|A traditional unsympathetic portrait of the Qin emperor.|
Most of the horrors of the modern world can be traced to scientism.
Do not misunderstand me; scientism is not science. But science is rarely heard from in popular culture. Scientism is the pseudo-religion that considers science the source of meaning and reality. It is the dominant faith of our age, and its consequences are profoundly destructive. Not least to science.
When people claim that doubting climate change is “anti-science,” or that “the science is settled” on any given issue, this is scientism, not science. True science is based on skepticism and taking nothing on authority. Science makes no truth claims; it is a method of inquiry, not a set of dogmas.
Besides the damage to science, scientism is, for example, the foundation of all racism. If we can agree that racism is a problem, rejecting scientism is the way to solve it. Before science sought to classify humans as if they were animals, the concept of race did not exist. The ancient Romans, or the Medieval Christians, knew nothing of race, and would have considered it as senseless to discriminate against someone due to their skin colour as due to their hair colour or eye colour. This is why both Roman citizenship and Christian baptism was open to all, without discrimination of birth.
Marxism, and all the mass murders it has produced, is also based on scientism. Marxism wanted to reduce all human life to material, and scientific, terms. It defined itself as “scientific socialism,” and was and is, of course, aggressively atheist. People were merely objects, means rather than ends.
Nazism is also directly based on scientism—it is Darwinism applied to the human species.
Everything we today experience as “mental illness” can, I think, also be attributed to scientism, which strips the world of its meaning. It is a striking fact that, before Freud, “mental illness,” melancholy, was generally considered transitory and curable. Now it is multiplying like an epidemic, and is incurable in all its forms. It is still highly curable in non-Western societies.
A Chinese student of mine, without anything being assigned, chose to write and submit an essay arguing for the need for society to support the Humanities. This looks to me like an appeal: Chinese schools and universities, like those in the old Soviet Bloc, do not teach the Humanities. There are no Humanities departments. There are only the STEM fields, and Marxist ideology.
She contends in her essay that this is why the Soviet Bloc fell—history shows, she writes, that any society that neglects the Humanities must fall in time. She cites, along with Eastern Europe, an earlier example from Chinese history, the Qin Dynasty. The Qin unified China in 221 BC under the banner of “legalism,” which emphasized social order as the only value. Books were collected and burned.
The dynasty lasted only 15 years. It collapsed as the leaders, guided by no principle but power, began executing one another.
A point we are coming to, I fear, in our current societies. Humanities give us morals and meaning. Without the Humanities, there is no “why.”
My student is not alone in her perception that scientism is a fatal flaw. When the Berlin Wall fell, the new democratic regimes of Eastern Europe thought the same, and sent their academics to the West to bring back knowledge of the Humanities.
Sadly, they discovered that the West, too, had largely abandoned them, in everything but name. Instead they had themselves been concocting and distilling the poisoned Kool-Ade of scientism.
It has only gotten worse since.