Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What, Exactly, is a Conspiracy?

First, just to be clear, a conspiracy doesn't have to be secret, and it doesn't have to be wide-spread. Anyone who says there's a conspiracy to do X or Y in the political arena is probably right, since chances are there's at least three or four people working together to undermine the status quo in every conceivable way.

Heck, there's at least five conspiracies in the group of geeks I hang out with. Not exactly uncommon.

But we're talking about the big "conspiracies". We're talking about coordinated assaults for or against science, religion, firearms, medicare - whatever your personal preferences are. Me, I'm a science guy. So lets talk about the apparent wide-ranging conspiracy against science.

Bush has been appointing anti-science people into all sorts of bizarre positions. For example, he appointed Deutsch into NASA. Deutsch proceeded to be one of the main proponents for stifling NASA's scientific publications. It's an interesting story, because the asshole actively admitted it. He recently resigned, but the fact remains: Bush appointed an anti-science propagandist into NASA.

There are a lot of examples. Bush appoints blunt, religious wack-jobs into any position he can slip them into. The FCC, the UN, everywhere. They then proceed to cripple science. A conspiracy against science?

Not on purpose. It's simple social dynamics.

See, Bush is a blunt, religious wack-job. Strangely, the sort of people blunt, religious wack-jobs become friends with are other blunt, religious wack-jobs. The sort of people a blunt, religious wack-job is likely to trust are other blunt, religious wack-jobs. Assuming they are from the same wack-job religion.

If you asked me to appoint fifteen people to assist me in my important duties, you can be sure I'd appoint blunt, pro-science assholes. Because those are the kinds of people I know, and the kinds of people I trust. Would it be a pro-science conspiracy? No, because I would be sure that just having those kinds of people in power would get the job done. There would be no need to conspire. It would be an implicit conspiracy.

We are drawn to others with similar ideals. Perhaps not as lovers, but as friends and allies. When we go someplace, we naturally try to drag this flow of allies with us. When we have more power, our allies are given more power, and they drag their allies with them. So, it quickly becomes a rush of people who are "your kind" of people.

This kind of "sticky friction" drives much of society. I think it's the reason that there aren't many women or black people in the sciences: there's this rush of similar geeks all sticking to each other, and when someone jumps in they either stick or get bounced around. It's much easier to stick if you're travelling in the same way as the main flow - IE, if you have the same features. If you're travelling against the flow, you'll get bounced around.

Two groups which touch each other also feel this pull, and they are pulled into each other, carving swaths of disruption. When a group of religious zealots brushes up against a group of scientific zealots, some of the religious zealots get "pulled in" to the science group. Not to help the group. Not to travel with the group. But to disrupt it by travelling across the grain, impelled by the inertia of their original group.

That is what's happening. Whether there's a smoke-filled back room to discuss the conspiracy or not really doesn't matter. Whether its on purpose or not really doesn't matter.

What matters is that the two groups are touching, and outliers are streaking across both groups, causing chaos and disruption.

"Wait, if that was the case, wouldn't scientists be disrupting religion?"

Well, of coure we are. We always have been. Religion has also always been disrupting science. This is simply an abnormally heavy rain of zealots.

Unfortunately, it's our precious memetic infrastructure they're damaging. Our inertia. We can't afford to flounder, not if we want to achieve our goals of curing cancer, living forever, colonizing the moon, and creating orbital mind-control lasers.

But maybe we could gather inertia like a space probe: by leeching it from nearby passerby. If we can adjust our vectors to pass close to neutral targets, we can pull them in and accelerate. It's bad physics, but good memetics.

Fighting the religious nuts is idiocy. We don't want to fight religion - which is what we are doing now. Religion is too big and has too much inertia. What we want to do is simply get bigger and go faster. Religion can't hurt us as fast as we can gain strength, and once we get up to speed, religion won't dare to attack us.

Religion has the media, a powerful advantage. But science has actual accomplishments, and a face-to-face is always stronger than a television show, so long as the face appears to know what they are talking about. And we have an advantage when talking about real scientific accomplishments: these are concrete and provable.

So brush up on your scientific accomplishments. Next time there's a good point for small talk, don't talk about sports or whether. Talk about one of those accomplishments. Most people don't really understand that those accomplishments were created by scientists - they kind of assume communication satellites are a natural part of nature. Your job is to remind them that surgery, the internet, shopping trips, planes, swim suits, photography, electric lights, and everything else you can point at in a city is the result of science. Not religion.

And, hey, you know those religious accomplishments? Cathedrals, bibles, your local church? Science. Without science, your religion would be gathering in a forest clearing waving sticks around, trying to keep the whole of your mythology in your head. Every brick, every buttress, every stained glass plate, every acoustically perfect auditorium, every speaker system: science. Not religion.


Anonymous said...

You sound like you think that science and religion are opposing forces. They're not. Religion and science can coexist just fine. Most of the time it's not a fight between religion and science; it's a fight between religious people and scientific people. Also, science didn't give us cathedrals. Is architecture science? Maybe, but are artisans scientists? No, they're not. If architecture is science, why isn't gardening? Or athletics? architecture is more similar to athletics than science. Science isn't implementation. And you suppose harmony, nirvana, volunteer working, social values, the UN and laws are the accomplishments of science? Not by a long shot. One cannot compare science and religion; it's like comparing eating and sleeping.

P.S. I really like this blog, you have many interesting ideas

Craig Perko said...

Please do not zombie post, especially if you're planning on arguing tangents.