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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  May 2002

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE May 2002

Subject:

"Cuba: An Ecological Pathway of Socialist Development" A Talk by Dick Levins

From:

Sam Anderson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 2 May 2002 07:05:09 -0700

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Please forward or repost


On Friday, May 10, 2002 (7:30 pm) Richard Levins will speak at
the Brecht Forum (122 West 27 Street 10 floor [between 6 and
7 Avenues], New York City) on "Cuba: An Ecological Pathway of
Socialist Development."

Levins is a biologist and ecologist who teaches at the Harvard
School of Public Health. He has served as an agricultural advisor
to the Government of Cuba since the 1960s and co-authored, with
Richard Lewontin,
"The Dialectical Biologist."

The paper that follows, "Class Science and Scientific Truth",
was written by Levins in 1979. We are distributing it because
we feel that it is the best short exposition on the questions
of the nature and function of science in
both bourgeois and communist societies; as such, it addresses
critical issues regarding class, and how science and the scientific
method inherently contain and reflect the ideology of the dominant
society, and how this
ideology is reproduced through scientific inquiry. Although some
Marxist projects have examined specific aspects of science and
technology as social or political themes, few of them have scrutinized
the ideology and ideological function of science itself. Levins'
talk on May 10 will be one step toward critically focusing on
these questions.

--TOPLAB

***** ************** ************** ************** *****

Class Science and Scientific Truth
by Richard Levins


The following article contains the text of the keynote address
Richard
Levins delivered at The New York Marxist School's Conference
on Dialectic
al
Materialism, held in October 1979. It was first published in
Working Pape
rs
on Marxism and Science published in 1981 by The New York Marxist
School.

*****

I would like to devote this complete session to discussing a
single
contradictory proposition. All science is class science, yet
science also
finds out real truths about the world. How do these two propositions
fit
together? How do you resolve that contradiction?

First of all, you don't resolve contradictions. You certainly
cannot perf
orm
any verbal construct which will remove that contradiction because

contradictions in life are not resolved by intellectual formulas.
The
resolution of the contradiction between science as the growth
of human
knowledge and science as ideology of oppression comes only with
political
revolution. The break from radical philosophy to Marxist dialectical

materialism is the recognition that contradictions aren't resolved
by
intellectual exercise. Rather, you recognize those contradictions,
examin
e
them, understand them, fight them, participate in them.

I'd like to deal with two false views that arise in discussing
this
question. One view would say that science is essentially ideology;
scienc
e
is created by the bourgeoisie in order to befuddle the masses.
Therefore,
the intellectual content of science is irrelevant and what is
important i
s
its purpose, namely, as a weapon. Scientific theories are therefore

essentially capricious. For example, the essence of Newtonian
physics is
to
justify mercantile capitalism. This view discounts scientific
knowledge a
nd
lays the groundwork for the various kinds of anti-scientific
and mystical
humanisms that have arisen at the present time as part of a resentment

against the oppressiveness of modern technology.


Kedrov

The second view is economic reductionism. It is exemplified in
some of th
e
works of Bonifati Kedrov, a leading Soviet theoretician, on the
developme
nt
of science. Kedrov's analysis is that science develops as the
result of t
he
interaction of two sets of factors. Note that we are already
dealing with
a
factor theory. First, that science resolves the problems presented
to it
by
society in order to meet the needs of society, and, second, that
science
does this only if its own internal logic is in the right condition.


Kedrov's two-factor model for the development of science is a
polemic
against the belief that you can simply assign a task to science
and expec
t
it to be fulfilled. It is therefore part of the struggle insisting
upon t
he
autonomy of science in the Soviet Union. Absent from this model
is any
consideration of classes, of class struggle. When Kedrov posits
that scie
nce
resolves the problems presented by society to meet the needs
of society,
he
doesn't consider who presents what problems to whom, and what
makes a nee
d.
For instance, he talks about the need for society to have cheaper
sources
of
energy. He ignores the fact that individual capitalists now go
out to bea
t
each other; it wasn't a question of an energy shortage in the
last centur
y.
It is a question not of inability to produce more, but of the
unfolding o
f
capitalist competition. So Kedrov has taken classes out of the
picture an
d
sees science as a logical unfolding--on the one hand of its internal
logi
c,
on the other hand of the needs of society.

This view of science doesn't hold in relation to evolutionary
theory, to
cosmology, or to the other important scientific theories. Science
becomes
linked to production at a particular point in its development.
Science ha
s
had different social functions at different periods. In the same
way that
there were court poets there were court astronomers. This differs
from
science being used in the development of commodities, or in a
systematic
rationalization of particular social relations, which are some
of its maj
or
social functions today.

Now, it's necessary to combat both of these major views on the
nature of
science, and particularly the view that science is simply the
unfolding o
f
knowledge. Kedrov recognizes that science is different in different

countries, and he says the idiosyncrasies and historical traditions
of ea
ch
country will stamp a character on that science. However, these
are cancel
led
out when you deal with universal science. So he visualizes world
science
as
a whole relatively free of the historical circumstances of individual

countries. It follows from this that good people all over the
world will
participate in an international, universal science and will meet
as
colleagues regardless of the political system from which they
come; and t
hat
developing countries should strive to reach the level of advanced
science
as
quickly as possible.

Here is where we get into the political significance of these
ideologies
of
science.


Science and Colonialism

First of all, science is part of bourgeois hegemony. In the colonial
worl
d,
when the foreign occupying troops retreat, they leave behind
their
investments. When their investments are pulled out, they leave
behind the
ir
advisors; when the advisors are kicked out, they leave behind
the textboo
ks
and beliefs. And then they offer scholarships to indoctrinate
and train t
he
rising scientific generation in their own way of looking at the
world, as
one of the last outposts of imperialist control. So the struggle
for real
national independence is partly a struggle for intellectual independence,

the recognition that the relation between a developed and so-called

developing country is not that between advanced and backward,
but between
different patterns of development. What is needed in third world
countrie
s
seeking to develop their science is not catching up with the
science of
western Europe and the United States, but making new departures--going
a
different direction in the social organization of science, in
the way it
sets problems, in the methodology.

Increasingly, we're recognizing these differences in many of
the intimate
details of the ways science is carried out. A scientific style
sometimes
has
nothing to do with the nature of the problem but rather with
the social
conditions operative in the scientific community. For example,
in order t
o
study the growth of plants, you can put them into a controlled
temperatur
e
chamber. You automatically regulate the light, the temperature,
the
humidity, and you have sensors every six inches detecting what's
going on
;
then you put different plants into different chambers and see
how they gr
ow.
Technically that's incredibly difficult to do. And so in your
own country
you can sit back and look at Madison, Wisconsin, where they have
such a
machine, and drool and say one day you'll have one too. Or you
can say: i
n
different parts of our country there are many kinds of different
conditio
ns.
We can study the growth of plants under different conditions
by taking wh
at
we have and watching it closely.

Or perhaps we'd like to study the patterns of wind. How do you
do it? You
can put up anemometers and measure the wind and get records for
fifteen o
r
twenty years. But you can also ask people who work with wind.
Fernando
Boytel, a Cuban meteorologist, in his book on the wind map of
Oriente,
describes how you can learn from different people in different
trades. It
's
not just saying science can learn from people in the abstract.
Charcoal
makers work with wind. If the wind shifts they can lose their
charcoal; i
t
turns to ash. People who install windmills on ranches for pumping
water w
ork
with wind. They have another kind of knowledge. So the task of
the scient
ist
as presented by Boytel is recognizing the ways that different
people in
Cuban society relate to wind. How do they perceive it and how
can we lear
n
from them?

That does not mean passively accepting all these judgments either.
It's a
question of integrating all of the abstract knowledge that you
can get
studying physics with the practical detail and very rich knowledge
of peo
ple
in their own crafts and lives.

So the intellectual liberation from the norms of bourgeois science
is
important in order to make science possible in a developing country,
and
not
to feel deprived in relation to the "big science" that you're
trying to
emulate.


Science as Part of Culture

Next, bourgeois science is a way of making the real scene appear
necessar
y,
by saying it's determined by objective conditions. Those who
work in the
field of decision theory and in departments of policy at major
universiti
es
claim that they are developing objective ways of reaching decisions
so th
at
these decisions will not be influenced by politics. Therefore
it is part
of
a process of democratization. It's a profoundly anti-democratic
way of
approaching the world, in spite of the fact that science's own

self-description is that it's democratic because there is a marketplace
o
f
ideas.

Third, at the present time in the international radical Marxist
movement,
one form of revisionism is to cut Marxism down to size from a
completely
different way of looking at the world to an alternative social
program. I
t's
a very attractive thing to do because we can then say to out
colleagues a
t
the faculty club: "You and I have our differences of opinion--pass
the
olives, please--but we're really basically similar. We're philosophers,

you're philosophers. Marxism respects science and philosophy.
It's just t
hat
we have a slightly different program. We would like to serve
the poor."
Cutting Marxism down to a form of humanistic liberalism requires
cutting
Engels out of the club. It means saying we're not really challenging
the
world view but only the particular social program.

Finally, in Brecht's essay, "Five Difficulties in Writing the
Truth," he
points out that when it's not possible to confront the regime
directly, o
ne
can at least teach a different way of looking at the world. Nazi
ideology
was strongly anti-intellectual. It's enough to talk about the
creativity
of
thought. Nazi ideology was saying that human nature determines
society. T
alk
about comparative anthropology. Brecht was saying that an understanding
o
f
the world is part of the culture of the people. This is one of
the ways o
f
fighting bourgeois ideology on all fronts, even if the particular
things
you're studying are not obviously and directly political.

In the same way, questions of art, literature and poetry have
become part
of
the common culture of the left, things to debate about. Questions
of
science, our understanding of the whole world, are also part
of the strug
gle
to win an intellectual liberation.


Class Science and Scientific Insight

When we say that all science is class science, that is not equivalent
to
saying that all scientific claims are lies. Class science can
give powerf
ul
and valid insights into the world but within certain boundaries
and
restrictions. I'd like to give you several examples of how this
operates.
Let's start with Euclidean geometry, which you study in high
school. The
Pythagoreans represented one of the most reactionary classes
of Greek
society, the landed slave holders. They were concerned about
the growth o
f
trade and the movements of populations. The world was falling
to pieces.
It
was therefore appealing to them intellectually to say that the
important
things in the world do not change. Study those things that cannot
be
contaminated by physical objects, that are not tied to time and
place; fi
nd
the eternal truths. And these are the abstract figures--the line,
the poi
nt,
the triangle.

Furthermore, because the Pythagoreans were slave owners and had
a contemp
t
for the labor process, the rules of procedure in geometry could
not smell
like work. You have all had the problem: construct with straight
edge and
compass a triangle equal to another triangle. The rule is completely

capricious and arbitrary. You can't use a protractor, other kinds
of
instruments or tables. This fit into the intellectual needs of
the
Pythagoreans.

Now this approach yielded great insights into geometric figures.
The
geometric figure is important later on for the study of other
kinds of
mathematics and physics. When you get beyond the whole spirit
of Pythagor
ean
mathematics, some of their results--not all of them--carry over.
Much hig
her
plane geometry consist of exquisite theorems which lead nowhere
but are
beautiful. And if you really get into the spirit of it, it can
be a lot o
f
fun. For example, all the medians of a triangle meet at a point,
all the
altitudes meet at a point, and all the angle bisectors meet at
a point.
Furthermore, these three points line up in a straight line. You
have to g
o
through a very elaborate process to prove this, and as far as
I know that
result has never been used to lead anywhere else, but it is beautiful.


So the Pythagoreans developed a geometry which has real insights
into the
real world, but also has certain restrictions. It will not look
at aspect
s
of nature because the important things are abstract structures.
What they
do
not consider is as important as what they look at. Furthermore,
they come
across classic problems of impossibility. The two classical problems
whic
h
proved unsolvable in the ancient world were trisecting the angle
and
squaring the circle. There is no rule of construction by which
the angle
can
be trisected, whereas it can be divided into two equal parts.
This was a
terrible problem for the Pythagoreans. The world seemed to be
incomplete
and
unsatisfactory. In fact, you can trisect the angle easily. Measure
the
angle, divide by three, measure again and draw a line. Within
the framewo
rk
of Pythagorean geometry, this was an impossibility. Within another
framew
ork
it is trivial.

It is the framework which reflects the ideology and the class
position. T
he
results of the Pythagorean theorem that A squared plus B squared
equals C
squared became the starting point for analytic geometry. Nevertheless,

analytic geometry is a negation of Euclidean geometry. Analytic
geometry
starts out by saying: Let's locate our objects in coordinates.
We can the
n
do all sorts of algebraic manipulations which make the Euclidean
proofs m
uch
easier and which also reveal new domains of problems. Objects
become
different. You no longer need to work only with straight lines;
you can w
ork
with curves. Later on, the curves can be irregular. So a new
dimension op
ens
up. The history of mathematics seems like a step-by-step progression,
but
,
in fact, the whole philosophy of analytic geometry was different.
Advance
s
in mathematics involve both a continuation and negation of the
previous
kind.


Newtonian Physics

Newtonian physics posits that the object of interest, the problem,
is the
movement of masses from one place to another. What makes this
the central
problem of scientists in the Newtonian period is that mercantile
capitali
sm
is less concerned with transforming things than obtaining them
from one
place and selling them elsewhere. But the people who live there
may not l
ike
it, so the other problem is ballistics. Newtonian physics can
solve probl
ems
of motion quite well. So Newtonian physics is not a lie as far
as its
equations describe the movement of objects. It is a lie when
it says that
the important things about the world are changes in position
of objects
which themselves are not changing.

Newton stated as one of his laws: Bodies at rest remain at rest
and bodie
s
at motion continue at motion in the same direction and velocity
unless
impinged on by an outside force. Taken literally, Newton was
describing
mechanical objects. That's okay within his framework. Extended
to a view
of
the world, it is a very important part of the bourgeois epistemology.
Wha
t
it says is that the world would be fine if there weren't outside
agitator
s.
Stability is the natural state of the world, and if change occurs,
that's
puzzling, strange and ominous and has to be accounted for.

This is very different then from the viewpoint of dialectical
materialism
,
which says that things are the way they are because of a temporary
balanc
e
of opposing forces; that therefore the stability of objects is
something
to
be accounted for, and change is what we expect. Stability becomes
a speci
al
case of motion rather than motion becoming an anomaly in a static
world.


Time and Space

Newtonian physics does something else as well. It externalizes
time. Time
becomes a coordinate with which to measure things; it's taken
away from t
he
events that are taking place in time. This timelessness is important
in
order to do physics. You simply name it, "Time 1" and "Time 2,"
without
saying anything else about what's happening. This fits in well
with the
bourgeois world outlook because, in the production process, the
laborer h
as
been separated from the product and sells only labor time. This
abstract
time is bought and sold, and that is what is being watched. As
David Bigg
ans
showed in his paper, "Doing Time under Capitalism," many of the
early lab
or
battles concerned who kept the clocks. Finally you have a system
in which
time becomes separated from events; it becomes measured separately
as an
object of interest. So the Newtonian mechanics, which solves
real problem
s
and gives us a more profound insight into the movement of objects
in the
physical world, is also congenial to a world outlook in which
class
relations have changed. That accounts for part of the tremendous
power th
at
it had in reshaping thinking.

The Newtonian mechanical approach to the world also did something
else. I
n
physics, if you're interested in the movement of objects, you
can represe
nt
them on a graph. You draw coordinates to measure distance east
to west an
d
distance up and down, and locate something within these coordinates.
Then
you say that sometime later the object is someplace else; it's
here and i
t
moves. You develop a good mathematical apparatus for studying
how it move
s.
Once developed, however, it raises the question: Can other things
be thou
gh
about as if they were moving? We can talk about social relations
as rank,
as
if one person were higher than another, and we visualize it in
space. Or
we
can have lines to represent inventory and employment. Soon you
can locate
or
see how things are changing by using the metaphor "things are
moving." Ea
ch
axis represents a different gas--oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen
and neo
n.
Oops, there are too many axes. So mathematicians come back and
say it rea
lly
doesn't matter. We can take the idea of dimension and extend
it into anot
her
domain. Gradually abstractions coming from the insights of physics
have b
een
extended to other areas, sometimes legitimately and sometimes

illegitimately. This is one of the characteristics of science:
often
scientific results give insights into domains far beyond those
for which
they were developed. How come? Is it just luck? Why do certain
things kee
p
popping up in very different domains?


Similarity and Difference

I think the reason is the strong interconnections in the world.
Things ar
e
similar, linked, related to each other by development in such
a way that
understanding a process in one domain can give insight into a
process in
another domain. And the further we get away from the particular
local
details, the more profound the insights and the greater the possibility
o
f
getting insight into other domains. But there is a contradiction
to this
process. Things are similar but different. The relation between
the two--
the
contradiction between the similarities and differences of objects--has

played an important role in the development of science. If things
were
totally different, there could be no way of studying the unknown
by using
the known. If things were all similar, study wouldn't be necessary
becaus
e
it would be self-evident. So it's because things are both similar
and
different that science is both necessary and possible. How you
relate the
similarities and differences will depend very much on your class
view of
what kinds of similarities seem to be real and important, and
what kinds
of
things are unlikely to occur because they don't correspond to
your world
outlook.

The relationship between bourgeois science and bourgeois ideology
is,
firstly, that science is informed by bourgeois ideology. Bourgeois
ideolo
gy
sets the problems, defines good solutions, says which objects
should be u
sed
in solving the problem, how to talk about it, and when to quit.
But then
the
conclusions of science feed back upon bourgeois ideology. Science

interprets, abstracts, generalizes and otherwise assists in the
interacti
on
of the ruling class and those who are ruled. Science provides
physical an
d
intellectual tools to solve problems posed by the ruling class.
On the on
e
hand, science helps form and test its results against the common
sense of
the ruling class and, on the other hand, helps form the common
sense of t
he
ruling class. If a result of science is congenial to the ideology
of the
ruling class, it quickly becomes incorporated into the common
sense of th
e
culture. However, if the result is contradictory to that ideology,
it is
isolated, co-opted or misunderstood.


Evolution

The Newtonian view of time, congenial to the bourgeoisie, fit
into the
common sense very quickly. The notion of evolution, however,
was
discomforting. Biologists since the time of Darwin have been
attempting t
o
study evolution without recognizing change. The pioneer in this
was Augus
t
Weismann. Weismann saw that the world is changing, that animals
now are
different from those of the past, but he recognized change only
on the
surface. What's really happening, he stated, is that the same
unchanging
objects (which he called the germ plasm and which now we call
genes) are
reshuffled. So the appearance of change is there but reality
is unchangin
g.
A recent theory of evolution does the same thing. It starts with
the fact
s
that animals are all different and populations are fluctuating
but seeks
to
understand this by finding what is truly unchanging and stable.
The solut
ion
proposed is that evolution is merely the changing proportions
of genes in
the populations. No matter what the animals look like or what
they do or
where they live, it's really secondary.

Thus there are many intellectual maneuvers by which one can take
a
scientific result and yet not really assimilate it. Similarly,
the
anti-theological implications of evolution are not fully assimilated
into
thinking. Especially since the historic compromise of science
with bourge
ois
rule, science won the right to free inquiry within its domain
in return f
or
not rocking the boat. Science is not to extend those implications
which a
re
more revolutionary beyond the narrow technical domain for which
they were
developed.


Dialectical Materialism

Dialectical materialism also arises in the context of the development
of
bourgeois science. Like other areas of scientific inquiry, it
first studi
ed
a particular domain. The insights of dialectical materialism
came out of
the
study of class struggle and human society, the domain where contradiction

s
are most sharp. There the insights appeared which can then give
greater
insights into other domains where perhaps they are less obvious.
So from
the
class point of view--sharpened by class struggle--we also get
insights in
to
the workings of the most general processes of structure, complexity,
chan
ge,
transformation, interconnection and so forth, which can then
be extended
and
tested elsewhere.

Dialectical materialism shares with bourgeois science several
properties
which were important in the struggle against feudal obscurantism:
the
challenge to authority and the demand for evidence; the need
for independ
ent
testing and judgment; the belief that knowledge is not self-evident
and
requires work; and the awareness that intellectual detours are
sometimes
necessary to solve problems. In that sense, the early socialists
prided
themselves in having a scientific view. Dialectical materialism
is, at th
e
same time, fundamentally different from science as it developed
with the
bourgeois revolution. It is located not in the ruling class but
in the
challenging class. It does not depend on elite geniuses getting
insights
into the mysteries of the universe but rather sees science as
a struggle
of
a rising class to better understand and control its world. Because
it wan
ts
to overturn the existing order, change becomes the central object
of
interest. J.B.S. Haldane pointed out that dialectical materialism
has
relatively little to say about being but a helluva lot about
becoming. Th
at
is the object of concern. Our most powerful insights lie there.
We challe
nge
the notions of Newton that things at rest remain at rest, and
favor dynam
ic
views which envision more intimate kinds of interaction.


The Law of the Excluded Middle

Bourgeois science rests on certain logical propositions. For
example, for
mal
logic books state the law of the excluded middle: things are
either A or
B
but not both. How do we deal with this? One way is to say that
those
categories are irrelevant. It can be said that, in fact, you
cannot divid
e
the world into things that are mutually exclusive. But that is
not quite
true. Hummingbirds and scorpions are quite distinct from each
other. What
is
true is that you cannot divide any system completely into objects
which a
re
mutually exclusive and yet not trivial. You can divide it into
classes of
things which are mutually exclusive by saying, for example: Let's
conside
r
all animals as one set and nothingness, the absence of animals,
as someth
ing
else. It's a verbal game that doesn't get you very far. My proposition
is
that in the real world there's no way of dividing things up into
categori
es
which are simultaneously relevant, complete, mutually exclusive
and
non-trivial. As intellectual abstracts you can do it. Let A be
a set of
objects and let B be everything that isn't A. So what?

Thus it is a proposition about the real world, rather than about
formal
logic--thou shalt not divide the world into mutually exclusive,
complete
categories at the pain of making tremendous errors. When biologists
talk
about dividing the world into the organism and the environment,
we have t
o
reply that there is a very intimate interpenetration of organism
and
environment. Organisms transform their environment, they define
their
environment, they create environments, and they are environments
for each
other. Each part of the organism is environment for other parts,
and so o
n.
By looking at the interpenetration of these objects we get a
much more
profound understanding of the world than by making a separation.


Interaction is a grudging admission that the world is really
connected. T
he
idea of interaction is that things have a common influence on
each other
as
factors but do not influence each other very much. Interaction
is a parti
al
accommodation to the observation of interconnections. Mortality
in the
United States, for example, is 50 percent lifestyle, 28 percent
environme
nt,
another percentage medical, and so on. By breaking the totality
down and
assigning statistical weights bourgeois science accommodates
to the fact
of
interconnection in the world, but without really accepting it
as an
essential feature of the world. The paradigm is still: isolate
something
as
much as possible; break it into its smallest parts; change things
one at
a
time; and when you cannot help it, bring in interconnection in
interactio
nal
terms. Hence statistics in bourgeois science speak of second?order
effect
s,
third-order effects, and so on.


The Social and the Biological

So I think that Engels was far too optimistic in saying that
science, in
spite of itself, is becoming dialectical. It's kicking and screaming
all
along the way, making grudging recognition of those things that
it cannot
avoid. But the issues of interconnection are becoming increasingly
politi
cal
issues.

Interconnection, when we look at medical problems, means the
inseparabili
ty
of the social and the biological. Traditional epidemiology says
that the
cause of a particular disease is a particular kind of bacterium.
Bacteria
get into people through the water or air. Traditional epidemiology
then
gives an equation. If this is the number of people and this is
the chance
of
being exposed to the bacteria; and if exposed, this is the probability
th
at
the bacteria can grow in lung tissue; and if they grow in lung
tissue, th
is
is the probability that you don't have resistance; a formula
can be
developed for a rate of epidemic. The equation makes it look
as if
traditional epidemiology is talking about nature. But each of
the numbers
put into the equation is also a social event. What determines
the likelih
ood
that your lungs come in contact with a particular bacteria? It
depends on
crowding, housing conditions, and whether you're traveling long
distances
in
cattle cars to work. It depends on urban air conditions as well
as
meteorological conditions. There are social aspects of resistance,
too.
Resistance is determined in part by what has been breathed in
the past. W
e
know that nutrition is important to disease resistance, and trauma
also.
After a while we realize that it's not a question of saying that
there's
a
biological sphere and a social sphere and then finding their
connections.
Rather, the same objects are simultaneously biological and social;
they a
re
bacteriological entities at the same time as they are class entities.
We
always have to treat them from both perspectives in order to
understand t
he
dynamics of the system.


Environmental Struggles

In dealing with an environmental struggle, we face the same issues.
The
corporation officials urging factory expansion want to examine
the
environmental impact in the narrowest possible way. Can you prove
that th
e
dust from our factory is, in fact, going to kill children? Contrariwise,

those opposing the company must argue that its actions have multiple

effects. You don't know what will happen when chemicals spill
out onto th
e
limestone. Limestone is full of potholes. The chemicals may end
up in the
drinking water. The factory will kill plants; it will cause a
decline in
agriculture. The factory's wastes will affect fishermen. If the
mangroves
are cleared in order to build a wharf, the egrets won't have
a proper pla
ce
to nest; they, in turn, eat insects in the pastures. This means
that the
cattle farmers will have to use more insecticides. And so on.


As you trace the battle over any environmental issue, it is clear
that th
e
left is demanding a more complete understanding of the whole
system while
the right wants the problem narrowed to the technical detail.
So the
dialectical proposition--that the world is richly interconnected
and must
be
treated as a whole system with contradictory aspects--becomes
a hot
political issue rather than simply a debating point in philosophy
seminar
s.
The same would be true of other propositions of dialectical materialism.



The Battle around Science

Scientists and people working around science and politics within
a
capitalist society are living within two different ideological
worlds. We
are living within the world of bourgeois science and ideology
which sets
our
problems and determines, to some extent, the agenda of science.
At the sa
me
time, we are part of a revolutionary movement which says that's
bullshit.
Bourgeois science is evading the interconnection of things, refusing
to t
ake
into account what must not be ignored.

The battle, therefore, for dialectical materialism is both an
abstract on
e
involving the most profound differences about the way in which
the univer
se
is viewed and also one of very practical politics. We get into
the battle
of
planning health services, utilizing natural resources, studying
impact on
the environment, problems of conservation. All of these are battles
in wh
ich
self-conscious Marxist understanding becomes essential for an
independent
position. In the developing countries, it is a struggle for a
different
science, which is intellectually independent and geared to the
needs of t
he
new society. But in a world in which science is intellectually
dominated
by
the bourgeoisie, it becomes necessary to confront bourgeois theory,
to
transform, negate, use and battle against it. And that's what
creates the
richness of the panorama we're in, the battle around science:
being in, b
ut
not of, bourgeois science, battling from the inside but only
on the
condition that we have space outside. Otherwise it is impossible.
It's
idealist to say that we are going to transform science and make
it
dialectical. In fact, our commitment is to produce not a better
different
ial
topology but rather the power of the working class.


Discussion

Q: Is science literally class science or do interpretations of
scientific
knowledge differ because the knowledge is seen through the filters
of
different ideologies? Is it possible that some scientific knowledge
can b
e
incorrect or incomplete because it derives from methodology that
is limit
ed
by a particular ideology?

RL: The question proposes an alternative model of science which
says that
science gets objective knowledge about the world by interacting
with the
world; however, this objective search for knowledge is distorted,
blinded
or
inhibited by class perspective. If so, the truth of science comes
from it
s
being free of class; its falsehood comes from the biases of class.

Therefore, the task becomes to peel off the class skin over an
objective,
rational kernel. I would say, in opposition, that both the falsehoods
and
truths of science are class-determined. Only by defining some
sort of
mystical body of science can we have a separate zone, an ideal
creation
which is the objective part of science as distinct from its zone
of class
science. Class position is the negation not of objectivity, but
its mode
of
operation. At the same time, the lies, short-sightedness and
narrowness c
ome
from class position as well. This is true even of a rising class.
So the
dichotomy that reactionary classes have lies about nature while
progressi
ve
classes have truths about nature is not completely true. Precisely
that
class which is most desperately struggling to solve the immediate,
urgent
and pressing needs of the people will also be most impatient
with
theoretical detours that seem to postpone these needs.

Therefore, class viewpoint is intrinsic to all intellectual processes.
Th
at
by itself does not guarantee that something is either true or
false. When
we
talk about the state of a science, we have to talk about not
only its
positive propositions about the world but also what it is silent
about. T
he
pattern of ignorance is as much a product of the science as the
specific
knowledge. We see most strongly the biases of class viewpoint
in the patt
ern
of knowledge and ignorance. This is true, for example, in epidemiology,

agriculture and pest control. What is defined as out-of-bounds
or irrelev
ant
is an intrinsic part of the ideology of that science. So I think
that the
notion of science simply as a list of positive results is misleading.


Q: As Marxists we want to develop a better knowledge of our world
in orde
r
to improve our conscious praxis. Can one of the panelists suggest
more
precise steps in the process of problem-solving? Shouldn't we
start by
clarifying the empirical data, looking for laws of average and
regularity
,
and proceed toward the formulation of laws and interconnections
that can
describe the actual process?

RL: It's a tricky business to set up laws about scientific method.
They h
ave
a spurious universality that doesn't work. Dialectical materialism
does
teach us what to be suspicious of at the beginning. For instance,
one
starting-point is to ask why is this scientific problem being
posed? Why
do
we want to solve it; how did it get on the agenda of science?
Whose quest
ion
is it? Many of the questions about the hereditary basis of behavioral

differences between human races were put onto the agenda of science
by
racists. We know the history and political content of this branch
of
science. It's always important to see where a problem comes from
before w
e
decide whether it's a real problem and what to do with it.

Secondly, it's a good rule of thumb to assume that things are
far more
transitory than they appear, and what seems to be universal probably
is n
ot.
Find out the areas or aspects in which it is not universal.

Third, what is it connected to? As against the bourgeois paradigm
that
isolates the question as much as possible, a lot of us brainstorm
as far
afield as possible. What possible connection might there be between
this
object of study and others of your concerns? We get into fantasies
that h
ave
to be discarded later but it's less prone to error than the assumption
th
at
things are unrelated until proven otherwise.

Fourth, talk to people who are affected by the problem. They
will always
have a more sensitive knowledge and will make more subtle distinctions
th
an
the academic description. In that process be ready to learn,
but not
necessarily to believe everything. For instance, Fernando Boytel
found th
e
peasants in one part of Cuba believed that trees sometimes grow
toward th
e
wind rather than away from the wind. What he found is that they
grow away
from the wind but toward the light, and growing toward the light
might
overrule the wind advantage. So you enter into a dialectic with
the
knowledge of the people in which you integrate theoretical knowledge

obtained from scientific praxis with the detailed, intimate knowledge
of
the
masses of people who have direct interactions with a concerns
for those
objects of study.

Fifth, which intellectual tools are needed for resolving a problem,
and w
hy?
You have to ask, are we doing this with an ultra high-speed,
super-duper
blinkatron because the company has a salesman at this university
or is it
that it is really the best way of getting the knowledge we want?


We challenge what science does because it's a social process
in which the
self-evident truths of science are the shared biases of that
community. T
he
rules of scientific objectivity in testing are adequate for filtering
out
the random errors that separate individual scientists, but not
for pickin
g
up the shared biases of their class position. So always be suspicious,
lo
ok
at things as broadly as possible, and then be skeptical of the
results.

*****

Richard Levins is a long-time friend and supporter of The Brecht
Forum/Ne
w
York Marxist School. He is an evolutionary biologist and ecologist,
and i
s a
solidarity activist who has been active in the anti-war, the
radical
science, and the Puerto Rican liberation movements. Levins has
also serve
d
as an advisor to the government of Cuba on agricultural policy
since the
early 1960s. He is on the Advisory Board of the Brecht Forum
and teaches
at
the Harvard School of Public Health. With Richard Lewontin, he
coauthored
the book, The Dialectical Biologist.

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