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Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

My Testimonial on the World Socialist Web Site

| 8 Comments

I mentioned this on Twitter, but haven’t put it here, just in case anyone is interested.  For the 15 year anniversary of the founding of the World Socialist Web Site, I was asked to contribute a testimonial–in essence, a statement of why I read the WSWS.  It can be found about halfway down on this page.

 

 

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

8 Comments

  1. It’s interesting that you emphasize the idea of a scientific analysis of social and political issues since that’s what I was curious about.

    Confession: I’ve read through the WSWS site on several occasions, and I have to admit it always struck me as heavy on propaganda and light on thorough analysis, sort of like the WSJ’s editorial page, just with a different slant.

    The phrase “Dismissal of science as applied to history” seems awfully sweeping. I can’t imagine anyone dismissing wholesale the work of archeologists, a historical scientific discipline, although the interpretations of specific archeologists have been considered worthless by some people. Various dating techniques are also sound science, most of which I doubt have been swept aside by anyone. May I ask what, specifically, were you refering to with that comment?

  2. skzb

    Very little archaeology concerns itself with history. Most of it deals with pre-history, donchaknow. I was referring to the contempt I run into into when expressing the belief that human social activity is subject to scientific analysis–that material conditions determine events, and that these are knowable. If you haven’t seen that contempt, you haven’t been paying attention.

  3. Steve, slightly off topic, I hope you don’t mind… The letter was interesting. But what intrigued me more was the editor’s specific mentioning of your parents, Jean and Bill. So I searched, and found WSWS’s article celebrating your mother, Jean: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2007/11/jean-n26.html
    Wow, what an amazing woman! Wish I’d had such a powerful and active influence in my life growing up, instead of being ensconced in Reagan-worshiping jingoism.
    I’m POed than Ayn Rand has at least one film about her, but Emma Goldman has none; Jean should at least have a TV movie! 🙂

  4. skzb

    Liam: Thank you; maybe after the revolution, they’ll get a parked named after them. They’d like that. Me, I’d love to see a movie about Rosa Luxemburg, one of my heroes.

  5. As a testimonial it was very effective. A new site was added to my favorites bar. Thanks!

  6. skzb: “Very little archaeology concerns itself with history. Most of it deals with pre-history, donchaknow. ”

    Pre-recorded times, maybe, but it’s all history. Plus that idea is from the lay press, if that’s a term.

    “I was referring to the contempt I run into into when expressing the belief that human social activity is subject to scientific analysis–that material conditions determine events, and that these are knowable.”

    One of the definitions of a science idea is testability. In that sense it’s not really possible to have a scientific analysis of historical events because they can’t be repeated to check the analysis. Keegan presents a supremely logical analysis of Agincourt. His examination of the slaughter of the prisoners is logical, but not for that reason scientific since we will never really know why they were killed, i.e. his idea can’t be tested.

    As one gets closer to modern times, analyses /may/ present testable theories, but it’s not a given that they will. I personally have problems with the idea of a “scientific view of history” for this reason, but it’s along the lines of a qualified reservation, not contempt.

    “If you haven’t seen that contempt, you haven’t been paying attention.”

    I haven’t seen anything like that, but I read the work of historians, not critics or post-modernists or whatever they like to call themselves.

  7. skzb

    I had always taken the perm “prehistory’ as opposed to “history” to refer to events at a time before recorded history. If you are using history in a broader sense, that is not unreasonable.

    Meanwhile, you say, if I am understanding correctly:
    1. Science needs to be testable (presumably = falsifiable)
    2. It is not possible to test historical events.
    3. Therefore the study of history cannot be scientific, and
    4. You haven’t ever run into anyone who is contemptuous of the idea that history is subject to scientific analysis.

    Uh…okay.

  8. 1. Science needs to be testable (presumably = falsifiable)

    Science often contains parts which are not testable. The idea that it should all be testable is a club people use to bash stuff they disagree with.

    2. It is not possible to test historical events.

    If you have an idea how some historical events fit together, then you can look for historical example which you believe fit your pattern. Like, you might find a small handful of circumstances where you expect governments to debase their currency. You can look at actual examples of governments debasing their currency, and check whether they fit you ideas. There is room to be wrong about interpretations of history. Still new examples may come to light eventually, and better evidence may show up. If we decide it isn’t science unless we can nail it down with 100% certainty, we won’t have much science left.

    3. Therefore the study of history cannot be scientific, and

    You have to interpret your historical sources. You could get it wrong. If somebody else says they have done it better than there’s room for argument. Maybe unbiased observers will decide the other guy wins.

    It isn’t so different from other science. Maybe the conclusions are weaker and the error bounds wider. Not a qualitative thing.

    4. You haven’t ever run into anyone who is contemptuous of the idea that history is subject to scientific analysis.

    If I meet somebody who says “I know my history is correct because I used science” I will tend to be contemptuous, though I’ll try for some charity too. Similarly if they are sure their physics is correct.

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