December 27th, 2019
The nameless hero in Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground claims that 'the whole human enterprise seems indeed to consist in man's proving to himself every moment that he is a man and not a sprig.' He is railing against the grand endeavor of progressivism and science to, in some sense, enumerate the human existence, to atomize it to its constituent parts, and understand it thus. To isolate the causes of all human impulses and identify them in nature or in nurture, to the extent so as to render useless such ideas as personal responsibility and free will. He is railing against the modern conceit that human beings can be 'improved' using the tools of science, that their defects can be ironed out in the future as science lets us probe the human condition deeper. I share his pessimism in the success of this project and I also share his disdain at even the existence of such a project. Science, to me, is just a pastime like any other. Art, sports, food, travel, religion, movies, whatever. Anything to keep one's mind occupied and prevent him from a life of relentless despair. There is no special nobility in science and it is not proceeding towards any special understanding of life which helps to improve the human condition. To the extent that science and rationality have succeeded, they have only succeeded in making the human condition worse. What human beings may have gained in material benefits due to science and technology, they certainly have lost in spirituality, society, and camaraderie. The gift of modernity to humanity is isolation, depression, loneliness, and a general loss of of a sense of autonomy. But wait, science can solve these maladies as well. It can give you a pill for your depression. It can invent bullshit like social media and help one pretend that he is not imperiously lonely, that he has a thousand friends who care. Does he even have 2? Does that thought set up a deep sense of dread and insecurity in you? Well, that's the gift of science and technology right there. And it's downhill from here for those who believe in the power of modernity, science, and technology to improve our lives.