The Age of Unreason

Will Englund in the Baltimore Sun (free registration required):

Reason has been taking a beating recently, and it’s not hard to see why. If Americans are flocking to religious faith, to revealed dogma, to creationism, to a place where no one pays any heed to a logic based on if x then y, it’s because reason gave us a world that hardly makes sense anymore.

Yes, I know – two centuries ago, America itself was a product of the Age of Enlightenment, and of a belief that people had it within their own power to make a better life for themselves, to throw off the shackles of superstition and build a more perfect union. And it nearly happened. Look what reason – as expressed through social, technological and scientific progress – gave birth to: the First Amendment, the Erie Canal, the cotton gin, the light bulb, the submachine gun, the income tax, the Model T Ford, the exit poll, the Edsel, the New Jersey Turnpike, the polio vaccine, the tonsillectomy, the nose job, death by lethal injection, and call waiting…

Let me ratchet this up a little. The Age of Reason may have reached its glorious acme in the late 19th century. But in some ways it started to go off the rails soon after. Reason said that humans could be bred like peas or hogs to produce a better specimen – a line of thinking that reached its logical conclusion at Auschwitz. Reason said that energy and mass are related – as the residents of Hiroshima were to learn. Reason said that history and economics were decipherable by way of the scientific method; thus Das Kapital , and thus The Gulag Archipelago.

More here.

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