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Posted by on Mar 5, 2013 in Bioethics, Debate, Politics, Science | 8 comments

Chris Mooney on left-wing technophobia

Chris Mooney argues, in effect, that there is a false equivalency if we think that people who tend to be on the political Left (for which the term “liberal” is often used broadly in the US) are just as technophobic and suspicious of science as people on the Right. I’m sure he’s correct about this: there is not as much left-wing as right-wing anti-science and technophobic thinking. If Michael Shermer actually made a claim to the contrary, then he has at least exaggerated his point.

However, Mooney himself identifies various views that are popular on the Left of politics, perhaps more so than on the Right. This is the case with the anti-vaccination movement, for example, at least according to Mooney (I have no reason to doubt his accuracy on this detail).

So yes, we probably don’t find as much anti-science and technophobic thinking on the Left as on the Right… but there is still a lot more of it on the Left than we should be happy with. Also, it tends to follow different patterns, distinct from the right-wing versions. So it is worth identifying and examining the phenomenon, even if it turns out that Shermer exaggerated somewhat in the piece that Mooney is replying to. I’ve certainly found in my own work in bioethics that the Left is pretty much as resistant as the Right to a range of innovations, such as assisted reproduction of various kinds (though for different reasons).

As always, I warn against the careless of use of such terms as “liberal” and “conservative”, as each of these can cover a range of positions. Of course, the same applies to “left-wing”, “right-wing”, “the Left”, “the Right”, and so on. We need to be aware that these are all rather slippery and vague, and that we might be forced to define our terms more rigorously to make progress in a conversation. For example, I doubt that much of the opposition to IVF and surrogacy on the Left comes from people who’d called themselves “liberals”. They are more likely to be Marxists, feminists, etc., of various kinds, and to be quite suspicious of much liberal political theory.

In any event, although Mooney makes a good point, that the Right is probably worse than the Left in its general level of technophobic and anti-science thinking, the situation is complicated. The fact that someone identifies as being on “the Left” or as “liberal” is certainly no guarantee of an optimistic or even entirely rational approach to science and technology.