One of the most terrible customs that North-American culture
transmitted to the world is the literal belief in certain scientific
metaphors that, entering current language, end up deforming the perception
of reality and perverting all human relations.
Arrested by the apparent credibility of the terms, people acquire new
patterns of judgement that – reputed as capable of giving them
the correct measure of the world – in truth install them in a
kingdom of fantasy and pure nonsense.
I started to think about this when, in Bloomington, Indiana, realizing
that I was taking my second successive cup of coffee with the intention
of sweetening my palate for a cigar, a local citizen observed that my
organism was fond of a certain quantity of caffeine, being now unable
to live without it.
- A moment, I answered – Americans drink caffeine. I drink coffee.
- And what is the difference?
- The difference is that, if caffeine as such served as antipasto to
a cigar, I could drink tea, which sometimes has it in greater quantities.
However, I abominate tea.
- This is subjective, protested my interlocutor. Biochemically, coffee
and tea are the same thing.
- With all due respect, my friend: subjective is the distinction between
the biochemical aspect and the rest of my person. After all, it is not
my biochemistry that drinks coffee: it is I.
Biochemically coffee can be tea, but it does not have
the same flavor, the same aroma, nor the same evocations of childhood,
the same taste of those long evenings in the country, by the fire, listening
to ghost stories. No Englishman will trade for coffee his tea, under
the allegation that it is also caffeine. And the Berbers would think
it ridiculous to drink tea instead of that bitterly dense coffee, with
grounds on the bottom.
- These are merely personal and cultural differences.
- Yes, but it is for the seeking of these differences, and not only
for biochemical effect, that a person drinks coffee or tea. If the important
part was the biochemical effect, these differences that you call cultural
would have no reason for being, and the drinks could be changed without
people being aware of it.
- Why, then, don’t the caffeine addicts accept decaffeinated coffee?
- First, because it does not taste like coffee, second because it is
written in the label: “Decaffeinated”, what means that it
is drunk for the fear of dying, not for the joy of living.
I was not able to convince my American friend.
But, even if the conversation were not about drinking, it would be the
same. An American, when is holding a naked woman, believes himself to
be an animal in search of an orgasm. This effect could be obtained more
easily through manual or electronic means, if you did not count with
these “subjective differences” that separate in our eyes,
for example, Brooke Shields from Betty Friedman.
The belief that the scientific point of view is more valid, more truthful
than the personal motivations with which we explain our actions spontaneously
has been incorporated to the current mentality to such extent that today
it substitutes direct perception, depreciated as prejudices from old,
backward country bumpkins. The Americanization of world culture lets
us predict that this habit will contaminate all the peoples, all the
cultures. It will become in the end decisive criterion in public debates
and private disputes between husband and wife, father and son, where
each one, instead of expressing his feelings, more and more will rationalize
them with fake arguments of scientific origin.
The problem with this is that all of it comes from a fetishistic view
– and this, truly, profoundly backward – of what science
is. The point of view of a determined science about reality is always
a partial and hypothetical cut of it, which only has value for the limited
proposals of this science, never for the generality of knowledge. Even
more so because sciences are many, and no one knows how to articulate
the points of view of all of them to create, above common reality, a
supra-reality that is more truthful. Biochemically, drinking coffee
or tea is a lack in caffeine, but from the economic point of view it
is a pattern of consumption determined by a marketing practice that
is totally detached from the actual composition of these substances.
Anthropologically, it can be a cultural habit that would resist even
negative propaganda (like, by the way, happens to smoking). No one can
synthesize, in a single theory, the biochemistry, economy, and anthropology
of coffee or tea; however, this synthesis is precisely what each one
of us innocently does, without being able to express it in words, each
time we drink, with pleasure, our coffee or our tea. Here we find ourselves
in real life, the Lebenswelt in Husserl, to which science –
each science or a group of them – can only refer to in an allusive
and indirect way. They are impotent to give account of a single concrete
fact, with all the density of the inseparable determinations that constitute
it. We see then that the old American love for the hard facts has become
today only rhetoric pretending. That it now hides a secret devotion
to sophisticated and artificial theories and schemes, nostalgia of a
teenage mental omnipotence and preview of the Brave New World
in which we will live in the 21st century.