Friday, April 05, 2002

Francis Fukuyama first made a splash in the early '90s with his provocatively titled book, "The End of History and the Last Man." The thesis, in effect, was this: scientifically based Western culture had found the most efficient, most comfortable, best possible way to organize a society, that it looked pretty much like the United States of the day, or more precisely, the United States on the coasts (lightly regulated markets, basically secular government), and that because we had reached a truly optimal point, that "history", considered as the story of the evolution of human society was basically over, because nothing was ever going to change again, as all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

There is, of course, a basic contradiction here: the basis of science itself is continuous challenge to scientific ideas. A scientific theory is never considered to be finally confirmed; even the most firmly established ideas are open to challenge; Newton's laws of motion were amended on the large scale by Einstein, and on the small by Bohr, Planck, and, well, Einstein. So, in declaring that the much softer sciences of sociology and economics had reached their final point, Fukuyama was, in effect, embracing the conclusions of the scientific process while rejecting their basis.

Well, the contradiction is out; Fukuyama is now arguing against future development of biotechnology, on grounds that they might justify new forms of social order (a quaint notion that used to be called "progress"). Perhaps he's worried that if things keep changing, he'll have to find a new title for his damn book.


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