On Being Evolved and Striving Towards Perfection
Having arrived at the apex of modernist ideology with the advent of sociology, the focus of my story will now shift upon its own pivot point and begin to build an impassioned plea intended to produce the conclusion that modernist society has truly been the bane of our existence. With the status quo’s reliance on science as the foundation of our culture it would be appropriate to characterize our sensibilities as founded on Scientism. That is, it would be fair to say that our ideology believes that science takes priority over other interpretations of life such as religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations. Furthermore, natural sciences take precedence over other fields of inquiry such as those of the social sciences.
In the field of sociology, Herbert Spencer was recognized as a driving force behind the impetus of the fundamental role that science came to play during the 19th century. As a key figure in the propagation of scientism and our culture’s adherence to scientific sensibilities, Spencer actually presented his theory of evolution prior to Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In fact, Spencer argued that all of life, including education, should take its essential lessons from the findings of the sciences. In his highly influential work, Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical (1860), he insisted that the most valuable form of knowledge is obtained through the study of science. Thus, the value of science lies not in its possibilities for making a better world but in the ways science teaches us to adjust to our environment. His views went on to serve as the foundation for all that believed that scientific education could provide a culture for modern times far superior to that of classical education.
The Philosophy of the Absurd Revisited
Now that we have reached the historical apex of Western European intellectual development, I feel strongly compelled to equate the true significance of such accomplishments with the essay of “The Myth of Sisyphus” written by Albert Camus in 1942. Sisyphus was a character in Greek mythology that was said to roll a rock to the top of a hill only to have it immediately roll down the other side once it reached the apex. In the essay by Camus, this depiction is used as a metaphor to introduce the philosophy of the absurd. The crux of this philosophy is that man is engaged in a futile search for meaning in the face of an unintelligible world that is devoid of God and eternity. What fascinates me the most about such a futile quest is that the world is, in my way of thinking and for the purpose of our story, unintelligible and devoid of God and eternity precisely because of the choices that were made by Western European societies since the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment. I do not wish to suggest that having stayed the course and not made the changes that subsequently transpired would have been the right thing to do. Rather, I only wish to suggest that the choices that were made were in fact the wrong choices to make.
In the sections of our story that follow I will be throwing into the wind the concepts of race, class, gender and ethnicity to see where they lead us. Out of respect for historical purists, whatever that might mean, I would now like to explicitly state that I have no interest in aspiring to any semblance of historical or chronological accuracy or cause and effect relations. Thus, on this side of the hill I am no longer interested in discussing historical pivot points. While it would certainly be appropriate to point out that even when I was willing to discuss historical pivot points, I had no real concern for chronological accuracy or cause and effect relations, it is important that we understand why I consider both sides of the hill to be so different. When Western European civilization was climbing the hill to reach the apex of intellectual development, the intellectual impetus was supposedly to improve ourselves and our societies. It seemed clear and right to everyone in the “civilized” world that reason was better than superstition; representative government was better than the rule of monarchies, and; that scientific explanations entailed the promise of control over nature and the proper ordering of society. In this context, then, it made sense to talk about the historical pivot points because we all agreed that “we” were improving ourselves by following a course of development that culminated in the views that Montesquieu, Lamarck and Comte had laid as the foundation for the scientific programmatic entailed in modernist ideology.
Now that we have reached the down side of the apex and we supposedly “know” what we are talking about because we have established scientific methodology as the criterion for truth, we must bear in mind that it is in the arrangement of empirical evidence with its proper mimesis or correspondence to stated propositions that matter. In this context, then, I will entertain the notions of race, class, gender and ethnicity. In other words, now that scientific methodology will provide the basis for what shall serve to constitute our intellectual development, we are in a position to examine such alleged developments more critically. To avoid the trap of falling into the same arrogance and shortsightedness I wish to attribute to followers of the modernist tradition, I shall employ the pre-modernist critical style of the Socratic method of asking questions whenever possible.