On 7 May 1959 the celebrated novelist C.P. Snow mounted
the podium in the Senate House, Cambridge to deliver that
year’s Rede Lecture. He spoke to the title ‘The Two Cultures
and the Scientific Revolution’, taking as his theme the
dangerously wide gap that had opened up between
scientists and ‘literary intellectuals’ (representing the
humanities) who could now no longer talk to each other. He
spoke of scientists who could scarcely struggle through a
novel by Dickens, and of literary intellectuals who were
ignorant of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. (my emphasis added)
I’ve been wondering this morning whether C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures are as much a reality today as they were 60 years ago, and are perhaps even more of a reality today than they were back then.
The most divisive issue in UK politics today is between Brexiters and Remainers, and the two sides seem to inhabit separate realities, and can barely talk to each other. They’re two cultures.
There’s a similar divide in US politics between Trump supporters and never-Trumpers. They also seem to inhabit separate realities, and can barely talk to each other. They’re two cultures too.
There would seem to be a similar divide between the France of Emmanuel Macron, and the France of the Gilets Jaunes.
It’s perhaps a divide between idealists and realists. The idealists are the globalists who think in vast global terms, and see the world from their jets 10 km in the air. And the realists are the localists who inhabit a single country, and keep their feet on the ground.
In the UK, the political divide is between supporters of the EU political project, which is thoroughly idealistic in character, and critics who regard the EU as being unrealistic in attempting to unite as disparate a set of nations as those in Europe, where every country has its own language.
In the USA the political divide is between forward-looking Democrat progressives and a US president whose slogan – Make America Great Again – calls for a return to a lost past.
The 1960s, which were a formative period for me, were a time of high idealism. Music is the very stuff of idealism. But what started out optimistically in the early 1960s had become very pessimistic by the end of the decade. And much of that pessimism grew out of the Vietnam war, and the divisions in US society surrounding this war, because the music of the 1960s was essentially American music (even if some of it it was American music re-invented in Britain).
And towards the end of the 1960s, I got thoroughly sick of 1960s’ idealism. I got thoroughly sick of the likes of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and all the other gurus that abounded at that time. I’d had enough. And I returned to university to build electronic models of heat flow in buildings. I quite consciously adopted practical science. And I’ve remained there ever since.
By contrast, one of my best (and most thoughtful) friends at university joined something called the Emissaries of the Divine Light. He had continued with his youthful idealism, while I had abandoned mine. When we met again, 10 years later, we found that we inhabited separate universes. He’d gone one way, and I’d gone the exact opposite.
Tobacco Control is an idealistic organisation. Their ideal world is a “smoke-free” world, and they work very hard to actualise that ideal world. But I think their utopia is an ugly, divisive dystopia. And the sooner we are rid of it, the better.
Global Warming alarmism is equally idealistic. But its ideal world is one that is found in the past, sometime prior to the Industrial Revolution with its smoky factories. It also longs for a “smoke-free” world from which all industry, and therefore all smoke, has been completely banished.
The idealists are dreamers, dreaming up impracticable ideal worlds. The realists study the world as it actually is. They want to understand the real world, not replace it with some new invention.
The idealists usually come from the humanities. Plato and Aristotle were dreamers. So were Marx and Hegel. All philosophers are dreamers, and they describe their dreams with words. The realists come from the sciences, and they describe their ideas with numbers. And perhaps the real division between them is simply the difference between words and numbers.
And, over 30 years after I stopped making heat flow models, I’ve started constructing them once again. But this time I’m not trying to study brick and concrete buildings, but instead the Earth on which such buildings stand. I’m trying to reproduce ice ages on planet Earth. For it seems to me that we should not be worried about global warming, but instead global cooling. I’ve gone full circle. I have arrived at that point in the movie were I first came in.