The Terrible Flaw

Submitted by Reddebrek on October 30, 2017

AT ONE TIME MAN BELIEVED IN MAGIC, then he believed in religion, now he believes in science. Science has become a mood with which we view the world. Progress and rationality are partners with science in the unfolding of scientific knowledge and they are the bearers of the red carpet of civilisation laid down in science's path and wake. But the progress, rational, science complex is now becoming suspect and nothing has done more to totter the great god Science on its pedestal than the creation of its own frankenstein — the atomic bomb. However on the level of scholarship, psychoanalysis has attacked the morbidity of the modern science complex because of its renunciation of human nature, and because of its aggressive dominating attitude to the rest of nature.

Modern science, in its self-defeating aggression on nature has posed an antithesis between the senses and the intellect. Scientists before the modern era, when they were still natural philosophers, used the senses in their arts of discovery and observation. Now the word "scientific" means knowledge-making and the aim is possession and mastery over objects. It is an obvious consequence of science's own view of itself — that it is coolly rational, calculating and secular. Scientific thinking is looked upon as being impersonal, objective, abstract and quantitative. The parallel may be drawn between the early natural philosopher's investigation of nature and the explorers of new worlds who embarked upon their voyages more through adventure than profit; but the modern scientist parallels the soldier and exploiter who reshaped the discoveries in their own image, to fill their own pockets and enhance the power and prestige of their sovereigns.

Modern science is at present engaged on what approximates to a totalitarian war on nature. It pursues its objective aim with the brutality of an individual beset by an anal-sadistic complex, who by rationalisation persuades himself that his actions are the inevitable outcome of the historical process, necessary, and that he is sternly committed to the god Science itself. One has not got to go far to find extreme examples of this attack on nature — the nuclear tests, myxomatosis, mass vivisection for purposes of dubious validity, smog, harmfully overstuffing the earth and animals with chemicals to provide unwanted surpluses.
Even where science has allied itself (apart from the obvious death

MAURICE GOLDMAN, born in Natal, 1918, is a pharmacist as well as a novelist. He studied economics and politics at Witwatersrand University, and philosophy at Cape Town.

forces of the vast war technology) to the whole-hearted endorsement of the life forces, medical knowledge and food production, its lack of an erotic sense of reality and its commitment to the reality principle and not the pleasure principle is evident. In medical knowledge, science has shown itself to be diffident about prevention and has thrown its weight on cure. Once more it has scorned the senses of the body and the idea of full enjoyment of life and its policy seems more to be to prevent the loss of working days and man-hours. There is no parallel western movement in medicine as in the east and near east (in the historical light) on breathing, diet, sex knowledge, gymnastics.

Pursuing this idea, even cure has been left in the hands of vulgar commercialism. More and more drugs, which doctors and patients and thoughtlessly used on their bodies are becoming suspect. Today, even phenacetin which has always been a basic medicine, has been shown to cause cirrhosis of the liver. And has not the lunge which science has taken in the direction of birth control pills and at the conquest of death been wild swipes in the wrong direction because of a lack of any erotic sense. The first endorses man's tyrannical "genital complex", the second his neurotic absorption with the inevitable when he should be living the full life of his senses.

It is not the writer's intention to deny that science has made very positive gains in the direction of the conservation of life. What is called into question is not this quantitative aspect of existing for a lengthy span of years, but the qualitative attitude of modern science towards living. Man, by his very nature of Apollonian providence and his anxiety for security has always been the surplus producing animal. By means of trial and error in thought and action some communities now produce more than they can eat. Food has become mass produced. (The facts of adulteration, deterioration of quality, food poisons such as insecticides, however, are proven facts. It is not the intention to take up this debate now. Although this one thing is evident, food like manufactures seem to be produced more for exchange value than for use value. Quality suffers).

Positive modern science prides itself that it makes no value judgments, that it is thoroughly objective. The modern scientist will tell a farmer how to increase his crops tenfold, but he will not raise a murmur when the government pays the farmer not to grow … even when others are starving. The scientist holds down a job you might say, a government job at that. Leave value judgments to the politicians! That brings us on to specialisation which we will deal with in the next paragraph. But now value judgments! There is nothing the positive scientist fears more than value judgments and that is one of the main reasons why the orthodox economist loathes the welfare economist — he wants to be a positive scientist whereas welfare economists can't make those pretensions … welfare might bring his science into disrepute. But the modern positive scientist makes value judgments all the time. He tends to forget that science deals with phenomena that appear to the senses we possess. His instruments, however delicate, are but methods of extending sense experience and his selection of facts consist of value judgments, as much as the artist's selection of sensory experience. But our criticism goes deeper than the hypocrisy of the scientist. It extends to the morbidity of his unconscious schemata. To quote Norman O. Brown on the historian Gaston Bachelard's conclusions on science:

"… It is the essence of the scientific spirit to be mercilessly ascetic, to eliminate human enjoyment from our relation to nature, to eliminate the human senses, and finally to eliminate the human brain."
Now the entire use of the brain is called into question. It becomes an obstacle because it co-ordinates human movements and appetites. And quoting Ferenzi: "Pure intelligence is thus the product of dying, or at least of becoming mentally insensitive, and is therefore in principle madness." Brown calls for a science based on an erotic sense of reality and for the social project of resurrecting the body as a whole.

A terrible flaw in the organisation of science and in its resulting world outlook is the deadening grip of specialisation. Paradoxically, science has bred a race of ignoramuses. The vastly increased specialisation means that men and women must spend hypnotised years in one tiny branch of science so that they cannot see the wood of human industry for the trees of specialised endeavour. And if in the archaic economy, gift and countergift organised the division of labour and incidentally enabled man to unburden himself of some guilt, in modern times, it is science itself that both organises and is caught in the grip of the division of labour. Progressively its view of life diminishes. The instrument maker is a specialised instrument maker; his life revolves, say, upon the measurement of thrust of a missile. When he thinks of larger things he might think of the molecular structure of the heat resistant shield or even of a man who presses the button, or even of air/navy rivalry. It is fairly safe to bet he won't go into the philosophy of missile throwing, or dabble with the state of affairs on the other side of the world.

Science today stands at the pinnacle of civilised culture. The priest has been cowed by the scientist and the politician tries to capture his services (and timorously to keep him in the chains of national security). Science has brought certain of man's omnipotence of thoughts to near reality. But man remains unhappy and is driven to even greater restless striving. Among our universally neurotic mankind, power and materialism are at a premium. The lust for power (through money which gives command over the labour of others, prestige, fame, etc.) and the materialism of the world (alienation from the self and the increasing concentration on things) are the very fields for modern science. The weapon is now more powerful than the army or the battleship which the politician commands, it has long crushed the spiritual power which the priest commands. The politician and the scientist are the modern partners in power, not the politician and the priest. The politician has dropped the priest very gingerly on to his spiritual bed and wonders uneasily whether he in turn will not be top-hatted and superannuated by the scientist who possesses that magical thing — the know-how.
Science with its know-how has lost any trace of humility. It might, to the benefit of humanity remember the gentle rebuke that Freud gave (and Freud if anybody was imbued with the scientific spirit) in Civilisation and Its Discontents:

"… but a critical, pessimistic voice makes itself heard, saying that most of these advantages follow the model of those 'cheap pleasures' in the anecdote. One gets this enjoyment by sticking one's bare leg outside the bedclothes on a cold winter's night and then drawing it in again. If there were no railway to make light of distances my child would never have left home and I should not need the telephone to hear his voice. If there were no vessels crossing the ocean my friend would never have embarked on his voyage and I should not need the telegraph to relieve my anxiety about him. What is the use of reducing the mortality of children when it is precisely this reduction which imposes the greatest moderation on us in begetting them, so that taken all round we do not rear more children than in the days before the reign of hygiene, while at the same time we have created difficult conditions for sexual life in marriage and probably counteracted the beneficial effects of natural selection."

Science gives some benefits with the one hand and snatches them away with the other. By means of pest control and fertilisation it gives us better crops (though there is no knowing what thalidomide seeds it might be sowing in the earth and our bodies) … but it also poisons our crops and ourselves with radiation dust. It has given us the motor car but also the death and injury rate on the roads, higher than any endemic disease of the past. I do not quote these things to belittle science's achievements but simply to put them in perspective.

But the weightiest indictment of science come from the general theory of psychoanalysis. Baudelaire has written that real progress is in the wiping out of man's original sin — the wiping out of his shame and his guilt feeling which he imbibed with infancy. Real progress is also the wiping out of his neurosis and his constipation with the past, to reclaim for the consciousness the repressed unconscious mind, to demand happiness instead of power, to overcome self ignorance and to partake in the resurrection of the body and the full enjoyment of life, to be able to accept both life and death of the body. Real progress lies in satisfying our organic demands, in lessening hate and intolerance, in achieving a greater humanity, tolerance and awareness of love. Modern science must recognise as psychoanalysis has recognised that all culture is sublimation of our real desires, that rationality is drawn off the path of objectivity by instincts as much as a "free" swinging magnetic needle is drawn towards the magnetic pole.

It is only when science recognises that it as much as any other field of human endeavour involves value judgments that it will learn humility, tolerance and perhaps base itself on an erotic sense of reality rather than a multiplication of gadgets, mechanisms and cool, mechanical rational "brains".