dinsdag 10 maart 2009

Letter to Diederik Aerts

Below you will find the text of a letter I sent to prof. Diederik Aerts,
Director of the transdisciplinary Centre Leo Apostel
CLEA - Free University Brussels VUB
Etterbeek - Brussels

Dear Diederik,
Dear Friend,

Owing to your advice, I read with great interest Martin Rees' book Our Final Century. However, after having read some 5 chapters I paused to write you my comments and criticisms. Of course, I praise Martin Rees for his academic excellence as a scientist and for his attitude as a citizen who is engaged in looking for a framework to make a better world and guarantee the future of mankind and the species Homo Sapiens. So, I do in no way want to judge him as a person, experiencing him as a man of high moral standards. The name Martin Rees below does not refer to his, but stands for an attitude and approach of a whole lot of members of the international scientific community.

1. Martin Rees seems to me a scientist who feels himself a member of a scientific community that is conscious of their moral responsibility, as scientists and as citizens. However, I do not escape of the impression that this community experiences itself as a closed association that lives in a societal vacuum, and that stands above the world's daily events and evolution. This attitude also could be a threat for the guarantee of the future of humanity. I personally do not believe in the impact of Manifestoes such as those of Bertrand Russell (also signed by Albert Einstein) or in efforts such as the Pugwash Conferences in the decades after the disasters of World War II. Such efforts I experience as alienated from the dynamics that determine progress or decline of the human civilization.

2. The first problem is that "science" is no longer the work of independent scholars and does not represent a specific reality such as those mentioned by Max Weber in his analysis of Modernity as a process of social differentiation creating separated domains and spheres such as science, politics, the arts, religion and so on. Science is now to a great part the work of salaried workers of private companies that are looking for new ways of making profit. I only give you the example of the clinical testing of new medecines by subjects living in the Third World and more particularly former Sovjet-countries. These states, mostly "failed states", do not work with Ethical Commissions, and the research there does not respect the rules of "informed consent" by subjects, the conditions of double-blind procedures and other procedures with respect to so-called "evidence-based medecine". They deliberately plan and organize "bad practices".

3. Martin Rees' analyses imply a political status quo during the whole 21st century. They do not make any proposals or recommendations for a refining of world democracy (e.g. the reform of the UNO decision organs so that poor countries (who form the majority of the world population) can resist the plundering of their natural resources and other richesses.
4. Rees emphasizes many times the dangers that loners and psychopaths, fundamentalist or other suicide terrorists can as isolated indviduals get acces to technologies that can kill not only masses of people, but than can even destroy the planet and desequilibrize the interplanetary system. In other words, these catastrophes would be the work of what I call "rotten apples" that are present in every imaginable community or society. However, one must realize that these "rotten apples" are created by us (scientists included) who exclude millions of children from the access to proper education and to the minimal conditions of the quality of life that all humans and more particularly children should have right to. We must not forget for instance that till 1948 muslims were the protectors of jews in the Arabian world and more generally the islam world. It is the project of American and British imperialisms to control the whole Middle-East economy that has created muslim fundamentalism (including the excess of the phenomenon of suicide terrorits). In the same way, it are conditions of sharp and growing social inequalities within countries and between (sub)continents that create loners that are motivated by "revenge against society" and may engage in terrorist acts of much greater impact than those in the 20st century. So I think, enlightened scientists of the Martin Rees type should in first instance propagate the priority of social and political reforms rather than tackling the question of criminal abuse of new biological, chemical or nuclear technologies.

5. A detail. Maybe I suffer from a particular sensitivity for these aspects, but I find in his book remnants of the Cold War opposition between de USA (and Europe) as the good guys and the Sovjets as the bad guys. It are mostly the Russians who are named in examples as running research projects with bad intentions. I just want to point your attention to the deliberate CIA-financing and abuse of psychological experiments and psychiatric research in order to refine interrogation techniques and invent new forms of brutal torture that were introduced into South America (Chile, Argentinia, too name the most studied countries) in the period 1970-1990 in order to stop the developmentalist policies of popular and democratic governments in that continent. Martin Rees never refers to the drama's that were caused as a consequence of the USA claim to world hegemony, a claim that remains that of president Barack Obama's.

Thank you, Diederik, for giving attention to this letter. I know you will endorse some or most of my arguments, even if you personally as a quantum physicist are mainly free from political and economic pressure in your scientific work.

In all friendship,

Dr. Eric Rosseel
Retired academician
Former Associate Director CLEA VUB
Brussels 10th of March, 2009

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