Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Science That Must Be Shared

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Science That Must Be Shared

Article excerpt

Science is a product of intellectual work by persons trained in reflection and analysis to venture beyond what is already known. This exercise in thinking requires a minimum number of conditions, the most important of which under present circumstances is freedom. For although scientific progress was possible in the past when political and social contexts were under threat, the growing complexity of research and scientific development today require a high level of freedom in order to keep moving forward. As a result, the future of science is closely bound up with the advance of democracy and respect for values conducive to the free circulation and discussion of ideas.

Contrary to the fears of Alexis de Tocqueville and other nineteenth-century thinkers, democracy has not built a kingdom of mediocrity inimical to the development of higher forms of art and science. Rather, the opposite has occurred. The vitality and creative force of democratic society - in which the state is secular, powers are separated and all ideas are subject to debate - have turned out to be much greater than its early critics imagined. These qualities have not only enabled it to surmount the danger posed by various forms of totalitarianism but also to promote unprecedented cultural and economic development.

An unexpected turn of events

However, on the threshold of the twenty-first century, the nature of the challenges and threats with which democracy has to cope is changing. Since 1989, the end of the Cold War has given new emphasis, and in some cases greater virulence, to old disputes of ethnic or religious origin that had survived under wraps in the shadow of the East-West confrontation. It is quite clear that they are not the consequences of freedom but the result of many years of oppression. The triumph of democratic principles in Eastern Europe, the break-up of the Soviet empire and the nuclear weapons reduction agreements have opened up broad vistas of peace while at the same time releasing resentments and twisted perceptions long harboured in the secret places of the heart.

The countries of the free world had prepared for war, but not for peace. They were surprised when the course of events diverged from what the prophets of doom had predicted. The iron curtain was soon a thing of the past; peace was achieved in Namibia, El Salvador, Mozambique, the Middle East and South Africa. Conflicts were no longer international but international. The threats to security are now poverty, the unbalanced distribution of resources, runaway population growth, massive emigration and social injustices that create reactions of rejection.

This turnaround caught out some countries which had little inclination to take radical decisions, looked no further than the next elections and regarded any reference to future generations as an irritation. Their budgetary and productive priorities, social organization and defence structure are geared to the threats of the past but are unsuitable for tackling the problems of the future. The examples of Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda underscore the inability of the international community to solve new, "low-intensity" post-Cold War conflicts.

An intolerable situation

The individual and collective violence that constitute the seedbed of war can take many different forms. In politics it manifests itself as oppression and tyranny; in economics, as exploitation and destitution; and in society, as exclusion and intolerance.

Every effort to establish a culture of peace must take into account these deep roots of human conflict and give priority to the transmission of values, the forging of attitudes and the drafting of legal provisions to replace those of the declining culture of war. The pillars of this undertaking are education and development, which make it possible to eliminate the most dehumanizing aspects of extreme poverty, and to contribute to the elimination of discrimination and the establishment of governments that respect the will of the people and the agreements they have entered into. …

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