A German writer shares her memories of her childhood in primary school. She had problems with a clergyman who lived in a world of answers, while our author, still a child, lived in a world of questions, like: “Why is there a war?” Answer: “Alas, war exists! “Can’t God do away with war?” Answer: “All men are sinners!” Why did God make sin?” “Sin exists because Eve ate the apple.” “But Eve was just as God made her.” “If you don’t stop asking questions, I’ll throw you out!” “Does God want war?” “Out!” This is how the girl’s curiosity ended more than once. In the adult world today, there is no shortage of questions either, with sometimes ready-made and shallow answers. “What is a state of law?” “A state where everyone will have their right.” “Why don’t we have money?” “Because the welfare state is too expensive.” etc., or so it seems.
We feel as if we are once again living in a period where there are more answers than questions. Or, at least, where questioning is not encouraged. One can get the impression that to fundamental questions of human society, ready-made answers are presented such as: we have ecological problems on our planet Earth, we must prepare ourselves to go and live on another planet. The current favourite seems to be Mars, according to the great promoter minds. Another topical case: we see that life is limited by our nature, so we are going to remedy this evolutionary flaw and replace the weak points of the human body as we go along to prolong its life. The magic word here is transhumanism. In this way, the average citizen can start dreaming and leave the urgent daily concerns as negligible quantities. What an elevation of spirit to forget what is causing us difficulties here on earth and pontificate about our future exploits in space! To imagine a relocation of a part of the Earth’s population to another planet, it is urgent, for example, to disregard the laws of thermodynamics, but this is only a detail. For the solution of transhumanism, a choice must be made between a humanistic or a technocratic world model, both of which are mutually exclusive. By pointing out that these projects do not come from democratic assemblies, but from the very limited circles of the richest people, are we already approaching the zone of conspiracy? Who knows? It depends on who defines what conspiracy is and how it should be approached.
According to the Belgian philosopher Michel Weber (1963 -), the task of the philosopher is, in its simplicity, very problematic because we have fallen so low that stating the obvious has become the first duty of intellectuals. Orwell wrote this as early as 1939. It is not a question of fighting with the experts. The democratic ideal requires everyone to express themselves freely and in a reasoned manner on all political issues, even the most apparently labyrinthine. Resurrecting common sense requires the revitalization of the social fabric and all its organs. It might seem that we are doing exactly the opposite. According to Weber, and he is far from being the only one, the academic world, and more particularly the student world, which has long been distinguished by its capacity to create dissent, has lately largely drowned in the most abject conformism. It must be said that the academic world has been forced into this situation by making it dependent on non-public, i.e., private, funding as a result of budget cuts by the respective governments. This subjugation of the academic world has been going on for a long time. The author of these lines remembers having participated, as a student, in large street demonstrations against these budget cuts, which announced the abandonment of part of university independence. That was in 1975-76 in Liège; it was 45 years ago! Today, we have reached the stage where international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, are only 20% financed by public money. For the rest, go to the private sector! Who obviously finance according to their interests.
And, despite this worrying state of science, those in power find it convenient to take political decisions that they justify by referring to Science, with a capital S, please. They forget that governing in a democracy is a political and not a scientific profession. Indeed, attempts to govern on a strictly scientific basis have failed in the past, leaving bitter memories. It is useful here to recall that science is not a dogma, a notion to which many humans have become accustomed over the centuries. Science, at the very least, can always be questioned. A scientific thesis cannot be proven true definitively, but it can be proven false if facts are contrary to the established thesis. This is what the philosopher Karl Popper says with his criterion of falsifiability. Scientific progress does not consist of an accumulation of observations, but rather of “the repeated elimination of scientific theories, replaced by better or more satisfactory theories”. The heart of the Popperian vision of science is error, permanent doubt, error never hidden, always sought, always rectified. A (partial) definition of science given by Popper himself is the following: it is an activity that can be considered as a “process whose rational character lies in the fact that we learn from our mistakes”.
It must therefore be permissible to question scientific theories as well as the results of so-called scientific research. To censor contrary opinions is a sign of weakness, an admission of failure. The past has shown that overambitious researchers have tampered with their results. The past has also shown that industrial groups have sabotaged research by paying scientists to sow doubt about, e.g., the harmfulness of asbestos cement fibres, tobacco, certain pesticides, all of which are carcinogens. Doubt has been deliberately cultivated for almost a century in the case of asbestos cement and tobacco. Is it any wonder that people see conspiracies even behind research activities when they are funded by those who profit from the results? The “diesel gate”, which was tampered with but passed all quality controls, is just another recent example in this category.
Things get more complicated when we leave the familiar areas of everyday life such as diesel cars, tobacco, or pesticides. There are, in fact, civilian and military research programmes that are often secret (this is a particularity of the military!), especially in the field of so-called NBIC (nanotechnology, biotechnology, computer science, cognitive science). The concept of the convergence of NBIC technological fields was first mentioned in 2002 in a report of almost 500 pages published by the American National Science Foundation (NSF). Detailed and well argued, the report welcomed the need to bring together scientific knowledge in the NBIC fields and set the tone for the various civilian and military R&D (research and development) programmes that have been carried out since then.
The dynamics of this convergence can be summarised in a diagram which shows that when nanotechnology manipulates atoms, biotechnology applies to genes, computer science relies on bits and cognitive science on biological neurons.
Since the average person is certainly not informed regularly and in detail about the progress of these programmes, it is not surprising that people are asking questions without being followers of conspiracy theories. Especially since the whole world was warned about the activities of the military-industrial complex by one of the best experts in the field, US President Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell address in 1961. It would be bold to accuse Eisenhower of being a vulgar conspiracy theorist.
What worries many informed people is this unbridled push towards transhumanism by a few hyper-rich individuals whose only concern is to postpone their moment of leaving life. And to accomplish this, they need power, enormous power that allows them to influence political decisions. This power can be acquired through lobbying (corruption is a bad word) and the reorganization of the structures that allow life on this earth to be organized. Nationalistic governments can only get in the way in this endeavour. This is why the structures must evolve towards a global government that no longer has to worry about the wishes of this or that population. The various organizations, often well-funded foundations, make it possible to steer the research sectors in the desired direction. It goes without saying that the media under influence play a major role in ensuring the dissemination of appropriate ideas, including by resorting to changes in the meaning of the words used (a phenomenon described by the philologist Victor Klemperer). What then can be done to avoid the most harmful deviations for the vast majority of humans? Some think that it is urgent to determine and impose a framework of values that will allow us to anticipate and sort out both the avenues of research and their applications, in order to curb all excesses, to cut off all links not only with the war of humans against each other, but also with the war of humans against living beings, and to commit humanity to a consensual reduction in the global research effort and reduction of inequalities.
And speaking of conspiracy, there seems to be enough reason to believe that the greatest danger comes from people who persist in denying the existence of conspiracies in our human societies.