Focus on Education

(Continued from March issue)

Further to David Parnas’ letter with regard to peace education at the grass roots level, he writes:

“A set of Science for Peace short courses, offered in the evening, in neighbourhoods, or even homes, treating the fundamentals of our sciences with an emphasis on understanding the limitations. The courses should concentrate on the science and technology, not on the peace aspects. We have to avoid appearing interested only in propaganda. Ultimately a stronger and better informed citizenry is the way to better political decisions.”

The goal, I think David would agree,is the spread of enlightenment. It was natural science that triggered enlightenment in Europe in the sense of emancipation from superstitions about the physical world and thence from the shackles imposed on the human mind by religious dogma. Can scientific literacy again give momentum to enlightenment by dispelling the superstitions that now threaten to drive us to extinction? I have in mind the belief system which makes it appear self-evident that the security of a country is positively related to the destruction potential of its arsenal,that nuclear weapons can “defend our way of life”, that peace depends on perpetual threat of omnicide, that producing things that are at best useless insures continued prosperity, etc. Necessary and salubrious as literacy is in the realm of natural science, enlightenment — in this area can contribute little to dispelling the most debilitating superstitions of our age. In fact, helping people become literate about computers(vital for understanding the dangers of militarized high-tech) already transcends what was generally regarded as “science” before the second industrial revolution. The concept of scientific literacy must now be extended.

“Not only will men of science have to grapple with the sciences that deal with men,” wrote Bertrand Russell, “but — and this is a more difficult matter — they will have to persuade the world to listen to what they have discovered. If they cannot succeed in this difficult enterprise, man will destroy himself by his half way cleverness.”

Russell did not specify whom he meant by “the world” that must be persuaded to listen. If he meant the power elites, perhaps this is an impossible task. Power elites listen to scientists when what they say can help them enhance their power. On this score, the natural sciences have firmly established their usefulness and credibility. The sciences that deal with man carry no promises of helping maintain or extend power. On the contrary,enlightenment about what makes people believe and obey makes them see through the superstitions of our age threaten power. If, on the other hand, by “the world” we under stand ordinary people,the sort Parnas has in mind as the participants in grass roots peace education programmes, then we can hope that that world will listen. Ordinary people are receptive to self-knowledge. (To be concluded)

— Anatol Rapoport