by Heather Gray
April 5, 2017
“Never ever depend on governments or institutions to solve any major problems. All social change comes from the passion of individuals.” Margaret Mead
Oppressive conservative movements anywhere in the world, especially what we’re seeing presently in America under Donald Trump and his cohorts, could partly be a response to challenges of traditional authority resulting from technological changes and the capitalist/conservative elite’s hostility toward democratization and scientific research that challenges their behavior, exploitation and profit making.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “democratize” as “to make (something) available to all people: to make it possible for all people to understand (something)” and that is precisely what some of the new technologies have done. Some technologies, in fact, are “inherently democratizing” by providing the masses throughout the world with access to information that has not been easily obtainable in the past. Invariably, however, the result is a series of threats from the conservative sector.
Some scientific research – as in climate research – has also been beneficial for the masses and the environment resulting in policies to protect us all from the ravages of the corporate world that in turn also threatens the capitalist elite’s interests.
Trump has thus far, and not surprisingly, taken the capitalist approach and critique against these advances largely for the sake of profit.
The Printing Press and Information to the Masses
Let’s start with the printing press and it’s huge impact on finally disseminating information and ideas to the masses as well as opportunities to share ideas. Prior to its advent, books were available primarily to the elite and the church leaders. In the 1400s the printing press changed all of that as the people finally had access to books and ideas overall and could finally express themselves in meaningful and informed ways with each other. They no longer had to listen to, solely, the King, feudal lords and church leaders as through this new technology – the printing press – the masses were finally learning new ideas altogether and expressing themselves. And yes, as a result, they organized, which ultimately led to the French Revolution that challenged the ruling elite.
In other words, the printing press helped to “democratize” the society and opened up vastly new and exciting opportunities for all, that the ruling elite, of course, did not care for in the least. With the printing press, the elite no longer had control over the “message” they wanted to convey to society – messages that served the largely non-democratic exploitative interests of the elite.
In Renaissance Europe, the arrival of mechanical movable type printing introduced the era of mass communication which permanently altered the structure of society: The relatively unrestricted circulation of information and (revolutionary) ideas transcended borders, captured the masses in the Reformation and threatened the power of political and religious authorities; the sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class. Across Europe, the increasing cultural self-awareness of its peoples led to the rise of proto-nationalism, accelerated by the flowering of the European vernacular languages to the detriment of Latin‘s status as lingua franca. In the 19th century, the replacement of the hand-operated Gutenberg-style press by steam-powered rotary presses allowed printing on an industrial scale,while Western-style printing was adopted all over the world, becoming practically the sole medium for modern bulk printing. (Wikipedia)
Since the printing press, we have continued to witness a vast array of new communication technologies that have also had considerable impact on the world overall.
Technological Changes, International Democratization and Enlightenment at Work
New technologies have provided opportunities for the masses to have access to extensive information and to make new contacts throughout the world as never before. The democratization process in many ways has become world-wide rather than country focused. The printing press, and the more recent personal computer in the 20th century coupled with the internet are prime examples of how this has been accomplished over time. These technologies have opened up enormous opportunities for individual growth and exploration. Change can be liberating!
These few examples are perhaps perfect scenarios of the “enlightenment” at work.
The Enlightenment (in the 1700s) included a range of ideas centered on “reason” as the primary source of authority and legitimacy, and came to advance ideals like liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state.(Wikipedia)
But all of this is seemingly also not without a societal cost and threats from the right wing. It is generally agreed, as mentioned, that the enlightenment in France advanced thanks to the printing press, and led to the French Revolution in 1789 in which the enlightened philosophers and informed masses challenged the authority of the French king and his feudal followers. A new paradigm of democratic control was in the offing.
One view of the political changes that occurred during the Enlightenment is that the “consent of the governed” philosophy as delineated by Locke in Two Treatises of Government (1689) represented a paradigm shift from the old governance paradigm under feudalism known as the “divine right of kings.” (Wikipedia)
As Thomas Paine said of the French Revolution, it’s mission was “democratizing” and that the model for us all in the world should be that:
“…all men were equal and any non-equaliser such as money, power, prestige or titles, were wrong. He felt that governments should reflect social equality.”English History
Another important factor to consider here is that when something new presents itself – new ideas, new technology, new religion, etc. – there is a tendency for sectors of the society (i.e. religious leaders, scientists, professionals generally) to cling even more to the older methods and values.
As was true in the French Revolution, the powerful elite in our contemporary life never want to give up power and rarely do they want an “informed” populace as, instead, they want to be the ones to control the messages and information the people receive. We are witnessing this behavior with Trump.
The Structure of Scientific Revolution, Denying Science and Marxian Thought
Thomas Kuhn describes the threats to the established hierarchy and thought in his renowned book “The Structure of Scientific Revolution“. He says that when Copernicus, Newton, Lavoisier and Einstein, for example, were advancing their new scientific theories, “Each of (the new theories or paradigms) necessitated the (scientific) community’s rejection of one time-honored scientific theory in favor of another incompatible with it.” Many leading scientists generally refuse, at first, to accept the new paradigms and attempt to undermine those advocating the change. Kicking and screaming, scientists will ultimately accept some of these new theories but it takes a while.
Today, however, the findings are that the majority of climate scientists in the world agree that human activity is impacting climate change:
(April 2016) Almost 16 years after Harvard researcher Naomi Oreskes first documented an overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, a research team confirmed that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is happening.
The study, published Tuesday, brought together 16 scientists, including seven authors of consensus studies that documented similar conclusions over the years despite varying research approaches. While reaching this so-called “consensus on consensus,” authors concluded that scientific agreement on human-caused climate change is “robust” with a range of 90 to 100 percent, depending on the question and methodology. (Think Progress)
Somewhat along the line of the Kuhn theory, Trump, and those in his administration, choose not to accept the huge body of domestic and international scientific research indicating that human activity has impacted climate change.
Perhaps Trump’s antagonistic views on climate research is more of a Marxian assessment.
Marx noted that people are “treated differently for profit”, as in with the implementation of slavery for the profit of white slave owners. But there always needs to be a “cover” – a rationale to justify the behavior. The cover was, for one, the Biblical tale of the “Curse of Ham” as the religious camouflage for their oppressive treatment of Africans; then they also used Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest“, etc. The interesting point that could be made here is that slave owners likely knew that what they were doing was wrong or, at the very least, they realized they needed a “cover” to justify their behavior.
So, too, Trump or those around him also need a “cover” regarding their opposition to climate research. To say Trump and others know what they are doing is wrong might be stretching it as it suggests a conscience of sorts that seems to be lacking with this group. Their “cover” is simply and profoundly the “denial” of decades of vast years of research on climate change findings indicating that human activities damage our climate. Parallel to the slave owners, Trump is making decisions and using”denial” as a weak “cover” to benefit profit-making entities or capitalists that then will continue to exploit the environment along with compromising the health of all of us in the world.
Trump’s behavior on climate issues is a prime example of Marx saying that we (being the masses in the US and the world) are being treated differently for the profit of the other.
Perhaps right out of the Kuhn and Marxian models, neoconservative movements in America are attempting to entrench and/or expand power for their own benefit rather than that of the masses.
Needless to say, the technological changes also provide opportunities for conservatives to strengthen their own conservative information output as well. So it works for both sectors.
But from the progressive or human rights scenario, the conservative elements are attempting to reverse advances made by a century of technological changes and the accompanying liberation of mass information. Trump is attempting to do this, for one, by threatening the end of net neutrality; cutting to “0” the finds for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; end funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, etc. They will want to continue to challenge the new and expansive technology, particularly if it’s liberating and empowering for the masses and threatens traditional authority and/or the conservative authority overall.With his critique of our media and/or scientific findings, virtually every day Trump is trying to control the information, we, as the public, receive. He wants to control the messages altogether and marginalize our media whose primary mission, as the fourth estate, is to keep the people in our democracy informed of activities of the other three estates, being the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Democracy requires an informed populace! Media is not there to serve the interests of the executive branch, as Trump would like, but to serve us, the people.
What is encouraging in America, however, is the huge response and critique by millions of Americans regarding these attempted efforts by Trump to undermine our media, climate research, health care, environment, immigration rights, education etc. to, then, benefit the 1%.
Nevertheless, if we understand this dynamic of attempts to control our information by the present government and corporate elite, the better we can act against these assaults on our freedom of thought, information and health. To repeat Margaret Mead’s quote: “Never ever depend on governments or institutions to solve any major problems. All social change comes from the passion of individuals.”