Friday, 31 March 2023

That luminous modern thing

A system, even when it has serious rivals, may be maintained for centuries as religions are maintained, institutionally; but a movement comes to an end; it is followed presently by a period of assimilation which transforms it, or by a movement in some other direction. I ask myself accordingly whether the condition of the world in the coming years will be favourable to refined and paradoxical science. The extension of education will have enabled the uneducated to pronounce upon everything. Will the patronage of capital and enterprise subsist, to encourage discovery and reward invention? Will a jealous and dogmatic democracy respect the unintelligible insight of the few?

George Santayana - Five Essays (1933)

We now have an answer to that one – a jealous and dogmatic democracy does not respect the unintelligible insight of the few. It has no use for the vast uncertainties of climate science but demands high drama, facile predictions, celebrities, two-dimensional villains and vicious vengeance. The extension of education will have enabled the uneducated to pronounce upon everything. Particularly politicians, journalists, pundits and celebrities.

It has been a mistake to view good science as some kind of imperishable discovery which once found cannot be lost again. A citadel which once built cannot be destroyed even if it has to be repaired every now and then. It isn’t a citadel. Climate science, gender politics and the pandemic debacle tell us it isn’t. 

Then perhaps that luminous modern thing which until recently was called science, in contrast to all personal philosophies, may cease to exist altogether, being petrified into routine in the practitioners, and fading in the professors into abstruse speculations.

George Santayana - Five Essays (1933)

The foresight may be chilling, but today we know enough to see it as foresight and draw conclusions from that. For example, it is unlikely that there is a route back to more a more rigorous science. A century of mass entertainment, advertising, public relations and the politics of centralisation seem to have buried the habit of rigorous language.

Now that luminous modern thing is no longer modern, it is no longer fashionable. No amount of argument can bring that back. 

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