From the margins

Mike Berger explains the intention behind his new regular column


I have been lucky to have been included in the ranks of regularly published contributors to PW even though I am neither a journalist by trade nor a political theorist-economist by training. My heart and background is in science and ideas even though like everyone else I am caught up in the drama and passions of everyday politics.

So it was from this marginal status that I suggested to the editor, Dr James Myburgh, that I write a weekly column which looks at politics from the wider perspective that modern science provides and he agreed to give it a go. Besides my personal preferences what more substantive reasons do I and James have to give this enterprise a try?

Firstly, it makes life a little easier for me. A short, focussed 500-1000 word column is easier for me to produce and you to read than a 2000+ word article.

Secondly, we are living through a number of simultaneous, entangled revolutions in digital communications, in data capture and analysis, in scientific information, technology and especially interdisciplinary cooperation. These developments are driving a revolution in ideas in the scientific and, more broadly, academic communities which rarely percolate through to the citizen caught up in the demands and distractions of everyday life.

Thirdly, we're in the throes of an exponential increase in interconnectivity and these developments are having a disruptive impact on what has traditionally been called the 'humanities' and the 'soft sciences'. As one may expect, some from this camp have retreated into a laager of denialism and outrage at the invasion of the scientific barbarians. But others have cautiously, or even recklessly, have welcomed the invaders in the expectation that both sides will learn from one another.

In my view not only are the latter on the side of history, as CP Snow provocatively remarked in 'The Two Cultures', but this rapprochement may be the main way civilisation can avoid self-annihilation.

And maybe also, only countries and peoples imaginative and courageous enough to open their minds to wider and novel vistas will prosper in the extraordinary world we are busy creating, on the side so-to-speak. It is a rich world full of novelty and endless possibility but, equally, our own creation may turn into the destructive Frankenstein of prophetic fiction unless we get to understand both ourselves and the world we're creating better.

That knowledge will remain useless if it remains the sole property of the privileged few with the time, resources and interest to pursue such seemingly esoteric interests. It is vital that the ideas and issues generated by scientists and other scholars are available to all and permeate the debates which shape our everyday lives. While science and knowledge alone do not automatically unlock the entwined political dilemmas which confront humanity they open vistas and pathways to possible solutions which would otherwise elude us. In this may lie our salvation.

Neither the format nor the content of this column is intended as a straitjacket and, as circumstances demand, I will feel free to deviate as necessary. This is the first step in an on-going dialogue and I look forward immensely to exploring our world together with the readers of Politicsweb - and anyone else interested.

Mike Berger