the toxic legacy of european enlightenment c/o vandana shiva

[CN: (neo)colonialism, gender violence]

Bacon (1561-1626) was the father of modern science, the originator of the concept of the modern research institute and industrial science, and the inspiration behind the Royal Society. His contribution to modern science and its organization is critical. From the point of view of nature, women and marginal groups, however, Bacon’s programme was not humanly inclusive. It was a special programme benefiting the middle class, European, male entrepreneur through the conjunction of human knowledge and power in science.

Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive

In Bacon’s experimental method, which was central to this masculine project, there was a dichotomising between male and female, mind and matter, objective and subjective, rational and emotional, and a conjunction of masculine and scientific dominating over nature, women and the non-west.

His was not a ‘neutral’, ‘objective’, ‘scientific’ method — it was a masculine mode of aggression against nature and domination over women. The severe testing of hypotheses through controlled manipulations of nature, and the necessity of such manipulations if experiments are to be repeatable, are here formulated in clearly sexist metaphors. Both nature and inquiry appear conceptualized in ways modeled on rape and torture — on man’s most violent and misogynous relationships with women — and this modelling is advanced as a reason to value science. According to Bacon ‘the nature of things betrays itself more readily under the vexations of art than in its natural freedom.’

The discipline of scientific knowledge and the mechanical inventions it leads to, do not ‘merely exert a gentle guidance over nature’s course; they have the power to conquer and subdue her, to shake her to her foundations.’

In Tempores Partus Masculus or The Masculine Birth of Time, translated by Farrington in 1951, Bacon promised to create ‘a blessed race of heroes and supermen’ who would dominate both nature and society. The title is interpreted by Farrington as suggesting a shift from the older science, represented as female — passive and weak — to a new masculine science of the scientific revolution which Bacon saw himself as heralding. In New Atlantis, Bacon’s Bensalem was administered from Solomon’s House, a scientific research institute, from which male scientists ruled over and made decisions for society, and decided which secrets should be revealed and which remain the private property of the institute.

Science-dominated society has evolved very much in the pattern of Bacon’s Bensalem, with nature being transformed and mutilated in modern Solomon’s Houses — corporate labs and the university programmes they sponsor. With the new biotechnologies, Bacon’s vision of controlling reproduction for the sake of production is being realised, while the green revolution and the bio revolution have realised what in New Atlantis was only a utopia.

The masculine birth of time. I mean, really now…


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