Note: This article is not necessarily about what is actual truth is in any given comparisons. Instead, it is comparing the methods and attitudes of those holding power and in control both inside and outside the scientific community.
Try drawing a comparison between social and cultural entities today and those that existed in the past, and you may find some are more uncomfortable than others. Not “uncomfortable” that they don’t fit, but “uncomfortable” because we are used to looking at the world certain ways, and the way we look at the world and the way it really is are not necessarily the same thing, and sometimes that difference, though still apparent, is not a good thing.
Take, for instance, modern scientific orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy (n): Authorized or generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice.
What everyone believes and what is really true aren’t necessarily the same time. They might be, but one is no guarantor of the other.
It wasn’t too many years ago that eggs were bad. Eggs had cholesterol and cholesterol, we were told, was bad. There were signs on billboards “Give eggs a break!” and we were encouraged to eat no more than 2 eggs per week. This represented the scientific orthodoxy. Then we discovered that dietary cholesterol had less affect on levels in the body than we had previously though. Now eggs were good. “Give eggs a break” disappeared.
But what do we really know about eggs, about dietary and internal levels of cholesterol? Are we really at the end of this path? Have we really discovered everything there is to know about these little shell-wrapped packages of undeveloped avians, reptiles, and invertebrates?
Cholesterol (n): a compound of the sterol type found in most body tissues, including the blood and the nerves. Cholesterol and its derivatives are important constituents of cell membranes and precursors of other steroid compounds, but high concentrations in the blood (mainly derived from animal fats in the diet) are thought to promote atherosclerosis.
The point isn’t whether we were right then or right now, the point is that there was a point at which people in positions of control and power knew one thing, and these attempted to foist their will and knowledge on us. Then they were shown wrong and some others (or possibly the same people) told us it was OK to eat as many eggs as we liked pretty much, just so long as we didn’t use bacon grease, butter, or any other saturated fat to cook them.
“Use Margarine”, they said. Yea, it’s a trans-fat (meaning it was an unsaturated fat converted to a saturated fat by the process of hydrogenation), but it used to be unsaturated and that’s what counts. Saturated fats, like butter, bacon grease, and other things were never “good” and so can’t be healthy ever, while something that used to be “good” before it was made a little worse to gain stability and flavor should still retain some goodness.
Hydrogenation: to combine or treat with hydrogen, especially to add hydrogen to the molecule of an unsaturated organic compound.
Once again, people who knew, who had power, or the ears (or pockets, it really doesn’t matter which) of people in power, told us what was what. The orthodoxy was now that we ought to use shortening instead of lard, margarine instead of butter. There were signs, stories, articles, campaigns and programs, all geared around convincing mamacitas in their cucinas toss the lard and use the Crisco (which name has always reminded me of San Francisco, for some odd and unexplained reason).
Then we learned that saturated fats are healthier than trans because the naturally occurring saturated fats don’t lower what we think are the healthier lipoproteins in the body the way trans-fats do. Now there’s a new scientific orthodoxy, but this is a good one, because it’s now OK to use butter and lard and bacon grease and all those good things. So it’s OK.
Scientific orthodoxy isn’t limited to dietary concerns. Another big issue for most of the last 20 years has been “global warming”. Al Gore, former vice president of the United States, inventor of the Internet, and love novel inspiration, has spewed countless greenhouse gases jetting countless miles from one party to another sharing the inconvenient truth that polar bears can’t swim as far as they used to, but that they’re still really cute and their pictures are good for charities’ and political movements’ bottom lines.
Global Warming (n): a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants.
Bigwigs have documents signed by lots of smart people saying cow farts are bad, car farts are worse, and beach front property will be opening shortly in Arizona because of all those farts, and, most importantly, the only way to stop all those nice Arizonans’ property values from going up so much is for us all to give lots more money and power to government so they can give money and power to people who do cool things with electricity and batteries and who kill birds with giant pinwheels. Other smart people say this ain’t so, but these don’t appear to have as many greased-pocket-connected ears as the others, and so they are called “deniers” and laughed at.
This brings up the darker side of the scientific orthodoxy and the part that compares most discomfortingly with some of the darker histories of power throughout human history. Any group in power necessarily seeks its own continuation. Within the democratic republic of the United States, this generally takes a more subtle approach than it has elsewhere around the world and throughout history. Because a President is forbidden from staying in direct power beyond a certain amount of time, each President works to secure their “legacy” while they can, which will guarantee their future invitations to important parties and engagements. This will also explains why previous Presidents are rarely, if ever, investigated and prosecuted for their involvement in any scandals rising to criminal status, as subsequent Presidents want also to be free of such investigation when the climate has changed and they’re no longer being feted at every turn. (I learned that bit from the Hunger Games). But it is the same goal: retention of whatever power can be retained.
Inquisition: an ecclesiastical tribunal established by Pope Gregory IX c. 1232 for the suppression of heresy. It was active chiefly in northern Italy and southern France, becoming notorious for the use of torture. In 1542 the papal Inquisition was re-established to combat Protestantism, eventually becoming an organ of papal government.
At times throughout history, different parties representing different aspects of knowledge, society, and culture, have held differing levels of power. At one time it was “the Church” that held most power in the world. While they did, there were good things accomplished and bad things done, all in the name of The Church, and things done in the name of God which brought shame to His Name instead of the glory those human actors thought they were bringing.
We moderns like to look back and shudder at the horrors and laugh at the idiots of those benighted times. We think we know everything today and don’t pause to consider just how benighted we still might be and how harshly future generations will judge us for our own foibles and what they’ll doubtless see as gropings just as blind as those we laugh at in our own distant past.
We don’t take the time to consider what we don’t know. We trust blindly, just as the populace of dark years past did, in the platitudes and excuses of those in power. We sit idly by as the powerful persecute and prosecute those attempting to speak truth to power.
You and I consider ourselves mini-Galileos, watching Cosmos and reading Cosmo, when we have much more in common with the ignorant illiterates filling the pews of the Church Corrupt of the 14th century, hitting “like” on real people’s real needs and moving passively on.
Meanwhile the Church Corrupt of our age, those who control what are the authorized and generally accepted truths, exercise great and increasing levels of power and control. Say what you will about the success or failure of a nationally standardized education system: it makes teaching orthodoxy easy. Controlling what people are taught is important to raising up people who will continue to support The Powers That Be, accepting their words and actions without criticism or investigation.
Standardize (v): cause something to conform to a standard.
The Church Corrupt of our age does not use their power and control to further knowledge, possibly in tacit acknowledgment that theirs is not the actual truth, probably in fear that it is not, but instead uses it to extend its control and further its power both by mind control as mentioned previously, and also by persecution of those who question it. Certainly, people are not put to death by the scientific orthodoxy as we have been led to believe they were by the Inquisition, but the pain of death lasts but for a minute, while unjust discrediting, blackballing and blackmailing, last for a lifetime, and when other powerful entities such as government and media join in the persecution, the result can be life worse than death for those who pursue the true goals of science and the real paths of honest investigation.
One clear difference we have today is that information simply cannot be held down as it could be 400 years ago. Monolithic authorities and entities of power are at much greater danger than they were then, yet at the same time the same systems that convey information so freely and democratically today enslave those they reach with mind-numbing gluts and stultifying entertainments. Instead of searching for true bits of knowledge in the information stream, we’re dead men watching.
We’re dead men watching.