Wednesday, January 19

On Human Perfectibility

Frequent commenter here and on Evangelical Outpost, Dark Syd, writing on UTI, has penned a piece Monday about his "Dream" for our future. DS has put to "ink" his dreams for our future, and they read a lot like the utopian ideals of Star Trek. Alas, I think, that like the writers of "The Next Generation" his view of the perfectibility of man is not grounded in deep insights into the nature of men.

DS writes:
I dream that one day drastic divisions of wealth will be a historical oddity, that all men and women will be held as equally deserving of the benefits we produce, that no longer will some revel in decadent excess while other subsist in abject misery, fighting for scraps of food and a swallow of clean water. I harbor the hope that automation and artificial intelligence will engender a society in which expense carries no connotation of forced human labor, in which value is the sole propriety of talent and ability, instead of animal-like drudgery and industrial servitude. I see a world of wondrous machines, large and small, carrying out the mundane tasks and manual chores now foisted upon the bending, breaking, backs of humanity, and I see people reserving for themselves only those careers and interest they personally enjoy.
I dream that genetic research, medical treatments, and nanotechnology, along with items we have not yet even conceived of, will conquer all disease, banish birth defects, and radically extend our time on this planet. In my dream no longer will we have to rush headlong through our hurried mayfly lives. At last we will have time to live a hundred mortal circuitions, to learn the exquisite intricacies of the universe, and to love our fellows unabridged by fear or insecurities.
All well and good, but examine our current culture and our history over the last 3000 years.

Several millenia ago, an unknown author penned a book we call Genesis. In this book, DS's dreams were specifically anticipated and addressed. In the 11th chapter, that unknown author wrote:
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel -because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Why did the LORD stop their efforts, confuse their language. Did he do it because, he might "fear" their project would be successful. The correct understanding of this, IMHO, is that the language was confused and scattered because the project was futile. The Lord wished to tell us that this project is doomed to fail. He wanted us to know that we needed keep trying to lift ourselves by the bootstraps, that maybe next time, we might get it right if only we avoid the mistakes we made "last time". Man is not by himself perfectible. While with our one language, Mathematics, the lingua franca of the scientific world, we can again plan to achieve the impossible, it will not gain us what we seek.

Later thinkers, Hobbes, Voltaire, through Kant were also pessimistic about the prospects of man perfecting the "goodness" in himself. As we perfect our mastery of our physical world, are we at the same time perfecting our master of ourselves. Are our baser natures getting less or more pronounced today? Our bodies are fitter, our minds are spoon fed the knowledge we need to use the technological tools we have acquired, but do we feed our souls? We spend our time learning the wizardy necessary to drive the technological gristmill on, but spend less and less time thinking about the ends to which we will put our mastery to use. Our technical advances have not been matched in any measure by advances in perfecting the relationships between ourselves. DS hopes that technology will give him the cure for the evils that lurk the hearts of men. Technology rarely deigns to reach into those realms. He hopes that in a land of plenty, we will not become Mr Well's Eloi or the drug hazed Alphas, Betas, and Gammas of Huxley's Brave New World. St. Paul tells us in Romans 5, that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance character. In a world without suffering where would we get the character to use our talents wisely. Without mortality, for what will one strive? Of the great men of the past, on whose shoulders we now rest, how many of them were tempered by luxury into the men they became?