ppi.010-rkm essay> “Elites & the science of history”


Richard Moore

        ppi.010-rkm essay> "Elites & the science of history"
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                  Elites & the science of history

                          Richard K. Moore

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    a public service of CADRE (Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance)

Publisher's note:

Please let me know if you think I'm "stacking the deck" with too many of my
own essays, but when I write things to other lists that I think are of
wider interest, I tend to forward them here.


btw> let me share this brief note, just in:

        From: "Adkins, Gerald" <•••@••.•••>
        To: •••@••.•••
        Subject: re: Carolyn Chute: "Bringing our government BACK DOWN TO
        Date: Wed, 6 May 1998

        Richard, this article by Chute has to be the best thing I have read
        in a long, long time.  Thank you so much.  J

        G. C.  Adkins, M.S.
        Human Resources Director
        Saint Martin's College, Lacey, Wa.  98503-1297

        Gerald- I'll tell her when I see her next month - and the thanks are
        really for Carolyn Ballard, who tracked down the articles.  -rkm

5/06/98, a hapless academic wrote to `philosophy of history' list:
 >The point however is that the system of the hard sciences destroy the
 >understanding of history if imposed. This is because these sciences
 >create a structure into which historical facts are made to fit. Then the
 >facts are not what they used to be but highly modified pieces of a
 >structure which has nothing to do with history. History should not be
 >treated as a structure when it is not.

We keep circling around my original point, which you continue to affirm by
everything you say, and by how you say it, but without realizing it.

The point is that historians have _misunderstood how the scientific process
works.  Instead, they have tried to borrow entire _structures which have
been developed _by the hard sciences, but for applications which do _not
map onto history.

For example, in classical physics, it turns out that very simple formulas
serve very well to model motions of bodies ( "F=ma", etc.)  It is not the
case that science _requires simple formulas; it _is the case that
scientists _discovered that simple formulas _happen to work in physics.
(They _don't in history.)

In addition, scientists found that these simple formulas depended only on
minimal qualities of the bodies, primarily their _mass and _velocity.  One
didn't need (normally) to take into account texture, color, density, or any
number of other qualities which one might intuitively _think might play a
role.  (Recall the leaning-tower-of-piza experiment: people didn't _know
whether mass affected rate-of-fall or not; afterwards they did.)

What historians tried to do then, was to seek simple formulas, depending
only on one or two qualities, that could explain historical phenomena.
This was a _misapplication of science.  It was based on an unwarranted
_assumption that the results of the hard sciences could be mapped _in toto
from physics, or biology, or whatever, _directly into history, without in
fact doing the necessary science in the domain of history.

Historians are not to be blamed for this.  The whole _age in the nineteenth
century was enamored by science as a new religion, a new paradigm that
could explain all the world via simple laws and lead to human betterment,
etc.  Historians simply jumped on the bandwagon like everyone else.

The problem was that people were more familiar with the _results of
science, in particular cases, than they were with the actual _mechanism of
the scientific process, as a general methodology.

What happened in history, and in other so-called soft sciences, is that a
`snapshot' of the scientific method was taken many many years ago, and that
has stuck through the decades, even though in the hard sciences the
paradigms of science have gone through several subsequent revolutions.


Science is _not fundamentally about finding simple formulas, or reducing
things to only a few variables.  Science is about _observing what actually
happens, devising models which match as closely as possible what has been
observed, and then entering into a feedback-loop process between further
_observation and further _model_refinement, leading ultimately to _good
models: ie models which (a) fit the data and (b) provide predictive power.

                Make it as simple as possible,
                but no simpler.
                     -Alan Kay, inventor of personal computer


My `model' of current global events is that the Western Capitalist Elite
are, to a good first approximation, running the world according to their
own designs and plans.  Contrary to our discussion so far, I _do have lots
of empirical evidence about who they are, how they plan, what their plans
are, what their strategy and tactics are, what their next moves are likely
to be, etc.

But our discussion has been about _science, and I've been trying to explain
that, according to well-accepted and highly successful scientific practice,
it is not _necessary to delve into that particular empirical evidence in
order to explore and even to affirm the validity of my `elite model'.

One takes the model, and one tests it against historical data, over the
period for which it is claimed to apply.  If it fits well, and provides
predictive power, then it, to that extent, is a good model.  The question
of _why things happen to fit the model is an _independent scientific
investigation, and of course the two threads reinforce and inform one

That's how Newton came up with his formulas, but the model in the
historical case has no similarity to "F=ma".  Historical models, ones that
work that is, are non-linear.  They don't look like math.

There is in fact no reason why history needs to be a `soft' science; it can
be as rigorously scientific as any other field.  What prevents it from
beginning to use the scientific method effectively is a set of collectively
held illusions and misunderstandings of what science is and how it can be
applied to history, as you exemplify in the quoted paragraph at the top.

In these days of globalization, where every significant government action
in the world can be traced obviously and quickly back to neoliberal roots,
it amazes me that anyone has trouble entertaining an elite model.  And in
fact, it is mainly in the academic community that one finds such a
disconnect between real-world experience and abstract thinking.


Just for your amusement, there is an elite-agency theory about this very
business of scientific specialization, the emasculation of science via
compartmentalization.  The theory was put forward by Buckminister Fuller,
who claims that the Establishment in Imperial Britain was concerned that
the rise of science might lead to the emergence of a new elite, just as
capitalism led to such an emergence, vis a vis landed aristocracies.  The
current elite had got into power, and was eager to `shut the door' on new

Their solution, claims Bucky, in "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth",
was to set up the Admiralty War College using a specialization paradigm,
thus keeping scientists penned up in their little disciplines, leaving the
societal decisions re/science to be made by others.  The War-College model,
evidently, has come to dominate academia world wide -- this particular
strategem of the then-elite, if Bucky has it right, seems to have worked
very well, and has become a largely unquestioned part of Western culture.
But there's no reason it has to stay that way, one can begin to question
whenever one wakes up.

In fact, Western universities carry forward two traditions.  At the
undergrad level we have the carry-over of the Medieval university model,
centers of, shall we say, `free thinking' and `free inquiry'.   At the grad
level we enter the compartmentalized, politicized, production-oriented,
intellectually-stifled, politically impotent, war-college model.


The predictive power of an elite-agency model, in these days of
globalization (ie, systematic consolidation of elite power) is really quite
impressive.  There's very little on the world scene that surprises me, and
I have little problem accurately predicting the sequel to most news items.

I spend as little time as possible studying the elite, per se, because such
information has so little bearing on the model.  Just as mass was the only
thing important about bodies in motion, so the only thing you really need
to know about the elite is that (1) they have power, (2) they make plans,
(3) they are purusing a program.  The further details/data are more readily
and reliably obtained from the daily news than from covert revelations.



                  "Seeking an Effective Democratic
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