Monday, July 13, 2009

The Future and its Enemies

Virginia Postrel has posted a chapter from her book by this name - it's a trenchant critique of Bill McKibben's "The End of Nature" and others though she does spend a lot of time beating up McKibben. I learned a couple things from this.

I found this especially interesting:

"As a 19th-century position, romanticism never broke with rationalism: rather, it was rationalism's mirror-image," writes the historian and philosopher of science Stephen Toulmin.

"Descartes exalted a capacity for formal rationality and logical calculation as the supremely 'mental' thing in human nature, at the expense of emotional experience, which is a regrettable by-product of our bodily natures. From Wordsworth or Goethe on, romantic poets and novelists tilted the other way: human life that is ruled by calculative reason alone is scarcely worth living, and nobility attaches to a readiness to surrender to the experience of deep emotions. This is not a position that transcends 17th-century dualism: rather, it accepts dualism, but votes for the opposite side of every dichotomy."

This is my point exactly - that the fight between the techies and the all-naturals is stupid one and that we should stop arguing about it. (So thanks, Virginia, for introducing me to Mr. Toulmin) I think Postrel is proposing the same thing - though she wants to replace reason v. passion with what she calls dynamism. Dynamism sounds basically like libertarianism. Get a lot of minds working creatively on figuring out problems for themselves and then let the market and natural selection do its thing. Rather than trying to predict and control the future, she says, allow the process to take its course.

Hmm. What about cases where we are pretty darn sure of the future? Should we really cut down the last Truffula tree to improve our lives - knowing that we are eating off the plates of our children? Or climate change blah blah blah?

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