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Knowledge and power

Scientific evidence won't likely sway those who are sold on socialism

Issue: "On the road again," May 9, 2009

Charles Murray, author and policy advisor, writes this: "The stuff of life occurs within just four institutions: family, community, vocation and faith." In his 2009 Irving Kristol lecture titled "The Happiness of the People," Murray goes on to show how personal satisfaction derives from success in one or more of those institutions, and America has thrived insofar as she has encouraged them.

But, he goes on to show, there's a difference between encouragement and support. European-style socialism "supports" faith by providing and maintaining church buildings; "supports" family with childcare and generous maternity benefits, "supports" vocation through workplace regulations, and community through the creation of a European brand. The result is, according to Murray, empty churches, a collapsing birthrate, low job satisfaction, and increasingly cynical Germans, Swedes, Frenchmen, and Spaniards.

By usurping many of the responsibilities that used to belong to individuals, the state has sapped much of the energy, drive, and satisfaction from living. Americans, take note: The benign tyranny of European-style socialism is headed across the Atlantic and has in fact already made a home in certain native enclaves. Fortunately for us, though, Charles Murray sees a glow of hope on the horizon; a new era is riding to the rescue, and with any luck it will get here on time. Our redemption is-are you ready?-science.

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In other words, objective truth, derived from rigorous testing, is going to establish beyond any doubt what wise observers have always known: that children are best brought up in families, that humans need a sense of purpose in life, and that individuals thrive when they are allowed to discover that purpose for themselves and given the opportunity to pursue it. Science is poised to shatter two pernicious ideas of modern liberalism, namely that equality is a matter of group distribution and that public policy can change human nature.

Murray's confidence may owe something to the fact that Losing Ground, his statistics-based critique of welfare policy, helped spur the welfare reform of the '90s. But science is unlikely to tame the socialist beast, for two reasons.

First, science is not as imperious as it seems. Whatever our platitudes about humbly going where knowledge leads, the hard sciences are as malleable, practically speaking, as the soft (social) ones. Knowledge itself may be objective; its application will not be. For example, lab results show that adult stem cells are a much more promising therapy than embryonic. But billions of taxpayer dollars will soon go to support embryonic research because somebody wants to do it-someone with power and influence and self-interest-and "science" will be shaped, twisted, and misrepresented to suit that purpose. Powerful men tend to use any weapon close at hand-that's how they get to be powerful.

Second, science carries no moral imperative. You can't get from "is" to "ought." Murray seems to picture a day when scientific research and optimum human happiness will meet and join hands, whereby public policy will have to take note and legislate accordingly.

But why? If lawmakers see their purpose as better served by identity politics and the welfare state, science can take a hike. And if individuals find their family responsibilities standing in the way of personal happiness, no amount of bar charts and double-blind studies will convince them otherwise. Science can't touch those four areas of human fulfillment; if anything, the misuse of science has encouraged their disintegration.

Murray sees the 20th century as the adolescence of humanity: when, equipped with the car keys and legal-age accomplices to buy the booze, society kicked aside parental wisdom and went a little crazy. The 21st century represents adulthood, where circumstances we created will force us to grow up and take responsibility.

Crazy teens do become sober adults, if sober adulthood has been taught and modeled. If not, they may never grow up, even if they can imitate adulthood well enough to play it on TV. Science can't model or teach. It can only facilitate. Or, more likely, be facilitated.

If you have a question or comment for Janie Cheaney, send it to

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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