The Political Hijacking of Scientific Inquiry
Around the globe there is a rising awareness that ‘politics’ is in the process of hijacking scientific inquiry. While the ‘global warming obsession’ may be bringing this situation into the central foreground of our attention, it is by no means a recent or a single-issue based development, but an endemic socio-political process with deep psychological roots.
There is a dysfunction here wherein ‘man’ as the ‘child-of-nature’ sees himself as the ‘parent-of-nature’. The inverting of the true relationship parallels our popular error in treating storm-cells in the flow of the atmosphere (children-of-the-flow) as the source of the turbulent flow (as a disturbance with its own local agency) or as ‘parents-of-the-flow’.
The storm-cell is the ‘result’ of the flow and so too is ‘man’ the result of the dynamic space of nature. The intended use of ‘result’ here is ‘spatial’ rather than before-and-after ‘time-of-existence’ oriented; i.e. the flow continues on while the storm-cells gather and re-gather within it.
Western man, however, has promoted the notion of ‘progress’ wherein ‘modern man’ is ‘superior’ to ancient man and/or to ‘aboriginal cultures’ that retain an ancient world view.
This notional ‘superiority’ of modern man has been based on ‘what modern man can do’; i.e. on his ability to predict and control what unfolds. However, since the days of Galileo, where Galileo found that it was easier to describe the motion of material objects as if they were moving in a vacuum (generalizing the laws and principles of motion so as to remove the spatial-relational particulars), our scientific habit has been to model dynamics in these general ‘situation-free’ or ‘spatial-medium-free’ terms. Thus, as McLuhan observed in ‘Understanding Media’, we are very skilled at specifying how we are going to construct machinery and at predicting its operations and output, but in terms of what really transpires, it matters little if the machinery is producing Cadillacs or cornflakes, what ‘really’ matters is how our relationships with one another and the environment are transformed by such operations.
Of course, the specification of the factory and what it requires and what it does, is done in a ‘spatial-situation-free’ manner (Euclidian-space-framed manner) while its actual operation within a particular spatial situation will be ‘realized’ in terms of transformation of the spatial-relationships in that operating environment, something that ‘science’ rarely focuses on since situational complexity is beyond the capacity of scientific observations to describe, obviates prediction of how the spatial relations will be transformed..
There are thus arguments as to how to ‘rate’ ‘modern man’ who prides himself on his scientific abilities to control the unfolding future (to fulfil his own predictions, which are very limited predictions that describe what he is going to do, while ignoring how what he does transforms dynamic spatial-relationships in the real world in which he must operationalize his scientific works).
How can we describe as ‘more advanced’, modern scientific man who focuses on his skills in manipulating ‘content’ while ignoring how this content is transforming the spatial context he is included in? Indigenous cultures that believe that they are strands in the web-of-life and who ‘put the spatial-medium in first priority’ are beginning to look ‘wiser’ than ‘modern scientific man’ who, rather than being ‘at one with all’, is more like an ‘idiot-savant’ with extremely well developed skills in areas of ‘content’ while not having a handle at all on overall (spatial-relational) context.
In the year 2008, ‘modern scientific thinking mens’ governments have been issuing ‘apologies’ for their historical attempts to ‘co-opt’ the cultures of indigenous/aboriginal peoples by all sorts of manipulative programs; arresting their nomadic traditions by relocating them in western style local settlements (which has disrupted and confused the flow of their traditional community dynamic), taking their children from them to infuse them with western education, values, worldview and language in place of their own traditions etc. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized to Australian aborigines (who have no representation in the Australian parliament) on February 13, 2008;
“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians,” the motion said.
Mr Rudd said he apologised “especially” to the Stolen Generations of young Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents in a policy of assimilation which lasted from the 19th Century to the late 1960s.”
In Canada, on June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a similar apology to Canadian aboriginals;
“The treatment of children in Indian residential schools is a sad chapter in our history.
“Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country,” he said to applause.
“The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language,” Harper said.”
While these apologies would appear to acknowledge ‘something amiss’ in the sense of ‘superiority’ of modern, scientific-thinking western man relative to the ‘inferiority’ of aboriginal peoples in the sense of their lack of scientific knowledge and their relative inability to control the unfolding of material content, … the story has not fully unfurled.
The ‘global warming obsession’ has further brought to the fore this contrast between the ‘idiot-savant’ content-focus tendency of modern man and the spatial-relational context orientation of indigenous peoples who have retained their aboriginal traditions.
An informative review of one example of how this is playing out today is presented in a research paper by Bruce Forbes (University of Lapland) and Florian Stammer (Cambridge University) entitled “Arctic climate change discourse: the contrasting politics of research agendas in the West and Russia” (indigenous peoples in Russia have not been subjected to forced assimilation to nearly the same extent as the indigenous peoples of the Canadian Arctic). http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/fulltext/122240488/PDFSTART
In the article, the authors point out that the ‘knowledge’ of indigenous peoples is captured in their practices and is beyond articulation in written scientific discourse which is the standard medium of western scientific inquiry; i.e.
“… useful distinction is made by Ingold & Kurttila between “traditional knowledge as enframed in the discourse of modernity” and “traditional knowledge as generated in the practices of locality”
They question the division of arctic scientific research, as is being done ‘in the West’, into separate areas such as ‘climate change’, ‘wildlife management’ and ‘traditional ecological knowledge’ (TEK). They further question the legitimacy of the concept of ‘wildife’;
“The very concept of ‘wildlife’ is a Western-centric concept that served to create ‘exotic differences’ with the dominant urban way of life. 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. The idea of the Judeo-Christian-inspired human-environmental relations is to seek dominion over nature. Along the same lines, Soviet intellectuals conceptualized nature with the goal of harnessing it for the needs of communist society. This approach is in stark contrast to indigenous cosmologies, where there is no human-nature divide, and where humans are a part of a ‘sentient ecology’.”
The authors point out that there is a more advanced ‘co-optation’ of arctic indigenous peoples in Canada with the result that the indigenous peoples of the Canadian arctic have acquired more ‘political clout’ although it tends to be couched in the western scientific ‘management’ categories, rather than in the ‘sentient ecology’ of indigenous tradition;
“Russia’s indigenous peoples, including the Nenets, do not have the same level of political clout as those in Western countries. For example, Sheila-Watt Cloutier, former President, Vice-President and International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, in recognition of her effective activism in raising awareness of climate change in the Arctic and globally. Nenets do not have such a prominent political voice, either inside or outside of Russia’s borders. This difference distinctly colours the discourse concerning climate change.”
The authors further point out that there is a ‘divide’ “in the manner in which different societies are organising their relations with the environment, and the ongoing struggle to navigate between different livelihoods” (e.g. the traditional livelihood of herding reindeer and the modern livelihood of participating in arctic petroleum resource development).
“The divide is therefore more along the lines of organizing scientific data in abstract categories on the one hand, and practices on the land on the other hand, being the result of lived experience and dynamically negotiated human–animal–environment relations. This mirrors Ingold’s (2005, 2007) argument against the divide between nature and humans, and parallels the traditional separation between natural and social sciences. The problem, as he convincingly showed, is that contemporary scientific discourse fails to integrate what actually belongs together in the analysis, because not only indigenous people, but any human agent in the environment, enact practices embracing social, natural and spiritual aspects of lived experiences.”
In the ‘big picture’, what is being explored here is the relationship between aboriginal traditions-orienting man and his modern, science-orienting counterpart; i.e. what has the latter gained (with his science) and what has he lost?
What is clear is that man that continues to follow aboriginal traditions orients first to his relation with the particular spatial dynamics he is situationally included in. That is, he lets his personal dynamic serve the sustaining of balance with the dynamics of the space he finds himself to be included in (the ‘practices of the locality’ as Forbes and Stammler term it), this being, for example, the source of his nomadism which is orchestrated by the migratory patterns of fellow animals in the ‘sentient ecology’ that includes him.
What is equally clear is that modern man has increasingly oriented his dynamic behaviour to the construction of a desired future state that he models in a fixed absolute Euclidian space frame; i.e. the standard ‘scientific model’ is generalized in such a manner as to eliminate the particulars of inclusion in a situational spatial-dynamic. In this sense, it follows the tradition of Galileo who found it easier to model material dynamics , not according to the particulars of the spatial situation in which these dynamics were included, but as if in a vacuum, wherein, for example, a cannon ball would, notionally, fall to earth at the same rate as a feather.
Modern man’s scientific planning, as in McLuhan’s example of the Cadillac and cornflakes factories is similarly ‘notionally independent’ of the particulars of its situational inclusion in spatial dynamics (e.g. whether enacted in a small town in Africa or in an urban metropolis in North America) so that while the scientific predictions based on viewing it as a local system with its own local agency may hold true in their own limited self-related sense, such predictions fail even to attempt to comprehend the actual transformation of dynamic relationships between one another and the environment in which such scientific models are operationalized.
As Forbes and Stammler point out, when programs of ‘co-management’ are undertaken that include both indigenous peoples and western scientists, the framework tends to default to the western scientific view. Their conclusions include the recommendation that when scientists join with indigenous traditionalists in the Arctic in co-management and research projects;
“… the best results are obtained by collaborating with herders on topics of weather, instead of climate change, herding skills, instead of wildlife management, and ways of engaging with the tundra, instead of ‘traditional ecological knowledge’.
However, as these authors also acknowledge, the monetary funding of research is driven by politics and scientists are increasingly forced to accept the politicized scientific structuring of the research, a situation that leads to such dysfunctions as;
“… researchers hired with Western money to provide data for climate change projects in which they themselves do not believe. Such discourse [scepticism, and at times even polemical comments against the implicit assumptions underlying the projects] is hardly published in academic journals, but is often a dominant topic during informal conversations in Russian among scientists at conferences.”
The Forbes-Stammler paper on “… the contrasting politics of research agendas in the West and Russia”, is one example amongst many of a split in world view that might be described in terms of the ‘foundering’ of Western-culture ‘modernity’ insofar as it is being based on the ‘controlled’ collaborative construction of desired futures in a manner that neglects situational inclusion in spatial dynamics, and a corresponding re-assessment of forgotten value in the aboriginal tradition of spatially-attuned behaviour, which starts off from awareness of situational inclusion in spatial dynamics (i.e. in the common, self-unifying spatial dynamics of ‘sentient ecology’ of nature).
The ‘global warming obsession’ is bringing this ‘global division’ in our manner of ‘viewing the world’ and in our corresponding manner of directing/orchestrating our social dynamics, to the fore and thus giving rise to a ‘wake-up call’, if it can indeed be ‘heard’ in the rising clamour and frenetic regrouping that associates with the shattering of the science-perpetrated illusion of man’s ability to control the unfolding future.
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