15

I’m a professional scientist (mathematician, actually). I’m not a philosopher.

I’ve got a lot of friends well-versed in philosophy, and they all seem to point toward modernity as a byproduct of capitalism, the last one being a byproduct itself of colonialism. I’ve always been a left-wing person myself, so I also like decolonialism as an ideology, but I feel that, with this narrative about modernity, decolonialism is starting to attack science itself. The roots of science are very antique, even before the settlement of the first colonies of Europe.

This brings me to the main issue. Science is euro-centric in its core… but only because it sprang in a euro-centric culture. Modern algebra itself has a long tradition coming from Arabian algebraists. Is this conclusion equivalent to science being a colonial posture? Is modernity euro-centric? Are the computer or the lightbulb, “colonial technology”? Am I working against my decolonial ideology just by being a scientist? Do decolonialists have to attack science and modernity?

9
  • 1
    What do you view as "modernity"? Commented May 15, 2023 at 13:27
  • 14
    What's missing from the question is a specific summary of the anti-science argument you are asking us to assess. In the absence of such a summary, the answers inevitably focus on the silliest, weakest possible arguments they can think of to fill that gap.
    – kaya3
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 18:56
  • 3
    You might like 'What are some sociological considerations to understands mathematics culture?' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/98734/…
    – CriglCragl
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 20:54
  • 1
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica Not sure the cause and effect relation is ultimately settled but there are certainly correlations. Like empires based on military strength might be capped in size due to the speed of power (military). While power in the form of capital can travel at the speed of information which is usually much faster, thus capitalism allows for larger empires, that are less localized (wealth works everywhere) and which require less sharing of power (vassals got means of production, generals got an army, managers get money).
    – haxor789
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 10:07
  • 1
    @Peter-ReinstateMonica Likewise the "rule of law" and the protection of "property rights" seems to be a vitally necessity for capitalism. While you can certainly trade without that, capitalism isn't just about trade but also, or actually primarily, about the production and investment in the structures that pushed the industrialization would be too risky without. However where are you most likely to find universal laws? Empires. Fractured realms usually have their own rules and customs. Not to mention that the East India Trading company was an empire of it's own.
    – haxor789
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 10:20

9 Answers 9

5

Is science Eurocentric?

Well, if one means that one pays homage to the language and philosophy of science, yes. The roots of science go back to the Ancient Greeks, and modern science was invented by Europeans in a European lingua franca, Latin in places like Italy, Germany, France, and England. There are some very European-centric notions embedded in the philosophy of science that may rub foreign cultures wrong. For instance, scientists have always been a mix of Christians, agnostics, and atheists, and therefore the religion, the language, the history, the philosophy, and so on have been Eurocentric. So, one can say the traditions of science are firmly rooted in the cultures of Europe including its great tradition of universities which were originally institutions set up by the Catholic Church with it's seat in Rome. Today, the scientific enterprise is taken seriously outside of Europe and North America including China, India, Japan, South Korea, the Middle East, South America, and is at least paid lip service by most countries for obvious reason. The material comforts in life as well as the advanced military capabilities of a nation depend on the various sciences. Obviously, not all countries follow the sciences to its full end including democratic institutions set up by politically autonomous institutions. North Korea has scientists and engineers, but more like in the spirit of the Soviet Union than Cambridge, MIT, Max Planck Institute, and IIT. English is perhaps the lingua franca today, and discourse in German, Spanish, and French sits along side the use of English, though there are no requirements that science be done in a European language. Funding of science is also a function of the wealth of nations, and the Western nations, particularly the US and the EU, are massive bastions of banking built on the system of fractional lending that helped put into motion the colonial era.

Am I working against my decolonial ideology just by being a scientist? Do decolonialists have to attack science and modernity?

Of course not. The UN takes decolonization seriously (UN.org), and it certainly doesn't attack science. In fact, it promotes science. Like any political organization, it's open to criticism, but one of them isn't an effort to eliminate colonial rule. The legacy of colonialism (SEP) is far reaching, but it's not a major influence on the day-to-day of average working scientists, and the sciences are never free from political and economic pressures, as the science of Big Tobacco in the US demonstrates. From the site:

When the United Nations was founded in 1945, some 750 million people, nearly a third of the world's population, lived in Territories that were dependent on colonial Powers. Today, there are 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories remaining and fewer than 2 million people live in them. The wave of decolonization, which changed the face of the planet, was born with the UN and represents the world body’s first great success... As a result of decolonization many Territories became independent and joined the UN.

Decolonialism is not about destroying science, but rather stripping colonial and neo-colonial relationships from the politics of former colonies. That being said, scientific and construction funding is often created by major economic powers with the intent of spreading a political sphere of influence. The US has been doing that since it emerged as a global power, and China today has its Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese universities are in ascendancy and dominate in the region in terms of size, students, and funding. India too has a massive science and technology population and its universities are many and some of them are quite well regarded. Western textbook publishers put out many Chinese-language and Indian-language versions as well as special English-edition version slated for sales in Asia. (I own several of them as a US citizen.)

Conflation of Ideas

It's popular among amateur political scientists to conflate several issues. Capitalism is not a political system, it's a financial system. The sciences have members with political views, and there are scientific organizations devoted to political advocacy of science, but the political contamination of the sciences, such as what happened under Lysenkoism, undermines the good work of the sciences generally. Sometimes, as in Russia, Iraq under the Husseins, or in China, politics circumscribes the freedom of scientists, but on the whole scientists in the US, Australia, England and Continental Europe, Japan, South America, and in many other countries and regions can sort the good from the bad, and can look to their own histories when religions or political bodies interfered with the scientific practices. Critical theory (SEP) is a lot more nuanced and pluralistic than right-wing pundits will characterize them as, especially modern self-professed libertarians who are the right-wing equivalent of communists.

So, is your career in the mathematics and sciences contributing to the oppression of people in former colonies. Absolutely not, at least not directly. Are there still inequities that have arisen from Western powers colonial and neo-colonical practices? Absolutely. There is still slavery in the world, and multinational corporations still often abuse their economic power, particularly in using sweatshops, resisting workers' rights, and using child labor overseas. But on the upside, the peoples of the Western nations have developed a consciousness of these abuses, and there are at least discussions about eliminating abuses the wealthy perpetrate on the poor. Is that abuse largely at the hands of mathematicians and scientists? Absolutely not.

15
  • 1
    Excellent question. I'll respond by parroting Thomas Kuhn in that there are three metaphysical principles necessary to be a scientist: nature is ordered and rational, humans are rational creatures who can discover truth, and everything is open to question: ideas of the pre-Socratics that shape European thinkers, and are largely responsible for bringing about Comte's statement of positivism. As such, positivistic thinking fundamentally shapes perceptual and semantic theory-ladenness thereby impacting theorems by making them "objective truth".
    – J D
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 14:27
  • 1
    @Simone These ideas of rationality and objective and self-evident truth aren't strictly true, but are metaphysical presumptions we tend to share as European thinkers. The Catholic Church eventually co-opted these principles and placed the Christian God at the top of the order and continued the project in Scholasticism using Aristotle's reason as a basis and establishing universities to spread the word. These metaphysical precepts aren't native to the Post-Islam Middle East and to China and the Far East, for instance.
    – J D
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 14:31
  • 1
    @Simone So, the very fact that you don't see bias in the "scientific output - a theorem, for instance, or the model of a natural phenomenon [which] would be influenced by all of those factors" is a distinctly European approach to truth, one which has political ramifications that historically haven't gone over well everywhere. It's no coincidence democracies and republics flourished in the Mediterranean after Greek philosophy was born. Naturalism seems to encourage the belief that all men and women are created as intellectual equals. Athens, Venice, and Parliament are all products of naturalism
    – J D
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 14:34
  • 1
    @Simone Of course, feminism has had it's work cut out for it bringing parity to women in science, but science tends to have a politically liberating effect. See Philosophy of Science in Latin America (SEP) and The Rise of Early Modern Science by Toby E. Huff for more info.
    – J D
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 14:39
  • 1
    @Simone Strictly speaking, non-positivistic approaches to science tend NOT to work, because if empirical and rational criteria aren't employed in advancing and defending knowledge, then the science is actually pseudoscience. Lysenkoism in the USSR is one good example, but it needn't be the only. Ignaz Semmelweis tried to advance germ theory when miasma theory was prominent in Austria and he faced ostracization. In both China and the post-Islam Middle East, positivist doctrine was (and to some extent is still) a threat to the Confucian and Muslim dogmas. Thus, it's not so much how science...
    – J D
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 17:06
9

But even if colonialism is not palatable as it is a power structure of oppression, isn't there room for everybody to enjoy the benefits of lightbulbs (and vaccines, and a lot more)? Wouldn't rejecting science because it arose from a euro-centric context (if it even actually did) not be a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

I think the question has a pragmatic dimension that could cut through the ideological debate: if a vaccine can save the life or your child, should you reject it just because it was invented by a society that also did/does bad things?

A similar, hypothetical question could be: suppose a chemical company was forced to produce chemical weapons that exterminated a lot of people during a war. 80 years later, the company is still in operation, now producing fertilizers. Should the company's fertilizers be rejected because of what long gone management did in the past?

(I do not have the answer, but I think it is a very appropriate philosophical question - I'd be very curious to read more about that)

5
  • 2
    You make a strawman of Postcolonial thinking. It's about legacy power structures, but that includes things like epistemic justice.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 20:58
  • 2
    @Frank: See eg 'Need help with this paper on epistemic justice' philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/87224/… I feel like these answers are not reference any actual thinkers or perspectives of Postcolonial theorists
    – CriglCragl
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 21:05
  • 7
    @CriglCragl I don't intend to address actual thinkers of Postcolonialism, but simply think about the question "Is the computer or the lightbulb, “colonial technology”?" which the OP gave.
    – Frank
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 21:14
  • 1
    @CriglCragl Should we say that it is epistemically unjust that science is the dominant discourse inevitably pushed by some cultures onto others, thereby snuffing out the epistemic voices of those colonized cultures? Or should we say that science is just another universalizing discourse that some societies are using with the (maybe unconscious) intention of dominating others? How do we know that's the intention behind science? It seems we would be entering a highly biased debate with opinions rather than actual facts maybe?
    – Frank
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 21:36
  • I downvoted this because it doesn't appear to relate to the question, because the question is terrible. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 2:04
5

I think that there are several factors at work here in parallel.

1) Colonialism left a bad taste

I think that the colonialism tie is somewhat of a correlation-not-causation effect: the West tried to impose political and economic policies on others, and there is ongoing resentment over that. Now, when the West tries to tell people how they had ought to act, these claims are viewed with a lot of suspicion.

2) Science gives us "is" but not "ought"

I think that as scientists or mathematicians, we often view our activities and positions as "pure" and not culture-based, in some sense, because the science and mathematics are "pure". I think a little reflection should make clear that although the science may very well be purely "valid" or "invalid" by some objective criteria, these things don't necessarily inform whether we had ought to act in a particular way - they only tell us what will happen when we act in that way.

As an example, medical science finds that Covid vaccines are effective at preventing disease. The evidence here is pretty thorough. One might naturally make the leap that one had ought to get the vaccine, because the science supports getting the vaccine. However, this conclusion does not follow immediately from the science - we need an additional premise. The crucial step that was left unsaid in this reasoning is cultural/personal. That step is the premise that "if getting relatively non-invasive medical procedure X helps prevent disease for self or for wider society, then one had ought to get medical procedure X." This premise is not scientific or mathematical, it is cultural/personal. Someone might very well hold the position that "One had ought not to get any medical procedures, because [deity] forbids such things" or whatever. There is, unfortunately, no science or math to refute this premise, because it is not scientific or mathematical. On the flip side of that coin, there is no science or math to refute the premise that one had ought to get helpful medical procedures done. These things are simply cultural axioms, in some sense. We have a long tradition of such procedures in the West - we are often vaccinated heavily when young, there are often laws affecting the behavior of folks with active TB/HIV infections to prevent wanton transmission, people often get preventive procedures done for their personal health and don't think twice about it. We have a cultural premise, in the West, that medical interventions of a certain class are generally okay. It is important to recognize, however, that this premise is strictly cultural/personal, and that although the science is there, it does not tell us that we had ought to get vaccinated, it only tells us what will happen if we do get vaccinated.

Since a great deal of cutting-edge science happens in the West, scientific results are often bundled and tied up in complex ways with Western values. Scientists don't always do a great job of discerning the "what will happen" from the "what one had ought to do". The implicit cultural premises are left unsaid, and unexamined. This, in turn, at the very least can make it seem like folks with different "ought to" opinions (cultural, personal, or whatever) are rejecting the science. Indeed, if it is not clear even to the scientists how to disentangle the cultural premises from the scientific results, then we might reasonably expect others to fail to distinguish these things as well. When the cultural premises and scientific results are conflated to an extent that ordinary folks don't find it apparent how to separate them, and the cultural premises conflict with their personal beliefs, they are left with only two options: accept the whole package (causing them to reject their own cultural/personal beliefs), or to reject the whole package (causing them to reject the validity of the science). That they often reject the science, then, should come as no surprise - but it is not because they "reject science", necessarily, in principle; it is because they reject the conclusions of the (science + culturalPremises) and have been presented with an all-or-nothing alternative.

It doesn't help, I think, that the science is often seen only through the filter of journalists or politicians or other third parties. This tends to really exacerbate the conflation between the cultural premises and the scientific results.

3) Math/Science is hard

I think that the vast majority of "folks" don't understand how science is done: They think that science is a list of things to remember and regurgitate on the exam, and have never had the opportunity to see science as a rigorous method of discovery and knowledge creation. This makes it easy to conflate science with other qualities of the scientist. It doesn't help that post-colonial cultures tend to have less developed educational systems than in the West.

tl;dr;

I think with these things, the prevalence of "science rejection" should come as no surprise.

I've not seen any evidence that the "science rejection" effect is stronger in post-colonial cultures when the source is Western. However, because of 1) and 2) and 3) I would consider it a very probable hypothesis worth testing. Anyone who can provide citations for science that actually determines the relative strength of the 1) 2) and 3) effects wins 100 internet points.

8
  • 1
    aside: does medical science show that COVID vaccines are effective in preventing the disease? Lots and lots of vaccinated people have COVID now, and it makes sense because the vaccines was made for SARS-2, but the circulating virus is as different from SARS-2 as SARS-2 is from SARS-1 (some call it SARS-3), so it should be expected to work a little bit but not a lot. Commented May 15, 2023 at 18:58
  • 3
    @user253751 Absolutely. COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness for a landing page on more information. Discussion over the effectiveness of Covid vaccines, however, is better suited for biology.stackexchange.com.
    – J D
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 19:14
  • 2
    @user253751 40% what? 40% decrease in prevalence between vaxxed/unvaxxed populations is well withing the realm of what scientists would call "an effect" - i.e., that the Covid vaccine "is effective at preventing disease". Possibly I should add a "4) language barriers between science-speak and the vernacular"
    – Him
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 13:29
  • 1
    @haxor789 "X is effective at preventing Y" is generally expected to mean straightforwardly "X prevents Y" rather than "X prevents Y sometimes" or "X has an effect of reducing the amount of Y" Commented May 17, 2023 at 12:04
  • 1
    @user253751 To say "X prevents Y" is most certainly a lie. You're in the realm of science not religion. There are no universal truths. There are only models and they (should) always come with a margin of error. People (usually not scientists) tend to assert the claims of that model with confidence for small margins, but that's about their personal risk assessment, not about science. That being said the vaccine apparently has a significant effect of preventing the disease and as such it is still better than the alternatives... So yeah currently it's the MOST effective, as little as that means.
    – haxor789
    Commented May 17, 2023 at 12:59
4

I don't know of a specific philosophical definition of decolonialism. I've found a discussion of decolonization, but it doesn't address your specific questions. So my answer will be "philosophical" not in citing literature, but in distinguishing two possible meanings of the term, then arguing we, as philosophers, must at a minimum make sure not to conflate them. (It's also wise to name each, but I won't suggest names.)

I'm going to assume you believe the following:

  • We should provisionally accept the conclusions of the scientific method, not because of the culture that invented it, but because the method works well;
  • Many technologies with a scientific underpinning are beneficial;
  • Historical effects of colonialism include the globally widespread acceptance of science and use of such technologies;
  • Historical effects of colonialism also include much that has been socioeconomically pernicious (these are what the above link cares about);
  • The latter effects warrant addressing with suitable policies today.

If I'm right, it would make sense to describe you as a decolonialist, but also to describe as decolonialists any people who instead believe:

  • Anything colonialism has spread is as bad as its worst socioeconomic effects, and can be labelled as European;
  • Therefore, science is bad, and European;
  • Therefore, we can feel free to reject any scientific finding we personally dislike, especially if we're not European (or maybe that should be "neither European nor from a mostly white European off-shoot in the Americas or Australia and Oceania");
  • If these beliefs are a result of being left-wing, we might, however, shame people for rejecting the scientific findings we personally accept, especially if such people are from our culture and disproportionately likely to be right-wing;
  • We'll also keep using the technology, even if its manufacture or distribution exploits non-Europeans, as a vestige of colonialism.

I'm not sure how many people believe the second set.

Is modernity euro-centric?

It's a historical accident that it developed and spread that way, and if e.g. Africans had been colonialists I would not, as a European, adopt an anti-African counterpart to the second list of beliefs above. (Bonus historical wrinkle: Japan was a colonial power.)

Are the computer or the lightbulb, “colonial technology”?

I'd be more willing to call them that if colonialists withheld them.

Am I working against my decolonial ideology just by being a scientist?

If as I suspect your personal ideology is as per the first list above rather than the second, no, clearly not.

Do decolonialists have to attack science and modernity?

Ditto.

3

Questions

Is this conclusion equivalent to science being a colonial posture? Is modernity euro-centric? Is the computer or the lightbulb, “colonial technology”? Am I working against my decolonial ideology just by being a scientist? Do decolonialists have to attack science and modernity?

Do decolonialists have to attack science and modernity?

Speaking as an applied philosopher, a formal student of engineering, law, and technology development, I think scientific and technological progress is accelerated in a Western context where governments, schools, and universities incorporate social institutions primarily associated with ancient Greece. Ideally adults working in government, education, and industry are supporting the youth in their role as athletes and scholars. The youth learn to cooperate and compete. The natives in America had their own cultures of tribal education in which the youth would develop athletic and cognitive abilities. However, the progress of science and technology was inherently limited in those cultures, and the tribes had enemies in the form of nearby tribes. In other words, there was cultural conflict independent of the Westernized "tribes" that imposed customs and institutions in the form of colonialism. Historically it appears that as the Westernized tribes or cultures refrained from overt colonialism, the former colonies remained colonized, because the elite took over the role of colonial overlords. I think decolonialization was first discussed in this context of trying to reform the governments of former colonies. I think nations that want modern standards of living will imitate the United States, Europe, and the so-called Western culture more and more whether the people like it or not, or they will have to develop alternative cultural institutions that also promote the proliferation of modern standards of living. The West will have to adapt also to the rising energy cost of energy derived from scarce fossil fuels and the desire to respect what is unique about distinct cultures that do not wish to assimilate all the Western customs. This does not answer the questions as posed because in the political context some decolonialists will probably say yes, we must attack science and modernity, and others will probably say no, we need not attack science and modernity.

Ethical Disputes

Decades ago I had to write a paper on Ethics for a class in Expert Knowledge. I borrowed Schaum's outline from a friend, and read this summary: Ethics is the effort to answer two questions. First, What is good? Second, How should one act to cause the good? In Zen there are debates whether it is good to eat meat or to not eat meat; whether it is good to drink alcohol or not drink alcohol, etc. In the context of decolonialism is it good to attack science and modernity? Should one attack science and modernity, or should one not attack science and modernity, in this context? Ethics is the domain of normative disputes.

13
  • 1
    Do you know anything about Postcolonial theory? I don't think you do.
    – CriglCragl
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 21:02
  • 1
    @CriglCragl Can you point out what's missing about Postcolonial theory?
    – Frank
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 21:38
  • 1
    @CriglCragl - Ms. Wexler, my first reading comprehension teacher, taught me to interpret the meaning of words and phrases in context. This article helpfulprofessor.com/postcolonialism-theory says, "[T]he term is used so freely that it becomes necessary for each author to define what they mean when they speak of postcolonial theory." The question does not define decolonialism or postcolonial theory. In terms of power patriarchal and matriarchal roles are observed by the child. The child must imitate or reject these roles while asking what is good and how should I act to cause the good? Commented May 15, 2023 at 19:02
  • 2
    @CriglCragl - This is what I wrote, "In other words, there was cultural conflict independent of the Westernized 'tribes' that imposed customs and institutions in the form of colonialism." Black Elk, a member of the Lakota peoples, describes other native peoples as his ancient enemies, even though a typical member of the invading Western culture would classify both cultures under the general term "Indians". Culture clash is not limited to Western colonial abuse of power. Western political-economic customs have accelerated scientific and technological progress that improve standards of living. Commented May 15, 2023 at 20:04
  • 3
    @SystemTheory Is there really a culture that can be called "the West" without further qualification?
    – Frank
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 0:24
3

No wonder as Mark Fisher observed "It is easier to imgine the end of the world, than the end of Capitalism." Because, Capitalism is so poorly defined in most discourse, that it has this power to shapeshift in endless ways, that tend to turn perceptions of it into a projection. Discussed here: Philosophers on alternatives to capitalism and communism The future is going to involve money, stock-owned companies with tradable shares, and people pursuing wealth. Not only are those things highly functional, they aren't intrinsically problematic, and accepting them doesn't prevent scope for radical political and economic innovation. Rolling everything bad about modernity into a boogie man and calling it Capitalism hinders rather helps change.

See this answer on some context about the motivations and methods of Postcolonial philosophy: Need help with this paper on epistemic justice

Postcolonial thinking grew out of Postmodernism and Poststructuralism. Those included challenging the simplistic assumptions about the unity power and authority of science, and personally I see the challenge part as important. Dawkins for instance often oversteps the mark into Scientism, and projects his suspect views about society and gender as though no one could possibly disagree.

But, there is a problematic strand, exemplified by Kuhn, of claiming science is only ever a power struggle. Discussed here: Why is postmodernism apparently so ill-perceived in philosophy of science?

Thinkers like Haraway with The Cyborg Manifesto, and eorks like Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science, show that building on critucal ideas about race and gender that motivate Postcolonial philosophy, don't have to mean 'questioning' the science, though it does the culture of the scientists.

"Science is euro-centric in its core"

Absolutely not. I don't accept that at all. See Scientific Method in the Islamic World which included the first statement we can recognise as Scientific Method, and especially Ibn al-Haytham's foundational and influential work in optics which directly inspired Newton. Gunpowder and magnetic compasses, which no less than Francis Bacon called two of the three cornerstones of the Modern Age, were invented by Daoist alchemists in China, who's work was preserved in Buddhist libraries. More fundamentally, science has always focused on dispensing with the role of identity as authority, and the cultural biases of parochial thinking - it is intrinsically internationalist. See Can one speak unambiguously of "The" Scientific Method? for more on the issues.

I think broadly speaking you confuse critiquing discourse and culture of scientists, with criticising science. If you disagree, please provide examples. I don't know any, other than Kuhn.

8
  • 1
    But the question is, can this "dispensing with the role of identity as authority" be deconstructed as in fact concealing an intention to dominate? "Objectivity" becomes just the latest way to oppress other cultures.
    – Frank
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 21:42
  • In a very real sense, if some culture doesn't care about "objectivity" or "evidence", shouldn't they be free to reject science? What's left of their voices if science becomes the dominant, global culture?
    – Frank
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 22:07
  • 1
    @BobaFit It's not so simple. There are very worthwhile ideas in some authors that can be classified as "postmodern". Lyotard is one, for example. Might be worth reading a bit of him.
    – Frank
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 21:06
  • @Frank Certainly not. Lyotard denies the possibility of knowledge. I will take him as his own best evaluator.
    – Boba Fit
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 21:07
  • 1
    @ScottRowe Maybe culture is a language shared by a group of people, where "language" is to be understand broadly as a set of concepts, ideas, attitudes, feelings that can be expressed using some form of language, spoken, written or otherwise used to exchange those concepts, ideas, ... between people in the group?
    – Frank
    Commented May 16, 2023 at 15:13
2

Science is not by its nature a colonialist enterprise. But perhaps the scientific establishment that developed in the West did so as a byproduct of colonialism.

That says nothing of the scientific establishments that developed elsewhere. Like China. China is a country the size of Europe that developed pretty much independently. They had their own science.

In any case, the answer is no. Decolonialists do not have to attack science and modernity. Rather than attacking it, they could spread science and modernity to other places that are former colonies.

15
  • 2
    Oh, but it is a colonialist enterprise of the first order, because it is highly "universalizing", it presents itself as Truth to everybody, everywhere and anytime, recruiting objectivity and evidence to justify its dictums: its meta-narrative is that it is as universal as nature itself, but that is just a way to impose its narratives on others. Phew! ;-) (not that I believe this, but I'm gathering that would be a possible postmodern understanding of science and its relationship to politics and power)
    – Frank
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 23:56
  • 2
    @Frank Ooof, take that postmodernists.
    – Daron
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 8:41
  • 1
    @Frank If my friends said something like that to me I would kindly ask them to express themselves without using buzzwords (specialist terminology) and also to give some examples of what that mean, so we can have a nice conversation.
    – Daron
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 8:43
  • 1
    The buzzwords come with the territory in postmodernism ;-)
    – Frank
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 13:42
  • 3
    @Frank Then God help us all.
    – Daron
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 16:26
1

This debate is apparently based on loose terminology. Here, some definitions and ideas that might help.

Modernity is a period in history, which started with the Enlightenment and ended around 1950, postmodernity becoming right after; commonly associated with a loss of religious and moral values against individualism and scientific and technical developments. So, Capitalism is debatably a consequence of it, not a cause of it, it is not Capitalism that raised a (scientifical-technical) period in history.

Colonialism is the practice by which a territory and a human group are subject to a foreign rule; colonialism is sometimes associated with an evolved form of animal territorial domination (cf. Fanon), which raises directly from Darwinian mechanisms. According to your friends, this is the cause of all evil; the problem is easy to solve: they can just derogate all Darwinian laws in the Congress. Oh, wait. I forget there's no universal congress. And no congress which rules animal instinctive laws (we are in part animals). And no congress that accepted Darwinian laws of evolution and survival. And no congress members proposing alternatives to the survival of the fittest rule.

Capitalism means essentially the tendency to accumulation of capital, which includes the means of production, rights of ownership, free market development, natural resources, and not just that, but mainly a bunch of histories that only exist in our heads, like money, laws, power, status, etc. There is also has a good solution to this "problem", that proposed by Pol Pot, and which results are already available in history books. They can also read about Ceausescu, Mao Zedong, Stalin, Maduro, Castro, Allende, the Kim Jongs, Mariam, Hoxha, Ortega, Morales, etc. But warn them ALL cases are failures.

Science is some type of knowledge (that obtained according to the Scientific Method). Technology is the application of such knowledge in practice, and Art (not as aesthetics, but as in state-of-the-arts) is the application of those two for social benefit.

From here on, this is necessarily an opinion with some philosophical sustain. Politically, this issue is largely debatable.

Call this The Natural Test: The deepest of our instincts is to survive, and that is normally consistent with all our emotions and reason. When any living being, any individual, any human group, etc. tries a new rule, it is just tested by nature: either that being survives or not. Some specific groups that have submitted new ideas to The Natural Test and ended up with huge amounts of deaths: the FARC; the Aum Shinrikyo cult; Ugandan LRA; North Korea; Jim Jones people's temple; the Khmer Rouge; Nazism, etc.

There's no point in attacking science, tech and art. Europe developed a culture for knowledge, which is a positive achievement, not a failure. Anyway, science has been always developed, all along history, in all places where humans existed. If they don't like scientific colonialism, they just need to invent the wheel from scratch, and all remaining science and technology as well.

About “colonial technology”: just ask your friends to throw their laptops, TVs and mobile phones to a river. That way, they will be getting back their sovereignty.

Why are decolonialist attacking science and modernity?

The big philosophical issue here is responsibility.

By definition, any responsible individual takes responsibility of what happens for himself. The responsibility to address social problems, the responsibility to solve individual and social issues. Then, he acts on it, without blaming or without complaining (blaming and complaining is just energy waste). For example: are there poverty issues? Ok, propose solutions without blaming and complaining. Many organizations do so and get it successfully. Your friends need to read about Médecins Sans Frontières, Water.org, Acumen, Heifer, Grameen Bank, etc.

By definition, individuals which feel non-responsible for what currently happens, can't take responsibility; instead, they look for blame. A lot of politicians do so. This approach produces social polarization and usually gets a lot of votes. But this approach does not propose solutions. And if they have done so, they have been submitted to The Natural Test and have failed. They nevertheless insist: Pablo Iglesias (Spain), Maduro (Venezuela), Corbyn (UK), Mélenchon (La France Insoumisse), Máximo Kirschner (Argentina), Correa, Diaz-Canel...

Sorry for this, not personal, but for me, your friends are typical examples of individuals in the second group. They are looking for who to blame -don't understand what for, perhaps to kill or imprison them-. If they believe in their ideas, they need to practice them. If they don't apply them, and they provide excuses, they don't really believe them. In such case, their discourse is not based on rationality, but on dogmas, blaming, complaining, use of excuses and personal attacks. Their discourse is evidently explained by personal frustration (causes them to point their failures elsewhere) and resentment (causes them to attack others). You can justify your position, but such kind of people will always find excuses to avoid doing what they say they believe. The arguments are as follows.

Decolonialism has failed. Deglobalization has and will always fail (maturity is not about isolation; it's not about dependence, it's not about independence: it's about interdependence). Open doors are always good, even if we don't use them; we want them to be open and use them for good. The best examples are North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina. They reject modernity (we are not anymore there, anyway, your friends can just create their own social experiments, living like in 1700), capitalism (ask them to give the example, stop accumulating capital and share all their goods, right now!). When they pay taxes, they are supporting colonialism. Ask them to stop buying foreign products, stop paying taxes, stop using the internet, stop learning foreign languages, etc. Otherwise (if your friends don't act, dont donate their goods, don't crush their mobile phones, don't go living in communist kibbutz), those are just empt y words, which just expose their frustrations and anguish of blaming other for their own fails. Not trying to be mean here, but this is a common and predictable social pattern based on dogmas, which provides good amounts of votes to the left.

As a consequence, notice that the left wing has an ideology, but most voters are not serious about it (most don't even know it, otherwise, they would act critically about it -see spanish Ramon Rallo's daily criticism to left wing ideas, which is impressive, he just wrote a book about the fallacies of Marxism-): left-wing voters are serious mostly about confronting and harming the right wing. Just that.

For me, left means: the survival of the group prevails over the individual, which is just a natural mechanism based on majority (e.g. if I kill someone, I want to live, the group wants to kill me, so, the group wins). Taking that into account, I identify myself as such kind of leftist, which do implies complete logical consistency with capitalism, globalism, Darwinian laws, science, tech and art, etc., and mainly... responsibility (no blaming, no complaining, just acting silently to solve issues).

1
0

The development of science has arised out of Colonial enterpises, and yes, an impression may be given that Colonial enterpises are the reasons why science exists, especially when you belong to a minority group. This is further compounded by the fact that, in most of these colonized places, the people there have to climb ladders of success which are essentially the white man's creation. See established forums were Science is discussed (eg: this site itself), Journals and so on.

To overcome this, is in my opinion a difficult issue. There is, on top of the aforementioned issues, foundational issues in that these colonized places may not have enough infastructure and funding to support people to do a science. The other angle of this, is that of brain drain, any one who would be exceptional would be taken up by the lands which were previously oppresive/ colonist due to the fact that they are able to provide more opportunities and infastructure. This leads to decay of local scientists in many lands. See, eg: how working in FAANG companies is glorified by those in third world countres.

I believe, fundamentally, to rise out of these issues, there must be a belief insuinated by society for a minority of "I can do it too!", insuinated, for example, by media, and further by popular culture. Also, there must be a real meat to these efforts, for instance, the state should, actually produce instituitions through which the minority can rise up and achieve success.

9
  • 1
    This Answer helped me see more of what the current complaint is about: trying to succeed in an environment warped by prior policies and success of an outside group. It's the warping that is the problem, not the specific things that came from the prior policies.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 10:34
  • +1 brain drain is a real problem
    – J D
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 19:16
  • Well anywhere anyone can achieve success. More specific terms and premises are needed for a proper arguement@Boba Fit Commented May 15, 2023 at 21:07
  • 1
    @BobaFit Not sure what is the association between "state" and "media"?
    – Frank
    Commented May 15, 2023 at 21:07
  • I mean state in sense of the institutions external to an individual, not as in government @Boba it Commented May 15, 2023 at 21:41

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .