Reply To: April 28th Science, Society, and Power

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Sanna Karlsson # Posted on April 29, 2014 at 15:34

Reflection Paper on James Fairhead´s Discussion Seminar

I was intruiged by the introduction Fairhead held in the beginning of the discussion seminar. He spoke of his own research journey and how it had changed throughout the years. He began his research with the presumption that the desert in West Africa was once covered more or less by forests. That was the custom to believed and knowledge presented at the time in (what I understood) the Universities and the political world. Of course, it is then understandable that this was his starting point, from which he wanted to investigate how the forests had decreased the last centuries.
However, as we heard from him yesterday, this information was completely wrong! The truth then emerged as he research that the forests had not decreased but rather that the circular forests he observed where planted there by the people in the villages from the very beginning. Thus, Fairhead had to rethink his whole approach to his research. Later he instead investigated the power dynamics of society, politics and science and how they are intertwined. How is it that the truth about something (in this case, the forest) can be so distorted?
The means of power is not necessarily connected to the truth I believe. The want for a position of power can be driven by various motives. It can be driven by the want for power by itself, and this may be very destructive and can decieve us. If someone wants power to simpy rule, the person might overlook what is good and truly beneficial for the people over who he or she is have the power. Both good and evil/truth and lies can promote a power position. Therefore I believe it can be dangerous to be wanting a position of power for the power´s sake, since the power may also decieve and corrupt the morality/integrity of the person. If the person (or politics/science etc. for that matter) however is yearning for power in order to display truth, goodness and just, the truth is not as easily distorted. I believe the yearning for goodness must precede the want for power, cause seeking truth and goodness for it´s own sake becomes power. Goodness and truth is power.
Since real knowledge (what I call truth) is uphelf by the people wanting it and seeking it, people in a power position might want this, but simply not have the knowledge or access to the real knowledge. Let me explain why I think this is interesting in relation to the discussion seminar, as I feel I almost drift away into abstract reasoning on truth and power here. We often get upset when we feel we have been given the wrong information on facts of different kinds, that is, we have been given lies instead of truth (as in the case of the ”abundant forests in West Africa”). This can be of course simply frustruating, since we realize that we might be decived on other facts concerning life as well. Should we then be critical towards every bit of information we find? No. But perhaps learning to hear both sides of an issue in greater measure. I believe the two lessons one can learn is the one just mentioned, but also to be concious of our own motives as we seek knowledge. Do we really want the truth, or in what areas might distort the truth to suit us the best? I this way, we learn to be more transparent and it makes us better equipped to seek and present truth, and not be mislead by the means of power of different kinds currently surrounding us in society, such as ”what science, or politics” might say. Not to say these are wrong, but we will be better equipped to discern if they are if we keep our own motives pure to seek truth.