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Modernity as the lunacy of pedants

La Rochefoucauld says that “he who lives without folly is not so wise as he thinks.” The point applies more strongly as the effort becomes more comprehensive, so that a whole society that tries to live perfectly rationally will go stark staring mad. That is increasingly the case with our own society:

  • Scientism, the attempt to remodel all knowledge on the lines of modern natural science, is an attempt to be perfectly rational. If something’s not demonstrated by studies carried on by methods like those used in physics it’s not knowledge and can’t be relied on.
  • An obvious consequence is secularism. Modern natural science demands quantification and control, so if something in principle exceeds our grasp it can’t be taken into account. God can’t be measured so he’s gotta go.
  • God’s not all that has to go. There are a lot of things we can’t quite get a grip on, and recognition of that fact must be basic to our understanding of our situation if we are to remain sane. If nothing that exceeds our grasp can be taken into account, then we will recognize only things we control. As a result, we will view ourselves as omnipotent and all but omniscient, except for whatever minor details may remain to be filled in. Mindless utopianism is thus a direct consequence of the strictly pragmatic, skeptical and critical spirit of modernity when that spirit becomes a dogma, as it must when it becomes sufficiently dominant.

The result: today, at least among those who think in the ways thought best, nothing that limits human power can be recognized, neither God, nor human nature, nor human differences, nor the stubbornly self-willed quality of complex and enduring systems. To bring such concerns into the discussion is to try to base action on things we cannot fully grasp, and therefore to engage in obfuscation and turn against knowledge and rationality as now understood. Such conduct is now conclusively presumed to demonstrate ignorance, irrationality or malice. After all, what else could it be based on? Where are the studies that tell us about the things that elude us? And if there are no studies, and therefore no knowledge, what’s the point of raising such issues?