How refugees at ground level describe socialism’s latest failure. Will young Americans listen?
Last summer The Atlantic rounded up a cross section of writers and thinkers and asked an interesting question: What contemporary habit will be most unthinkable 100 years from now?
The answers, published in the June 2015 issue, may not be much use as prognostication, but they are very telling about the prognosticators. For instance, philanthropist Melinda Gates looks forward to the day when the birth control pill will be a quaint, tedious device nobody needs. She adds the well-worn quip “If men had to take the pill, there’s a good chance we’d have something better by now.” (Why were you waiting for the men to do it, Melinda?)
What does humorist Dave Barry see as unthinkable within a century? “Driving. Future humans will get around in cars controlled by Google, which will also own the roads and much of the solar system.” (Could happen!)
Dennett is recommending that scientists determine the content and rationale of education—not only the what but the why, and by extension, the ought.
Other current commonplaces destined for future head-scratching are email, fossil fuels, and depression. It’s all good fun until Daniel Dennett chimes in. Dennett is a philosopher and a founding member of the “new atheist” contingent that includes Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. He anticipates the end of “Unsupervised Homeschooling. When we come to recognize that willfully misinforming a child—or keeping a child illiterate, innumerate, and uninformed—is as evil as sexual abuse. …”
Whoa! That’s a lot of assumption to cram into a single dependent clause, professor. Putting aside the sexual abuse reference, which strikes me as a deliberate poke to rile up the rubes, what does he mean by willfully, illiterate, innumerate, and uninformed? Later in the paragraph he concedes that home educators might be left alone if they teach the “uncontroversial facts about the world’s religions”—but does he mean facts about a religion’s doctrine, history, or truth? He looks forward to the day when “we will forbid parents to treat their children as possessions whom they may indoctrinate as they please”—but who is “we”? And why should we have the right to indoctrinate as we please?
Somebody has to teach something, for “the human mind is something of a bag of tricks, cobbled together over the eons by the foresightless process of evolution by natural selection” (Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon). Now that we know, it’s past time to take charge of this bag of tricks and stop leaving its development up to individual whim and unexplored instinct. “Our future well-being—the well-being of all of us on the planet—depends on the education of our descendants” (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life). Obviously to Dennett, baseless ideas like the immaterial soul and the special creation of human beings have no place in the Brave New World of spiritual disenchantment.
His sacred cow—excuse the expression—of teaching is “incontrovertible” facts: what can be observed or reasonably deduced from the material world. Since observing and deducing has become so specialized only a relative few can engage in it, professor Dennett is recommending that scientists determine the content and rationale of education—not only the what but the why, and by extension, the ought. In effect that makes science a moral arbiter, and many scientists are fine with that. Some would love to pursue questionable projects, just because they can or because there’s a potential fortune involved. Among those projects, proposed or already underway: human cloning, human/animal “chimeras,” three-parent embryos, gene editing, and creating designer fetuses to be destroyed after they’ve served their turn for research.
This is not to trash science as a profession, only to acknowledge that scientists are human too. Yet it takes little imagination to foresee humanity becoming something other than humanity as a result of scientism run amok. In which case, the only thing standing between man and the Abolition of Man is the very education Dennett fears: parents teaching children out of their deepest-held beliefs. In a fallen world, some of those beliefs will be false, and even destructive. But better a democracy of scattered falsehoods than a tyranny of one gigantic lie.