Sponsored by The Society for Classical Learning and The Alcuin Fellowship
Excerpts from Science and the Story that We Need by Neil Postman.
I think this article starts of well, and highlights a great many true and important thoughts, which I've tried to collect below. But If you read it in its entirety, be prepared for an ending that misses its own point, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
"Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun, but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric."
Where information was once an essential resource in helping us to gain control over our physical and symbolic worlds, our technological ingenuity transformed information into a form of garbage, and ourselves into garbage collectors.
The tie between information and human purpose has been severed.
Information is now a commodity that is bought and sold; it comes indiscriminately, whether asked for or not, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume, at high speeds, disconnected from meaning and import. It comes unquestioned and uncombined, and we do not have, as Millay said, a loom to weave it all into fabric. No transcendent narratives to provide us with moral guidance, social purpose, intellectual economy. No stories to tell us what we need to know, and especially what we do notneed to know.
If there are children starving in Somalia, or any other place, it has nothing to do with inadequate information. If our oceans are polluted and the rain forests depleted, it has nothing to do with inadequate information. If crime is rampant on our streets, if children are mistreated, it has nothing to do with inadequate information. Indeed, if we cannot get along with our own relatives, this, too, has nothing to do with inadequate information.
What we are facing, then, is a series of interconnected delusions, beginning with the belief that technological innovation is the same thing as human progress—which is lifted to the delusion that our sufferings and failures are caused by inadequate information—which is linked, in turn, to the most serious delusion of all: that it is possible to live without a loom to weave our lives into fabric, that is to say, without a transcendent narrative.
Eric Hoffer once wrote, “[...] For has not the mighty Jehovah performed from the beginning of time the feats that our machine age is even now aspiring to achieve?”
The science-god sends people to the moon, inoculates people against disease, transports images through vast spaces so that they can be seen in our living rooms. It is a mighty god and, like more ancient ones, gives people a measure of control over their lives. Some say the science-god gives more control and more power than any other god before it.
But in the end, science does not provide the answers most of us require.
To the question, “How did it all begin?”, science answers, “Probably by an accident.” To the question, “How will it all end?”, science answers, “Probably by an accident.” And to many people, the accidental life is not worth living.
Moreover, the science-god has no answer to the question, “Why are we here?” and, to the question, “What moral instructions do you give us?”, the science-god maintains silence. It places itself at the service of both the beneficent and the cruel, and its grand moral impartiality, if not indifference, makes it, in the end, no god at all.