Sunday, July 26, 2009

A new all encompassing science - the social biology of our age? Some provocations

At the beginning of the last century for many people the biology seemed to be the universal science, not only explaining the laws of nature but at the same time being applicable for the human society as well. Medical doctors, pioneers of genetics, ethologists saw the human race as living in a natural organism and behaving according the laws of nature. Social-darwinism achieved a certain popularity, individuals and nations (or countries) were seen as inevitably competing each other and for many, who were read to draw the inevitable consequences the emergence of superior and inferior nations or races were the natural course of history, supported by the laws of the nature. Based on the latter they thought themselves capable to prescribe the only possible social organization, assign everyone his or her natural role.

As these ideas - even if unintentionally - were present at the birth of and served as a root of the extremist ideologies - fascism, nazism - now they seem to be compromised and even though some scientist from the field of biology or medical sciences are today still convinced that the nation as a natural unit of humans could be explained by and should be organized according to the natural law, nobody really take them seriously. But if someone considers a bit more thoroughly the - rather vulgar - version of economics - or economic prejudices - prevalent today, some striking similarities can be discovered easily.

The competition of individuals or companies on the market is one of the main concept of economics, but when it is extended to units not initially part of any economic theory (i. e. for countries or nations) it comes quite close to the social-darwinist concept of life or death struggle of such entities. (And the proponents of these ideas - as I tried to highlight in my earlier posts - use a language deliberately suggesting that success or failure is a matter of survival or decline.) Many of them are confident that they have universal solutions for every social problem, and it is only a matter of applying the laws of economics on the society. And first of all they view of those who - for different reasons - are not capable to contribute to the economic activity as useless ones resembles dangerously the idea - inherent in nazism - that the community should get rid of such parasites. Even if in this vulgar-economics the solution is not mass murder. only reducing the redistribution level to one that only capable to ensure a subsistance level for them. Meanwhile many of them are convinced that they activity - the result of which is quite dubious in light of the recent economic events - is worth the money they earn, moreover, they products are the basis for a new era of prosperity.

I do not want to argue that economics is useless, economists are illusionists, who's contribution to the human life is zero, or we should not pay any attention to them. But that kind of boundless self-confidence and the firm belief that they rightly deserve what they have (esteem, money, property, role in the world, consumables etc.) could have unexpected and unintentional consequences as well. They blind faith in their own economic models (sometimes considered by mathematicians rude like paleolithic tools) as true descriptions of reality, their tendency to consider human society as simply being a great economic machine could result in a real authoritarian approach to the world. Or. as in case of some of the inactive groups, inhumane. Reducing human interactions to being simply expressions of economic calculation and expectation makes it - at least implicitly - obligatory to adhere to the prescriptions of econimists, elevating them to the role of a kind of "übermensch." Everyone is judged by one's - direct - contribution to economic growth - the foremost aim, especially when it is a matter of life or death, as others' growth is considered to be dangerous, because of the concept of eternal competition between - let's admit - many times artificial economic units of nations or countries.

Of course it would be foolish to argue that cornerstones of macroeconomics should be neglected, a society could spend more on its inactive members as it is capable to accumulate etc. But today's economics - especially in ECE - is so much focused on the idea of speedy growth and competitiveness through the reduction of labor costs and redistribution, even if it means the partial abandonment of public services that could easily justify practices that even two decades ago would have been considered as immoral and unbelievable in a "civilized", western country. And this vulgar-economic discourse clearly shows how substantially our concepts regarding the moral basis of our society and such concepts as solidarity have been transformed in the last few years, not the least due to the emphasis placed on the individual success as the foremost aim of every life. What makes the situation even more frightening - at least from the perspective of a more balanced society - is the lack of doubt and self-critic. No one seems to have any doubt regarding the economics as a science (although being a science would imply not only the capability to discover reality - however uncertain its concept is - but to know the limits of our knowledge as well, that means to have our own doubts regarding us), even after the shamful debacle of the last few years, no one asks why the inactives do not deserve their - in many cases quite meager - pensions, social assistance, and why not the economists should pay more taxes? Or simply renounce a part of they earnings? (Especially as even theories of a good tax system contain the element, that in case of growing inequalities redistribution should be applied in order to reduce it. Well, this part usually disappears from the recipes advocated by so-called "experts" in Hungary.)

As history is far from being a linear story of ever growing living standards and steady development (once again contradicting the ideas - for example the idea of the possibility of a long period of sustained growth and fast catch up in ECE - prevalent among economists) it would be foolish to expect that no one would be affected by the crisis. But solidarity (and its social cohesion with it) and compassion - important moral values in western societies - would deserve that those, who have more, would be willing to sacrifice from it. And humility - a result of the knowledge that our science is incomplete - would deserve the same. Not the sometimes authoritarian actions of otherwise not convincingly smart people.

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