Upon my return, i continued listening to Michael Nagler’s lectures on Nonviolence. In the third lecture he makes some startling claims. Well, they startled me at least. The one that prompted me to listen to this lecture again was that the science in “What the Bleep” is portrayed accurately. Uhm. No. It’s not, at least it’s not according to one of the scientists included in the “What the Bleep” infomercial. For some reason, quantum physics is sexy and i haven’t fully understood yet exactly why Nagler brings it out – it has something to do with his claim that sciences other than physics have to deal with diversity. Well, yeah. You don’t have to go to quantum physics to make that point. You could simply look at an evolutionary biologist’s work.
Nagler also does not acknowledge that the demolition hypothesis of the towers on 9/11 has been debunked by most scientists, except for a handful of conspiracy theorists. It wasn’t a governmental coverup that kept this story out of the limelight. It plain did not make much sense – even though it came from a physicist.
Finally, his most startling claim: Darwin was wrong. Nagler hastens to add that he doesn’t deny evolution but he does not specify exactly what he thinks Darwin was wrong about. Listening between the lines, it seems that Nagler claims that Darwin thought competition was at the heart of evolution. It wasn’t actually Darwin who emphasized the “survival of the fittest”. That emphasis is one of the myths that surrounds the theory of evolution – a myth that is all too helpful in maintaining the current status quo.
I’ve tried to figure out why all these claims bother me so much. Yes, there’s a wish for honesty, yet, this doesn’t seem to fully capture it. When i listened to the next lecture, i gained some clarity around my reactions. Nagler talks about the three consequences of the scientific view: Scarcity, determinism, and separateness. He ties determinism to not taking responsibility for our action, for example how the idea of corporate personhood takes away any personal responsibilities of the executive team. While i completely agree with Nagler that this lack of responsibility is a huge problem and that the personhood of corporations has created many of the issues we are facing, i got lost that this is tied to determinism. For one, claiming that consciousness is an expression of matter rather than a separate entity does not strictly lead to determinism. The manifestation of consciousness is likely much more involved than a straight line, so the claim “my neurons made me do it” won’t hold up even if we can ultimately reduce consciousness to something material. I then realized what bothered me the most in Nagler’s arguments: He was reinforcing us-vs-them thinking by splitting science into the “old” science (the Newtonian model, which leads to determinism according to Nagler) and the “new” science (quantum physics, which doesn’t). Old science is bad. New science is good. This creates an artificial separateness! And it’s actually scientifically incorrect: Quantum mechanics does not replace Newtonian physics, just like the theory of relativity didn’t replace it. It’s a matter of scale: Quantum physics explains some things better than Newtonian physics, yet there is a lot that the “old” science explains very well. (Additionally, physicist express worries about using quantum mechanics to say anything about consciousness – see the Albert quote).
And then i remember to look for the underlying needs: Nagler does not have a need for “bashing science.” He is interested in healing this world, giving us hope that nonviolence is possible, and focusing on interdependence. He is trying to find paradigms within science that can provide a framework for this. These underlying needs, including his dream, i share with Nagler. I disagree with the effectiveness of his strategy to use a pop-culture interpretation of quantum mechanics as the foundation. Further, dividing science into good and bad, ironically reinforces the separateness Nagler is so worried about. Inclusion of all the voices, especially those which might on the surface support the current dominant cultural paradigm, could provide a more credible foundation for a science of nonviolence – and ultimately for shifting our current cultural paradigm away from violence to nonviolence.
Alternative Sources for Learning about Nonviolence
Steve’s comment below reminded me that there are other options to learn about nonviolence than through Nagler’s work. Here are some options – please feel free to add more in the comments, i will compile them into this list:
- Miki Kashtan’s Gandhian Principles for Everyday Living (the link takes you to the fifth part, which contains references to the first 4 parts)
- The International Center for Nonviolent Conflict
- Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict