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Reflections on the Unmeasurable Consequences of Economic Growth: Salvation by Science
Vinod Anand | 10 Aug 2013

Reflections on the Unmeasurable Consequences of Economic Growth: Salvation by Science (Vinod Anand) Notwithstanding occasional declarations about its unlimited potentialities for social betterment, science is not guided by any social purpose. As with technology, the effects on humanity are simply the by-products of its own self-seeking. As a collective enterprise, science has no more social conscience than the problem-solving computers it employs. Indeed, like some ponderous multi-purpose robot that is powered by its own insatiable curiosity, science lurches onward irresistibly, its myriad feelers peeling away the flesh of nature, probing ever deeper beneath the surface of things, forcing entry into every sanctuary, moving a transmuted humanity forward to the day when every throb in the universe has been charted, every manifestation of life dissected to the nth particle, and nothing more remains to be discovered — except, perhaps, the road back. Long before that final consummation, however, we shall learn, too late, that men live not by truth alone, but by myth. Already science has stripped men of the comfort of their most cherished illusions; of the uniqueness of the earth they inhabit, placed in the centre of God’s universe; of the immortality of their souls; of the assurance of paradise and life everlasting. In the place of myth, the heroic truths of Science: that man dwells on a small planet lit by an insignificant star somewhere near the rim of an immense galaxy in one of the countless number of galaxy systems scattered through the infinitudes of space; that far from being created in the image of God, and like unto the angels, man has evolved from primeval slime as an accidental by-product of the operation of natural selection; that life itself is but a flickering accident in a measureless universe moving without purpose or destiny. This, then, is what we are to teach our children. And it is depressing enough in all conscience. Yet the loss for men of the myths and particularly of the great religious faiths, a loss that is the inescapable part of the growth of science, has yet unhappier consequences for them. It has too readily been assumed by the so-called humanist that men, once shorn of their belief in a higher being, would turn their energies to more worldly things, and their worship of God to love of their fellow humans. The frantic self-seeking for material achievement, being the most glaring social characteristic of those countries that have benefited most from the advance of science, the evidence confirming the first presumption s abundant to the point of embarrassment. But the second presumption, that deprived of God men would turn their love towards one another, is not borne out by the most casual observation. It is not so much that feeling is ‘drying up’ within us, but that with so much of it being channeled into the aptly-called ‘rat-race’ — into the pursuit of material success, into the pursuit of new knowledge, into the pursuit of fashion, prestige pastimes, and new sensations — little is left to flow directly between people. Yet the thinner runs this flow of feeling between people the more impatient a man may be to seek immediate relief in the external world of glamour and fashion — a world wherein other people play an incidental role in his schemes of personal triumph, but otherwise do not matter to him. An age persistently acclaiming its emancipation from imagined Victorian inhibitions about erotic love finds itself curiously uncomfortable in talking about the love of man for his brothers. But the fear of sounding unctuous is itself indicative of the effort required of a generation nurtured, almost exclusively, on material expectations, of opening itself to the experience of affectionate love. Like opening oneself to the experience of God, an act of faith, of bravado even, is involved. For only by disclosing one’s vulnerability, and affirming the nakedness of one’s dependence upon others, can one cross the threshold from isolation into communion. It is not surprising then that so many today live immured in themselves, watching helplessly as the days and the years slip by without ever touching the warmth of another human being. The reluctance to acknowledge the full extent of one’s need of others is, today, reinforced by those fashionable postures of nonchalance and unconcern. It is becoming harder to resist the temptation to play it safe, to ‘play it cool’, with the result, inevitably, that one lives it cool, cut off from the inner pulse of life. The belief in a personal God, however, helps a man to come closer to others. Not only does it strengthen his hold on psychic realities in a world frantic with ambitions, the same faith that enables him to open his innermost heart to his Maker enables him also to open it for his fellows. Only the simple in mind can believe that in the passing away of religious faith humanity has done no more than discarded its primitive superstitions; that a decent community spirit can somehow replace the observances and rituals of religion, and that the moral precepts for a civilized society can as well be founded on the rationality of an enlightened social interest. With the death of God, something in each one of us has died also. In losing a faith that empowered him to surrender to the love and mercy of his Maker, a man lost more than the solace of his faith. He lost that which, by giving impulse to the flow of sympathy and trust within him, led him towards others in the vital experience of love. But disencumbering men of their faith in God is not the only service conferred on mankind by science. In so far as men still cling to a belief in their intrinsic value as human beings, the advance of science provides an opportunity of a yet greater act of emancipation. Sooner, rather than later, we shall be presented by science with the power to determine the sex of the unborn infant, indeed to determine its genetical composition, and to dispose forever with the need of a mother’s womb. Already science is opening up for us a wonderland of computers, automation and cybernetics. Almost anything a man can do a machine can do or soon will be able to do at least as well, and infinitely faster. Scientists are at work on machines that translate machines that write poetry, machines that compose music, machines that learn to play intellectual games like chess, and machines that generate hypotheses. Of course, man has made these things: we have not quite reached the stage where machines create other machines of their own volition. Let us take what crumbs of metaphysical comfort we can get. For once we turn from man, as a metaphorical embodiment of the extent of human knowledge, to ordinary men and women, we have no choice but to realize that in one attribute after another they are being outdone by contraptions of wire and chemicals. Indeed, science is now successfully exploring substitutes for man’s internal organs, a project of mercy to be sure, and with the prospect one day of enabling men to free themselves from subjection to the weakness of human flesh. If machines are becoming like men, men are no less determined to become like machines in a most literal sense. In the meantime and to a rising chorus of hosannas to the miracles of modem science, the layman — and, beside the sum total of scientific achievement, we are all laymen now — becomes, every day that passes, more of a bewildered spectator to what is happening around him, willy-nilly having to adapt his mode of living to the technology of industry and to the flow of gadgets on to the market. Flattered by the Press for his readership, wooed by the politician for his vote, cajoled by the salesman for his money, how can he escape the feeling that he is naught but a unit of exploitation, one among millions, and as near anonymous as makes no difference? As he is shunted into the era of automation and freed further from mental and muscular effort, all the syrupy sounds of television, all the baubles and the paraphernalia of soft living, and all the eupeptic drugs in creation will not suffice to conceal from him the stark facts of his predicament. He may be taught to play games for his health and to seek recreations that soothe his thwarted instincts. But as an ordinary human being the reins will have slipped from his hands. He will live by the grace of the scientist, destined to become a drone, protected for a time by social institutions and the persisting remnants of a moral tradition, but transparently expendable like some thousand million others heaped like ants over the earth.  The common view that cruel wars and persecutions have also been inspired by religious beliefs is too facile to admit as an argument on the other side. Any institution disposing of the immense power and wealth enjoyed over the centuries by the Church could not but tempt ambitious men into political intrigue, corruption and militancy. More important yet, no matter how great the potential beneficence of an idea, it is possible always for men to pervert it to their own interests: every ideology that inspires men can be used also as an instrument of persecution and of conquest by fanatics seeking power. The brave cause of socialism led by Russian revolutionaries issued in an internecine war of indescribable savagery. The cry ‘liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ that fired men’s hearts also let loose the horrors that drenched the soil of France in blood. The pursuit of ‘virtue’ gave Robespierre to history. Napoleon’s armies of ‘liberation’ looted and tyrannized over Europe. So long as men are ambitious for power, any idea that inspires people will be readily exploited in the endeavour to gain the support necessary to wield power. And as with freedom, so with religion one may truly exclaim, ‘O God, what crimes are committed in thy name? ’     PAGE  PAGE 3