Democrats & Liberals Archives

Liberalism and Modern Knowledge

You cannot separate science and technology from Liberalism. Everything that makes Liberalism necessary and popular stems from the accelerating difference of today from yesterday. America is a superpower made by science and technology, but that science and technology makes obsolete the older expressions of our timeless philosophy. To know that is to know why liberalism must act as a force in today’s politics.

Smug conservatives tell us that Liberalism is a philosophy waiting to be tossed on the ash heap of history. What strident authors like Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter fail to realize is that the world is not done changing. Conservatism cannot be the sum total of American politics for long.

The world and our understanding of it have changed, and every decade in American history brings on newer change. Ten years ago, where were we on the Human Genome Project? Materials Technology? Microprocessor speed and efficiency? Our nation’s data infrastructure? So on, so forth.

It isn't always obvious how this impacts us. Talk about high temperature superconductors, and many people draw a blank. Ask them in the same sentence about their son or wife's MRI, and they'll have no problem recounting what's going on. Related issues, nonetheless.

How many people know what a cox2 inhibitor inhibits, even as they worry over the effects of Vioxx or Celebrex? How many people know that Viagra was used to treat heart disease before it was indicated for impotence?

Talk of nanotechnology and most people draw a blank or remember some mention in a comic book or science fiction movie. They don't realize that the computer chips they use are technically nanotech because of their extremely small scale. But that's not the limit. Microchips are made by means that are still at the microscopic and everyday scale. In the next twenty years, nanotechnology could change our world for good, even if it only does one-tenth of all that could be claimed of it.

Fact is, nobody has figured out ahead of time what all the moral dilemmas of that new time will be. We haven't even totally figured out the ethics of the digital world. Hell, we're still arguing about the ethics of the industrial age, of the new telecommunication age. Gun control would be nowhere near the issue it is if it weren't for the substantial advances in the killing power of today's weapons. Our fears of WMDs regard technologies that are sixty or more years old.

Conservatism as it stands now cannot last in the face of this. I know conservatives are going to say "oh yeah?" but one only has to look at the recent Janet Jackson controversy to see just how much the Republican party has changed from under itself. Twenty years ago, the FCC was merciless in curbing language and indecent material on television. But even as the Republicans gained more power, they had to settle for TV-Ratings, and ineffectual legislative stabs at toning down what has become a sensationalist media. Where are their principles? Why won't they make the stand more solidly? Why? Because their constituency doesn't want it. They download internet porn and go to strip clubs just like their liberal brethren. The bible belt holds some of the strongest audiences for Desperate Housewives The media that caters to the red states is just at bawdy and violent as that which services the Blue States.

Even the Religious right has been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world, with Christian Broadcasting producing action movies, and Christian Radio playing pop, noisy guitars and rap in a way that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago.

And the stem cell debate? Would this have even been a debate for the president where he serving Reagan's term? Would he have settled for a compromise if Republicans were really all that solidly behind limiting stem cell research? Bush would not have played Solomon if he didn't feel he had a pro-stem cell research faction in the Republican Party to please.

The obvious bias for the conservatives to take is to believe they haven't changed that much. But they have. And what they are resisting now, in their policies on climate and alternative energy sources, in their policies on telecommunications, is the future that is going to carry them towards new sensibilities whether they like them or not.

American need a party that doesn't drag its heels, that is willing to confront today's new environmental and technological challenges, that is willing to confront those that technology has made powerful, and keep America a center of technological innovation, scientific research, and mainstream manufacture. It needs people who don't get caught in the sensibility that just because the lead on technology is going overseas, doesn't meant it ought to be going there. It needs people committed to educating people here on technological issues, before deciding in their wisdom that we should take the cheaper route of borrowing and rewarding another nation's talent.

America needs a party that recognizes that change is here to stay in our culture, and that we have to adapt old values to new times.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at April 6, 2005 8:27 PM