Science is not democratic, but the two systems have a lot in common with each other. In particular, both science and democracy in their present forms are rooted in the Enlightment-era idea that claims can be legitimized or de-legitimized through the application of Reason. In the case of science, the claims in question are claims of fact. In the case of democracy, the claims in question are claims to hold power over society.
Both have changed a great deal from their original formulations; both have their issues, but are (in my opinion) overwhelmingly the correct approach. And both, not coincidentally, are currently under fire from the modern conservative movement in Canada.
I’m not going bore you with yet another litany of Stephen Harper’s endless crimes against the very idea of evidence-based reasoning*. His government’s most recent insult to the intelligence of the public came from the lips of Health Minister and Terminal Dumbass Rona Ambrose, who claimed that there was “no evidence” that heroin-assisted treatment helped cure heroin addicts. This prompted one of my friends (who is actually trained in the domain of public health) to note (sic):
I understand why people might not be down with harm-reduction strategies. It might seem scary and goes against our societally inculcated notions of what’s right and wrong. but this is. this is just. this is some next level stuff, over here.
this is just flagrant rejection of evidence and research.
And that got me thinking: why? I mean, in the case of global warming denial, the government’s motivations are satisfactorily explained by their hand-in-glove ties to the Alberta oil patch. But on treating heroin addicts, what is the motive? Or gutting the long-form census. Why?
At that point it occurred to me that the Harper Regime’s opposition to science comes from the same place as does its constant abuse of the democratic process. This is a government which has unilaterally prorogued Parliament three times in order to serve its own political interest; which has flagrantly and deliberately misrepresented the nature of parliament in order to hold onto power; which is the only government in the history of Westminster democracy that has been found in contempt of parliament, and which has been proved in court to have cheated in the ensuing election. Why does Harper do these things? He has the motivation of staying in power, of course, but so did every other government in the history of Canada.
The answer, in my opinion, goes right back to the purpose of democracy: the legitimize claims to power. Harper and his Conservatives have no need for external legitimization, whether rational or otherwise. As far as they are concerned, their claim to power is legitimate because their ideology is inherently legitimate. Not because they are supported by the public, but because they think that they deserve to be in power.
Likewise, they have no need of rational legitimization of their ideas. Their ideology is just inherently correct, and so it follows policies which run counter to it (such as government intervention in the economy to preserve the environment, or indeed, robbing a heroine addict of the chance to reap the consequences of his individual actions) must be inherently incorrect.
It is, to be sure, a fundamentalist and authoritarian mentality.
*Those interested can read this article, or search the “Science” tag on this blog.