I think Harry Collins is a little bit nuts; what do you think?
Collins is a professor of social science at Cardiff University, who is apparently tired of having the social sciences marginalized and is working on the groundrules for a New World Order with his partner, Dr. Robert Evans. Not happy with either old-fashioned Modernism or Post-modernism, they are advancing what they call “Elective Modernism.” From a Q&A on the subject:
‘Post-Post-Modernism’ is a bit of a mouthful and the term we prefer is ‘Elective Modernism.’ ‘Elective Modernism’ captures the idea that, as with any kind of scepticism, the ideas of Wave 2 are indefeasible—science is not forced upon us by its efficiency or its revelation-like certainty. Nevertheless, it is impossible to live by scepticism alone. Therefore, irrespective of the logic of the sceptical arguments one must still elect to live by principles that recognise the value of experience and expertise.
Elective Modernism does not reinstate Modernism as it was before Post-Modernism. Instead Elective Modernism describes an age in which we choose to value expertise and experience because we know that while the problem of legitimacy cannot be ignored, neither can the problem of extension and we know that a society in which an expert opinion is given the same weight as any other opinion is not one we would want to live in. We have all been changed by Wave 2 and by Post-Modernism, but we still have to get on with a life informed by expertise; we must surely elect to live in a society where decisions are made for reasons in addition to power and populist sentiment.
“Wave Two” seems to refer to post-modernism, which among other things has demonstrated the failure of science to assert itself as the guiding force of society. Skepticism is pointless, scientists often speak in areas in which they are not experts, and if left to the public, we’ll end up with decisions made based on politics and religion.
Elective Modernism is his proposed Wave Three, in which society must choose science, but not either Wave One or Wave Two science. And, this choice is not necessarily rational, but moral:
If Wave Two has shown that arguments that favour scientific values cannot be got from the ideas of truth and efficiency, such values, if they are to inform a society, will simply have to be `chosen’. We can call the basis of a society which chooses such values, `Elective Modernism.’
Elective Modernism is, I want to argue, the most attractive successor to Post-Modernism. I want to suggest that Elective Modernism is a more appealing as a basis for society than force, religion, or populism. But the choice itself would not be `rational’ but more like a moral choice: one would not want to live in a society in which, say, gratuitous torture of the innocent and weak is acceptable even though one could not prove it was a bad society. Those who would demand a `proof’ of the badness of such a society would have missed the point.
Collins is quite critical of the current state of science, says that we “cannot live by skepticism alone,” and rejects essentially any principles for establishing societal values. Except, that is, for choosing to accept the values of science. The problem is, he explains, no current method for determining the values of science has worked.
The society he envisions is not based on the outcomes of science, but by making a moral choice to choose scientific values of experience and expertise; that is, a world run by experts. I have not yet discovered how this escapes the problems of skepticism or expert opinions skewed by politics or culture, the problems of Wave Two.
I enjoy reading Collins; he certainly has some interesting things to say. However, I couldn’t help thinking of Orwell’s Animal Farm. I propose a little game, similar to those I keep getting invitations to on FaceBook: Read a few of Collins’ essays, then tell me, which Animal Farm animal would he be?