The Earth Day 2017 March for Science signals resistance to Donald Trump’s sharp infusion of irrationality into the national discourse. Official support for climate-change denial and other anti-science agendas has suddenly become much more explicit. At the same time, many protesters recognize a continuity linking Trump’s bizarre bluster with a pre-existing condition sometimes referred to as the “Republican war on science.”
the problems at the root of the tragedy of contemporary American
science—its corporatization and militarization—are not ones for
which either the Democratic or Republican parties can offer
science as tragedy would have seemed peculiar to most people as
recently as the first half of the 20th century. The reputation
of science was then golden. The expectation that modern science could
and soon would solve all of humanity’s problems was almost
benign image received a double jolt during the Second World War.
First came the horrors of Nazi racial science and its accompanying
technology of human extermination. That was followed by the advent of
the nuclear age in the instant incineration of a hundred and
thirty thousand inhabitants of two Japanese cities. J. Robert
Oppenheimer, one of the atomic bomb’s creators, invoked the name of
Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, to signal the emergence of
science’s ominous dark side.
roots of the tragedy
out-of-control proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction
is perhaps the worst of contemporary science’s tragic fruits, but
there are others. The misuse and abuse of science to justify
destroying the Earth’s habitability has also become a source of
and other perils have a common root: the corruption of Big
Science by Big Money. More precisely, they are the consequence of a
profit-driven economic system that hamstrings humanity’s ability to
make rational economic decisions.
is presumed to be a reliable source of knowledge based on objective
fact rather than subjective bias. By definition, that requires
research to be conducted impartially by scientists with no conflicts
of interest that could affect their judgment. But a science harnessed
to the maximization of private profits cannot avoid material
conflicts of interest that are anathema to objectivity.
focus on American science is not chauvinistic bias on my
part. The science of the United States is the major component of
world science—as American science goes, so goes science in general.
The American federal R&D [Research and Development] budget is
larger than those of Germany, France, Great Britain, and Japan
combined. American science’s primary competition vanished in 1991
with the collapse of the Soviet Union. By 1998 science in Russia and
the other Soviet spin-offs was on the edge of extinction, surviving
only by means of charitable donations from abroad.
idea that anything about American science could be tragic may seem a
bit unsettling to some readers. It does not at all jibe with American
Exceptionalism, an axiom of the ideology that reigns supreme in the
public discourse of the United States. American Exceptionalism covers
all things American with a halo of virtuousness and a blanket of
immunity from wrongdoing.
isn’t the United States where most of world’s scientific and
technological innovations have been and still are produced? How about
airplanes? Television? The computer? The Internet? The iPhone? And
hasn’t American science been responsible for great medical and
biochemical advances? The current state of American science may
present some difficulties and challenges, but isn’t it gross
hyperbole to call it a tragedy? Unfortunately, it is not.
corporate domination of science and technology has grown, the ideal
of objective scientific investigation has diminished accordingly. Big
Science has increasingly become the deferential servant of corporate
interests and billionaires. Allegedly scientific studies are now
routinely conducted by individuals and institutions with large
financial stakes in their outcome.
Oil and Big Coal fund climate-change-denial studies. Big Tobacco
produces findings minimizing the link between smoking and lung
cancer. Big Pharma investigates the benefits and risks of
the medicines it sells. Big Food enlists nutritional science as a
marketing tool for their products.
scientific method has been refashioned to fit the new reality.
“Hypothesis-driven research” now signifies formulating
propositions to advance corporate interests and designing studies to
provide evidence for them. Investigations that produce a semblance of
support for a desired hypothesis are accorded full public relations
treatment, while those that do not are quietly consigned to the paper
results of all this research are at worst fraudulent and at best
untrustworthy. And yet, abetted by venal legislators and a credulous
mass media, corporate science-for-profit shapes the public discourse
and public policy that adversely affect our environment and our
of Science for Profit
are rational voices in the public discourse that have raised concerns
and warnings about the corruption of science by Big Money, but the
voices serving the corporate interests have all but drowned them out.
By skillful application of the false-equivalence fallacy, the latter
have managed to skew the conversation far to the irrational side.
research results to serve private commercial interests is
anti-science masquerading as science. The forces of anti-science have
strong institutional support in the United States, most significantly
in our fundamental political institutions.
dangerous result has been the weakening of governmental regulation of
commercial activities that contaminate the air we breathe, the water
we drink, the food we eat, and the medicines we take. The ability of
the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug
Administration to provide the oversight they were designed to
provide has significantly declined. And the Trump gang promises to
accelerate that trend; the regulatory environment is sure to get
worse before it gets better.
appeals to ignorance are not the only weapons in the effort to
undermine the integrity of American science. University research
laboratories and Think Tanks alike have devolved into intellectual
brothels in their ignoble quest for corporate funding to support
their research. Private interests have been happy to oblige, and the
obvious quid pro quo need never be spoken aloud.
militarization of American science
the most tragic distortion of American science is a consequence of
its extreme militarization. Big Science literally exploded onto
the scene as a result of the Manhattan Project during World War II.
Its success was validated by mushroom clouds rising over Hiroshima
and Nagasaki in August 1945, thus establishing the martial
inclination of Big Science’s subsequent development.
you take one thing away from reading this article, let it be this:
Today, American science’s primary mission is to find new and
more efficient ways to kill people—from thermonuclear bombs, to
robot drones, to cluster munitions, to antipersonnel weaponry of many
and technology, rather than being the creative engines of human
progress, have instead been reoriented toward destructive and
antihuman ends. American science has also made beneficial advances,
but many of those have been accidental byproducts of military
proof is in the U.S. budget, where more than half of the Research and
Development (R&D) funding—amounting to trillions of dollars
over the past decades—has been for military purposes.
by contrast, what could be accomplished if all of that money and all
of that scientific talent were instead directed toward finding
solutions to the crucial problems facing the human race today, such
as poverty, hunger, disease, and environmental devastation. But they
are not, and if that isn’t a tragedy, the word holds no meaning.
Meanwhile, massive war spending begets massive weapons production
that begets ever-escalating aggression that begets human tragedy of
tragedy deepens with the realization that this is a problem that
cannot be fixed—at least not in the context of present American
reality. That is due to the American economy’s absolute, hopeless,
incurable addiction to military spending.
metaphor of drug addiction is not nearly strong enough. Some heroin
addicts, with great difficulty, sometimes get the monkey off their
backs, but American society as currently structured is completely
incapable of breaking its addiction to militarism. War spending in
the American economy is more like an inoperable tumor destined to
grow uncontrollably until it kills its host.
did the military become everything?
fatal malignancy, not surprisingly, has been downplayed in the public
discourse of the United States. President Eisenhower’s 1961 warning
about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex” is well
known, but the conversation went no further. Nonetheless, a recently
published book sports a title suggesting that perhaps it may finally
be breaking into the National Conversation: “How Everything Became
War and the Military Became Everything.” By stating the problem so
bluntly, the author, Rosa Brooks, has done us a service by
acknowledging its existence, but her proposed solution—to increase
the military budget!—is downright Orwellian. Or Strangeloveian.
attention-grabbing assertion that the military has
become everything is meant figuratively, not literally. But
the military’s death grip on the federal budget and its R&D
component is real enough and the question is: How did it come about?
If the United States were ruled by a military dictatorship it would
be understandable, but that is not the case. To think the Pentagon
drives the process is to believe the tail wags the dog.
are the elected politicians primarily to blame for handing the
generals the keys to the treasury. Concerned above all with
satisfying the big-money benefactors who butter their bread, the
legislators simply kowtow to irresistible economic forces they don’t
understand and feel no need to understand. The addiction to military
spending is built into our economic system.
dilemma has a name—a two-word phrase that sounds terribly academic,
but is useful as a shorthand way to identify the problem: “Weaponized
is the obvious kernel of Weaponized Keynesianism: If you think the
American economy is having a hard time now generating
enough jobs to keep unemployment from rising to the skies, just
imagine what it would be like without the hundreds of billions of
dollars a year in military spending.
the United States today, if the Pentagon ceased to provide a gigantic
artificial market for industrial production, millions of workers—and
not only defense-plant workers—would lose their livelihoods.
Without paychecks they would be unable to buy things and the wheels
of the economy would rapidly grind to a halt. It would not be merely
a repeat of the Great Deprespresent sion, it would be the Ultimate
Demise of the Current Global Economy.
Americans, unfortunately, are oblivious to the military domination of
American science and all that it entails. It is a society-wide blind
spot. What could account for the collective inability to see this
monstrosity ballooning before our eyes? It follows from accepting,
consciously or unconsciously, the doctrine of American
Exceptionalism is the contention that the United States is not bound
by traditional norms of morality in international affairs. Invading
other peoples’ countries and killing them when they resist is
generally considered war crimes most foul. Also, the use of torture
has been condemned as immoral and repugnant by all civilized peoples
since the 18th-century Enlightenment. When the United States invades,
kills, and tortures, however, it is deemed acceptable because America
is allegedly a benevolent superpower that acts only in defense of
peace, democracy, and human rights.
normalizes the outrageously inflated, runaway American arms
production as all being in a good cause. It serves as the rationale
for a “national security state” that monitors the private
communications of everyone in the country and spawns secret terrorism
tribunals that dangerously erode the rule of law. But because
American Exceptionalism has served as the ideological justification
for many wars resulting in many millions of deaths all over the
globe, it is long overdue for critical examination.
all is not lost! (Breaking out of the box.)
the preceding litany of woe seem to imply unavoidable doom and
destruction of the entire social order? That is not my intention. The
current tragedy of American science may appear to lead to a hopeless
impasse, but there is a way out.
is not an easy way out. To comprehend it requires some serious
thinking outside the box. In this case, the box is the
market-based, profits-driven economic system that almost all American
commentators and ideologues take for granted, as if no alternative
system is possible or even worth mentioning.
has, for many decades, been a strong, indestructible box that has
successfully imprisoned the minds and constrained the thinking of
almost the entire American public. But the 2016 elections began,
perhaps, to reveal stress fractures in the box. The campaign of
Bernie Sanders brought the word socialism into the public
discourse as something other than a swear word for the first time in
most Americans’ living memory.
do not believe Bernie Sanders’ candidacy offered a solution to the
crucial conundrum of Weaponized Keynesianism that threatens to engulf
the planet in thermonuclear flames. The record of his quarter century
as Senator and Congressman from Vermont reveals that he is an
unreliable bulwark against military spending and war. While
criticizing “excessive” defense budgets, he frequently voted to
approve them, and to approve military aggression in Iraq,
Afghanistan, Kosovo, Somalia and elsewhere, demonstrating that he
posed no real challenge to the warhawks’ agenda.
the 2016 Sanders campaign deserves a great deal of credit for
popularizing the idea of socialism, and destigmatizing it, among
young people in America. At least that now opens the way for serious
discussion of alternatives to the current American economic system.
discussion is essential to breaking out of the death spiral of war
spending and warfare. Discussion is certainly not enough. If words
don’t lead to organization and action, then the problem will remain
unsolved. But the discussion is nonetheless crucial.
element of that discussion is whether science and technology can be
reoriented from destructive to creative purposes by a transformation
of the economic system. Fortunately, history does offer some
important indications of how genuine, unfettered science might fare
in a post-capitalist economy. Examining that history demonstrates
that scientific advance is not, as pro-capitalist ideologues claim,
dependent upon material incentives to private enterprise. The most
heartening examples are in the Cuban medical sciences.
tragedy of American science today is that its direction is determined
by private profit considerations rather than by the desire to improve
the human condition. As a result, Big Science has been irredeemably
corrupted by Big Money. That corruption threatens the air we
breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and the medicines we
U.S. economy’s addiction to military spending distorts and deforms
science by making it overwhelmingly subservient to military
interests. This transforms science’s classic ideal as a creative
force for the advancement of humankind into its destructive and
antihuman opposite. That trillions of dollars in resources
and scientific talent are devoted to warfare rather than to solving
the problems of poverty, disease, and environmental destruction is
among the greatest tragedies in all of human history.
Bernie Sanders experience once again reveals that there is no
“progressive wing” of the Democratic Party that can offer a
genuine challenge to the corporatization and militarization of
hopeful note in all of this is that replacing the current
science-for-profit system by a science-for-human-needs system is not
an impossible, utopian dream. To make it a reality, however, requires
a fundamental restructuring of our society. That is the great,
daunting challenge facing today’s youth and the generations to
come. It is by no means melodramatic to say that the survival of the
human race depends on their success.
>> The article was written by Cliff Conner and is reprinted from Socialist Action.