Sunday, July 11, 2010

True science cannot be politically correct.

Archaeologists, cultural anthropologists, and practitioners of the social sciences often fall prey to magical thinking. Once mathematics has been applied to a subject, academics mistakenly believe that what they are doing is science.

The adjectives "primitive" and "sophisticated" have been tainted by subjective and inappropriate application to both ancient and modern cultures. We admire human groups that struggle to survive in environments that have little to offer, but these human beings deserve to be appreciated for their real accomplishments, not for the supernatural fantasies that modern people attach to them. Magical thinking can easily inflate or deflate the technical and social achievements of any group of people. Caution in applying qualitative adjectives is necessary because technology and social organization rarely keep pace with each other. When scientists use words like primitive, sophisticated, and complex as terms meant to equalize cultures, they are being unscientific. This is a religious impulse.

Scientists often misrepresent their culture of interest as advanced, spiritual, peaceful, idyllic, egalitarian, in tune with nature, or as keepers of the secrets of the universe. Used in this way, these descriptions are symptoms of contagious magic: by defining a culture as 'superior' in some way, the researcher controls that culture's value, and by having secret 'scientific' knowledge of that culture, becomes de facto, one of its priests.

The egocentric need to inflate or exaggerate the accomplishments of our ancestors does a great disservice to people who lived and died long before we came along; the impulse to establish our own value through connections with dead people is magical. The function of blood as the carrier of good and evil, or of power and identity, has now given way to the belief that genes transmit magical power: the search for significant ancestors that will inflate the value of their descendants is big business. Science is again co-opted by the supernatural.

Until recently, nearly all humans survived with minimal technology, little personal comfort, and simple intellectual activity. The person who mistakes this lack of complexity as a negative statement of human value, and who refuses to refer to cultures as having simple lifestyles, inadvertently supports the very notion of the superiority of western culture that he or she publicly rejects as unfair or biased. This conniving is not science: it is a magical impulse at work.

A case in point: The Maya were astronomical observers, calendar makers, and pyramid builders, as were all stone age people to some degree, but the Maya referred the precision of nature, as it is revealed by mathematics, to a universe driven by the darkest elements of magic, with blood-letting as their central and obsessive religious ritual.

Priests murdered hundreds of thousands of captives; the function of war was to supply sacrificial victims. The victim's chest was cut open below the rib cage, and his or her heart ripped out by hand, because the Maya were consumed by the magical belief that imaginary supernatural powers demanded blood sacrifice. The cultural beliefs and physical structure that drove mass killing were driven by the fear of mathematics and calendar calculations; pyramids were steep to exhaust victims as they climbed to their unimaginable deaths, and the pitch facilitated the return of the bodies to the ground, where the meat was distributed to the Mayan populace; protein was in short supply. These acts of unimaginable horror happened, and to excuse psychopathic brutality on religious grounds in one group is to condone religious barbarity in any group. Nazism is a religion: who is willing to excuse the Holocaust as a spiritual right?

The belief that the power contained in blood is unleashed in sacrifice is universal and evident in the perpetual need for war, which is a form of mass human sacrifice. The obsessive mind of the Maya, which made them excellent timekeepers, served a culture of mass murder. This mass psychosis also bloomed in Nazi Germany, where technical innovation fueled the sacrificial extermination of victims, making mass murder possible on an industrial scale. It must be noted that the United States government wasted no time in capturing Nazi scientists, and put them to work, serving our goal of producing ever more efficient weapons of mass death. No one calls the Nazi religion advanced or spiritual; how then can New World mass sacrifice, or any other human sacrifice, be excused?

Today we classify the practice of human sacrifice and/or cannibalism as a crime, and are confident that it is confined to local outbreaks that occur when severe stress causes people who are consumed by supernatural delusion to perform acts of blood magic in an attempt to appease dark psychological forces. In any group dominated by supernatural beliefs, outbreaks of irrational behavior will occur in times of stress; we are no exception. War is the most common and misindentified outbreak of mass sacrifice.

To insist that human sacrifice is evidence for advanced cultural development, on the grounds that a culture possesses advanced technology, is to say that genocide, torture, cannibalism, and all similar acts, must be brought into the moral realm and sanctioned. The ritual of blood sport in Ancient Rome was barbaric, and we condemn the practice, but we also exploit the Roman legacy of architecture, engineering, and law without question. Advanced technology has dangerously outpaced our Stone Age social structure, which is more like that of the Ancient Romans than we admit; violence is still the male tool of choice; violence dominates real life and popular entertainment. Our lack of honesty about who we are prevents us from confronting our deficits. The inability of the United States to choose pragmatic and proven solutions has brought us to a state of paralysis, in which even simple actions of good governance have become impossible.