It's a Battlefield Out There, Culturally Speaking by Edward Rothstein (FWD from NY Times)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Dec 8 10:22:19 PST 1998

Jim Farmelant:
>Many people seem to be confused concerning the
>differences between the kinds of critiques that Marxists (i.e. Richard
>Lewontin, Richard Levins, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Rose etc.)
>have made of science and the kinds of critiques that pomo-oriented
>scholars make (such as many of the science studies people
>like Sandra Harding). The Marxists criticize the distortions of science
>by bourgeois ideology but in doing so they reaffirm the traditional
>Enlightenment faith in scientific rationality and objectivity. The
>more pomo-oriented critics view science, itself, as an ideology
>that needs to be deconstructed. Many of them criticize science in
>order to legitimize non-rational forms of knowing.

Part of the problem is that the battlelines are not drawn clearly. Alan Sokal, who is regarded as defending enlightenment values against the obfuscations of Sandra Harding and company, told me that Norman Levitt was the guy who first alerted him to the "science wars". He is not only friendly with Levitt, but considers him a co-thinker. The problem is that Levitt is a right-wing skunk who presided over a "science wars" conference that was funded by the Olin foundation and other right-wingers. Their target is not just wooly-headed pomos, but Marxists as well.

>However, I get the impression that he is
>taking the pomo position that science itself is an ideology but one
>that is in itself racist (sexist, classist etc.). That has never to my
>understanding been the position of classical Marxism which always
>drew a distinction between science and ideology (while recognizing
>that in class societies science will be susceptible to ideological

No, my position has nothing in common with postmodernism. I consider this gang to be a reactionary bunch of idiots, who Alex Callinicos, Perry Anderson and Christopher Norris have done a much better job on than Sokal could ever dream to.

I am much more interested in attacking Eurocentrism, and I tend to identify with the world-systems people like Blaut, Eric Wolf, Wallerstein et al. The Enlightenment is a particularly European construction and baloney like the "Asiatic Mode of Production" flow from it. What I have a problem with in particular is the schema that the world lived in darkness and superstition until the French and British Enlightment thinkers decided to apply UNIVERSAL REASON. Careful study of Chinese and Arab civilization would reveal an entirely different set of circumstances. If anything, the Mideast was much more enlightened than Europe for centuries before Decartes came along. I have been planning to get around to reading and reviewing Tariq Ali's historical fiction on these questions and will have more to say.

Louis Proyect


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