Friday, May 24, 2024

Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture III: Profile of a Culture (Part II)

When we last left our review of Foolishness to the Greeks:  The Gospel and Western Culture by Lesslie Newbigin, he had established two items:

1)  The Enlightenment both propelled forward the scientific revolution by explaining the universe in terms of cause and effect and natural laws, but had stripped the creation of purpose;

2)  By stripping humanity of higher purpose than their own selves (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), the nation-state (which was the remaining institution after the Church retreated from the public sphere) became the only vehicle for ensuring that purpose - and since life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness can be limitless to the individual, the nation-state as guarantor will become all encompassing.

Newbigin moves to point out the impact of these two ideas.

With the establishment of the principle of scientific laws and cause and effect, the world comes to be viewed solely in this manner - including "human behavior, work, and society".  Human labor is transformed as the craftsman becomes the human laborer, working on the smallest division of labor - "His work assimilated more and more into the repetitive actions of a machine rather than the purposeful work of the craftsman" - and is without purpose, as the universe of Newton does not allow for it.  Work - an act of creation that "leads to something that will endure after the worker is dead - an artifact, a poem, a system of laws" -is gone, replaced by labor, "an unending cycle of production for the sake of its consumption.

This change of labor led to the division of labor.  Suddenly, production was not for the local family unit or the local economy but rather for the "market" economy with money becoming the main unit of exchange.  The market, not the local exchange of goods, becomes the main factor.  The modern social science of economics is born - again, removing teleology and sense of purpose from the economic realm.  The market now exists under a series of economic laws, functioning like the Newtonian Universe.

From here, says Newbigin, two additional factors occur.  The first is that the family is no longer the main unit of work and the home is no longer the main place of work.  The focus has shifted:  work is the "outer" or public world and home the "inner" or private world.  Externally, workers become anonymous, replaceable parts (we are all replaceable at some point in the modern job market); it is only at home that they are irreplaceable parts of something more. And the second development, coming from both the division of labor and the idea of working outside of the home, is that urbanization increases dramatically.  Not only does this impact the family unit; it also has the impact of placing the individual in "a multiplicity of human networks, each controlled by a single purpose".  Before, most individuals lived in typically rural societies with a single society which defined all their activities - work, worship, play, friends, family (our proverbial "small town").  Now, the individual has a plethora of options - but they are not integrated into a whole.  Work is one, but religion may be a second and the apartment building a third - each not related to each other, each serving a separate purpose. 

The final factor introduced here is the fact that as an outcome of division of labor, development of a market economy, the growth of public and private worlds, and urbanization, bureaucracy develops.  In a way it has to exist, given the complexity which has been introduced:  "It provides the machinery in which there is a high degree of division of labor, of specialization, of predictability, and of anonymity." But - and this is important - "It is of the essence of bureaucracy that it sets out to achieve a kind of justice by treating each individual as an anonymous and replaceable unit".  It has taken the outcome of the Enlightenment - reduce everything to its smallest possible component and understand how to manipulate it - and applied it to the human relationships and existence which can be expressed in the terms of mathematics - or ultimately, a computer (timely in our age of Artificial Intelligence): "In its ultimate development, bureaucracy is the rule of nobody and is therefore experienced as tyranny.  The attempt to interpret human behavior in terms of models derived from natural sciences eventually destroys personal responsibility".

The Enlightenment, posits Newbigin, provided a lot of things, allowing for the voyages of discovery that opened the world, of the growth of technology and the application of science to every area (of which we are a beneficiary).  However, it comes at a cost:

"But we shall not be wrong, I think, if we take the abandonment of teleology as the key to the understanding of nature for our primary clue to understanding the whole of these vast changes for the human situation.  I shall argue that this is what underlies the decisive feature of our culture that can be described both as the division of human life into public and private, and the separation of fact and value."

(Apologies, this seems to just keep extending out.  Newbigin's thoughts are so dense, I cannot do them justice by smashing them together.)

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