Enlightenment hangover

May 30, 2010

I was born in 1970, seemingly on the cusp of transition from modernity to postmodernity. Maybe no one knew it at the time? After all, we were putting men on the moon. Didn’t it seem like everything was still possible then—that our future was wide open? I took to heart the words of Disney World’s Tomorrowland jingle: “There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow/ Shining at the end of every day.” (One of the Sherman brothers more annoying efforts.) Tomorrow would be made possible by G.E., the Carousel of Progress told us, and maybe we believed it… As long as the Russians didn’t drop the bomb first.

We naively fell victim to Enlightenment propaganda whose chief tenet of faith is progress. Science and technology will inevitably make the world a better place (as if Hiroshima and Nagasake don’t bear witness to something far more sinister). Modern medicine, modern agriculture, modern banking, modern government, modern everything will point the way. Modernization will save the developing world. (Even the word “developing” is propaganda suggesting progress.)

That was then. Having lost faith in progress, we’re now supposed to be postmodern people.

But not so fast. Old gods die hard. Here’s a Times article whose headline gets it just right: “Our Fix-It Faith and the Oil Spill.” Here’s a relevant passage:

Americans have long had an unswerving belief that technology will save us — it is the cavalry coming over the hill, just as we are about to lose the battle. And yet, as Americans watched scientists struggle to plug the undersea well over the past month, it became apparent that our great belief in technology was perhaps misplaced.

You think? It is a kind of faith, that’s for sure—even though it’s premised upon faith being made obsolete by Reason.

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