Thursday, May 24, 2007



by Thomas Riggins

Why is it so difficult to build a Marxist mass movement in the US? There are Marxist movements of considerable size, in comparison to the US, both in many Third World nations and in countries more advanced than the US. Not only is Marxism seemingly at a disadvantage in the US but a scientific world outlook is similarly hindered with respect to a favorable growth outlook. At the same time many views and outlooks characteristic of medieval obscurantism (fundamentalist religious beliefs-- for example), blatant superstition (astrology), superficial intellectually childish “philosophical” trends (Ayn Rand, Deepak Chopra, etc.), are flourishing.

There may be a scientific explanation for Adult Resistance to Marxism (ARM). In this article I will explore the causes of ARM and propose possible remedies to this serious mental deficiency which severely prevents those who are victims of this disorder from properly functioning in their social environment and maximizing their abilities to provide the best possible existential conditions for the flourishing of themselves and their loved ones.

The scientific information on which this article is based is critically culled from the article “Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science” by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg (SCIENCE 18 May 2007 VOL 316).

The authors of this article are concerned about the negative social consequences of the resistance that many American adults have to the acceptance of scientific ideas. I believe that ARM results from some of the same fundamental causes that Bloom and Weisberg list for the rejection of science and that the same negative results are involved with ARM.

The authors maintain that “a scientifically ignorant public is unprepared to evaluate policies about global warming, vaccination, genetically modified organisms, stem cell research, and cloning.” There are social repercussions as a result of this ignorance.

I hasten to add, that as a result of ARM the public is also ignorant with respect to the proper attitudes to take on the issues of war and peace, racism, international relations, employment and unemployment, proper education polices and health issues, among many other social problems.

The authors use developmental psychology to suggest that two basic characteristics about children may make some resistance to ideas based on science “a human universal.” This would also explain the origin of ARM if their views are correct.

The authors claim that, "The main source of resistance concerns what children know before their exposure to science." We are told that "recent psychological research" shows that babies are not "blank slates" [the authors, however start with one year olds for their argument] and that children know all sorts of things about the world-- objects are solid, people react emotionally to appropriate situations, etc. What they call "naive" physics and psychology.

Bloom and Weisberg think this is a problem. Children don't have an accurate perception of the world in a scientific sense, according to them. Scientific views are so different from normal common sense (Einstein, Quantum Theory, Darwin, etc.). This makes it difficult to teach scientific theories to them.

This is hogwash. Children learn by trial and error and learn from their mistakes. They are natural born scientists using the empirical method and induction (as well some deduction after many experiences.) They learn the same way all mammals do. The scientific method is simply a more sophisticated extension of this "naive" common sense approach to understanding the world. They also have basic moral intuitions such as fairness and empathy which, if they were properly educated, would reinforce socialist ideals of equality and non-expoitation in adulthood.

The authors, however, think this intuitive approach leads to a resistance to science and ultimately to belief in things such as ESP, astrology, ghosts, fairies, divination, and creationism. None of these things, by the way, follow from the common sense view of the world any more than do scientific theories, indeed rather less so.

Children have natural developmental stages that they go through. If they are taught properly, at age appropriate levels, there will be no untoward resistance to science education and understanding. Almost all the examples the authors give of childhood scientific resistance is the result of bad educational methods and poor nurturing. If this "resistance" really were "inborn" science would never have gotten off the ground in the first place.

The second fact, having, I hope, disposed of the bogus first factoid (what children spontaneously intuitively know), has more merit. This is "how children learn." This basically has to do with the fact that children trust the adults that raise them and tend to believe what they are told as long as it doesn't conflict completely with common sense.

The children of uneducated and ignorant adults will tend to be more ignorant and uneducated that those of knowledgeable educated adults-- and vice versa. This is hardly startling. Take the example of creationism versus evolution. Children trust their parents and their teachers. But if their parents are creationists, other things being equal, the children will likely be so too. This is because they spend far more time around their parents and their like-minded parent's friends, etc., than they do around their science teachers.

The authors hold that the evidence suggests these science resistant people maintain their beliefs for reasons "not necessarily rooted in an appreciation of the evidence and arguments." But this surely a problem of nurture not nature.

The reason, they say, that this nonscientific, or even antiscientific group of people resists scientific rationality is "because they trust the people who say it [the unscientific explanation] is true." All of this can be explained by education, class and culture without recourse to any inborn psychological
propensities to be found in babies.

The authors finally arrive at the amazing conclusion that "recent studies" suggest that children, just as adults, "rely on the trustworthiness of the source when deciding which asserted claims to believe." And if the educational system has done its job of providing a basic scientific analysis, I think, of the world system for people they will also be able to rely on the objective evidence for an assertion as well.

It is for the same reasons that Marxism is not objectively taught in the US that science is also played down. Namely, there are too many vested interests that benefit from the ignorance of the population. In our class riven society neither science nor a Marxist understanding are in the interests of the ruling corporate elites or the political parties and forces that control the levers of power.

The authors seem to recognize this when they write that unscientific beliefs in the US "are particularly likely to be endorsed and transmitted by trusted religious and political authorities." But instead of having a Marxist analysis of why this so in a capitalist society, the authors fall back on the notion that "developmental data suggest that resistance to science will arise in children when scientific claims clash with early emerging intuitive expectations." This is a cop out as the so called "clash" can only take place when age inappropriate teaching methods are applied to the education of young children, or anti-scientific (also anti-socialist) attitudes are deliberately cultivated.

It is the fact that our ruling class is not committed to a universal scientific education for children, not "intuitive expectations" that is responsible for the backward educational climate in the US. The fact that the authors don't see that Marxism, or scientific socialism, is as important a part of education as neuroscience and evolutionary biology only shows that many scientists themselves have a resistance to science. Perhaps they should have entitled their paper "Adult Origins of Childhood Resistance to Science."

Finally, antiscientific outlooks, as well as ARM, will only be eliminated by a reorganization of the educational system, especially early childhood education, with an emphasis on independent critical thinking, scientific method, and the banning of religious propaganda.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

No comments: