The Technocratic Illusion

Kevin Williamson explodes it:

Professor [Neil deGrasse] Tyson, who may be the dumbest smart person on Twitter, yesterday wrote that what the world really needs is a new kind of virtual state — he wants to call it “Rationalia” — with a one-sentence constitution: “All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.” This schoolboy nonsense came under withering and much-deserved derision. Conservatives, who always have the French Revolution in their thoughts, reminded him that this already has been tried, and that the results are known in the history books as “the Terror.” Writing with a great deal of reserve in Popular Science, Kelsey D. Atherton notes:

Rationalia puts a burden on science that it cannot bear: to work, it must be immune to the passions of the day, promising an objective world and objective truth that will triumph over obstacles.

That’s true enough, but it shortchanges the scientific objection to Tyson’s Rationalia pipe dream, which is that it implicitly presupposes quantities and types of knowledge that are not, even in principle, available, even if the scientists in question were the dispassionate truth-seekers of Atherton’s ideal.

But will the technocrats be deterred from trying to make the world more perfect, thus making it more hellish? No, they will not be deterred. The world is full of biased know-it-alls — many of whom claim to be scientists (e.g., Neil deGrasse Tyson).

The last word goes to G. Shane Morris:

Tyson … has a philosophy, whether he realizes it or not. It’s called “scientism,” the belief that science is the only valid source of knowledge. The rule-by-self-identified-experts he envisions for the happy land of Rationalia is scientism’s logical outcome. But when you insist that facts and evidence speak for themselves, it has a funny way of silencing everyone else. As one intrepid Twitter user replied to Tyson’s initial tweet, “Convenient how the ‘evidence’ always seems to line up with Tyson’s personal beliefs.”

The real problem, of course, is that Rationalia doesn’t take into account the fallenness of human nature, or the fact that we all approach reality with a certain set of assumptions. If we’re to build a new country based on rationality, the question is simply, “Whose rationality?” I certainly don’t want it to be from someone who’s blind to his own biases, to the flaws of science, and to other people’s perspectives.

*      *      *

Related posts:

Demystifying Science
Scientism, Evolution, and the Meaning of Life
The Fallacy of Human Progress
Pinker Commits Scientism
The Limits of Science (II)
The Pretence of Knowledge
“The Science Is Settled”
The Limits of Science, Illustrated by Scientists
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Scientific Knowledge