An extraterrestrial... might conclude we are teaching children cruelty, credulity, and consumerism

Powerful excerpt from the late, great Carl Sagan’s book The Demon Haunted World:

The values of science and the values of democracy are concordant, in many cases indistinguishable. Science and democracy began in their civilized incarnations in the same time and place, Greece in the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. Science confers power on anyone who takes the trouble to learn it (although too many have been systematically prevented from doing so). Science thrives on, indeed requires, the free exchange of ideas, its values are antithetical to secrecy. Science holds to no special vantage points or privileged positions. Both science and democracy encourage unconventional opinions and vigorous debate. Both demand adequate reason, coherent argument, rigorous standards of evidence and honesty. Science is a way to call the bluff of those who only pretend to knowledge. It is a bulwark against mysticism, against superstition, against religion misapplied to where it has no business being. If we’re true to its values, it can tell us when we’re being lied to. It provides a mid-course correction to our mistakes. The more widespread its languages rules, and methods, the better chance we have of preserving what Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues had in mind. But democracy can also be subverted more thoroughly through the products of science than any pre-industrial demagogue ever dreamed.

Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires vigilance, dedication, and courage. But if we don’t practice these habits of thought, we cannot hope to solve the truly serious problems that face us and we risk becoming a nation of suckers, a world of suckers, up for grabs by the next charlatan…

An extraterrestrial being, newly arrived on Earth scrutinizing what we mainly present to our children in television, radio, movies, newspapers, magazines, the comics, and many books might easily conclude that we are intent on teaching them murder, rape, cruelty, superstition, credulity, and consumerism. We keep at it, and through constant repetition many of them finally get it. What kind of society could we create if, instead, we drummed into them science and a sense of hope?

China is attempting to build a massive scientific community within an authoritarian political system, while American democracy — which ideally involves active participation in our communities and active study of our national problems and politicians, not merely voting every two or four years — is being hijacked by many Americans' consumer-crazed greed and scientifically illiterate beliefs (which are often mindlessly rooted in religion rather than thoughtfully derived with intellectual rigor from moral principles applied to our modern society). Neither China nor America’s approach is sound because science and democracy do indeed belong together.

Posted by James on Friday, February 05, 2010