Saturday, January 23, 2016
A columnist for the local paper yesterday ruminated about a lack of enthusiasm for "pure science" among today's youth and by society in general. He remembers growing up in "a golden age of science" when World War II, and then the Cold War, elevated scientists to the status of national heroes.
But the war was won, the Cold War ended, and, he opined, consumer goods of today like the cell phone and automobile are so complex that it's difficult to see how the science that goes into them benefits us. I've greatly reduced his arguments but you can read the colomn here.
It was a thought provoking column. I'd add a few other considerations:
There's always been a strong vein of anti intellectualism running through American society. I recall, as a kid, my classmates and I asking, as we advanced through the grades and into more complex classes, especially in mathematics, asking "How am I ever going to use this." Little did we know that the algorithms we couldn't understand would be at the heart of the software that powers internet giants like Google and Facebook.
Anti intellectualism is arguably greater now with the rightward shift of the center of American politics. Today's Republicans seem to relish in it.
Another thing that's changed is how education is viewed. It's been increasingly talked about as a commodity, a path to riches of the pocketbook, not of the mind. It was seen like that as I was growing up, it's just moreso now, as public education, something we all owned and had a stake in, is increasingly demonized and privatized, and as higher education is increasingly supported by and done on behalf of corporations, who patent research they've had a hand in paying for -- along with us -- and keeping the benefits for their CEOs and shareholders.
On the other hand, the nationalistic sentiments that made us strut like Banty roosters when we landed men on the moon before the Soviets did are harder to evoke now in Americans, and we don't automatically recoil at "made in Japan" and "made in China" labels.
It's not that we've suddenly realized that Japanese and Chinese workers have just as much right to make a living as we do, although that awareness is more possible now because of the world wide web.
And it's not that we've suddenly realized that the Cold War wasn't a struggle between good and evi, but betwen the Capitalist ruling class and us. It was about their fear of Socialism, and the fact that their wealth and privedge were threatened by Socialism, which in the late 19th and early 20th centiuries was taking hold in the US just as it had in Europe, Africa and Asia.
It's that the Cold War is fading from the collective memory, to the extent that the socialist epithet no longer disqualifies someone from weigning in on the public debate or even being a contender for president. It's that old newspaper columnists who never did get what the Cold War was about are simply going away, along with people like me and that whole tired debate.
It's that science is no longer owned solely by the Capitalist class, leaving it entirely to them to decide what it's used for, but that thanks to hackers and file sharers and Wikipedia and internet web sites that let people buy life saving medicines at prices they can actually afford, science belongs to all of us.