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This is in the tradition of the critique of modernity, which holds that mankind is losing something of great value along with our technical progress. It is a minority tradition - like a dissenting opinion in a court case - and has been pretty well drowned out by now. A notable figure in this tradition is the French thinker Simone Weil, who combined intellectual rigor and spiritual depth in a particularly compelling way.

It's probably apropos that you posted this in an article about George Dyson, since Dyson's theme is uncovering the origins and recesses of that technical progress, but very much from within the modern view.

I love Eliot. His English is exquisite, especially his diction, which is incomparable. Everything he wrote seems to be in a state of timeless balance. This quote turns out to be from a play called The Rock (1934):

  O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
  O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
  O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
  The endless cycle of idea and action,
  Endless invention, endless experiment,
  Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
  Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
  Knowledge of words, and ignorance of The Word.
  All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
  All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
  But nearness to death no nearer to God.
  Where is the Life we have lost in living?
  Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
  Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
  The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
  Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust. 
That's really something. He's talking about modernity, but in a way that reads like a translation from Sanskrit, with something of the Greek chorus about it as well. Here's someone trying to get perspective on the present through the language of the past. I never thought of that before.



What do you speak of when we lose something of great value along with our technical progress?


I assume you mean what does that tradition speak of? Pretty much what Eliot says in the quote.

There's a positive and a negative aspect to the critique, in the sense of what it posits vs. what it negates. The positive aspect argues that the Good is accessible through something other than Reason. They're not against Reason, but see it as only part of man's heritage and not the most important part at that. This leads to a critique of modernity because, they argue, modernity doesn't acknowledge or allow for such knowing.

The negative aspect argues that by regarding everything as a technical problem, man becomes swept away by relativism, sees himself as the source of all values, and ultimately lacks any basis for knowing what is good. In this view, rational humanism is shallow and self-deceptive and Nietzsche, the prophet of man choosing his own values, is the great distiller of modernity, the one who took it to its logical conclusion. But where Nietzsche professes to celebrate that conclusion, people like Eliot and Weil and George Grant see it as a reductio.

An interesting thing about the thinkers in this tradition is that for a counterpoint to the Enlightenment view of man (which they reject for its triumphalist emphasis on Reason) they turn not to the anti-Enlightenment Romantics but rather to antiquity, before the split between Reason and Spirit (to use old-fashioned terms) occurred. You can hear this in the Eliot quote. Weil's lodestones were the Iliad and Plato. She, by the way, was the younger sister of André Weil. That was one amazing family.


What the hell is spirit? Why is man swept by relativism? Do you mean moral relativism?

I studied Plato in school and I thought he didn't pass the laugh test. Nietzsche is the least BS philosopher I known so far.

Your comments sound profound but lack substance.


If you know the answers, why ask?


Hey, I still have genuine questions.




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