Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Reply to comment

marquisedemerteuil's picture

In my first post, which is

In my first post, which is actually the top "recent blog post" because I was too terribly ignorant to know that blogs are for papers, I ended with this: "In creating parallels between science and literature, though, the idea needs to work for both; I think it is easy to take an idea that fits one and apply it to the other without examining how well it suits the other discipline. If I find a way of thinking I believe fits both fields, I'll let you know!"

In one of Ionesco's latest plays "Jeux de massacre" (literally "Massacre Games" but translated as "Killing Game") from 1970, a terrible epidemic is killing off the human race and no one can do anything about it. As you can imagine, this is a pretty funny play. The play is not really interested in having a plot, and is basically a series of vignettes; each sheds light on how different people are affected by the disease. In one, people discuss what food you shouldn't eat. Someone (characters have no names, and are intentionally not given the selves Zadie Smith likes so much) says, "alcohol is terrible for you, it alcoholizes." Another discusses how terrible asparagus is. More seemingly absurd comments are made. Ionesco uses "le langage en miettes" ("language in crumbs," the absurdist style I'm sure you guys are familiar with) to undermine our use of language and the assumptions that come from it, to prove that this language is really no less absurd than our own, and there is no reason why our way of speaking about health is superior to this deranged version.

In contemporary society, everyone argues about what foods are healthy and which foods aren't. Magazine articles about little-known heathly snacks commonly appear. We talk about how fat Americans are based on statistics whose source, and its validity, we do not know. Yet, being bad scientists, we steal "facts" we happen to overhear about the state of people's weight in America and do not examine the situation for ourselves. People make a lot of money selling books about why our society is sinful and gluttinous; we're not so far from our Puritan roots. Baudrillard says that we want to condemn our society for its bounty because the capitalist system prevents an exchange -- we receive but can't give back, and we will forever feel guilty. I find this much more persuasive than hearing about "American gluttony." Another interesting, yet badly written source is the controversial book "The Obesity Myth" by Paul Campos.

The real reason we talk about weight the way we do is to discriminate against people. We can't discriminate against people of other skin colors or social classes anymore, but we can decide that people who are "overweight" (and the standard of what constitutes "being overweight" has been debated among scientists) are participating in the most sinful aspects of a corrupt society. So while we are nice to "fat people," we actually decide that they lack willpower and enlightenment. If, according to popular culture (this line of thought is ubiquitous in the media), changing or lowering your weight means changing or improving your life, fat people have not evolved. Fat people are often referred to as "out of control" as if only thinner people are "in control" and I don't know what of. Our society's language is more to blame, in my opinion, than airbrushed models in magazines. (Though they don't get off the hook, either.) This is not science; this is immorality.

Which brings me to another pseudo-scientific topic -- Social Darwinism. I'm sure everyone knows what that is, but I will define it, because everyone's version reflects a different understanding, as Prof. Grobstein asserted in class by having many people define evolution, and my comments come from my understanding. Social Darwinism was a prevalent idea in the 19th century and it applied Darwin's idea of natural selection, "survival of the fittest" to struggles among races. Since, according to their understanding of natural selection, the strongest animals must prevail by killing off the weaker ones, or stay alive while the weak die, Social Darwinists believe that the strongest of all races is justified in killing every other race. The fittest (white) survive and the rest are entitled to die and be abused. I'm sure we can all agree that there are many compelling arguments against this line of thought and it is immoral. Yet it's logic works. It's a very natural progression from Darwinism. It was certainly, in a macabre way, useful during its time because it gave the white people with authority a moral justification for abusing and killing people of other ethnicities. "It's just science, we're the fittest, and we prove it by killing them; if they were the fittest, they'd kill us" argues the Social Darwinist. This is science interpreted, perhaps mauled, by the desires and perspectives of a particular society, and the reason we oppose it now is because our values have changed, not because it doesn't make sense.

So I succeeded in finding a literary model that applies to science: I think Ionesco's got it right.


To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
6 + 3 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.