Mohammed Bagayogo once prodded his colleague with the question: “If you stepped onto a planet and saw a huge ship traversing the sky, what would you say about this planet?” Amir Karamo replied after much thought: “That, the people of this planet have an advanced science.”

That was 1573 A.D.

Science, as in institutionalized art of inquiry has yielded many varied fruits. Its currently best-publicized products are undoubtedly the technological innovations that have transformed traditional forms of human economy at an accelerating rate. It has also been responsible for many other facets not at the focus of present public attention, though some of them have been, and continue to be, frequently prized as the most precious harvest to scientific enterprise.

By harvest, I mean profitability. Take for example the laser. Although the laser was developed in the 1950s and ’60s by two Russians (who received the Nobel Prize for inventing it), it wasn’t until an American scientist Charles Townes sold a patent to a business that the technology became profitable. Along with this, many businesses were born and with it, many jobs were created.

For this reason alone it is not astonishing that science as a way of acquiring competent intellectual and practical mastery over events should be a perennial subject for attentive study. But however this may be, the record of reflection on the nature of society, its impact on scientific inquiry and its significance for human life goes back to the beginnings of theoretical science in ancient Kemet; and several notable figures in the history of African science and philosophy, like Bagayogo and Karamo, have given serious thought to pertinent issues raised by the science of their day.

What has fascinated many, including the professors of Sankoré, is not only the production of new technology via science, but also the technological or even the commercial differences in the quality of science practiced in various cultures. To use but one such example in modern history is the supposed gap between Russian and American commercial technological achievement.

Many scholars on this subject would admit that there’s little, if any, difference between the scientific achievements of Russia and the US. It will be well-nigh impossible to detect any difference in how both nations have bettered themselves at war – they have achieved dominance in the production of weapons of mass destruction.

However, there is by consensus a marked difference between the two states in how science has been used to achieve economic wealth and power.

In the aforementioned example of the laser, who, for instance, is profiting off lasers today? There isn’t a single Russian company selling lasers on the international market that has any significance at all. On the other hand, Charles Townes who sold his patent to a business is a cult figure in America. The Russians who invented lasers have achieved no such fame—in fact, the story insists that they couldn’t have achieved the fame and the enterprise in the environment in which they lived.

How then were they capable of inventing the laser in the environment in which they lived?

As a matter of consequence, I must clarify the relationship between science and technology, since I have concurrently discussed the two without sufficient distinction. It is true that some technologies predate the science – that is, the systematized knowledge underlying the technology. But when I speak of science I am also alluding to the technology that that science produces, or can produce, and vice versa. One can see why the specific terms have become, by convention, interchangeable in modern history; since the case study I have chosen in Russia and the US are phenoms in recent history – in turning scientific knowledge into technology – the choice can be excused.

The question that organically arises then is: How can the same science produce different results in different societies? Even for our ancestors in Sankoré, the question for Bagayogo arose: “What makes one planet and not the other build a ship?” Even more baffling is how two nations with different cultures are capable of producing the same ship, but only one nation is capable of making an economic enterprise off the technology?

Why is Russian culture relatively able to match America’s excellence in the production of weapons of mass destruction but lag significantly behind America in the use of that science in the production of commercial technology – like television sets and cell phones? How come the Russians can also reach the Moon but have complete amnesia in the use of that technology in the production of commercial goods for large markets?

Russia isn’t a technology backwater—in fact, the culture that supports Russian scientists has made them capable of some of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century. Among their achievements, they invented lasers, did pioneering work on computers, and even came up with the idea of fracking—all of which were later developed and commercialized in other cultures like the US.

Any aisle at a local technology store will reveal shelves that are stocked with computers made in China and Japan and hard drives from Thailand. Likewise, a drive down the street reveals cars made in Germany, Japan and Korea – all nations that stroke America’s hand through investments (both technological and monetary) in the commercialization of products in an increasingly global economy.

But Russia has outsourced no such great global technology in any country. It’s unthinkable that you’d seek out a Russian Lenovo, made in China or make a call on a Russian IPhone whose parts are made in Thailand, or watch a movie on a Russian flat-screen TV that is made in Japan.

Hence, the only defining difference between the aspirations of science and technology in Russia and the US is not even the ongoing inability to turn ideas into technological products, which has not proven to be a profound problem for Russia, but the inability of Russia to invest in its scientific and technological inventions for commercial success.

These facts suggest no qualitative difference in the cultures that produce the science underlying technology. These facts do not bear out any suggestion that Russia cannot produce laptops or cell phones. In fact, Russia can! The American success, however, in commercial technological advancement is not a matter of social construction but rather a matter of the particular use of capital to advance the commercial success of any given scientific and technological invention.

In the Tsarist period in Russian history—particularly in the 19th century, Yablochkov developed electric lights and later left for the more dynamic economies of Western Europe where his lights were bought and were used to illuminate the avenues of Paris and London. That’s how Paris got its nickname—“The City of Lights.”

That Yablochkov found an economy in the West that could support his genius – which was by the way made in Russia – is not complex to comprehend. After the Russian government saw Yablochkov’s success, they persuaded him to come back to Russia—and to do it in Russia. He came back to Russia, started a company, and went bankrupt—he couldn’t find investors. But more important, there was no market! He couldn’t even get the hotel he was living in to install his free lights. They preferred the inexpensive gas lights.

To this point Amir Karamo’s answer to Bagayogo’s question is important. “What makes two nations invent the same ship may be the same animus that drives two blacksmiths to invent the machete.” Now, Karamo insists that “what the machete is used for by one farmer can be markedly different from how another farmer uses a machete.”

So, Karamo re-visited the fundamental question with a profound modification: “What makes one nation produce one more ship, over the other nation? More important, “What makes the blacksmith produce one more machete over the next blacksmith? After the first machete, is it a matter of necessity or is it the availability of the next consumer that drives the production of the next machete?” To couch this in Tsarist language: What made Yablochkov’s invention marketable in France and not Russia?

Still the question can be rephrased: What makes America (or an American company) produce one more laptop, over a Russia that obviously has the science and the technological know-how to make the next laptop but does not? This, in essence, is the fundamental question.

The answers are obvious – the chimera of opportunistic investors and a voracious market.

Yet, the generality incumbent on this answer provides basically nothing to resolve the profound differences in Russian and American commercial technological attainment. The answer provides no solace in pinpointing the origins of the opportunistic investor and the market of voracious consumers in France, which perhaps is necessary for scientific innovation and technological advancement to flourish beyond the first machete, or the first sky-ship!

To illuminate this point, we can examine the economic policies of both countries and survey the way and manner in which either nation has built, or has not built, the environment – of opportunistic investors and a market of voracious consumers – to support commercial technological success. That is, if success means producing technological products for voracious consumers, and making huge sums of profits like Yablochkov did in France. The question remains: Why then were opportunistic investors and the market of voracious consumers absent from Russian society?

The answer is palpable. No economy was built overnight—no opportunistic investor was made overnight and certainly no market of voracious consumers was developed instantaneously. The historicity of economic development of both nations is necessary to illustrate the differences between Russian and American commercial success (or failure) from their scientific and technological innovations.

Communism, which consumed the Russian elite at the pinnacle of Russian influence, is perhaps the culprit. It may have helped the better part of Russian science and innovation, but it seems to have grossly dampened any commercial success Russian technological products could have achieved. Russia’s communist manifesto clearly was not an efficient system for producing the commercial success the Americans have achieved at their craft.

At the same time, to insist that it is a lack of a stable, independent business sector in Russia that prevents the commercial success of Russian innovations is six of the obvious, and half a dozen of the unique historicity. This clairvoyance cannot ignore a piece of transformative history within the same epoch in the US, which propelled America to untold heights in the commercial success of its technological products.

The American Industrial Revolution of the 19th century drastically influenced the American landscape and prepared it for the commercial success of its scientific and technological advancement. Corporations in America began to manufacture goods that had previously been made in the home. Goods were mass produced using machinery instead of people. These advances in manufacturing had major effects on American culture and provided the American government tremendous power.

But all this power was based on proceeds from a free labor system (American slavery), from an acquisition of free land (Native American lands) and free resources (through wars and conquests in the colonies in Africa and Asia), which spurred the production of the wealth of the West. The early American economy was built on slave labor. The Capitol and the White House were built by slaves. President James K. Polk traded slaves from the Oval Office.

The laments about Russia’s inability to turn science into economic gains ring hollow when compared to an America whose wealthy existence was predicated on the free lands of Native Americans, the torture and labor of Black men, the rape of black women, and the sale of black children. An honest assessment of America’s ability to create the environment – the opportunistic investors and the market of voracious consumers – necessary to turn science into technological products reveals the country to be not a nurturer of science and technology but a brutal exploiter of shackled labor and bloody land.

And this enterprise, to create American wealth and hone the many generations of consumers needed to make commerce for technological products to thrive, did not end with slavery. Discriminatory laws malformed the equal burden of citizenship to the unequal distribution of its bounty. These laws reached their apex in the mid-20th century, when the federal government—through housing policies—engineered the American wealth gap leaving money in the hands of white businesses and the federal government.

When we think of western capitalism – opportunistic investors and a voracious consumer base – we picture entrepreneurs, but we should picture pirate flags.

In this sense, it is necessary to always reiterate the impact of unimaginable wealth – religiously acquired, cunningly acquired, racially acquired, and brutally acquired – in the pursuit of the commercialization of scientific and technological products.

Russia did not have this unique providence of history. In the 1950s, Russians developed the technology of fracking, but they couldn’t use it. Later Americans, through wealthy businesses hewn directly from slave plantations and a wealthy government took Russia’s idea, further refined fracking, and 30 years later, American companies were over in Russia—Chevron, Exxon, BP—and teaching the Russians how to successfully do fracking even though the Russians developed the idea.

The same point can be made in America itself. During the American Industrial Revolution, numerous African American inventors had their ideas copied and ripped from them at little to no remuneration, for the furtherance of the American empire.

Even more recently, to appreciate the importance of the maintenance of a market of voracious consumers, Big Pharmaceutical Companies in the US have refused to bring to the market real cures for HIV and AIDS (notably by such scientists as Dr. Sam Chachoua) with the calculation that antiretroviral drugs are more profitable, no matter how unethical.

Suffice it to say that the Russians have also tried their hands at exploitation. For after all, Stalin’s nuclear weapons and his rat race to the Moon with the Americans were launched largely through a brutal period in Russian history – an exploitation of the Russian masses. Still, the Russians achieved nothing on the scale of what the West achieved in exploiting others.

It will be foolhardy to ignore this historicity – in the creation, maintenance and expansion of opportunistic investors and voracious consumers – at the base of any commercial success for scientific and technological advancement. The American Revolution holds sway over its Russian counterpart only in this regard.

Again, when we think of western capitalism – opportunistic investors and a voracious consumer base – we picture entrepreneurs, but we should picture pirate flags.

It is for this reason that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, underscored a new era for Russian geopolitics – that of expanding Russian markets. Obviously, inherent in this new strategy is the need for Russia to create a consumer base necessary for igniting a commercial tradition for Russian technological products in the 21st century. In a way, Russia is now willing to adopt the American market strategy.

However, since the Russians cannot resort to enslaving their own or others, or seizing other people’s lands – maybe they can and probably have to – the only way they can amass the capital to achieve this necessary base of opportunistic investors and voracious consumers that can match the American landscape, is to enrich the 140 million Russians through the mass extraction and sale of its vast oil and gas reserves. Still, Russia must expand its borders for newer markets of voracious consumers for its oil and technological products.

But this move by Russia has been met with an American military intent and trade embargos on keeping the status quo – creating, maintaining and expanding a market of opportunistic investors and more, voracious consumers for American products. Together with NATO, the US is determined to keep the Russians at bay and out of its envisioned markets, even in the East – Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Ukraine. This has resulted in a freeze in international relations – a new Cold War – and an unprecedented drop in oil prices.

The unique confluence of these ingredients – investors and markets – necessary for the creation and growth of technological products rests carefully within the bosom of the creation, maintenance and expansion of the Wealth of a Nation. A nation with a modicum of wealth like Russia can invest in science all it wants, but without the necessary markets of voracious consumers, there can be no technological advancement of the stature needed to keep Yablochkov at home.

America has the wealth – garnered through centuries of exploitation of others and their lands – to invest in new technology. America has the wealth to maintain and expand a market base, or a consumer base, for its products, and America has the wealth to protect from Russia the markets for its products, through a sophisticated military and a national propaganda machine.

A cursory look at America’s innumerable military drones all over Africa reveals this indefatigable reality. A cursory look at the new trade deals – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the 51-nation Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) – reveals a reality in sync with the creation, maintenance and expansion of markets. This is the only way to ensure a constant supply of opportunistic investors and a voracious consumer base!

Taken together, these represent a mixture of necessary and precipitating conditions which alone underlay the moral, aesthetic and entrepreneurial difference between America (the West) and Russia in the commercialization of technological know-how.

In ending however, the voluminous talk about the benefits of bucolic markets, or the desultory necessities of mother nature’s call for innovation, in its most general terms does nothing but conceal a lack of perspective towards the chimera – opportunistic investors and a voracious masses – unique to the American Industrial Revolution and hence the commercial success of its technological products, which merits as close a judgment as a similar lack of perspective towards all ingenuity of the human spirit.

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My name is Narmer Amenuti (Dances With Lions). I am first a Cultural Theorist and second an Educationalist. Both of which require that I remain an Investigative Historian. All of which lead me to my preferred profession: a Culture Critic, from the Sankoré School (of Critical Theory). I am East African by birth; South African by training; West African by choice - all of which make me, African by nature. I am also a student of Ancient African Rhythms and a passionate dilettante of Science. ~ Success Corrupts; Usefulness Exalts! ~ Narmer!

65 COMMENTS

  1. Mohammed Bagayogo once prodded his colleague with the question: “If you stepped onto a planet and saw a huge ship traversing the sky, what would you say about this planet?”

    Today’s Africans would say: That means there’s God!

  2. Narmer Amenuti you are right but the American will tell you, politico-economic practice careless of morality. As the school of applied science, high profit…generated from investment is their priority

    The teacher in my childhood days use to say being a pure scientist carry no profit, you could die very poor but remembered in books like Enstein and Isaac Newton hahahaha but for the applied scientist they are the ones, who makes the money by the application of the works of pure scientist but they have no honour and prestige as pure scientist.

    This was a supposed guidelines to make the kids of 30years ago to make a choice of going in for a good name with legacy or riches. Implying being into academics or to the Business world. Heeeey

    Superb work, Bravo.

  3. Perhaps your most interesting article.

    My friend KKB had a post about this very topic a few days ago. Two issues (I think) explain the phenomenon you have described:

    (A) the first is communism. Communism had and has deleterious effects on scientific activity. In as much as the USSR was interested in the pursuit of scientific knowledge this interest was always one-directional: does it help to advance the reason of state? If it does not (that is, if the state can function without it) it is ignored or limited. (Here the irrational limitation of computers and printers in the USSR is a classic example). On the other hand, if it can be shown to advance the “reason of the stats” another question is asked? Can it be used without endangering the reason of the state? (Here North Korea’s and to a lesser degree China’s internet policies come to mind). Thus to the extent that the USSR permitted and advanced certain scientific activities this was always done with certain restrictions, generally these restrictions proved more draconian than those found say in western Europe. Communism thus restricted scientific activity to those activities which advanced the “reason of the state”. And as such activities are always by nature expensive, they required extra-scientific or ideological justifications (the rapid industrialization under Stalin required forced labour and so forced labour was used)

    That said, the effects I have described above are not the only ones. Scientific activity as social activity is subject to certain inescapable praxeological facts. Namely individual incentives. And this is where the second point comes in.

    (B) IP or intellectual property laws. IP is logically indefensible and simply vile. Russia as well as the United States both have pretty vile IP laws. The difference between the two countries (at least during the last century) was that the United States had the market mechanism and Russia had a pseudo-market. You have written about market factor in your OP (albeit from a left-wing point of view) but you are mostly on point

    It would be nice if one day the whole world woke up to the distorting and evil effects of IP

    • In what way can “individual incentives” be upped without IP laws? Can you think of a way IP can be structured so that it does not become “logically indefensible and simply vile?”

    • As they cannot be defended they should be done away with. No argument in support of IP holds water and I know pretty all of them. The products of intellectual activity are non-scarce and therefore do not qualify as “property”. IP is simply negative servitude under another name.

    • In Russia for example, if I designed an inferior product and patented it (a product that was practically useless) and if X designed a genuinely useful product which used the same or similar principles, and did not launch a patent in Russia, then I could sue X for infringement. It’s a silly state of affairs.

  4. My takeaway is the demonstration of superb synthesis in identifying and linking the opportunistic investors and a voracious market.key conditions for turning scientific / technologiacal knowledge into commercial success – opportunistic investors and a voracious market. The lessons of history still plays out today with an an empire whose reason for domination is to find cheap labour and markets . my curiousity is with china which ia obviously not a great scientific society but instead took the road down the commercialisation of technology. Is there an explanation for how they wert able to chose this path and still thrive without being an imperial power ?

    • China decided to open its markets up for foreign direct investment from the US especially and Europe, even to the detriment of the equal humanity of its labor force. This was buoyed by the unseemly profits US technological companies stood to gain and gained. In this way, China was able to suck in technology for a science it did not create. With its return on investment, China invested in its students to travel abroad and obtain higher and higher degrees especially in the STEM fields in the US and Europe.

      With a population of nearing 1.4 billion, China alone is massive. The domestic market was enough to sour an economic growth that would catapult into the corridors of super powers like the US and Russia. Still, China needs outside markets – its recent escapades in Africa come to mind. And with this the US is there in Djibouti to challenge it.

    • Kwasi Adarkwa back in 1920 von Mises produced a critism of socialism so conclusive that it put Böhm-Bawerk’s refutation of marxism (I refer to his work regarding the transformation problem) to the pale. What did von Mises show? Simply that non arbitrary calculation using money within a socialist commonwealth is impossible (in other words without market prices it is impossible to allocate resources rationally). I talked above of the praxeological fact of incentives and its role in the development and commercialisation of ideas. This is the case (among other things) because the labour theory of value is false.

      China had to open their market. Comrade Deng admits this countless times in his speeches. And they had to because they were retrogressing fast. Productivity was low, human capital was low, life expectancy was low, starvation was high, malinvestment was high.

      Hitherto China has benefitted massively from horizontal globalisation and it has benefitted despite its embrace of corporatism and the pseudo-market it operates. Ironically the Chinese have benefitted from technologies they did not invent because of their flagrant disregard for “intellectual property”.

    • It is ironic because the socialist theory of value leads precisely to modern IP law (actually it is the origin of this evil)

    • I am trying to come out with a publication that actually address the gab between the Pan-African difinition of Socialist agenda which deviate a little bit from the Euro-socialist doctrine. If such is not clearly addressed, such intellectual conflict is bound to happen between Ayelam Valentine Agaliba and Kwasi Adarkwa it is this, when I identified gave the way for me to support CPP party in Ghana.

    • Tweneboah …. But pan-africanism (if I may digress) is not even a coherent ideology and neither is “African socialism”. Read any one of Sekou Toure’s speeches and he has four or five ideas going at the same time. Only Nkrumah (who was by far more intelligent) was consistant and even he was a Leninist.

      Anyway, it would be interesting to read your ideas. I was an academic Marxist for a few years and I am a philosopher, so you will have a captured audience.

    • I heard Greenstreet speak yesterday and later some guys discussing why CPP isnt doing well.. I think putting this across will help CPP

    • ou see Ayelam Valentine Agaliba Pan-Africanism, not coherent idealogy, you will be right to some extent but not entirely correct.

      It was in developmental stages as conference were launch with different papers published to build a coherent idealogical ground from Garvey to Du Bois et.al however the social-political motive of Pan-Africanism was born from the intellectual contribute of the membership not owned by Nkrumah but it strict and discipline to implementation than other comrades made him the father to the idealogy somehow.

      Even though Nkrumah was Leninist cum Marxist never made Pan-African idealogy Marxist/Leninist school of thought but may have influence his style of thinking and execution in an individual called Nkrumah

    • To quote Sekou Toure’s speech to discredit Pan-African idealogy will be 100% wrong and it comes with a reason because they betrayed the fate which all of them shared, that is why Nkrumah easily suffered the Coup plot in his own country. And the cause of the betrayal call for a new publication of itself which there is a publication in Pan-African circle that better explain the coup plot eminating from both France and the Anglo-American CIA;

      which another volume of thesis would explain the purpose of the coup plot just for the establishment of neo-colonialism which Nkrumah was the threat to that ambition, which was later achieved to represent the direct old slave trade

  5. This analytical piece highlights the homogeneity of the West and the cohesive strategic approach of a people who originate more or less from a band of related former barbarian tribes in northern Europe, and sharing virtually one language and religion and political worldview(despite occasionally waging bloody wars on one another), and united behind one IDEA only-world domination through ‘trade’. The ‘trade’ has evolved. So many hard and soft tools all aim to enable this trade. Your piece also for me magnifies the disarray of the rest of us humanity, naturally not united behind any single idea but defined by diversity, which is being turned into chaos by the transplantation wholesale of western representative democracy. The Russians and Chinese are convinced that only authoritarian regimes can give them that solidity to hold off the west, which made most of its conquests of exploitation under autocratic kings. Otherwise China and Russian risked begging for spots under the western umbrella like Korea, Japan etc, and China could have split into three or four fractious countries by now. Given that western arms dealers were on the coast of Africa fueling an arms race and selling more arms and triggering an endless supply of slaves in the process, your reexamination of the underlying roots of western enterprises reinforces the need for us Africans to start believing in one simple, common idea and goal, and redesign the environment for it, instead of commissioning Confucius institutes all over the place, before we fail to learn the lessons of history.

    • Absolutely. Africa must begin to harness her ideas and streamline her approach to ho she relates and interacts with the rest of the world. Or, we shall be taken apart!

  6. For me money and profit are means and not an ends-power of definition is the ultimate. Your piece, though brilliant, seem to have accepted the definition of “success” in commercial terms, which is a problem. However, why this commercial success works for America, to me, lies in the analysis of the power differential and power dynamics. In this regard, I think Russia’s lack of commercial success has to be tied to the fact that monetary definition and control, both of which are also tied to who has the ability and freedom to use violence without consequences is on America’s side. Hence communism and other factors you mentioned are all accessories to the actual factor, which is America’s possession of the power of definition and its therein inherent ability and freedom to use force to get its technology patronised. In contemporary terms, we have to as assume that since with the power of definition of even utterance is on its side, America has beaten the aura, soul and spirit of anyone on this earth.
    With a broken aura, soul and spirit, all Russian scientists themselves start work with the inherent believe in them that to make it big, they will have to go to America. And by so doing, they concede defeat and give in to America’s hegemony, what in colloquial terms would be seen as marketing prowess. I think Russians did understand hegemony very well and knew they had to think beyond economic success to have commercial success. But the Bolshevik believed they could reach a similar status through socialism, which turned out badly. Inherent accessories we also can’t ignore, such as the fact that the trade or vehicular language is the American one and not the Russian one, which weakens the Russian side also contribute. You have also mentioned how important instruments of power such as law are tools of ensuring this power differential continues. so I stronly think we simply have redefine what success means and America will mean nothing within a few hours because they place onus of the so called market (hegemony) on Nietzsche’s will to power and Hegel’s claim that only the rational alone counts. And if you look at socialism it aspires to communism and capitalism is about now.

    • Yes, the normative that is commercial success, in the sense I have described it – opportunistic investors and a voracious consumer base – is a western market hegemony.

  7. KKB like i wrote yestersay science to the extent that it is contructed, is social activity. However its conclusions – the conclusions of scientific theories – to the extent that they are true or false are always objective. The failure to capitalise on their scientific works (lets call this dividends) is the residue of 70 years of communism and draconian IP laws in the name of national security.

  8. Is it not interesting, folks, to note that Russia is relatively able to match the ‘West’s excellence in the production of sophisticated military ware- vessels, aircrafts, tankers..name them- but lags significantly behind them(West) in many other areas of science and technology? How come, I sometimes ask myself, are the North Koreans able to produce relatively good nuclear physicists but suck in other aspects of science and technology? Look also at the facility with which insurgent groups in the Middle East are able to produce simple, but deadly explosives and practically, nothing else ? Do these facts, if true as stated , not confirm the suggestion that science itself is socially constructed?

    • For the creation, mmmmm, not entirely. Just curious minds trying to understand how our world works. Some scientific discoveries are usually not applied in real life until some years after their discovery.

      • I hear you, but I think I am right. Thoughts are not created or arrived at in a vacuum; our environment (spatio-temporal) determine our interests, directly and indirectly. That aside, we think in the categories, concepts and traditions of our culture, which in this case , may extend beyond our immediate ethnic and geographical confines.

  9. Jacob Bronowski once said: “Science is the acceptance of what works and the rejection of what does not. That needs more courage than we might think.”

    Atiga Atingdui has tackled a similar premise before, positing a contradiction in terms that the heights achieved by Kemet in Science and Architecture do not square with their use of bow and arrows at war!

    However, your premise here is a bit disingenuous. I think, although you fully accept the impact of the environment on Science, you fail to see the economies of scale that encourage ‘what works and the rejection of what does not,’ especially in the West.

    We cannot ignore the impact of free labor (slavery), free land and resources (through wars and conquests), in the production of the wealth of the West. In this sense, you must recount the impact of unimaginable wealth – cunningly acquired, brutally acquired, religiously acquired, racially acquired, etc. – on the pursuit of Science and Technology.

    Science in any nation and the nation’s Wealth work hand-in-hand. Even Kemet could have only developed her Science and Technology through some acquisition of wealth in the Nile Valley. Still, ‘the acceptance of what works and the rejection of what does not,’ depends in the perpetuation of the Wealth of the empire or the protection of that wealth against a hostile nation.

    So yes, Science has something to do with the environment, in as much as we live in it, but everything to do with Wealth, the creation and the protection of that Wealth thereof!

  10. To complete my square, I might add that the definition of Wealth, or the definition of the Wealth of the Nation, is the defining challenge of every empire. That definition dictates the pursuit and protection of that Wealth, and hence the Science and the Technology, that is: the acceptance of what works and the rejection of what does not in pursuing and protecting that Wealth.

    • what are you driving at, bro? Forget about the West for the time being? can you explain the source of the differences in the culture of science as found in Korea and Japan, and lately China, on the one hand, and on the other, as found in Russia and North Korea?

    • You used the statement: “I sometimes ask myself, are the North Koreans able to produce relatively good nuclear physicists but suck in other aspects of science and technology?” I understood your use of ‘other aspects of science and technology’ here to mean Western Scientific and Technological achievements – some of which North Korea cannot boast of. Or no?

    • No, that is not what I mean. I am talking about the fact that science in the two countries is skewed towards some particular areas of science to a near exclusion of some others. Economy of scale is not the reason( Russia would surpass some Western countries on that score). The argument is that Russia and North Korea have very good scientists but they seem to be concentrated in a few specialities.

    • In addition, you can’t possibly forget the US’s involvement in Japan after WWII and in Korea against North Korea. Plus Japan plundered China for a while. China has also, more recently, benefited from a formidable US foreign direct investment as well. Western Europe and the US are much the same. There is no difference, that is, they share their science. Russia and North Korea’s scientists are concentrating on how to protect themselves from NATO! Plus these nations do not have the same access to the resources that the West has. They do not have the same capital even to start with. The first A-Bomb was built by hand in Russia, while in the West, it was built with Computers. We cannot overlook the historicity of these nations in their creation of wealth!

    • But then you are corroborating my argument that science is a product of a people’s environment . That is all that I am saying.

    • No. I am saying that Wealth ( the pursuit and maintenance) does. I admit that environment, for the fact that we live in it, informs any nation’s definition of Wealth. Wealth is specific but the general term, ‘environment’, I posit, adds nothing of value to the understanding of how Science and Technology are pursued. That’s like saying Atoms are at the base of Water, hence it’s atoms, not Water that is necessary for life on Earth

    • ou may want to quarrel with the subjective use of ‘environment’ here to capture a wide range of issues prevailing in or influencing major developments in a geographical space. But it would not once again disprove the essence of my argument that science itself is directed by events and attitudes outside itself, and that this explains the differences in the types of science prevailing in different places on this planet

    • There is no quarrel. Of course not. In ending however, the debate about the source of a National animus in Science and Technology in its most general ‘environmental’ terms does nothing but conceal a lack of perspective towards the unique manifestations of a few consciously chosen ‘cultural factors’ in defining National Wealth, which merits as close a judgment as a similar lack of perspective towards all anima of a people.

  11. Monarchies, under whatever formal guise they may come, have always been great at grandeur and monuments, even if it means penury and starvation for their people. Imperial democracies cannot afford to ignore the people’s everyday needs for too long. Even as they pursue their military and imperial projects, they need their people’s taxes and votes–something the North Korean monarchy need not worry about. It inevitably affects the kinds of investments and priorities they pursue: science and technology for regime needs and grandeur, not for the everyday needs of the people. When America invests in military R&D it buys political support for it by ensuring that the investment also produces useful and popular civilian and consumer uses and spillovers (e.g, the Internet). The political system alters the incentives and priorities.

  12. Interesting thread. In my estimation, and both H Kwasi Prempeh and Narmer Amenuti touched on this, the production of weaponry is largely driven by the demand of the State. The countries you enumerated are countries with very large military budgets, as a consequence sophisticated weaponry are produced. That is one thing they have in common. However, where they diverge is in the area of free markets. The US has a very vibrant free market that allows for massive investment in R&D to satisfy demand for technological innovation by a strong economy. Innovation in medicine, agriculture, engineering, physics, chemistry etc etc are spurred by the market economy and not so much by government demand. This to me explains why certain economic midgets like North Korea do well in weaponry production but produce very little in other fields of science.

  13. I am wont to accept that one of the means to achieving the Creation, Pursuit and Maintenance of Wealth by a Nation has to do with Free Markets – the US way. Another is by looting. Yet another is through genocide. Still, another is through slavery.

    Stalin alone, stuck with the threat of a US fast working on a Bomb, and a West which had threatened him with it, after WWII forced – not through the free market – the production of a bomb by the barrel of the gun on his own people.

    On the other hand, the US built the wealth (the Capital) to fund the Manhattan project and several other NIH projects (Internet) through slavery and the brutal acquisition of Native American lands. Here we find the roots of American wealth and democracy—in the for-profit destruction of the most important asset available to any people, the land and labor. The destruction was not incidental to America’s rise; it facilitated that rise. By erecting a slave society, America created the economic foundation for its great experiment in democracy and the free market.

    No other nation has had that unique providence of history.

    • It depends on what a country’s priorities are. Cuba had one of the best trained doctors. Secondly, the black market for military technology could also be a factor and fuel the high demand by rogue states and non-state actors to acquire technology which they build upon to advance their own technology. Some of these have huge defence budget.

    • Archibald Twum Prempeh, you mention Cuba. That is another unique nation suffering more than 6 decades of US-Western economic embargoes. There is absolutely no way, with such economic embargoes that Cuba would have developed the same level of Science and Technology. The rogue states you mention, together with the non-state actors, spend their Wealth on Technology no matter how they may have acquired them. In the same way the US still uses (and pays for) Russian (a rogue state?) platforms to lunch large rockets to space stations. US still buys rocket engines from Russia. And of course Russia buys other technologies from the West. These deals, Black market or not, can be couched in the science of Comparative or Competitive Advantage – which means you don’t waste your wealth on things you cannot make easily.

      • You have a point but the black market for military technology contribute to some of these factors. Secondly, military might plays a critical role in the doctrine of sphere of influence. It’s purely a geostrategic issue.

      • Narmer Amenuti: again it is not the LEVEL of science , but the TYPE . Cuba , in spite of the sanctions, managed to develop a relatively advanced medical science. what explains that?

      • Cuba had very little wealth as a result of the embargo. She decided to invest her meager wealth in Healthcare. Again, the advances in Science and Technology are dependent on the Wealth of the Nation (and the choices made by the leaders of the nation with that wealth thereof). If Cuba had more wealth, Castro and Co. would have led that tiny nation to unimaginable heights in other fields. But again, the US used its wealth, through the funding of a superior military industrial complex, to suppress Cuba and hence Cuba’s advancement in other fields.

      • Let us also bring this home to Africa: “In fact, Africa has had difficulty industrializing because its leaders drank the Kool-Aid of free markets and free trade proffered by the World Bank, the IMF, and the best university economics departments over the last 30 years. Of particular harm has been the insistence that African countries forswear the use of industrial policies such as temporary trade protection, subsidized credit, preferential taxes, and publicly supported research and development. As a result, African countries have abandoned these key tools, which they could have used to build up their domestic manufacturing sectors.

        Free market advocates told African countries that such “state intervention” in the economy usually does more harm than good, because governments shouldn’t be in the business of trying to “pick winners,” and that this is best left to the market.

        Africans were told to simply privatize, liberalize, deregulate, and get the so-called economic fundamentals right. The free market would take care of the rest.

        But this advice neglects the actual history of how rich countries themselves have effectively used industrial policies for 400 years, beginning with the U.K. and Europe and ending with the “four tigers” of East Asia and China. This inconvenient history contradicted free market maxims and so has been largely stripped from the economics curriculum in most universities. By now, two or three generations of students have unlearned it.”

  14. KKB …. there are two issues: the first is your failure to distinguish between science and technology; the second is a much more subtle point, but here it is: science is “socially constructed” only in the sense that it is a socially directed activity otherwise, and this point is crucial, the truth-values of scientific theories are not socially constructed: they are either true objectively (in the sense that they correspond with/to the facts or they are false). I will not bore you too much with arcane language, but this is why it is often said that the truth/falsity of (general) scientific theories are spatio-temporally invariant: they apply law-like throughout space and time without exceptions. Now concerning the distinction between science and technology: a simple way to illustrate this would be the historical preparation of alcohol. If you think about it, it becomes obvious that men understood the preparation of alcohol long before they understood the underlying chemistry or physics. What does this means? Only that technology often predates science however once a technology is learned it is almost impossible to loose it (there are uneducated men in kumasi who will build you a kalasnikov if you can pay). But my last point raises the question “what is science?”. Science, I tell you, is a loose system of continuously falsified conjectures. The remarkable behaviours you describe in your OP only underlie the fact that humans are problem oriented entities and given scarce means will allocate and rank resources according to their immediate and long term needs (some call this opportunity cost)

    • I am driving . Will be back home in about two hours. For now, I would only ask you to check your post for a few false logical assumptions/ claims. Eg. The suggestion that illiterates ( mechanics at magazine ) don’t do science. Not true. Technology is the child of science, and is hardly separable from science in many contexts.

    • KKB it is just not alcohol or the building of guns by uneducated men. The history of humanity is replete with examples: men built trains before the understood the mathematics and physics underlying the mechanics of engines. Similarly, men understood vaccination before they understood why vaccines work. Even today, we do not understand why paracetamol works or its overall effects on the body.

      In other words, men tinker with the world given the tools available to them and given their own ingenuity. If they happen on something, and usually by accident, they propose conjectures to explain their success or non-success. Some other men, perhaps driven by greed, jealousy or interest, might then formulate counter proposals or experiments and proceed to test said conjectures. This entire process men call science.

    • South Africa under apartheid was also pretty formidable. But in addition to the liberty of the state to inject large amounts of resources into a military industrial complex without a democratic backlash, which point has been made severally by commentators above, we perhaps also have to mention a culture’s innate disposition to a scientistic worldview, which may have profound implications for its technical capacity. I note in that respect that Albania, Eritrea, Ethiopia under the Derg, and quite a number of totalitarian regimes have not been very effective in the production of sophisticated weaponry.

      • Technological transfers play a huge role in all cases, I think. The mastery of the science behind the technology may sometimes take decades or in the case of Africa with respect to westphalian democratic institutions centuries.

      • You think if the Ethiopian Marxists had the absorption medium at hand, their Eastern allies wouldn’t have transferred weapon making tech?

      • Ayelam Valentine Agaliba, in the theoretical physics domain, science IS ALWAYS behind the technology. Experiments to validate many highly entrenched scientific theories are actually pending. The Dogons also had scientific notions of the cosmos without the means to harness the technologies implicit in these notions, such as spectral telescopes. You may want to take a critical look at the chrono-logic you propose.

        • Thank you, and I will.

          But it strikes me that the technology science distinction is not only true of/for physics but also of/for economic science and sociology (although this is just speculation on my part). For example, let us take what is sometimes called the quantity theory of money. This theory as you may know is very old indeed but it was not until Hume that social scientists began to appreciate the link between the hoading of gold and inflation and even then Hume was not exactly right. We had to wait for another two centuries before Menger and the whole business cycle school. And yet even today economists have fundamental disagreements about the exact nature of economic theory and yet they have nearly mastered the technology of creating and regulating the supply of money.

  15. Mentor, this issue in my humble opinion needs a historical perspective especially with regard to Russia, in order for us to understand why they seem to “match” the west in terms of military technology and yet lag behind almost everywhere else. Ever since the Tatar Yoke, Russian rulers perhaps with the exception of the reign of Peter The Great have been very insular. In fact they have always placed survival above all else. This is understandable given the innumerable invasions by western forces beginning with the Swedes. This,together with their harsh environmental conditions has driven them to seek the technology that will fend off any more invasions. Its about survival.

  16. I think we complicate our understanding of this. There is nothing magical about this.

    Kwame, I am not sure why you think Russia lags SIGNIFICANTLY behind the West in many areas of Science and Technology. I am not sure what that means. We are exposed to more commercial outcomes in the West than in the east but has nothing to do with contribution or one bring behind or ahead.

    It is critical to understand that development is fundamentally an outcome of problem-solving where the problems being solved addresses what that society prioritizes. That naturally implies a certain resource allocation to make it happen. It just so happens that capitalism as a system of resource allocation does a better job in enabling Sergei to bring his prowess to the West and US to buy Russian rockets to fly space ships.

    You are probably thinking what to make of Ghana? Right?

  17. There is nothing inherent in free markets or the form of government that automatically generates ‘useful’ R&D. Private firms will not innovate when the social cost of such inventions exceeds the gain. This is mostly the case with inventions with large spillovers. That is why in highly innovative economies the government plays a major role by pouring subsidizes into these markets. Market institutions like property rights matter but an efficient and forward-looking government is sufficient.

  18. Nana Kwaku Mahatma, we have countries like Iran that have allocated substantial resources to various nuclear deterrent and missile programs but have failed to make substantial progress. Compare their case to that of Pakistan and India. There are factors deeper than just resource allocation to R&D.

  19. That is why I am of the view that a countries R and D first flows from its priorities , but most importantly, how its outcomes (technologies) are commercialized to the benefit of all beyond the necessary utility gained by the state. I think what is missing from the situation of Iran, North Korea and probably Russia is their inability to commercialise their military research for civilian gains basically due to the nature of their economic structure there limiting the potential gains from such investment to only military infrastructure @Bright

  20. I wasn’t talking about Iran’s ability to ‘commercialise’ its state-sponsored R&D. I was reacting to the original insight in KKB’s post: why progress in one technical domain fails to spill over into other domains, even within the same economic system. An example is Japan’s hard time in producing truly ground-breaking mobile phones. I was trying to generalise that insight by looking at another area: surmounting high technical barriers. I used the example of Pakistan’s success in building a nuclear bomb pretty quickly with China’s help, and contrasted it with the example of Iran’s failure despite similar support from Russia and North Korea.

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