FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

A Dialectic of Hope?

Poverty is hierarchic, smog is democratic.

–Ulrich Beck

Ever since the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries mankind has been increasingly applying the scientific method both to the natural world and the human world.

This of course has led to spectacular successes while at the same time it has brought existential crises.

Almost every discovery and leap of understanding has simultaneously shone a light and cast a shadow. Whether this is in the nature of discovery or intellectual advancement, or a result of the human character’s relation to the availability of increased power has been debated for centuries.

Rousseau famously thought that civilization ruined man while the ancient Roman poet Lucretius in his De Rerum Natura extolled the accumulated social effects of rational inquiry and the arts and customs of civilization. Similarly, Hegel mystically argued for Reason’s dialectical advancement while Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx saw it as a fragile mask hiding deeper more irrational forces voraciously feeding from either greed, sex, or lust for power.

Most recently, the Lucretian argument has been forcefully expounded by Steven Pinker in his book Enlightenment Now. It makes a strong case that the world has generally gotten better through the application of science and of reason, particularly in the last 50 years. At the same time, James Bridle has cogently concluded that we stand before a new age of Barbarism in his passionately argued book New Dark Age.

The truth of the matter lies perhaps, as it almost always does, somewhere in the middle.

As pure knowledge has advanced, its practical application has as well. The later part of this equation has almost always thrown up new moral conundrums: factories, bombs, smog, climate change. Yet, what the sociologists Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Scott Lash famously described as Reflexive Modernity has increasingly played an ever growing role in the destiny of this planet.

Essentially, Reflexive Modernization means that while we both increase our store of knowledge and the new products and processes derived from it we also think about their potential consequences and risks. As Ulrich Beck memorably put it: we mature from a modern society into a Risk Society wherein we become a community united in anxiety over our collective decisions and concrete actions. Thus, Reflexive Modernity is the ultimate hangover of modern society.

But as we ever expand our material circle of action, we, arguably, also increase the speed with which we can rethink, re-engineer, refrain from those actions if found hazardous.

A positive example of this would be the The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer that came into force in 1989. Indeed, had it not been for this treaty I very well might not be writing this article at the moment. The substances that were then destroying the Ozone layer at a rapid pace could conceivably have caused if not the extinction then the degradation of the human race. Yet, it did not precisely because humanity followed the reflexive pattern of first taking blind action (hazardous products and their effluvium), finding out about their consequences and taking reflexive action to stop the direction of the first action. The net dialectical result of which is a higher state of knowledge which may substantially help with the next inevitable crisis.

The concept of Reflexive Modernity offers us a glimmer of hope. It tells us that we have the intellect and the tools to analyze our actions and to correct them. Yet time is always a factor. And the present global climate crisis is not temporally generous. While many of us have reflected on the causes of our present circumstances, few have taken action. Unlike the Ozone crisis, climate change calls for far reaching systemic change: technological, ecological, and political. Our summons is great. Now, it is not only our intellect which is being confronted by this crisis but the very definition of global society itself.

Homo Faber is being mortally challenged by a profoundly wounded Nature to finally bring true justice and material balance to the world.

More articles by:

Dan Corjescu teaches Political Philosophy at Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail