The Rightful Place Project

Greg Laden Says…

The rightful place of science is moving, never staying in one place, ever dancing and watching, on the always shifting sociopolitical landscape.


A team of white coated eggheads can solve any problem with enough science. We need to get rid of the Jews, and we don’t have enough bullets, so let’s get the eggheads to figure out a way to do that. We need to take the Americans out of the Pacific, but we have insufficient resources but a lot of pilots. Let’s get the engineers to come up with a one-way airplane. We need to get rid of the Nazis and Imperialist Japanese, and we hear the Eggheads have a bomb that will do just that. So let’s set them up in a project called Manhattan, which will be so amazing at solving this one problem that forever forward we will refer to similar projects as “Manhattan Projects.”

Later, we get better toasters, improved power stations, and automatic waffle irons, as a side effect of the science and engineering. When the war is over. But we look back and see that the scientists turned out to be a bit of a problem. The Industrial Revolution and its concomitant realizations of how the Universe Works have resulted in the H-bomb. Ooops.

Now the sky has turned black from the billowing smokestacks of Gary and other rusty industrial places. Lake Superior has turned red, and the Hudson River is on fire. Science is now environmentalism and regulation. And it works but it hurts, and the Right Wing begins a battle, to become a war, against the Men in the White Coats. Who are now starting, ever so slowly, to be joined by an increasing number of Women in White Coats.

So now science is political, a tool, too dangerous a thing to let the scientists just do whatever they want. The Left Wing sees science as dangerous because the physicists can destroy the world and the medicos have invaded, and now control, the temple of the body, and so on and so forth, and the Right Wing sees science as annoying and counter productive because rational thought is just not the same thing as, and often stands in the way of, Free Market Forces.

But this also means that we can’t just say “Oh, Egghead guys, what are the problems you see and how do we solve them?” So when climate change comes along it takes more than twenty years … an entire generation … to go from science understanding the basic problem, and the basic solution and no one listens, to a time when finally, science understands the basic problem and the basic solution and people listen. And this twenty years of Dark capped by the High Dark Ages of the last eight make people wake up and realize that the rightful place of science is at the table with a strong and respected voice. No one knows how long that will last.

The rightful place of science is at the bottom of your spine, as the start of that tingling sensation when you realize some “holy crap” fact of nature or for the first time understand some basic process. Everybody is walking around with strange folk concepts of how life works, and every now and then they are grabbed by a scientific theory and shaken by a scientific fact and realize that cold is not a thing or they first hear about endosymbiosis or they suddenly get what a “Black Box” is. The rightful place of science is in the middle of an emotional mental explosion of the “holy shit” moment.

But not everyone can experience these pleasures because many are made to feel guilty with such thoughts. Science is sacrilegious, anti religious, areligious. So what? People can adjust; people can hold more than one viewpoint in their tiny little brains. But the politics of religion are strong and hateful, so the rightful place of science is as a bulwark, a rampart, a big Monty Python style sledge hammer that whacks the Bishop who comes to tell us to pray instead of learn on the head so he becomes a cartoon accordion Bishop and springs away. Boing boing boing.

The rightful place of science is to sit nearby, always ready always being used, on the mahogany library table on the side of the room in every single academic discipline. Being reason.

The rightful place of science is to keep its little clay feet from being stuck in the mud or burned on the fire as it dances back and forth on the ever shifting sociopolitical landscape asking questions like “Is this my rightful place? … How about this place? … Oh, what about this place over here?” keeping the philosophers busy while waiting for the next opportunity to pull someone’s proverbial chestnuts out of the fire. Science knows it can never die, but it knows it can never be universally loved, yet it knows it can never be done without. So it spends a lot of time dancing and watching for burning chestnuts.

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