Sorry, Carl Sagan: Science is Not the Answer
Science has brought about many wonderful things; not only this, but science, just as all other subjects, is fascinating. Through science man has the opportunity to not only observe the cell and celestial sights, but to understand them. That being said, science has its place. It is a continual trait of humanity, it appears, that it wishes to delegate power to those who are “smarter” than everyone else. In some cases, this is a leader of a religion or cult. For Plato, such was the philosopher king. In many cases today, scientists are proclaimed to be those who are worthy to lead, or those who “should” lead.
Today, the veneration of scientists and mathematicians has extended to many intellectuals. Let it be known, here, that I am not arguing for anti-intellectualism, nor against open mindedness. To merely point out one example, in my own case, while I have found disagreement in the ideas of Christopher Hitchens, I find his works enjoyable to read. That being said, I do not believe that Hitchens should have been an elected official or granted omnipotent political powers.
At this point, it is necessary to assert a few points. First, science, technology, and the ideas of some “experts” have brought immeasurable good to humanity. Consider, in the realm of technology, what the printing did for the world. All the good done (though there, logically, must be bad as wel) cannot be fully explorered here, though one should ponder more if in doubt. That being said, inventing the printing press is not a qualification for political office—apart from being given political legal power no man should possess. Again, the point must be realized that I am not advocating stupidity, anti-intellectualism, or a retreat from knowledge.
The idea of a technocracy is taking this trend, and facet of human nature, one step further, into the political realm. On the surface (i.e. without any applied thinking), this system may seem appealing to many people. For “the masses” they will be having the smartest and savviest leading them. For the “smart people” (or, at least those in the fields that would be leading), they would be in power. Still, this presents many problems. First, a technocracy only centralizes great, governmental powers in the hands of a small number people. Second, there is no account taken for the inherent rights of all individuals (whether in the sense of property, firearms, or general liberty). Third, while the plans for such a system likely vary greatly, it appears as though there is little taken into account for the fallibility of the technocrats.
There is another, greater question that is raised by the concept of technocracy: who is fit to lead and what is fit to be the foundation of a government? In democracy, it is the majority’s opinion. In a dictatorship or an authoritarian regime, such is decided through force and violence. In the case of a republic—the shining example being the United States—ideas, rather than the leadership of men, served as the foundation. Of course, a dictator was not put in place, but representatives of the people were elected. Were these representatives given omnipotent powers? No, not at all. Using the same legal precept as established in Medieval England with the Magna Carta, they too were “under the law.”
Are the “experts” in science, technology, and mathematics smart? The answer is obvious. No one is doubting that Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson are highly intelligent in their respective fields. But would it have been a good idea to hand nearly-omnipotent powers to Steve Jobs or Carl Sagan?
As we mentioned Carl Sagan previously, perhaps it is fitting to quote him, in illustrating another fallacy of technocracy. In his acclaimed Cosmos series he once said “I believe that our future depends powerfully upon how well we understand this cosmos, in which we float like a mode of dust in the morning sky.” Ah, yes, the future—in terms of all of humanity—does not hang on the thread of continual respect for the inherent rights and the free market, but on the plunging deeper into scientific discovery. Science is vastly important, but it alone—without this minor addition of philosophy and economics—will not guarentee a positive future.
Also consider the general opinions of similar scientists. As most of them are concerned with saving humanity as a whole, they do not take a right wing stance in this very often. Stephen Hawking is very concerned in the viability of man’s continued existence on the earth. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Hawking said that “We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity … the man-made dangers to our survival are much greater and ever-increasing.” In terms of a solution to this, Hawking stated “The only long-term survival plan is to spread out into space.” Here another intelligent man has been conned into believing the myth of man-made climate change. The solution propounded—upon stripping away the dreams of a cosmic migration—will likely result in a loss of liberty as never seen by humanity, and the project never leaving earth.
I realize that the idea of a blatant technocracy, at this short moment in time, seems an unlikely and uneccessary worry. But, as it has been said that the turning to of experts is a perpetual human action, the danger of a technocracy is always present. In the present time, this is even more the case.
With the economies of the world existing in a state of possible collapse, the attractiveness of handing everything over to the scientists, mathematicians, and technological experts will become only more tempting to many. It is in these times that the case for ideas—like the free market and natural rights—must be made as valid foundations of government, as opposed to the intelligence of a handful of “experts.” Beyond this, there is always the danger of the great illusion being brought upon a nation’s populace. Just as some may think their government to be one way, yet it is much darker, many may be tricked into accepting a long, crushing tyranny of a handful of scientists or “smart people.”
Christian Lopac | Wabash College | @CLopac