Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How Modernity Diminishes the Human Person by George Stanciu

Krupp george stanciu

With the publication of the book The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward Wilson, the preeminent entomologist and the founder of sociobiology, I learned that at least one person on the planet still believes in the possibility of a glorious future for humankind. Undaunted by the century of death[1], unshaken by Hiroshima, the Holocaust, and the Gulag, and perhaps mesmerized by the ever-rising arc of science and the abundant fruits of a market-driven technology, Dr. Wilson claims that we humans can “turn Earth into a paradise both for ourselves and for the biosphere that gave us birth.”[2]
Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out that Americans are attuned to “the ideas of progress and the indefinite perfectibility of the human race,”[3] but more likely, Dr. Wilson voices the optimism that accompanied the philosophical foundation of modern science. Once upon a time, intellectuals believed that after the darkness and ignorance of the past were thrown off, a new era, the Age of Man, enlightened by reason and science, would result and the happiness of humankind established on earth. Francis Bacon, the principal architect of experimental science, prophesied in the New Organon (1620) that the “real business and fortunes of the human race” depend upon “those twin objects, human knowledge and human power;” genuine knowledge would give power to command nature “for the benefit and use of life.” For Bacon, the goal of science was to make humankind the master and possessor of nature, much as Adam was in the Garden of Eden, so men and women of goodwill could restore Homo sapiens to Paradise on Earth.[4] Given Hiroshima and climate change, those happy days of living in that illusion are gone forever.
That we now know that every program to establish Paradise on Earth ends in disaster does not mean that the enthusiastic optimism of Enlightenment thinkers must be replaced by Nietzsche’s “pessimism of the future.”[5] Instead, we can turn to the wisdom that Sophocles enunciated 2,500 years ago: “Nothing that is vast enters the life of mortals without a curse,”[6] wisdom that implicitly recognizes that no perfect social order can be created.
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