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Zapatista University Chapter 4: Science versus Politics

by Ezra Niesen Sunday, Feb. 01, 2009 at 5:21 AM
tylermaudib@yahoo.com

Here’s another free science lesson for Third-World farmers. The complete book can be read on my site. Feel free to translate it into Spanish or any other language.

Now I need to tell you how science can be used as a political weapon.

You may have heard how the Soviets used to arm Communist revolutionaries with Soviet weapons. They armed the North Vietnamese, they armed the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, they armed the Cubans, they armed everyone who was fighting a revolution against Capitalists or monarchs or dictators.

The AK47 was a well-built rifle. It served the North Vietnamese well. It was simple, it was powerful, and it was reliable. I used to know a South Vietnamese refugee who had been an officer during the war. He said the men in his platoon hated the M16s the Americans gave them, and every chance they got they would destroy their M16s and use captured AK47s instead, because the Soviet rifles worked so much better than the American rifles.

Now the Soviet Union is gone, so you don’t have an infinite supply of assault rifles. And I’m guessing you probably didn’t want to be Soviet puppets anyway.

So how do I turn science into a simple, powerful, reliable weapon for third-world guerillas that will work better than the AK47?

It’s really not that difficult. All it takes is one person who’s very good at science, and some rebels who really want to win. If a handful of farmers are willing to fight the Mexican army with hunting rifles, I hope some of you will be willing to read a book and learn some new things.

Russia is a gigantic country where it gets very cold in the winter. Every time Russia has been invaded, the Russian’s strategy for defending their country has always revolved around the regular intervention of what they call General Winter. The country is so big and the winter is so cold that no one has ever been able to conquer the country before winter has set in, and invaders never know how to fight in the Russian winter. The Russians always know this is going to happen, so every time they lose a battle and the invaders force them to retreat, they burn all the farms and everything else the invaders can use while the fall back. So the invaders have to try to ship all their supplies all the way in from wherever they came from. Their supply lines break down because they can’t ship their supplies through all the snow, and their soldiers starve and freeze to death because they run out of food, they run out of heating fuel, and they didn’t bring warm enough clothes.

Russia was invaded by Napoleon Bonaparte in the 1800s, after he conquered the rest of Europe. Russia was invaded twice by the Germans in World War I and World War II. The Russians always drive the invaders out because they figure out how to cooperate with the world and the invaders don’t.

The first trick to using science as a political weapon is learning how to cooperate with the world while your enemies defeat themselves. I’ve told you how all the science I have to tell you about can be found in books that are available in any university library in the English-speaking world and many other countries also. I’ve also told you how science depends on people asking questions and looking for the answers in the physical world we all live in. That means that you can ask your local supporters to read the books I have to tell you about, and they can contact your other supporters all over the world and ask them to read the same books, and they can all see for themselves what they say.

Science depends on people asking questions, and it doesn’t depend on people asking questions to me. It doesn’t matter where in the world people live, and it doesn’t matter who asks the questions. The answers are the same anywhere you go.

Once you learn how science works and what scientists have discovered, I’m sure you and your supporters will be able to figure out some way to use it. Since Capitalists learn how to be Capitalists by going to universities, if you can attract some supporters in universities all over the world, you can kill Capitalism at its source.

Basically, instead of exporting AK47s to anti-Capitalist revolutionaries all over the world, I’m exporting General Winter all over the world. And I don’t even want you to be my puppets, because that’s not how science works.

The question people always ask now is, why do I think the books I’ve read prove the world works a certain way? What about all the other books people have written? Why shouldn’t people read those books?

It will take me this whole book to answer those questions. For now, I’ll say that the scientists who wrote those books know how much better science works than humanocentricism, so they write their books in ways that leave people who disagree with them nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. What these books all have in common is that they start with simple, well-established scientific principles and then build on them step by step. They begin with patterns of cause and effect that scientists have discovered to be observable, universal, self-consistent, reproducible, and debatable, and that no amount of debate or observable evidence has ever succeeded in disproving. The only way anyone can prove these books are wrong is by proving they know something about science that scientists don’t know.

This still doesn’t answer my original question though. How do I turn science into a simple, powerful, reliable weapon that Third-World guerillas can use?

There is no perfect answer to that question now because the scientists who have been working on planetary biology don’t write books for farmers. In this book I explain all the science in terms of things you can see happening on your farm, but you probably can’t double check it by reading the academic books I read. This is one thing you’re going to need the help of other anti-Capitalists for. But if you tell them about this book and ask them to help you figure out if I know what I’m talking about, among you all you can figure it out.

That’s the big problem with using science as a political weapon, that’s how I’ve solved part of it, and that’s how the rest of the problem can be solved. Now here’s why solving the problem will benefit you and anti-Capitalists everywhere.

Until recently, science hasn’t been complete enough as a body of information that scientists could claim to know as much about the world as politicians claim to know. The politicians were lying about how much they knew. Politicians’ careers depend on their appearing to know everything, even though they don’t. Scientists’ careers, on the other hand, depend on their not lying about how much they know. So if a politician claims to know everything and a scientist doesn’t claim to know everything, to anyone who doesn’t understand what science is and how it works, it sounds like the politician has a much better idea of what he’s doing.

To use science as a political weapon, you need to know how to tell the difference between someone talking about fake science and someone talking about real science. There are two easy ways to do that.

The first is the easier of the two to use. Listen to the way the person is talking. Does his tone of voice make you feel like asking questions, or does it make you feel like not asking questions?

When a scientist talks about science, he isn’t afraid of you asking questions. If he’s talking about well-established scientific discoveries, he already knows there aren’t any questions you can ask that will prove him wrong. If he’s talking about a new idea he thinks might be right and there are questions you could ask that would prove him wrong, people asking questions that new hypotheses can’t explain is a critical part of the progress of science. Either way, the scientist has nothing of importance to lose, and a great deal to gain, by your asking questions.

As far as the science relates to you, the scientist will recognize that you’re better off asking questions than not asking questions. If there’s some part of it you can’t understand, you won’t be able to learn the science or put it to use. So if you ask questions to clarify what the scientist means, again he benefits, because now you know more about science than you did before. Scientists everywhere are trying to attract public support to science, and by asking questions to help yourself better understand what he’s talking about, you’re doing exactly that.

You have to be careful how you ask your questions. The simplest way to avoid accidentally causing problems is for you to want to hear what the scientist has to say. If you ask your questions with the attitude that any answer the scientist gives will be wrong, with your tone of voice you’ll make it difficult for him to figure out what he needs to say and how he needs to say it to get you to understand what he’s talking about. With all those extra things you’ve forced him to think about to try to answer your question, whatever answer he gives won’t sound as good. It’ll sound confused and will be harder for other people to understand. Religious people in the United States who try to disprove scientists’ discoveries use this trick against scientists all the time.

If the person’s tone of voice makes you feel like not asking questions, definitely ask questions. If the person is talking about science in a way that makes you feel like not asking questions, it means he’s trying to hide something. He’s trying to keep you from thinking about something, or he’s trying to keep you from saying something, or both. If he’s afraid of you asking questions about science, he’s not a scientist.

It doesn’t matter how the person is talking. If the end result is your not feeling like asking questions, that’s the clue you need to watch for.

One way for a politician to keep you from feeling like asking questions is to make you react to his emotional state. For instance, if he’s angry or intimidating, and that makes you afraid to ask questions, he’s made you feel like not asking questions. If a military dictator shakes his fist in the air and shouts angrily, that’s a perfect example of someone making people afraid to question him.

Another way for a politician to make you feel like not asking questions is to use an emotional state that gets you to sympathize with him. President Bush does this all the time. He acts really friendly and really stupid. The easiest way for you to get along with someone like that would be for you to act stupid too. The easiest way for you to act stupid would be for you to be stupid. If your friend was stupid and you asked him a lot of questions he didn’t know how to answer, it would make him look stupid, and that would damage your friendship. The easiest way for you to get along with a friendly, but stupid person is to talk to him on his level. You decide most or all of this subconsciously. Then you focus on questions you think the other person can answer and forget questions you think the person can’t answer. I’ll tell you why that happens later in the book. For now, my point is that President Bush’s stupidity is contagious. He constantly weaves this illusion around himself that’s turned all of Washington D.C. into a deep, dark pit of stupidity.

Listening to a person’s tone of voice is easy, but tones of voice can be misunderstood. The second technique is more difficult to use, but more effective if you can use it. It can be used after you’ve identified a politician by his tone of voice, it can be used independently if you can’t tell whether a person is a politician or a scientist, and it can be used on people who seem to be scientists to see if they’re really scientists or if they’re politicians who are good at impersonating scientists.

This is also how people can recognize if a book about science is reporting discoveries that are true. This is how people can recognize if the scientists who wrote the books I have to tell you about really did discover how a part of the universe works.

This technique is called first principles. In science, a first principle is a founding idea of an area of study. This could be an entire branch of science or just some small part of a branch of science.

A first principle is a rule that, one way or another, has been found to apply to everything in an area of science. This gives you a frame of reference. When you are talking about something in that area of science, you automatically know that this rule applies to it.

An easy example of a first principle is the freezing point of water. Water freezes at 0º Celsius. From that you know that if you’re talking about a piece of ice, you’re talking about a temperature that’s 0º Celsius or less. You also know that if you’re talking about water at a temperature above 0º Celsius, you’re not talking about ice.

Now suppose you hear that the governor of your province has had a great idea for how to make everyone’s refrigerators work better. As governor of your province, he’s going to make water freeze at 10º Celsius. Then he goes on to talk about how much electricity that will save, how much money that will save, how many more people will be able to afford refrigerators then, and a lot of other great things that will happen. Then all the people who don’t know anything about science are amazed by how smart their governor is for being able to think of such a big and complicated plan, and they’ll be glad they voted for him. Then they’ll tell all their friends about him, and the governor’s speech will be played on the radio and everyone will think he’s the best governor you’ve ever had.

You’re a farmer, so how are you supposed to argue with a big speech by your governor who everyone thinks is so smart? This is how first principles turn science into a simple, powerful, reliable weapon that guerilla rebels can use. You don’t need to know anything about refrigerators or electricity or economics to be able to prove your governor’s big plan won’t work. You only need to know one critical piece of information to prove that everything your governor promised everyone was a lie. Water doesn’t freeze at 10º Celsius!

This example sounds ridiculous, but I’m just using it to illustrate the idea. Politicians do things like this all the time. The only reason they get away with it is because the public doesn’t know enough about science to recognize that their politicians keep promising to violate first principles of science.

Most of this book is about how to attack first principles as the weak points in Capitalist ideology, and how to make sure you cooperate with first principles in the post-revolutionary society. This is not to say that you can build the entire post-revolutionary society on first principles alone, but it is to say that if you don’t cooperate with first principles, whatever post-revolutionary society you try to build won’t work.

Equally importantly, since Capitalism doesn’t cooperate with first principles, first principles are all you need to destroy the foundation of Capitalism—as opposed to wasting your efforts on trying to destroy its individual manifestations one at a time.

By learning enough about science to destroy Capitalist ideology structurally, you learn how to do something else that’s crucial to the revolution. Now you don’t have to depend on your tone of voice to convince people you know what you’re talking about. Now you can stop being a politician and trying to make people feel like you know the answer to everything.

There are some things about a society that the people who live there have to decide how to do. There are other things that scientists already know aren’t possible. If you don’t know about those things, you’re going to make a lot of promises to people that are impossible to deliver, and then the people will think you’re just another untrustworthy politician. But if you do know about first principles, you can keep from making a lot of mistakes and set realistic goals for yourselves.

This is another way that science and democracy depend on the same things. If a leader lies to his people about science, his plans won’t work. If the people don’t know enough about science to recognize that their leader lied to them, when the leader’s plans don’t work, it’s always the people who suffer. But if the people do know enough about science, when they recognize their leader is lying to them, they can catch him. But if the leader knows enough about science to keep from making stupid mistakes, he won’t need to lie to his people, and he won’t have to worry about getting caught.

Revolution begins with education.

It’s time to educate the world.

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