St. Paul's epistle to the Washingtonians
In The Historical Aims of Science, an essay by the Australian philosopher of science, Stephen Gaukroger, in the British Journal for the History of Philosophy, there’s a nice passage on what made the Scientific Revolution in Western Europe different from the boom and bust Renaissances characteristic of previous cultures, from the Greeks to the Arabs in Baghdad to the Sung Chinese. For Gaukroger, what we are looking for is not progress, but consolidation:
“The question we need to raise here is that of the consolidation of the Scientiic Revolution, and the establishment of the legitimacy of the scientific enterprise.
The consolidation of the Scientific Revolution was in part due to the ability of its proponents and apologists to draw on the often novel ways in which theories were being justified, to extrapolate from this to the legitimation of the existence of the new science as a long-term project, and to articulate a range of cognitive values around its own practice. This was not an easy or straightforward process, and its outcome was not guaranteed. It was a difficult struggle, with great efforts, of varying success, being put into establishing the value of experimentation, the public usefulness of knowledge and, from the end of the eighteenth century, largescale public science education programmes and radical reform of university curricula.”
To LI’s mind, this has left us with a persistent asymmetry of cognitive habits, in which, on the one side, we have a pattern of experiment, observations, and relations (the last characterized in the formal language of mathematics), and on the other side, we have the life of power, lust, loss and gain. There are those – Hayek being, perhaps, the most articulate on the Right in the last century – who attribute this asymmetry to the nature of human things. It just so happens that installing a set of procedures among human things that would imitate scientific procedures would quickly produce engineered catastrophe, since scientific procedures are imminently unequipped to deal with contingency and complexity.
We actually believe Hayek has a point. On the other hand, the exportation of something like scientific integrity into talk about politics has its attractions. For LI, this means seeing a political program not in terms of the moral worth of its proponent, but in terms of the coherence or incoherence of its various parts. It is this that is most striking about the American regime we are currently suffering under: its utter inability to mesh means and ends, combined with its utter inability to see inconsistencies in the various scenarios it projects as programs for action. The scenarios are all Christian erotic daydreams. The Christian self-help section of the book store is now in power, and we are officially in search of the miraculous. This being a fallen world, the miraculous reliably doesn’t happen.
Read, for instance, the NYT report on the Bush budget. The report makes clear that the budget is a compendium of malignant lies. Actually, the NYT pulls its punches. No surprise there. It fails to take into account the full extent of the tax cuts Bush wants to make permanent. One has no doubt that the figures in the current budget are as trustworthy as Enron’s projections of future profits, circa 2000. This will be pointed out. This will be discussed.
But what won’t be discussed is what strikes the third party observer – Bush’s deficits have not been rejected by the world financial community. Quite the contrary.
I had an interesting discussion with my web pal, Paul Craddick, on his site about Keynsian economics in which he brought up a reliable libertarian shibboleth – that Roosevelt’s New Deal worsened the Depression. But from the experience of the past fifty years, it wasn’t the New Deal, but the instinct for balancing budgets that worsened the Depression. WWII was a godsend for the economic health of the American public in that it allowed the State to incur debts on a level not ever seen before, extended by financial institutions that had no choice, and paid back in inflated dollars. And every recession since has been spent out of, with the variable being excuses to spend. Usually, they are military – and now that we have something called Homeland Defense, we have found a way to spend money on absolutely nothing at all – which is a very Zen thing to do for the Christian homebodies in D.C., and the most interesting development in Christian theology since Robin Morgan urged your Southern Baptist housewife to wrap her nude body in Saran wrap and await her Pauline lord and master at the door, in obedience to what Jesus would do, or advise, if there had been Saran wrap in Galilee. In fact, according to the new theology of faith, not works, you can now spend as much money as you want ‘domestically”, label it homeland defense, and ‘shrink’ spending on the “domestic’ budget. This is almost Nirvana.
What needs to be asked is: what does the borrowed money go to? If we were going to borrow a trillion some dollars anyway, why can’t we have national health care, for instance? Why, instead, do we just have a population largely in hock to credit card companies to pay for Junior’s dentistry? why is the enormous wealth of this country, flowing in every pricey restaurant from Miami to Seattle, so hard to find in the East side of Austin Texas, in the South side of Chicago, in the Bronx, etc., etc.