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Salvation by Science(Part 2)
Vinod Anand | 02 Aug 2013

Salvation by Science(Part 2) (Vinod Anand) These observations serve to adumbrate the pedestrian reality behind the glossy captions about ‘science in the service of mankind’ which herald a prospect of illimitable human benefit from scientific progress. Such captions do, however, express the common faith, a faith shared, needless to say, by the scientist himself. Indeed, the scientist will seldom question the effects, immediate or remote, of his contribution to human welfare. He may assert that increased knowledge of any sort is its own justification. But he is more likely to accept as a self-evident proposition that any addition to knowledge entails an extension of man’s power over the universe, an extension of choice and, therefore, an improvement of his lot on earth. And should man not be made happier thereby, should he destroy himself in a nuclear war or corrupt himself utterly, then this surely is the fault of society, not of the scientists — a rather forlorn dichotomy since the scientist no less than the layman is the victim of the misuse of science. Indeed, the response of the scientist to any failure or misapplication of science is the by now familiar one of urging the application of yet more science. If the use in agriculture of certain chemical discoveries is found to have wiped out several species of beings, or to have caused some significant upset in the ecological equilibrium of a region, the scientist can be counted on to remark that more research is imperative. If men and women become increasingly maladjusted in this rapidly changing world of ours, this again calls for more research. Psychologists, neurologists, sociologists, sexologists, will be eager to diagnose these new and fascinating infirmities, themselves the product of technology that threatens to stifle society. The more calamitous the consequences, the greater the challenge. An uncertain picture emerges of applied science carefully sewing us up in some places while accidentally ripping us apart in others. The innocent layman surrounded by a growing array of specialists I of all kinds — in the social sciences by economists, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and others — is deluded into believing that his welfare is in good hands whereas, in fact, there is no social science expressly concerned with human welfare in the round. In any case, practitioners are increasingly emphasizing ‘positive’ as against ‘normative’ treatment in the development of the social sciences; they are concerned, that is, with hypotheses of existing relationships and not with prescription. In particular, the social scientist is, apparently, a helpless spectator to continued social developments that are fraught with welfare implications. For man’s experience of welfare is only to a limited extent influenced by the range of goods placed at his disposal by the economy. The more pervasive influences on his welfare arise from the existing technological conditions. These affect him directly in his capacity as productive agent responding passively to the evolving machinery of industry. They affect him indirectly, though crucially, by their ultimate determination of ‘the matrix of society — by their impress on the shape of the environment, material, institutional, and psychological, which constraints his personality. But the technological conditions of production are not chosen with a view to enhancing man’s experience of life. Nor has any social science the least say in their determination. They evolve solely in response to the requirements of industrial efficiency. Thus, the predominant influences bearing on man’s welfare are generated accidentally; simply as a by-product of technological advance. It may well be suspected that the human frame and the human psyche are ill adjusted to the style of living that technology is thrusting upon us, but willy-nilly technology marches on, leaving to the medical profession the unenviable task of dealing with an increasing number of casualties that are unable to cope with the strains and stresses of a rapidly changing world. In one respect, at least, modern technology could hardly be more ingeniously fashioned than it is for depriving men of the exercise of their character as men. From the beginnings of the ‘industrial revolution’ men have become progressively more specialized in a narrow range of tasks whether they work in an office, factory or laboratory. Whatever the particular skill employed, all the other qualities of a man, important enough in earlier times — qualities like courage, loyalty, perseverance integrity, resourcefulness, attributes that once entered heavily into his future and into the esteem in which he was held — have begun to lose their value in this unheroic push-button age. In the serious business of earning a living, the other parts of men count for very little. If he were born today, a Robin Hood, a Buffalo Bill, a Clive of India, a Lawrence of Arabia, would probably be a nonentity. There must be, living among us now, tens of thousands of men who in bygone ages would have been glad to venture forth across the oceans, to fight their way through forests, to push back frontiers and to found colonies and settlements, men who in the daily toil and hazard would discover comradeship and vindicate their manhood. Today they must perforce lead obscure and sedentary lives far removed from the restless force of nature, slumped in anonymity, imbibing synthetic visions from the meretricious flicker of a television screen. Only so little ago as the last war, there were times when the man in uniform could sense the desperate drama in which he was involved. It was possible for people to believe, as they did believe, that the outcome of the struggle depended upon the mettle and morale of their countrymen, whether serving in the forces or in the home front. Men undistinguished in the ordinary business of life learned to live together in mutual tolerance and good humour while subject to a common discipline and to common dangers and deprivations, The friendships that arose in these circumstances were carefree, intimate, and enduring; rare enough in the organized self-seeking of the modern world and hardly to be thought of in the automated civilization of tomorrow. Whatever the toll in the tragedy, whatever the loss of treasure, the poignant and the heroic could not be denied either. But the Second World War is surely the last of the great wars whose outcome will depend upon mass participation. Though for the time being Western countries continue to finance armies of highly trained men, useful enough at present for police action in some underdeveloped areas, the determining factor no longer lies in the qualities of those who man the guns. The scientist has unavoidably usurped the place and the prestige of the soldier. A pushbutton war may or may not be in the offing. But if such a war does come, the measure of its horror will reside in the manifest helplessness and uselessness of ordinary men of all ages. Those that die will not be killed in conventional enemy attacks but will be annihilated by the latest products of scientific achievement. They will not die in the battlefield but like rats in a trap. PAGE  PAGE 1