Saturday, April 16, 2011

WWII was supposed to be the triumph of the PROFESSIONAL will-to-power

WWII was supposed to be "THE GOOD WAR" for modern science; its beginnings coinciding with the beginnings of that love-in for Utopian modern science that was the New York World's Fair of 1939-1940.

Ironically and appropriately, it was in a New York City university and hospital itself that these hopes were dashed six years later.

Until quite recently, most universities and hospitals (including these particular institutions) were founded by a particular church denomination and there was a documented religious
impulse behind the creation of these quasi-temples of God.

As is well known, modern science claims its beginnings from when it threw out the preachers (and their God and God's animate Nature) from these buildings and made them temples of science instead.

God's World and God's Nature ceased to be seen as full of animate biology (unpredictable tigers) and quasi-animate matter  (unpredictable earthquakes or monsoons) --- it all became inert matter that is never consumable, but merely, and eternally, transformable and utterly predictable.

This new temple was clearly for a new religion : "The-People-Of-The-First-Law" , ie the human-flattering First Law of Thermodynamics.

But in fact, these new - professional - scientists (amateur scientists had been around for millenniums) only fully succeeded when they threw the parishioners out of the temple as well.

Sir Charles Lyell, the Godfather of modern science, overthrew the preachers by convincing enough of the upwardly mobile professional middle class that there was no further need to hire preachers to make supplication to God for mercy when overwhelmingly immense catastrophes suddenly hit.

Under this uniformitarianist and gradualist view of the Universe, disasters still happened - but they happened only locally and only briefly and came with lots of warning ---- professional,full time, well funded, scientists thus had lots of time to mitigate the damage
----and to earn a full pension while doing so.

This was science at its most leisurely and at its most dignified - scientists who never sweated.

We can date this event with confidence - by no coincidence , it happened in the aftermath of the First British Reform Act when the  urban upper middle class came to share power with the rural land-based aristocracy.

Exactly when non-renewable ,dead, coal began to replace renewable life-and-land based biological energy as the engine of the modern economy.

Science became the (new) sinecure and a well paid, high prestige, job-for-life --- sort of like being a Canadian senator, a British member of the House of Lords or a member of the American NAS : a new professional degree-based aristocracy to replace the old land-based aristocracy.

But if disasters hit only infrequently, why hire a whole bunch of well paid professional scientists to deal with something that only happens briefly, infrequently, and probably only in a small section of somebody else's country ?

Professional scientists took heed of this view and answered that all those pioneers who had cleared the land, built their own homes and raised their kids unaided were revealed as dangerous amateurs:  actually these were only jobs that only trained professionals could be relied upon to do right.

DIY and self-reliance (aka subsistence farming) were bad,bad,bad --- old fashioned and out-moded.

So today, you can actually get a PhD in grief-counselling because ordinary people, the parishioners of years ago, can not be trusted to cry over the death of their own child properly --- and none of us  stand up and complain about this insult upon the average human being !

No global catastrophe was too big for the scientific professional
(because asteroids simply didn't drop out of the sky) just as no personal catastrophe was so small that an ordinary person could be trusted to deal successfully with it on their own.

Martin Henry Dawson was a modern scientist who at the height of WWII - the war of science - successfully challenged these twin dogmas of science.

Ironically he was not religious - apparently far from it.

But perhaps unconsciously, he smuggled both God's animate Nature and a big role for the amateur laity back into a leading Temple of Science, New York's Columbia University.

Scientists in all the warring nations and all the neutral states of World War Two tried to work up a sweat about what would happen if the (stars and stripes) (hammer and sickle) (swastika) suddenly replace the normal flag flying over the scientific institution where they worked.

But they couldn't - as Operation Paper Clip and its ilk revealed, smart scientists (even evil smart scientists) will always land on their feet, under what ever regime takes over.

But Dawson's efforts threatened the jobs and prestige of all science and he has never been forgiven for his transgressions, no matter how much us laity might applaud his efforts....

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