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Bobby Danforth's picture

A corollary to my first response

Meant as a reply to my first post, but it hasn't gone up, and I am impatient/exhausted.

It should be stressed that scientific accuracy of some isolated data is not any sort of call to action. Philosophies and cultures are dependent upon countless conditions and produce so many different outcomes that they should only be discouraged or acted against when they cause well-verified harm and even then, only in ways that address the specific harm. It is not polite, helpful, just, or even productive to attack ways of thinking simply because they are incorrect along some lines. To paraphrase Engels, “the single service one can do to religion in the modern age is to ban it.”

The complexity of this sort of thing is demonstrated in Paul Farmer’s study of TB and voodoo in Haiti, which overturned the racist assumption that Haitians had poor TB outcomes because they believed it was magic and did not take their medicine. In fact, they believed that TB was magic AND took their medicine, and this understanding was a great asset to future treatment planning. So, it is safe to say that the Hmong are wrong about epilepsy, but this doesn’t mean that they should be yelled at or anything.

Grobstein’s recap suggests that this is much of what he was saying. I would simply add that there are mechanisms that can be verified to support certain group dynamics, obligations and morality, but they are ultimately couched in certain assumptions – e.g. that survival of a group, even all humans, is optimal. Science can be descriptive to these ends but is only prescriptive when we choose to define what is valuable or desirable. If you read both of my really long posts, congratulations, I hope that I have not given you a splitting headache.


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