Author’s Subtext:-The Political Hijacking of Scientific Inquiry
The paper by Forbes and Stammler, ‘Arctic climate change discourse: the contrasting politics of research agendas in the West and Russia’, … brings home to me just deeply mired we are in ways of understanding that are the source of chronic social dysfunction.
The Nenets of Siberia and Northern Europe may be one of the last ‘communities’ on earth that have avoided co-optation by forms of social organisation that put anthropocentric self-interest first, as is bundled into ‘sovereignty’ and ‘democratic nation states’ (democracy is clearly anthropocentric in that it fails to respect and protect the rights of ‘wildlife’).
Where we are working together for the furtherance of man’s interests, we are letting the quality of the overall ecosystem space that we are included in ‘flap in the breeze’. However, if we are working together for the sustaining of the quality of the overall ecological space that we are included in, we will benefit in a sustainable sense (without the obscene exploitation of the natural space we are included in, as is occurring when we put the fulfilment of our species or race’s or sovereign nation-state’s self-interests first).
We can let the health of the habitat have first priority or we can let the health of our favoured brand of inhabitant first, but we can’t do both at the same time.
But no, that’s not entirely true. In some sense, we are doing both at the same time. On the small scale of social get-togethers, we put our behaviour in the service of sustaining harmonious ongoing flow in the dynamic we are included in (the harmony may be limited to the social dynamic, but in many cases it applies to all manner of co-habitants, from trees and prairie grasses to coyotes).
But, at the same time, our ‘day jobs’ or our ‘investments’ or our ‘civic duties’ (e.g. military service) may refocus our energies in an anthropocentric self-interest oriented way.
So long as our ‘let’s make what we want to happen, happen’ collaborations are something we take along on the trip with us, like sailors who understand that our form (the form of our sails), our steerage and our power all derive from the dynamic space we are included in, then we can ‘do our thing’ while sustaining the harmony of our inclusional engaging with the dynamic space of nature.
However, if we let the trip itself become the ‘let’s make what we want to happen, happen’ collaborations, seeing ourselves as power-boaters whose form, steerage and power is all coming from us, from our own innate ‘onboard’ endowments, then we can expect rising disharmony in our engaging with the dynamic space we are included in, as the ‘thoughtless wake’ from our self-interest sourced pursuits continues to mount.
How realistic is it to believe that the trip we are on is of our own making?
Whether we want to live our life as sailboaters (harmony-sustaining journey where we let the destination drop to secondary status) or as powerboaters (bumping our way along against the tides and against the winds because we are giving first priority to our destination), … seems to be a question that we are all continually having to deal with. But our Western systems of organisation are always being specified in ‘destination-based’ terms; i.e. mission, vision, values, strategies, goals and objectives. We can either regard this as a rough ‘go-by’; i.e as secondary to sustaining harmony with the tidal currents and winds we find ourselves in (the conjugate habitat-inhabitant relational engaging aspect) and sailboat our way forward, or we can dig our heels in, assume our own god-like (absolute) authority and righteousness and rigidly keep our self-interested goals in first priority, and powerboat our way forward across the grain of the naturally unfolding seascape.
Forbes and Stammler have captured this alternative prioritizing of relations with the space of nature versus anthropocentric goals, in slightly different phraseology in their paper, as in the following passage;
“In fact, “wildlife” as a category is a concept based on the idea of a separation of humans and nature, and has been introduced for the anthropocentric management of ostensibly “untouched” areas referred to as “wilderness”. For local and indigenous people who use these areas, these concepts are not very meaningful (Forbes 2005). The idea of the Judeo-Christian-inspired human–environmental relations is to seek dominion over nature (Nash 1982). Along the same lines, Soviet intellectuals conceptualized nature with the goal of harnessing it for the needs of communist society (Weiner 1988; Bolotova 2004). This approach is in stark contrast to indigenous cosmologies, where there is no human– nature divide (Stammler 2005), and where humans are a part of a “sentient ecology” (Anderson 2000; Natcher et al. 2007).”
The authors further note that the common manner of organizing scientific data, in terms of ‘knowledge-driven practice’ (sourcing inside-outwards directed behaviour) fails to capture the (outside-inwards orchestrated behaviour) assimilated by the Nenets.
The dynamics of the Nenets are of the same sort as ‘riding a bicycle’ and they cannot be captured and taught by way of rational discourse. The bicyclist lets his movements fulfil the balancing of multiple simultaneous influences. Mathematically, this is at minimum a ten-dimensional problem (Stewart and Cohen) and it is therefore not visualizable and cannot be reduced to cause-and-effect discourse. The same is true of driving in the flow of a busy freeway and in any situation (the general case in nature) where one moves under the simultaneous influence of the movement of three or more ‘other’ dynamic figures; i.e. the dynamic spatial-relational shape of the multi-influencing space orchestrates one’s movements. In this general case, the ‘simple model’ no longer holds wherein we envisage individuals moving about within a fixed spatial reference frame as if directed by their internal knowledge and internal power-drive.
In my view, Forbes and Stammler are talking about much more than “the contrasting politics of research agendas in the West and Russia”, they are talking about ‘the contrasting politics of reality’. Governments around the world, and corporations, are based on the absolutists notion of ‘local independent existence’ and they promote ‘inside-outward’ organisation based on a notion of the individual as a ‘local system with its own local, internally originating (knowledge-and-purpose directed) behaviour (the ‘power-boating’ model of self). This ‘individual-internally-driven’ (inside-outward directed) dynamic organisation is the sort of thing that one would see in the ballrooms, restaurants and thoroughfares inside a giant cruise ship. While there would be a modicum of ‘outside-inward’ organisation, as when a bevy of beautiful young women arrived at poolside in their bikinis, attracting a crowd of young males, there would be nothing like the outside-inward orchestrated organisation of individual and collective Nenet behaviour, arising from their inclusion in seasonal weather and animal migration patterns, a spatial dynamic which their manner of engaging with has life-or-death consequences.
Insofar as urban living, thanks to technology, has been moving towards this ‘cruise ship’ environment which does indeed substitute a ‘fixed frame’ for the fluid spatial dynamics of nature, so that individuals and the collective (no longer orchestrated outside-inwards by felt awareness of inclusion in, and involuntary engaging with, seasonal and diurnal spatial dynamics) are free to visualize their individual and collective dynamic behaviour in terms of them ‘putter around’ (powerboat style) under the direction of nothing other than their ‘internal knowledge and purpose’.
There is a dangerous (in the sense of ‘delusionary’) reinforcement here of simple rational models that involve the imposing of a notional absolute space which ‘remove the relativity of motion’ (outside-inward and inside-outward at the same time, as in the conjugate habitat-inhabitant relational dynamic), making dynamic figures which are included in the dynamic ground (as the storm-cell is included in the flow of the atmosphere) appear to ‘stand alone’ ‘in their own right’ and to be equipped with ‘local agency’ (locally originating [internal knowledge and purpose-directed] behaviour).
This is ‘delusion’ rather than ‘reality’ but it has become a very popular delusion, and that is why some people would give the inside-outward driven organisation a first priority.
As Forbes and Stammler note, the habit of Western scientific inquiry is to capture observations of ‘what is going on’ in these inside-outwards driven organising terms, as if the internal knowledge of Inuits, Nenets etc. can explain their behaviour; i.e. as if their knowledge of ‘climate change’ and ‘wildlife management’ and ‘traditional ecological knowledge’ can explain their behaviour (in a fully inside-outward directional manner), whereas understanding Inuit/Nenet behaviour must take account of outside-inward orchestrating of behaviour; i.e. responses to weather, herding skills and ways of engaging with the tundra.
Scientific discourse based on categories of knowledge is unable to provide an explanation for how an individual manages to ride a bicycle. Nor is rational discourse on the topic of the collaborative social dynamics of wild geese, as if it were inside-outwards intention driven, able to explain the ‘V’ flying formation of the wild geese. Such geese-centric discourse does not even mention the fluid-dynamic (airflow) resonances stirred up by the geese which serve as outside-inward orchestrating of individual and collective organisation/behaviour
Since the time when the dynamic behaviour of most of the population of humans on the earth was, like the Nenets and Inuits, orchestrated by cosmologies “where there is no human– nature divide, and where humans are a part of a “sentient ecology”.”, we have been moving steadily into a technological shell wherein we are exposed to the delusion that we, as individuals, are local, independently existing agents with our own local agency (our own locally originating [internal knowledge and purpose-directed] behaviour who ‘putter about’ (power-boat style) within an absolute, fixed spatial reference frame.
We are ‘held captive’ by this latter delusion because it is the stuff of our rational (scientific) discourse, particularly in those undertakings of corporate or state intent which direct us, as individuals and collectives, in such a way as to put ‘vision, mission, values, strategies, goals and objectives’ in ‘first priority’ (i.e. in the manner of the power-boater rather than the sail-boater).
All this rational discourse, however convincing it is in terms of the future it promises us, is all of an inside-outward orientation and it is not going to teach us how to stay on a bicycle, or how to stay in harmony with the dynamics of the space that we are included in, and continually stirring up with our power-boating wake.
Scientific inquiry is capable of shattering this delusion if we let it. As Henri Poincaré observed, the Euclidian space frame we impose that makes possible our rational models that are in terms of inside-outwards directed organisation, is our own self-imposed simplifying ‘convention’;
“Space is another framework we impose upon the world” . . . ” . . . here the mind may affirm because it lays down its own laws; but let us clearly understand that while these laws are imposed on our science, which otherwise could not exist, they are not imposed on Nature.” . . . “Euclidian geometry is . . . the simplest, . . . just as the polynomial of the first degree is simpler than a polynomial of the second degree.” . . . “the space revealed to us by our senses is absolutely different from the space of geometry.” . . . Henri Poincaré, ‘Science and Hypothesis’.
It would appear that it is no accident that Russia is not captive in this delusion to the same extent that ‘the West’ is. This would accord with the current situation wherein ‘the West’ has not had to ‘let go of’ their absolutist ‘power-boating’ identity and be forced to accept, as Russia has had to accept, that their dynamic is not ‘absolute’ but relative to the dynamics of the space they are included in, as the sail-boater and the Nenet accepts is the natural situation (i.e. the dynamic ground of habitat ‘parents’ the dynamic figures of the inhabitants in the manner that the dynamic ground of atmospheric flow ‘parents’ the dynamic figures of the storm-cells). The absolute view of self, as ‘local system’ with its own ‘locally originating behaviour’, made possible by (implicitly) imposing an absolute fixed reference space remains intact as the popular and preferred ‘reality’ of the ‘the West’.
It is perhaps not surprising that politicians have ‘picked up’ on the simplest of scientific cosmologies, that in which space is absolute fixed and void so that the dynamic behaviour and organisation of individuals and collectives can be pictured in a fully inside-outward (internal-knowledge-and-goal-directed) manner, but given that they have the ‘bit’ of ‘science’ locked up in their teeth, holding it to its most simple framing convention, and thus giving the politicians ‘their head’, … it is not so easy to see how a more ‘natural’ cosmology can be restored.
It appears that a large-scale ‘wake-up’ call is needed to shake ‘the West’ out of its simple convention based ‘delusion’. The addiction of ‘the West’ to ‘shallow science’, as in ‘global warming’ could be what is needed, providing that Russian scientists (insofar as they have not been ‘co-opted’) make their very different and far more ‘natural’ position strongly and globally known, making clear that there is another, less simple but less delusion-prone way of understanding the same dynamic phenomena.
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