It’s rarely pleasurable to enter the boxing ring of political-philosophical disputation. If the disagreements were simply philosophical, simply academic, we could all walk away knowing we just had interesting exchanges, and nothing would change. The trouble is the “political” part. It’s the polis, aka, government, and the polis automatically forces people to do things whether they like it or not. The polis can only operate through aggressive force, or, as 19th Century economist and philosopher Frederic Bastiat said, “The state is that great fiction by which everyone tries to live off of everyone else.”
So it’s troubling when one has to step into the ring in order to correct what would otherwise be a relatively mild, innocuous political quip from a famous scientist.
On Monday (aka “Moonday” if one goes back to Old English and Norse terminology), August 20, well known astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson offered a witty Tweet that, sadly, and given no further explication from him, deserves closer scrutiny.
Writing on the subject of Donald Trump’s proposed “Space Force”, Dr. Tyson opined:
I’m okay with a US Space Force. But what we need most is a Truth Force — one that defends against all enemies of accurate information, both foreign & domestic.
Full disclosure. I contemplated attending Cornell for astrophysics, just like Dr. Tyson did. In fact, if I were a bit older, we might have been in school together, so I like Dr. Tyson and his enthusiasm for science of all kinds.
The nine-year-old me would be prone to let his comment slide. On it’s face, it’s simply a pithy expression of support for a “Space Force” and for rigorously attempting to seek out truth.
But I have to compose at least a soft criticism of Dr. Tyson, a criticism offering important observations about the tone of, implications of, and deeply troubling political-philosophical end-point to which his simple Tweet could arrive.
First, let’s note that Dr. Tyson has expressed various opinions about Donald Trump. He has raised the ire of leftists with Tweets like this:
People who are anti-Trump are actually anti-Trump supporters — they oppose free citizens voting for the @realDonaldTrump.
But he has also upset conservatives with his criticism of Trump’s first budget.
So let’s establish this: Tyson is an advocate for what he seems to see as the so-called public good of expanded government spending for scientific research.
The problem is that such federal spending is not only not sanctioned by any enumerated power in the Constitution, it is impossible to define anything the government does as “good”.
Even if one believes the US Constitution is a “contract” (imposing government control over people who never signed it is not a contract), the Constitution doesn’t grant the feds the power to create a “Space Force” unless it’s for national defense, and even that is tenuous, because the US Congress has not declared War since World War Two.
Additionally, as Dr. Tyson should know, human valuation is subjective, thus the definition of a “good” or “bad” purchase can only be defined by the people engaging in the exchange. Their valuation is expressed to others through the empirically observable price mechanism, and new resources are allocated towards or away from those uses based on rising or falling prices.
As a result, even if the US Constitution allowed the federal government to spend my neighbor’s tax money on something politically termed “scientific advancement”, the politicians taking that money could not claim it was an "advancement" or a “good use” of the cash, because no one was offered a real opportunity to spend it elsewhere.
This is where economic laws meet the desires of scientists who back “government science”. Those scientists will not accept the truth of subjective valuation, and prefer to impose their will, as couched within the “democratic process”, on others.
Which gets us to the last part of Dr. Tyson’s Tweet. Since he first wrote about a federally funded “Space Force”, then tied that to his preference for a “truth force”, one can logically deduce (thought I would rather give him the benefit of the doubt) that he wants a federally funded “truth force”.
If he wants the polis to run a “truth force”, he wants government agents or government-appointed bureaucrats and special interests to determine what is “true.”
Well, George Orwell already had that idea. It was called the “Ministry of Truth”, it was modeled after the totalitarian Soviet police state, and it was included in his dystopian novel “1984”. It was created by the state and perpetuated the power of the state, constantly using taxpayer resources to hide information that would embarrass Big Brother or undercut the power of the government over individuals.
We know that Dr. Tyson is a big proponent of the theory of catastrophic anthropogenic “climate change”, so perhaps we should remind him that “truth” in climate change science (which might have been one of the subtle implications of his Tweet) has already been muddied via tax-funded “scientists” such as those caught in the “Climategate” scandal. Those would be partially government-funded “truth arbiters” who were exposed sending e-mails to one another to manipulate data that did not lend itself to supporting their anthropogenic Climate Change theories.
As a man who now teaches political economics and philosophy and who writes science fiction, I just want to suggest to Dr. Tyson that he might want to reconsider his support for said, “Truth Force”.
If it is funded by the polis, truth will always be at risk and at the heart of political battles.
If, as it should be, it is left up to individuals to pursue, as Aristotle said, we will “dispel error,” and others will be able to freely judge whether we are right or wrong.
A government “Truth Force” is a bad idea. People don’t need to be forced to accept what is true. They need to be free to find it themselves.