The Danger of Scientism

from the FEE, Foundation for Economic Education, Be Wary of the Orwellian “Enlightened” Classby Robin Koerner

Science and scientism are superficially similar but epistemic opposites.

A true scientist remains doxastically open. That means that she works always on the assumption that her theory is a) false or incomplete and b) will therefore change.

The daily task of science is to identify the ways in which our current understanding is lacking. In so doing, science’s understanding of the world becomes less false.

Scientism, in contrast, is doxastically closed. That means that it identifies our best theory but then behaves as if it is a) absolute truth and b) will therefore not change.

Scientism, unlike science, has no need for data. It is deadly because it always uses the current paradigm to explain away potentially problematic observations. (E.g. the cat’s squeal isn’t telling me it’s in pain; it’s confirming that machines, including cats, have predictable responses to physical stimuli.)

Orwell’s “unthinking orthodoxy” is “political scientism.” That’s the epistemology of tyranny.

In my earlier article, I wrote about the authoritarianism of some of the “Social Justice Warrior” Left today, who would give moral privilege to groups they identity as victim groups in the name of eliminating privilege; who would eliminate the free speech of people with whom they disagree in the name of giving everyone an equal voice; who equate speech with violence to justify violence against those who speak.

Bizarre as those paradoxes clearly are, their advocates are not automatically dangerous if they are open to revising their moral or political theory in the light of falsifying data or contradictions in the theory’s application.

What makes it all dangerous is that it is allied with an a priori belief about competing views and political opponents that eliminate the possibility that any experiences or perspectives could provide data that could challenge the theory.

If potentially contradictory data can be rejected a priori on account of being explained away as the result of “fascist”, “racist”, “sexist” attitudes, for example, then the theory is inoculated against the human data against which all political theories must be tested.

Righteous Orthodoxy

from the FEE, Foundation for Economic Education, Be Wary of the Orwellian “Enlightened” Class by Robin Koerner

He understood that the morality of a political ideology in practice cannot be determined from its theoretical exposition – but only from the actual experiences of those who would be affected by its real-world application.

To make the point to the people he felt most needed to hear it, Orwell, a self-identified socialist, called out the arrogance of his friends on the Left who experienced themselves as so “enlightened,” to use his word, that they did not need to consider the sentiments – let alone ideas – of those who were to them clearly politically ignorant.

Orwell had a name for this kind of self-righteous certainty – and it wasn’t fascism, capitalism, or communism.  It was “orthodoxy,” which he explains in 1984, “means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” It is a state exhibited by people who already know they have the right answers – at least in the areas that matter.

There is no political system so perfect that it will not be deadly when imposed against the will of others by people sure of their own righteousness. Orwell saw that no political theory – even the egalitarian socialism that he believed to be the most moral – can prevent its adherents from being anything other than tyrants if they are committed to it in a way that is immune to the protests and experiences of other people.

In other words, tyranny is not the result of a belief in a bad political theory; it is the result of a bad belief in a political theory – and that is an entirely different thing.

Collective Delusion

from Let’s Get Metaphysical About Trump and the ‘Post-Truth Era’ by Crispin Sartwell

Likewise, truth cannot be a matter of social consensus. That groups are in agreement has no tendency to show that what they believe is true, or else flat contradictions are true in a situation in which we are polarized into groups with contradictory beliefs. As consensus tightens, it degenerates into self-confirmation and collective delusion. Each side already believes this about the other, so each side is committed to the view that truth is something more than agreement. Nor can “truth” mean merely what works, if by “works” one means persuading people or guiding their behavior or opinions in some desirable direction.

That makes it very odd to formulate the thing in terms of alternative realities or the disintegration of truth itself. Both sides need the truth, and they need it not to be relative to any group’s particular set of beliefs—or they need to stop attacking their opponents. There’s nothing unusual about a situation in which people disagree about what the truth is, and the concept of truth itself is not particularly at stake right now.

It’s a bizarre misapprehension, in short, that truth is disintegrating or in crisis. Fabrications do not undermine truth—they presuppose it. Lies can harm people, but they can’t harm truth itself. They conceptually depend on it. The right conclusion from all this isn’t that truth is disintegrating, but that truth is hard and intrusive, that it does not readily bend to human will or agreement or narrative. The power of the Russian intelligence services or a Sean Spicer press briefing is considerable, but it does not include the ability to bend the fabric of reality.

Metaphysical Rights

from Kevin Williamson at National Review, The ‘Right’ to Health Care,

Declaring a right in a scarce good is meaningless. It is a rhetorical gesture without any application to the events and conundrums of the real world. If the Dalai Lama were to lead 10,000 bodhisattvas in meditation, and the subject of that meditation was the human right to health care, it would do less good for the cause of actually providing people with health care than the lowliest temp at Merck does before his second cup of coffee on any given Tuesday morning.

Health care is physical, not metaphysical. It consists of goods, such as penicillin and heart stents, and services, such as oncological attention and radiological expertise. Even if we entirely eliminated money from the equation, conscripting doctors into service and nationalizing the pharmaceutical factories, the basic economic question would remain.

We tend to retreat into cheap moralizing when the economic realities become uncomfortable for us. No matter the health-care model you choose — British-style public monopoly, Swiss-style subsidized insurance, pure market capitalism — you end up with rationing: Markets ration through prices, bureaucracies ration through politics. Price rationing is pretty straightforward: Think of Jesse James and his “Pay Up, Sucker!” tattoo on his palm. Political rationing is a little different: Sometimes it happens through waiting lists and the like, and sometimes it is just a question of money and clout. American progressives love the Western European medical model, but when Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi needed a pacemaker, he came to the United States to have it implanted.

There is no substitute for abundance. And the great enemy of abundance is the bias against profit. There is something deeply rooted in us that instinctively thinks we are being abused if someone else makes a profit on a deal. That is a dumb and primitive way of thinking — our world is full of wonders because it is profitable to invent them, build them, and sell them — but the angel is forever handcuffed to the ape.

Undemocratic Liberalism

from “Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)” by Cas Mudde, Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser

“In fact, elites have used the growing influence of unelected bodies and technocratic institutions to depoliticize contested political issues, like austerity and immigration, and so minimize the risk of electoral defeat. No better example of this can be cited than the EU, an organization that was consciously constructed to delegate power to institutions that are unelected and therefore largely insulated from popular pressures. It is no wonder, then, that “democratic deficit” has become almost synonymous with the European Union (EU) and that populists are increasingly Euroskeptic. They accuse the national and European elites of having created an all-powerful supranational organization that promotes (neo) liberalism at the expense and against the wishes of the people.”