Friday, May 25, 2012

Can we choose to stay human?

Does the presentation of martial arts training in movies provide an illustration of fundamental attitudes towards human nature? Michah Watson ponders this question at Public Discourse, where he examines "Neo vs. the Karate kid". This is an interesting, contemplative essay -- the best side of Public Discourse.  Watson uses the instant-learning in The Matrix as an illustration of the "Baconian" ideal of mastery over nature, and contrasts that with the "Aristotelian" model of apprenticeship illustrated in The Karate Kid, where character and relationships are given priority over power.

Watson clearly prefers the "Aristotelian" vision over the "Baconian" one, which isn't surprising for an essay at the communitarian Christian Public Discourse. This essay triggered my sentimentality, but before long I was drawn back to the real world. An item in the news illustrated the futility of Watson's wistfulness: the relentless advance of military neuroscience. Watson admitted that Bacon's desire for mastery over nature was in many ways reasonable, give the high mortality rate of Bacon's time. However, Watson tries to argue that this consideration is no longer relevant in modern society where natural ills have been controlled to the point that the drive for enhancing our powers is somewhat frivolous, and we can afford to take our foot off the pedal (so to speak).

Watson's oversight is that the drive for enhancement does not originate from natural threats, but from competition. Human competition (whether military or economic) can consign a person to misery and death just as surely as natural threats can. Therefore, there is no point at which we can relax -- we will always be driven to further self enhancement.

People like Watson may assert that we can still choose to live as a human, and place limits on how much we are willing to change ourselves in order to increase our powers, but perhaps a more accurate description is that we can still choose to die as a human. Life will be defined by those who survive, and given the human traits of innovation and competition, I don't think that any sort of stability is possible for human nature, short of developing some communist utopia.

1 comment:

rulingclass said...

the communitarian objection here has both a conceptual and an empirical problem.

The conceptual problem is that Aristotle's "virtue ethics" treats virtue as a skill to be learned. This makes it something that can be turned into a "Bacon App." You can d/l both the "skill" of Karate and the "virtue" of Karate.

The empirical problem is that "Bacon Apps" are being exponentially accelerated by organs of the State. Since communitarians view the State as organic and not as artificial(as the liberals view it), they have to accept the acceleration of Bacon Apps as an organic process. Communitarianism proper doesn't really hold the role of the State to be an enforcer of a specific consensus; rather, the consensus must only be that the state is the organ that must serve to orient human agency around a "common good." Communitarians, then, if they are to adhere to their own political philosophy, cannot in any way deem "Bacon Apps" to be a moral violation.

Liberals/Libertarians will view the State as artificial and may view the acceleration of "Bacon Apps" as an artificial process; but from an evolutionary standpoint that takes into account "path dependency," the artificial can become the natural.

Btw, this is the problem I see with "social anarchism" that thinks commercial society would simply wilt away if not for the State. That ship has long since sailed, IMHO...