We live in an age of unparallel developments in science and technology, where human knowledge has arrived at an unforeseen stage. Today we can have access to a major part of this knowledge with a mere click; and this accessibility has enabled us to learn about so many things that older generations did not dare to dream of: about our origins, the functionings of the world and of human nature, the mechanisms of social interaction – and the list grows exponentially every day.
Yet can we say that we have changed? I mean, can we actually say that humans are now different, in the sense of being more instructed, more intellectually evolved, and more morally educated? Have we developed higher interests and tastes – in a Millian gist? And I am not talking about the very restricted academic circle; I am talking about society in general.
One would think the answer to be yes. Nonetheless, evidences everywhere seem to point in the opposite direction. Today I went to the doctor and, in the waiting room, observed as a man chose between two reading options: a news magazine and a “celebrity” magazine. He could either instruct himself about what is happening in the economic, social and political life of his own country or read about where some famous actor got married and who divorced who. Can anyone guess what his choice was?
We may think this is an isolated phenomenon: he chose the celebrity magazine, but the majority of people would have chosen the news one. I believe quite the contrary is the reality; the majority of individuals would choose and do choose to inform themselves about gossips and useless information. Just take a look at the list of bestsellers…
Humanity has taken human knowledge to an unforeseen level, but we humans are mainly the same. We remain revolving ourselves with the same old concerns and the same interests. Weren’t we supposed to aim at the perfection of our reasoning capacities and of our moral character – as advocated by philosophers as distinct from one another as Aristotle and Kant? In the movie Eat, Pray, Love (finally here is the bit mentioned in the first sentence!) there is this bit about a psychologist that was afraid of not being able to understand the sufferings of the people who went through genocide, hunger and war. To her surprise, their concerns turned out to be about relationships, who loved who and etc!
Maybe human nature is just what it is and is not going to change. Yet I wonder if humanity is really unable to develop higher interests. This is not to say that relationships are not important – of course it is of utmost relevance to care about human relationships ant to cherish them; but to still have so much gossip circulating in the media and so many people actually interested in those sort of news seems to me surprising given the level of development we have achieved in so many other areas of human knowledge.
Now the question seems to be: is it bad that our average aspiration to perfection appears to remain at such a mediocre level? Should we be more concerned about the way in which the development of our characters is not accompanying the evolution of scientific knowledge?
Anne Margaret Baxley
Volume 2, Issue 3, pages 396–410, May 2007
New Developments in the Meaning of Life
Volume 2, Issue 2, pages 196–217, March 2007