I’ve been thinking about the puzzling (to me anyway) question of where all this automatic hostility to science comes from. This is not the first time I’ve thought about that question, of course; it’s not even the second, or the fifth. I think about it quite often. It is something of an enigma. There are a lot of people out there who do reliably say very dismissive things on the subject, not as if such things were controversial or debatable, but as if they were obvious and taken for granted and incontrovertible. As if it were just common knowledge among all people who pay attention even slightly, that science is root and branch wicked and harmful and to be condemned out of hand. It’s odd.
The question has renewed force because of reading Sandra Harding. She’s a really good example – paradigmatic, one might say – of this kind of thing. Of just assuming from the outset that science is a terrible thing and that everyone who reads her already knows that. She has to be assuming that, because she sure as hell does a crap job of making a case for it. In fact she does no job at all. She just takes that assumption as her starting point. No evidence, no explanation, hardly even any examples. Just earnest cross-eyed science-hatred. Okay, so why?
There are some obvious reasons. It’s powerful and succesful, it’s difficult, capitalism needs it, it can be smelly and/or dirty, we were bad at it in school. That kind of thing. Compelling stuff, needless to say. But there are other reasons, and those are the ones that it’s interesting to think about. (Irritating, but interesting.) The ones that are less explicit, less ‘theoretical’ and rational, less academic; the ones that are more like fear of snakes or spiders, or dislike of people in suede shoes.
Thinking about those reasons of course risks getting into into armchair-Freudianism territory, and that’s not a territory I want to light out for. But I’ll take the chance anyway. Cautiously. Right: I think one of those background reasons is the fact that science doesn’t give a shit. At all. It’s not just that it’s not all that bothered, it’s that it does not care at all. That’s the problem right there: it’s the realm of what just is, no matter what we think about it. Where our wishes, hopes, plans, fears make nothing happen.
Of course that’s true of life anyway, with or without science. It rains or it doesn’t, the volcano erupts or not. In fact science and technology are our best shot at changing obdurate facts about the world that we don’t like – sickness, weather, hunger. But still, science also makes the independence of what is from what we want it to be, systematic and official, and that’s why people hate it, as if it were a bully wandering around stomping on all our little doll houses and acorn tea sets. We feel beside the point next to it. It’s not democratic, or multicultural, or libertarian, or kind; all those words and all words like them are just the wrong category. We feel more at home in the kind-ought-value-want category. So it feels natural to a lot of people to hate science, and they assume not only that it feels natural to everyone but also that that is the right way to feel, the humane, thoughtful, reflective way to feel. At least, that’s my guess. But it’s not a scientific guess, just an armchair one.
[Update: By ‘we’ of course I mean those who fit the description and not those who don’t.]