A Defense of the Humanities: “Perhaps Culture is Now the Counterculture”

InstrumentalityHas there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities were cherished less, and has there ever been a moment in American life when humanities were needed more? I am genuinely honored to be addressing you this morning, because in the recent years I have come to regard a commitment to the humanities as nothing less than an act of intellectual defiance, cultural dissidence. For decades now in America we have been witnessing steady and sickening denigration of humanistic understanding and humanistic method. We live in a society inebriated by technology, and happily, even giddily governed by values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience. The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer the practical questions to questions of meaning, to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work. Our reason has become an instrumental reason, and is no longer a reason of philosophers, with its ancient magnitude of intellectual ambition, its belief that the proper subjects of human thought are the largest subjects, and that the mind, in one way or another, can penetrate to the very principles of natural life and human life. Philosophy itself has shrunk under the influence of our weakness for instrumentality, modern American philosophy was in fact one of the causes of that weakness, and generally it, too, prefers to tinker and to tweak. The machines to which we have become enslaved, all of them quite astonishing, represent the greatest assault on human attention ever devised: they are engines of mental and spiritual dispersal, which make us wider only by making us less deep. There are thinkers, reputable ones if you can believe it, who proclaim the exponential growth in computational ability will soon take us beyond the finitude of our bodies and our minds so that, as one of them puts it, there will no longer be any difference between human + machine. La Mettrie lives in Silicon Valley. This, of course, is not an apotheosis of the human but an abolition of the human; but Google is very excited by it. In the digital universe, knowledge is reduced to status of information. Who will any longer remember that knowledge is to information as art is to kitsch, that information is the most inferior kind of knowledge, because it is the most external? A great Jewish thinker of early Middle Ages wondered why God, if He wanted us to know the truth about everything, did not simply tell us the truth about everything. His wise answer was that if we were merely told what we need to know, we would not, strictly speaking, know it. Knowledge can be acquired only over time and only by method. And the devices we carry like addicts in our hands are disfiguring our mental lives also in other ways: for example, they generate a hitherto unimaginable number of numbers, numbers about everything under the sun, so they are transforming us into a culture of a data, into a cult of data, in which no human activity and no human expression is immune to quantification, in which happiness is a fit subject for economists, in which ordeals of human heart are inappropriately translated into mathematical expressions, leaving us with new illusions of clarity and new illusions of control (…..)

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113299/leon-wieseltier-commencement-speech-brandeis-university-2013

Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

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