Wise Giants and Arrogant Dwarves

Here is Bruce Thornton aptly naming the “enlightened” among us “arrogant dwarves”:

The follies of our modern age.

In the 12th century Bernard of Chartres first pointed out that we have more knowledge than those who came before us not because of our greater intelligence and understanding, but because we are “dwarves sitting on the shoulders of giants,” and can see farther because of the accumulated achievements of generation after generation of intellectual pioneers who preceded us.

That intellectual modesty and respect for tradition that once characterized Western Civilization has been scorned and spurned by modernity, leading to many of the bad ideas and lethal ideologies that have plagued the last two centuries. Indeed, we are historically unprecedented––but only in the coexistence of an astonishing depth of knowledge about nature and its laws, with a profound lack of the wisdom and common sense once possessed by even our illiterate forbearers. Rather than acknowledge the traditions and wisdom on whose shoulders we sit, we arrogantly imagine ourselves to be self-created giants.

Our hubris comes from the remarkable success of Western science at understanding the material world and its laws, and then using that knowledge to create transformational technologies. But the wonders of technology led us into a category error. We began to think that human beings could be understood in the same way and with the same predictability as we achieved with the material world. Such knowledge in turn would lead to “scientific” techniques that could transform humans and correct the evils caused by ignorance, tradition, and superstition.

This illusion and the hubris it nourishes dominates our culture, especially among those called progressives, who endorse the arrogance of technocratic elites who believe power backed by the “human sciences” can reshape and improve humans, and so create a perfect society free from the suffering and misery of the past.

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