Saturday, January 23, 2016

Science







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. 






3 comments:

  1. The World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting is taking place in Davos this year with the theme “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution” and has published an analysis on the technological and sociological drivers of employment titled "The Future of Jobs" http://www.weforum.org/reports/the-future-of-jobs The WEF's forecast is that technological advances will kill about 7.1 million jobs over the next 5 years while creating 2 million new jobs, for a net loss of 5.1 million jobs. Consequently sixty-five percent of children entering school this year will need to able to work in jobs that don’t exist today and school systems have to be modernized in order to produce workers with marketable skills.

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    1. Thank you for the comment!

      I kind of disagree with the World Economic Forum's premise, or one of them, the one that's related to the commonly held belief that education leads to good jobs. Both ignore the fact that most jobs have been and will be what we call "unskilled labor," doing things that have always needed to be done and will be in the future, jobs involved in things like food production, the building of habitation, maintaining it - plumbers, electricians, garbage collecting, all of it, and the general building and maintaining of the infrastructure that supports life. The World Economic Forum being primarily a venue where global Capital meets to decide the terms of how to divide up the world's wealth for the next year or whatever time period, necessarily has to produce reports and sounds bites that make what it does politically salable, and talk of high tech education and presumably high paying jobs always fills that requirement. Just listen to any Democratic Party politician. (Republicans aren't so burdened to have to pay lip service to the working class). A guy named John Marsh, who teaches at Penn State, has written about the misleading way our rulers talk about jobs and their educational requirements and there's a summary of his book about it here.

      http://monthlyreview.org/product/class_dismissed/

      I read the executive summary of the study, which must have left the attendees salivating over the vast amount of surplus labor it forecasts. Technology and productivity, though, instead of being seen in that way should be seen as opportunities for us all to work less and enjoy life more, as Europe does relative to the rest of the world.

      By the way I'm in no way against education. I'm a big supporter but, but not so people can be trained to toil but so that people have the critical skills needed to know what's going on and the ability to appreciate the arts. And publicly funded, of course, so that we own the education system.

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  2. The demonization of public education is, in part, that of the labor movement. I have seen it first hand...:(

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