All Science is Social Science

All science is social science, because the development of knowledge of the laws of nature take place within society, are subject to the limitations of resources produced by society, and in turn have an effect on society. As capitalism was clawing it’s bloody way toward world dominance, it brought with it a remarkable boom in the sciences, because understanding natural processes results in improved technique for changing nature, which, in turn, results in greater profit. The funding of Universities, the establishment of public education, the general high regard for scientists, were all hallmarks of capitalism in its rise.

But the more scientific thought comes into conflict with private profit, the more scientific thought comes under attack. Public education is being gutted and teachers are treated with contempt. Climate change is denied. Virology and epidemiology are treated as enemies by the ruling elite. University research budgets, especially in the hard sciences, shrink. Pseudo-science replaces the search for objective truth, while many scientists, in self-defense, seek to draw in the borders of what science even is, thus fostering the notion that a scientific approach cannot even exist when it comes to history, economics, or politics.

All science is social science, and the abandonment of and disdain for scientific thought is symptomatic of a decaying social system even as it contributes to that decay.

Competition and Cooperation

The question of competition versus cooperation among humans has come up on my Twitter timeline again. It emerges every now and then, when someone desperate to find a defense for capitalism falls back on, “You socialists want to eliminate competition, but competition is a part of nature, so eliminating it is impossible.”

Okay, let’s talk about it. To take the easy answer first, I should point out that, while yes, nature is full of competition, it is also full of cooperation. Human beings in particular, by virtue of being born premature (ie, instead of taking days or weeks or maybe a few months before an infant can survive by itself, human beings must be cared for for years), we are required to be social animals. Cooperation is so fundamental to human biology, that I’d call it “human nature” if I weren’t allergic to that term.

But let’s go a little further.

Competition is such a vague word. What competition, under what conditions, for what stakes, against whom? The argument of those defenders of capitalism who say socialism wants to “remove competition” are simply confused. Competition in a market economy takes certain specific forms. The most significant for our purposes is that it assumes scarcity, which means the most basic competition is for those scarce resources necessary to life. But under contemporary conditions, where the only reason for the scarcity of the most important resources (food, shelter, medical care) is distribution rather than production capacity, then what becomes absurd is not competition as an abstraction, but those specific forms of competition.

What forms might competition take in a rational society, in which every human being had not only the basic necessities of life, but leisure to pursue his or her inclinations? We can’t know. I might guess—competition over different plans to improve our environment, or over who gets this or that luxury item, or over different plans for improving everyone’s life.  And I’m certain there will continue to be sporting events, games, and so on. But when it is not, as it is today, literally a life & death issue, might we not be permitted to hope and expect that such competition as still exists will be less toxic?

Convention Programming

In the most general terms, my approach to writing is to write the book I want to read, and hope other people want to read it too.

I take the same approach when I’m in charge of programming at a convention—that is, I try to put together panels built around writing topics that I’m struggling with and that I want to hear a lot of smart people talk about.  That is, for the most part.  For five years I had the honor and pleasure of teaching at a week-long writing workshop called Viable Paradise (recommended, by the way), and so based on that experience, I also like to throw in some of the more common problems I saw coming up among students.

I am, just now, about to start putting together the schedule for Narrativity, to be held (absent a new COVID upsurge) over Labor Day Weekend.  Looking through the proposed list of panels—the ones I came up with, and the ones suggested by others—it’s kind of a drag we’re not going to be able to do them all.  As a rule, we pick which ones make the cut by how many people are eager to be on them, although I reserve the right to say, “No, we’re doing that one cuz I wanna.”

Narrativity is small, with single-track programming that includes breaks for lunch and supper, so the idea is that most people will be at every panel, which leads to what is, for me, the fun part: trying to figure out the flow, that is, how each panel feeds into the next one, as well as which ones are likely to generate the best discussion over the supper break or between days.

Anyway, consider the post an advertisement for the convention, if you’d like, although mostly I’m just procrastinating before diving into the brutal chore of figuring out how many panels we aren’t going to have time for.

An Open Letter to Volvo Truck Workers in Dublin, Virginia

To the members of UAW Local 2069:

I don’t think you can realize how much of an inspiration you are to how many people.

The battle you’re fighting goes far beyond the immediate issues. We’re living in a world where you can’t open your eyes without seeing a cause for despair: the pandemic, first of all, with the refusal of public officials to keep schools and factories closed to prevent the spread. But it doesn’t stop there: endless war, abuse of immigrants, climate catastrophe, cops who commit murder with impunity, attacks on voting rights.  War criminals walk around free, while Julian Assange, who exposed them, remains in Belmarsh Prison. I could go on and on.

We look for political solutions, and what do we see? The Republicans are moving toward becoming an openly fascist party, while the Democrats, more frightened of mass resistance to fascism than of fascism itself, do everything they can to stifle opposition to the Wall Street bloodsuckers. And the Unions, which I grew up believing were the means of defense of workers right, are now entirely under the thumb of the very corporations they should be defending us against.

And this is when you stand up and say, “No, we’ll take you all on, the corporation, the corrupt union, and the political toadies.” It is inspiring, it is uplifting.

From my position, I can’t know how this battle will turn out—if this is the spark that ignites other auto workers, and from them, those in other industries both here and abroad, as you’ve already inspired your brothers and sisters in Belgium. But I’m watching, and hoping, and so are many, many others.

I’m a supporter, though not a member, of the Socialist Equality Party, and I read the World Socialist Web Site to help me get a handle on what’s going on in the world and what it means, which is how I’ve been following your fight. But what I’m saying to you now is not coming so much from a political stand, as an intensely personal one: You are giving me, and others like me, hope, and you ought to know that.

Warmest Regards,

Steven Brust

The Critic and the Writer

A chance comment suddenly helped crystalize my thoughts on something I’ve been looking for a way to talk about for at least thirty years. It has to do with the way a book is analyzed after the fact, versus how it is constructed.

The comment was on my novel, Dzur, and it discussed how the food described at the beginning of each chapter commented on and interacted with the events in that chapter.  And, yeah, I did that.

After the fact, from the point of view of the critic or the reader, that was a complex bit of layering, where the reader is invited to  consider additional depths of the work.  Sounds pretty nifty, right? Also, probably, pretentious and maybe affected.

But from my perspective, as I was writing it, it was utterly prosaic and practical. Those “additional depths” were hooks to help me figure out what happened next. That’s it. I’d start with the description of the food, then, if I got stuck trying to decide what happened in that chapter, I’d read that description to see if it gave me any ideas.  And, as I was describing the action, I might go back and tweak the description of the food a little, because by then it had become a game I was playing with myself.

I was well aware that this would have the result of a work that had more depth, more texture, more of what Emma Bull has called the “chewy bits.” And that’s great.  But at the end of the day, to me, it was a bit of business I was using to help me figure out what happened in the story.

The analysis by the critic is every bit as valid as the remembered experience of the writer.  I love a good critic for the insights into a work he or she can give me. But the analysis by the critic has little in common with the experience of creation.