Day By Day

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Transhumanist Technocrats

David Brooks, over at the NYT, has a terrific column this week on the arrogance of the technocrats who plagued Western culture through the past century. He recalls the repeated and disastrous efforts to engineer the human species:
Starting in the late 19th century, eugenicists used primitive ideas about genetics to try to re-engineer the human race. In the 20th century, communists used primitive ideas about “scientific materialism” to try to re-engineer a New Soviet Man.

Today, we have access to our own genetic recipe. But we seem not to be falling into the arrogant temptation — to try to re-engineer society on the basis of what we think we know. Saying farewell to the sort of horrible social engineering projects that dominated the 20th century is a major example of human progress.

Indeed it is.

But his caution has wider application than just the folly of human engineering. In conclusion he writes:

This age of tremendous scientific achievement has underlined an ancient philosophic truth — that there are severe limits to what we know and can know; that the best political actions are incremental, respectful toward accumulated practice and more attuned to particular circumstances than universal laws.
Emphasis mine. Read the whole thing here.

Today when we are witnessing an elite and increasingly popular fascination with the "new eugenics" and "transhumanism", when environmentalism is tending ever more toward anti-human perspectives, and when militant atheists are proclaiming the absence of any moral values other than those derived from rigorous application of the scientific method, I fear that Mr. Brooks is far too sanguine regarding his example of "human progress". The scientistic impulse is alive and well and just as strong and terrible as it was in the progressive era or in the age of Marxist dominance.