Science as a factor of tradition and change: some methodological remarks

by Ana Bazac

My first point is to show that, between the cultural traditions, there are not only particular/specific elements which would have forged and would forge the culture of a people, but also universal elements. These universal elements intertwine with the other ones, are transposing through the other ones: their translation through and by the other ones outline a unique culture that is grasped by its followers as only specific, as only “theirs”, as if only they would have constructed it.

But certainly, the universal elements are not those politically decreed from outside that culture. Clearer, and given that all the cultural elements, including the internal/specific ones, are either politically forged or politically imposed – therefore, the dominant layers allow or even support the cultural elements which are suitable for the preservation and strengthening of their dominance –, the existing cultural elements are always the result of not only the internal social pressures, resistance, inertia,  urge toward  the popular strata to take over the dominant ideological messages, but also of the external pressures; which some internal forces assume, and other repudiate, but both supporting, consciously or unconsciously, the domination-submission relations/the submission of their own people. In other words, there are not many intellectuals – speaking together with the working people but not instead of them/ substituting them – who dare to challenge the different officially admitted narratives, including those about culture.

The universal elements are, thus, not those considered from outside as universal – as having more worth than the “exotic” vernacular, particular ones – but those which are present in both one’s own culture and the culture of other peoples as well.

Actually, these universally present cultural elements are those which represent ontological features of the human beings: those which arise from the deep needs of humans to survive, but in a human manner,

  • through the respect of – and by respecting – every human being,
  • through the support of – and by supporting – every human being,

so that every one and all may develop, create, enjoy his/her work to do their best to others.

If the ontological features are universal – as love, work, courage, self-improvement, confidence, mutual help and solidarity, reason, curiosity, sense of humor, play and different manners of exercising the ability to infer[1], conditioned by the concrete (historical and social) context[2]one could not conceive culture as being only particular. Because: the humans have responded to their conditioning in the same ways, only manifested in (eventually) different manners and forms, generated by the concrete historical environment.

My intention here is not to exclude the particular character of cultures, drowning them within the universal, but simply to warn against the conception that culture would be only particular (as language, religion, traditions of habits), and civilization – as science and technology and their results/applications – universal: as this conception is translated in the formula of “thousand cultures, one civilization”, according to which there is a worldwide/common use of IT&C, but nevertheless, people would promote un-translatable/ irreducible cultures (in fact, leading to cultural incompatibility). Nor – if, from the standpoint of Occam’s razor, this reference to civilization seems to be too much (but it is not[3]) and as in the well-known Huntington’s Clash of civilizations (1993, a “fulfilling prophecy”, let’s use Merton’s concept; but the “clash of civilizations” prophecy was an ugly prescription of an ugly political strategy) – that civilization would be only particular; in Huntington, the concepts (culture, civilization) were interchangeable, civilization signaling only the particular character, so, the only  consequences of this particular character were to be the clash, war.

My view is thus:

1) if we use both concepts, culture would mean the whole of values, institutions, relations, material and spiritual creation representing the answer of humans to their environment, while civilization would be the culture that has already spread, thus having as a quiddity its diffusion (/the diffusion of a culture); therefore: culture = creation; civilization = a widespread, “applied” culture, transformed in habits and rules of social life, thus exceeding the “simple”’ creation;

2) each culture has a universal core (ontologically explained, or explaining the common answers of humans in the development of their species) transposed within particular forms (language, habits, folklore, institutions); or, in other words, each culture is particular/has a particular appearance, covering a universal core; and each civilization has a particular appearance, covering nevertheless the universal-particular quiddity of the culture whose widespread form is.

***

Therefore, and since the real culture and civilization – and not only the concepts – overlap, we cannot consider that culture, where tradition would be its main characteristic[4] is that which would oppose change. Certainly, we must be clear about the change as such: what kind of change, where (in society, of course, but in which domains and social areas), who are the actors of change, and why, which are the aims of the actors and which are the results. The social change is not something implacable as the laws of nature, and both change and tradition are initiated by and determined within a framework of power relations, hence the responsibility of researchers not only as human beings – towards their fellow human beings from all over the world – but also as analytical thinkers interested in making transparent all the above determinations: or rather, the responsibility of researchers as not only thinkers, but also as human beings towards their fellow human beings from all over the world.

For this reason, to counter-pose tradition and change, as if they would be absolutely objective processes, is only a refusal of researchers to being responsible. In fact, to objectify the social processes – to transform the human forces, actions and thoughts in impersonal results which would be, they, the determining factors of the human activities where humans would absolutely be deprived by their free will, logic and initiative – is a manifestation of lack of social responsibility of researchers: this attitude and its subterfuge (the above objectification), as forms of social submission, are pendant and correspond to the general submission of non-intellectual categories in the societies based on domination-submission relationships.

Tradition and change intertwine in the unique process of societal evolution: they are objective phenomena in the “really existing society”. While – just opposite to the cliché about “culture as the only shield against the mad change” – culture as creation, innovation is a specific response to the changing societal conditions and thus “it changes”. We cannot equate the persistence of language and many cultural phenomena of identity (habits, folklore, institutions) with opposition to change: we all know that all these phenomena change, too, even though in different rhythms and manners than technology as civilization. On the contrary, just culture and its change is a factor of change: obviously, it is a dialectical factor of the obviously dialectical process of change-persistence.

The presumed opposition between tradition and change has in its subtext the presumption that one of them would be negative and the other – positive. Generally, in all the ideological[5] ideas there is a moral stance: people value things as negative or positive, legitimating their different appraisal. Concerning our topic, either tradition would be positive – towards the externally driven and soulless change, so negative – or change would be positive, bringing the blessings of the modern life and, obviously, towards the out-of-date, and sometimes harmful, tradition.

If we can link these different evaluations to different political positions – traditionally, the appreciation of tradition seems to belong to conservative people, while the valuing of change to liberals – things are more complicated: especially nowadays. And especially because neither tradition nor change concern only one thing, but they are complex processes concerning many aspects of the social reality. For example, most conservative are technophobe, thinking that the modern science and technology would be the cause of the human decay and loss of the human soul. Heidegger – who was an exponent of the above objectification – was refractory to religion (from this standpoint, he was a modernist) but was technophobe (and thus, a conservative). Or, there are conservative people considering religion as one of the main elements of cultural tradition, who are not technophobe. Consequently, people choose the elements of culture which are more consonant with their social position and level of understanding the world.  But people choose also the social processes which are more consonant with their interests.

***

Therefore, I focused on science because it gainsays the unilateral approaches. Science is both a factor of tradition – does someone say that our tradition does not contain science, and that science did not contribute to the culture and civilization of all our specific histories? – and a factor of change. Science is both a component of culture and a part of civilization.

Science represents just the dialectic of tradition and change: because it is, I repeat, both a factor of tradition and of change. The criterion of change, for instance, is not, thus, the fact that science changes, but that it is a factor of change. Religion is not a factor of change, though it is used to be such a factor. Therefore, the problem – again, the criterion – is not the transformation of an element of culture into an instrument /a political instrument to act in whatever kind and for whatever purpose. History has not a predetermined destiny and trajectory, predetermination that was illustrated by the model of the trajectory of an arrow promoting the, optimistic or pessimistic, purposes – because, and with all the social causes which lead to the composition of causes that presents itself as laws, the humans, their responsibility and boldness, are those which construct society and its future. Consequently, people judge history and the historical processes. Change and traditions are according to the moral judgment of people. And both tradition and change are valued according to their results: their influence on the well-being, but more, on the moral well-being, the dignity and concrete manifestation – or actualization of the potential creativity of every human being, if we use Aristotle’s concept of potentiality and actuality – of creativity of every one and all. The criterion of judging both change and tradition is that to what extent they are suitable for the above purposes.

People understand very well that neither tradition nor change realize, each of them alone, the above ends. And they – though the ideological bombardment from above is strong – understand that some elements of culture are used against the above ends. Therefore, the criterion of change – and, actually, of the optimal proportion of tradition and change – is ethical. There are no other criteria to judge the proportion of tradition and change – all the other are inherently abstract and far away from the real world and its problems –. People understand – in fact, they have the intuition – that religion is not enough/no longer fit for the above ends.  People understand – in fact, they have the intuition – that they are not only citizens of their country and culture and civilization, but that they are also citizens of the world. They use not only traditional technologies, but also world technologies, world civilization. They use not only their traditional language and folklore, but also other languages and other human bunches of wisdom. And each of them is unique and necessary for their human manifestation. And people know that it is preposterous to have either superiority or inferiority complex from the standpoint of one’s own culture and civilization. Letting aside the historical development of culture and civilization within world power relations – but obviously, we cannot let aside this conditioning – all the cultures and civilizations (including the lost ones, an infinite loss for humanity) have contributed and contribute to the constitution of humankind. The complexes and hierarchies were and are made only from the viewpoint of world domination-submission relationships.

 One message coming from a dominant layer is that to be surrounded only by one’s own culture and civilization would be enough. But it is not. As well as it is not enough to feel oneself only as a free floating citizen of the world; because the human being needs also to have roots and its close milieu that heats it up. However, the roots are not neutral, apparently impersonal folkloric habits or religion: the roots are warm and strong when they support the moral judgments of people and they moral propensity for humanism.

***

Science is such a root. It is a universal element of culture and civilization, even though it is developed by concrete researchers having their own national tradition. Science is universal, because its methods, aims and transnational collaboration – all having an ancient tradition – are universal.  Its “communist” features, as Merton expressly uses this word[6]universalism (the scientific objectivity is independent from the researchers; free access to science), communism (all the scientific information are the common ownership of all the researchers, the intellectual property being limited to recognition and esteem), disinterestedness (aiming at scientific research, scientists do not put their own interest before the interest of science), organized skepticism (spirit of criticism) – are epistemic standards, thus universal, codified as ethical norms. Technically, these standards suppose:

  • the permanent analysis of proofs (and no assertion aiming at solving a problem should be left without evidence);
  • the permanent questioning of every concept, theory, information, premise, of all the data and concrete methods of testing;
  • the purpose is to bring in solid proofs concerning the analyzed phenomenon, and not to model the proofs and their interpretation so as to be in consensus with the initial hypothesis;
  • severity in all these requirements, viz. the severe learning from error; the consideration of adverse theories in the same severe manner;
  • honesty of researchers in all the moments of their exploits, including in communicating their results to the scientific community and in the dialogue with the broad public.

All these standards differentiate science from other manners of giving cognizance (for example, from religion that does not question its premises), and at the same time constitute a bunch of criteria that may be transposed at the level of judging tradition and the social change. In this way, science is not only part of tradition and change, nor is it only a factor of tradition and change, but also a tool to judge and create tradition and change: namely, a tool of the political analysis and decision concerning the proportion of tradition and change in our societies.

Finally, science must be not also such a superior tool and factor, but also a process that should be judged: certainly, together with all other social processes. Therefore, all these processes, so including science, must pass the test of their confrontation with the so ugly and sad aspects of the present human life on the Earth, so morally unacceptable and barbaric, that no reference to the tradition or change promoted by some ones and which contribute to the precarious existence of the many in the present absurd world – where formidable results of science coexist with unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity – is excusing them. Not the change as such – as objectified phenomenon – and nor the idealization of tradition does constitute the solution of such ugly aspects and world: but the moral judgment of all the human beings and their action, where science is sine qua non.

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Notes

[1] All these features have been constituted in the process of hominization, as ways of hominids – as weak little animals – to survive in front of the surrounding milieu (certainly, full of stronger and faster beasts).

[2] And in this respect, we should not forget Sartre’s theory of rarity as (historical) ontological condition: Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique de la raison dialectique, I, Théorie des ensembles pratiques précédé de Questions de méthode, Paris, Gallimard, 1960 (I wrote something about this).

[3] In my opinion – and knowing/letting aside that the concepts of culture and civilization have been historically created and used, some ones preferring “culture” and others “civilization”, and that, structurally, they overlap – we have to ask what is science: culture or civilization?.

   Both culture and civilization refer to the “ensemble of material and spiritual creations”; technically, culture is/reflects the uniqueness of creation, while civilization is wide-spread culture. For example, when we speak about the innovation of something, as an ancient ceramics or as a dance etc., we call them culture, but when we see their real existence as more than as a singular creative act, as a situation full of ceramics, dance etc., we call this situation, civilization.

   Thus, science as scientific creation is a part of culture, but – when we talk about its instruments, procedures, conditions and results – is part of civilization.

[4] But it is not: there is an interesting dialectic of tradition and change in culture (and, obviously, in civilization too).

[5] The ideological character of ideas – present in the ideas about society, man and their processes, facts and results – means that all of these ideas are created from and reflect the social position of the speaker/of different social strata. (See second Marx (from the standpoint of the theory of ideology): not ideology as false conscience (first Marx), but ideology as creation of ideas starting from a social position).

[6] Robert Merton, ”The Normative Structure of Science” (1942), republished in Robert K. Merton,  The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1973, pp. 267-278.

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