Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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The Meaning of Science

The theory I've been promoting of late is that John Kerry doomed his campaign when he repeatedly stated that he believed in science. Obviously, that's an over-simplification. But it strikes me as the sort of over-simplification that proves helpful, like saying that someone is a member of the "working class" despite the fact she or he doesn't meet all the traditional criteria for membership. My argument is that the word "science" is a metonym for things that many Bush voters fear, particularly those on the low-income side of the Republican spectrum. From this perspective, the so-called "moral values" vote seems even more negative -- meaning that it lacks positive content -- than most commentators have supposed. Bush voters weren't voting for particular values so much as against a mindset associated with the word "science" that represents, as they see it, the absence of moral valuation.

I find this analysis compelling because A) it slots into the trajectory of American social history very nicely; and B) it gives some Bush voters the benefit of the doubt on specific questions of moral valuation by suggesting that they aren't necessarily fixated on promoting on an iron-ribbed agenda, but wish, rather, to open up a space where question of value frame scientific inquiry. To be sure, many Bush supporters of an Evangelical stamp do have a pretty iron-ribbed agenda. I'm not convinced, however, that they all do. More than that, I think it makes better strategic sense to impute flexibility to the category of "Bush voters" than to write them all off as hopelessly rigid. The work of articulation that Antonio Gramsci and his intellectual descendants focus upon in their political theory depends on the ability to discern potential fissures within historical blocs.

Anyway, today's news that Congress is trimming funding for the National Science Foundation appears to provide support for my theory. Someone has it in for "science." Interestingly, coverage of the Supreme Court's hearing of the case involving medical marijuana yesterday implied that there are plenty of "blue-staters" who share their conservative counterparts' suspicion of the scientific establishment. Steven is fond of pointing out the fallacies of belief in the face of fact. I agree with him, by and large. But when the leading scientific position is that marijuana has little effect on appetite or pain, you have to wonder how "scientific" it really is. I'm not saying that the studies cited by Federal officials represent good science. My point, rather, is that every indication of someone finding physiological and psychological solace that flies in the face of the cold, hard evidence provides potential ammunition for those who wish to constrain science within the framework of moral valuation. As unlikely as it may seem on the surface, there is a way in which the, "If it feels good, do it" hedonism of the now-reviled counter-culture overlaps with the "If it feels good, it's probably a sin" mentality of many Bush voters. In both cases, feeling takes precedence over fact.

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