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Part III: Medieval Synthesis: Modern Fragmentation Chapter 4
The Fragmentation of Thought and Life
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- AT THE CLOSE of chapter 1 we had reached the final fragmentation of the Medieval Synthesis. The immediate effect was a new spirit of freedom of inquiry, a new sense of liberation from the confining restraints of theology, bringing to each discipline a fresh vitality. (148) One by one the older disciplines began an independent development, formulating their own principles of inquiry, their own terminology, their own modes of evaluating the evidence, and their own standards by which to judge the truth. In the very nature of the case, the fragmentation process confirmed itself until it became a kind of policy leading to the belief that a fuller understanding in any realm of inquiry would naturally result by isolating it. Isolation, not synthesis, was believed to be the secret of getting at the truth. D. Ewen Cameron likened this approach to the behaviour of a dog
- 148. Nicholas Berdyaev wrote in his Fate of Man in the Modern World (Morehouse, New York, 1935, p.48). "At the time of the Renaissance the freedom of human thought was proclaimed, but the dialectic of that emancipatory process led to the transformation of freedom of thought into 'free-thought'.
- This is a new dogma quite different from freedom of thought. Free-thought has proved to be a compression or even a denial of man's spiritual life. And true freedom of thought, not free-thought, will but confirm the truth of Christianity. The emancipation did not set free the whole man, it simply liberated thought itself, as a sphere quite apart from human existence: it was the declaration of autonomy for thought, not for man himself. This autonomy was proclaimed in all spheres of social and cultural life, and everywhere it brought about the dissociation of these various phases of life from the integral man. The autonomy of economic life, for instance, created the fatal figure of the 'economic man' who is really no man at all. The crisis and decline of the freedom of thought is in direct causal relation with the fact that it is not so much man's thought which is set free, as that thought has been set free from man, has become autonomous. But this autonomy is something quite different from freedom."
with a bone which, in order to extract from it all the meat it contained, isolates it from the rest of the body and drags it off into a corner by itself; there to worry it with every means at his disposal. (149) This concept was in time extended to include the further idea that if; having once isolated something, one could magnify the object sufficiently, then as Radl put it, "one could get nearer to reality." (150) The principle is that the less one has to look at, the more one can see. And this principle of "divide and conquer" paid extraordinary dividends, for the fact is that one of the most immediate effects was the achievement of far greater control over the forces of nature than had ever been thought possible before.
However, this success had the unfortunate effect of leading to a certain amount of confusion, first in the public mind but later among intellectuals also, which resulted from the tendency to equate ‹ quite mistakenly ‹ control with understanding. The assumption was made ‹ though it is manifestly contrary to common experience ‹ that the tremendous increase in control thus achieved could only have resulted from a great advance in true understanding.
Yet a moment's consideration will show that control and understanding are not at all the same. Most of us are able to control many things of which we have little or no real understanding. Understanding is often ‹ indeed, usually ‹ quite unnecessary in the normal course of events. We may drive a car with an automatic gearshift or use a telephone or turn the radio from one station to another without the slightest understanding of how they actually work. One might answer to this that although we ourselves, the users, control these things without much understanding of how they work, nevertheless the designers must have understood how they worked in order to construct them. But this again proves to be a fallacy. We do not really understand something merely because we have found a way of describing what goes on. Le Comte du Nouy says, "Any electrician thinks he understands how an electric battery works but the best physicists do not share his opinion." (151) We do not understand the meaning of a reaction merely because we understand the sequence of events
149. Cameron, D. Ewen, "The Current Transition in the Conception of Science" in Science, vol.107, 1948, p.556. pg.2 of 16
150. Radl: Quoted by Ralph Gerard, "The Scope of Science" in Scientific Monthly, June, 1947, p.499.
151. Du Nouy, Le Comte, Human Destiny, Signet Books, New York, 1949, p.26. See also the article by R. C. Osthoff entitled "Batteries" in International Science and Technology, November, 1964, in which he remarks (p.49) "Battery chemistry is far more complex than most people imagine . . . . . We don't know, for example, precisely what equations to write for all the reactions in an ordinary dry cell and we aren't certain that the equations we customarily write for the lead-acid storage battery are really the right ones." Yet these batteries work!
which underlies it. This sequence enables prediction and thus allows possible control, but it does not provide any understanding of the real causes. Indeed, Bankoff has said: (152)
Science today makes no claim to explain in the terms of absolute causes. The claim of modern science is that it describes. At the back of its mind is always the reservation "as if". . . .
Now, "as if" is explanation by an analogy. Although it appears very persuasive, it really achieves nothing beyond the description of one set of phenomena in terms of another set of phenomena ‹- and these are often little or no better understood. The advantage of this method of explanation is that relationships become evident which were not formerly so. This often has the effect of providing an apparent explanation. Yet Einstein was perfectly correct when he said that in reality we are merely drawing one incomprehensible out of another. (153)
The fact of the matter is that although this process extends our powers of control over the forces of nature,
we are not really any nearer to understanding them precisely. It is difficult to realize that prediction is quite possible without understanding. If one may be allowed to misquote or re-apply an observation made by Eddington which I think is particularly apt, it could be said that complete understanding of anything is a kind of idol before which the scientist tortures himself daily. (154) Our explanation, even in physics (surely the most exact of sciences), still partakes more of the nature of plausibility than comprehension.
There is, in fact, a widespread measure of agreement today that our ability to control and thus to achieve power has progressed so rapidly, and proved so successful an adventure, that the purer objective of seeking disinterestedly for what might be called "intellectually satisfying comprehension" has been suffering more and more by default. Science, in fact, is being degraded in the minds of many people into mere technology.
There is much satisfaction in being able to control ‹ and much dissatisfaction in not being able to. Witness
the frustration when a car refuses to start or the annoyance when electronic equipment fails to function
152. Bankoff, George, The Boom of the Atom, Faber and Faber, London, 1946, p.25. pg.3 of 16
153. Einstein: quoted by Sir Alfred Ewing in Science, vol.89, 1939, p.29.
154. Eddington, Sir Arthur S., Nature of the Physical World, Cambridge University Press, 1930, p.337.
properly during an experiment in the laboratory, as it all too frequently does! But this kind of satisfaction is no substitute for the kind of satisfaction that comes from understanding, and it is the failure to distinguish between these two kinds of satisfaction that has somehow rendered science so powerless to effect the "good life" because they serve quite different purposes.
Even Marx was keen enough to observe this fact. (155) "The pure light of Science," he said, "seems unable to shine but on the dark background of ignorance. All our inventions and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force." What we need is not the kind of understanding which allows us to control the forces of nature, but rather that which enables us to interpret them and explore their meaning for man in the light of his true end. Of course, we can never understand anything completely. Our understanding is always limited. Since everything in the universe is related to everything else in the universe, we can only understand everything about any single thing by understanding everything about every single thing. Daniel Lamont observed: (156)
Science, because of its essential method, cannot probe the secret of even one object. If we knew a single object through and through, we should know the entire Universe through and through.
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- Only God knows the Universe through and through ‹ so we need His help to achieve even sufficient understanding to make sense out of the sum total of our experience. We have indeed increased our control, and to this extent science has contributed to man's dominion over the earth; but it has not brought with it any deep and abiding satisfaction. There are even many who believe now that we never can achieve a satisfying world view. The reason for this denial is, on the face of it, obviously sound: no man can ever hope to encompass
- 155. Karl Marx: quoted by Melvin Rader, "Technology and Community: the Mandates of Survival" in Scientific Monthly, June, 1948, p.502. Echoing the views of Karl Marx (though not consciously), the English novelist George Gissing, in 1898 in his Roycroft Papers, expressed his own feelings as follows: "I hate and fear 'science' because of my conviction that, for a long time to come if not forever, it will be the remorseless enemy of mankind. I see it destroying all simplicity and gentleness of life, all the beauty of the world; I see it darkening men's mind and hardening their hearts; I see it bringing a time of vast conflicts, which will pale into insignificance 'the thousand wars of old,' and, as likely as not, will whelm all the laborious advances of mankind in blood-drenched chaos" (quoted by Eugene Ayres, "Social Attitude Toward Invention" in American Scientist, vol. 43, October, 1955, p.536).
- 156. Lamont, Daniel, Christ and the World of Thought, 1935, p.154: quoted by F. I. Andersen, "The Modern Conception of the Universe in Relation to the Conception of God" in Transactions of the Victorian Institute, vol.82, 1950, p.83.
a sufficient grasp of known facts to achieve an integration of it because, as Fred Walker said, "We have become 'ignorant' in new way, not because we know too little, but because there is too much to be known." (157) It may be true. Yet the necessity of achieving integration once again is very widely recognized today.
Alfred North Whitehead wrote some years ago: (158)
Each science confines itself to a fragment of the evidence and weaves its theories in terms of notions suggested by that fragment. Such a procedure is necessary by reason of the limitations of human ability. But its dangers should always be kept in mind. For example, the increasing departmentalization of universities during the last hundred years, how ever necessary for administrative purposes, tends to trivialize the mentality of the teaching profession.
The consequence is that we find ourselves trapped by a method of inquiry which demands an ever-increasing specialization, a steady narrowing-down of the legitimate field of interest for each individual. The process has become almost a disease, and it has so affected the relationship between the disciplines that university training has been forced to concentrate on teaching men how to perform some particular function competently rather than how to develop a satisfying philosophy of life. This has had detrimental effects on society itself because it inevitably leads to the eclipse of "ends" by "means." As Erich Fromm pointed out, educated man, though he has learned to deal with some of the pieces most effectively, can no longer see meaning in the whole. (159) It is not merely the intellectuals who have been troubled by this fragmentation: the disease has reached into every department of man's life. It is the same disease which led Newton to insist that his philosophy about the meaning of the universe as a whole must be rigidly excluded from his laboratory. It was not that Newton was the first to insist upon this bifurcation between faith and science, but the very brilliance of his thinking did give tremendous weight to his conviction that it was improper to seek any common ground between them. Scientists as a whole have tended ever since to accept this form of intellectual apartheid, although some of Newton's contemporaries (Leibnitz, for example) disagreed with him strongly. (160)
But the first step toward apartheid had been taken long before this. It began when a clear distinction was first made between the kind of knowledge which can be achieved by reason and experiment, and the kind of
157. Walker, F., "Blueprint for Knowledge" in Scientific Monthly., February, 1951, pp.90f. pg.5 of 16
158. Whitehead, Alfred North, Nature and Life, University of Chicago Press, 1934: quoted in Science, vol.132, 1956, p.1066.
159. Fromm, Erich, ref.51, p.251.
160. Whittaker, E. T., ref.104, p.270.
knowledge which requires revelation to complete it ‹ in short, between science and theology. Undoubtedly this distinction had been recognized before Galileo's time, but it came to a head with his trial. Nature and supernature were henceforth to be categorized, and each became the preserve of a distinct community, the two communities soon forming themselves into opposing camps. pg.6 of 16
There had been a time when discontinuities between the natural and the supernatural in man's daily round were not even recognized. Men had not distinguished between matter and spirit. This means, not that they confused them, but rather that they equated them. Nothing happened in the physical realm without in some way a counterpart action taking place in the spiritual realm. Nothing that happened was really supernatural at all. In Medieval times nothing is surprising. Faith had no difficulty believing about the bishop who walked over the sea to Ireland and met an Irish bishop walking in the opposite direction, greeted him without surprise, and stooping down, plucked a flower and asked him to carry it back to England as a token of his constant remembrance. Yet no one had the slightest doubt that if he fell into the water he would sink. Water was both able and unable to sustain a human body ‹ it sustained our Lord, and even Peter for a little while. It was not felt necessary to try to square these experiences. Some things were known and some were believed, and both were absolutely true. In the daily round, cause and effect were recognized clearly where it would be fatal to ignore them, yet none doubted that they could be suspended at a moment's notice. The unseen world was in many respects more real and more powerful than the seen. There was not the least incongruity in Francis d'Assisi preaching to the birds or in Ambrose addressing the serpent and reminding it that God was over all: for everything was joined to everything in a spiritual bond. Matter was merely a manifestation of spirit, and nature of supernature.
But if one can pinpoint such a tremendous change in attitude as having a beginning in some particular event, one might say that with Galileo's trial began the fragmentation which first of all put matter and spirit into two compartments and then into opposing camps and finally into a new equation in which the latter was an accidental by-product of the former and therefore had no real existence in its own right. Faith ceased to have substance.
The merging of the material and spiritual world had the effect of giving a peculiar dignity to labour. There were a few tasks which seemed to have escaped this baptism, but they were surprisingly few. In our
dedication to cleanliness we might suppose that tasks which dirtied a man might somehow be thought of as soiling his soul. But it was not so. Even chimney sweeps felt there was a peculiar dignity in their trade. In a way the whole attitude is summed up in Luther's words: Who sweeps a room as unto the Lord
Makes that ‹ and the action ‹ fine.
Millet's famous painting The Angelus has captured the spirit which somehow made menial tasks far less menial than we now commonly think them to be. The feeling which a man had toward the labour of his hands was something quite different from the attitude of; say, the factory worker when he tallies up his day's production of pieces. There was identity. The man left part of himself within the product of his hands and because he did, he felt toward it, was proud of it, was dissatisfied with imperfection, could in fact commune with God about it, and perhaps see God as a Workman also. There was a time when a man went to the woods and prepared for himself from raw material the various pieces which were then carefully shaped and pegged together, and fitted with a wheel which he completed with great pride, and behold, a wheelbarrow . . . a complete work of art which brought with it a genuine sense of satisfaction and indeed, hard work though it was, of re-creation. Labour had a wholeness about it, just as the farmer experienced the complete process of preparing the soil, sowing the seed, and harvesting it. But the enormous technical strides which ultimately resulted from the complete autonomy of science led to the dehumanization of labour and of industry.
Today few men have the satisfaction of completing anything. They merely contribute bits and pieces to some end-product which not infrequently they never actually see. Joad put it this way: "The industrialized individual is condemned by the conditions of his existence to perform with never varying efficiency operations of never varying monotony which conduce to no end but the continued performance of similar operations in the future." (161) The re-creative effect of manual labour has been surrendered by this process of fragmentation, and whereas men once returned home physically tired but not altogether dissatisfied with the day's work, they now return home tired because completely bored. The man who made the wheelbarrow was scarcely aware of the passage of time. It flowed unbroken and unnoticed. The man who makes the pieces finds the day to be
161. Joad, C. EM., Decadence: A Philosophical Inquiry, Philosophical Library, New York, 1949, p.390. pg.7 of 16
composed of precise increments of time, the passing of which he is acutely aware. Impatience to get on with the job is replaced by impatience to get away from it. For most men there is nothing sacred about work any more, nor is there honour in a task well done (only the possibility of promotion), nor does the doing of it have any significance beyond the fact that it fulfills the requirements of a contract with an employer. Even Christians, it is sad to confess, refer their daily work to the Lord only in emergencies.
Herskovits has stated the case with keen insight: (162)
No discussion of the motivation that underlies the drive to work may omit the satisfaction that comes when a craftsman can point to an object and say, with pride, "I made it." Herein lies one of the most difficult problems of an industrial society . . . where specialization of labour has been carried so far that this identification with the finished product is not possible. It is only under such circumstances that labour becomes distasteful, and where release from work is envisaged as the requisite to desirable living.
We become aware with astonishment that the concept "vacation" is unique to our society. . . . We tend to overlook the fact that a vacation is no release from the expenditure of effort, but it rather affords an opportunity to expend energy without outside intervention. This, and this alone, is what makes it desirable.
The sense of identity has been lost ‹ identity of the man with his work. But also the feeling that the individual has any "uniqueness" about him which makes his work, fragmentary though it is, have at least some importance. The famous Hawthorne experiment demonstrated in a remarkable way what a difference it makes to the spirit in which man works when he feels that he is an individual and his work has special significance. (163) This experiment destroyed the illusion that man's satisfaction as a workman is directly proportional to the economic returns. People tend to express their failure to find satisfaction in their work by complaining of other things ‹ long hours, low wages, poor conditions, and bad employee-employer relationships. It is amazing what conditions a man will put up with if he is really fulfilling himself in his work . . . which in a way explains why Medieval man accepted so many ills with so little complaint.
The older words ‹ Integrity, Honesty, Dedication ‹ are replaced by the one terrible word, Boredom. Moreover, the pride which a man once took because he was able to enter wholly into and complete his tasks, identified him to some extent with his employer; and although class distinctions were strongly marked and
162. Herskovits, Melville, Man and His Works, Knopf, New York, 1950, p.274. pg.8 of 16
163. Hawthorne experiments: reported by C. W. M. Hart in the Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, vol.9, 1943, 14 pages.
fully acknowledged on both sides, yet there was a certain community of spirit in the relationship. That spirit has virtually disappeared, and the disease of fragmentation has borne its fruits here also.
Although almost everyone is happy when the day's work is done, the sense of "relief" often arises from the fact that there is other work to do. Complete idleness is far from satisfying. (164) Peter Murdock has pointed out that societies which live in utopias tend also to live in a state of chronic warfare. (165) The alternative to having a life of work which is drudgery is not a life without work, but a life with work which is stimulating. We speak of certain types of work as being rewarding. Such forms of employment allow for dedication and with dedication the formation of convictions ‹ about the worthwhileness of goals, wrongs to be righted, things to improve, conditions to be changed, causes to be supported. Man is at his best as sponsor of something, and unless he does sponsor something he becomes apathetic or cynical. To be convinced about nothing is the saddest state in which a man can be, and it is a characteristic of our own times. The fact is that no strong emotional feelings about anything can survive inaction. One must be doing something ‹ and in one form or another this means work with a sense of dedication. (166) But one cannot be dedicated to work which has the appearance of being futile. And thus it has come about in our society that for most men, the work they do brings no stimulation and neither leads to nor requires conviction about anything.
The man who has no convictions is the man who is bored, and boredom inevitably seeks its own release vicariously. Because boredom brings fatigue, physical as well as mental, bored people look for stimulation as spectators rather than participants. In Roman days bread was not enough; the circus was equally important. As men's appetites became jaded, the stimuli had to be increasingly more acute until skill and daring had to be replaced by cruelty and violence.
It is a commentary on human nature that the original Greek word agone, which meant "game," came in time to mean something quite different arid appears in English in the form agony. It is hardly necessary to point
164. Leisure: J. V. Langmead Castleley, in his Fate of Modern Culture, wrote: "Men who are able to exercise skill and initiative in doing work which aims at achieving purposes which they see to be valid, do not attribute so much importance to their leisure. The majority love their leisure because their work has become a burden and a chore period. But can leisure ever replace in human life the part played hitherto by purposeful and interesting labour?" (p.62). pg.9 of 16
165. Murdock, G. Peter, Our Primitive Contemporaries, Macmillan, New York, 1951. With reference, for example, to the Samoans who live in a kind of tropical paradise, he points out that they nevertheless are "in a chronic state of war" (p.63). By contrast, war is virtually unknown among the Australian aborigines, whose habitat is at the other extreme.
166. Sinnott, Edmund, "Ten Million Scientists" in Science, vol.111, 1950, p.123ff., has some excellent thoughts on this matter of the need for convictions as a stimulus to life.
out how cruelty and violence increasingly form an essential part of modern entertainment. Games become rougher, and sports cease to have any element of sport. Movies and TV programmes strive by such emphases to hold their audiences. And recognizing that some changes in the programme must be made from time to time, they produce the bewildering effect of impinging upon the consciousness of the viewer with violent emotional shifts, from tragedy to comedy to tragedy, in such a way as to render an integrated emotional experience of any programme difficult indeed. It is common to find an announcer telling of the death by starvation of thousands of people in some part of the East in a tone intended to convey the importance of the news, and then to proceed at once in a tone of even greater earnestness to extol the merits of some toothpaste or cleanser. What this does to the announcer's own mind and sense of judgment we cannot easily tell, but for the viewer it serves to disintegrate entirely any orderly emotional response which is appropriately related to the events in view. Such shifts may leave a child in tears of sympathy and tears of laughter within too short a span of time. It is, in fact, the fragmentation of the emotional constitution. (167)
Melvin Rader has aptly summed up the present situation and the penalties we pay: (168)
No phase of technology has been more disruptive of primary group life than the development of mobility and communication as a result of modern inventions. People dart about by means of trains, ships, buses, trolleys, automobiles, and airplanes in a manner that would have been incredible fifty years ago.
Likewise a startling revolution in communication has been produced by the rotary press, linotype, telegraph, telephone, phonograph, camera, radio, moving pictures, and television and by the multiplication of museums, libraries, postal facilities, educational institutions, and publicity and propaganda agencies. . . .
The effect of both mobility and communication is to weaken or dissolve the old neighbourhood unity . . . . In the metropolitan environment, where mobility and communication are most highly developed, the main direction of human attention has shifted to unstable contacts, remote influences, and dispersed currents of thought.
And Rader concludes: (169)
The cumulative effect of these factors is a disorientation more radical than the world has known for many centuries.
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- 167. Influence of radio: on this, see Jeoffrey Gorer, The Americans: A Study in National Character, Cresset Press, London, 1948, especially pp.113-14.
- 168. Rader, Melvin, ref.155, p.503.
- 169. Ibid., p.504
When the mind is subjected to rapid shifts in time, space, rank, and expectation, impressions are multiplied beyond the individual's power of synthesis.
Faced by this disjunctive multiplicity of experience, many minds have floundered in their effort to achieve life organization.
Even the power of comprehension is fragmented. Rapid transport shifts the individual with respect to his environment, and the phone and the film shift the environment with respect to the individual; and every personal contact, by phone, on the television screen, on the bus, on the plane, wherever people meet people, tends to be fragmentary in nature. The very mobility of working people contributes to this social fragmentation by constant shifts of job and changes of address so that it is a rare event for children to spend more than a few years in any one district. They never really learn to know the postman and the baker and the butcher ‹- or even their next door neighbor. Certain essential "roots" are thus entirely lacking. pg.11 of 16
Within the home itself; the same process is at work. There are many means by which the individual can live his own life and think his own thoughts by listening to his own personal radio or reading his own books in his own room, but one essential of all earlier societies is being surrendered ‹- namely, the hearth. It is not an accident that hearth and home have from time immemorial been linked together. We are commonly told, and rightly I think, that a home without a family altar cannot cohere: I believe this is perfectly true in the realm of the spirit. But there is also a realm of the social, and here I suspect that a home without a family hearth will suffer the same lack of coherence.
The open fire in earlier times served as a focal point. Furniture was so disposed that people shared this focus and in doing so were drawn together socially. An open fire is one of the few things left which one can sit in front of and do nothing without being restless due to a feeling that it is a waste of time. The hearth not only draws people together, but draws them "out." In the very movement of the flame there is something which both rivets the attention and paradoxically sets the attention free. For all its undeniable advantages in other ways, central heating has this negative effect, that it permits the members of a household to sit with their backs to each other literally and metaphorically. We cannot, of course, turn the clocks back, but it is nevertheless a sad consequence of this modern convenience that home life from the social point of view has been encouraged to fragment. And central heating is all part of the achievement of autonomous technology. The advance is undoubtedly looked at from the point of view of physical comfort; the penalty has yet to be fully assessed, and the assessment
will be made in terms of the effect upon the human spirit rather than upon the human body.
And so the process of fragmentation proceeds apace, splitting not merely people in a community, and people within a single household, but even people within themselves. To some extent it would appear that most
civilized individuals are schizophrenic. The social scientists and the psychologists, in their eagerness to adopt the analytical methods of the exact sciences, have taken man apart, and in their hands, the individual has logically ceased to exist.
It has been said that with Descartes, psychology lost its soul and found its mind; with the English empiricists, it lost its mind and found its consciousness; with the behaviourists, it lost its consciousness and found its reflexes. (170) The end-result, quoting Taylor, is that "man was changed from being a person who responds to a thing which reacts." (171) In the New Testament man was a "living soul"; by Descartes's time he had become a "thinking machine"; now he is merely a reacting thing. It is not true, of course, and the very stating of this otherwise logical conclusion is sufficient to render it entirely unacceptable as a view of what man is. This in itself is an indication that the fragmentation process can be carried only so far and then it becomes self-evidently inadequate ‹ inadequate both as a key to understanding and as a guiding principle for the building of a satisfying philosophy of life for most people.
After giving a summary review of the progress of the scientific method from Medieval times to the present, and after showing that it had reduced man merely to an aggregate of atoms, Leslie Paul wrote: (172)
It was logical to assume, after this capture of man's material body, that his mind was but an instrument of his survival, a special limb evolved to help out the others. And this mental limb, investigated by psychologists, disclosed obedience equally with his body to inherent laws governing all its actions. The triumph of science was complete and the annihilation of man in the sense that he existed in Medieval times was accomplished.
That is the profoundest of the consequences of these centuries.
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- Many recent writers are urging a return to a fresh approach, what might be called a Comtian as opposed to a Hobbes-ianapproach. (173). But to a large extent the influence of the scientific philosophy applied to
- 170. This statement originated, I believe, with Dr. R. H. Shevenell, School of Graduate Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada.
- 171. Taylor, John, Man in the Midst, Highway Press, London, 1955, p.41.
- 172. Paul, Leslie, ref.17, p.148.
- 173. By way of explanation, it should be said that according to Hobbes, society is to be explained in terms of the individual, whereas Comte held that the individual is to be understood in terms of the society. These two viewpoints reflect the attitude of Socrates, who said "Know thyself," over against Plato, whose view was that "to know thyself" one must "know history." Or equally, the first holds that the whole is to be explained in terms of the parts; the second, that the individual is to be understood in terms of the whole. The present feeling is that we must return to the view that only in the light of the whole, only in the light of society, shall we gain a real understanding of the nature of the individual.
human affairs has already borne fruit throughout Christendom in devastating ways by creating divisions and personal animosities resulting from these divisions which were quite unknown in Christendom in Medieval times. pg.13 of 16
We may indeed argue that very few of us would wish to return to that older world of cold and disease and discomfort. This is not surprising in view of the warmth we are accustomed to and the health we enjoy with comparative freedom from the awful plagues and epidemics of those days, as well as our comfortable methods of travel and communication. And compared with the dismal furnishings of the vast majority of people in northern climates in those days, most of us live in palaces. But this is to compare their physical discomfort with our modern conveniences, and to overlook what may have been psychological compensations which our modern conveniences seem to have taken away from us. As Nietzsche said, "He who has the why of life can bear with almost any how." People were often physically exhausted in those days, but then they found some pleasure in rest and sleep. Today we are tired because we are bored and sleep has almost gone from us, leaving us with no escape from our boredom or our tiredness.
I do not think we do want to go back. But we have really only exchanged one kind of burden for another, and I am not sure that our forebears' burden was any less bearable than ours is; indeed, theirs may have been more bearable, because they did not recognize how physically burdened they were. They had nothing by which to judge. We do have, and we do not like what we are beginning to recognize as the penalties of our way of life. In his now-famous book Chance and Necessity, famous perhaps largely because of its lucid pessimism and inescapable logic, Jacques Monod robs man of any comforting bond he may ever have had in his sense of being part of a tremendous drama with other-worldly overtones, and leaves us only with "an anxious quest in a frozen universe of solitude." (174) Primitive people and the founders of Middle East civilizations alike shared the view that nature was "contact-able" because all its forces were personal as man is personal. One could get on in the universe by coming to appropriate terms with nature, as one does with people. So they made bridges which
carried them over the rough spots in life by personalizing the forces of nature in the universe, and by deifying some of them in order to establish diplomatic contacts more conveniently ‹ especially with those forces which were hostile. (175) Today we have felt the same need to make a bridge, because modern man has also sensed his alienation from the rest of nature, that same nature which he has abused and exploited. But he finds himself unable to view it as being animated like himself; because he has been trapped by his own worship of mechanism. So now he is forced to make himself a mechanism and therefore as impersonal as he has made the universe about him. A bridge of relationships is thus built, but it is an entirely unsatisfactory bridge for all but a few strange souls who find the worship of human technology satisfactory. Rene Dubos has summed up the contrast rather well: (176)
Phrases such as the classical age, the age of faith, the age of reason, or the romantic age may not correspond to historical realities, but they convey nevertheless mankind's nostalgic longing for certain qualities of life that most people, rightly or wrongly, associate with the past. In contrast, we prosaically designate our own times the atomic age, space age, age of automation, antibiotic age ‹ in other words, the age of one or another technology.
It is a curious thing that the expansion of knowledge has resulted from a contradiction of interest. The pinpointing of some minute aspect of the whole fabric has so enlarged the total fabric itself as to make it incomprehensible in its wholeness. Since the pieces have meaning only in relation to the whole, they too lose all meaning. When we dissect the individual, isolate aspects of his behaviour, and attempt to assess the man himself by concentrating on his parts, we lose the individual. We truly isolate ourselves, and if anything in the world is most likely to destroy interpersonal relationships, it is isolation and fragmentation. We take our clocks apart and are somehow surprised that they no longer tell the time! As Robert S. Morison put it, "Science encounters more and more difficulty in providing a satisfying coherent and unified picture of the world." (177)
In The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, Julien Benda underscores how intense national emotions have arisen between peoples who in former times lived without personal animosities even when their countries were officially at war. (178) He points out that when men went to war in ancient times, more often than not it was a matter
175. Frankfort, H., and Frankfort, H. A., The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man, University of Chicago Press, 1946. pg.14 of 16
176. Dubos, Rene, So Human an Animal, Scribners, New York, 1968, p.13.
177. Morison, Robert S., "Science and Social Attitudes" in Science, vol.165, 1969, p.152.
178. Benda, Julien, The Betrayal of the Intellectuals, Beacon Press, Boston, 1955.
involving only the kings and nobles and mercenaries of the two opposing forces who had any strong feelings. The common people often saw their cities change hands with almost complete indifference. The situation was not disrupting, and even in the nineteenth century the conquered accepted marriage ties with the conquerors without any sense of impropriety or feelings of lasting hostility. (179) The noncombatant had no personal involvement and treated the enemy civilian no differently from his own neighbor. (180) There was one situation, however, in which this was not strictly true and it is an instructive one. During the Crusades Christians looked upon Moslems as creatures less human than themselves: and the feeling was mutual. But when wars occurred between Christian nations, the "humanity" of the enemy was never in question. These were family squabbles, and though they were as bitter as such squabbles can be, there existed genuine restraining ties which ‹ if it can be said without being misinterpreted ‹ baptized the processes of war and kept violence within well-recognized bounds. The breakdown of this unifying philosophy has had the effect of rendering war infinitely more terrible because so merciless. The enemy is now always "less human" than oneself.
Moreover, it is no longer a case of soldiers fighting soldiers but, as a strange fulfillment of a prediction made in the New Testament, it is now "nation against nation" (Matthew 24:6, 7). The appalling truth in modern war is that civilians are increasingly more involved than soldiers are. It has recently been pointed out that whereas in World War I the proportion of civilian to military deaths was about five percent compared with 95 percent, in World War II the proportion had become 48 percent civilians to 52 percent military. During the Korean War the percentage of civilians killed relative to fighting men was 84 percent to 16 percent. (181) A man can no
179. Ibid., notes A and B, pp.16-67. pg.15 of 16
180. 0n this point, D. R. Davis has some reflections: "In pre-democratic Europe, it was not peoples, but kings and dynasties that went to war with what soldiers they could hire. The people, i.e., the peasant, the craftsman, the merchant, the scholar, etc., continued the even tenour of their way mostly undisturbed. One consequence of this was that war was conducted with a certain chivalry and professional decency. At the Battle of Fontenoy, in the War of the Austrian Succession, when the English Guards came into contact at last with the French Guards, an English officer stepped out of the ranks and, bowing towards the French, said: 'French Guards, will you please fire first'. . . . When the battle was over, the question who was victor, who was vanquished, having been satisfactorily settled, they all shook hands" (Down Peacock's Feathers, Jeffrey Bles, London, 1947, pp.90-91).
181. These figures are taken from an article by Max Born, "What Is Left to Hope For" in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, April, 1964, p.4.
longer find even this much nobility in fighting ‹ that he has donned his uniform "in order to protect his family." He is safer in the army.
It is a question of the civilian population not only suffering more heavily the consequences of war, but in large measure being actually involved in the provocation of it. As Benda points out, the "wounded pride" of a whole people may force their own leaders to go to war even when they would not otherwise have done so. (182)
So there has arisen a new spirit abroad which divides nations, which makes for a kind of giant national selfishness justified on the philosophical grounds that national survival has greater importance than the prosperity of the community of nations as a whole. The same fragmentation has occurred between classes, and by classes Benda means not merely poor people against wealthy people, but any group of people who share a common selfish interest against any other group of people who share a conflicting interest. It means labour against management, one skill against another skill, union against union, as well as class against class in the old sense.
Starting with divided personalities and proceeding upward through divided homes to divided communities and divided classes, we end up with nation against nation. And the fundamental cause of it appears to be that there is no single guiding principle governing the object of all men's daily lives. Living has become an end in itself rather than a means to something higher; as a consequence, competition for the means to survive ‹ whether of the individual or the class or the nation ‹ has become the guiding principle. Within that arena which saw many injustices, yet which was unified as Christendom, we have seen the gradual emergence, as Benda puts it, of a "closely woven fabric of hatred from one end of Europe to the other." (183)
The saddest thing of all is that in the absence of some understood goal for life, the tremendous striving for means always proves to be a tragic exercise in futility, so that the most idealistic conceptions of thoughtful men directed toward the maintenance of peace lack the one essential requirement: namely, the object of peace. Never before did man have in his hands so much power, and never before was man so powerless. Never before were means so abundant, and ends so entirely lacking. The hope of the future lies in a re-discovery of man's
182. Benda, Juben, ref. 178, p. 13 footnote 1.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved
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183. Ibid., p. 2.Part III, CH.4