The New York Times has delved into what might be called the scientific side of US financier Jeffrey Epstein’s cultural empire, which for all its apparent luminous rationality appears to be as somber and disturbing as the rest of his actions in the realm of sex trafficking.
Among the scientists Epstein recruited to at least listen to his own pseudo-scientific ideas were some true luminaires: Murray Gell-Mann, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist; Stephen Hawking; evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould; neurologist Oliver Sacks; molecular engineer George M. Church; and another Nobel laureate and MIT theoretical physicist, Frank Wilczek.
The New York Times explains: “The lure for some of the scientists was Mr. Epstein’s money. He dangled financing for their pet projects. Some of the scientists said that the prospect of financing blinded them to the seriousness of his sexual transgressions, and even led them to give credence to some of Mr. Epstein’s half-baked scientific musings.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
An attractive object or proposal that leads people to do something against their will and their sense of what is right and good. Alternatively, an attractive object or proposal that justifies their doing what they always wanted to do and which they think is right and good for them (however bad it may be for the rest of the world).
Epstein apparently had the same success at recruiting world-famous scientists as he did 15-year-old girls to flatter his narcissism, comfort his sense of empowerment and satisfy his libido. We learn, for example, that Epstein “did not hide his interest in tinkering with genes — and in perpetuating his own DNA.” One might imagine that people with a scientific mind could be wondering about how reliable a wealthy potential patron with such ideas might be or even how compromising it might be for them to associate with him.
The lure Epstein used was the same for the young ladies and the scientists: money and glitter. With hindsight, it might be easier to forgive the greed of the young ladies with vague career prospects who were anguished about how they might earn a living and make their way in the world than the already celebrated scientists.
This scandal should lead those interested in science and research, or any other activity purportedly focused on a quest for truth alone, to ask a number of serious questions, like any of these:
1) Do world-famous scientists really need money controlled by private citizens (rather than research institutes) to fund their sincere research?
2) If not, does their flattery of wealthy private citizens reflect their penchant for greed?
3) If the answer to the first question is yes, can those same scientists be tempted to engage in insincere research for the sake of funding their sincere research?
4) Can money alone induce world-famous scientists — to say nothing of those who are less celebrated — to conduct research into crazy ideas, thus publicly helping to justify those ideas in the eyes of the public?
5) If the answer to the previous question is “yes” or even “sometimes,” shouldn’t the scientific and non-scientific media not only show a greater degree of reasonable skepticism when reporting on any funded research project, but also always seek to identify the source of the funding and eventually investigate the motives?
6) Finally, are famous scientists subject to the same vices as other celebrated people: narcissism, megalomania and greed?
Any sincere psychologist would probably answer “yes” to the last question. Scientists are, after all, human. But they are also members — even prominent members — of a society that has increasingly elevated wealth, fame, influence and power as values with far more weight than the notion of truth. They cannot be indifferent to the hyperreal, fabricated world in which they live, an illusory theater of celebrity antics and anti-intellectual provocation promoted by both the entertainment and news media (news has become entertainment), a hyperreal world that transforms knowledge into consumable illusions that comfort or consolidate power without even having to appear as propaganda. The scientists can — and in many cases do — remain aloof and indifferent to protect their integrity, but they quickly learn that such an attitude will most likely diminish their standing in their profession and the community, threatening their sources of funding.
In the early 2000s, Jeffrey Epstein began pitching his great idea for the future of humanity to his scientific friends. The New York Times reports: “Mr. Epstein’s goal was to have 20 women at a time impregnated at his 33,000-square-foot Zorro Ranch in a tiny town outside Santa Fe.”
He explained his idea for the regeneration of the human race to three famous scientists, who now admit that they felt the idea was “far-fetched and disturbing.” Though this should have set off alarm bells, tellingly the scientists weren’t disturbed enough to counter his plan or discourage him. The New York Times sums up their reasoning: “There is no indication that it would have been against the law.” In other words, from a scientific point of view, if it ain’t illegal, it ain’t immoral.
We can only speculate about their actual thought processes. We might expect that any respectable and conscientious scientist would have the intellectual curiosity to wonder about who these women might be and how they could be recruited to bear the children of one man in the name of genetic optimization. Or did they see Epstein as a model human being, a paragon of intelligence or accomplishment, possibly following the popular logic of, “if he’s rich he must be smart”?
Didn’t they wonder what might be the real motive behind Epstein’s project? They certainly should have noticed that Epstein lacked the methodological culture of true scientists. And had they never heard of the eugenics movement, a major trend in the US a century ago, totally discredited since? And even if they forgot what everyone else seems to know about Adolf Hitler’s eugenics program, Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” (1964) should have reminded them of its logic.
For those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s political satire, the eponymous doctor, a former Nazi and expert on nuclear warfare, suggested to the US president that, in the face of an imminent nuclear winter provoked by a mad American general, the political and scientific elite — including all the men in the room — should resign themselves to letting the rest of humanity be exterminated while they take refuge in secure mineshafts.
In their elite subterranean civilization, there would be 10 women for each man, with the specification given by the methodical doctor that “the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics, which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.” This immediately meets with the approval of the politicians and military men present, including the Russian ambassador. The scientific goal to justify this call to duty will be to repopulate the Earth over the century it takes to weather the nuclear storm.
Kubrick crafted his satirical comedy at the height of the Cold War and released his film in 1964. The themes he satirized are still present at the core of US culture today, proving that satire may entertain the intellectuals, but it won’t influence the behavior of the politicians satirized.
Just last week, President Donald Trump officially pulled the US out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan with the Soviet Union, seriously increasing the chance of a nuclear conflict. At the same moment, the media revealed not just Jeffrey Epstein’s mad Strangelovian eugenics program, but also the fact that politicians and scientists lent credence to it.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.