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Where do anarchists place scientists in society?

+4 votes
I wasn't too sure of the wording for the question but my reason for asking it is that it had occurred to me that scientists don't fit well into the proletarian or bourgeoisie classes --because they don't own or work means of production. Furthermore scientists don't really produce anything except information, so are they part of the service sector? I suppose what I am asking is: since scientists take highly technical equipment and turn it into data and theories, how do you envision scientists and scientific communities working in an anarchist society. I'm still not sure if this is the right question but its the best I got.
asked Apr 27, 2012 by anonymous

6 Answers

+4 votes
Best answer
They do have a relation to capital - they are often at its creative source. (ex. scientists actively work daily to create new ways of taking plant medicine and manipulating it so that Bayer can get rich selling a new type of aspirin, or the scientists who work for Monsanto, or who invented those ugly toe shoes...)

But, what I dislike them for more, is their relation to 'fact', they serve the role that the priest class used to. They inform the public as to what is truth, and what is not. Their existence and social power reinforce that we can not rely on our own experiences and senses to determine reality, that all truth must be interpreted and 'proven' by an appropriate authority. They tell us that only they, the scientists with their special tools, can interpret reality, not unlike the priests who had the special ability to interpret god's will and translate it for the masses. And, much like the priest, their position within society, as well as their paycheck, rely upon those with the resources at their disposal to support them. So, those who inform us of how the world works, of what our bodies are capable of, of how we need to manipulate our body and world to 'be healthy', of what the future hold, comes from scientists who have loyalties. It is not just scientists who aren't impartial. Science itself, as dogmatic empiricism, can't except any view point that it can't control or understand or recreate.
So, to answer your question of scientists' role in an anarchist society, I would say that there is no room for them.
answered Sep 22, 2012 by Katherine diFiore (5,190 points)
Maybe in anarchy we could get rid of all these concepts that we still hold onto as class.   Certainly scientist are controlled by the  influence of the capitalistic form of our society yet possibly a high number are driven by desire to improve on technology, medicine, materials, and knowledge.  

Scientist are just as much slave to government and capitalism as the rest of society.  Science would benefit if it were not driven mostly by profit or ownership of patents.  Scientist as with everyone should not be excluded from the benefits of anarchy.

edited to make it into a comment.
Where do you people get these ideas?
"They tell us that only they, the scientists with their special tools, can interpret reality"
Please, have a look around the internet and read some blogs from actual scientists and take note how almost any one of them tells you to do your own damn research, look stuff up, do your own experiments and generally start to think for yourself instead of relying on what others tell you. What you are writing is a gross misrepresentation of how the scientific community operates.
much like ancaps, this response poses individual behavior as a response to critiques of systemic issues.
my point is absolutely not about the intentions and good will of individuals (intentions and good will i think are lovely, but irrelevant to this conversation). it is about how science as it actually exists, and has been structured and allowed to exist, feeds and is part of the system that i want to destroy.
furthermore, your example only demonstrates (sort of) that individual scientists subscribe to the myth of an open scientific community, one that is meritocratic. a myth that most people probably believe about the groups they are part of.
The question was which role scientists would have in anarchist society. Your answer is about which role they have now and argue that thereby scientists as such are not fit for anarchy, if I got that right.
There will always be curious folks who use the tools they have available to try to understand their reality, in an 'anarchist society' some may do so through a scientific view point. Whoody-do; good for them.

However, the resources necessary to support science on a large scale (sure we can all read a blog learn about surface tension via mentos and cola at home (though even that requires faith in the validity of the molecular reasoning behind the act), but taking apart dna and genetically modifying it requires a specialized class, the importation of use of an absurd amount of resources and a lot of faith that we know what we are doing and its consequences) and the mass media  needed to disseminate the reality these scientists 'discover' (and masses willing to take in and believe the words of strangers to be fact) aren't likely to exist in an 'anarchist society' (not one I want any part in anyway).

And all of that negates that science isn't just 'the scientific method in action', it an important structural column of our mass society and a way of life I don't want.  Science both aids and controls the way the western world understands and deconstructs the world, but also reinforces and supports its obsession with 'progress' and expansion and so on. That cannot be ignored in this conversation, individual scientists alleged merits or not.
i think it might be fun to consider how knowledge would happen in an anarchist situation, maybe... my personal bias is that i like learning from people talking to each other, so i want room for that sort of thing, and that i want a lot of different ways to learn. but science, as a specialized field and a set of predetermined practices (not that science even today is always that), holds no appeal to me. and people who want to postulate a place for science in anarchy i think have the burden of proof to explain why *science* as distinct from normal problem solving and checking out our environments, is the thing to promote.
just wanna say i LOVE this particular discussion!
+2 votes
my kind of anarchists place scientists 6 feet under.
answered Apr 27, 2012 by dot (50,310 points)
not to mess up my one liner, but...
science has been constructed as a way to rationalize and justify how things proceed in our society. science is a tool of the status quo.
edit: this is mystified by the conflation of science with *any/all* systems of problem solving and observing the world, which people were doing long before science was a gleam in humanity's eye.
Science is a method that existed before people started calling it science. Your conflation of "science conducted by people using the results to suppress others" with science in general is depressing. I fear this might be a more common occurance.
Not to repeat myself, but I am a little over the defence of science that says that science is 'just observation and drawing conclusions based upon them' or something similarly non-threatening and simplistic.

Science with a small "s" is a tool, a way to experimenting (as a tool of control over a thing or creature in and of itself can be problematic). Science with a big "S" is a world view that seeks to break the world into tiny pieces that are clearly understandable and controllable, it is a tool that promotes 'progress' and domination, it is a mechanism of control, and a world view that pervades how we as a culture and individuals perceive the world that is based upon knowledge gained by people and institution we have otherwise no connection to. Its the difference between 'faith' and 'Faith'. Both come with their own set of problems, but "Science" just like "Faith" are not and cannot be anarchist.
Just to provide some useful terminology, 'observation and drawing conclusions' is often called the empirical method.  Indeed the notion of 'observation' is a loaded one, as it seems to preclude senses other than sight, those senses that the modern world neglects even more; smell, taste.  To paraphrase Wolfi Landstriecher in the essay A Balanced Account of the World: A Critical Look at the Scientific Worldview, which is a great essay if you want one anarchist critique of science expressed in excellent prose, if 'science' was simple the empirical method we would have to accept that everyone, children, and even some animals would be scientists.  This is clearly not what is meant by science, or scientists.
Saying that "observation" precludes other senses than sight is really curious and completely removed from what observation means. Most measurements are translated into visual signals because visual signals are most easy for humans to consciously process. This is not even close to meaning that other senses aren't used or excluded from what constitutes scientific work.

"Empiricism" is only about perception (more commonly called "observation", but since you've got a problem with that term…). "Drawing conclusions" has nothing to do with empiricism.
To be a scientist you need to apply skepticism (call into question the objectivity of everything anybody claims) and rationality (employ tools as independent as possible of the individual to draw conclusions) as well, so that's how not everyone ever is a scientist. So, "drawing conclusions" isn't even enough – the way you draw those conclusions absolutely matters.
+4 votes
A critique of scientists is that not only today but for the past 300 years of industrialism, capitalism—i.e., modernization—and post-modernization, they weren't just neutral observers of natural laws, but they were also complicit with society. Perhaps this was because they had to earn their living in compliance with powerful people.
answered Apr 27, 2012 by frenzy (700 points)
edited Apr 27, 2012 by frenzy
In other words, the PRODUCTION of SCIENCE is not a neutral activity.
+3 votes
If i understand the main thrust of your question, you want to know how anarchist class analysis categorizes scientists. There isn't a single answer. Many anarchists would take a Marxian class analysis. I think in the Marxist class schema scientists would be considered petit-bourgeois. However, anarchists are often critical of many aspects of Marxist theory, including its class analysis. I'm under the impression (and your example of scientists as a class is one example) that in many cases there are economic classes that exist today that do not easily fit into the bourgeois-proletariat model.

Instead of relying on century and a half old understandings of class, many anarchists analyze different economic classes in terms of how they help to reproduce the state *and* capital. Scientific pursuits are usually funded by the institutions we hate such as militaries or pharmaceutical companies, and as such serve the interests of state and capital. Some anarchists, especially animal liberationists, directly intervene against scientific activity.

I will concede that it is possible that activities we call science could exist in hypothetical anarchist societies. Some anarchists have conjectured what science might be like in an anarchist society. One conception is that scientists would cease to exist as a distinct class as scientific knowledge and equipment become the domain of all people. Kropotkin was a biologist, and a lot of contemporary anarchist ideas about science originate with him. However, contemporary anarchists are often far more critical of science than our 19th Century forbears. I fall into this camp and agree with the previous answerers of this question. I hope that contemporary anarchists that ultimately are "pro-science" at least take these critical perspectives into account.
answered May 1, 2012 by enkidu (6,110 points)
+2 votes
I am very interested in these answers because I am a physicist and I sympathize with anarchist ideas.  I think science would flourish in an anarchist society.  

The way it works now is terrible.  Basically,  capitalists, who are scientifically illiterate, dictate what shall be researched based on potential profit margin rather than its actual benefit to humanity.  In physics most of the research that comes with a paycheck is funded by the military.  I have turned down several positions because I was unhappy with the funding source.  

Sometimes the science seems neat but when you find out what the funders want it for it becomes appalling.  The PI (principle investigator) will even try to sell it to new graduate students as something else.  When I was shopping around I became interested in a potential project to work on something called quantum well infrared photodectors.  It was presented to me in an entirely different way from what it was actually intended to be used for.  I was under the impression that I would focus on how they could be used to frame an artificial neural network to benefit computing.  As it turns out that was merely a pet side project that no one seriously cared about.  Really the group that was trying to recruit me worked on implementing the technology in bunker busting missiles.

Now I am so paranoid about my funding that it really hurts my career.  I have settled on studying atmospheric turbulence, specifically looking at how I can make wind turbines more efficient and less prone to wear and tear by understanding the gusts that damage them.  The project is almost finished and I will most likely be out of work.  I am left trying to unify my anarchism with my potential future employment.  I am thinking I might just go into education and work in under privileged high schools.  Attempting to get morally approved funding is too stressful.

I imagine in an anarchist society scientific equipment would be owned publicly.  Science would be done purely to benefit humanity collectively and not to pad the pockets of individuals.  Perhaps people would have to make a case for their projects to the community who would then democratically decide whether or not the potential benefits from it were worth the lab time or temporarily dismissal of the scientist from their other communal duties.  People would have to educate themselves about rudimentary science in order to make meaningful decisions.  There would still be a bias dictating the direction of science but at least it would be a bias that benefits the general public rather than some wealthy bureaucrat.

I would love to hear more practical answers to this question and I hope this rant can revive it.
answered Nov 26, 2012 by Asphere (160 points)
welcome asphere.
i'm curious about your take on previous answers, which you seem to entirely ignore in your own.
it is certainly interesting to hear about your inside perspective on the trade of science, but it has little bearing on the issues that people have raised about science-as-theory.
–2 votes
First: I am not well versed in anarchist theory.

The concept of "class" is a construct to understand how societies work. In our society the division into classes describes groups of people that have certain tasks, meaing they work in certain jobs or types of jobs or don't work (I think it is quite possible to think of the unemployed as a class).
This is useful because different works have a different ocial standing and so people doing different work have a different social standing.

I am not sure whether this is a central concept in anarchy, but personally I have trouble with seeing how in an anarchistic society anyone would be tied to a certain kind of work.
To give an example: I am currently getting an education in automatization, I want to study mathematics but I also have interest in herding goats. In an anarchist society I can very well imagine that I would do "scientific" work while at the same time caring for cattle. The question whether I would be part of the farming class or of the knowledge expanding class or part of the organizational class is one that has not much meaing - especially as my choice of work would be one of interest.
answered Jun 11, 2013 by Weltraumschlange (590 points)
why do you need to be part of a "class"?
Why "need"?
Being part of a class is a question of perception. Someone is doing the classification to aid his thinking process.
"Someone is doing the classification to aid his thinking process. "

indeed. i would argue that - while there are surely contexts where generalizations make sense - by and large, when it comes to having real, meaningful relationships, it hinders the thinking process far more than aids it.
I think that was what I was trying to say, to quote myself, especially here: "personally I have trouble with seeing how in an anarchistic society anyone would be tied to a certain kind of work."
This should imply that classes tied to work aren't really a thing.

And it is even spelled out directly here:
"The question whether I would be part of the farming class or of the knowledge expanding class or part of the organizational class is one that has not much mea[n]ing"
not sure it is worth continuing this discussion, but....

your first quote refers (assumedly) to individuals: "how...anyone would be tied to a certain kind of work". you then refer to that quote with this: "This should imply that classes tied to work aren't really a thing."  you made a leap of logic that i don't follow at all.

the second quote is self-admittedly meaningless.

in any anarchist world that i choose to live in, the concept of "work" (as typically used in the capitalist world) would be a useless, historical relic of that shithole that was assumedly destroyed, and the idea of being "tied" to anything - beyond one's own desires - seems completely anti-liberatory. my anarchist world knows only autonomous individuals, interacting and relating when/how/why they see fit, for as long as they want.  the very concept of "class" has no place there. solidarity and/or affinity are based on how one individual feels about another (and that particular relationship) in any given situation.

and now i believe i have fully digressed from the topic of this question, time to move on.
Anarchists should welcome scientists because they do not force us to do anything, they only provide the results of their experiments. Politically untainted scientific data can only be a good thing. Once the data has been gathered and the science made available the anarchist can do whatever he/she pleases with it (adhering to the 'non-aggression principle').  But my experience so far is that scientists (like most of mainstream society) do not welcome anarchy as it emphasizes individual human over any other kind of judgement - scientific, social, political etc. Whilst talented and capable they are not, as a group, the most outstanding advocates of freedom (and hence not of anarchy).

I envision them working even better than they already do now, without the monopoly of State power controlling and directing their activities.

dns: that's a decent response, even if i disagree with some of your points.

i seriously question the feasibility of "Politically untainted scientific data ". that begs the question of "objectivity", which is imo an impossibility, no matter how hard one tries. especially when talking of something like new discoveries or interpreting research. 

edit: the way i see it, to claim true objectivity is to relinquish one's individuality of thought, in return for consensus with some perspective seen as objective truth.