Friday, May 02, 2008

Smackdown: TH Huxley vs. Matthew Arnold (with help from Camus)

"Mechanized civilization has just reached the ultimate stage of barbarism. In a near future, we will have to choose between mass suicide and intelligent use of scientific conquests[...] This can no longer be simply a prayer; it must become an order which goes upward from the peoples to the governments, an order to make a definitive choice between hell and reason." (Albert Camus on the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945).

Victoriana tends to irritate most American yahoos. Yahoos (that's yahoo as in Swift, not Silicon Valley extortion) detest all things French, yet they detest most things British as well (and not without some reason). The yahoo doesn't care for British propriety, the civility, the manners: say England, and Americans think Sherlock Holmes, or dreadful PBS Schake-schpearean fairies, or worse, the Beatles. And yes, we here at Contingencies are not down with that sceptre'd isle either, and prefer Descartes to Darwin, and respect Clemenceau more than a Churchill (not only palsies with Il Duce, but praising Hitler and brownshirts until Der Fuhrer's deals with Stalin pissed off the royals, and the tanks rolled into Poland. Winnie--corporate Darwinist way before Rich. Dawkins arrived---most likely sucking scheisse next to the Reichmarshall and gang).

Nonetheless, some aspects of English kultur should be attended to, at least for a few nanoseconds: like, say, the celebrated debates between Matt Arnold and TH Huxley: c'est Victoriana. The debate concerned the merits of a scientific education compared to the study of the classics, Latin, Greek, Plato, sophocles, et all. Huxley argued (in effect agreeing with the founder of the University of Birmingham) that Da Classix--even the study of Latin grammar--were no longer needed. Universities would stress natural sciences--biology, chemistry, physics---and engineering. Pure mathematics--itself traditionally regarded as Platonic, and above the grubby work of physicians and lawyers-- would be, according to Huxley, relegated to scientific applications and engineering.

Huxley may win the battle against that eloquent poltroon Arnold, though Arnold may win the war: which is to say (in QuineSpeak) few could doubt the efficaciousness of the natural sciences--Plato's next to nothing compared to gunpowder, or a panzer division. The Huxleyan pedagogy, however, should not be just accepted prima facie as the path to a progressive future, certainly not after the 20th century (that may be obvious to some hepcats, but not to many in ConsumerLand). What Huxley did not foresee was that his beloved Darwin, and the natural sciences could be (and were) very efficacious in terms of advancing totalitarian goals, and murder on a macro-scale. Chas himself seemed to hint at eugenics on occasion. Does Darwin (and the advances of physical chemistry) lead to mustand gas, not to say zyklon B? Es posible. Does Einstein lead to Hiroshima? Es posible.

Until the whores of academic science free themselves from their pimps in industry (not to say the military), the science establishment should be counted as a foe of progressive ideals--and Camus suggests something like that as well. That's not to advocate Luddite-ism; (tho' google Pynchon for an interesting spin on Ludd). Cybernetics--gear itself-- can be a force for the Good; however Tech. is not inherently "Good". One doesn't have to quote Martin Heidegger on "teleos"--or Platonic chestnuts---to understand that science and engineering should relate to some democratic-socialist, and dare we say humanistic goals. Maybe those sections of Plato relating to oligarchy---tyranny of the wealthy, powerful and fortunate---were meaningful, after all.

1 comment:

J said...

Ah theatre-ron from tuscon trying to pretend it's a scientist again.

What a laugh: you don't know the biochemistry of photosynthesis from yr favorite 60s freaks. Stick to the monkees, fraud.

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