UFOs, Bent Spoons, and Alternate Realities
Can the scientific outlook survive in an increasingly pseudo-scientific age?
Throughout all history, liberty and scientific thought have never flourished far apart. Science did not originate with a tribal society in the Amazon. It all but vanished during those centuries when Europe was held in the iron grip of the Church, and science did not follow in the wake of Genghis Khan's advancing legions. The scientific outlook has always been frail, easily perishable; and an essential ingredient, throughout all history, has been liberty, both political and economic. Science flourished during the Golden Age of Greece, in Renaissance Italy, in northern Europe during the early days of the Industrial Revolution, and in America since colonial days. All of these periods represent high-water marks for economic and political liberties. Science is the offspring of an unfettered, self-confident, and forward-looking intellectual climate.
The first person known to have systematically applied a rational and secular approach to the study of the universe is the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus, who lived in the sixth century B.C. His theories may appear laughable when contrasted with the sophistication of present day science, but his methodology of seeking objective answers to questions about the universe—making observations and generalizing natural law—represents a major milestone in the history of civilization. The sudden emergence of the secular philosophy of Thales and his followers has often been termed the "Greek Miracle." (For an analysis of it see Marshall Clagett, Greek Science in Antiquity [N.Y., 1963], chap. 2.) Those of us who have little use for miracles might note that the so-called Greek Miracle took place at a time of rising prosperity, when commerce flourished throughout the entire eastern Mediterranean. Both goods and ideas traveled freely.
A study of history indeed seems to suggest that both science and capitalism are nurtured by the same intellectual environment; almost never do we find one flourishing without the other. I am aware that Marxist countries take great pains to characterize themselves as completely scientific, but the true vitality of Soviet science may be judged by that country's technology, which lags far behind its Western counterpart. (Solzhenitsyn asserts that the "top secret" papers kept locked up in vaults inside the sharashkas, the special forced-labor camps set up for scientists and engineers, consisted mostly of articles clipped from various Western technical journals.) The Soviet purges of scientists who were guilty of advocating the "bourgeois" theory of genetic inheritance are remarkably similar to the Church's persecution of Galileo three centuries earlier, serving to demonstrate how alien to such regimes is the concept of objective scientific enquiry. The scientific outlook is as uniquely Western as the concept of individual rights, and it is as delicate as the framework of human liberty.
RISE OF PSEUDOSCIENCE
Today science is increasingly under attack. Scientists are widely perceived as being cold and calculating, almost bereft of "social consciousness," the unthinking, unfeeling accomplices of a sinister "military-industrial complex." Given the existence of this enormous reservoir of ill-will toward all things scientific, it should come as no surprise that we live in an era when anti-science, in the form of pseudoscience, is dramatically on the rise. Astrology and the occult, telepathy and psychokinesis, UFO's, "ancient astronaut" myths, are all attracting an ever-increasing degree of interest and attention. That these beliefs should be spreading among lesser-educated individuals is a significant (if not totally surprising) development. And that pseudoscientific ideas should be gaining wholehearted acceptance from at least a few highly visible members of the scientific community, as is indeed now taking place, signals the complete collapse of the world view that has prevailed among scientists since the time of Francis Bacon and perhaps even heralds the end of our modern technological civilization.
The reader should not conclude that I am rejecting what I term the pseudosciences out of prejudice or ignorance. Some people disbelieve in the pseudosciences for no better reason than because it all sounds so implausible. Yet this is a habit of mind no more excusable than the childlike credulity with which many of these cults' adherents accept tales of wonders supported by little or no proof. I have spent a great deal of time investigating supposedly "classic" unsolved UFO cases. I have collaborated with my colleagues, among them Philip J. Klass, the noted UFO skeptic and author of UFO's Explained (N.Y., 1974), and James E. Oberg, a well-known popular writer on astronautics and space sciences. We have between us probed into nearly every famous UFO encounter reported in the United States. Without exception, when all the facts are known, these cases are not nearly as impressive as they are made to appear when depicted by the sensation-hungry media and by the all too credulous "scientific" researchers. The bias toward beliefs shared by virtually all of the supposedly scientific investigators into these strange phenomena effectively precludes them from functioning as investigative reporters.
I don't want to attempt here a detailed refutation of the various pseudosciences. Any reader unwilling to abandon belief in one or more of these areas should carefully consider the evidence presented by outspoken skeptics, for example, by C.E.M. Hansel in ESP: A Scientific Evaluation (N.Y., 1966), Lawrence David Kuschein The Bermuda Triangle Mystery—Solved (N.Y., 1975), James Randi in The Magic of Uri Geller (N.Y., 1975), Charles Fair in The New Nonsense (N.Y., 1974), and Klass in UFO's Explained. It is significant to note that the believers nearly always meet such overpowering challenges as these books present, not with argument and evidence, but with an embarrassed silence.
The skeptics have spoken out more during the past five years than in all of the preceding 15. Yet it would be a mistake to conclude that the scientific community, feisty and self-confident, is closing in on its prey. The active debunkers, for the most part, are amateurs, many of them highly skilled and effective, but almost none of them professional scientists. The man who exploded the Bermuda Triangle myth, Lawrence David Kusche, is a reference librarian. The most persistent and successful debunker in UFO history, Philip J. Klass, is a technical journalist. The effective critics of spiritualism and parapsychology have been stage magicians. Professional scientists have for the most part remained totally silent on these subjects.
The "believers" within the scientific community have, however, become highly outspoken, generating attention far out of proportion to their small numbers. Nonsense, like weeds, will flourish where there is nothing to stop it, and resistance to the pseudoscientific onslaught has been weak and disorganized. One can easily see which side feels itself to be on the intellectual and moral offensive. It is not the side of reason. Like defenders of capitalism, advocates of the scientific method have been timid, remaining silent in the face of mounting attacks, no matter how absurd or ill-founded.
Why are the forces of reason so demoralized? One potent factor is the radical subjectivism that so thoroughly pervades modern thought. Present-day intellectuals, carefully trained to avoid "dogmatic" habits of thinking, feel uneasy when forced to consider whether there is or could be any objective knowledge of the universe. They're reasonably sure that copper conducts electricity—certainly they'd never grab hold of a live copper wire—and yet how certain can they be of the truth of that proposition? Copper is an electrical conductor, true enough—at least according to present-day scientific theories and when viewed from the Western, proscientific conception of reality. But who is to say that this must be true for everyone? Perhaps in some other culture, or in some other, equally valid, view of reality, copper acts as an insulator and the people who believe this are as certain of their opinions about copper as we are of ours. I submit that when statements such as these pass for enlightened, progressive thinking, as they do today, it clearly signals the internal collapse of the intellectual world. Who in such a climate, especially among those professionals who devote their lives to the advancement of "knowledge," would dare to risk his intellectual reputation defending a concept so passe and bourgeois as the idea of objective scientific truth! Thus the pseudoscientific (and antiscientific) cause advances, as vulnerable as an invading army arriving in hydrogen-bag balloons, but encountering virtually no resistance.
So fertile is the intellectual climate for nonobjective patterns of "thinking" that alternate-reality theories are beginning to surface openly among the so-called scientific investigators of the paranormal. Drs. J. Allen Hynek and Jacques Vallee—described by their publisher as "two of our country's most eminent scientists, both of whom have studied the UFO phenomenon for two decades" (the second part of this statement is beyond contention)—have recently produced a book titled The Edge of Reality (Chicago, 1975), in which they attempt to show the allegedly great importance to science of the UFO phenomenon. The authors do not shy away from the question of the obvious internal inconsistency of the phenomenon as pseudoscientists generally do: inconsistency becomes just another attribute to be recorded and analyzed (p. 103). Why are UFO's sometimes reportedly seen on radar and at other times not? Why do UFO occupants reportedly make such bizarre, even demonstrably incorrect, statements to the persons they allegedly contact? How do UFO's always manage to slip away before incontrovertible proof of their existence can be obtained?
Vallee, a computer scientist who also holds a master's degree in astrophysics, suggests that perplexing and absurd cases of reported UFO contact must be approached in the context of the question, "Was the experience real, and if so, in what kind of framework?" (p. 257). Hynek, former chairman of the astronomy department at Northwestern University and UFO consultant to the Air Force, similarly holds that phenomena such as UFO's, ESP, and out-of-body travel are "signalling that there's a reality that the physical scientists…aren't at all conscious of, but exists!" (p. 256). In The Invisible College (Chicago, 1975) Vallee explains that if enough people come to accept the reality of the UFO phenomenon, "in some sense it will become truer than true" (p. 207, emphasis in original), which will then lead in some unspecified manner to "irreversible" changes in society (for the better, of course). If the reader is unable to fathom the exact meaning of statements such as these, he can reflect on Vallee's observation that the apparent violation by UFO's of "our laws of causality" suggests that "their logic is a metalogic" (p. 208), which tells us something about Vallee's logic as well.
Another scientist who has retreated into a universe of alternative realities (which must be where the tornado blew Dorothy) is Andrew Weil, M.D. who is a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs in New York and a research associate in ethnopharmacology at Harvard's botanical museum. Weil, who specializes in the study of "unfamiliar states of consciousness," became interested in the alleged psychic abilities of the famed Uri Geller—a young Israeli who claims to possess a wide assortment of paranormal powers that reportedly originate from the mysterious space people of the planet Hoova, who communicate with Geller via tape cassettes that dematerialize as soon as they have delivered their message. (One would hope that the extreme absurdity of Geller's reported contacts with "space people," who habitually utter metaphysical platitudes, might serve as a warning to all reasonable persons to be extremely wary of the "Geller phenomenon." Yet believers in Geller, such as Jacques Vallee, dismiss these absurdities with the observation that "Geller, like many UFO contactees, may be misinterpreting the nature of these communications.")
Weil met with Geller in New York and was treated to an impressive display of allegedly paranormal phenomena. (Weil's encounter is written up in Psychology Today, June and July, 1974.) Geller bent keys by merely thinking about bending them, used his telepathic powers to look at drawings that were kept hidden from his sight, and even materialized a small metal object out of thin air! Weil found the powers he had presumably witnessed to be "extraordinary and impossible to deny." Weil had already arranged a meeting, however, with James ("The Amazing") Randi, a noted stage magician who loudly proclaims Geller to be a fraud—a clever conjurer, and nothing more. Deciding against breaking the appointment, Weil reluctantly proceeded to Randi's house, where he witnessed a display of "paranormal" powers every bit as impressive as Geller's except that they were performed by a well-known sleight-of-hand artist. Randi performed so convincingly that, as Weil confessed, his faith in Geller's powers "lay in pieces on the floor" (June, p. 45).
Did Weil reach the obvious and straightforward conclusion that because of his unfamiliarity with ordinary magic tricks he had been duped by a skilled conjurer who poses as a psychic? Not at all! Such a simplistic conclusion would be unworthy of a modern-day man of science. Is Geller a fraud? An "unanswerable" question, proclaims Weil. He both is and is not a fraud, "depending on who is looking and from what point of view" (July, p. 74), a contention that shows the enormous progress made in science and philosophy in the 23 centuries since Aristotle attempted to shackle the creative mind with his law of noncontradiction.
How could the learned Dr. Weil ever be so presumptuous as to attempt to treat any patient? A patient's arm might or might not be broken, depending on who looks at it and from what point of view, and what treatment, if any, may be required is not determinable, since it depends on which universe the good doctor's consciousness may be inhabiting at any particular moment.
Having thus done away with the restrictive and outdated concept of objective truth, the question of why some scientific theories should be preferred to others becomes rather difficult to answer. Traditional standards of scientific merit such as repeatability of experimental results and successful prediction of future events become at best unreliable and at worst irrelevant. In fact, scientific subjectivism is not only fashionable among the advocates of nonsense, but it is becoming increasingly prominent among academic philosophers and historians of science.
Today's leading proponent of scientific subjectivism is Thomas S. Kuhn, who in his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago, 1962, 1970) suggests that psychological forces, not logic or experiments, play the decisive role in determining what scientific theories are accepted.
According to Kuhn, the establishment scientific world view, which he calls a paradigm, tends to prevail, at the expense of other views, for as long as it can continue to attract and inspire a significant number of dedicated adherents. An old paradigm passes away, he says, not when it is found to be incompatible with objective facts, but when the last of its aged adherents finally gives up the ghost, leaving the scientific establishment firmly in the hands of the Young Turks. Whatever evidence may sway individual scientists to change paradigms will not necessarily convince other scientists; a change of scientific paradigms is closely akin to a religious conversion (Kuhn's terminology)—both are a type of gestalt switch and are generally not the result of evidence or rational persuasion.
Needless to say, some serious objections can be formulated to this relativist interpretation of the workings of the empirical sciences, and today Kuhn's ideas are being hotly debated in academic circles. It remains to be seen whether the subjectivist interpretation of the scientific method will in time become generally accepted as objectively (!) true.
While orthodox scientists debate whether or not a rigid scientific establishment shuts out all allegedly "heretical" views, their counterparts beyond the fringe entertain no doubts whatever that this is indeed so. How else can they explain the persistent refusal of most scientists to recognize the importance of such alleged phenomena as ESP, UFO's, and the Bigfoot Monster? UFO believers assert that it is because of a "laughter curtain" that UFO's have not been embraced by the scientific community, and not because of the lack of real evidence to support the claims made about the alleged phenomenon. Charles Fort, one of the founding fathers of modern pseudoscience, wrote of the supposedly real but inexplicable phenomena that science has "damned" into oblivion because it has no explanation for them, such as the supposedly numerous falls of cinders, ashes, slag, and coal from the sky, which suggested to Fort the existence of "oil or coal-burning aerial super-constructions" traveling through interplanetary space (The Book of the Damned, 1919; N.Y., 1972). (This was proposed in 1919; today's Forteans fashion their odd-ball hypotheses to be more in keeping with the times.) One finds throughout the pseudoscientific literature the endlessly repeated theme that it is principally the fear of new ideas that keeps bold, heretical new truths such as astrology and the Abominable Snowman forever on the outside.
MARKET FOR IDEAS
One cannot help but notice the parallel between this line of thought and the claim made by socialists that an oppressive, self-serving establishment supposedly possesses such a stranglehold on our economy that the "little guy" is forever kept on the outside. Those who are unhappy with its evaluation of their own endeavors allege that the market for scientific ideas, like the market for goods and services, is not functioning freely—a claim that absolves the unsuccessful producers and thinkers from responsibility for their own failures. In both cases there supposedly exists a powerful group dominating a market that is free in name only, always manipulating it to their own advantage; the preservation of the status quo.
Another factor common to the two cases is that both groups, the socialists and the pseudoscientists, are hostile to the idea of objective merit and objective truth. People supposedly obtain wealth, not by skillfully applying their talents to an enterprise that is in widespread demand, but because they have connections, pull off some shady deals, and get a few lucky breaks. A theory is said to be accepted by the scientific community, not because it fits the facts, but because it conforms to the prejudices of the age. Once the idea of objective merit and objective truth is abandoned, one is forced to resort to theories of sinister conspiracies and oppressive establishments in order to explain why one's own pet theory or product has not been faring well.
One of the most striking characteristics of the contemporary pseudoscientific movement is the astonishing tenacity with which its adherents cling to their belief in the paranormal. Even the acute embarrassment the believers suffer when a cornerstone of their credo is revealed to be a hoax fails to shake their faith, or even to deter them from making the same mistake again. When one unshakable pillar of their Pantheon noisily collapses, they quietly move over to the next one, without ever stopping to consider whether the entire edifice might not be just as weak.
Case: Dr. Joseph B. Rhine, founder of the Institute for Parapsychology in Durham, North Carolina, is the best-known and most widely respected of all the "scientific" researchers of ESP and related phenomena. He has been active in the field for over 40 years, and the research done at his institute, under his supervision, has for years been considered the most compelling scientific evidence for the reality of psychic phenomena. But in 1974 the Institute for Parapsychology was rocked by a cheating scandal. Its director, Walter J. Levy, was forced to resign after admitting that he had falsified experimental data to make it appear that rodents possess a paranormal ability to influence the radioactive decay of the nucleus of the Strontium atom (Time, August 26, 1974). This was as shocking to parapsychology as it would be to the world of finance if it were suddenly revealed that all the money deposited in Swiss banks had been squandered by the bankers on wine, women, and song. Yet the "scientific" parapsychologists blissfully continue to chase their will-o'-the-wisp in their laboratories, hardly pausing to notice that some of their strongest "unexplained" evidence was obtained under the direction of a confessed hoaxer.
Case: The sensationalist tabloid The National Enquirer supports a blue-ribbon UFO panel made up of five Ph.D. scientists, headed by the famous Dr. J. Allen Hynek. Each year this panel selects what it considers to be the strongest UFO case reported during the preceding year. The very first selection made by the committee, out of more than a thousand UFO incidents reported, was an alleged UFO landing on a farm near Delphos, Kansas, and they awarded a $5,000 cash prize to the farmer and his family. This selection prompted UFO skeptic Philip J. Klass to travel to Kansas to interview the witnesses. He brought back tapes of the farmer spinning a number of tall tales for Klass's benefit and misrepresenting his photos of the supposed landing site. Subsequently the farmer's son, the principal UFO witness, claimed to have experienced other bizarre and improbable occurrences; he had given chase, he said, to the "Wolf Girl," who dashes across the moonlit fields on all fours, running "faster than anything human can run." (Klass, UFO's Explained, chap. 28) If a transparent hoax such as this is selected by recognized "experts" as the best UFO case out of more than a thousand incidents reported, one can only speculate as to how utterly unconvincing the lesser cases must have been. Yet the blue-ribbon panel continues to award its yearly prizes, and each of the five participating scientists remains firmly convinced of the validity of the UFO phenomenon.
Case: Stage magician James Randi, withholding his true identity, approached the editors of Psychic News, a leading journal of "serious" parapsychological research in London. Randi put on a clever show, bending spoons, stopping clocks, and displaying other currently fashionable "psychic" powers. Shortly afterward, he was elated to learn that he had succeeded beyond his expectations in fooling these experienced researchers. Psychic News went to press headlining the paranormal feats of the newly discovered American psychic. (Randi, Magic of Uri Geller, chaps. 3, 16.) One can imagine the embarrassment they suffered when their psychic was quickly identified as a leading stage magician! Yet Psychic News continues its dabblings in ESP as if nothing had happened, its belief in the reality of at least some "paranormal" phenomena unshaken.
The above incidents clearly demonstrate the powerful need on the part of certain members of the intellectual and scientific community to believe in something "beyond science." Radical subjectivism permits such absurdities to appear reasonable. But how to account for the great energy and drive with which these pseudoscientific ideas are pursued?
Present-day intellectuals harbor a profound mistrust of the intellect. Reason itself is felt to be inadequate, even treacherous. Why is this the case? One must be careful not to oversimplify when attempting to answer such a profound and important question. Nevertheless, some apparently significant clues to the puzzle can be found in the writings of one of today's leading literary and philosophical advocates of the paranormal: Arthur Koestler.
Koestler is unquestionably one of the most creative and unconventional thinkers alive today. He has been many things throughout his eventful life: writer and philosopher, farmer, architectural assistant, newspaper editor, communist, war correspondent, and political prisoner. Captured by Franco's forces during the Spanish Civil War, Koestler was sentenced to death but was released due to the intervention of the British government. While in prison, Koestler underwent a profound change in his philosophy of life. He lost his faith in the Communist Party and went on to become an outspoken critic of the regimentation imposed upon the individual by communism.
In addition to communism, another consistent target of Koestler's devastating attacks has been the scientific method. Although some may object that Koestler has spoken out only against the excesses of dogmatic positivism and reductionism, the persistence of his attempts to downgrade Galileo, Newton, and Darwin and to legitimize the paranormal clearly indicate that Mr. Koestler is acutely uncomfortable in the presence of modern science. In subatomic physics he sees, not a triumph of bold experimentation brilliantly coupled with the most abstract mathematical logic, but a fairyland of nonmaterial particles whose behavior, so dissimilar from that of the objects of our everyday experience, seems to him to corroborate the bizarre theories of parapsychological researchers. In evolutionary biology, Koestler is not at all convinced that the Lamarckian hypothesis about the heritability of acquired characteristics has in fact been refuted. In Koestler's interpretation of history, the achievements of Galileo and Newton in synthesizing astronomy, mathematics, and physics are disparaged as "The Parting of the Ways" because, after this time, science and primitive mystical intuition no longer acted in harmony. (See Koestler's The Sleepwalkers [N.Y., 1959], pt. 5, and for his views on parapsychology, The Roots of Coincidence [N.Y., 1972].)
Mr. Koestler feels that Western science and philosophy have seriously erred by not reserving a hallowed place for Hindu mystics and by failing to emphasize the metaphysically transcendent above and beyond the ego. He has expended great time and energy in an attempt to prove that science is unscientific and logic illogical, and he has done so with such brilliant resourcefulness and innovative research that one is tempted in one's weaker moments to follow his lead, off into the starry heavens.
What motivates Koestler's aversion to rigorous scientific thinking? Some significant clues are to be found in one of his earliest major novels, Darkness at Noon (N.Y., 1941), a fictionalized account of the brutal Soviet purges of the 1930's. The novel depicts the arrest and interrogation of Comrade Rubashov, a lifelong Communist who is suddenly accused of being in league with reactionary forces that are supposedly plotting to destroy the workers' paradise. During a series of lengthy interrogations by State prosecutors, Rubashov slowly discovers himself entrapped—and in the end condemned—by the same principles of Marxist logic upon which he had based his entire life's philosophy. Rubashov is revolted by the animal brutality that has engulfed the Motherland, he mourns the loss of the golden dream that burned so brightly at the time of the Revolution, but his most crushing burden is that he is unable to find any flaw in the cruel logic which demands that he—along with millions of others—be sacrificed in the supposed interest of the proletariat. His mind finds no escape from the dreadful conclusion that his heart so understandably refuses to accept.
What can one do in such a situation, except to reject reason itself? "We have replaced decency by reason," Koestler has Rubashov boldly proclaim, and just before his execution Rubashov attempts to formulate a new philosophy of life: "Perhaps it was not suitable for a man to think every thought to its logical conclusion" (pp. 175, 258). Here one sees most distinctly the motivation behind Arthur Koestler's frenzied flight from reason. In view of the great critical acclaim that Koestler's writings have earned in contemporary intellectual circles, it appears that he is not the only one to embrace pseudoscience as a necessary escape from the unspeakable horrors to which science and reason—as he understands them—must necessarily lead.
REASON VS. FREEDOM?
To those who do not share the popular view of reason as leading directly into the abyss of Marxist socialism, the significance of the above analysis becomes at once apparent. The widespread hostility to reason and science, the irrational search for nonexistent phenomena, are rooted at least in part in the erroneous idea that if we adhere to reason too consistently we may well live out our lives in a totalitarian straightjacket. Reason is widely perceived as being vaguely antihuman, as somehow necessarily leading to the subjugation of the individual for the good of the State.
If it seems odd that this peculiar notion is so widespread among intellectuals, one need only look as far as the closest college campus to observe that some form of socialist collectivism is being presented as the loftiest of intellectual and moral ideals; the dictates of reason, they teach, require that the autonomy of the individual be sacrificed to the supposed needs of society. (Unfettered human beings, alas, almost never do what the wise and benevolent social planners would prefer.) Thus Koestler and many others complain that they have been cut in two. They sense their emotions and their intellect to be at cross-purposes, and they wrongly seek to ascribe the blame for this "parting of the ways" to an overemphasis of the role of the intellect. It never occurs to them that when one's philosophy is felt to be fractured, when one is unable to devise a consistent philosophy to encompass the whole of the observable universe, one should not ascribe this inconsistency to the universe itself.
Much of the present-day hostility to economic growth and technological progress is based upon hostility to science and reason. Such opinions are not limited to political liberals and to the ecological fanatics: conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Jr., lament the "hideousness of a science-centered age," and Solzhenitsyn warns the Soviet leaders against copying the West by implementing a high-technology, growth-oriented economic philosophy. By debunking the widespread myth that science leads inescapably to regimentation in the name of efficiency, a much healthier political climate can be created. Science and technology have led to enormous advances in the living standard of every country where they have been free to develop. Pulling out the philosophical underpinnings of the contemporary pseudoscientists and antiscientific movements can do nothing but good.
Furthermore, when pseudoscience in general is placed on the defensive, the powerful argument can be made that Marxist socialism is the very model of an ill-formed, jargon-ridden, pseudoscientific cult. One of the few surviving 19th-century crackpot "theories," Marxism was spawned in the heyday of theosophy, automatic writing, and spirit rappings. Its peculiar doctrinal practices consist, not of such relatively benign aberrations as receiving astral visions or speaking with angels, but of seizing railroad stations with automatic weapons and liquidating entire populations on the basis of imaginary incompatibilities of "class consciousness." The very idea of a tiny, doctrine-ridden ideological cult such as Lenin's Bolsheviks running a giant State would make an exceptionally good joke were it not so tragic; it is as absurd as if a group of militant vegetarians were to seize power during a moment of crisis, proclaim their universal love of life, and then proceed to gun down everyone who had ever eaten a hamburger.
A serious scientific theory must be able to predict future events reliably, but the predictions of the 19th-century cult of Marxism have been a total bust. The progressive impoverishment of the working class, a series of wars between imperialist states for domination over colonial empires, worldwide proletarian revolutions beginning in the most industrialized countries such as England and Germany, the withering away of the State after the revolution—all are cornerstones of the Marxist credo, but as predictions they have been spectacularly unsuccessful. To continue to believe in a theory that has been totally discredited by subsequent events is as absurd as it would be to reaffirm Newton's law of gravity after watching a million apples, one by one, fall up.
What is one to make of Marxists' explicit rejection of reason in favor of the "dialectic," by means of which any position that the party currently favors can be "proved"? Even the most esoteric cult would be hard put to invent any doctrines wackier than these, and it is only our familiarity with these silly ideas, due to their widespread acceptance in polite society, that prevents us from seeing them for what they really are. When Marxism can be seen in intellectual circles in its proper perspective, alongside spiritualism, theosophy, and other popular mid-19th-century mystically oriented cults, then it will no longer be the free market that will stand in need of defending.
ON THE OFFENSIVE
To think, or not to think—that is the real question. Some people, unwilling to tolerate a contradiction in their basic philosophy, will pursue the truth as best they can. Heaven knows it may be a difficult task, but with sufficient intellectual persistence, backed up by the willingness to do a lot of work and to make some difficult decisions, any contradiction can eventually be resolved.
Other people, however, seeking an easier path, are unwilling to make the powerful commitment to reason that the harsh mistress of objective reality requires. They take refuge in a universe of "alternate realities" or carry out their discourses in a "dialectic," so that they may avoid having to examine their cherished illusions in the revealing light of objectivity. In recent years the various pseudoscientific groups have posted some significant advances, but largely because they have encountered only token resistance from the other side. Advocates of consistency cannot afford to be hesitant and demoralized. Before it is too late the forces of reason must take the offensive.
Robert Sheaffer is a computer programmer/analyst and free-lance science writer. He is a graduate of Northwestern University In mathematics and astronomy, and has written for Spaceflight, Astronomy, Official UFO, and other publications.