Monday, 17 October 2011

Science? and Indigenous Knowledge

The Inuit-government relations, especially when it comes to hunting and land rights, is ostensibly based on "scientific/rationalist" principles. But that couldn't be further from the truth. The problem is philosophical/ideological impacting the pragmatic in such a way as to stack things against Inuit.

First, the impression that government bureaucracy likes to cloak itself in is that "science" is a monolithic edifice, fully-formed, divinely-inspired, unassailable, immutable "truth machine" - other-worldly, in fact. Second, that English is the language of science - implying, therefore, Inuit must learn English (ie, forget about their own knowledge) in order to partake in its truths.

Excuse me... what hubris! Goebbels would have been proud and jealous of such self-contained corporatist scientism.

The truth is that 99% of cutting-edge scientific exploration is being done by "foreigners" with accents. It's literally been a century since mathematics of repute and renown last occurred and shone - Hardy and Littlewood (some jokingly say also "Littlewood-Hardy"). And they were outshone by Ramanujan, their "protege".

The "science" of governments who have to deal with aboriginal groups is largely Malthusian and corrupted to the core by convenient ideology whose scepticism is rather misplaced (boots too big for the feet) because it's a type of scepticism of prejudice and racist pride that tries and belittle anything that it finds inconvenient. This type of scientism is anti-intellectual and ironical because, by its very definition, is self-annihilalating.

The Inuit-government discourse, in terms of using the real esprit of scientific principles especially in documenting indigenous knowledge, is virgin territory as a serious academic study. There have been attempts but the researchers have a huge hump to overcome - their own training. It's been rather like a musician trained in the classical already with fully-developed prejudice against anything other than its own. But we know that there are many, many forms of music other than the classical.

And we also know that there is such a thing as "musicology" - the serious study of music that is not restricted only to the classical but embraces all forms, including the more "vulgar" forms.

I think part of the problem of documentation and discussion on indigenous knowledges is philosophical, and is therefore extremely subtle, in that serious discourse on the notion of epistemology has not really advanced since the days of Aristotle (though there have been fits and starts in the likes of Wittgenstein et al - ie, his disciples).

I think Wittgenstein's "language games" was an orientation that tended to the right direction, but because of its great subtlety has not been seriously pursued in terms of quantizing its basic concepts into logically-rigourous and productive set like musicology and linguistics have been constructed (two natural children of Wittgenstein's philosophy, I'd say).

Ideology makes a sad joke of science especially here in Nunavut in terms of the science of biology and determination of total allowable harvest levels - couple this with reductionist approach that treats the subject matter outside of its context and natural ecology - making for free-range charlatans to become "world experts" who jealously guard their worthless eggs and titles as if they were real and permanent. Pathetic.

It is not people I attack (please, it's beneath me); it is the consequences for Inuit and real and honest scientific discourse I find completely unpalatable.

Wittgenstien had the intellectual integrity and honesty to repudiate publicly the logical consequences of his more "scientist" hues of logical positivism. A man of such stature is sadly too rare.


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