Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Realms of Fantasy

Tobias Langdon writing about Lysenkoism and Marxist pseudo-science in the Occidental Observer:
The Lysenko affair illustrates the considerable degree of fortuitousness in the history of the [Stalinist] regime’s battle with culture. It is easy to see that ideology was much more clearly involved in questions of cosmogony [the study of the origins of the universe] than in the matter of the inheritance of acquired characters. The theory that the universe had a beginning in time is hard to reconcile with dialectical materialism, but this is not obviously the case with the chromosome theory of heredity, and one can easily imagine Marxism-Leninism triumphantly proclaiming that this theory resoundingly confirmed the immortal ideas of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin. Yet in fact the ideological struggle was especially acute in the case of genetics, and it was here that the party’s intervention took its most brutal form, whereas the agitation over cosmogony was much milder. It is hard to find any logical explanation of the difference: much depended on accident, on who was in charge of the campaign, whether Stalin was interested in the point at issue, and so on. (Leszek Kołakowski, Main Currents of Marxism: Vol. III, The Breakdown, 1978, ch. IV, “The crystallization of Marxism-Leninism after the Second World War,” p. 139)
I disagree with Kołakowski: I don’t think there was anything “fortuitous” in the regime’s choice of targets or that it is hard to find a “logical explanation” of the difference. Cosmogony, the study of the origins of the universe, relates to things that are beyond human control and beyond most people’s concern or understanding. Biology is entirely different: it deals with important contemporary social phenomena in the real world, not the heavens and the remote past. An authoritarian regime would prefer biology to be easily malleable and subject to a tyrant’s will. Stalinists mistook their preferences for reality, or rather, tried to impose their preferences on reality as they had in economics and sociology.

I believe this also holds an important point about the current assault on religion and the hypocrisy of its most fervent assailants--to the extent they are progressive or liberal and propound anti-racist and anti-sexist views (and typically lay the blame for these supposed scourges at the feet of religion). The religious believe a fantasy about God and the afterlife; the believer of the current state religion of human equality believes a fantasy about human biology with ongoing implications for the here and now. Which holds more potential for destruction?

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