Is Modernity a Success?

Andrew Wilson recently wrote a post discussing some of the reviews of Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, which has been provoking much conversation and controversy over the last couple of months. I haven’t yet had the time to read Pinker’s book, so this isn’t going to be a review. Rather, I thought I’d post a few initial thoughts on the more general discussion.

Modern science has effected a remarkable amelioration of many of humanity’s greatest miseries. It has dramatically reduced levels of things such as extreme poverty, disease, hunger, infant and maternal mortality, and its innovations have greatly increased our material prosperity, physical health, the quantity and quality of our food supply, and much about our material standards of living. Whatever complaints we might have about the modern world, few of us would exchange the lives we are currently enjoying for the lives of people living in other ages, especially if that exchange were to be made under the conditions of a Rawlsian veil of ignorance.

The Enlightenment values that we tend to associate with liberalism have also done much to make our society a more humane place in certain respects. We are considerably more sensitized to many injustices than we were in the past. The value that liberalism has given to the individual, when not veering into an unhealthy and socially destructive individualism, has made us much more concerned to ensure that society is formed to the benefit of all its members.

This said, however, much that has been attributed to liberalism belonged to the conservative tradition that preceded it. And the conservative tradition was much less prone to uproot values from their roots, to abstract, and to absolutize them to the detriment of much else. As Ofir Haivry and Yoram Hazony argue, a neglect of the true conservative tradition has left many confusing it with the considerably different tradition of ‘classical liberalism’.

If the liberal tradition needs to be more closely contrasted with the historic conservative tradition, its debt to Christianity also needs to be acknowledged. Liberal values, while increasingly detached from their historic roots, owe much to the Christian tradition and to the stumbling yet real ethical progress effected by the deep Christianization of the West. We should be cautious of simplistic anti-liberalism for this and other reasons. The liberal tradition has heightened certain moral instincts—moral instincts that are Christian at root—and, if we were simply to jettison the liberal tradition, it might come at the unpleasant cost of a weighty portion of the Christian patrimony we enjoy in our culture.

While, however, modern science and liberalism have done much to relieve our miseries, extend our powers, and address key injustices, these gains have been offset by various losses, many of which pass unrecognized.

The concept of de-condensation, which I have discussed in the past on this blog, is helpful in getting at some of what modernity has brought about. Sarah Perry writes:

Almost every technological advance is a de-condensation: it abstracts a particular function away from an object, a person, or an institution, and allows it to grow separately from all the things it used to be connected to. Writing de-condenses communication: communication can now take place abstracted from face-to-face speech. Automobiles abstract transportation from exercise, and allow further de-condensation of useful locations (sometimes called sprawl). Markets de-condense production and consumption.

Why is technology so often at odds with the sacred? In other words, why does everyone get so mad about technological change? We humans are irrational and fearful creatures, but I don’t think it’s just that. Technological advances, by their nature, tear the world apart. They carve a piece away from the existing order—de-condensing, abstracting, unbundling—and all the previous dependencies collapse. The world must then heal itself around this rupture, to form a new order and wholeness. To fear disruption is completely reasonable.

The modern world is the product of an incredible degree of de-condensation. However, the effect of this de-condensation is often that of providing far readier, easier, and more effective satisfaction of our immediate material needs and impulses, while detaching the satisfaction of these material needs from the satisfaction of less tangible or immediate needs that are higher on Maslow’s Pyramid. Formerly, for instance, if you wanted to get warm, you may well have had to sit around the fire with others and join in their sharing of stories. Now you can just turn up the thermostat. The latter is a far more convenient way of meeting our need for heat, but it meets that need in a way that allows the centre of community that the fireside used to represent to wither. Leon Kass writes about the meal table:

With the rise of intelligence and especially with its extraordinary development in the upright animal, the hungry soul seeks satisfaction in activities animated also by wonder, ambition, curiosity, and awe. We human beings delight in beauty and order, act and action, sociability and friendship, insight and understanding, song and worship. And, as self-conscious beings, we especially crave self-understanding and knowledge of our place in the larger whole.

All these appetites of the hungry soul can in fact be partly satisfied at the table, provided that we approach it in the proper spirit. The meal taken at table is the cultural form that enables us to respond simultaneously to all the natural features of our world: inner need, natural plenitude, freedom and reason, human community, and the mysterious source of it all. In humanized eating, we can nourish our souls even while we feed our bodies.

The microwave meal eaten in front of the television or computer screen may be highly convenient and even tasty, but it represents an impoverishment of our practice of eating.

Values of efficiency, comfort, and convenience and the intense de-condensation that corresponds to them can leave our deeper human hungers forgotten: our desire for meaning, purpose, belonging, stewardship, etc. It can leave us without the mundane and quotidian practices and habits that knit our lives into deeper meaningful realities. The human need for meaningful existence isn’t really satisfied by modernity’s progress, although it has alleviated the immense burden of suffering that humanity has borne (and, in some respects, by obscuring any horizon of meaning, it has also relieved the agony of felt ‘meaningless’ existence). The ennui and spiritual emptiness that afflict modern society are debilitating in their own ways. We should beware of romanticizing past ages on this front, however: suffering, poverty, and oppression often bring out the ugliest dimensions of human nature and what ‘meaning’ people recognized was frequently one that was indifferent or callous to their existence and well-being, or otherwise one from which they were in many senses excluded. Although we may struggle to find true meaning in them—not really recognizing much beyond them to which they are ordered—we are able to value individual lives in ways that our ancestors generally couldn’t afford to.

One of the results of de-condensation is that, in the modern world, things such as Christian faith and the family increasingly function as supplements to a highly de-condensed reality, whereas formerly they were among the chief integrating forces for its entire structure. The main reason why the family has become so weak and marginalized, for instance, is because we no longer need to depend upon it for our basic needs and social functions.

The increased detachment of the satisfaction of our higher psychological and spiritual needs from the satisfaction of our more basic appetites can results in a situation where the satisfaction of the former becomes less accessible, as the disciplines that enable us to attain them are no longer pressed upon us by necessity. When we no longer require marriage for meeting our more basic needs, for instance, it is much easier to divorce and the disciplines by which we could work things out or grow in relationship aren’t taken up as they ought to be. Innumerable marriages have been characterized by unrelenting misery and abuse, from which divorce and a social, economic, and technological situation where it is possible to live independently offer an escape for many. We now have the ‘luxury’ of being able to be much more foolishly romantic or to be wanton pursuers of sexual gratification. However, when we are freer to escape or minimize both the consequences of our foolishness and the challenges of difficult situations, we no longer need to grow in virtue in the ways we once did. Furthermore, when it becomes much easier to follow and satisfy our basic appetites, without significant suffering in the longer term as a consequence, not only does the development of truly virtuous character cease to have the same imperative, but we risk becoming sybaritic persons whose spiritual horizon is greatly contracted.

Another aspect of modernity is the radical abstraction and rationalization of all reality, something I’ve discussed at considerable length in this post. Modernity detaches us from the particularity of the material and relational order and leaves us increasingly unmindful of value beyond commensuration or exchange. It subjects an ever-increasing amount of reality to an order of rational control and measurement. Yet the value of particularity, which is disclosed by love, when neglected, leaves us all spiritually impoverished. A world that encourages extreme fungibility and the habits and ways of life that correspond to it will gradually stifle love and steadily diminish its objects.

The logic of modernity, which is by its nature almost impossible to resist, is one that overwhelms all particular values with ‘universal’ ones, all particular cultures with the universal one. It acts as a sort of universal acid, eating away at all particularities and steadily creating situations that are hostile to any culture apart from its own anti-culture. Although Scott Alexander is right about a great deal in this post, it is not the case that ‘universal culture’ is unqualifiedly better at satisfying us than all particular cultures; rather, he is nearer to the truth when he discusses the fact that ‘universal culture’ is high-entropy, thrives in socially atomized, traditionless, and multicultural situations, and is readily scalable, transplantable, and replicable. And universal culture tends to accelerate the conditions of its success, making society more atomized, pluralistic, multicultural, and alienated. The logic of modernity and of capitalism is one in which the costs of social ‘defection’ are rapidly diminished, with considerable gains accruing to many who do so. The result is a fraying or unravelling of the fabric of society.

In this and many other ways, modernity functions as a system that highly rewards defection from traditional ways of life, but which establishes its own decision context from which escape is nigh impossible. Hence both the sense that liberalism and modernity are inevitable and that they have failed us. Modernity is Moloch, an ascendant force of technique and system, and the constraining decision contexts it creates, against which we have diminishing powers of coordination. Moloch is why, as humanity develops ever-growing technological powers, we feel ever more at the mercy of those powers and the inevitability of their determining the destiny of their creators. It is the cancerous growth of a certain set of functions to overwhelm the whole organism of society.

Here it is important to notice that advocates of modernity and the Enlightenment seldom comment on the dark and terrifying new gods that we have called forth and the horrors that they threaten. In some ways, the powers of modernity are like terrorists. Some people dismiss the threat of terrorism, pointing out that more people die from falling off ladders ever year than die from terrorism. However, your ladder is unlikely to be conspiring to set off a dirty bomb in your nation’s capital.

The threat of falling off ladders is a threat of known proportions, with fairly measurable costs. The threat of terrorism is not. It could conceivably cost millions of lives, or just a small handful of them. It also has the effect of raising levels of fear, distrust, antagonism, and alienation in society, realities upon which it is difficult to put a price. When we are told that the threat of terrorism is just a natural cost of living in a modern multicultural city, it isn’t easy to ascertain just what a cost is being exacted of us.

Modernity is similar. Its costs are mostly intangible, its horrors relatively uncommon and unpredictable, and much of what it demands of us is merely a tolerance for certain higher risks or externalized or postponed costs. However, it is imperative that such things are properly assessed when we consider modernity’s merits. We may talk about the unprecedented low levels of infant mortality that we enjoy, yet we should discuss the legalization and normalization of the practice of abortion alongside this. We may talk about the remarkable degree of choice each individual has today, but we should also discuss the crushing loneliness, social alienation, and spiritual emptiness that afflicts many in the modern world. What price can we put on these things?

And we need to take the risks seriously. It is easy to deem modernity a straightforward success in our current situation. However, at Chernobyl, Europe came within a whisker of being rendered uninhabitable for 500,000 years. How would we have assessed modernity if it had? Or what if we hadn’t avoided serious nuclear conflict during the Cold War? The relative peace between world powers enjoyed over the past couple of generations has been bought at the cost of the real risk of the nuclear annihilation of civilization and the devastation of our world.

We are irrevocably destroying our planet by our reliance upon fossil fuels and our practice of extreme consumption, the costs of which won’t be fully apparent for generations to come. We have sacrificed countless traditions, places, communities, and ways of life to the imperative of choice and growth and will never recover most of them. We have rendered ourselves a rootless, forgetful, and present-oriented people, for whom the value of both the past and the future are neglected.

Many of the ugliest costs of our ways of life are externalized, building up in such things as a gyre of marine debris twice the size of the nation of France, in the accumulating death toll of abortion, being seen in the rapid collapse of an ecosystem as vast and beautiful as the Great Barrier Reef, in the great extinction event that modernity has represented for the animal kingdom, or in the broken bodies and oppressed lives that lie at the end of our supply chains, beyond the horizon of our moral awareness. Others won’t become fully known for generations. Will human labour be rendered obsolete by AI and automation? Will the human dignity of begotten-ness be sacrificed for the powers promised by a transhumanist refashioning of our natures? Will we or the technology that we have created wipe ourselves out, or change us into something alien or less than human? The dystopian visions of our time suggest that many doubt we will escape the terrifying risks we are courting.

For all of these and other reasons, the success of modernity is exceedingly difficult to assess. There have been remarkable gains, but we aren’t even close to understanding or estimating the significance of its immense costs.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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14 Responses to Is Modernity a Success?

  1. Stephen Crawford+ says:

    For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

  2. Stephen Crawford+ says:

    Just thought I’d follow up the subtlety and nuance with something a bit more stark.

    Also, I tried following down the link about Chernobyl. It connected with an article that then connected with another article that didn’t really substantiate the quotation. After poking around a bit more, I got the impression that that claim is unlikely. There was a message board where someone who apparently helped the journalist with the article tried to explain what was actually said but misrepresented in the final write-up. But the nuclear war bit afterward still makes the point, that enthusiasm for modernity would probably have fizzled a bit.

  3. Yana Nikolova says:

    I recently read Scott Alexander’s Moloch article, and now this. I can’t help but feel a deep sense of despair and fear at the self-perpetuating logic of modernity. I was struck by what Alexander said about only a god being able to withstand another god. What does this mean for us as Christians? What does it mean for our political and social activity, for our understanding of eschatology?

    It’s funny how in the past people might have felt similarly overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the forces of nature. Technology was a bulwark against that, and now it has become a force of its own.

    A few days ago I accidentally pushed a beer glass, which fell and exploded in my face, shattering into a lot of small pieces. I got two pieces of glass in my left eye. It was pretty scary. My colleagues helped me rinse out the big one, but we had to go to an ophthalmologist to remove the small one. The doctor looked at my eyes with a special kind of magnifying glass, identified the glass, put some coloring in my eye which would color everything except the glass, and removed it with a swab. Then he gave a receipt for two kinds of eye-drops and a vitamin A paste for my eye.

    It’s pretty amazing to think of the societal systems, institutions and technologies that have to be in place for something like that to be arranged and executed in less than an hour. At that moment, at least, I felt extremely thankful for modernity. And yet. Somehow my fear is that we can’t really negotiate between the material benefits and spiritual costs of modernity. Is the choice simply between physical or spiritual blindness? Or is there a middle way? A more mindful and limited use of technology, à la the Amish?

    Thanks for your always thoughtful posts, Alastair.

    • Thanks for the comment, Yana.

      Wow, your recent accident sounds quite scary. I trust that your eye will heal without any problems.

      The questions that you raise are hugely important ones, questions that have been very much on my mind over the past few years. I don’t yet believe that I have anything approaching satisfying answers to them.

      I don’t believe that we can, or should seek to, just turn back the clock. Somehow, we must find a way through. However, adapting well to a technological environment that is shifting so rapidly is nigh impossible. It is a realm where the novelty-seeking of the young is foregrounded and privileged, but the deeper wisdom of older people, who have established settled and fulfilling forms of life simply doesn’t have the stability necessary to be developed. That is something that we must address: we need to find ways for technology to move at a more human pace.

      The rapidity with which technology develops may not be all bad, though. Facebook isn’t even fifteen years old yet and it has already transformed so much. Who knows whether there are new breaking waves of Internet culture to come that will establish healthier dynamics, dynamics that might have more staying power?

      We should, I believe, be actively engaged with the creative task of developing healthier systems and technologies, systems and technologies crafted to facilitate and strengthen healthier and more human dynamics of community and discourse. This requires close engagement between tech culture and wise people working in the humanities. It requires imaginative thinking about new ways in which we could life online (things like this, perhaps).

      We also need to set bounds upon the technology in our lives and think more carefully about the forging of our characters. We need to place the sorts of limits upon ourselves that help us to mature and grow in virtue. As we pursue this course, we can become more effective at resisting the dangerous tendencies of our environment. Both the organism and the environment need to be addressed: the organism (ourselves) through the development of virtue and the environment through the reforming of structures. Neither by itself will be sufficient.

      We do need to become more mindful, but we also need to establish healthy forms of life within which both we and our communities can unmindfully be shaped in healthy ways, because we are mostly shaped through practices and systems that we engage with unmindfully. This will require forgoing or placing limits upon a lot more technology, especially in the future as the boundaries between our technology and our natures gradually disappear.

      We should remember that nature brings up thorns and thistles to fallen man. We think of this as a part of the curse, but it is also a blessing. It means that creation resists fallen humanity’s attempts at completely ordering it to our fallen ideals. Nature rebels against us, both nature without and nature within.

      Modernity aims at universal rationalization, but as Christians we need to pursue and encourage a path of love, which is characterized by commitment to and valorization of the particular—particular places, people, communities, things, etc.

      There really are no solutions, nor do I believe that there is any grand strategy by which we can respond to the present challenges. The best that we can do is to pursue certain tactics of wise response.

  4. Geoff says:

    But, Alastair, you fail in your thesis at the first hurdl! You’ve not supported this with any stats, or alternatively not developed your thesis from stats (which now assume a transendence)! Of course, human nature, doesn’t come into any equation at all, or if it does, it is all, exceedingly good and technology is never master, (is it?) but an excellent servant for the good of all, neutral in it’s genesis (really?? without any teleological inception at all and without the foresight of slippery- slope human nature reality??) and overwhelmingly necessary for progress from A(darkness) to B (Enlightenment) to C (utopian re-enlightenment) without any intervening and inconvenient death, (let us have the stats please for death from Enlightenment period, till now) rather than from Genesis to Revelation.
    Ever more I’m minded that Christians should return to the times when we live our lives backwards, from our present and future position, place in Christ, being so heavenly minded so that we can be of some earthly good. The only thing the Church has, is unique to her, is the multi -facetted, (whole- earth-and cosmic -in-scope) Gospel of Jesus Christ, a relationship is not fungible nor de-condensable, nor technological, but is both transcendent and immanent and eternal, death overcoming, God given uptopia.

  5. Hi Alastair,
    Thank you for your thoughtful and thought-provoking article.
    Sometimes I feel I that will never keep up with the rapid changes that affect us all on a global scale, but there are, as you said, some changes for which we can we thankful, such as life-saving and life-enhancing changes in medical care. Of all the things I appreciate, I think maybe I most appreciate having clean running water in the home, and I think it is well worth every penny I pay for it. I am sadly aware that, in contrast, people in some parts of the world do not have this benefit, for instance our church supports a small village in Kenya where, until quite recently, people had to walk to a well to obtain water, and had holes in the ground as lavatories.
    However, I think you are right when you say that the powers of modernity are like terrorists – they seep into our lives, almost as if in the air we breathe, and they often come uninvited and undercover, and catch us unawares – we have no hiding place from them. A relatively minor instance of this happened on Friday, when I unexpectedly found myself with two greetings cards before my eyes, one bearing the words ‘Happy Anniversary, Mrs and Mrs’. and the other ‘Happy Anniversary, Mr and Mr.’ So there I was, confronted with that evidence of the social acceptability of same-sex marriage, when all I was doing was looking for a wedding anniversary card for my son and his wife .Maybe i shouldn’t have been too surprised to come across those cards – but then my poor brain is still trying to process the widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage as a norm.
    I have also been thinking about another factor in the many changes that are taking place – changes in the use of our bodies as mechanical resources. This is probably not the best way to describe it, and I am sure you can think of a better way. What I have in mind when I think of the body as a mechanical resource is things such as lifting, carrying, tapping a keyboard with our fingers and so on. Labour-saving devices in the home have considerably reduced our need to use our bodies as mechanical resources at home, but in some jobs, the work still seems to consist mainly of using bodies in that way, for instance when I moved house a year ago I was struck by the way the removal men spent four hours bending, lifting and carrying my stuff, and then went on to the same for another client – that was all they did for most of the day. I thought it must be a pretty repetitive and soul-destroying way of earning a living, but they seemed to be happy with it. I hope they found, in their free time, some ways of refreshing their minds and souls.
    One last thing – as I read your article, I thought that some of the things Alvin Toffler envisaged in ‘Future Shock’ seem to be coming to pass, for instance: ‘To survive, to avert what we have termed future shock, the individual must become infinitely more adaptable and capable than ever before.We must search out totally new ways to anchor ourselves, for all the old roots – religion, nation, community, family or profession – are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust.’

    • Thanks for the comment, Christine.

      One of the things I think is worth bearing in mind here—something I didn’t emphasize sufficiently in my post—is that, while our technologies are all entangled in the wider complex of a technological society, they also all differ in the form and extent of their impact upon us. We shouldn’t be thinking in terms of a choice between accepting all technology or rejecting it. Rather, we should be concerned to recognize the different trade-offs of different technologies and assess our technologies not just collectively, but also individually. While we can be concerned at the edifice of modern technological society, we do not need to cast away all of the stones with which it is constructed.

      Our changing relationship to our bodies really is an important thing to reflect upon in this context. This is becoming especially significant in the context of sex and reproduction, where the natural ordering and potential of the body is increasingly being rejected or forgotten in ways that both instrumentalize the body and re-imagine it as something that is ours to make and remake as we choose (through artificial forms of reproduction, through genetic engineering, through sexual reassignment, etc.).

      Toffler’s concern about dealing with ‘future shock’ highlights the problem we face in its paradoxical character: we must both ‘become infinitely more adaptable’ and ‘search out totally new ways to anchor ourselves’. Yet what does it mean to be ‘anchored’ when one is constantly and rapidly ‘adapting’? Radical adaptation to rapidly shifting environments is a young person’s game; deep anchoring is something that older people have. Have we ever lived in a society that is more resistant to the deep anchoring of older people? The challenge of forging healthy intergenerational community is a huge one, but is essential to our social health.

      • Thank you, Alastair.
        Just a quick question: Do you know if any research has been done on human capacity for adapting to change through the different seasons of life – on whether or not we have some sort of ‘change-threshold’ , and can suffer from ‘change-overload’?

      • I’m sure there is such research, but I’m not familiar with it.

      • Thank you, Alastair. I did a Google search, but I couldn’t find anything.
        Thank you, too, for this question: ‘Have we ever lived in a society that is more resistant to the deep anchoring of older people?’ I have no ready answers, but I am reflecting on it.

      • Hi Alastair,
        I started to write some more thoughts, and realised that the issues you have raised have so many implications that I could probably write about it for hours and still be left with many questions – so I will keep my thoughts here as brief as possible.
        I am aware that from the moment we are conceived until the moment we breathe our last breath, we are constantly changing, so natural change is a constant, and God equips us to adapt to these changes, though sometimes healing is facilitated by medication and/or surgery, and difficulties that cannot be resolved naturally can be ameliorated by artificial means such as wearing spectacles, using a wheelchair, and so on.
        This is where I will change direction a bit and look at one area that concerns me, and simplify, hopefully without over-simplifying.
        I am waiting to be given a date for cataract surgery. My condition is limiting, but not incapacitating. I will be very thankful when I can read again without it being a great strain. Thanks to medical and technological advances cataract surgery is possible. Thanks to the welfare state it is available on the NHS – I could not pay for it myself. And now, reductio ad absurdium: what if I were due to have eye surgery for a different reason? What if I were convinced that I was really meant to have blue eyes, not the brown eyes I have? What if technology and medicine were advanced enough to offer me eye transplants and provide me with blue eyes, all on the NHS, and all at the taxpayers’ expense?
        I will bite my tongue here on the subject of sexual-transitioning surgery for people who suffer from gender dysphoria, other than to say that it grieves me.

  6. Hi Alastair

    Thanks once again for giving us plenty to think on! (I also used half a sentence for a letter to my parish on ‘the hidden Kingdom’ regarding the significance of to use your words ‘the mundane and quotidian’ 🙂 )

    Just a brief point on intergenerationality and Education. As a parish priest I’ve pondered this one over and over and had noticed that as between us all, so also between the generations, their is no affective sense in which we need one another. (So our relationship with the Earth – we are all troubled by it, but it has no affect on us in the hidden, mundane quotidian manner. We don’t farm! 🙂 ) You don’t have to know about something – you have to participate in it, and Know yourself as bound to it. So it is with intergenerationality and the church conversations I’ve had about it, which seem largely to point us towards artificial solutions, special events, mentoring – little on sharing life together in its mundane quotidian nature. To come to the point on Education – modern schooling is an exercise in permanently removing children from the world of adults. (I was alerted to this through Ben Sasses book about disappearing adults) Over here in NZ Kindergartens will take your child from birth (and we think other cultures dystopic . . .) and then they go to school and then Uni. So young people get older (perhaps not grow up??) with their peers,and then are released into the world of work and some seem to find that most disorienting. Even when they’re not in school, they are still often doing school based acitivities, be it homework or sports acitivities. This transofrmation of the experience of what it is to be a child is really only about 100 years old (the time when compulsory schooling caught on)

    I’m not sure exactly how this fits in with Modernity, but seems to be a powerful aspect of our atomised existence with respect to intergenerationality – not least how churches mimic it in how we organise ourselves. Churches which are large and contain young people mimic the non intergenerational pattern of the world. Others are disproportionately full of older people

    Apologies for rambling 🙂 Just Very interested in all of this and where it leads, or indeed has led.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      The increased flattening out of the difference between the generations and the loss of a sense of our need for asymmetric interaction with our elders definitely changes the way that we view education. It ceases to be a training into wisdom and a transmission of a tradition through sustained engagement with one’s ‘distemporaries’. We are now hostile to or forgetful of the tradition of our forefathers and will not share their world.

      This separation between the generations is seen in the way knowledge of abstract technique substitutes for grounding in a particular tradition.

      And, as you observe, there is plenty of this in churches too.

      • As a senior citizen I think I had better say a little about the ‘generation gap’. We can’t put old heads on young shoulders, but I wish some youngsters would bear in mind that whereas they have not yet been old, we have been young, and we might occasionally have something to say that is worth listening to 🙂 I think the ‘I-know-everything-and-you-can’t-tell-me-anything’ attitude of some youngsters is sometimes transferred to their attitude to the scriptures (why bother with Genesis and Leviticus?), and to church elders (why listen to old bigots?)
        But I am encouraged by two thoughts : most of these youngsters will themselves grow old one day, and maybe they will also grow wiser; I appreciate some youngsters who already seem to be wise beyond their years -:)

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