The Liberty Expose: The Age of Huxley
Last month, protestors marched through the streets of the capitol to advocate the role of science in politics. While the epicenter of the march resided in DC, many municipal off-shoot marches followed in suit. The protestors wore the banner of righteous indignation over a perceived “war on science” that has been being waged. There have been no casualties that I know of.
Other than concern over climate change, one struggles to find the point of this protest, and one is tempted to dismiss it. However, “Sciencism,” the belief that science can be the solution to the problems of the human condition, have been increasingly popular in the United States, especially so with the rise of “nerd culture.” One should cautious, for the worship of science is dangerously Huxlian and could serve as a regression of freedom and reason.
One can provide a list of absurd tweets sent out by the official March for Science Twitter feeds, such as the tweeters that insinuate that ISIS is composed of marginalized victims and that “economic justice” is a “scientific issue.” One can go on about how the leader’s keynote speaker, children’s TV presenter Bill Nye, advocated for a form of population control on his Netflix show "Bill Nye Saves the World" and directly contradicted statements he made when he was in the business of actual science education and not ideological advocacy.
But I am not going to do that here. It now goes without saying that the March for Science is not a non-partisan and inclusive advocacy group, but one with a political agenda, like the Woman’s March that preceded it. Rather, one should critically analyze what science actually is, how it has been used, and how it manifests itself in society.
It is a common belief of conscious of dystopian fiction that while Orwell was the superior writer, the dystopia imagined by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World was more realistic - at least Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska seems to believe so. Huxley depicted a world where the technology and science that was produced in it became a stand-in for ethics. The government in the novel was known as the “World State” and it is concerning how many of today’s Huxlians might be sympathetic to its intellectual foundations.
The World State prided itself for being too enlightened for God, yet it worshipped the Achievements of Henry Ford. Huxley’s world state fetishes technology and progress for its own sake. It was an intrinsic progression, and those who dared to believe that the answers humanity needs don’t manifests itself in a quantifiable solution, or, to quote Alexander Pope, to believe that the “the best way to study mankind is man,” was to be labeled a luddite savage.
But fiction is just that – fiction. Unfortunately, history provides another example of the intrinsic pursuit that enlightenment can be. This time instead of science, it was reason, and the phenomena took place on the bloodied streets of Paris, during the French Revolution when the Enlightenment imploded on itself.
At the height of the French Revolution, at a time when the clergy was persecuted and the names of months were changed to better reflect the reason of the time, the Revolutionary movement of France was supposed to be the defender of reason and Enlistment – enforcing their position with the guillotine. Again, reason stood in for ethics, and it was pointed to the unanswerable (before the Revolution in France, Jonathan Swift satirized a society that revolves only around reason in Gulliver’s Travels.)
One should resist the Huxlian urge to confer proper policy with morality - or more dangerously, conflate science with proper policy. The talents, ingenuity, and products of the human mind can be amazing, and technology has contributed to the prosperous society that the United States has become. With this in mind, one should hesitate to point to science as the answer to all of the world’s ills; science, like rationality, has been both used for the liberation and the enslavement of mankind. The balance cannot be decided by science – but rather by a populace grounded in virtue.
Science does not have an agenda; it is a tool that can be utilized for both the good and ill of humanity. Science does not have moral positions – only people do.
One thinks of the German scientist Fritz Haber, who received a Nobel for discoveries that led to the feeding of countless people. Haber is also remembered as the father of chemical warfare – where his work resulted in the horrendous suffering of people ranging from soldiers on the Wester Front, to the latest victims of the Assad regime’s terror. Haber’s work on an insecticide, Zyklon b, was utilized by the SS to murder Jews in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Treblinka – with a few of Haber’s relatives being amongst the victims.
One should also take note of the promise a peril of nuclear energy, and how leaders decide whether the splitting of the atom would be used to increase the living standard of a people, or be weaponized as a potential exterminator of life. Advances in technology are never made under the premise of promoting evil - such is a cartoonish view of the insidious aspects of mankind. Progress is made when those attempt to benefit society - though, what it means to “benefit” has been up for debate
Science is not owned by a political party, and it can never be monopolized by an ideological movement; to do so would fulfill the Huxlian vision. Science does not provide answers to the most difficult questions of the human condition. Rather it sheds light to illuminate the possible solutions, as difficult questions require difficult answers.