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From: ((Steven B. Harris))
Subject: Re: Problems with FAQ (section 7) Part II
Date: 09 Jun 1995

AVIRAMA@UNIVSCVM.CSD.SCAROLINA.EDU (Amittai F. Aviram) writes to David

>Ahem....  With all due respect, it seems to me to make no sense
>to criticize a scientist or medical doctor for "a childish
>little schoolboy positivism."

    Well, I think he was referring to the Vienna School, where
the schoolboys shout childish things like "Your mother still
believes in Compte!" and "Well, at least my mother has values and
isn't a logical empiricist like YOUR old man!"  Woody Allen went
there, but says he was expelled during a philosophy test for
looking into the soul of the kid next to him.

>To put it simply, if you are wondering why technology has not
>fulfilled its promise and made people happier, then
>poststructuralist critiques of positivism are a good place to

    I don't know if I would even go that far.  Technology is
supposed to relieve suffering, not make people happy.  It's a
permissive force, to the extent that it's hard to be happy with a
toothache, or when your firstborn has just died of diarrhea.  To
the extent that people are UN-happy because they suffer
physically, technology has done a great job of fixing much of
that.  It hasn't filled mankind's spiritual needs, but then it
was never supposed to.  At least it gives the average person far
more time to pursue them.

    Simple *history* (screw poststructuralism) is what I would
recommend for people who want to examine technology's impact on
happiness.  Before the era of modern technology in the middle
ages, people's teeth rotted out of their heads, and the fashion
in the upper class even centuries later in Europe was for people
to hold fruit on sticks in front of their faces at parties, in
order to hide the teeth and the incredible breath which resulted.
A woman in the middle ages had only a 1 in 4 chance of making to
menopause alive.  People wore broad hats in cities so that they
wouldn't be hit by the chamberpot emptiers throwing human waste
out into the street.  People bathed once a year.  We have records
from court cases in the middle ages where there are fights among
relatives over the clothes the deceased was wearing when he or
she died-- people were that poor.  As late as the 17th century,
Louis XIV had the wine freeze in the glasses at night in
his palace at Versailles-- no central heat.  It can't have
been much fun for anyone, even royalty.  Louis XV died in 1774,
literally rotting in his bed so that all were forced to
flee the smell, from smallpox-- a disease that was killing
one person in ten in Europe then.  Today we don't have
smallpox, due to Jenner and long line of schoolboy positivists.
Are we happy?  A helluva lot happier than people then, I
imagine.  At least on average, and over a lifetime (which
NOW is usually long, but THEN was usually nasty, brutish,
and short).

> But if you are looking for the cause and cure of AIDS,
positivism is fine. <

   I think so, too, but unfortunately I am regarded, along with
most other working scientists, as a callous unsophisticate by the
academic left.  These are the folks who sit at their
wordprocessors and write articles for each other about how
technology has added to spiritual decay, and by doing so, prove
themselves right <g>.

>>In the same posting, David Mertz criticized Steven Harris's
article in The Skeptic magazine by means of guilt-by-association.
Alas, I, too, wish that Steve's article had appeared in, say,
Science or (if it must be more popular) Scientific American.<

   Comment: You'd never have seen it in the same form in either one.
_Science_ magazine doesn't do reviews for the layman.  Scientific
American does, but they are about 1/10th the length of mine, with
5 or 6 references.  The editor of SKEPTIC actually had the guts
to run a 40-page article with 200 cites.  And this issue, I
think, has done better than any issue of SKEPTIC previously on
the newsstands.  Maybe it was the lurid green cover, but I don't
care.  It wasn't an ivory tower article and it won't do my CV any
good, but a LOT of people read it who could profit by it, and
more will read it in the future.  I couldn't be happier.

                                  Steve Harris, M.D.

Mental Imagine: Thurber cartoon showing SKEPTIC magazine being
offered as after-dinner reading by the wine waiter: "It's merely
a bit of childish little schoolboy positivism, but I think you'll
be amused by its presumption."  ;-)

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