Pandemic scientism

First, the Expressis-Verbis team would like to thank Prof. Dr. Esfeld as well as the editorial team of the information platform Novo-Argumente for the uncomplicated and pleasant cooperation. Novo considers, analyses and comments on current affairs and the important issues of our time from a consistently humanistic perspective. As an independent medium, they allow themselves clear points of view and argue for their convictions with an open mind. With their publications, they want to challenge their readers, provoke contradiction and offer space for controversy. The readership of Novo-Argumente particularly appreciates their quality standards and a grown content profile. Novo distinguishes itself as one of the most prominent voices for reason, freedom, and progress in the German-speaking world. We at Expressis-Verbis look forward to a successful cooperation with Novo.

Now to the contribution “Pandemic scientism”.

Prof. Dr. Esfeld

Michael Esfeld has been Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Lausanne since 2002. Doctorate Münster 1994 on “Mechanism and Subjectivity in the Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes”, Habilitation Konstanz 2000 on “Holism in the Philosophy of Mind and the Philosophy of Physics”, 2000 Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Hertfordshire, 2001 C3 Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cologne, since 2010 Member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, 2013 Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Main fields of research are natural philosophy, including the metaphysics of the natural sciences, and the philosophy of mind, including the philosophy of language.

Science that allows itself to be misused in Covid policy for the technocratic control of the population harms itself and society. Nine theses of a Leopoldina member.

1. After almost two years of Covid policy, this is no longer a matter of a state of emergency (“epidemic emergency”) in which fundamental rights are temporarily suspended in order to deal with an emergency. A state of emergency is temporary and the idea is that after it has ended, we return to the conditions that existed before the emergency occurred. This is no longer the case. This is about creating a “new normal”, which consists of comprehensive social control.

This social control takes place (initially?) through health passports that regulate access to professional and social life in general (“3G”, “2G” and, at least in practice, mandatory regular booster vaccinations). This situation raises fundamental questions about the role of the state and the role of science.

2. The modern era is characterized by science as well as the rule of law. Both are attempts to limit the exercise of power through the use of reason. In science, one must present evidence; the rule of law curbs the various powers through checks and balances.

3. Science is a method used to find out truth about the world. As a method, it is very successful: it has led to enormous gains in terms of quality of life and increased life expectancy. But science is not a political program that can be used to govern society. As a political program – “follow the science” – science destroys itself and society alike.

“Covid policy is the culmination so far of a new scientism and collectivism”

Science as a political program is termed “scientism” and will, if politically implemented, lead to collectivism. Scientism is the idea that the subject area of science is unlimited and encompasses all aspects of our existence. Including, for example, morality: science dictates what is morally required. This idea thus leads to a political program whereby society is managed according to scientific directives. This political program is collectivism because a scientific directive for the common good and its implementation is placed above the dignity and rights of individuals and their social communities, including families. Its implementation amounts to totalitarianism, and, consequently, tyranny.

4. Covid policy is the culmination so far of a new scientism and collectivism that has essential features in common with earlier forms of collectivism: (i) the claim by an elite group of scientists to possess knowledge of the common good; (ii) coupled with this claim to knowledge, a technocratic view of human beings as objects whose life paths can and should be directed toward this supposed common good; (iii) uptake of this claim to knowledge and view of humanity in the world of politics and the media, with the claim to power to steer society accordingly.

5. While enlightenment, according to Kant, is “man stepping out of his self-inflicted immaturity”, we are currently experiencing a process of disenfranchisement of people that is driven by science, politicians, and the media. People are being fed the message that they cannot apply their own reason as they cannot possibly bear the responsibility that comes with self-determination. This responsibility is then extended far beyond the scope of action of individual people, namely to responsibility for the consequences of past injustices (racism, colonialism), for global climate, for the spread of viruses, and so on. The suggestion of unlimited responsibility serves to replace self-determined action with externally determined action, which is controlled by putativescience. This, it is hoped, will make it seem acceptable that the exercise of freedom rights is subject to approval by state or supranational authorities: The certified person takes the place of the competent citizen.

6. Any such technocratic planning in fact does great harm to the good at which it is directed, in this case general health protection. The societal damage of the so-called Covid protective measures is enormous. But a weakened and divided society does not have the strength to overcome a crisis. The same is true at the level of individuals: Fear, panic, limited social contacts, no longer being able to pursue the things that are a source ofjoy in life, tremendously weakens the defenses against viruses.

“The cost of so-called Covid protective measures and the social tensions they create prevent us from continuing down the path of technological, economic, medical and social progress”

One cannot seek to control people’s movements in a technocratic way to slow down the spread of a virus and thereby protect their health, without significantly weakening the social and individual resources that provide the resilience to cope with crises. The cost of so-called Covid protective measures and the social tensions they create prevent us from continuing along the path of technical, economic, medical and social progress that has led to great improvements in health and life expectancy in recent decades.

7. The technocratic control of society in the Covid crisis shows frightening parallels with totalitarian regimes in earlier times: Scientific findings are invoked and allowed to form the basis of political directives that are above fundamental rights. Scientific findings thus no longer have the status of hypotheses that are subjected to critical examination by argument and experiment. Instead, they are given the status of semi-religious truths that may not be questioned and that should be immediately implemented politically. Because the corrective mechanism is eliminated, this policy is then continued regardless of the health, economic and social damage it causes.

Finally, certain groups of people are excluded and made responsible for the fact that the goal – in this case, to prevent further Covid waves – is not achieved. The unvaccinated have to bear the consequences of having a false consciousness as they assert their basic right to physical integrity and thus oppose “science” (althoughhere, in contrast to the case of smallpox or polio, we are not dealing with a situation where a virus can be eradicated by vaccinating the majority of the population once using vaccines that have been proven to be safe and effective). With this exclusion, we are now reaching the point where, historically, a regime could persist only through the use of force: The promised objective is not attained, and so to keep the collective together –and uphold the narrative – scapegoats are found and met with at least verbal violence.

The intellectual deconstruction that drives postmodernity and brands the use of reason a claim to power will end in the pure exercise of power in science and society.

8. We are in the process of replacing modernity with a palpably present postmodernity. The intellectual deconstruction that drives postmodernity and brands the use of reason a claim to power will end in the pure exercise of power in science and society: when reason ceases to be a means of discovering truth, and when the basis of society no longer consists in recognizing everyone as a person with inalienable rights, then only violence remains. It is not postmodernity but modernity that is characterized by pluralism. After the painful experiences of the wars of religion, recognizing universal human rights and politically implementing them within a republican state under the rule of law is an attempt to create a political framework within which different ways of life, religions, cultures, etc. can live together peacefully.

9. Returning to the use of reason – and thus continuing on the path of modernity – is intellectually simple: It requires no more than the courage to use one’s own mind. The knowledge required for this is not expert knowledge, but common knowledge. This is not about freedom as such. It is about the fact that the republican state under the rule of law, based on the recognition of the fundamental rights of all, is best suited to secure the livelihoods of people.

So this is about the foundations for quality of life, whatever individuals and social communities may choose as their purpose in life. This is inherent in the freedom of each individual. We should again respect this freedom for reasons of social responsibility – the concern for scientific, economic and social progress. For postmodern collectivism – just like earlier forms of collectivism – will ultimately destroy the livelihoods of all (except for those of a small elite, which has the power to construct reality and also profits economically from this construction).

The author will present these theses for discussion at the Berlin Salon of the Freiblick Institute on January 27, 2022, under the title “Science and the Pandemic: What’s Next?

Read also the excellent interview Prof. Esfeld gave to the independent magazine “L’impertinent” following an article in the Vaudois daily newspaper “24 heures”.