Dream of a Social Theory, part 3

(continued from yesterday)

Nobody seems to want social science to become really scientific. After Auschwitz, after Hiroshima, in the age of global warming and mass extinctions, as the air and earth and seas fill up with discarded hydrocarbons, do we really want to let science do to humanity what it has done to nature?

In The German Ideology, Marx famously argued that

The mode of production of material life determines the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.

I agree. I think that all intellectual activity is itself a form of material life, and must be produced through social labour like anything else that humans do. Scientists need lab equipment, computers, pens, they need to eat and sleep, they need time. To understand what validates science in practice we need to ask what pays its bills.

It seems obvious that what pays the bills for science is its ability to increase profits for capital and its ability to increase the police and military capacity of states.  Not all science contributes directly to these goals and few scientists may be enthusiastic about them, but take away those two functions and what would be left of this vast enterprise?

In this sense modern science is does not produce universal knowledge but capitalist knowledge.  Intellectually speaking, pure science is to applied science as venture capital is to established business. How does this affect the content of, say, particle physics, or astronomy? I don’t know. There’s an interesting research project waiting to happen.

If the science we know is a capitalist science, statist, patriarchal in the driving social logic of its practice, what would a democratic, egalitarian, feminist, socialist, ecologically sustainable science look like? What would its pure theory look like?

(Part 4 tomorrow)

One thought on “Dream of a Social Theory, part 3

  1. When you say, “to increase profits for capital” I would say this is partly true by way of introducing cost-saving efficiencies, including materials waste reduction efficiencies (though not always, depending on materials waste subsidy structures), so in theory this type of incentive can be mobilized very naturally for conservation. It’s just considered easier and more commonplace to focus on marketing capacity for price fixing (monopolist mass media-enhanced consumer capitalism) than to look at supply chains in terms of cradle-to-grave resource management, i.e. the actual production process as something to tinker with, expecting meaningful savings.

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