Friday, September 5, 2014

The (Scientific) Method to Our Madness

A Parable by Earon S. Davis

It was amazing to witness, a spontaneous coalescing of people and perspectives, forming a new social movement in the United States.  On the Capitol Mall, in Washington, D.C. a demonstration was materializing and gaining unexpected cohesion.  It was a march for human sustainability, but instead of moving towards the Capitol Building, the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House or the Pentagon, the group was descending upon the National Research Council complex on Constitution Avenue, within the National Academy of Sciences, the official science adviser to the U.S. Government, authorized by Abraham Lincoln.

Over the years, Creationists in the U.S. had been battling science, pretty much beginning as a sideshow akin to the Scopes Monkey Trial in the 1920’s.  But something had changed.  The people of creationism were no longer denying global climate change, nor its human origins.  They now focused more broadly on the protection of creation and the role of the scientific and engineering communities in endangering it.  As the day unfolded, they were joined by political leftists, libertarians and liberals, conservatives and conservationists, professors of theology, humanities, actors, artists, writers, organic farmers and alternative medicine practitioners.

Something was changing.  The original organizers were calling it “Creation Day” and others said it was a “New Humanism.”  The atheists were somehow content to work with the religious in common cause.  Many of the protesters carried signs questioning the power of corporate science and government capitulation and their roles in endangering the Earth and all of its inhabitants.  It was almost like the fictional villagers gathering with pitchforks and torches and marching to the castle at which Frankenstein was being brought to life.  This time, also, the crowd felt it was gathering to protect the sanctity of life.  But, not just a band of terrified villagers in the dark, there was a positive vision of a better future.

The crowd continued to swell, the average age around 40, young and old, women and men of every size, shape and color.  Creationists a minority.  There were contingents of liberal and mainline Christians, the wide spectrum of religious communities being represented as well as atheists, agnostics, wiccans and first peoples.  Buddhists.  Hindus.  Episcopalians.  It was everyone.  Everyone except the mainstream corporate officials, politicians, engineers and scientists.  They, along with the historians and philosophers of science, and many humanists were assembled to protect the National Academy of Sciences from anti-science heretics.  Yet, there was no threat to that edifice, just evangelicals and agnostics, Anglicans, Catholics, Unitarians, Deists, orthodox Christians and Jews, with Hare Krishna’s marching arm in arm, with secularists, singing and chanting peacefully, amazed and charmed to have ended up on the same side in this national/global debate.
Peace and good will were palpably present, with the scores of religious leaders, healers, teachers, laborers, environmentalists, permaculturists, ecologists, acupuncturists, ayurvedists, yoga instructors, meditators, mediators, and more.  Integrated into the gathering were people of every color and hue, every background, rich and poor, professional and working class.  The atmosphere fluctuated from solemn to celebratory, frustration fading as the day went on, increasingly infused with the luminosity of hope.

Several demonstrators recounted how they had “woken up” from decades of feeling steamrolled by corporate science and the out-of-control technologies that had brought planet Earth to its knees.    Many were angry about decades of vacant reassurances about the resilience of our planet and of human health.  They were not satisfied that cancer rates were still rising, even if survival rates are improving;  that neurological disorders and depression are increasing, even if we have new drugs on the horizon.  One flyer being handed out noted:

“Corporate governments declare that we should not be alarmed about the air pollution, water pollution, shortages of fresh water, flooding and drought, nuclear radiation, gene spliced crops, pesticides and herbicides, processed foods and pharmaceuticals, mountain top removal and strip mining and increasing rates of ecological destruction, deforestation and species extinction.  We are tired of rationalization after rationalization about technology being our salvation, about all progress coming from science, about science and engineering being able to solve all of our problems.” 

The creationists felt they were finally being heard, standing on common ground even with some secular humanists, united by concerns about poor stewardship by soul-less corporate beings and corrupt government.  Atheists, marching alongside Mennonites and Muslims, lamented how the entire society had been corrupted and demoralized for the sake of profits and consumerism.  The organizers said it was time for technology to be called out and scientists and engineers to be held accountable.  Some of the heretics held signs saying that “Science is not the only way of “knowing” and “The Return of Humanity.” The National Academy of Sciences had not stood up, they asserted, to protect the Earth and its inhabitants.  It had gone along with “business as usual,” obsessed with keeping “the economy” running and with asserting that science was truth and superior to all other ways of knowing, including religion, including intuition, including alternative medicine, including poetry, music, art and the humanities.

It was a day that surprised the diverse groups of participants as well as the news media, police, and certainly the world of scientists and engineers.  They were witnessing a sea change.  It was no longer the obviously corrupt politicians and lobbyists who were the focal point of the this public disenchantment, but those who created and kept the corporate planet-destroying machinery going full tilt, those who defended the status quo, those who saw technology as humanity’s holy grail, those who had forgotten, it was often mentioned, what it is to be human.

And the musicians.  They danced and sang.  The poets.  They shook their heads, taking in the unlikely spectacle.  Photographers took pictures.   Hippies, young children and the elderly did their things.  Many people chanted and prayed, or just lived in the moment, in diverse languages and traditions.  Journalists interviewed people and shot video.  The police.  Well, the police just served and protected.  It was a day for the books. 

As one of the participants observed, “What began as a quirky, marginalized movement of anti-intellectuals has unified many diverse groups in understanding that our society is in a death spiral of greed.  Too much human and non-human sacrifice is being required at the altars of capitalism and the technologies it rides, for the benefit of the few.”  She noted that “The ‘enlightenment’ was a struggle between rational scientists and irrational religion.  Today, instead, the problem is the treadmill created by capitalism and technology.  Materialism, not mysticism, is running amok and threatening our future.  Today, we are witnessing the results of corporate science and technology, unconstrained by ethics, conscience and reason.  We cannot let this doomsday scenario continue to unravel our world.”

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