New York City

The “Grand Myth of Scientific Superrationality” and Pinkwater’s Borgel (a Christmas story)

Shanghai Skyscape
Shanghai, China
photo by Peter Morgan
Seoul, Korea
Seoul, Korea, near by Han River
photo by Patriotmissile at the English language Wikipedia
New York City
New York City, Overview of Manhattan from the Empire State Building
photo by Hakilon

Starting into Murry Code’s book on Whitehead today, I have the sense that Euro-American imperialism hasn’t ended, but has shifted to a pervasive form that is transmitted culturally, so global now that it is generally taken as a given, invisible as the ocean is to the fish in the sea. At its core is

…a Grand Myth of Scientific Superrationality – the idea that science exemplifies the epitome of rational thought.

This powerful myth appears to be the principal support for an inherently violent and imperialistic reason. It would therefore be well for me to try to spell out what I mean by imperialism. Following Edward Said, I understand this to refer to ‘a political philosophy whose aim and purpose for being is territorial expansion and legitimation.’ But he goes further and notes that the term refers not merely to a violent conquest of foreign
territory; it also alludes to attempts to subjugate the belief systems of others. No modern mode of thought seems more efficient in this respect than science, whose usurpation of the vital function of meaning-making tends to be legitimated by contemporary natural philosophers who style themselves as naturalists even as they turn their backs on nature and anchor their philosophical investigations in scientific theories.

A culture that is in thrall to a burgeoning technoscience recalls, in other words, the Eurocentric imperialism of the nineteenth century that, as Said puts it, granted itself the right to intervene wherever and however it chose. Acting under the assumption that they were representatives of a superior culture, its agents set out with the conviction that ‘laying claim to an idea and laying claim to a territory – given the extraordinarily current idea that the non-European world was there to be claimed, occupied, and ruled by Europe – were . . . different sides of the same, essentially constitutive activity, which had the force, the prestige, and the authority of science.’ It is therefore ‘a serious underestimation of imperialism,’ says Said, to overlook the fact that a ‘hegemonic imperial design’ also presumes a right ‘to treat reality appropriatively.’ The importance of this observation is borne out by non-Western critics of the scientistic ideology who maintain that a sanitized violence has been institutionalized on a worldwide scale in the name of scientific values (e.g., efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and economy of effort).

Murry Code, Process, Reality, and the Power of Symbols: Thinking with A.N. Whitehead, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, p. 2.

Alternative ways of being and doing are suppressed in the presence of this myth and its cultural and material expression. But I suspect, like the mammals living in the shadow of dinosaurs, that they will continue to evolve and survive, to re-emerge when conditions change in their favor.

Looking at the extent of religious expression in the midst of the Grand Myth of Superrationality, it seems that the dominant paradigm develops its own counter-currents as it becomes apparently monolithic, and within that complexity there is hope, actually more than hope: the expectation of possibility. I’m reminded of the Great Popsicle in Daniel Pinkwater’s Borgel (one of the great novels of all time), whose joyous life-giving characteristics re-appear in new forms when the previous form is suppressed and presumed exterminated.

Re-reading what I’ve written here, I realize it’s Christmas day, celebration of the liberating incarnation entering the world. It’s an appropriate time to reflect on dominating paradigms, the tendency to be constricted by them unaware of alternatives, and also their  impermanence and the possibility of release.

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