Saturday, November 24, 2012

Science, Religion, and Politics

You ever have more things to say or share or think about than one persona can manage?

Anyway, that is neither here nor there...

What is the difference between religion, science, and politics?  The difference, as I see it, is that politics gets down to the nitty-gritty of policy.

Is this reflective of reality, or of just Sagan's little
corner of it?  It's not reflective of my corner.
Everything is political in the general sense that life is about negotiation--if you are not a hermit and other people are involved in your life at all.  Your obligations will be negotiated with others' obligations to you.  So relationships are political in a certain sense because there is an interplay of power.  A conscious or unconscious choice to be withdrawn, to burst into tears, to be sullen or snarky, or to be conciliatory, all involve how it negotiates your place in the relationship.  Maybe it places you ahead, maybe it attempts to share power, maybe it means to put yourself down (because you feel that's what you deserve).

People don't like this because it sounds like everything is a Macchiavellian pursuit of power--those that think this are likely to think that everything that occurs in the expressly political field of Public Policy and Government Policy are merely power plays.  Which is sad.  Because people like this don't realize the genius behind the founding documents of America and have a cynical view of these documents, while likely thinking themselves to be very sunny and optimistic (and maybe apolitical people).  I think the more reasoned view is realizing that every act involving other human beings potentially affects your relationship with them, changes the nature of how you interrelate.  This is realism.

Science and religion:  These are two kinds of endeavors that both purport to convey truth.  In some ways, in America, science is more thickly intertwined with public policy (what we think of as "politics") because it is often directly supported with public funds.  Religion is intertwined with politics more in the sense of people's private sense of morality directing them to choose policies that they feel best mold/preserve society, and by private sense of morality, I don't just mean those moralities directed by a traditional, deity-centered religion.  And the more government is involved in people's lives, and the more centralized that government involvement is, the more you will find people treating their views on politics (and science) with a kind of religious intensity, because views on these matters directly affect their way of life, their culture, the cultural atmosphere their children are raised in.

On a less grand level, I think in any human institution, whether religion or science, humans play their little political games to define the agenda, how the institution's resources (financial or human) are used, etc.  There are always competing visions.  People are more willing to give on minor issues (and therefore see the other person's point of view); less so on more fundamental matters.  If you've spent decades on an avenue of research or built your work on some theory (or research program, as one philosopher put it), chances are you are not going to abandon it just because someone provides a "knockdown argument."  If you are invested even a little in anything (and being human, you probably are), you will be a little dubious about someone else's "facts" (even if published), inferences, or methodology.  Your intuition will be that the knockdown argument isn't really knockdown.  If "facts" or tenets are established authoritatively, the authority that establishes it is itself a power structure, whether or not it is recognized as such.

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