Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Age of Science and Politics

I think I need to restart this blog. I need to consider, again, the particular problems of poetry and philosophy and the place they meet, namely, the imagination. Ezra Pound began his ABC of Reading by announcing that “We live in an age of science and abundance,” a statement which is probably more true than is commonly recognized. All things considered, it is surprising that we seem to be living in an “age of austerity”. As Pound was fond of pointing out, whatever local scarcity we may experience in the supply of particular goods and services, the problem is not one of production, but distribution.

We also, I would point out, live in age of science and politics, rather than an age of philosophy and poetry. (William Carlos Williams was concerned that we might be living in an "age of philosophy and science”. Things have gotten worse.) While the word “science” continues to be held in general esteem in the popular mind, politics is only generally celebrated in the highly idealized form that travels under the banner of “democracy”. (Here at the Pangrammaticon, we think of distinctly “modern” politics as being broadly democratic, and modern science as being largely experimental.) But there can be no question that the quality of our lives is determined by the quantities that our scientific and democratic processes produce.

While scientific processes make discoveries and political processes make decisions, and thereby determine the content of our perceptions and our actions respectively, we cannot deny that, as contexts in which our lives go on, politics also shapes our desires just as surely as science shapes our beliefs. This formative influence is experienced as a kind of pressure to believe certain things in certain ways, and to desire certain people in certain ways. It is both thought and felt by us.

Yesterday something occurred to me, and this is what has caused me to take this blog out of retirement. Imagine if all your beliefs were scientifically correct and all your desires were politically correct. Now, the record of both science and politics over the past century or so by no means suggest that this tantamount to imagining that all your beliefs are true, nor that all your desires are just. (Truth is to knowledge as justice is to power.) So one will imagine, actually, only that one's beliefs and one's desires are constantly evolving according to the progress that science and politics are making, and that one is, as it were, “keeping up” with these “Joneses”.

That is, I am asking you to imagine that all your beliefs are supported only by the methods of modern science, and all your desires are supported only the mandates of modern politics. When the scientists change their mind, your beliefs change. When the politicians have a change of heart, your desires follow suit. It is not so much that you are scientifically and politically correct but that you have to be. When “progress” is made, you will simply experience a kind of difficulty in sustaining your presently held beliefs about, say, the global climate, or your desires, say, about the local women. There will be a kind of pressure. That pressure will be what it is like to be alive in the age of science and politics.

And that pressure, that difficulty, from now on, is what this blog is about. The instruments we use to gauge it are called “concepts” and “emotions”, and the arts by which we engage with it are called philosophy and poetry. It is their grammar that we are trying to understand. The effort will involve all the usage in the world.