Technology And Society

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The United States has come a long way in technology, but have we gone too far into the future that we forget about history and even worse, the present? Times have changed dramatically and are continually changing. For example, in an interview for Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant, 1921 that appeared in Berliner Tageblatt, July 7, 1921, Albert Einstein provides his first impressions of the United States. He notes that one thing that strikes a visitor to the U.S. is “the joyous, positive attitude to life. A person is friendly, self-confident, optimistic, and without envy. Compared with the American, the European is more critical, more self-conscious, less kind-hearted and helpful, more isolated, more fastidious in his amusements and his reading, generally more or less of a pessimist…The American lives even more for his goals, for the future, than the European. Life for him is always becoming, never being…More emphasis is laid on the “we” than the “I”…Hence the most important cultural functions can be left to private enterprise and the part played by the government in this country is, comparatively, a very restricted one.” Today, America has taken on the lives that the Europeans had back in the early 1900’s. I truly believe that technological developments have played a major role in this transformation. Such websites as Facebook and Twitter that are not only accessible by computer, but by cellular phones as well, have depersonalized people. Don’t get me wrong, social networking does have its advantages by finding long lost friends and keeping in touch with family and friends worldwide. Unfortunately, the main disadvantage is that we rely on technology to keep in touch and have lost that personal connection through meeting face to face. Violence seems to be at a peak because without that personal connection, people lose touch of reality and lose sight of values and morality.

Penetrating research and keen scientific work have often had tragic implications for mankind, producing, on the one hand, inventions which liberated man from exhausting physical labor, making his life easier and richer; but on the other hand, introducing a grave restlessness into his life, making him a slave to his technological environment, and—most catastrophic of all—creating the means for his own mass destruction. The desire to live life springs from the darkness in which the individual finds himself, from his sense of forlornness when he stares without love into the void, from his self-forgetfulness when he feels that he is being consumed by the busy-ness of the world, when he suddenly wakes up in terror and asks himself: What am I, what am I failing to do, what should I do? That self-forgetfulness has been aggravated by the machine age. With its time clocks, its jobs, whether absorbing or purely mechanical, which less and less fulfill man as man, it may even lead man to feel that he is part of the machine, interchangeably shunted in here and there, and when left free, to feel that he is nothing and can do nothing with himself. And just as he begins to recover himself, the colossus of this world draws him back again into the all-consuming machinery of empty labor and empty leisure. But man as such inclines to self-forgetfulness. He must snatch himself out of it if he is not to lose himself to the world, to habits, to thoughtless banalities, to the beaten track.

Einstein hit the mark with this statement: “Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital that leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals that I mentioned before. This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced that there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society. Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems…my political ideal is democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized…Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive; but the desire to be acknowledged as better, stronger, or more intelligent than a fellow being or fellow scholar easily leads to an excessively egoistic psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual and for the community.”

Over the course of history, we have learned that speaking out can cause misunderstanding and conflict, but not speaking out can endorse far worse. Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel is fond of saying that “the opposite of love is not hate, but silence.” In a world of growing bureaucracy and information overload, we have the danger of having our voices drowned out. No reality is more essential to our self-awareness than history. It shows us the broadest horizon of mankind, brings us the contents of tradition upon which our life is built, shows us standards by which to measure the present, frees us from unconscious bondage to our own age, teaches us to see man in his highest potentialities and his imperishable creations. We can make no better use of leisure than to familiarize ourselves and keep ourselves familiar with the glories of the past and the catastrophes in which everything has been shattered. We gain a better understanding of our present experience if we see it in the mirror of history. And history becomes alive for us when we regard it in the light of our own age. Our life becomes richer when past and present illumine one another. The framers of the United States Constitution hoped to combine democratic principles (a Congress) with some of the benefits of an undemocratic elite rule (a Senate, a Supreme Court, a Bill of Rights). Part of our society’s ambivalence about intellectuals is due to this constitutional tension, however, it is mostly a manifestation of deeper psychological conflicts. We want to have authoritative guidance, but we also want autonomy. We don’t like feeling stupid, yet when we are honest we realize we need to learn some things. We respect the accomplishments of others, but sometimes feel threatened and resentful. We have a respect for authorities when it suits us, and embrace relativism in other cases.

The Simpsons on Philosophy and Christianity

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What astonished me was reading The Simpson’s and Philosophy, and learned that even one of the most popular television shows sheds light on the ways of life when we pay close attention and analyze the episodes. It is true that because the Simpson’s are meant for entertainment purposes, the writers put the extreme views in the characters. Here is a corresponding excerpt from the book:

“Though familiar to most, the commonplace quality of The Simpson’s’ characters and setting may lead some to conclude that the show has little to offer educationally speaking. People may question whether important truths could issue from such a pedestrian context. Of course, if truths cannot be ordinary, then The Simpson’s might not offer much. However, it seems that oftentimes it is the ordinary truths that elude us. In Being and Time (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), German philosopher Martin Heidegger demonstrates that what is the most immediate is not always the best understood. Heidegger reveals that we are often the most confused about what is closest to us, including who and how we are. Though it exaggerates things in order to achieve its satirous effect, The Simpson’s isn’t far off the mark in its rendering of contemporary life. Arguably, the effect of satire cannot be accomplished without such accuracy. People must recognize what is being satirized in order for the effect to be achieved.”

In the book, The Simpson’s and Philosophy, the authors compare all of the main characters to different philosophers as well as different ways of viewing life through the various episodes that the Simpson’s have produced. I would highly recommend the book to anyone who has any interest in philosophy whatsoever, as well as to all of the Simpson’s fans. The following is another excerpt taken from the book that describes a materialistic person to the extreme:

“Mr. Burns has three problems that stand in the way of his happiness which are an integral part of understanding his psyche. First, he is a creature of gross excess. Everything about him is big: his house, his fortune, his power (and abuse of that power), and his ambition. As Springfield’s richest man, he is “free to wallow in his own crapulence,” as Mr. Burns gleefully admits. Although there is a rich tradition in philosophy that condemns such excess and advocates a life of moderation, surely the reader does not need the philosophic canon to see that none of Mr. Burns’s excesses bring him much happiness. Despite being surrounded by people, he is alone. Despite his vast wealth, he wants ever more. Second, because he sees everything in abstract terms, because he sees everything as a symbol of something else, he attaches unnecessary importance to everything around him and does not enjoy things for what they are. In “Team Homer,” winning a worthless bowling trophy is much more important to him than the sweet, albeit momentary, pleasure of a group of jocular friends enjoying a game, bonding as a team, and drinking Duff Beer. Instead, winning the trophy becomes a singular achievement, and the problem with this approach is that when everything matters, nothing gets a chance to really matter. Mr. Burns sees everything in a symbolic fashion. He sees everything in an important symbolic way. As such, everything has the same level of importance, and so in the end everything bores him. But this problem is common. We are all guilty, to a greater or lesser extent, of attaching ridiculous importance to the events in our own lives. It is often amazing to become aware of the unimportant things about which we become angry or glad, and equally amazing to recognize the truly important things to which we are indifferent. But Burns’s problems are parasitic upon a third, more fundamental problem. This problem is the symbolism that he attaches to everything; the result is that the original thing that is symbolized ceases to exist, at least in any pleasurable way. Unfortunately for Mr. Burns, it is the original thing that he truly needs for happiness. In an affluent modern society, man has more ‘things’ than ever. We are encouraged to mentally alienate ourselves from reality. We are being taught to see things as symbols and are being trained to use them for effect, and never for themselves. It is Mr. Burns’s exclusive use of symbolism that, in the end, fails him in his quest for happiness. There is a widely held conception of happiness that explains happiness has two components. The first is the occurrence of a certain set of emotions experienced during, following, or in anticipation of a markedly favorable set of circumstances. The second is dispositional; in order to be happy it is necessary that one like, or be satisfied with, those parts of one’s total life pattern and circumstances that one thinks are important, without which one would be substantially different. But of course we all know that Mr. Burns wishes that his life were substantially different. He is permanently in search of a new life for himself, whether it be as an athlete, a governor, an innocent child, or whatever. Whenever Burns has an idea to improve his life, it is always to become something; or, more accurately, to become a certain type of thing. Nothing is enjoyable or funny or desirable to him unless it can be seen as standing for or representing something else, something bigger and more important. The speculation that Mr. Burns’s representationalism is the product of Satan’s attempt to cut him off from his humanity.”

Mr. Burns clearly represents everybody’s natural sin-filled life. Time after time, we get caught up always looking out for ourselves and not anyone else. Is there any wonder why we too can be surrounded by others and yet feel alone? Whether you believe this or not, God has made us to be together. The book of Acts describes the first Church where everyone’s need was met by one another. When I talk about need, I mean the bare necessities of life, which are clothing, food, shelter, and education. Everything else would go under the want category. In America, we take everything for granted; we get to choose the size of our house, the type of transportation, the latest fashion designs, electronics, and tremendous amounts of different types of groceries. When we take everything for granted, we miss out on what really is important in our lives. I have gotten private comments that inform me that I have a tendency to be “too religious” in my entries. I believe that the main problem of having people giving that type of opinion is the culture we live in, which I will be discussing more about in the near future. For right now, let me finish this Simpson’s journal entry with one final excerpt from the book and my response:

“The culture we live in today, especially the media, portrays Christians as people having “blind faith.” Ned Flanders from The Simpson’s is an excellent example of being a Christian to the extreme. Ned seems to be what philosophers call a divine command theorist, since he thinks that morality is a simple function of God’s divine command; to him, “morally right” means simply “commanded by God,” and “morally wrong” means simply “forbidden by God.” Consequently, Ned consults with Reverend Lovejoy or prays directly to God Himself to resolve the moral dilemmas he faces. Thus, Ned apparently believes he can find solutions to his moral problems not by thinking for himself, but by consulting the appropriate divine command. His faith is as blind as it is complete, and he floats through life on a moral cruise control, with his ethical dilemmas effectively pre-resolved.”

I can only pray that I will have the kind of faith Ned Flanders’ has. God has given us many gifts, and among those are His Spirit, His Words, and our brains. God has given our brains to think and make choices on our own, that is what free will is all about. The Reverends, Pastors, and just about any elder from the Church are there to help people grow stronger in faith. Every dilemma we face, have already been faced, and the only way we will feel alone in our struggles is if we choose to be alone. The Bible was written and the Spirit given to guide us on this journey of life. Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ had gone through everything imaginable, so that when we go through hard times, He is there to carry us through. There are also people of the Church to reassure us that in the darkest times in life, there is the light of love to keep us going.

Philosophy, Truth, Friendship

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Over the past month, I have been studying philosophy, and to my surprise, I have grown stronger in the Christian faith.  The whole idea in philosophy is to question everything in search of truth in order to gain wisdom and understanding.  In secular philosophy, the concept of there being a “god,” let alone the one true God, of the Holy Trinity, is preposterous at best.  Since philosophy is a form of science, Alan Lightman describes, “science aims for an impersonal and objective truth, but the search for that truth is a human activity.”  The problem with this view on science is that the very essence of truth is not impersonal or objective, but rather, the complete opposite.  In John 8:31-32, we read, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  What is this teaching that makes disciples?  2 John 6 explains this, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.  As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.”  I can understand the reader picturing a 1970’s scene with everyone walking around with flowers and having rainbows everywhere.  That is not the case I am making at all. 

Time and time again, I see the advice being giving to someone who is having a hard time that “one needs to look out for oneself and disregard everyone else.”  Aristotle emphasized the importance of friendship due to his beliefs that without friends we cannot exercise virtue and that without friends we cannot lead full, flourishing lives.  The following are statements made by Albert Einstein from the book Ideas And Opinions that correctly contradicts such advice:

 “I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves—this ethical basis I call the ideal of an unattractive place. The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time, have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth.  Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed to me empty.  The trite objects of human efforts—possessions, outward success, luxury, have always seemed to me disgraceful…  The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which he has attained liberation from the self…  The individual, if left alone from birth, would remain primitive and beast-like in his thoughts and feelings to a degree that we can hardly conceive.  The individual is what he is and has the significance that he has not so much in virtue of his individuality, but rather as a member of a great human community, which directs his material and spiritual existence from the cradle to the grave.” A man’s value to the community depends primarily on how far his feelings, thoughts, and actions are directed toward promoting the good of his fellows…  Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution that we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges that are characteristic of the human species.  In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution that he adopts from society through communication, and through many other types of influences.  It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society.  Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization that predominate in society.  It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes:  human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate…  The best in man can only flourish when he loses himself in a community.  Hence the moral danger of the person who has lost touch with his own people and is regarded as a foreigner by the people of his acceptance.  Only too often a contemptible and joyless egoism has resulted from such circumstances…  For human community life cannot long endure on a basis of crude force, brutality, terror, and hate.  Only understanding for our neighbors, justice in our dealings, and willingness to help our fellow men can give human society permanence and assure security for the individual.”