Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Reflection On Salem's March For Science---Is Science A Liberal Conspiracy?

Photo from Facebook

Some of us attended Salem's March for Science today and participated in the rally and march. I came away hopeful, but with mixed feelings as well.

It seemed to me that much of the signage and the speeches were defensive and were attempting to put science above politics and lived human experience, as an academic experience rather than as a fruit of human labor, practice, critical thinking and passion. The mostly white crowd had no clear relationships to other struggles, and many people we encountered did not want to hear much about these struggles or about the all-important upcoming May Day rally and march. And holding any rally downtown on a weekend means that people who don't have cars can't attend, meaning that, say, people of color in northeast Salem can't participate.

On the other hand, if this wasn't a lead-up to May Day and engagement with immigrant rights struggles, it was a continuation of the spirit of the womens' marches, a first-time-out for many people, a strong show of indignation against the far-right, and evidence that a multigenerational movement is in place which is opposed to Trump and capable of countering the right-wing with facts and bodies. The march and rally were well-organized and drew in many people who are not a part of the local liberal and progressive circles. It was a family-friendly and comfortable event.

Prior to the march someone posted a piece on the organizing Facebook page by Neil deGrasse Tyson asking how it was that the U.S. moved from being a rural and slowly-developing society to an advanced industrial country and answering that this happened because of science. When you ask us the question we're more likely to answer that the U.S. became a world power through slavery, exploitation, war and imperialism. There is "science" to slavery, exploitation, war and imperialism, of course, but the capitalists took power first and then wrote the books after they were safely protected by state power.

I understand the defensive line which argues that science is not a liberal conspiracy. Trump and his supporters argue to the contrary, saying in effect that we have it all wrong and that we are being misled by alternate facts and bad science. In fact, the traditional far-right disdain for intellectuals continues and deepens ever day.

But it's also true that science is indeed a liberal (or radical) conspiracy of sorts. First Nations peoples, Africans, peoples from Asia and from the far reaches of Europe, and LGBTQIA+ people had good grasps of early scientific principles and practices. The destruction of their societies by kings and capitalists often destroyed much of this science or drove it underground, preventing it from reaching its full potential. The scientific method, which is at its heart dialectical and materialist, developed under conditions of oppression and implicitly opposed pre-feudal superstitions, the feudal aristocracies and the new capitalist bosses, pushing the bourgeois-democratic revolutions further than their leaderships wanted to go. Karl Marx and the best traditions within Marxism codified what the peoples of pre-feudal societies had developed and what later militant democrats had attempted into dialectical materialism, the scientific understanding of how the real world functions without abstraction. We understood from the earliest days of the socialist movement that we are a part of nature and that nature has a dialectic of which we are an expression. And dialectical materialism is indeed biased, as is all intellectual effort. Dialectical materialism is our science, the one we use effectively against Trump, fascism and the folks who are invested in obscuring the nature of real human progress and ecology.

Given the history of revolutionary movements, revolutionary science has indeed sometimes had to function as a conspiracy. The feudal powers were threatened by a science which posited that human power is its own end; likewise, the capitalists do everything to bury this fact. The capitalists understandably object to anything which argues from facts, observation and criticism that everything is in motion, that contradictory forces create movement and development, and that each new thing bears the traces of the old even as it exists as the new and will eventually give way to contradiction. After all, if this is applied scientifically to bourgeois relations the system will fall apart. The very method of observation, experimentation, critique and criticism, reexamination and critique threatens capitalism and fascism. It is anathema to Trump. The bourgeois governments and institutions lose patience with our insistence on the dialectical-scientific method and force us underground or to the margins. Only in socialist societies is science firmly established.

We ask our friends at the march to examine their notions from a scientific point of view, look at history scientifically, look at what the scientific method means to them in real terms, and to apply this to our resistance to Trump. In short, we ask them to be consciously on the anti-racist, anti-imperialist and class-struggle left.

“There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.”--Karl Marx

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