In the last section I admitted that this dichotomy (Modernism vs Romantic enemies of the Enlightenment) is flawed... as are all dichotomies... even though it explains the behavior of polemical people far better than the superficial "left-right political axis."
But pause a moment. I can't help it. I must reiterate one aspect of all this, yet again, lest it be missed.
The romantics' classic fixation on snobbish secrecy.
Before science, the chief traditions of knowledge were magic, religion, craft guilds and scholasticism. For all of their differences, these general systems seem to have shared some very consistent buttressing attributes. For example, they generally tended to emphasize the mysterious nature of their close-held procedures and arcana. All raised obstacles against unsanctioned outsiders who might attempt mastery of the inner lore.
All spoke of how daunting or dangerous it would be for the masses to know what the lay in the locked grimoires of hierarchical authorities - be they mages, shamans, guildmasters, priests... all the way to platonist or confucian philosophers.
Today you can see a plethora of new or upstart groups that have risen in varied forms to join these older ones. They come in bewildering variety of styles and specifics - while sharing this ancient legacy of secretive exclusivity. The particular paranoia can range from UFO cults to Straussian neocons, yet if you scratch below the surface veneer, all display startlingly similar character traits. Especially a nearly identical need to rationalize contempt for the masses while withholding vital information for use by a special and worthy elect.
I am NOT saying that all of these groups are equally right or wrong about the specifics of their beliefs! Today, either liberals or conservatives may offer better arguments on this or that issue. Moreover, religion certainly delivers benefits that are attested to by millions. My remarks here are not aimed at particular notions but at an all-too common trait of human beings who like to hold notions.
Whether the surface dogma is quality or dross, there remains this underlying shared current - something psychological that is separate from the surface details. Indeed, this deeper agenda can push in a direction diametrically opposite to what a person or group claims superficially to believe. Take, for example, those who, in the name of promoting freedom/democracy, all-too often seem to foster behaviors that undermine both.
One telltale sign of underlying romanticism is a deep fealty to mysteries. To secret codes hidden in the Bible, or in UFO-spun wheat fields, or conspiracy theories, or a desperate need to control mass media and clamp down on government information flows. From the sublime to the ridiculous and all across the range of intellect, what they all cater to is the most delicious, voluptuously attractive self-image of all. The notion that - "I know what's going on in the world and all you clueless fools do not."
This classic human way of viewing the world is one of the reasons that romanticism is... well... romantic! The appeal offered by mystery is very much in the tradition described by Joseph Campbell. And it may be the biggest reason why romantic writers, no matter how much science education they claim, simply never get what science is really about.
As for dry accountability ... that's a pallid modernist thing. (Who else but a modernist would find anything appealing in an acronym like CITOKATE? ;-)
In order to see just how alien the scientific worldview is from pre-enlightenment ways of dealing with knowledge, take a look at how many scientists compete with each other in order to get shows on PBS, the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the History Channel and so on. Listen as they gush and fizz as eagerly as some school kid, excitedly sharing what they know with fellow citizens who (after all) paid for the research with their taxes.
It's a very public manifestation of what goes on every day, on 10,000 university campuses, where ideas ferment and snotty grad students stand up to professors, sometimes gleefully proving them wrong. (Admittedly at some minor risk.)
This is not a revised version of magical and guild systems, with abject apprentices serving domineering masters (though some professors - being human - try to act that way). At best, science is the polar opposite of such systems. Scientists understand this. But romantics cannot even perceive it.
According to both Atwood and Crichton, - and to those on all sides who share their underlying world view - those scientific boffins are dangerous and need to be controlled, lest they unleash demons to wreck the world. Never mind that an open society should find the errors faster than any elite ever could, enabling (as we have seen time and again) modern society to both have its cake and eat it. Instead of trusting openness, we should turn instead to more secrecy. Leave policy to those who have worked out The Truth from basic principles. To ideologues who know what’s right by their very nature as philosopher kings, sages, priestesses... whatever... without having to prove anything at all.
Above all, do not look upon the future as a realm that can and should be improved by the active will of assertive, pragmatic human effort.
Accept the benefits of past modernism, without ever acknowledging a possibility that the best may be yet to come.
...Next posting... how this relates to science fiction...
PS... one of you spoke of my participating in a web ring or such on this topic. I certainly am willing to try to promote the concept of pragmatic modernism as an alternative to insipid Left-Right cliches... On the other hand, my productivity as a science fiction author has suffered badly of late. My wife wants me to do less of this, not more. Especially with a lot of happy but frenetic activities, of late.
So yes, I'll contribute to any such discussion. But others must do the organizing. The only REGULAR participation I can promise is what I'm doing right now. Scribbling a draft minifesto for grownup humans who don't need manifestos....