What have we really lost?

During his meditation on eduction and the separation between ‘know-how’ and fundamental metaphysical knowledge, Schumacher’s discussion of Shakespeare and the second law of thermodynamics struck a chord with me.  I’ve certainly borne witness to the third and fourth generational effects of educational systems that are dependent on the centrality of relativity and know-how to their pedagogy. So while I want to react to Schumacher with a similar sort of almost embarrassingly reactionary conservatism (you can’t just /stop/ progress!) as I’ve witnessed myself myself leap to in the reading of works from Gandhi and Illich, it is essential to note that I am myself situated entirely within the pedagogical approach which he here decries.

In particular, Schumacher’s urgings for the re-establishment of a clear hierarchical organization of the universe drew my attention.  To be frank, I agree here with Schumacher, as I did with Tagore, some essential experience of life that may be foregone with the compartmentalization of life into discretized, compartmentalized, and relatively unordered spaces, as technology and modern science have so efficiently allowed for.  I certainly was not educated with any sort of cosmic hierarchy in mind, and so I often find myself unconsciously scoffing at the protestations of philosophers who urge us to “higher” pursuits, or more “whole” understandings of the world.  That isn’t to say that I don’t recognize the nuances or even the possible boons of such world-views; merely that it is one thing to understand a belief or a perspective in the abstract, and entirely another to hold it.

I worry that I may simply have fallen into a relativist trap.  “What makes a world-view that incorporates such beliefs any better than one that does not?” I, almost involuntarily, ask.  How do you sort out whether, as Darwin claims and Schumacher supports, a life wherein the enjoyment of Shakespeare has been stymied in favor of data-processing is a bad thing?  It seems almost a ridiculous question to ask – of course being able to meaningfully understand one’s place in the world and appreciate the nuance of literature is a good thing.  But still, somewhere, I struggle.  Many of the arguments against the rise of modern technology have pointed toward the loss of some element which has made us somehow less essentially human.  But this seems too easy to me.  Have we truly lost some piece of our humanity, or has what it means to be human simply changed?

2 thoughts on “What have we really lost?

  1. I struggle with this, too. It’s not just our minds, attitudes and interests that are changing, but our physical form is changing as well.

    Someone sent me pictures of a real life Barbie Doll person yesterday.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/22/valeria-lukyanova_n_1444169.html

    This strikes me as an example of a human trying to look as non-human as possible. Beyond the pastic surgery, heavy makeup and eating disorder, there’s a person in there that desperately wants to not look like a human being. Does that make her less human? If not, is there some point where a person might be less human. For instance, when it’s possible to get extra limbs grafted on and computerized implants to augment our minds will this be less human? Was Robocop human?

    Or maybe consider this in the context of Turing’s test for AI. If we get a machine to pass the Turing test, does that mean we made a machine act human, or the human test subject just acted like a machine?

    I’m of the belief that humans are changing in the face of technology, but that this change is not unprecedented in human history. I’m not sure if we’re losing anything, but we’re definitely changing.

  2. Nice post. I’ve been struck by how much our modern lives *could* enable us to be both avid fans of Shakespeare and data scientists, programmers, engineers. The ability to access a broad depth of information — of all types — puts the onus back on the technologically-swamped human. In that light, perhaps Schumacher today is reminding us that we can choose to put aside our baser techno-tendencies and fire up that Hamlet ebook.

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