pierre laszlo

On bridging science and culture
Concluding remarks, presentation to the ChemVets, Wilmington, Delaware, January 15 2002-01-21

I view myself as a science communicator, as someone conveying to the public the excitement of science. Which science? This is an easy question to answer, only the very best will do. But which public, which culture? My answer there is also totally elitist. Why? It is a sad irony of our time that the US enjoys the best intellectual community in the world and yet brainwashes the populus into despising and distrusting it. The best in the world? Oh yes, just look at the Nobel Prize awards, that in literature included. Or, to turn to another line of evidence, the New York Review of Books is the major rallying point for European intellectuals. And yet, «intellectual» in the current American scene has become a dirty word as it was, allow me to remind you, to the Nazis. But let me further elaborate on this paradox of the US being the world leader in highbrow culture and yet, this precious culture of our time not percolating to the middle class, to any extent. The middle class does not enjoy its own middle culture. It is fed only lowbrow culture, that of the bestsellers, that of the historical programs on TV rehashing one more time the Civil War, Jack Kennedy or Marylyn Monroe. Why is that? Because the media make the public into consumers, for manufactured and for electronic consumer goods, and because every American household sports its debraining contraption, the TV set, to which it does not even pay decent attention.

Hence, it is no surprise to me, first that my Salt book has made quite a success in this country, because its elite is truly tops; and second, that it has dropped from the hands of the typical American middleclass person, who neither has the interest nor the vital urge for self-education, and looks to books for entertainment only, of the same type as the decerebration machine provides. When mine or similar books fail to be accessible to such consumers, one blames the book--it is too intellectual, they say. In so doing, one makes a political statement; one becomes willingly-nillingly part of the rednecking of this country; and we are back to the Thirties, as I was reminding you earlier.
Thank you folks, for your patient and kind attention.