If you are an observer of Science, Technology and Society one realises that Science and Technology cannot be separated from the Arts, Culture, Business and Politics. In politics let us look at four moments in human history,
First, The Wannsee Conference
A meeting of representatives of the different agencies of Hitler’s Third Reich met to decide how to handle their Jewish Problem. Years before this Hitler and company were able to embed into German Law means to separate and in dew Jews, non-Aryans and other undesirables. This was not a new thing hatred against the Jews and campaigns have happened before : (i) expelled from Spain; (ii) forced into Ghettoes; (iii) ordered to wear badges or judenstern in public; and (iv) pogroms. At Wannsee the Nazi’s were able to put a system to the exploitation and purge of the Jews. This was a system that followed a production assembly line for cars by Ford. However, instead of producing a car for the masses; masses of Jews were eliminated in a genocide that the Nazi’s called the Final Solution. Majority of the Nazi officials meeting at Wannsee were lawyers a study of the minutes and other related documents one notes a lot of words used in a round about way to describe exploitation and murder (EUPHEMISMS) – resulting in a distrust of words.
It is of no surprise then that Auschwitz and Dachau resembles industrial estates.
One of things that can be observed with the Nazis is their use of Science and Technology to improve weapons and technology of war. This of course is not limited to the Nazi’s alone their Allies and Opponents were also involved in this technology race. It is then ironic that the same racial law and anger against the Jews of the Nazis led them to their defeat in the tech race. In particular the production of the Atomic Bomb was won by the United States with the help of scientists hounded and fled from Germany. One of them was Albert Einstein – a German Jew who was forced to flee because of the Nazis. Hitler and the Nazis assured their defeat by alienating and killing their pool of scientists.
After the war Germany’s technology were spoils that the Allies got. V2 Rocket scientists like Von Braun were adopted by the US and in turn allowing them to develop ICBM and the Nasa Space Program.
TWO, Stalin and Trofim Lysenko
Trofim Lysenko was a Russian Scientist who promoted non Mendelian Genetics. Lysenko was also a politically astute scientist. Whenever the Party suggested an agricultural measure, he would be the first one to suggest a remedy that will. Also his adherence to non Mendelian Genetics – which in a nutshell is that an organism can change despite the inherited characteristics – was in line with the Party belief that a comrade can change regardless of their background. And more importantly his friendship with Stalin made Lysenko a powerful scientist in the Soviet Union. Anyone who disagreed with him were told to be quiet or suffer a holiday to a gulag or a permanent residency in cemetery. The only scientists who were not affected by this Lysenkoism were nuclear scientists. Stalin may have been as or even more bloof thirsty than Hitler but he was not dumb enough to delapitate his important scientists. The influence of Lysenko thrived even after Stalin’s death affecting the growth of Biological and Agricultrual Science in Russia.The successors of Stalin eventually backtracked on supporting Lysenkoism and Lysenkoism became a pejorative term to describe any science use to support a political purpose.
Third, The War Against the Four Pests
When Mao Zedong and the Communist came to power in China, one of Mao’s aim was to modernise the country. This include an increase in industrial and agricultural production. At the same time Mao was organising farmers into collectives and communes he launched the War Against the Four Pests – Rats, Mosquitos. Flies and Sparrows. In particular Sparrows were targeted because they ate the grains. Several things were done to kill the Sparrpws – hunting them, destroying their nests and even playing loud music (The loud music prevented them from landing and resting – in effect the Sparrows were killed by exhaustion). The campaign was a success there was a significant decrease in the Sparrow population of China. Unfortunately, The Sparrows also preyed on the Locusts and with the Sparrows gone the population of Locusts increased. This large Locust population feasted on the crops that led to the collapse of China’s agriculture. The people of the commune and cooperatives were not prepared for this and forced to eat green crops (crops to young to be harvested) and sometimes even shoes. Famine and death followed. It is believed more than a million or even a billion died. There were political repercussions to what would be known as the Great Famine. The least was the revision of the propaganda of the War Against the Four Pests – the Sparrow was dropped from the list and replaced with the cockroach. Mao Zedong was severely criticised by his colleges. And this resulted in backlash of all critics during the Cultural Revolution.
Mao’s War Against the Four Pests is story of an ecological disaster. The cause was political, the effect was ecological and it affected China’s politics.
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY DOES NOT LIVE IN A VACUUM
A study of Science and Technology in history will reveal that progress, the lack of it or the abundance is dependent on the influencers and the movers of society. Business and politics make science and technology possible. Orwell once said everything is politics and this is true. The Bayt Al-Hikma would not be possible with the caliphate of Haroun Al- Raschid and Al-Mammun.Su Song was a scientist, philosopher and a statesman. One wonders if Gallileo and company were part of the ruling political elite would they have been hounded. Arguments and counter-arguments that can probably fill up an afternoon or two of lively discussion.
What is important at least in the post and the earlier one is to realise how Science and Technology can and is affected by Politics an Business. Perhaps it is not bad to learn from it.