Sunday, November 01, 2015

The Veneer of Progress / Beyond the Natural

Rod Dreher is the editor of The American Conservative magazine. He's become a bit of a celebrity in Christian circles for pushing the so-called "Benedict Option", which argues that American culture has become incompatible with Christianity and that Christians need to disengage from the culture rather than try to transform it. One could also argue he's trying to transform an exoteric into an esoteric religion. I don't know if such a thing is possible without fundamentally changing the nature of the faith itself.

I was working on a post about Dreher because like so many Christians he seems to think Gnosticism can mean whatever he needs it to mean whenever he wants to attack someone else within his own religion. In this case he was attacking a nun who was pushing Transhumanism. Strangely enough it seems that the only places you see serious discussion of Transhumanism anymore are in religious circles, both pro and con, I should note.

For some reason I followed a link to another discussion where Dreher was unloading on a trend I thought was extremely curious, and that is atheists going for divinity degrees into order to facilitate "activist" work. I didn't care at all to read it into this any further until one of these atheists chimed in to bother Dreher.

The poster in question called himself "Schmendrick", which was all too appropriate given the pile of utter nonsense he dropped. 
As one of the millennial “nones” and with a friend who I’m also sure is a “none” at heart attending a Divinity School precisely so he can go into activism and social work, I can assure Mr. Dreher that for a non-trivial number of us, we search for meaning apart from the divine because divine metaphysics make no sense to us…all the supernatural stuff cuts against everything we see in daily life, which is a constant celebration of the power of naturalistic knowledge. Cell-phones, computers, the internet, advanced mathematics, space travel, self-driving cars, drones – the world of the young is filled to bursting with evidence that man can successfully understand, manipulate, and control the whole visible world (and huge swathes of the invisible one) without any recourse to mystery or supernatural explanations...If you want to re-sanctify the culture, the biggest hurdle is squaring the idea that the human spirit is fundamentally not of this world with the history of the past two hundred years, which rather decisively show that the human spirit is actually fantastically good at relating to and mastering this world.

Where do you begin? Even in the context of naturalistic science, this thinking- so dominant within his generation- is so profoundly ignorant, narcissistic and solipsistic as to be beyond the pale of reason.  

First of all, drones? FUCKING DRONES? Does this Schmendrick realize that half the things he champions here are surveillance devices?

But more seriously, please note that this is the voice of wealth and unimaginable privilege, youth and health. It's the voice of someone raised in absolute comfort and security, which is not the experience of huge swathes of humanity even today. It's not the voice of someone whose father was killed by security services or whose sister died of dysentery because there was no clean water or whose brother was maimed fighting a bitter insurrection against a corrupt government.

It's not the voice of a terminal cancer patient or abuse survivor. It's not the voice of a laid-off steel worker who'll never find full-time employment again. It's not the voice of a single mother who takes a bus at 5:30 in the morning to work 12 hours in an illegal factory that pays below minimum wage and ignores all state and Federal safety and worker protection regulations.

In other words, it's not the voice of the overwhelming majority of humanity, struggling to get through the day in an increasingly Social Darwinist world. 

It's the voice of someone who's been mediated their entire life by a corporate oligarchy which wants everyone to think and believe the exact same way.

And our "naturalistic knowledge?" Increasingly, we're learning more about what we don't know than what we do. And we're learning just how limited our tools are in the face of that ignorance and how our footprint on the planet seems to be confined more and more to urban centers, since our explorer spirit has largely been extinguished.  

As to "controlling the whole visible world", the fact is we don't really know what's in our solar system, in our forests, in our oceans, or beneath the earth's surface. Anyone who tells you otherwise is an idiot or a liar. The uncountable majority of the earth's surface has never been foot-surveyed. The depths of the ocean may as well be on another planet.

"Mastering the world?" We've been enjoying a brief and unusual temperate period, one in which the unimaginable violence of the planet has been relatively restrained. But already we are seeing an increase in tectonic and volcanic activity (as well as related activity like sinkholes), activity against which all the self-driving cars in the world will be next to useless.

This is now the fourth anniversary of a disastrous storm here in which a soft, gentle snow resulted in explosions that sounded like the invasion of Normandy, as branches weighed down by leaves were unable to cope with the additional weight. We lost power for a week. Cars, homes, powerlines were all destroyed by nothing more than a foot and change of snow. Technology was useless in the face of this.

Never mind the Superstorm the following year.

California and the Southwest continue to struggle against an historical, maybe even prehistorical drought. We still see floods (like the recent one in South Carolina), monsoons, tsunamis and other disasters that take every scrap of technology, machinery and transportation we have and toss them in a septic stew that can form overnight and take years to recover from.

Huge chunks of the globe are currently experiencing war and political upheaval. There are huge migrations underway that will bring political chaos and social unrest in their wake. The European project is almost certainly doomed, its vaunted and envied welfare state will almost certainly collapse for good within the next year or two. And all of this is presuming that the superpowers don't go to war over the many flashpoints that are flaring up presently.

And this is all during one of the environmentally moderate periods. What would happen if our Biosphere got cranky? Or heaven forbid, our Sun? Every scrap of technology we have could be instantly rendered completely inert by a bad enough solar storm. Who knows what could happen if we suddenly found ourselves faced with a magnetic pole shift.

Many scholars believe that the so-called Dark Ages of Europe were brought about because of a natural disaster that brought down the once-formidable social infrastructure of the Roman Empire to nearly Neolithic levels. A similar catastrophe today would end it all.

How brainwashed, how fooled we are by the veneer of progress. Turn these gadgets off for a week and the Schmendricks of the world would be curled into fetal positions, unable to take in solid food. The arrogance, the ignorance, the sheer audacity. And this is what Divinity Schools are filled with? No wonder the churches are emptying. 

I wouldn't even bother to argue for a super-natural worldview to a Schmendrick (note this is different than mere supernaturalism). The naturalistic worldview is now dominant. But it's going to fail and we will all suffer the consequences of that. Already it's failed to deliver on its most extravagant promises (unless you have a bungalow on the Moon you're not telling me about). When it finally collapses, only then we will try something else.