Dehumanized and Possibly Deluded

Because it is so beautifully concocted, it is tempting to digest every last drop of Mark Slouka's delicious potion ("Dehumanized" published last month in Harper's) without questioning the recipe. That Slouka pits capitalism (or, to be more specific, the puerile, corporate-driven aspects of capitalism) against citizenry was a well articulated but obvious face-off. More subtle (and noxious in its subtlety) was the claim that somehow math and science better equip students for lives as capitalist droids. Here's Slouka:

It troubles me because there are many things "math and science" do well, and some they don't. And one of the things they don't do well is democracy. They have no aptitude for it, no connection to it, really. Which hasn't prevented some in the sciences from arguing precisely the opposite, from assuming even this last, most ill-fitting mantle, by suggesting that science's spirit of questioning will automatically infect the rest of society.

In fact, it's not so. Science, by and large, keeps to its reservation, which explains why scientists tend to get in trouble only when they step outside the lab. That no one has ever been sent to prison for espousing the wrong value for the Hubble constant is precisely to the point. The work of democracy involves espousing those values that in a less democratic society would get one sent to prison. To maintain its "sustainable edge," a democracy requires its citizens to actually risk something, to test the limits of the acceptable; the "trajectory of capability-building" they must devote themselves to, above all others, is the one that advances the capability for making trouble. If the value you're espousing is one that could never get anyone, anywhere, sent to prison, then strictly democratically speaking you're useless.

A failed education, deficient in either the arts or the sciences, is likely to lead to that modern default. Does science acquiesce to the establishment? Nobody could say 'yes' without Galileo, Einstein, or the more timely Richard Dawkins being offered as quick contradictory evidence.

Slouka need not place math and science opposite the humanities on some sort of millennium battlefield. Chekhov was a doctor, Nabokov a lepidopterist, Steinbeck the best friend of marine biologist Doc Ricketts. Both the humanities and sciences are poised to encourage rational thought and creative thinking, close friends of citizenry, and it is going to take everything both sides have got in the real fight against infantilization and corporate culture.


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I think he's essentially trying to be a postmodernist shill.

Hey Slouka, you great big humanidiot: you can have your own opinions, but you can't have your own facts.

By Katharine (not verified) on 27 Oct 2009 #permalink