Scientism is the philosophical claim—which cannot be proven scientifically—that science is the only valid form of knowledge. Anyone who begins a sentence with the phrase, “Science says . . . ” is likely in the grip of scientism. Genuine scientists don’t talk like this. They begin sentences with phrases like, “The findings of this study suggest,” or “This meta-analysis concluded. . . .” Scientism, by contrast, is a religious and often a political ideology. “It has been evident for quite a while that science has become our time’s religion,” the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben observed, “the thing which people believe that they believe in.” When science becomes a religion—a closed and exclusionary belief system—we are dealing with scientism.
The characteristic feature of science is warranted uncertainty, which leads to intellectual humility.
The characteristic feature of scientism is unwarranted certainty, which leads to intellectual hubris.
(DBx: Although F.A. Hayek defined “scientism” a bit differently – as the unthinking use in one branch of scientific inquiry of the methods used in other branches of inquiry – his brilliant work on what he called “the abuse and decline of reason” led him to a conclusion quite similar to that of Kheriaty and Agamden. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that the single worst intellectual error that has haunted humanity over the past two centuries is the false notion that society is a science project, one that can be ‘solved’ or ‘completed’ by ‘experts’ if only the elements of society – individuals – will obey without resistance.)
Again I must revert to anecdotal accounts which ring true to me. In many countries which have authoritarian political traditions, such rules were resented and frequently (often openly) flouted. But in the UK the government was aware of the libertarian inclinations of its population, and so presented lockdown as the moral responsibility of every individual. Through a quite insidious and carefully orchestrated campaign of fear and potential guilt, it made people internalise the need for their own imprisonment.
Now even when the jail door has been opened, an awful lot of people, having grown accustomed to their confinement, don’t want to leave. We should have seen this coming.
Readers will recall the ban on singing of all kinds during the lockdowns and even after they were lifted because singing was supposedly a ‘transmission risk’. Turns out, this typical piece of Covid hysteria was based on a flawed study. The Church Times has more.
When I offered my reasons for believing that it would be dangerously unwise to attempt to have the state impose personal penalties on lockdowners and their prominent supporters for their policy decisions, I wrote that, nevertheless, inquiries into pandemic panic are in order – inquiries that, alas, I fear will themselves be poisoned by bias and politics. Evidence of the validity of this latter fear is arising in Britain.
While the line perhaps seems too fine between applauding efforts to expose the tyranny and depredations of lockdowners and opposing efforts to have the state impose sanctions personally upon lockdowners, I believe that this line is real and important – which is one reason why I agree with this essay by Jon Sanders. Two slices:
[Emily] Oster and her enthusiasts [for now excusing lockdowners] would have us believe they [those persons who resisted lockdowns] were lucky [in having acted in ways that have turned out to be more appropriate than were the actions advocated by lockdowners]. No, they were principled. The pastors who trusted in God and kept the churches open. The tattoo artists, bar owners, speedway owners, and other “nonessential” small businessmen who went back to work in defiance of arbitrary government orders, the same orders allowing “essential” businesses next door to remain open. Epidemiologists and other scholars who refused to be cowed into acquiescence with governments’ message du jour but spoke out for known best practices for living through a pandemic, protecting the vulnerable while building herd immunity. The governors and heads of state who resisted the worldwide rush to COVID tyranny, choosing instead to stand with established science. The doctors who put their patients first, even prescribing treatments shown to work that were questioned after the fact by authorities. The civil libertarians who held firm to their tenets rather than run like emus. Public employees who refused to submit to unnecessary vaccination and challenged them in court. Lawyers who represented them despite excoriation from their peers and others. Judges who upheld the law rather than ruling out of fear and hubris. Parents who started attending school board meetings to demand their children return to classroom instruction.
At the end of “Tombstone,” about to be shot, Ike Clanton tears off the red sash that signified his allegiance to the Cowboys. He was spared. The narrator informs us, however, that Clanton was “shot and killed two years later during an attempted robbery.” He’d gone right back to wrongdoing. He hadn’t repented.
If we are going to accomplish Oster’s “work together to build back and move forward,” it’s imperative to acknowledge and address the wrongs done that tore everything down and everyone apart. Many of those things are still being done now, in pockets across the country. Without their repentance, our pretending it never happened isn’t grace, it’s Stockholm Syndrome.
The fact that vaccine mandates are continuing into 2023 is absolutely indefensible
There is no scientifically justifiable reason for it — it’s entirely about forcing compliance and punishing anyone who dares dissent
“Europe Threatens New Tariffs Over Biden’s ‘Buy American’ Tax Credits.” (DBx: International-trade policy as carried out by real-world governments is cartoonish. The government of country A enriches a small handful of its citizens by imposing greater harms on the bulk of the citizens of A. The government of country B, in an effort to protect the interests of a small handful of its citizens by pressuring the government of country A to reverse course, imposes larger harms on the bulk of the citizens of B.)
My GMU Econ colleague Bryan Caplan offers evidence in support of Phil Magness’s and Michael Makovi’s thesis that Karl Marx’s prominence is due chiefly to the fact that his name was used in a successful coup by totalitarians in 1917. A slice:
To speak plainly, academics after 1917 tacitly applied a “might makes right” or at least a “might makes credible” heuristic. When Marx’s followers were an inbred cult, academics treated them like an inbred cult. Once they took over a major country, however, academia “reassessed.” Predictably, they found that the only philosopher whose adherents ruled a country was actually worth reading on his merits.