June 11, 2018

"Faith in humanity"

Science is a method of going about the world. It is the practice of testing whatever yields itself to testing, in such a way as to feel as certain as possible about the array of possible outcomes of a given action, whether that action is one of observation (if I examine this region of the sky in the x-ray band, I will see such-and-such a pattern) or of intervention (if I run an electric current through this coil of wire, it will behave like a magnet). Scientific thinking is a mode of thinking we can enter into when the situation calls for it. That is, when we wish to be as certain as possible about what to expect in a given situation.

Certain observations are so reliable, so consistent, that their reliability is dubbed a “law.” If such-and-such has never not been observed under a given set of conditions, after these conditions have been replicated time and time again, this consistency sometimes attains the de facto status of law. It can be counted on as safely as anything can be counted on.

Scientism is the ontologization of scientific law. This is to say, in scientism, the law-like reliability of a scientific observation is taken to be the manifestation of a real entity that has the status of law. In scientism, we no longer say, “We can reasonably expect x to happen because x has never not happened,” but rather, “x must happen because it is a law of nature.”

In scientific experimentation, this metaphor of natural law is useful precisely for its definitiveness; that which is afforded the status of law is that which does not need to be re-established on every occasion of inquiry. (Importantly, such “laws” are often themselves the very horizon of scientific inquiry. Many open scientific problems center on questions of why we can so safely expect x to happen under a given set of circumstances.)

In scientism, natural law ceases to be a figurative device and instead takes on a life of its own. Rather than being mere shorthand for an extreme case of predictability, “law” becomes a foundational thing that is itself the reason for this predictability.

Scientism presupposes a standard of certainty that is alien to scientific inquiry, a form of certainty that transcends mere inference from consistent experience.

“Scientistic law” is recognizable by its faithful reproduction of religious law, as a prohibitive or limiting intervention in activity and discourse that derives its legitimacy from “natural” first principles. Scientistic law speaks of “human nature” with cautionary resignation, warning us that the world is not as it appears to us, and that we, as beings of the world, are condemned as bearers of these occult forces of natural law.

Scientism is the religious framework of the modern state. Like the astral plane that encircled the geocentric cosmos of antiquity and the middle ages, scientism draws the borders of our “natural world,” this time as the borders of human behavior and cognition. Scientism allows, even encourages, the moving and disputing of these borders, but can’t abide our forgetting the necessity of their existence.

Scientism is gaslighting on the grandest scale. As the performance of technical and scientific “rational governance” works its way into finer and finer grains of bodily and social experience, the language available to us, with which we might express that something feels profoundly wrong with everyday life, dwindles. Even as more and more of us feel it more and more accutely, technocracy’s claim to ownership of Reason itself means that our protests sound more and more unhinged, to each other and to ourselves.

Scientism undercuts the obvious at every turn. No matter how collectively miserable the world becomes, it can never grasp human misery as anything but a vast array of singular instances, of individual failures to honor the gift of life.

Scientism is a natural bedfellow of the phrase, faith in humanity, that faith which is always in jeopardy, always about to break because fucking people just can’t keep their shit together. (On Facebook, we all get to be the disappointed parent.) “Humanity” is the occult, supernatural Thing that stands in for life as lived immanence, substance, the I-ness of the you and the you-ness of the I. Humanity is people without being life.

I'm a graduate student in historical musicology based in NYC. This blog is a journal of my mostly "esoteric" experiments with theory. Please feel free to contact me by email.