Wednesday, November 17

The Hubris of our Age

One thing that bugs me about modern culture is that so many people think that because they are part of our modern world, they are far smarter and wiser than all the peoples who came before them. We think, because we have mastered technology, and such a high percentage of us are literate, we are wiser and smarter. This conceit, of course, is patently false. In fact I think the opposite to be more likely the case.
There are a number of reasons we think we are so much wiser than our forebears.
  • Because modern man is just so damn busy. We are too busy to spend any time (for most of us anyhow) thinking about the big questions that frame our world. Heck most of us are too busy to think about anything but what we are presently doing and the 99 other things we forgot to do (or promised to do but, have to turf until we get a round "tuit"). Some people used that time to think about the meaning of their existence.
  • We confuse our technological prowess with wisdom. Socrates noted that he wandered around and talked to experts in lots of different fields. He found having achieved expertise in a field, almost always got the owner of that knowledge the preconception he was an expert at other matters as well, which was usually not the case. The Delphic Oracle suggested to him that he was the wisest of men, because he knew he was truly ignorant. I'm suggesting that most of us, are ignorant because we mistake our technology (and the wealth it brings) for wisdom.
  • We inherently believe in evolution of thought and that evolution means progress. Philosophical, moral, and theological thought has changed though the ages. Change means different. Different does not always mean better. In fact, because we spend less time thinking, today's changes probably mean worse, not better. For example, compare the thought and writings of our founding fathers with the politicians today. Which do you think are better educated or have thought about the matters of state more deeply? I know my answer to that question. I'll take Adams, Jefferson, and Madison over Daschle, Frist, or Pelosi without a moments hesitation.
  • Life was nasty, short, and brutish in the "bad old days". In truly ancient times, people often had a hard short life. But they probably had more time to sit around a fire and talk and think about God, Man, and the Big Questions. I'll concede that many of the un-educated ignorant people of the past ages, probably spent very little time thinking about abstract concepts. But neither has the average beer-swilling TV-entranced American. At the same time, some few of those in the days gone by did not have to struggle their whole life. Some were singled out because of their clarity of thought and those thoughts have survived the test of ages to reach us. Those ideas probably have more merit than what you hear on Oprah or stated by any other popular cultural figure.