Sunday, November 03, 2013

Paul Goodman, Moral Ambiguity, Corporate Science & Cost Plus Procurement Contracts

          By Chuck Black

Paul Goodman in 1959. Photo c/o Wikipedia.
Back in 1966, when the "mass media" sometimes tackled important topics in a deliberative and contemplative manner, a man once described by William F. Buckley Jr. as being "a pacifist, a bi-sexualist, a poverty cultist, an anarchist and a few other distracting things," was still considered to be a suitable contributor to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) prestigious Massey Lecture series on the topic of "The Moral Ambiguity of America."

William F. Buckley Jr. in 1968.
What he said, especially in the third part of his presentation on science and technology, contains lessons applicable to even the current generation of space scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs.

Of course, author Paul Goodman wasn't just known for waxing poetic on morality and science for a Canadian audience.

The author of dozens of books, including Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society and Compulsary Education: The Community of Scholars, Goodman was a well known and often referenced US based political pundit and 60's activist. He's also recognized as a therapist and credited with being a co-founder of gestalt therapy (an existential/experiential form of psychotherapy).

But it's the comments on science which should most concern us here. According to Goodman, modern science is a "submissive" technology answering to the requirements of societal "efficiency," and under the political, military and economic control of various elites who use scientific methodologies to further narrow self interests.

These various elites are not normally receptive to the "open dialogue with surprise," which Goodman considered to be the core of the scientific method. Instead, mostly bureaucratic methodologies have been grafted on to scientific pursuits in order to methodically evaluate projects, profile gifted experts deserving financial support and systematically uncover relevant university courses to develop the next generation of expertise.

Even better, all this was done mostly in secret in order to preserve perceived advantages over a whole slew of potential competitors.

To listen to author Paul Goodman discuss modern scientific thinking, click on the graphic above and go to part three of the presentation on "The Moral Ambiguity of America."

According to Goodman, modern scientific thinking:
... must be able to be parceled out  for efficient division of labor, and
discoveries must appear on schedule: basic research, application, development, shaping up for production. With enough capital, one can mount a crash program and break through.
To be serviceable, excellent scientists become administrators. Grant-getters, who are clever about the forms become scientists. Corporations become impresarios for scientists. Scientific brains from other countries are brought up to work in the American style on American problems, seriously impoverishing their own peoples and precluding the development of various schools of thought.
In the end, unless a hypothesis involves big cash, its author cannot  afford to pursue it, although he used to love it...
Novum Organum by Francis Bacon.
Of course, the above only really serves as a reminder of how little things have changed since the 1960's.

But Goodman went further by stating that modern science also required big capital and big organizations to go with both the Moon shots and cyclotrons of his day and the giant new NASA Space Launch Systems and James Webb Space Telescope equivalencies of today:
... bypassing the experience of nearly four  hundred years, the method of observation, analysis, deduction, and crucial experiment, we have amazingly come back full circle to the bureaucratic system of (Francis) Bacon's Novum Organum, a dragnet of facts, stored, retrieved and computed (but with few original or new insights and requiring a substantial institutional framework with permanent state funding to sustain it).
Goodman also suggested that any "market check" on science has slowly weakened over the years because of "subsidies, cost plus contracts, monopolies, price fixing, advertizing and the ignorance of consumers."

That's not all he said in his 1966 presentation, but perhaps the best way to understand Goodman is to listen to his original lectures. According to the cover of the 2007 book, the Lost Massey Lectures, his presentation (along with lectures from John Kenneth Galbraith, Jane Jacobs, Eric W. Kierans and Martin Luther King Jr.) is one of a series of "recovered classics from five great thinkers."

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