China, Russia show freedom’s role in ‘disruptive’ science, Revolution and Freedom

Reuters

A woman stands in front of a General Electric sign during the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai, China, last September.

THE MONITOR’S VIEW

FREEDOM

An exodus of talent in both countries is driven by researchers seeking a free flow of ideas that can revive breakthroughs in thought.

  • By the Monitor’s Editorial Board

January 23, 2023

Big and new ideas in scientific research don’t always originate in well-equipped labs or with more money. Sometimes the greatest resource is freedom. To see why, look at the exodus of people – especially creative innovators and entrepreneurs – from Russia and China over the past year.

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Russia’s exodus of talent began with Western economic sanctions imposed after the Ukraine invasion, new restrictions on the internet, and later a harsh military draft of young men. Tens of thousands of high-tech workers fled to Israel, Georgia, or Kazakhstan, where they could find opportunities and free expression in safe havens. Those countries welcomed them as potential founts of innovation.

“Scarcely was there a generation of Frenchmen during the long period that did not witness the disciples of the gospel fleeing before the insane fury of the persecutor, and carrying with them the intelligence, the arts, the industry, the order, in which, as a rule, they pre-eminently excelled, to enrich the lands in which they found an asylum. And in proportion as they replenished other countries with these good gifts, did they empty their own of them. If all that was now driven away had been retained in France; if, during these three hundred years, the industrial skill of the exiles had been cultivating her soil; if, during these three hundred years, their artistic bent had been improving her manufactures; if, during these three hundred years, their creative genius and analytic power had been enriching her literature and cultivating her science; if their wisdom had been guiding her councils, their bravery fighting her battles, their equity framing her laws, and the religion of the Bible strengthening the intellect and governing the conscience of her people, what a glory would at this day have encompassed France! What a great, prosperous, and happy country—a pattern to the nations—would she have been!
“But a blind and inexorable bigotry chased from her soil every teacher of virtue, every champion of order, every honest defender of the throne; it said to the men who would have made their country a ‘renown and glory’ in the earth, Choose which you will have, a stake or exile. At last the ruin of the state was complete; there remained no more conscience to be proscribed; no more religion to be dragged to the stake; no more patriotism to be chased into banishment.”—Wylie, b. 13, ch. 20. And the Revolution, with all its horrors, was the dire result.
“With the flight of the Huguenots a general decline settled upon France. Flourishing manufacturing cities fell into decay; fertile districts returned to their native wildness; intellectual dullness and moral declension succeeded a period of unwonted progress. Paris became one vast almshouse, and it is estimated that, at the breaking out of the Revolution, two hundred thousand paupers claimed charity from the hands of the king. The Jesuits alone flourished in the decaying nation, and ruled with dreadful tyranny over churches and schools, the prisons and the galleys.”
The gospel would have brought to France the solution of those political and social problems that baffled the skill of her clergy, her king, and her legislators, and finally plunged the nation into anarchy and ruin. But under the domination of Rome the people had lost the Saviour’s blessed lessons of self-sacrifice and unselfish love. They had been led away from the practice of self-denial for the good of others. The rich had found no rebuke for their oppression of the poor, the poor no help for their servitude and degradation. The selfishness of the wealthy and powerful grew more and more apparent and oppressive. For centuries the greed and profligacy of the noble resulted in grinding extortion toward the peasant. The rich wronged the poor, and the poor hated the rich.
In many provinces the estates were held by the nobles, and the laboring classes were only tenants; they were at the mercy of their landlords and were forced to submit to their exorbitant demands. The burden of supporting both the church and the state fell upon the middle and lower classes, who were heavily taxed by the civil authorities and by the clergy. “The pleasure of the nobles was considered the supreme law; the farmers and the peasants might starve, for aught their oppressors cared…. The people were compelled at every turn to consult the exclusive interest of the landlord. The lives of the agricultural laborers were lives of incessant work and unrelieved misery; their complaints, if they ever dared to complain, were treated with insolent contempt. The courts of justice would always listen to a noble as against a peasant; bribes were notoriously accepted by the judges; and the merest caprice of the aristocracy had the force of law, by virtue of this system of universal corruption. Of the taxes wrung from the commonalty, by the secular magnates on the one hand, and the clergy on the other, not half ever found its way into the royal or episcopal treasury; the rest was squandered in profligate self-indulgence. And the men who thus impoverished their fellow subjects were themselves exempt from taxation, and entitled by law or custom to all the appointments of the state. The privileged classes numbered a hundred and fifty thousand, and for their gratification millions were condemned to hopeless and degrading lives.” (See Appendix.)
The court was given up to luxury and profligacy. There was little confidence existing between the people and the rulers. Suspicion fastened upon all the measures of the government as designing and selfish. For more than half a century before the time of the Revolution the throne was occupied by Louis XV, who, even in those evil times, was distinguished as an indolent, frivolous, and sensual monarch. With a depraved and cruel aristocracy and an impoverished and ignorant lower class, the state financially embarrassed and the people exasperated, it needed no prophet’s eye to foresee a terrible impending outbreak. To the warnings of his counselors the king was accustomed to reply: “Try to make things go on as long as I am likely to live; after my death it may be as it will.” It was in vain that the necessity of reform was urged. He saw the evils, but had neither the courage nor the power to meet them. The doom awaiting France was but too truly pictured in his indolent and selfish answer, “After me, the deluge!”
By working upon the jealousy of the kings and the ruling classes, Rome had influenced them to keep the people in bondage, well knowing that the state would thus be weakened, and purposing by this means to fasten both rulers and people in her thrall. With farsighted policy she perceived that in order to enslave men effectually, the shackles must be bound upon their souls; that the surest way to prevent them from escaping their bondage was to render them incapable of freedom. A thousandfold more terrible than the physical suffering which resulted from her policy, was the moral degradation. Deprived of the Bible, and abandoned to the teachings of bigotry and selfishness, the people were shrouded in ignorance and superstition, and sunken in vice, so that they were wholly unfitted for self-government.
But the outworking of all this was widely different from what Rome had purposed. Instead of holding the masses in a blind submission to her dogmas, her work resulted in making them infidels and revolutionists. Romanism they despised as priestcraft. They beheld the clergy as a party to their oppression. The only god they knew was the god of Rome; her teaching was their only religion. They regarded her greed and cruelty as the legitimate fruit of the Bible, and they would have none of it. GC 277.3 – GC 281.2

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The exodus from China began with a crackdown on its biggest tech companies, especially their founders, as well as a draconian lockdown of cities against COVID-19. Many of the country’s most creative people moved to the United States, Singapore, and Japan to avoid China’s increasing techno-authoritarianism, or a top-down approach to research.

“Now that they have lived free of fear in other countries, they are reluctant to put themselves and their businesses under the thumb of the Chinese Communist Party again,” wrote The New York Times. One founder of a crypto banking startup cited the need to have a say in how government makes rules. “There are many other places [than China] where you can do things,” said Aginny Wang, a co-founder of Flashwire who moved from China to Singapore.

These two waves of talent emigration, both of which may set back each country’s science and technology, are timely reminders about the most basic element for breakthroughs in scientific thought: freedom. They come as yet another study suggests global science has been in a slump in producing “disruptive” discoveries, such as lasers, airplanes, and transistors.

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The study, conducted at the University of Minnesota and the University of Arizona, looked at 45 million papers and 3.9 million U.S. patents from 1945 to 2010 to see which research pointed to groundbreaking disruptions in fields from physics to social science. This “disruption index” showed a decline in basic discoveries after World War II and then a leveling since the 1990s. Also noted was an increase in the use of words like “improve” and “enhance” over language such as “make” and “produce.”

As in China and Russia today, many researchers may feel less free to pursue novel and radical ideas. In the West, scholars are publishing research more than ever but in increasingly narrower silos of knowledge. Many spend half their time applying for government grants, which are often given out based on demands for immediate, risk-free results.

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“Rather than minting revolutionary ways of thinking, science and technology are increasingly polishing the same conceptual pennies,” writes science commentator Anjana Ahuja in The Financial Times.

The study’s authors say scientific workers can find greater freedom in undirected research and more sabbaticals. Long-shot research begins with short-term liberties to think, explore, make mistakes, and share ideas freely. The best research centers are small in number with high trust and no compulsion for conformity. Or just the opposite of what authoritarian leaders prefer. More freedom may be the greatest disruptor in the world of science seeking disruptive ideas.

Author: Adventist Angels Watchman Radio

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