While the world is eagerly anticipating the Y2K apocalypse, a far more serious “bug,” created 300 years ago, gets very little attention-a situation we need to recognize and rectify.
I am talking about the Enlightenment, when people decided to split reason from faith and from the literature of the ancients.This dissociation freed science and technology from the shackles of religion and fueled the Industrial Revolution. The success of industrialization confirmed the wisdom of this division and reinforced the three-way separation among “techies” (who put their faith in technology), the “humies” (humanists) and the religious believers. But with success came problems. Techies began questioning their purpose. Humies became disaffected with gadgets and materialism dominating ideas. Youth, sensing something was missing, turned to drugs. And people focused increasingly on themselves, celebrating possessions and lamenting depressions. Governments separated faith from reason in the school curricula. A politically correct population became increasingly reluctant to say “God.” And universities isolated techies from humies in neat cubbyholes. By now, the split has become so ingrained that we’re not even aware of it.
Might it heal by itself? The last millennium was dominated by faith. In the new millennium,this dominance is shifting toward technology-people stand awestruck by the miracles of information technology, biotechnology and materials science, which promise to transform our behavior, our being and our surround. But since technology thrives on knowledge and reason, the new era, left unchecked, will aggravate the split, not heal it. Today, the split serves no purpose and we must make an effort to heal it ourselves. Here are the reasons:
Until recently, an educated person was someone who understood the best of what has been written and said. If you needed technology, you bought it, like potatoes, to serve your loftier humanistic goals. Technologists became known as practitioners of “the servile Arts.” This view made sense when technology was a small part of our lives, but it is no longer valid.
Today, higher purpose may even originate with technology, as in the techie idea of a Web site through which people, world-wide, would post their needs or offers of human help, looking for the right match, free of charge. In the future, technology will be as important a driver of noble new endeavors as humanistic ideals were in the past. Staying split will keep us from discovering this new terrain.