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3. Science, colonialism and violence: A luddite view
Introduction: Images of science and violence
For modern man, the image of Columbia, the space shuttle, speeding past the limits set by the forces of Earth, and returning, time and again, with almost monotonous impunity, is highly impressive. A proof of modern science. No tribal from the Bastar forest could achieve such feats. Not because the tribal has no desire to soar - his shamans may have another route to outer space in store - but the ruling modern consciousness vetoes that as non-objective and unreal. VCRs! Nuclear reactor domes! The electronic gadgets that throng consumer shops! Multi-coloured pills at drugstores! These are testimonies to the 'fact' that modern science exists - apart and distinct from sciences practiced earlier.
The world of our times, however, also offers another image to the modern man - an alternative image that has maintained equal sway during the same period, one not of creation or production or achievement, but of tragedy and destruction: world wars, Vietnam and Agent Orange, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Lebanon. The vocabulary used in these wars of violence (shoot, thrust, explode, trajectory) would be appropriate to put another Columbia into space. The image of violence is impressive too. Anti-human weapons systems, anti-civilizational nuclear arsenals - a proof of modern science, unthinkable in the context of earlier sciences. As the knowledge of physiology deepens, Amnesty International reports newer and more excruciating forms of torture.
The dominant, domineering images of our world are of Science and Violence. The former is accepted as intrinsically Good; the latter as universally Evil. Yet, paradoxically, the more science, the more the violence.
Coincidence, or cause-and-effect? Philosophical games, as the Marxists once played them - the violence of science, the science of violence?
Violence is larger than science. As the connotation of violence has expanded, that of science has been pruned or compacted. Advocates of science are increasingly confident about what constitutes science and what is non-science, and have sufficient clout to ignore other views. The constituency of violence, on the other hand, has spread. A natural canopy forest, a bastion of plant life, is mowed down and its niches taken over by violent monocultures that cut through life like a sharp knife. Violence now includes new and strange forms of mutilation. Civilization has 'grown'.
In our times, even nations at peace are economically at war: their economies are driven by war machines and war manias. Indirect wars are equally severe and devastating. The construction of a dam in the midst of a natural river course, the destruction of its catchment-area forests, the uprooting of thousands of living organisms and beings. At least one scholar, Ivan Illich, has labelled current economic development based on modern science and technology a war activity.1
Yet, except for some ethologists who believe that we are all 'children of Cain', and therefore prone instinctively to aggression and violence, the majority of the world's population believes it necessary and possible to diminish the extent and potential of violence everywhere.
Can it be that, in order to reduce the potential for violence, efforts have to be made to reduce the influence of modern science and to counter science itself?
Despite the wide acceptance of the scientific temper as a positive human endowment, and despite the widespread belief that science, with its potential for welfare, provides some kind of inoculation against our native disposition to violence, can one presume that an improvement in the scientific quality of human life is directly related to violence?
We begin with two paradoxes. First, the concept of 'revolution', political and sometimes bloody, has often been redefined in our times as a series of mechanical processes executed by specialists. The green revolution, the white revolution, the information revolution - all are apolitical transformations, achieved through science. The engineers of such revolutions, often highly conservative men, then, by definition, become 'revolutionaries', paradoxically managing to prevent change in the established order through science, to the applause of the educated middle classes owing allegiance to the established order.
Second, even the most diehard propagandist for science admits that modern science is used on a colossal scale for violence. The nuclear arsenal is its clearest contribution to a new form of totalist annihilatory violence, destined to extinguish all life and, thus, all science itself.
In such a context, the popular argument that science itself is a benign power, which is sometimes exploited by the establishment, has little force. Modern science is rarely, if ever, directly concerned with peace; no Government funds R&D for peace the way it supports military R&D.
On the other hand, in cultures other than those dominated by science, objects invested with unusual powers can only be used for the common good. If they are exploited for evil or for personal interest, the objects themselves lose their power. Such is the concept of vibhuti in the Indian tradition. In this respect, modern science stands apart: it can be used purely and totally immorally with the vague promise that sometime, eventually, the authority of one class over it would be reduced. The promise is that once science is democratized, it would voluntarily come into the hands of, perhaps, the proletariat.
The focus of this essay, however, is not violence but science. I argue that both science and the technology based on it are fundamentally violent forms of handling the world, that violence is intrinsic to science, to its text, to its design and implementation. I hope to demonstrate (1) that the notion of social structure or class as a principal determinant of the abuse of science is exaggerated, and (2) that because science is inherently violent, its continuing use for violence is assured. The non-violent effects of science are more the results of accident than design. It follows (3) that the argument that modern science should be used by third-world peoples for their emancipation is hardly justified. There is no way in which the science of our times can be dissociated from its structure of violence.
The faithful may agree that there is something fundamentally inadequate about modern science, but declare that this is due not so much to the nature of science as to its metaphysics, that scientific methodology could be incorporated within a new metaphysics to replace the Galilean, positivist core. This paper argues that it is not possible to dislocate the physics of modern science from its metaphysics. Trying to do so, one destroys both. Both rose together in warm embrace, and both must die the same cold death together as determinants of history, and of the lives of millions. We need a new cosmology for the vacuum that has already appeared.
Three points need to be made, as preliminaries to the analysis that follows:
I am not depending on scientific rationality to elucidate my various propositions. I am using basically philosophical arguments, arguments of a wider rationality than that obtainable in modern science. In my scheme of philosophical priorities, assumptions or postulates, and within their hierarchy, scientific rationality, though excellent for limited and selected purposes, is not the primary epistemology for truth.
Analysis of the connection between science and violence is itself part of an analytical structure that could be used to explain other forms of violence. This essay is concerned with the violence of a certain class of events which have a necessary relation with modern science. The connection between science and violence I propose is merely a sub-set of a much wider range of violent events. Obviously, all violence cannot be related to science.
The argument is basically a critique of western scientific thinking. If it appears like a clinical analysis, it is because we are engrossed in the examination of a pathology. Certainly, the same arguments cannot apply equally to, say, Chinese thinking. Neither would the arguments be of much use within the Indian tradition, where the power of abstraction to reach truth is not admitted by and large: reason has been subordinated to other instrumentalities. Neither would our arguments appeal to, say, the tribals; they might find the entire exercise a matter for extreme amusement. None of these structures of thinking - Chinese, Indian, or tribal - have hegemonic, global ambitions of the kind which western scientific rationality has. One must therefore understand this oppressive rationality and uncover its consequences for the older civilizations.
By violence (himsa) I mean physical and mental harm to living organisms, the earth also being regarded as a living organism. Mental harm for the moment is restricted to human beings, admitting that we are relatively ignorant of the conscious lives of non-human organisms.
Thus, the violence caused by science is to be understood literally, as real violence. One can find an analogy in the action of poisons - harmless in themselves, fatal when they come in contact with living organisms.
By science I mean Galilean science, or modern science, as it is usually termed. It is a historically specific, determined method of acquiring specific forms of knowledge whose utility for a post-modern period is gravely doubted. 'Science' with a capital S usually denotes the intellectual traditions of nonwestern societies, and the regressed intellectual traditions of western societies.
I shall illustrate the principal connections between science and violence in two main arguments, one from methodology and one from history. These may at times overlap. Elements of both arguments have been pointed out by other scholars; my intention is to provide a reasonably comprehensive picture. More illustrative material could be provided later.
The first argument, which relates to scientific method, concerns the functional, violence-disposition of the method. The method vetoes or excludes compassion. Its postulates require the excision of values. In actual operation, both the method and its metaphysics require mutilation or vivisection as an integral part of science. Aware of this disposition, often too easily translated into practice, the propagandists of science have offered to make extensive changes, including changes in the offending metaphysics; they have even offered to make science more holistic. These changes cannot alter the fundamental predisposition. The change required is not cosmetic but cosmic.
The second connection between science and violence became apparent soon after the scientific method was invented: colonialism. This is a historical and political argument, and specifically underlines the close and continuing 'blood relations' between science and imperialism. The problem has been recognized, but efforts are being made to suggest that science can be delinked from colonialism/imperialism. I shall argue here that since science and technology are both colonizing activities, any suggestions about delinking them from imperialism can only be fraudulent.
Following closely on these are two other arguments that work out an analysis from negative consequences. The theoretical arguments, in this second set, are sewn up with empirical demonstrations. I have divided this set of arguments into the 'first series' and the 'second series'.
The first series examines the application of modern science to life processes in agriculture, forestry, medicine and food. In all these, the application is seen as leading to serious physical harm. Suggested popular remedies include the invention of soft technologies. The real argument should concentrate on the irrelevance of modern science to such processes.
The second series, which concerns the fabrication of machines through the application of physical laws, is a problem area because it concerns the application of a basically fragmented science. The result is pollution and ecological imbalance. Industrial processes are almost always at variance with life processes and with natural events. The fragmented nature of applied knowledge produces a reaction/response in the concept of the technological fix. This is no solution. It is postponement, for one becomes involved in an absurd merry-go-round of circular production.
A radical break is required, for the connections are not merely intrinsic, they are dynamic and actively colonizing. They help increase the political clout of modern science. The final section of this paper contains suggestions on how one might counter the violence of modern science, suggestions which approach Ludditism.
I. Method as madness
Philosophers of western origin have themselves made devastating critiques of western science, and have required little help from their counterparts in the east. Lewis Mumford lays bare the origins of modern science from the days of its early veneration, in two rather splendid essays, one on Galileo and another on Francis Bacon.
Mumford argues that Galileo's 'crime' was the extinction of what he calls 'historic' man: Galileo's method involved the elimination of all subjective elements, rendering suspect all qualities except the primary qualities. 'Only a fragment of man - the detached intelligence - and only certain products of that detached, sterilized intelligence, scientific theorems and machines, can claim any permanent place or any high degree of reality.'2
For the first time objectivity was defined in a specific, highly distorted, way. Later, such 'objective knowledge' became identified with modern science. Still later, such a stipulatory definition was enshrined within a positivist worldview. As Britain took the lead in institutionalizing this worldview and as Britain in that epoch ruled not only the waves and thus also the mind and manners of men over the globe, this new creed was eagerly accepted in different centres of the intellectual world.
Yet, as many commentators have set out to show, this particular form of objectivity was not a phenomenon foreign to the west. Western civilization, because of its absolute faith in reason (extended to elaborate rational proof for the existence of God), has been compelled to swing between two poles of what may be called a scale or continuum of restrictions. A society that values reason as its prime instrument for grasping truth will also tend to move along a continuum of either more or less dependence on the principal character of reason, abstraction. (Abstraction and restriction are two sides of the same coin; in the process of abstraction, one restricts reality by abstracting certain features and ignoring others.) Such a scale of restrictions has been inoperative with other civilizations like the Chinese, or the Indian, which only give a subordinate position to reason in their scheme of things. By and large western civilization has maintained a homeostatic balance between reliance on total experience and pure abstraction.
Experience consists of historical events that are irreversible and unique, and can be immediately grasped. The mystic, for example, offers a classic example of direct experience. The function of the intellect in mysticism is zero. Radical anarchism, as another example, could also fall in this category. Most non-human species operate at the level of total experience. A tribal group survives very close to full integration with experience. One should remember that no preferred values are assigned in this analysis to total experience or to pure abstraction. It is my argument that a mystic's perception of reality is no less significant than that of a pure scientist. The scientist may object to this, but the mystic could not care less.
Abstraction involves restricting experience to zero. Abstraction means zero history. The other features of abstraction are mediacy and communicability. Plato's World of Ideas is pure abstraction. The Galilean experiment, or scientific rationality, merely purified such abstraction to a further extreme. The experiment ideally restricts: it first eliminates historicity. The scientific experiment is, in fact, an exercise in pure abstraction. This may sound strange to many, since what is really supposed to distinguish modern science from metaphysics or religion is precisely the idea that it alone is empirical, that it appeals to fact as the final arbiter.
It is when we examine closely the nature of this fact that we discover something seriously amiss: the scientific 'fact' is not the ordinary historical event or object, with all the relevant historical forces acting on it at the moment. It is a theory-laden fact, a fact created out of a certain metaphysics. The empiricism is not the empiricism of the ordinary English language, but carries its own stipulated meaning. The main feature of the experiment is that it is devoid of historicity, of uniqueness, of time. In order to experiment, one has to create one's facts to fall in line with certain postulates. These postulates themselves are not subjected to 'scientific' scrutiny nor to any systematic reasoning as to why one postulate is preferred to another.
A scientific fact has to be stripped of all its unique features, its essential nature has to be abstracted, to make the new information fit other similarly anaesthetized events. The fact that an experiment distorts reality is no longer doubted: what is striking is that such 'objective knowledge' is still passed off as the final and the only reality. The method thus becomes the sole criterion for truth. It makes possible the invention of a specific category of truth, 'scientific' truth. The point can be elucidated by a simple comparison between two western thinkers, Aristotle and Galileo.
Aristotle determined that if one were to drop a stone and a feather from a height, the stone would fall faster than the feather. And in reality, in history as a rule, stones do fall more rapidly than feathers. Galileo's invention of scientific rationality eliminated all the possible historical forces acting on both stone and feather: if all such influences were removed, he hypothesized, both stone and feather would fall at the same speed. Toricelli later constructed a vacuum to prove him right. A vacuum is total emptiness, zero experience; the scientific fact created by Galileo and Toricelli was not a natural fact, it was an artificial fact. The argument of this paper is that violence results when 'artificial' or 'perfect' nature is imposed on 'natural' or 'imperfect' nature (seen as being in an unscientific state).
Modern science is therefore not a presupposition-less activity, though it may often pretend to be. It seems to start from scratch, from empirical fact, and its postulates seem to deny all metaphysics. Nevertheless, its postulates function as a front for a new metaphysics, and because they, like all other kinds of postulates, are assumed, they distort reality and define it selectively.
There is a metaphysics that enables scientists to detonate an atomic bomb over a human population purely as an experiment, or to endorse the planting of a monocultural forest under the garb of scientific forestry. One common strand runs through all the perverse manifestations of science in our world. Our business must be to locate it and to determine how it can be progressively ruined.
The postulates upholding science are not the consequence of critical scrutiny, nor are they the result of any democratic process. The scientific worldview argues that there is no real need for democracy in science, as personalities, history, time, have all been exorcised. Here lie the origins of modern intolerance. On the scale of restrictions, an event of pure experience, because it is unique, is incomprehensible and often incommunicable. For this reason, it is quite tolerant of other unique events. Abstraction demands the reverse set of qualities. It provides a basis for communicability precisely because the irreversible, unique, historical character of any event has been eliminated, and this placing of the event outside time and other historical forces enables public agreement on what modern science is about. The event has been reduced in status from the unique to the non-unique and repeatable. In the Indian tradition, there was no basis for such a view, as reason itself was considered defective as a method for reaching truth. The postulates were different, and while they permitted earlier science, they effectively and fortunately inhibited the rise of Galilean science.
One of the qualities of abstraction, communicability, also lays the basis for a close alliance between science and authoritarianism. The scientific worldview is a totalitarian worldview: it compels universal acceptance of its postulates, without providing an equivalent 'scientific' argument for such acceptance. While the method demands that teleology must be kept out of experiments, the general culture of science correspondingly urges that societies too should operate as if teleology were a figment of the imagination.
Science claims for itself a method for arriving at indisputable knowledge, knowledge that is not the result of negotiation, bargaining or choice, and that has no basis in politics. One is not free to choose scientific knowledge on principle. That is a given, declared final after the efforts of thousands of researchers. One is free (and often encouraged) to reject the statements of religion or art but he who refuses to accept the basic scientific worldview runs the risk of being labelled ignorant, insane, or irrational. Science has redefined the rational to mean only its own method, excluding all else.
The implications for a democratic order are obvious. Science, to be science, concentrates all knowledge within itself while access to scientific knowledge becomes itself a matter of privilege. The non-scientist is then seen as an empty receptacle into whom is poured the benefits science confers; and he must ask no questions. But democratic rights include the right to assess, or claim, true knowledge, and to reject impersonal knowledge. The right, in other words, includes the power to certify knowledge on any scale. Under the dominance of science, such rights have been eroded, and ordinary people (those who do not wear white coats) are no longer considered able on their own authority to provide true knowledge of the world.
Nature acts according to her laws. The scientist wishes to discover these laws. He may discover a few, but the totality eludes him and will always do so. Despite this, his effort is to substitute his knowledge of natural laws for such laws themselves. The scale of restrictions could be rewritten, therefore, as a scale stretching between organism/nature and machine/science.
The transformation of medieval man into modern man is now clear: the movement of western society has taken it from an organic base to a machine base, while the earlier reliance on natural principles has been supplanted by one on principles invented by modern science. For western man, the mechanization of the world image is diametrically the opposite of what constituted the earlier organic perspective.
A caveat. Is modern science merely a reading of natural principles, of how nature works? This is the theory; this is the profession. Actually, what is achieved is a distorted view of the operation of natural principles. If a correct picture had emerged, there would have been no pollution or ecological imbalance on the application of such scientific knowledge. The negative consequences indicate that the picture does not fit with the demands of nature. Nature is the primary scientist, but she functions responsibly. The consequences of her inventions, so marvellously described recently by Felix Paturi and Karl von Frisch, are absorbed by self-closing natural processes.3 Modern man creates objects artificially, but he can produce no equivalent process for the absorption of these goods post-use, or for their breakdown into elements. They then begin to clog the arteries of nature like a clot in the bloodstream.
This has an even more serious implication. The attempt of the machine to replace the organism, of science to replace natural principles, cannot remain confined to a particular culture or society. A civilization driven by a theory of science/machine ipso facto becomes a colonizing force, and aspires to bring under its sway every other culture that has based its survival on a natural relationship with its surroundings.
Returning to the scale of restrictions, human beings or societies that move beyond the homeostatic balance that civilizations construct, are usually vulnerable. The organic, because it is unrelated to colonization, is always open to attack. A tribal community, very closely integrated with its environment, is for that very reason prey to colonizing forces, as history has so clearly shown.
The abstraction is also not self-limiting, except in an ultimate sense. As we are no longer dealing with organic elements which have an in-built limitation, or termination at the close of their cycle, there are no limits to abstraction. The compulsion towards it becomes overwhelming, and no practitioner has any clue as to how to shut this Pandora's box. Abstraction, uncontrolled, becomes a threat to life and, as a consequence, to science itself.
Western society has produced innumerable healers, who have attempted to introduce controls of one kind or another, These have included men like Lewis Mumford or Ivan Illich, both of whom have emphasized medieval values in contradistinction to those of megamachine culture. Others include Paul Goodman, Theodore Roszak and a host of counter-culture prophets, including orientalists like F. Capra. What these philosophers have attempted is a process of reiteration, a return to the homeostatic balance. Without reiteration, they have argued, there is only the edge of the precipice at the edge of abstraction.
One final quality of the extremes of the scale of restriction is incorporation. A mystic is fully incorporated within his experience and ceases to be himself. A tribal culture can be totally integrated into its surroundings and thus maintain a complete ecological balance. But incorporation also affects abstraction. Idealists in western philosophy have often ended up fully incorporated in their systems of thought. Scientists can be fully incorporated by their method. For instance, to those who propagate the scientific temper, the label often provides a psychological identity. The label counts for more than the individual. The individual commits psychological suicide.
This is why it is in vain for scientists to try to desert their class or professional perceptions. Scientists have recently attempted to analyse their societies critically, as fruitlessly as a character in a play trying to probe the nature of the playwright who invented him or her. The scientist qua scientist is merely a creature of his epistemology: scientists do not exist naturally, only human beings do. Flawed epistemologies must reflect and rebound on flawed personalities, and these in turn must induce even greater flaws in the constitution of what is human wisdom and how life may be carried out.
Political psychologists like Ashis Nandy have written on the effects of colonialism on the colonizers, how the process of colonialism and its consequent repressions called for an equivalent suppression of emotions in the colonizer.4 There is unfortunately not much work available on the effect of the exclusion or incorporation principle on the scientist, on the way the scientist's identification with his method leads to self-mutilation, or the way scientific rationality distorts not only nature, but also the scientist.
The scientist recognizes only one overt absolute (there are numerous covert ones though) - his freedom to pursue information at all costs, social or natural. He is insistent that every principle of interference or 'noise' - from politics to values - should be excluded from his domain. At the heart of the scientific community's consciousness is a compulsive urge to experiment, to vivisect, in order to know. Yet there are no boundaries to let us know where the search for genuine knowledge ends and plain curiosity begins. One Indian biologist recently deplored the termination of a human pregnancy that was the result of artificial insemination by a chimpanzee. The alleged experiment was terminated by Cultural Revolutionaries in China, where the in vitro fertilization was reported to have been done. The ground for deploring termination of the pregnancy was that an opportunity for 'new knowledge' had been lost.
The most obvious and sorry record of pain, caused on a massive scale for the right to information, is that of vivisection, of which, as Peter Singer has said, either the animal is like us, in which case we ought not to experiment on it, for it would be like experimenting on one of us; or the animal is not like us, in which case the experiment is useless.
Most experiments performed on animals inflict severe pain without the remotest prospect of any significant benefits either for humans or for the animals themselves. Of the numerous experiments detailed in Animal Liberation, here is a sample:
Experimenters working for the US Food and Drug Administration gave thirty beagles and thirty pigs large amounts of methoxychlor (a pesticide) in their food, seven days a week for six months, in order to ensure tissue damage. Within eight weeks, eleven dogs showed signs of abnormal behaviour, including nervousness, salivation, muscle tremors, spasms and convulsions. Dogs in convulsions breathed as rapidly as 200 times a minute before lack of oxygen caused them to collapse. Upon recovery from an episode of convulsion and collapse, the dogs were uncoordinated, apparently blind, and any stimulus such as dropping a feed pan, squirting water, or touching the animals initiated another convulsion. After further experiments on an additional twenty beagles, the experimenters concluded that massive daily doses of methoxychlor produce different effects in dogs from those produced in pigs.5
It was well known even before the experiments began, Singer points out, that 'massive doses' of methoxychlor would poison animals. And the very fact that different results were obtained for beagles and pigs indicates it is not possible to generalize in regard to human beings from experiments on animals. In fact, in three major cases, scientific experiments on animals led to faulty conclusions about the impact on humans.
Thalidomide was extensively tested on animals before being introduced as a sleeping tablet for human beings. The experiments on animals failed to show any abnormalities. The toxicity tests that had been carefully carried out on thalidomide had, without exception, demonstrated it to be an almost uniquely safe compound. What actually happened when it was introduced among the human population is well known. In the case of insulin, tests produced deformities in infant rabbits and mice, but not in humans, Finally, if penicillin had been evaluated by its results on guinea-pigs, it might never have been used on man.
Yet, the experiments continue on a massive scale. In Britain, according to official government figures, five million experiments are carried out on animals every year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has stated that about forty million rats and mice are used annually for research. The Laboratory Animal Breeders Association estimated in 1966 that the number of mice, rats, guinea-pigs, hamsters and rabbits used for experiments had totalled sixty million in 1965, and would reach ninety-seven million by 1970. In 1965 between five hundred thousand and one million cats and dogs were used.
The following experiment is reported for India, performed at the K. G. Medical College, Lucknow, and is sufficient proof of how modern science can corrupt saner cultures. In 1968 K. Wahal, A. Kumar and P. Nath exposed forty-six rats to a high temperature for four hours. The rats became restless, breathed with difficulty, and salivated profusely. One animal died during the experiment and the others were killed by the experimenters because 'they could not survive anyway'.
Is not speciecism akin to Nazi science? Singer answers in the affirmative:
Blatant racism has led to painful experiments on other races, defended on the grounds of its contribution to knowledge and possible usefulness for the experimenting race. Under the Nazi regime in Germany, nearly 200 doctors, some of them eminent in the world of medicine, took part in experiments on Jews and Russian and Polish prisoners. Thousands of other physicians knew of these experiments, some of which were the subject of lectures at medical academies. Yet the records show that the doctors sat through medical reports of the infliction of horrible injuries on these 'lesser races' and then proceeded to discuss the medical lessons to be learned from them without anyone making even a mild protest about the nature of the experiments.6
Here follows an experimental report on a human being, placed in a decompression chamber:
After five minutes spasms appeared; between the sixth and tenth minute respiration increased in frequency, the TP (test person) losing consciousness. From the eleventh to the thirtieth minute respiration slowed down to three inhalations per minute, only to cease entirely at the end of that period... about half an hour after breathing had ceased, an autopsy was begun.7
It is possible to argue that the atomic bombs dropped over Japan also fitted the same pattern. Two different types of atomic bombs were dropped on Japan: one was plutonium, the other uranium. The plutonium bomb was tested in the U.S. at Alamogordo, and later dropped on Nagasaki as a weapon. But the uranium bomb, J. P. S. Uberoi argues, was the first of its kind in history; it was tested out on the people of Hiroshima as much as a scientific experiment as a weapon. As Mahesh K. Varma puts it,
Hitlerism and Hiroshima are not aberrations or anachronisms; nor do they represent the extreme points of a malfunctioning of the Western socio-economic system. They symbolize the deepest urges of modern civilization and represent the extreme points of its functioning. The diabolism as well as the apalling banality of Auschwitz and Hiroshima is implicit in the fundamental formative idea of modern civilization, namely, that the destiny of man is to create anew himself, the world and history. Experimental atomic explosions abolish the line between the real and the experimental; and, in the last analysis, Hiroshima remains a Masterly Experiment.8
Much before Mumford wrote on the pentagon of power, M. K. Gandhi had arrived at the same conclusions. His analysis of modern civilization, particularly its technology, in Hind Swaraj, provides an almost prophetic vision of the ruin of a civilization built on the foundations of science and technology.9
Much of science has passed under the slogan of the conquest of nature. We are given to believe that we are in control of nature today even though we are not even certain any longer of bare survival. This alleged control justifies the scientist's authority. The 'certainty' of scientific knowledge has, through sleight-of-hand, passed over to the practitioners of science as a class. The Pope is not considered infallible, except when he speaks ex cathedra. The scientist on the other hand is considered infallible whenever he speaks as a member of the scientist class. His authority is derived from his method.
There is a class of thinkers who are sympathetic to modern science in general, but feel it has become anti-life, anti-human, And just as engineers propose technological fixes for modern technologies that do not fit their environments, such thinkers attempt to humanize science through an infusion of alien elements. They make constant efforts, usually ignored by the majority of working scientists, to make science look more 'holistic' or to improve the prevailing paradigm. Recent years have seen numerous attempts to integrate modern science and eastern metaphysics. Whether this has helped science is not known, but it has certainly cheapened eastern metaphysics.
Modern science cannot provide the equivalent of a new vision of nature or man; the instrumentality cannot parade as cosmology. What modern science may be capable of is achieving correctional hypotheses for earlier erroneous ones. About this, Masanobu Fukuoka remarks:
Human beings do something wrong, leave the damage unrepaired, and when the adverse results accumulate, work with all their might to correct them. When the corrective actions appear to be successful they come to view these measures as splendid achievements or accomplishments. People do this over and over again. It is as if a fool were to stomp on and break the tiles of his roof. Then when it starts to rain and the ceiling begins to rot away, he hastily climbs up to mend the damage, rejoicing in the end that he has accomplished a miraculous solution.
It is the same with the scientist. He pores over books night and day, straining his eyes and becoming near-sighted, and if you wonder what on earth he had been working on all that time - it is to become the inventor of eye-glasses to correct near-sightedness.10
A great deal of science, then, is circular science.
Yet the gallant efforts to salvage the scientific method continue. If they are not 'interdisciplinary', they are 'multidisciplinary', which means that one merely increases the number of 'parameters' to make up for the deficiencies of Galileo's single-parameter model. But the addition of more and more partial views or 'parts', which are then sought to be interconnected, cannot produce a whole, since the parts in nature are infinite. For example, we cannot under any circumstances regenerate a natural forest, since a natural forest is its own creation. A natural forest can regenerate itself only if left alone by man. So-called 'scientific' forests, mostly monocultures and only occasionally mixed species, sit abrasively on ecological systems.
II. Method as colonizer
The massive investment made by western civilization in modern science has been because of the possibilities such science affords for control. In other words, the loyalty to science has had a political base.
Nature, at the other end of the scale of restrictions, cannot be controlled, precisely because of its irreversibility, uniqueness and, more important, its diversity. Abstraction increases control by homogenizing its subject matter. It eliminates the basis of diversity, the personal and the historic, creating an artificial reality which can be completely controlled.
One of the fundamental misconceptions of our times is that science has increased our control over nature. This is a claim made by conservatives as well as radicals. What science has achieved is a substitution of nature's principles by its own: it has overcome nature by taking its place or by mimicry of her processes. Where science has proved to be a poor imitator, it has often retreated in ignominy. Where it has come, in its own opinion, close, it has still created havoc and ruin. We shall deal with this issue with the help of some examples later.
Because science has not been able to 'reproduce' nature in the latter's full diversity, it has sought to reduce the diversity by eliminating it, and introducing more simplified, mechanized designs instead. I will illustrate the process of elimination with two examples, one from the domain of language, the other from that of food. Both illustrate how modernity and, within it, modern science, enhance their control of nature or society by elimination, destruction or reduction of the latter's 'anarchic' characteristics, and by substituting in their place homogeneous, controllable elements.
In a recent book, Shadow Work, Ivan Illich clinically examines the case of Elio Antonio de Nebrija - a contemporary of Columbus - and his contributions to the origin of the modern state. While Columbus set out to extend Queen Isabella's domain over foreign lands, writes Illich, Nebrija stayed at home and proposed to the Queen a new form of control over her subjects by controlling their language (and thus, their thinking).
Nebrija's way of doing this was to bring in a grammar to standardize the popular language and eliminate anarchy in the domain of the people's speech. He wrote:
So far, this our language has been left loose and unruly and, therefore, in just a few centuries this language has changed beyond recognition. If we were to compare what we speak today with the language spoken five hundred years ago, we would notice a difference and a diversity that could not be any greater if these were two alien tongues.11
Presently, they [the people] waste their leisure on novels and fancy stories full of lies. I have decided, therefore, that my most urgent task is to transform Castilian speech into an artifact so that whatever henceforth shall be written in this language may be of one standard tenor.12
Illich comments on Nebrija's brief:
He wants to replace the people's vernacular by the grammarian's language. The humanist proposes the standardization of colloquial language to remove the new technology of printing and reading from the vernacular domain - to prevent people from printing and reading in the various languages that, up to that time, they had only spoken. By this monopoly over an official and taught language he proposes to suppress wild, untaught vernacular reading.13
Nebrija is so much a part of us that today we cannot imagine books being written without a standard grammar. We shall see later, in other spheres, how modernity has created conditions within which it is impossible to discourse without the aid of the language of modern science. Illich summarizes the full impact of Nebrija's proposal for ordering public speech, for introducing a taught mother tongue, thus:
Henceforth, people will have to rely on the language they receive from above, rather than to develop a tongue in common with one another.... Formerly, there had been no salvation outside the Church; now, there would be no reading, no writing - if possible no speaking - outside the educational sphere. People would have to be reborn out of the monarch's womb and be nourished at her breast.14
In other words, the ungoverned, unmanaged speech with which people actually live and manage their lives need no longer be a serious challenge to the Crown or to the State. Human diversity need no longer prove to be a serious obstacle for the controlling interests of any society. And, most significantly, all ordinary experience must be recast in the 'official language', stamped with official approval, to be considered worthy of human use.
Nebrija provides the model for modern science in more ways that one. Take, for instance, seeds. Before the intervention of modern science (backed by major agro-business companies and private enterprise foundations) farmers, cultivating their lands for hundreds of years (forty centuries in India and China), had selected certain varieties for propagation in their fields: wheat, corn, rice, the millets. Over the centuries farmers had developed specific varieties for specific purposes: high yield was only one of the characters sought to be enhanced in their efforts.
India's leading rice specialist, Dr R. H. Richharia, who spent many years documenting thousands of varieties of rice in Madhya Pradesh, writes of the different functions of rice in the state:
The reasons (whatever they be) why growers have stuck to such a high number of rice varieties and still go on increasing them cannot be overlooked. This deep-seated attitude of the growers alone is responsible for the reason why the new plant types [of Government] have, as yet, not penetrated into our rice culture and which have saved us from a crisis on the rice front when the inputs, required for the new types, are in short supply.
The growers would not give up the cultivation of such reputed rice varieties as Dubraj of Sehava Nagari, Chinnor of Balaghat, Kalimuchh of Gwalior and Til Kasturi, Badshahbhog, Basmati, Tulsibhog and many other quality rice. Practically in every Block, some types of quality and scented rice varieties are grown and which remain confined to those localities and are in great demand, well known and locally recognized, e.g. Chini Samundra, Tulsi-Bas, Ghandhak, Manki Kathi, Chameli and Ilaychi. There are many other varieties with high yield potential, such as Pandri Luchai, Chhatri and Safri group of paddy which yield at 3000 kg/ha, on the average, under the existing fertility.
The rice growers would also not give up the cultivation of such types as Assam chudi and other chudi types which are mostly confined to the Bastar region, because of climatic preference and some of them being also tolerant to non-lodging. Such types as Nariyal chudi yield as high as 42 bags/acre or 7780 kg/ha, and Naina Kajal, an early maturing rice variety, giving a similar yield. Varieties such as Alcha, Sonth, Gaduwan, Karhani and Maharaji, known locally for their medicinal properties and which form a special class by themselves would not be given up. Whether this rice therapy is a myth or not remains to be seen, as their action cannot be explained in modern scientific terms, but the fact remains that their cultivation will not be easily given up. The Nagkeshar group of rice varieties, utilized for eradicating wild rice (Karga), an age-old practice in Chhattisgarh, of which there are about 42 varieties, adapted to the local practice of rice cultivation, cannot be dropped, although they are low yielders because of the specialized function they perform in increasing the yields indirectly.15
This is merely the beginning of the catalogue. During the course of his investigations, Richharia discovered 19,000 varieties of rice in Madhya Pradesh alone, including a variety called khowa having the taste of dried milk, and another known as bora, whose flour could be used for making chapatis, just like wheat flour. And, of course, there must be many more.
What was the reaction of Government/modern science? Two major high-yielding rice varieties (Taichung and JR-8) were dumped on the country, and every scheme possible for introducing them in farmers' fields was made available. Both varieties were unsuited to Indian climatic conditions, were susceptible to pests and fungal diseases. Their extension in farmers' fields eliminated the niches once occupied by the indigenous varieties of rice. The new varieties eliminated the rice crops in all their diversity, as Nebrija did with ungoverned and unbound speech.
When the Government felt that more food needed to be produced, it was given only one option by modern agro-business and agronomy: ignore all the local varieties, concentrate on a few. For agro-business it is important to have economies of scale and produce rice that has only one or two major qualities. Thus, of more than 50,000 varieties, modern science sought to develop less than ten. In the process of propagating those ten, a large number of the 50,000 lost their ecological niches, and became extinct. Thus did western science conflict with Adivasi science. In the process the so-called green revolution in India enhanced the control of a few countries and their interests, over the food chains of millions. For Nebrija, his grammar and Isabella, substitute Borlaug, high-yielding varieties and the Rockefeller Foundation.
By now it should be easier to grasp the close and essential connections between science and colonialism. During the colonial period, science worked closely with imperial interests. This has been documented systematically in the case of medical science by Radhika Ramasubhan.16
This should not prove surprising since some of the principal laws of science, like the second law of thermodynamics, arose out of industrial experience. The law of entropy resulted from efforts to improve the working of the steam engine so as to advance industry. It is this connection between physics and economics that also helps explain the colonizing thrust of science. C. V. Seshadri has dealt with this relationship in some detail.17
Seshadri finds the second law ethnocentric, and therefore outside science. Because of its industrial origins, it has presented a definition of energy in a way calculated to favour the allocation of resources for the purposes of big industry, often depriving the rest of the population of them.
The law of entropy, backed by its authority, provides a criterion for utilization of energy available from various resources. This criterion, known as the concept of efficiency, is a corollary to the law of entropy and came into existence along with the law. The efficiency criterion stipulates that the loss of available energy in a conversion becomes smaller as the temperature at which the conversion is effected is higher above the ambient. Therefore, high temperatures are of high value and so are resources such as petroleum, coal, etc., which can help achieve such high temperatures. In this sense, the law of entropy provides a guideline for extraction of resources and their utilization.18
Observe how the definitions soon get circular.
The notion of energy and, its corollary concept, of efficiency, play a crucial role in allocation of resources by deciding whether they can be useful for the kind of purposes for improvisation of which these concepts have been created.19
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