May 15, 2006

The question...

George Weigel has a very impressive article in Commentary on the decline of Europe: Europe’s Two Culture Wars:

....What Bruce Bawer rightly deplores as out-of-control political correctness in Europe is rooted in a deeper malady: a rejection of the belief that human beings, however inadequately or incompletely, can grasp the truth of things—a belief that has, for almost two millennia, underwritten the European civilization that grew out of the interaction of Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome.

Postmodern European high culture repudiates that belief. And because it can only conceive of “your truth” and “my truth” while determinedly rejecting any idea of “the truth,” it can only conceive of tolerance as indifference to differences—an indifference to be enforced by coercive state power, if necessary. The idea of tolerance as engaging differences within the bond of civility (as Richard John Neuhaus once put it) is itself regarded as, well, intolerant. Those who would defend the true tolerance of orderly public argument about contending truth claims (which include religious and moral convictions) risk being driven, and in many cases are driven, from the European public square by being branded as “bigots.”

But the problem goes deeper still. For one thing, however loudly European postmodernists may proclaim their devotion to the relativity of all truths, in practice this translates into something very different—namely, the deprecation of traditional Western truths, combined with a studied deference to non- or anti-Western ones. In the relativist mindset, it thus turns out, not all religious and moral conviction is bigotry that must be suppressed; only the Judeo-Christian variety is. In short, the moral relativism of Europe is often mere window-dressing, a mask for Western self-hatred.....

One item from the article: "...half the infant deaths in Flanders in 1999-2000 were from euthanasia." That's something to chew on.

If you write things, even just a humble weblog, you get a better idea of what it is you are really interested in. The stuff I was writing in 2001 is not too much different from what I write now. (Here's a sample.) But the question that underlies them is much more clear to me.

We are being flung into the future faster than we realize. And the world is wealthier and healthier than ever before. But we begin to see that we face dangers no one could have even imagined in the past. Who would have guessed that a continent that had conquered most of the globe, created most of modern science, culture, and knowledge, withstood hideous wars, famines, plagues.....would be utterly undone by prosperity? By democracy? By freedom greater than their ancestors could have dreamed of? By having almost everything go right!

Consider this:

...Then there is Italy, whose large extended families have long been a staple of the world’s imagination. The truth of the matter is far different: by 2050, on present trends, almost 60 percent of Italians will not know, from personal experience, what a brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or cousin is....

I enjoy reading Glenn Reynolds, but more and more he provokes me to ask the question. Such a decent guy, and so happily infatuated with the bright future and all the nano-gadgets and transforming technologies that are going to make things better and better. But we are already in "the future," already equipped with technology and prosperity that would have been flabbergasting to people when I was born, in 1950. And we do not find ourselves in the sort of paradise that "futurists" expected.

And we seem to be learning that problems spiritual or psychological can be as deadly as nuclear bombs. That plagues of bad ideas can topple nations that previously bounced back from utter military defeat and bombings that left whole cities in rubble as far as the eye could see...

And part of the question is, what do nations and individuals need to survive the strange dangers looming before us?

I'm not, by the way, some sort of anti-technologist, or one who wants to arrest change. That isn't even an option. What I'm wondering is, what do we need to carry in our toolkits as we are stuffed into the time-machine like-it-or-not?

Posted by John Weidner at May 15, 2006 8:22 PM
Weblog by John Weidner