I concluded my last piece wondering about the Enlightenment.
After all, it was the Enlightenment which initiated the replacement of parents, community elders, custom, tradition, religious belief, common sense, practical experience, myths, and even plain evidence, as sources of epistemic and normative authority over human life, with a new caste of authorities called scientists.
Two and a half centuries later, millions now reflexively regard whatever the most influential scientists happen to proclaim at any given moment, for any reason at all as The First And Last Word On Everything To Do With Their Lives. And now Wokists have, to a remarkable degree, captured "science" (its funding, its practice, its personnel, its findings, its prescriptions). As a result, they're now using the unassailable, Enlightenment-engineered authority of science to further impose Wokism wherever possible.
Given that, of course I'm going to wonder about the Enlightenment—at least some parts of it. Everyone should. The scientism the Enlightenment fathered (however inadvertently) was bad enough. Wokist scientism, imposed by force, is a nightmare. It leaves me wondering how exactly the contemporary, cynical Wokist manipulation of science is any better in principle, or in its practical effects, than the Renaissance-era Catholic church's behavior toward scientists like Galileo.
Based on his reading of the Bible, Pope Urban VIII believed Galileo's heliocentrism was wrong. But in addition, he worried that the discovery of an error in the Bible would potentially undermine everything about the Biblically-rooted world they all lived in. So, from a practical perspective, what was worse: People mistakenly believing the sun revolved around the earth (an error with no conceivably harmful effects on the world as it then existed), or...their entire world starting to fall apart?
I'm not so much trying to give the pope a pass on this famous episode, as to raise the question of how the current, clearly harmful Wokist misuse of science (which I've only scratched the surface of in these past eight or ten installments) represents "progress" over the allegedly big bad Renaissance-era Catholic church's decision to stick with a geocentrism which, from what I can see, harmed no one.
Anyway, moving on: Let's talk a bit more about our culture's now pathological deference to whatever happens to be passing for "science" at any given moment.
Here are my two cents:
If Anthony Fauci appeared on TV tomorrow to announce that gulping down a quart of motor oil magically protected you from Covid-19 forever, millions would do it.
Not only that, but in the name of "following the science!", the strong arm of the state would move into action. Adam Schiff would immediately draft the End Covid Now Mandatory Motor Oil Consumption Act. Congress would pass it amidst much self-congratulatory fanfare. Biden would then sign it and order his federal goon squad to begin forcing all the holdouts (whom AG Merrick Garland would probably designate "domestic terrorists" and order the FBI to target) to gulp down motor oil in front of witnesses. Penalties for non-compliance would be severe. And by the way, if you held out, your raging Karen of a View-watching sister would start accusing you of being an "alt-right anti-lubricant conspiracy theorist", disinvite you from your nephew's birthday party, and report you to the Wokestapo (kinda like what Rolf did to the Von Trapp Family at the end of The Sound of Music).
If you dared publicly question the Tyrant Gnome's motor oil prescription (even though you could prove he'd invested in motor oil), hundreds of obedient, Fauci-adoring motor oil drinkers around you—wiping the oozing, viscous Quaker State or Pennzoil from their lips—would demand you join them in "following the science". And to your question, "But what science, exactly?", they would only answer, "The science that is Dr. Fauci's pronouncement". And to your next question, "But what science is there to back up Dr. Fauci's motor oil announcement?", they would only answer, "You don't get it—whatever Dr. Fauci says is, by definition, 'the science'".
And if you doubted that, they might explain to you that none other than Dr. Fauci himself had provided definitive proof that science is whatever he says it is: the definitive proof being, that he said so himself. And if you asked how that isn't an obviously circular attempt at self-justification—an authoritarian tautology—they probably wouldn't understand what you meant.
Of course, this was all just a hypothetical. But now that I think about it, I'm not sure that an erroneous Fauci prescription to ward off Covid by drinking motor oil is that much more absurd than some of the stuff he, and his state-level idolaters, have said and done over the past year and a half. (See my last installment for more details on that).
And regardless of the absurdity of any particular pronouncement, the broader issue here is the dysfunctional, dangerous dominance/submission dynamic in play now since early 2020, still showing little sign of abating. Millions of us have submitted to acts of tyranny unimaginable only two autumns ago.
Why have so many of us submitted? Lots of reasons, but one is that for some of us, the authority-invoking command "follow the science!" seems to have functioned just like a hypnotist's injunction. It has plunged certain minds into an altered, acquiescent state. Once in that state, we submit to—even eagerly agree to—nearly everything our mesmeric controller commands. That could even include, as we've seen, a fairly amiable acquiescence to house arrest, restrictions on business and travel, mandatory masks even for small children (despite evidence masks can do more harm than good), de facto racial discrimination, mandatory injections, vaccine passports, and who knows what else next week, or next year.
This strange mental state can exert such a hold on us that if the non-entranced try to snap us out of it, perhaps showing us facts we're not aware of, we turn on them. We see them as enemy threats. They endanger a safety we now cherish—a safety felt through our membership in a new society of like-minded fellows, our access to a reassuring authority, and our desire for clear direction. Best, of course, to reject them altogether.
Above all else, those trying to reason with us, while we are in that state, must be rejected out of hand simply because they are not "The Science!". In fact, they are trying to replace "The Science!". And what, exactly, is "The Science!"? It is, and can only ever be, an actual person (or maybe small group of people) who comes to occupy a space of power and authority in our heads, and to which we grant the title "The Science!" (in this case, a perfect synonym for "king" or even "Führer"). Of course, his dictates don't necessarily remotely align with what the actual science says, but in that state, we don't really care. The important thing is to believe. To belong. To feel safe in a time of danger. To feel hope in a time of despair. To receive clear instruction in a time of confusion. To have a flesh-and-blood leader. Truth is only one value among many, after all, and in many circumstances of life, it lies nowhere near the top of the list.
"King", "Ruler", "Führer", or in this case, "The Science!": there is no functional difference for us when we're in that state. "The Science!"—in the form of a human being—is an intelligible incarnation of what would otherwise be an eternally unfathomable abstraction (that abstraction being the actual science). For many of us, that incarnation will be the best we can ever do. This is why our preference for intelligible incarnation over unfathomable abstraction—the preference for a flesh-and-blood authority representing, and clarifying, what would otherwise forever remain an incomprehensible mystery—makes a kind of sense. In its own way, our preference is rational.
This all seems to be true, and even demonstrably true given so much of what we've witnessed the past eighteen months. But—getting back to the Enlightenment—if it is all true, it calls into question several important Enlightenment claims. That raises even more questions about what else the Enlightenment—the philosophical progenitor of our world—might have gotten wrong. What problems might there be, that we didn't notice before? And what if certain ideas we might have long cherished might themselves have caused, or grown into, some of the very things we most object to now? What if some of the historical ideas we think are solutions, were actually the problems themselves, just in embryonic form?
It would sting to find that out. But... could it be true?
More on that next week.
Tal will continue the conversation here next week. Mark Steyn Club members can weigh in on this column in the comment section below, one of many perks of club membership, which you can check out here.