Monday, February 06, 2012

You Say It Is the Good Cause That Hallows Even War? I Say to You: It Is the Good War That Hallows Every Cause

Adam Lee:

I hate that it's necessary to have these fights. Even if we always won, which we obviously don't, there are so many more interesting things we could be talking about - so many real, fascinating, important problems we could be solving - that we're not addressing because the endless battles over antiquated superstition distract us and consume our time and energy. We could be talking about leapfrogging the electric grid by bringing distributed solar to rural India; we could be talking about using genomics to create individually tailored cures for cancer; we could be programming self-driving robot cars; we could be building more observatories to search for habitable extrasolar planets. It's not that no one is talking about or working on these things - but think how much more progress we could be making, if only all the resources and the devotion that are presently being poured into religion were put to more meaningful ends.

I believe that the human race has an amazing future ahead of it. But if we're going to get there, the last thing we need is people putting obstacles in our path.

...I'm not saying that it's always a thankless slog. Activism has its rewards, not least of which is that it feels good to fight on the side of right. In a way, I relish the opportunity to defend my ideals, which I'm certain are the best ones; and even if we have to fight the same battles over and over, it seems we're winning them more and more often. We shouldn't have to be fighting them at all, but I look forward to a day when that will in fact be the case, and I hope I can contribute, in some small way, to bringing that day a little closer.

"I believe that the human race has an amazing future ahead of it"? He sounds like he's running for office. Who the hell talks like that besides politicians? Me, I'll settle for cautiously speculating that humankind almost certainly has a future ahead of it, one which might be both amazing and tedious in varying degrees, unless it doesn't, in which case it won't be. But honestly, we can barely predict what gas prices will be next year; what does it even mean to prognosticate that far ahead in such vague terms? My friends, I believe with all my heart that colorless green ideas will continue to sleep furiously; are you with me?

Ahem. Anyway. Yes, if only life didn't stubbornly insist on thwarting all our attempts to make it go smoothly and efficiently according to one particular plan. If only we could anticipate every contingency and head off every unintended consequence. If only we could control for the infinite number of variables that constantly throw our best-laid plans into disarray. If only we could reason everybody into seeing things our way. Imagine all the people...

Despite what the lowest common denominator of Internet wisdom may have told you, atheism is not a religion. Naïve progressive utopianism, though, yeah, pretty much. In fact, it's essentially Christianity minus the overt supernaturalism. Life is a zero-sum struggle within linear time where every thought, every ounce of energy wrested away from the clutches of darkness is part of an eventual cumulative victory for the forces of light...unless we falter in our will and effort.

I maintain that a cyclical view of history makes more sense, even if it doesn't flatter our vanity and idealism. The same themes of human existence recur in different settings from ancient times to modern ones, and from that perspective, the best way to reach your full flowering as an individual is to invite struggle against worthy opponents who bring out the best in you. Resolving all disagreements and removing all obstacles, even if it were possible, sounds just as flaccid and boring as the idea of heaven.

2 comments:

Brian M said...

Given the unfortunate realities so ably summarized in hard (albeit conceptual) numbers here...

http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/

I am skeptical of his Brave New World.



I used to read Daylight Atheism regularly at the opld site. Now, increasingly, it feels more and more like a Digby's Hullabaloo for Atheists. Just a matter of tone, not content per se. 3

The Vile Scribbler said...

Yeah, I find it hard to read any single-issue blog regularly. There's just no cause I'm so devoted to that I want to talk about it all the time.

But anyway, I would suggest it's just as likely we'll suffer the effects of resource wars or some rapidly-spreading supervirus before we ever achieve the sort of rational utopia he's dreaming of.