Experimenting with Humanity

The naïve euphoria about the experimental mRNA injections and about science as the singular solution to the deeper problems of healthcare, and humanity in general, recently urged me to re-read the poet Wendell Berry’s book “Life is a Miracle“. Berry’s prose is perfect, humbling and thought-provoking.

Although “Life is a Miracle” was published in 2000, Berry’s conclusions apply perfectly to the place where civilization now finds itself. Below follows a few snippets which struck me as especially applicable to where we are now:

[Note: I have put in a few extra paragraph breaks to make it easier to read here in blog form. Emphasis is mine. I have also added some hyperlinks to related evidence that Berry’s prose is as applicable today during the Corona crisis as it was when he wrote it in 2000. I apologize for linking to the Guardian].


In 1959, C.P. Snow spoke of science as having an "automatic corrective". At that time, maybe, one could reasonably suppose that "pure" science, safely withdrawn from application, might by its own process of experimentation and proof more or less automatically correct itself. 

By now we know that the applied sciences are subject to no such corrective. The scale of experimentation has become too greatly enlarged, for now science may be said to be conducting many of its experiments on the scale of the world... 

If there are critics of science in the governments and the bureaucracies, they are largely inaudible. In the universities, the scientists generally proceed from promotion to promotion and from grant to grant, leaving few recorded moments of conscience or professional self-doubt;...

The journalists think it intellectually chic to stand open-mouthed before any wonder of science whatsoever. The media, cultivating their mediocrity, seem quite comfortably unaware that many of the calamities from which science is expected to save the world were caused in the first place by science - which meanwhile is busy propagating further calamities, hailed now as wonders, from which later it will undertake to save the world. 

Nobody, so far as I have heard, is attempting to figure out how much of the progress resulting from this enterprise is net. It is as if the whole population has been genetically deprived of the ability to subtract...

In short, the scientific critics of science are not effective. That there has been no effective criticism of science is demonstrated, for instance, by science's failure to attend to the possibility of small-scale or cheap or low-energy or ecologically benign technologies. Most applications of science to our problems result in large payments to large corporations and in damages to ecosystems and communities.

quoted from: Wendell Berry - Life is a Miracle (pp 20 and 21)

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