2.3 Science, technology and society

We now turn to the roles of science and technology in achieving a just, sustainable future.

The actual practice of science cannot be isolated from the nature of the societies in which scientists conduct their research, especially not from the priorities of those societies. This is notably true in contemporary capitalism that is today dominated globally by transnational corporations whose primary aim is the accumulation of capital, an aim which competition makes necessary.

Even if the ethical standpoint of public science is consonant with the aims of a just, sustainable society and the conservation of nature, as the authors believe to be the case, not all science is conducted in the public sphere. Nor are those who work in this sphere uninfluenced by the priority given by the private sphere to profitability over the well-being of people and nature. An ethical filter is needed to judge the practice and application of science, at least so long as capitalism exists and its practices influence human judgment and action. In particular, it is argued here, such a filter will be needed to effect a transition to a just, sustainable society.

The cornerstone of the world view argued for in this work is perhaps obvious now to the reader. But to avoid any misunderstanding and to highlight our aims, the following is advanced as a thesis on the intended relationship between science & technology, on the one hand, and society, on the other:

Thesis 1. The ethical filter to be applied to investment in science and in its application through technology to society is that it serve the aims of a just, sustainable society and the conservation of nature.

Our understanding of the nature of science and its relationship to technology rests on the contemporary view of science as elaborated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science as early as n their 1989 proposal for school curriculum (AAAS, Science for All Americans, 1989). As elaborated there and used here, science refers to knowledge of nature and knowledge of society. It includes both the results of scientific investigation and the intellectual methods used to obtain that knowledge, including rules for what counts as science. The social policy advocated in this argument includes education for scientifically informed, democratic decision making. Science, imagination, education and democracy, filtered by ethics, are arguably essential to any hope we might have of addressing successfully the challenges we now face, primarily the environmental ones, where scientific knowledge and democratic action are the key elements.

To science, imagination, education and democracy, we need to add technology, but in its broader meaning (as elaborated in C. McFadden, Editor, World Trends in Science Education, 1980 and in subsequent publications of the UNESCO recognized International Organization for Science and Technology Education - www.ioste.org). Sometimes mistakenly understood to include only the physical tools we use for changing our environment, technology should also be understood to include the intellectual tools, including systems and methods. Understood in this broader sense, technology includes, for example, not only carpenters' tools, but methods of construction management, not only computers, but teaching methods that utilize computers.

Technology responds to such questions as how to build a better mousetrap or how to more effectively and efficiently educate our children. Science and technology, of course, are related, but they are not the same. To build a better mouse trap, scientific knowledge of mouse behavior can be utilized. To develop more effective teaching methods, scientific knowledge of human learning can be applied.

Technology can precede as well as follow science, which interested readers can trace in detail up to the middle of the last century in J.D. Bernal, Science in History, 4 volumes (1954, Penguin Books). The science of thermodynamics (heat as a form of energy), for example, largely followed the invention of methods of using heat for doing work (such as the steam engine). On the other hand, most modern technology, including electronic devices and educational methods, are the result of direct application of advances in scientific knowledge. These include in the case of electronic devices, the application of electromagnetic theory and quantum mechanics, and in the case of education, application of educational psychology.

For the purposes of this argument for a just, sustainable society, one of the relationships between science, technology and society can be expressed as follows:

Thesis 2: Continuing development of technology is a necessary adaptation to the conditions, especially problems, created by past technological development, as well as a source of advances in labor productivity. Science is today the principal source of that development.

Social, economic, political, educational, managerial, governmental and all other institutions, systems and methods created by humans are part of our technology. As such, they have a continuous history of development and can be developed further. Problems created by the use of past technology give rise to a need for new technology, which might include, for example, changes in the way we organize energy distribution as well as the invention of improved tools for capturing it.

The reader is invited to reflect on the historical changes associated with the development of fossil fuel technology. If the use of fossil fuels is now problematic, as each climate induced environmental crisis reminds us is the case, how should we respond? What energy sources and kinds of physical tools do we need to avert the problems created by the use of fossil fuels? What changes are needed in our economic, governmental and other social systems and practices? While these questions are now being given vigorous attention, it is especially this last question that may be in greatest need of attention and resolution.

It should be underscored that capitalism and socialism, the two political-economic systems that were the object of so much political strife during the twentieth century, are also technologies. Created by human beings, institutionalized and constrained by laws also made by human beings, a system once established by human beings can be reformed or replaced by human beings. A just, environmentally sustainable society and the conservation of nature, not loyalty to any particular political-economic system, need to be the aims of green social democratic policy, whatever name is given to the resulting political-economic system. Whatever system best serves these aims is, by our definition, a green social democracy. This may seem a circular argument for some; for us, it is the placing of the peoples' democratically arrived at aims and their fulfilment first.

Historical knowledge offers us a warning about the consequences of inaction or inappropriate action, however. The clues left by lapsed civilizations tell us that resource exhaustion and class strife played decisive roles in their demise. The ability to migrate to less exploited territories, the development of new physical tools and the building of new social systems played roles in permitting new civilizations to arise, more resources to be harnessed and the global human population to grow. (See for example: Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress, 2004, or Jared Diamond, Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005).

Thanks in large measure to the world-wide peace movements, humankind has so far been able to avert nuclear war and other threats of mutually assured destruction. But how long will we be able to do so? So long as a so-called "war on terror", for example, is needed by those with more political and economic interest in war than peace, a powerful peace movement will continue to be needed.

Will we at the same time also be able to meet the challenge of human impact on the environment, averting catastrophic climate change and mass species extinction and adapting to the level of change we cannot prevent? For this we will need to rely on the further development of science and technology, their mastery through education and their application through informed decision making to address the many related environmental challenges. However, for we the people to be in a position to end the threat of war, reverse the trend towards environmental self-destruction and put the liberated forces for science, technology and education fully to work to preserve the environment for future generations, nothing short of a political revolution will do, including, for example, closing the revolving doors between government and the fossil fuel industry and ending the overwhelming influence and control over social decision-making by the largest private-for-profit corporations and their wealthiest beneficiaries.

Can the peace and environmental movements succeed, however, if the majority of working people are persuaded by the ruling neoliberal capitalist elites that such successes would only come at their expense, that war and environmental destruction are the cost of decently paid jobs? Our contention is:

Thesis 3. The unity of the labor, peace, environmental and social justice movements is a necessary condition for any of these movements to achieve their goals. For that, each must make a more just distribution of income and wealth part of their agenda, sufficient to ensure that all have basic material security as well as the security of a peaceful, just, environmentally healthy future.

Fortunately, there has been a renewal of movement in the direction of such unity. But the growth of peoples' solidarity, including an international dimension as its salient characteristic, will need to be exponential to avoid a civilization-destroying spiral downwards, one that could make the fall of the Soviet bureaucracy almost inconsequential by comparison.

We should remind the super-rich and their representatives among us that they, as much as the rest of us, face a future of declining per-capita natural resources. We need to point out the folly of their evidently preferred option of continually attempting to capture a larger share for their own protection. While there is a mountain of historical precedence for such short-sightedness, more persuasive should be their recognition, with help from the rest of us, that all boats come aground, no matter how large, when the water evaporates.

In any case, hoarding vast amounts of wealth is not an option for the majority of us. Increasing numbers are again learning that the way society is organized and functions matters. A just, peaceful, sustainable future will require nothing less than a transformation of the prevailing political and socio-economic system and its associated culture, the very change millions are now in process of seeking and making.

Welcome!

This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New

NEW & REVISED

Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them

OPINION

Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement

REVIEWS

Charles McFadden, The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.

US CORNER

William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class

CANADA CORNER

George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP

RECOMMENDED

Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018

FEATURED WORK

ECONOMICS

1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism

HISTORY

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems

LABOR

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.