Textbooks: as a follow-up to my article on textbooks the other day, let’s consider why it is that university textbooks, whether on Ancient Egypt or the English Civil War, deny that these societies exist as historic units (as races, in effect) and so do not really hold that these “came into existence” and “went out of existence” at some point—in short, why is it that these textbooks cannot see that societies, like all organisms, are born, live, and die?
It’s the scientific method—to be blunt. If you look at a “how to think” textbook, like Straight and Crooked Thinking (by a Cambridge psychology don), you’ll find that the spectrum is extolled as a key tool in the scientific method. It’s this tool that has broken history, ripped it to shrebbons.
The idea is that it’s fallacious to just reduce a phenomenon to a binary (a gender binary, even). After all, where would science be if we didn’t look at things on a spectrum? How would you work the chemical composition of stars if you didn’t use the spectroscopic method? To arrange a problem on a spectrum is a powerful tool.
Think about political science: too many people treat the word “democracy” as a noun—but shouldn’t we think about it adjectivally? If we do so, we can say—“Well, the USSR had many democratic aspects; perhaps we could say it was 45% democratic but Hitler’s Germany was 12% democratic.” After all, very little is either-or.
Now, of course, due to the power of the scientific method, the same approach is applied across the board. When I was a teenager and I first encountered LGBT in the wild I remember I used to waffle about “sexuality is on a spectrum”—where did I get that idea from? From the media, probably. Someone authoritative on Radio 4 said it and I thought “oh yes, it makes so much sense the way you explain it, sensei.” Well, “sexuality is on a spectrum”; nobody is exactly homosexual or heterosexual—but, really?
That comes from Kinsey, of course. It was Kinsey who invited you to tick an (anonymous) box that said “Are you attracted to men on a scale of 1-10?”. Well, whatever that means…I don’t know…did I imagine myself kissing a man once…did I imagine a man bent over naked on all fours and gazing back at me, like a sheep, over his shoulder?…Well, that’s the scale of 1-10 for you—but, you know, everyone’s on the spectrum.
In the same way, in a more popular modern fad, everyone is “on the spectrum” as far as autism goes—I mean, it’s not binary; we all have a “little bit” of autism in us, right? The “spectrum approach”—not quite full-spectrum autism, unfortunately—is very useful for fads. In the 1970s, there was a definite fad, partly encouraged by Freud’s idea that everyone is bisexual and by Kinsey’s work, to say “oh, I’m bisexual” or “I experiment with men” (it was more popular with women but you can find men who did this too). After all, we’re all “on a spectrum”, right?
It’s the “spectrum approach” that means you no longer see discrete historical units when it’s time to study Ancient Egypt or Stuart England. Because everything exists “on a spectrum” nothing ever really dies (or is created); in fact, the assumption is that historical units are the same as matter, i.e. “cannot be created or destroyed”.
So, on this basis, the Roman Empire is still with us—because the Catholic Church carries on the Roman Empire, through its rites (derived from Mithraism) and its Latin and its hierarchy. It’s just that the Roman Empire now exists at 0.002 on a spectrum—you know, it’s pretty weak but we’re still “getting a signal”. The matter has changed form to a considerable degree, but it’s still “there”—it’s always “there”.
This begins to collide with an old philosophical problem—the problem of identity, i.e. “do objects persist through time?”. It’s like if I looked at my nephew and said, “I can see his grandfather in his chin—grandpa Joe is still alive,” it sounds rather trite and sentimental but it’s not too dissimilar to the assertion that the Roman Empire is still with us or that we cannot say “the Egyptian civilisation died”. It’s the old ship of Theseus conundrum.
Whatever the answer to this philosophical question, the scientific method takes a certain approach to it—matter (or, in history, “the facts of history”) cannot be created or destroyed and merely changes form. Ideas like “the seasonality of civilisation”—spring, summer, autumn, winter—are unscientific, being based on a value judgement that involves discrete units.
Where would science be if we lived in your intuitive, metaphysical is-isn’t world? Well, we wouldn’t be very far—and notice that this impinges on the transgender issue because, for all the whining about “postmodernism” and “unscientific woo”, to be gender non-binary is scientific. It’s metaphysical systems that assert that there’s an “eternal duality”, male and female, that emerges from the cosmic egg.
“You wot? You’ll be saying summer is a ‘masculine’ and ‘Mars-like’ season next—it’s all on a spectrum…everyone knows that today.” Well, yes, personally I’m 45% female and 7.8 on the heterosexual scale (I looked at some gay porn once, but didn’t get a hard-on—that’s how I interpret “7.8 heterosexual”, anyway). “And that’s totally fine, we’re not making any judgements here” (this statement must be said in an American accent to make sense).
You see the problem. I had a go at Allan Bloom ages ago because he criticised the scientific method in social sciences and in the humanities—but he was right. However, he tried to off-load the blame onto Heidegger and Nietzsche (because: Hitler). He lacked the courage to say, “Cultural relativism is a product from the scientific method—we must dump it.” Well, it is—the scientific method disintegrates the social base it depends upon to function; it’s valueless, full stop.