Sunday, November 14, 2010

Am I a Nihilist?

The question is, do I believe anything great to be lost with the disintegration of the modern state?

What follows may in fact be the most naive post of all posts on theologyofdad.

I am not Rousseauian, I do not believe in the goodness of the state of nature. I am the polar opposite - Augustinian. And Thomistic-Aristotelian. It is with the latter that I must primarily contend in this post. Man is a social animal and all that.

Yet, cannot one society be more fitting and another less fitting for the fulfillment of man's social nature? Perhaps a pre-industrial, or at least pre-microchip, society is more befitting man? Why? Intrusion of technology into natural human processes, unnatural removal from nature itself, intrusion of over-arching governmental and quasi-governmental organizations, interference with circadian rhythms...

And the retort is always the same: lifespan, disease, progress.

What are the costs associated with these boons? Anxiety, stress, forgetfulness of one's mortality and ultimate destination, breakdown of interpersonal relationships based on interdependence...

I guess it worries me to think of how much we are becoming dependent upon the things of technology, and I can't really see how you can have cars and ipods without huge government to regulate everything about them. Maybe it's better to have neither one nor the other than accepting both together? But, of course, I don't want to trivialize the benefits that technology brings by reducing them to ipods. It means no dentists, or doctors, or insurance, or advanced insulation, various helpful chemicals and materials.

Yet to retain these things, these assurances of health and comfort, are we spiralling towards the nightmare utopias of futurists? Will earth turn into Coruscant? the cars we love, instead of the symbols of freedom we take them to be, come to be controlled by the ultimate in soccer mom safety - Star Wars repulsorlift safety?

Why is a walk in the woods the most soothing experience you can have, but being lost in the woods the most traumatic?

Perhaps there is a little Thoreau in all of us.

There is a point when technology demands too much of us, and becomes dehumanizing. The question is, what is it? Has it been reached? Is it about to be reached? Will we ever reach it? I don't mean atypical uses of it - like in human cloning, in vitro fertilization, therapeutic abortion... I mean when a society is per se dependent upon it in order to function as it does. A strong argument can be made that the status quo can only be maintained through abortion. If this is so, then society has gone too far. But I wouldn't say that the economy and technology will be undermined if abortion was ever to be made universally illegal. In fact, it would likely aid the economy. It seems to me the economy would grow and unemployment would go down - but what do I know - I'm no economist.

I am not against technology, I just wonder about its moral significance. It's probably true that with the multiplication of computers, video gaming systems, mp3 players and cellphones society is becoming as a whole less literate, but I do not think the level of literacy is of the gravest moral consequence - compared to abortion and the disintegration of the family. It is interesting, however, to note how frightened we are of death and disease. Sure, the Black Plague was horrible, but I bet it would have been even worse to have had to have heard about it for two years first on CNN before it ever arrived in Europe. Our lives are lived in fragile dependence upon the economy, just as much as it ever was in the cycles of famine and feast for all pre-agricultural revolution history. Our cycles might be further spaced apart. But this consideration alone means that when the cycle reaches its low point, it will be that much more disastrous. We do not plan for seasons of lean, as pre-agricultural revolution man did. That man saved grain. We save cash - something without intrinsic worth, save as a combustible.

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