Notes From Babel

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I set up this blog to post some of the notes I keep reflecting on issues that might interest friends and anyone else who share similar interests in politics, culture, and philosophy. I have had trouble keeping blogs in the past mainly because I have a very hard time posting thoughts that have not been fully developed -- and who has the time to do that? Nonetheless, and with that disclaimer, here goes.

All facets of humanity strive inexorably to greater and greater heights. Why is this? Even by the 18th century, Rousseau observed that man had the tools to be perfectly happy enough, and that in fact perhaps we had already overdone things. A family that relies on hunting, growing, and preparing its own food was not likely to be less happy than those who paid others to do so for them. In fact, having been stripped of the excitement and satisfaction in the hunting, growing, and preparing of their own meals, rich folks took to wearing elegant clothes and arranging to have fine entertainment provided at meals. Thus, where we strive to remove toil, we inevitably remove an important aspect of natural human satisfaction, and consequently must replace it with some artificial mode of satisfaction. Thus Rousseau's theme of the natural versus the artificial.

Mankind has been building his Tower of Babel in this way throughout history. Of course, he cannot keep from doing this. Man does not seek progress only or even primarily for the sake of achieving some greater convenience (certainly we have enough convenience and comfort already). That is indeed what we have on our minds -- we become convinced that only a 50 inch television will do, that we can't be taken seriously in a car that costs less than a two-bedroom house in the 80's. But in this new Obama-age where we are willing to sacrifice our prosperity and happiness for the generation of the next millennium, we start to find that we still can't stop stacking one stone on top of another. We have to keep progressing, we have to keep making our minds productive. Not because we need comfort, and not even because we need to figure out a way to help the lot of the folks who will be born hundreds of years from now. (I suppose we should give them some clean air so they can keep working to pay off that boondoggle of a light rail.) We do it because it's our function.

The problem is, however, that tower is getting too damn big. We've retrofitted it and widened the base, but as it gets ever taller, eventually it'll give way. The faster we make it stretch to the heavens, the sooner it will all be leveled to the ground.

When I turn my toaster oven off in the morning, if I move the dial too far to the left of "Off," I reach the "Stay On" setting. Consequently, there is a very uncomfortable margin of error over whether I will come home to a burned down house or not. There is a similar margin of error between Utopia and Armageddon. The harder we try at perfection, the more certainly we are going to create worse problems.

I do not have an optimistic view of humanity, I'm afraid to say. Eventually, we will ruin ourselves, I'm convinced. We will continue to replace the natural with the artificial, just because we need something to do, something to keep our hands from being idle. And we'll continue to forsake the wisdom of the past as we continue to assert that progress is the standard of veracity, and thus novelties will continue to be regarded as self-authenticating truths.

Perhaps all we can do is direct our stone-stacking instinct towards undoing the damage done by some of our fellow stone-stackers.

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