Freedom in Science and Education, Part II
By John Taylor; 2009 Aug 31, Asma 12, 166 BE
Yesterday, we broached two questions. The first question concerns freedom and the internal workings of the College of Light, the independent world institution charged with the advancement of science and the spread of education. The other asks: what kind of relation would the college of light have with the other wings of the Comenian world government, the political and religious? Let us try, however briefly, to answer these questions today.
The distinguishing mark of governance over the last century is a persistent, systemic failure of policy makers to listen to expert advice. Instead of working with the delicate climate and other environmental systems of this planet, we systematically upset and destroy them. At the same time, science has made tremendous strides in understanding how the delicately balanced ecosystems on our beautiful planet work.
From a democratic point of view, the chief reason for this obliviousness to our basic survival is that world population over the past century has undergone a complete shift from agrarianism, where more than 90 percent of the population work the land, to an urban society. Today, the majority of the world's population live in cities.
The way cities are built means that the surroundings of city dwellers from cradle to grave tend to be completely artificial. They live a lifestyle cut off from the cycles of nature that sustain them and in their professional lives they rarely gain direct experience with agriculture or energy production. As a result, voters simply are too ignorant to care what happens to the natural environment, although they may be vaguely aware that it does keep us alive. This is why some of the worst polluters in the world are democracies. Leaders there have little concern for where food comes from and for what must be done to assure that we continue to eat well and safely.
The formation of a democratic world government would not in itself be sufficient to solve this maladjustment. It might, as we have been arguing here that it would, shift authority from the nationalist state towards a world center and out to the periphery (stronger local governance). That is, power would go to exactly where environmental dislocation is addressed most effectively. However, that in itself is not enough if the electorate, however universal and world-embracing, remains primarily urban. As long as voters know and care little for nature or agriculture, leaders will hardly push their electorate to make the sacrifices that stopping climate change demands.
The College of Light, as imagined by John Amos Comenius, is a democratic and meritocratic entity devoted to research and the spread of useful knowledge. In its operations the College of Light would have to balance the imperious demands of knowledge with the freedom and equality that democracy requires.
First, meritocracy. As we saw last time, knowledge imposes its own power relations by selecting for those who prove their love and devotion to it. Knowledge sets up its own meritocracy that raises those who command it and subordinates the ignorant. It is the duty of the learned to see to it that any inequality that does exist is natural; that is, any inequality that persists is not based on externals such as skin colour or place of birth but solely upon demonstrable knowledge and experience.
This evolutionary process of artificial selection is true in politics, where any measure that conduces to peace is chosen over what leads to war. John Stuart Mill pointed out the utility of freedom in picking out lessons about essentials from out of the vast diversity of experimentation in human groups.
"Government operations tend to be everywhere alike. With individuals and voluntary associations, on the contrary, there are varied experiments, and endless diversity of experience. What the State can usefully do, is to make itself a central depository, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many trials. Its business is to enable each experimentalist to benefit by the experiments of others, instead of tolerating no experiments but its own." (On Liberty, 181)
The need for selection is also evident in religion. The Qur'an, for example, has God applying it to Holy Writ, "Say: `Bring down from God a scripture that is a better guide than these and I will follow it, if what ye say be true!'" (Qur'an 28:49) and it extends it also to entire peoples,
"Thy Lord is self-sufficient, full of Mercy: if it were His will, He could destroy you, and in your place appoint whom He will as your successors, even as He raised you up from the posterity of other people. (Qur'an 6:133, tr. Yusuf)
But in the realm of science and education, the principle of selecting for fitness according to merit surely applies most of all.
At the same time, the College of Light is also democratic in nature. As such, it will make every attempt to adhere to the assumption of equality and the yearning for freedom that are basic to its democratic element. Therefore, the College will see to it that everyone votes in elections of its members in some capacity. In a Marxian sense, everybody is a productive worker, actively supporting herself by her own efforts to learn and adhering to standards in service.
Although they may have to be appointed at first, eventually the membership of the College of Light (whose affiliates extend from the world center right down to a school-room in every family and neighbourhood) would be selected by tradespersons and professionals around the world in a series of planetary elections.
Unfortunately, suffrage may not include everybody at first, since all are not presently qualified tradespersons or professionals. However, the first constitutional priority of this institution is to see to it that as soon as possible every citizen attains the right to vote for the College, virtually without exception. This ambitious goal of a universal franchise could take as long as a generation to implement completely. Every world citizen would have to be trained and apprenticed to an approved trade or profession. While challenging, this commitment by leaders and constituents alike to science and education is a necessary condition for the Universal Civic Society to come into existence. The goal of a UCS is to see to it that learning extends throughout one's life and service to society, through both membership in a family and in some trade or profession.
The next question is how the College might be organized. That requires an answer to questions like:
What kind of expertise should take precedence over others?
What kind of knowledge is most useful?
This is an extremely difficult question. There are thousands of disciplines and trades whose usefulness fluctuates as wildly as the stock market. We should probably leave the choice of what is the most valuable kind of knowledge to philosophers and educators to answer. However, it seems plain that the medical and teaching professions are among the most useful kinds of expertise, since they nurture and protect both body and mind. Even more important are farming, fishing and other agricultural trades, since we depend upon them for our food. If the College of Light bases voting rights on an established hierarchy of utility, it could help reverse the trend from urbanism and turn even cities back to agrarianism. As we mentioned already, a strong democratic base in an agrarian majority will be necessary if we hope to make industry and civilization environmentally sustainable.
Specifically, I have something like this in mind. Let us say that there are twenty members on the College of Light with each major discipline voting in one representative each, except teachers and doctors who get two representatives, and farmers who receive three or four. This slightly disproportion of power, along with other measures, would encourage a greater proportion of young people to go into farming, medicine and teaching before they consider other trades.
The College could speed up the swing back to an agrarian society by starting and regulating a secondary trade of "gardener," who would assist farmers in the same way that nurses assist doctors. This new trade would encourage city dwellers to start gardens and eat locally. It would encourage most city dwellers to participate, if only on a part-time basis, in the branch of agriculture known as "urbiculture." It would also speed the spread of vertical farms and rooftop gardens, which agriculturalists would gain a new right to farm. At the very least, more pervasive gardening within city limits would increase the appreciation of city dwellers for nature and would make democracy friendlier to the environment.