Science, faith, propaganda, and the epistemological crisis of the postmodern age
Sunday, 20 December 2015
Everywhere we hear of the postmodern age, where a crisis abounds, a crisis of faith in our institutions. Reasons for the development of this crisis of faith have been offered: the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, 9/11, or things as culturally mundane as the revelation that Charles Van Doran participated in a fixed game show with the help of a television network. The problem with all of these explanations is that they purport to reveal an anomalous discovery, rather than an unmasking. The former allows for an outraged and appalled public to punish the wrongdoers, feeling confident that they have once again set the world back on its axis – the balance has been restored. Accepting the latter on the other hand, would require an epistemological rebirth, an understanding that events like the ones mentioned above unmask what has always been in plain sight, and are in fact evidence of the reality of the inner workings of society and civilization itself. They unmask the presence of an epistemological crisis that takes place when society catches a glimpse of the foundations upon which their sense of the world, what they believe to be true, is based. This world, untarnished by the patina of obfuscation and misdirection, is based on a carefully manufactured and engineered fraud. The dynamic balance that is necessary to maintain this myth requires everyone to suspend disbelief and reject the possibility that the world they live in is somehow not spontaneous or chosen through a series of decisions made by a person acting of their own free will. If this crisis of faith has revealed anything, it has unmasked the presence of vast amounts of declarative statements we accept on faith; and the biggest danger of faith is its defining characteristic: it has no falsifying conditions. Faith is by definition based on trust, not evidence, and always has the spiritual quality of truth and righteousness.
The nature of scientific truth as it is practiced and implemented is an instructive example of the way in which faith and the accompanying absence of falsifying conditions has led to an epistemological crisis. How do we know what we think we know? As long as scientific truth is defined in terms of consensus, it will forever crowd out discovery, because the outliers are always marginalized and ostracized. And these outliers are the very people that drive humanity to redraw its current map of reality. In this sense, defining scientific certainty in terms of consensus fosters ignorance and intellectual myopia. Scientific consensus, like all forms of consensus, is achieved through compromise, not dispassionate fact finding and empirical investigation. And it is important to note that compromise is a political tool that institutions engage in when power-sharing, not a basis for scientific inquiry. An instructive example of this reality comes from medical science. Richard Horton, the editor of the medical journal, The Lancet, said in an interview in the 11 April 2015 issue the following: “The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness.” The reasons he offers for this measured observation are essentially political; and he is not alone, as John Ioannidis, professor of medicine and health research at Stanford University School of Medicine has made similar comments in the past, as have many others. Ignorance of truth in this regard travels deep into the institution like a malignant cancer, where ignorance is passed down through a faith in the research process itself. Initiates at the lower levels (or outer circles) of the faith are not even made aware of negative or inconclusive results of medical research for treatment and drugs that they are expected to prescribe to patients. All practitioners of the faith, whether priest or parishioner, must show their fealty. This deep seated fraud and ignorance by the whole of society, including its experts, is entirely predictable considering the current state of science.
This leads one back to the broader question of how we come to understand the world. What is the nature of knowledge and how do we obtain it? How do we know what we think we know? If we take a radically reductionist epistemological view of the world, we can accurately state that the vast majority of what we think we know comes from a television or a computer screen, or is told to us by someone we find credible for various reasons. To point out this fact is not to promulgate a nihilistic view of the world, but to illustrate how little we interrogate our systems of belief, even those beliefs for which we have very compelling reasons to question or reject. If one followed the maxim that those who make assertions must provide proof of their claims, and challenged those who ignore or reject good reasons for rejecting their claims, the 4th estate might very well not be beyond redemption. A timely example of this principle, which has shaped the social, cultural, economic, and political discourse in recent years, is that if governments claim that deaths have occurred for any reason, it would be reasonable to demand that physical evidence of these deaths be presented. Additionally, if an event was said to be captured on video by multiple sources and angles, and later confiscated by the government, the physical evidence should be provided. And finally, if eyewitness accounts and testimony of an event directly contradicts the government’s official findings about the facts of an event, one should demand that the government provide physical evidence to disprove the eyewitness accounts. Resorting to emotionally potent oversimplifications cannot be allowed to pass as conclusive evidence. An assertion is simply not enough to conclude the veracity of a claim. Unfortunately, however, this is exactly what the vast majority of society is accepting as evidence, which is tantamount to taking something on faith, which is always true regardless of evidence to the contrary. If assertions are made without evidence, or evidence is found to be fraudulent, that is called propaganda. Propaganda has a specific agenda which is thoroughly divorced from any intention to communicate the unvarnished truth. The etymology of the word reveals its true purpose. Propaganda is a Latin abbreviation for “congregātiō dē propāgandā fidē” which means “congregation for propagating the faith.”
If faith and politics continue to dominate scientific inquiry; and the dissemination of information, whether by governments or the 4th estate, is done so for the purpose of propaganda, then our revered secular institutions will remain, like the church and religious institutions generally, a simulacrum controlled by financial interests whose primary goal is the control of resources and dominion over the public consciousness.