In a lot of ways, the ‘enlightening’ force of the post-modernist philosophical movement has a great deal to answer for. In the wake of the realisation that all values – including morals – are entirely subjective and mercurial, people then sought for a new meta-narrative (an overarching value that is applied to all of existence in order to create meaning), one that they could assert is definitive and concrete.
Our society adamantly maintains that science is that meta-narrative; and thus it is that we run into problems when faced with the reality that we still haven’t actually abandoned the moralistic (and, predominantly, religious) meta-narratives of the earlier part of the century. That is to say, due to being suspended between the ideals of a purely moral society and a purely ‘rational’ one, there is (obviously) blurring between the two when put into daily practice; the problem with this is that sometimes this overlap creates larger problems than one might consider.
Although something might be scientifically/logically desirable, the latent ‘moral’ codes we inherited from antecedent society tell us that it is repugnant. Now, the problem here is that, because we maintain that our society is purely ‘scientific’, we refuse to acknowledge that this repugnance comes from the moral meta-narrative, rather than the scientific. Therefore, in order to reconcile the two (apparently dichotomous) values, people erroneously try to change the science or logic in order to meet what is believed to be an appropriate moral response. On the surface, although this is irritating from a scientific perspective (any real proponent of science recoils in horror at the mere thought of trying to implement arbitrary changes to rules, purely in order to achieve the desired results), it could be worse, right? But consider, for a moment, the long term ramifications of this.
If logic becomes an arbitrary concept, determined by the ‘moral’ whims of society, it then becomes child’s play to manipulate scientific ‘fact’ and logic in order to meet the desires of any individual. The warping of the evidence of the fossil record to meet the beliefs of creationists is a classic example of this. Eventually, science will become as subjective and malleable (read: changeable to suit the desires and wants of any interested party) as ‘morals’.
Despite what everyone I present this theory to says, I’m not against using morals as a guiding principle in our society; they are necessary to prevent true chaos and anarchy. However, I wish people would acknowledge that we are neither solely logical, nor solely moral. Realistically, we vacillate between the two according to what is convenient, and what will achieve our ends at any particular moment. And once we mutate science into a malleable, subjective concept, it then becomes yet another tool for those in power; and if it is so changeable, how can you construct a valid argument for/against it? It becomes nothing more than another value that is entirely dependent on opinion.
If we want to convincingly argue that our society does use science as a consistent meta-narrative, then we have to stick by it, and not disregard it whenever it’s inconvenient. If that seems too amoral, then we need to stop claiming to be a solely ‘logical’ and ‘scientific’ society, because, the reality is, we aren’t. Even better, perhaps we could stop looking for this one, ‘defining’ meta-narrative, and accept that there is no one system/value/principle/idea that can be consistently applied in a way that is acceptable to all. Because this weird ‘kind-of’ veneration of science (when it’s convenient, at least), is just merging into the old meta-narratives, and is thus dooming itself to the same perceived obsolescence as it’s predecessors.
Note: this post was actually inspired by a discussion about the moral ideology represented in Nolan’s The Dark Knight with one of my few delightfully intelligent acquaintances. The conversation will be re-posted here at some point.