Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Hubris of Humankind 2

Section 4:  Why Humanity will never master Technology:

As I have already pointed out Gray continues to remind his readers that we are animals, and prefers the title “human animal” to “human being.”  One can understand why he does, given that the second term is way more abstract and conceptual while the former is considerably more concrete.  Also he reminds us on an on-going basis that we have considerable over-rated our importance in the universe.  With his background in philosophy and politics, he reminds us that of the 200 or so sovereign states in the world that most are unstable.  Why?  Well the human animal is at base greedy, selfish and power-hungry – my words, not Gray’s.  He describes most of these states as being “rusted through with corruption.” (op. cit., 12)  One can only agree with him.

Now Gray contends that it is this quite large number of sovereign states that makes technology ungovernable.  We only has to think momentarily of states like India and Pakistan having access to nuclear weapons.  Then, of course, there is the threat of the design of new viruses for the use in genocidal weapons – and this does not require as much money as nuclear weapons.

Then Gray mentions something I never heard of before, viz., knowledge-enabled mass destruction, known by the acronym KMD.  Then there is the ethical problem of how biological weapons can be kept out of the hands of the terrorist groups.  In effect Gray is here rehearsing the old argument that humanity’s worst crimes were made possible only by modern technology.

It would seem to this writer, that is to this blogger writing here, that ethics and morals do not evolve naturally.  They have to be worked out painfully.  By this I mean, that it is only in the wake of the consequences of evil that humankind wakes up to its base desires and the suffering caused by them, e.g., only after the evils of slavery have universal equality of all humans themselves been recognised and only in the wake of mass genocide was the declaration of human rights thought up and promulgated.  Ethics and morals grow as a result of reflecting soberly and sincerely on humankind’s unbridled instincts for destruction.  In the words of Gray, which finish this section, we read:

Technical progress leaves only one problem unsolved: the frailty of human nature.  Unfortunately, that problem is insoluble.  (ibid., 15)

Section 5:  Green Humanism:

I’ve got to admit that I consider myself to be in Green in terms of ecology, and to some small extent a republican, but not on the greener fringes of the latter.  Be that as it may, once again Gray puts paid to my illusions.  He reminds us clearly that most Green thinkers offer yet another version of humanism, not an alternative to it.  If humanism is another religion, then it follows that being Green is another one yet.

We may talk about human societies.  Yet, what are we but a greater and grander example of ant and bee societies.  I find it difficult to disagree with Gray.  He quotes the scientist Lynn Margulis and her scientist son Dorian Sagan thus:

We are a part of an intricate network that comes from the original takeover of the Earth.  Our powers and intelligence do not belong specifically to us but to all life.  (Quoted ibid., 16)

It would seem to this blogger that the Greens are yet another “religious group” in the sense that they propose that they are the stewards of creation, as outlined before them by the Christian interpretation of Creation and Redemption.  Yet again Gray’s black outlook is sobering – the notion that human action can save humankind and/or the planet is absurd.  Humankind is part of nature, not above it.  We are equal to the animals, not above them.  Once again Gray’s prose is clear: “The humanist sense of the gulf between ourselves and other animals is an aberration.” (ibid., 17)

I like Gray’s term “biophilia” or love of all living things.  Only when we have such love, namely a love for all the living things of the earth, ourselves included, will we be really and truly our true selves.  Again this latter sentence is mine and its import mine, not Gray’s.

Section 6: Against Fundamentalism – Religious and Scientific:

Religion has wielded mostly unopposed authority in human affairs for such a long period in human history.  Now this authority is waning and waning.  However, its authority has now been ceded to the sciences.  Again, Gray points out that the cost of this ceding of power is of making human life accidental and insignificant.  In a wonderful flourish of words our author sees religious fundamentalists as “symptoms of the disease they pretend to cure.” (ibid., 18)  A wonderful turn of phrase, that makes one think – Gray at his provocative best.  Science serves two needs in humankind: (i) hope and (ii) censorship.  Now hope, of course, you’ve already guessed it, is a religious virtue which has now been ceded to science.  People cling to the hope of progress.  This isn’t a genuine belief at all, but rather a fear of what will happen if they give up this belief. 

Then gray reminds us more bleakly again that the political projects of the twentieth-century have failed.  Science gives us hope because the political counterparts have failed.  In another swipe at science Gray reminds the reader that orthodox science acts like the church did against heretics or maverick thinkers. (Orthodox medicine versus Freud; orthodox Darwinians versus Lovelock etc.)  Let’s not detach science from its human needs and make of it something that is not natural but transcendental.  He finishes this section with his typical flourish:

To think of science as the search for truth is to renew a mystical faith, the faith of Plato and Augustine, that truth rules the world, that truth is divine.  (ibid., 20)

Above I have iploaded a picture I took of the coast at Portrane Co. Dublin this February.

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