When Civilization Goes Underground
That image above is of the USC chemist Anna Krylov. She is an emigre from the USSR, a scientist, and a prophet. More on her later in this post.
But first, this is going around on Twitter again. If you didn't see it the first time, watch it now. It's only two minutes long. It's the death of a civilization, in the form of a kind of prayer:
Why is this an example of the death of a civilization? Because it marks the surrender of an entire way of doing science and practicing medicine, sacrificed for the sake of ideological belief. This is craziness -- but it also reveals why wokeness is no mere irritant. It is a direct threat to the foundations of our civilization. All of those people a decade or so ago who thought the hard sciences would be immune to this disease that has fatally corrupted study of the humanities were wrong.
Don't believe me? Here is Nature magazine -- Nature, one of the world's pre-eminent science journals -- running a short piece demanding the suicide of science in the name of "decolonization". Excerpts:
I’ve studied rain-fed cropping systems alongside colleagues in sub-Saharan Africa, notably Malawi, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, throughout my career. Those colleagues are not invited by their white, Western collaborators to speak at big conferences or to co-author high-profile papers in agriculture. My colleagues at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and I hope to reverse this trend by advocating for decolonization through authorship. As a start, my team of researchers will include a paragraph about what each author did, and how the team paid attention to gender and global-south inclusivity in publications.
Most of the 13 agricultural gene banks and research centres in the global research partnership CGIAR, including CIMMYT, use the h-index for performance evaluations. It is a metric of a scientist’s productivity and influence, prioritizing top publications. Alternative indices, such as Google Scholar, which includes outputs such as book chapters, can be less elitist and include a wider range of viewpoints.
Now, I find it easy to believe that Western scientists have been unfairly and foolishly dismissive of what local farmers say around the world. I also believe that a science that focuses only on higher crop yields, but does not pay attention to the broader system in which crops are grown (e.g., soil health, the relationship of agriculture to community traditions), is an incomplete science. But you can fix those mistakes without having to import an anti-intellectual ideology wholesale into the practice of science! The fact that you have "paid attention to gender and global-south inclusivity" does not mean that you have done better science, any more than the University of Minnesota medical school oath-takers' promise to bring indigenous ways of healing into their practices means they are practicing better medicine.
If you do nothing else today, take a look at this paper by Anna Krylov, a Soviet-born research chemist at USC. She delivered it last year. In it, Krylov talks about how the Soviets politicized science, and issues a warning to the West. Excerpts:
My everyday experiences as a chemistry professor at an American university in 2021 bring back memories from my school and university time in the USSR. Not good memories—more like Orwellian nightmares. I will compare my past and present experiences to illustrate the following parallels between the USSR and the US today: (i) the atmosphere of fear and self-censorship; (ii) the omnipresence of ideology (focusing on examples from science); (iii) an intolerance of dissenting opinions (i.e., suppression of ideas and people, censorship, and Newspeak); (iv) the use of social engineering to solve real and imagined problems.
In the USSR, everything and everyone was scrutinized through the lens of Marxist-Leninist ideology. Everything was critically analyzed in terms of class struggle, the struggle between the oppressors and oppressed.
I literally mean everything—from hairstyle and fashion to novels and philosophy. I once got a notice for “advancing an imperialistic agenda” for showing up in jeans to an informal school event. In literature classes, we analyzed images of the oppressed people in Leo Tolstoy’s novels and the depiction of class struggle in Pushkin’s romantic poems. And the signs of corruption and decadent decay of the West in Hemingway’s books.
Science was not spared from this ideological control. Every institution had a department charged with executing this control and ensuring that the science and the scientists were in strict compliance with Marxism-Leninism. Scientific theories and ideas were scrutinized by the Party to determine whether or not they were aligned with Marxist-Leninist philosophy and whether they advanced the interests of the proletariat. Whether they belonged to wholesome Soviet science or rotten Western influences.
Sometimes entire disciplines were declared “bourgeois pseudoscience” and research was banned for years. Examples include cybernetics and genetics. Sometimes the Party would single out specific theories, such as resonance theory in chemistry, and execute a purge.
This created lasting damage and had direct economic impact.
Sound familiar? Krylov said this is now everywhere in academia, including in STEM fields. She cites research showing that the self-censorship in the McCarthy era was nothing compared to today's:
Surveys have been conducted since the early fifties that measure how often Americans self-censor their speech [2,3]. In 1953, 13% of Americans self-censored (for reference, this was the McCarthy era). In 2019, 40% of Americans self-censored (this is in the general population; the percentage is higher among the highly educated, and is 60% among college students). The results of an MIT poll  taken in November 2021 are even more disturbing: 60% responded “Yes” to the question “Do you feel on an everyday basis that your voice, or the voices of your colleagues are constrained at MIT?” and 83% responded “Yes” to the question “Are you worried given the current atmosphere in society that your voice or your colleagues’ voices are increasingly in jeopardy?”
Anyway, what was the "lasting damage" and "direct economic impact" of the Soviet ideologization of science? Consider the fate of Stalin's favorite biologist, Trofim Lysenko. Here's Krylov:
Lysenko promoted the Marxist idea that by exposing crops (or people) to the right stimuli, you can shape them into anything you want. You can teach orange trees to grow in Siberia. This was of course total pseudoscience, as was well recognized by many at the time.
Yet, Lysenko rose to a position of power because his bogus science was backed by the government. His opponents were fired and imprisoned. Many, including the famous geneticist Vavilov, perished in the gulag. Lysenko stayed in power for more than 30 years, 12 years past Stalin’s death .
Why did the Party support him so strongly? First, they liked the message. Lysenko was promising an agricultural miracle. Second, they liked his animosity towards the West. Third, they liked his pedigree. Lysenko was the poster child of a “people’s scientist” because he came from a family of poor peasants. The press lovingly called him the “barefoot scientist.” He did not learn how to read till the age of 14. In contrast, his main opponent Vavilov—a brilliant biologist—was suspect because of his class (the “intelligentsia”). This was the official Party policy—to rapidly promote members of the proletariat into leadership positions in agriculture, science, and industry.
Lysenko’s bogus science was used to introduce new agricultural practices on a large scale. As a result, crop yields decreased dramatically and millions of people died of starvation. The impact was not limited to the USSR. Lysenko’s theories were also adopted by Mao Zedong in China, where they led to the Great Chinese Famine (of 1959 to 1962), in which tens of millions died.
Hey, Lysenko simply decolonized science! What's the problem? The Party celebrated class diversity by promoting a son of the proletariat. So what if he was badly educated -- diversity is a component of quality, am I right? And surely our doctors and scientists who believe that you can turn a boy into a girl with sufficient application of hormones, surgery, lawmaking, and punishing those who disagree, have learned something from the pioneering Dr. Lysenko.
Here is Krylov comparing the mechanisms of totalitarian censorship in the USSR to the contemporary USA:
Scientific papers are being retracted or self-retracted. Not because of scientific concerns—but because findings are deemed to be offensive to some. Or because they contradict the dominant narrative. Many examples are from biology, but this ideological intrusion is not limited to the life sciences.
The mechanism of censorship and suppression is different from Soviet Russia. It is not administered by the government, but rather by Twitter vigilantes—by outrage mobs who use social media to call for punishment of those whose views they find objectionable .
But mobs alone would not be able to enforce censorship. In Western democracies, outrage mobs do not burn heretics at the stake, at least not yet . They do not retract papers. They do not cancel seminars. People in positions of power do—university presidents, department chairs, journal editors. Bret Stephens called this “Coward Culture” in his New York Times opinion about Dorian [Abbot's] case .
Sadly, some organizations are institutionalizing censorship.
See, this is the point I keep trying to make in Live Not By Lies: we are demonstrating that you do not need an all-powerful state to create a totalitarian environment. You just need institutional capture and social media. Dr. Krylov is one of the many people who came to America from a communist country, and who is trying desperately to get Americans to wake the hell up and fight what's happening in this formerly free country! People who think "it can't happen here" are being revealed as fools every day. It is happening here, just as Solzhenitsyn warned it could.
Read it all. There's a lot more. Share the Krylov paper widely. She concludes by saying, live not by lies!:
There’s an old joke a Jewish friend of mine told me: What’s the difference between a Jewish pessimist and a Jewish optimist? A Jewish pessimist looks around and says, “Things can’t get any worse.” A Jewish optimist says, “Sure they can!”
We must forcefully resist this rise of illiberalism before it is too late. It will not go away on its own.
What can be done? Here are some ideas. First, speak up. Do not submit to bullies. Refuse to speak Newspeak. If you see that the king is naked—say the king is naked. Second, organize. There is safety in numbers. Organizations such as the Academic Freedom Alliance, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, and the Heterodox Academy, can provide a platform for action and protection against repercussions . Do your share in defending humanism, democracy, and the liberal Enlightenment.
These people are not going to go down easily. Witness the rage among the ruling class over Elon Musk's attempt to every so slightly bring fairness and balance back to Twitter. The EU is threatening to shut Twitter down entirely! Many high-profile left-wing journalists in the US are bleating like sheep to condemn Matt Taibbi for publicizing what the old Twitter did to shut down discussion of Hunter Biden's laptop, which stood to threaten Joe Biden's presidency. These are small examples, but you know they are everywhere.
Look at this clip from the former Head Censor at Twitter:
And look at his background. Social Justice Warrior to the fingertips -- and he was given control over the content of the most important social media platform in the world, in order to make it "safe":
Get weekly emails in your inbox
Does the capture of Twitter mean the downfall of Western civilization? Well, when you put it like that, it sounds silly. But Twitter, like it or not, has become essential for how the elites in many institutions and professions communicate. It's part of manufacturing and disciplining the Narrative. It can't be separated from the more direct threats to civilization, such as that repulsive oath at the University of Minnesota Medical School. These are all working together. They want to eliminate truth, liberty, knowledge, and justice -- all to serve an ideological goal of radical egalitarianism.
What if we lose? What if civilization has to go underground? How can science (for one) be practiced under such conditions? See, I wrote The Benedict Option and Live Not By Lies to raise the issue of how the Christian faith, and historical and cultural knowledge, can be preserved under such conditions. But how can science be done? I'm genuinely asking. We had better be asking those questions now, and coming up with answers.