Posted by: gcarkner | March 16, 2014

Who Stole Our Humanity?

Scammed Out of Our Humanity?

There are forces and ideologies in society which rob us of our dignity and freedom, of our very humanity. Scientism is one of those forces or perspectives which depletes or blocks a higher humanism. We have to say that it  is not conducive to a holistic or healthy view of humans. Its reductive character has contributed to the devaluing of people through a number of ideologies in the twentieth century, many of which are still in play in the twenty-first century. Dehumanization of persons is the result of treating them in terms of their machineness or their biological being alone.  Scores of books have addressed this topic. In a very devastating sense, modern culture is deprived of some of the richest interpretation of the nature of humanity that history has available.[1]

Is this a wise way to go? E.F. Schumacher captures the problem of scientism for personhood in rather shocking terms.

The Universe is what it is; but he who … limits himself to its lowest sides—to his biological needs, his creature comforts or his accidental encounters—will inevitably ‘attract’ a miserable life. If he can recognize nothing but ‘struggle for survival’ and ‘will to power’ fortified by cunning, his ‘world’ will be one fitting Hobbe’s description of the life of man as ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’.[2]

Under the mythology of scientism, people are viewed as sophisticated cogs in the cosmic machinery, or simplified as the most intelligent animals (highest primates). All human characteristics, including mind or soul, are taken as explicable in terms of body (neuron networks, DNA makeup, biochemistry or physiology, or mere physics and chemistry). There is a philosophical reductionism at work, i.e. the higher is explained in terms of the lower, mind in terms of brain, human social behaviour in terms of physics and chemistry, or ant colonies (E.O. Wilson). Humans are appreciated mainly for their instrumental value: earning capacity, socio-political usefulness and their excellencies of giftedness. We saw this mentality lived out in the old Soviet Union, but often it exhibits itself in how people are treated in the West as well.

We briefly note here the distinct lack of wisdom in viewing humans as mere animals. This is the kind of reductionism that leads to alienation, human rights abuse, cynicism, even nihilism, as we see in the oppression by malevolent elites or dictators, or abusive employers of immigrants. The movie The Way Back depicts such brutish conditions of Stalin’s Siberian labour camps–the Gulags about which Solzhenitsyn wrote.[3] Scientism is easily exploited by a political ideology that is disconnected from the moral good; it carries the potential to be used in the most destructive ways on humans and the rest of creation, promoting a nihilistic anti-humanism.[4]

Truth is submitted to power if we withdraw love from social and political reality in the name of science. This is fallacious. Philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas clarifies that there is still a tremendous failure, a crisis in late modernity (amidst its radical individualism) to take responsibility for the Other. Such responsibility is basic to our ethical relations and our civility. It should not be a surprise that we have a crisis of identity if we look to the beasts, our evolutionary ancestors or the machine to find our truest and best selves. Scientism in this sense is the Grinch that stole our full meaning; it has made a caricature of human existence, and put an unnecessary glass ceiling on what it means to flourish as a human race. To paraphrase a famous quote from French scientist Blaise Pascal, “Faith/life has its reasons that scientific reason knows not of.” There is so much more to what it means to be human than that which science can study or demonstrate.

All philosophy is a participation in humanity’s common struggle to attain truth and wisdom. We know well that there can be no freedom without the quest for truth. All forms of terror and oppression involve manipulation, falsehood and deception. This post series is grappling with language deflation re: the nature of being human, and it is searching for fresh, engaging metaphors, in order to map better the plenitude of life. If scientism, as described thus far, is problematic and even destructive in its human and cultural consequences, what constitutes a more positive trajectory, a more holistic outlook? What is possible as a more integrated stance with respect to the wonders of science and the mysteries of the self and the fullest human imagination? What is science’s place in late modernity amidst beauty, goodness and other forms of truth or knowledge? We would like to make suggestions to move the conversation forward in our next post. Perhaps there is something to learn from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

~Gord Carkner

[1] Huston Smith, Beyond the Post-Modern Mind. (Wheaton: Quest, 1989), pp. 98f. Many of the nastier political experiments of the twentieth century did just that, depriving people of their basic rights and dignity.

[2] E.F. Schumacher. A Guide for the Perplexed. (New York: Abacus, 1977), p. 45

[3] See also Solzhenitsyn’s book A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Famous Canadian novelist David Adams Richards begins his best-selling book God Is: my search for faith in a secular world, with a character analysis of Joseph Stalin and just how absolutely ruthless he was.

[4] Charles Taylor notes that the three competing hypergoods in our day are Christian humanism, scientific/atheistic humanism and Nietzschean anti-humanism, although one questions whether anti-humanism is a good. Brad Gregory also speaks of a trans-humanism where some futurists/utopianists want to remake humans genetically or technologically.

See also Dr. Curt Thompson M.D. (psychiatrist), Anatomy of the Soul.

Proverbs 8:1-36  NIV

[1] Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? [2] At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; [3] beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud: [4] “To you, O people, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. [5] You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, set your hearts on it. [6] Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. [7] My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. [8] All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. [9] To the discerning all of them are right; they are upright to those who have found knowledge. [10] Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, [11] for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. [12] “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. [13] To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. [14] Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have insight, I have power. [15] By me kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just; [16] by me princes govern, and nobles—all who rule on earth. [17] I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. [18] With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity. [19] My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver. [20] I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, [21] bestowing a rich inheritance on those who love me and making their treasuries full. [22] “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; [23] I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. [24] When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; [25] before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, [26] before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. [27] I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, [28] when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, [29] when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. [30] Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, [31] rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. [32] “Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. [33] Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it. [34] Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. [35] For those who find me find life and receive favor from the Lord. [36] But those who fail to find me harm themselves; all who hate me love death .”

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