How the cult of technology murdered science
By Emanuel Pastreich
What went wrong, and how?
Perhaps the original sin was the confusion of science, the philosophical pursuit of the truth through the most accurate processes that man can produce, with technology, the tools, and the systems based on tools, that serve to create an effect or complete a task.
Technology is not science. These days the internet and supercomputers that lurk behind it are employed by the rich and powerful to create a virtual reality for us with the intention of deceiving us into believing that technological effects are the truth.
If we want to find a way out of this nightmare world, we must first recognize that technology has become the complete opposite of science.
Before we develop a smartphone, a satellite system or a supercomputer, we must first employ the scientific method to determine what the impact of that technology will be over the long term on the Earth and humanity.
Today, thousands of high-grade supercomputers calculate the worth of derivatives as part of a money game akin to poker. But we do not have many super computers calculating what the use of massive amounts of electricity for the next generation of AI will mean for the climate over the next 100 years, or the impact of the use of plastics on the oceans, nor the prospects for the production of food in 200 years in light of the rapid degradation of soil. Supercomputers calculate profit, and not sustainability for a political, not a scientific, reason. The powers that be know that if AI focused on sustainability over the centuries, the answer would be that we should stop using AI if we wish to survive.
We confuse science with technology at our peril. As Paul Goodman wrote, "Whether or not it draws on new scientific research, technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science." It is the moral aspect of technology that should be foremost in our minds, not the gaudy special effects that enchant.
How to dumb down an American
Tragically, our youth are being told by the corrupt media that they must prepare for a technology-driven future which is inevitable, by some law of nature, and that the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" will somehow improve their lives even as their jobs are automated away, even as their minds are destroyed by video games, pornography and online gambling provided for the purpose of reducing them to passive beasts.
Yes, the bankers and CEOs have paid a good amount to the PR experts to market their takeover of the economy. When they call it the "Fourth Industrial Revolution," they are not kidding. It is a revolution in which a tiny handful of people seize control of the means of production and the ideological apparatus for the entire Earth.
Because we are constantly bombarded with information that is spurious and misleading, we cannot focus, we cannot think for ourselves, and we cannot step back and assess the value of our lives or the larger flow of history.
This problem does not originate entirely from us. We are encouraged, we are forced, to obtain all of our information from corporate-controlled sources like Google or the New York Times, in a format that encourages distraction and discourages deep thinking.
Television, newspapers, the media in general, is no longer concerned at any level with revealing the truth to citizens, or helping citizens to learn for themselves. Rather, the entire media/education/advertising complex has been mobilized to promote campaigns to dumb down our people and to encourage anti-intellectual sentiments.
The games, the pornography, the foolish and shallow television programs that we are subject to from a young age are not simply about making money from customers. Much of this insidious content is free, after all. Rather the ultimate product offered up by the media to the investment banks and multinational corporations is us, the prostrate consumer, incapable of distinguishing images from reality, with no compass to guide him or her in determining what is true. People who have been brainwashed into thinking that the accumulation of money, and the mindless aping of the indulgent and idle lives of the rich, are proper goals in life.
We are being trained, without our knowledge, to be idiots. And scholars from Harvard and Yale arrogantly declare that the American people, especially the white workers from rural regions, are "stupid" when they back Donald Trump. When they do so, they intentionally overlook the fact that the banks and corporations deeply invested in Harvard and Yale are carrying out a subtle campaign to dumb down intellectuals at those elite institutions as well.
Technology has rendered our country a wasteland. We desperately need to interact with others. We need jobs that let us work together with those around us, to create a better world together.
But all we encounter is recorded messages, automated checkouts and online classes. Behind all of that hides the long rows of supercomputers coldly calculating corporate profits.
This is no accident but rather a premeditated crime.
Our culture can be changed if we want to. The fact that people cannot read books or focus for more than 10 minutes is a result of certain habits and can be reversed if there is a will. We can treat serious issues in a serious manner in our society and we can honestly discuss the history of how we got here, the science of how things work and the wisdom of learning for oneself.
We can overcome the dark forces who want to make sure that citizens are not capable of reading, writing and debate on their own, that want us to depend on the facile and jejune opinions offered up by celebrities, rather than coming their own conclusions in discussion groups.
No small part of the banal culture of image and thrill, and the death of intellectual and artistic expression is the result of the campaign by advertising and public relations firms to impose from above the insidious cult of the self. As a result of advertising, the images we are presented with are dangerous or degrading. We face banal wasteland on every TV channel, in every newspaper, in every corner of every mall or office building.
The destruction of intellectual inquiry made possible the rise of clown tyrants in politics, created a media dominated by the willful and the indulgent who scream out that ignorance is strength.
We can trace this war on intellectual inquiry back to the efforts of Sigmund Freud's disciple Edward Bernays in the 1950s to develop concrete methods to manipulate the public through powerful images and simplistic slogans. Bernays saw humans as irrational and inclined to seek out safe interpretations of events when they are presented by authority figures in accord with a "herd instinct." His classic books "Propaganda" (1928) and "The Engineering of Consent" (1955) form how-to manuals for political control.
Drawing on Bernays' insights, the CIA (on behalf of banks and corporations) undertook classified programs to refine psychological manipulation in the 1960s, programs that employed drugs, isolation and other forms of invasive stimulation (or sensory deprivation) as a means of modifying behavior. The results were used for broader social control ― but there was a balance of power in American society and forces in academics, in churches and other places who stood up against this dangerous trend and kept it from spinning out of control.
The war on science and rationality took a turn for the worse with the 9/11 incident. At the time, there was a tremendous struggle going on within the United States government between those officials still committed to the rule of law and the scientific method who were battling against the powerful forces of privatization introduced by the Bush administration (although not necessarily under the command of the administration) that sought to make the government a tool of the rich.
The 9.11 incident not only brought the efforts to restore rationality in United States to a halt, it also introduced a new level of denial and self-deception into American society that the nation would not recover from.
A horrific monster, progeny of the reactive thinking encouraged by technology and the decline of civil society, emerged from that wreckage to completely replace science in the United States.
How anybody could think that the crash of two airplanes could cause three buildings built from reinforced steel to collapse into dust is beyond my understanding.
No doubt the ridiculousness of the explanation was part of the plan, Experts and policy makers, journalists and academics were seduced, or compelled, to repeat a fairy tale until a filthy stake had been driven through the heart of science once and for all. Those who hesitated to embrace the lie were permanently marginalized.
The American public watched a long line of experts step forward to give testimony to this falsehood, including members of the supposed "radical left" such as Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky who also bowed down in reverence before the triumphant fraud.
The next stage in this war on the truth and scientific thinking was the classified programs run at Guantanamo Bay after 9/11 to destroy the minds of prisoners by using isolation, mind-altering drugs, masks and sadistic abuse.
Although the purpose, and the results, of these experiments remain classified, we can be sure that they had nothing to do with gathering "intelligence" but rather were focused on exploring the limits of the human brain and the potential for radical manipulation of the mind.
There are flaws in the structure of the brain that make it possible to manipulate people without their knowledge or consent. The experiments after 9.11 were an outgrowth of 9.11 itself, an enhanced form of "shock doctrine," to quote Naomi Klein, which uses trauma to render citizens docile.
There is a weakness in the human brain resulting from the contest for dominance between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The prefrontal cortex of the brain makes decisions based on the rational analysis of the situation and a sophisticated calculation in coordination with other parts of the brain.
The amygdala, however, responds to perceived threats with a sudden drive to flight, or to fight, that is not rational, and which overrides the decisions of the prefrontal cortex. Although the amygdala plays a critical role by allowing the human to drop everything and run for safety, a skilled manipulator can use fear (threats only hinted at) to make veiled appeals to the amygdala so as to override the prefrontal cortex without citizen being aware.
After 9.11. strategies to stimulate the irrational amygdala and encourage instinctive responses, and short-term irrationality, took the driver's seat in American policy. Long-term planning and rational debate were out the window. In addition, strategies to stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain (sexual arousal, desire for food and other sensual stimulations) formed a critical part of this new approach to governance. The decision-making process in the nation is based on popular opinion and perceptions, not voting. And perceptions are shaped by on-line games, pornography, clips of fat cats and cafe lattes much more than by editorials.
The promotion of anti-scientific and anti-intellectual content is not limited to the working class. There is a whole universe of articles in journals like the Atlantic and the Nation, or in TED talks, that employ sophisticated vocabulary, and arcane references to history and literature to decorate mind-numbing, and completely inaccurate, descriptions of American society and the American economy.
In effect, a psychological "softening up" operation against the entire US population has been carried out in a slow and methodical manner over the last twenty years that has made the COVID-19 crisis possible.
And COVID-19 is but the most recent step towards the formation of a prison planet, towards completely isolating us until killer drones can be deployed that will shoot dead anyone who tries to leave their home.
The terrifying COVID-19 Task Force that has been appointed by President-elect Joe Biden is an indication of what may lie ahead. The makeup of the task force is multiethnic, with Indian-American Vivek Murthy (former surgeon general) and African American Marcella Nunez-Smith (Yale Professor) in key roles. But the task force has been set up to be outside of the Constitution, to play the role of judge, jury and executioner, and none of the voices of reason who have spoken out against this masked insanity are included.
Biden's statement that he will "spare no effort, none, or any commitment to end this pandemic" has opened the door to massive repression of freedom of action and expression.
He even detailed a "pandemic testing board" modeled on the Wartime Production Panel of the Second World War that implies that the federal government will be authorized to fight COVID-19 with the full authority of the Defense Production Act of the Korean War.
The analogies to military mobilization for war are not random. There has already emerged extensive documentation of plans to employ the military in the distribution of this vaccine. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is working closely with multinational pharmaceutical companies in the development of RNA vaccines and hydrogel tagging systems and sensors. We see a trend towards the militarization of medicine in the development of these vaccines and the methods of distribution that could easily lead to the use of the threat of force.
The death of science
The manipulation of the human mind by the powerful has a long history, but the situation would not have become so serious if our embrace of the visible stunts of machines and computers had not blinded us to the slow death of scientific inquiry.
The death of science is in part an extension of the death of philosophy. These days, philosophy departments have been shut down because they no longer find jobs for their graduates and philosophy is presented in the media as an irrelevant field for the wooly minded and the impractical.
But philosophy is the foundation of all understanding and without an understanding of the invisible principles according to which the universe, and human institutions, function, our society drifts, our governments become unmoored ships, sliding unknowingly into treacherous currents.
Ironically, the death of philosophy has meant that the visible ― the hurricane, the mass shooting, the speech by a politician ― is the only thing that registers in our minds. Climate change, cultural decadence and mannerism, are abstractions that do not even enter the analysis.
As we grow dependent on visual stimulation, we become spiritually and intellectually blind, incapable of assessing underlying forces that by their nature are invisible. Invisible things, like the virtues of modesty and integrity, cannot be found in the gaudy shows put on for us by PR firms. The values that guide us must always be by their nature imperceptible.
The destruction of the intellectual
The obsession with the seen and the neglect of the unseen cannot be detached from the general decline of the role of the intellectual in society.
Certain forces driven by reactionaries such as the Scaife family, the Koch family and their allies have promoted reactionary narratives that suggest in the popular media, and in new fields like business administration and marketing that intellectuals are useless and that only "practical" matters like the creation of wealth by the exploitation of nature or of fellow humans, or by the manipulation of currency and finance through supercomputers, is worthy of respect. As foolish as such arguments are, an enormous number of Americans have been seduced into pursuing careers in business dedicated to the proposition that their fellow men are but objects for exploitation.
But that cultural assassination of the intellectual is but one part of the equation. Academics have chosen also to embrace a narcissistic and elitist institutional culture that cuts them off from ordinary citizens and cultivates a delicate and ephemeral discourse that is hidden behind paywalls and completely inaccessible to the unwashed masses.
It has become common sense among scholars that they must use obscure language which is inaccessible to the many and they must publish for journals that no one but the select few will ever read.
We need look no further than the case of American programmer Aaron Swartz, founder of Creative Commons, who was charged with crimes meant to put him behind bars for years for the act of releasing to the public academic articles for free that were hidden away by the organization JSTOR (a cover for Elsevier and other corporations) behind high paywalls.
Those writings by intellectuals, which we should all have access to, were funded with our tax dollars. Moreover, the requirements for the review and acceptance of those articles makes them erudite and inaccessible to the general public even in such cases as when they fall into the wrong hands.
No society can function without a critical mass of intellectuals who possess specialized knowledge, a deep understanding of the institutional landscape of the nation and an ethical commitment to society and to the truth. Without at least a handful of such intellectuals, the nation's politics becomes but a body without bones. No degree of elections or heated media debates can solve that problem.
The intellectual refers specifically to professors and researchers, lawyers, doctors, journalists, and a wide range of corporate and NGO workers who have specialized skills and are engaged in what remains of civil society.
Although such people continue to play a vital role in the United States, the ideological commitment to the public service and to self-sacrifice has vanished, and in its place corporations and banks have lobbied powerful institutions such as universities and museums, orchestras and libraries, and for that matter government and corporations, so as to make the intellectual marginal and harmless. They do so by promoting anti-intellectual culture, whether sex and consumption packed pop songs for children or indulgent television shows about luxury cruises, and by creating unsurmountable barriers for intellectuals who wish to engage the public.
For example, if the intellectual supports himself as a professor, he or she is required to publish exclusively for obscure academic journals written in arcane language that are not accessible to the public. His or her work consists of lecturing students on specialized topics (with references to contemporary politics increasingly a forbidden topic) and attending academic conferences for fellow experts.
Professors also are increasingly required to raise funds for research and tenure and hiring is determined by the ability to secure such funding. As that funding is provided directly by banks or corporations, or indirectly by foundations and government agencies over which corporations have veto power, this system means that only intellectuals committed to promoting the current consensus can survive in the university setting.
The commercialization of the university
The degradation of the intellectual is part and parcel of the commercialization of the university, the research institute and the NGO over the last two decades.
Top-heavy academic bureaucracies are now focused on rewarding deans and provosts with high salaries, and serving the corporate clients that have replaced government as a source of funding. The administrators of universities now treat research and education as a service, the equivalent to supplying broadband to the consumer.
The professor is a day laborer who should be subject to market forces and whose value is determined by the approval of his students, the funds he raises from corporations and his ability to publish in specialized journals that have extremely low tolerance for variation or for originality.
There is no space in that calculus for the search for truth or for a commitment to ethical principles. There is a space, however, for faux ethics that do not probe beneath the surface.
When Drew Faust retired as president of Harvard in 2018, she immediately joined the board of Goldman Sachs ― such a blatant conflict of interest would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. But academics has been so degraded that there was virtual silence. Harvard, once famous for its research and teaching, is now valued primarily by investment banks for its $50 billion endowment fund. The brand value of "Harvard" also has value for the corporations who find "strategic alliances" with select professors helpful for pushing their agendas on the American people. Nevertheless, the chain of command is clear. Intellectuals have as much input on how the university is run as bozo the clown has on the mise en scene of the circus.
This corporate takeover of academics has been fatal for science. As Marc Edwards and Siddhartha Roy detail in their article "Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition" (Environmental Engineering Science, Jan, 2017), truth does not hold a candle to profit maximization in the current environment.
Professors are hired and fired on the basis of quantitative performance metrics ― "publication count, citations, combined citation-publication counts (e.g., h-index), journal impact factors (JIF), total research dollars, and total patents." Seemingly scientific, this dark alchemy has little or nothing to do with the search for the truth. As we have seen most recently, medical researchers have been warned in no uncertain terms that their careers are over if they should say anything about the fictions behind the COVID-19 regime.
And that is not all. There are an increasing number of taboo topics (whether the privatization of space and the Artic, or the takeover of government functions by multinational banks) that cannot be discussed by intellectuals (unless they are ready to be confined to the margins, to "conspiracy theory" blogs). There are also numerous cases in which secret law is employed in the United States to forcibly end all discussion of inconvenient topics.
Scientists are plenty busy, of course, running around trying to conform with the demands of academic journals, and flattering the corporate funders and their lackeys at foundations.
Citations in journal articles are often to individuals who can help out in the professor's career even if they are not relevant to the pursuit of truth. The art of grant proposal writing dwarfs the ability to understand the workings of the universe or to think creatively about the nature of phenomena. In a nutshell, Albert Einstein or Marie Curie would most likely have ended up teaching at community colleges without any funding at all.
The ultimate result of the seeping in of market forces into the sacred temple of scientific inquiry is a complete perversion of incentives. The knowledge of truth, in a philosophical sense, is marginal. The production of journal articles amenable to the corporate elites and funding from those same forces is the only game in town.
Introducing a rigorous and unrelenting pursuit of truth in accord with the scientific method is no easy task granted this rocky landscape. The first step is to be rigorous in our thinking and to demand of ourselves that we properly understand the world around us accurately while avoiding the habits encouraged by the commercial media and commercialized education.
The intellectual should be rewarded for standing up for science and for truth, should play the critical role in society as an engine governor. Sadly, the degradation of the intellectual, and of intellectual discourse in American society has been blamed on the intellectual himself or herself, and not on the forces that stand the most to benefit by removing intellectuals from governance, research and education, and replacing them with corporate hacks and attention seeking celebrities.
The pursuit of truth and the debate on moral philosophy is not an obscure hobby for the idle and indulgent, but the highest task in our society, far beyond economics and technology. The ancients understood this truth, and we did as well, but the progress of the last fifty years has left us completely blind and defenseless.