Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Who needs to know?

Oh to be the Universal Man! In Leonardo’s day it was thought possible that all worldly knowledge could repose in one mighty head and those giants of our scientific past, on whose broad shoulders Newton stood, still shine brightly from antiquity. But it couldn’t have all been plain sailing in the world of alchemy, proto-helicopters and hydrodynamics and many more perished than are ever remembered. It is very much the way of pioneers to engineer their own demise via exploration or experiment; history fails to record how many ‘don’t look so clever now’.

In pursuit of sacred knowledge Marie Curie killed herself with radiation, Scott was lost to the Antarctic and Benjamin Franklin blew the bloody doors off… with kitin’ lightnin’. Less prominent folk also gave themselves so that we might learn; hatters went mad through the neurotoxic effects of working with mercury, countless adventurers plunged to their deaths attempting flight and millions have died without us yet conquering malaria. I wonder what the legions of climate scientists are going to die from? Old age and foie gras, probably; it’s a rum old game is science for sale.

But what use is ‘the knowledge’ if it doesn’t ultimately increase the sum total of human happiness? And what, even, is happiness anyway? Frequent reports tell us that we are more or less happy than our parents, the nineteen fifties, Mondeo man or guinea pigs in cages, but on what metric? We try and measure contentedness; with government, opposition, our lives, our neighbours, our car, our face or even our fridge. And then there’s the dubious notion of equality: are we more, or less equal than we were and compared with whom? And does it really matter?

For a great many, happiness correlates closely to ignorance; what you don’t know can’t hurt you… but tell that to anybody who’s had a severe electric shock. Yesterday somebody mentioned that an alarming proportion of today’s children don’t know that chips are made from potatoes… or that potatoes are a vegetable. Given this lack of enquiry about what we put into our mouths is it any wonder that we will swallow any old bullshit? But are we happy with the resulting quality-of-life-threatening obesity of untruths, or are we content to wallow in our thin, shallow paddling pool of wisdom?

We certainly don’t seem to want to put ourselves out to acquire the truth and few of us could reliably tell one bit of bogus research from another, so when Tim Yeo said yesterday that nobody would be a climate change sceptic if they had seen what he had seen he did so knowing few were in a position to challenge that stance. And what a perfect double whammy - a politician, claiming to know about a science so nebulous that the supposed 97% who agree all live in the same asylum - confident that his assertions are unlikely to be rigorously challenged. We are supposed to be able to trust these people.

So, with all of that in mind I bring you the fabulous news that yesterday – and not as an April Fool prank – the whole French government resigned. presumably because they were unable to fathom where they fucked up and how to put it straight. Time and again we see this – the arrogance of supposed expertise outwitted by the normal actions of those ignorantly rejecting their high-minded philosophy. No wonder governments rarely trust the voters who put them in office.

Vitruvian Man - what was the point?

So, as always, the experts know precious little more than the ignorant; they just use longer words. Leonardo must be spinning in his grave; spinning, observing the gyroscopic effect, formulating a method for predicting rotational stability, then screwing up his calculations and throwing them in the bin. While political parties of all hues are relying on how stupid they think we are, I’m still waiting for the sum total of human happiness to increase.

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