars in our state gets you quite a bit, at least in the short term. Is it any wonder that there is a mass of people which create an immovable object to those who would try to reform this system?

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