Sunday, December 23, 2007

A little more on anti-science conservatives

Tyler DiPietro over at Power Up has critique of my post on science and conservatism that is worth checking out. Since my post was just a short observation, I left a few things out that might have clarified or elaborated on my intended points. Tyler caught the most important of these. That is, the place of anti-science thought in post modern theory--a field which is regretably undeniably a product of the left. The other anti-science strain in liberal thought, the ludditism of romantic environmentalism, he correctly understood me to have included in New Age Spiritualism.

However, when he disagrees with my point that "[s]cience, as an intellectual project is profoundly un-conservative," I'll need to defend myself (or at least clarify my sloppy writing). I had two points in mind in the short passage he takes objection to.

The first is my definition of conservative. The rough outline of this will be familiar to many readers of Bora/Coturnix, though I'm sure he will disagree on some of the details. I view conservative and liberal as primarily emotional ways of viewing the world. Political conservatism and liberalism are each a mixed bag of policy positions, pet issues, and philosophical positions. They are also alliances of groups and interests united by the practical needs of the moment. The bottom line is that not all of the agenda points put forth by the conservative alliance (or the liberal one) are philosophically consistent. Psychological conservatism does not exactly align with political conservatism. Ditto liberalism.

Most people do not associate themselves with a political group as a result of a careful philosophical evaluation of the two sides. Most people choose a group based on family history, cultural ties, or social asperations and then justify their adherance to the position of their team. Occasionally, people who are emotionally of one side, find themselves associated with the other political side. Again, this is something that I need to go into in much more detail some day. For now, the point I want to make is that scientists and technicians can approach science with a conservative or a liberal worldview but that doesn't make science itself conservative or liberal.

When I say science is un-conservative I am primarily speaking of its relationship to authority. The state of emotional conservatism that I have in mind is a state that is profoundly respectful of the established order and its authorities. Authority in this world view is an inherited quality. Fathers, bosses, priests, teachers, and other leaders deserve because of their position. To a conservative, those in authority deserve respect. In the liberal worldview, authority it is a fleeting thing. Liberals demand their leaders prove their right to lead. To a liberal, those who are respected earn authority.

Science, as I meant the word, is the abstract concept and not the actual practice or the people engaged in it. Science is a method of finding truth. Science is based on emperical fact gathering and testing. Truth, to science, is a highly mutable state. Truth is that interpretation which best fits the available information and state of the testing art. Because it does not respect the inherited position of an old truth, science is un-conservative. In theory, a scientific truth can change over night. In practice, a new scientific truth runs into barriers of the personal conservatism of many scientists.

I should also point out that I draw a clear distinction between science and technology that doesn't always exist in the real world. Technology is the practical application of scientific principals. While science is un-conservative, technology is very conservative. This is the main reason why engineers so often come down on the conservative side in the cultural wars (or the reason why so many conservatives are drawn to engineering).

That's enough for today. I'm glad this has engendered some discussion. I'll need to work on some of the supporting points in the near future.

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