Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Captivating ideas

In the BBC's All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, Adam Curtis gives a persuasive interpretation of history, proposing that much of our current outlook and many of our contemporary problems, are caused by the general acceptance of fictional theories, as science. The first episode considered the impact of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged on global economy, with the grip of the idea of capitalistic progress through free trade regulated by selfishness - and the consequent collapse of markets. The second proposed that the idea of ecological systems was a fiction, born of Eugene P Odum's Fundamentals of Ecology, and applied to society - a flawed search for equilibrium. The third episode presented the question: Why do we find it compelling, to reduce ourselves to machines, equations and mechanics? Perhaps it is to avoid responsibility for the horrific crimes we have committed.

I certainly found the concepts of mathematics laughable. It seems thus:
I have/come across a philosophical / sociological idea about how people act in certain ways
I describe it in terms of mathematical equations
Conclusion: Science says why people act in certain ways
Ethical conclusion: We should act according to this model

Lesson to learn, please! Just because some sociological theory about how people act, can be described as a mathematical model, does not mean it is correct. And it certainly doesn't become scientific fact. Simply because there is a model for how a limited sample of people act, doesn't mean that we should universally pursue this mode of conduct.

Made in the image of a Triune God of love and grace, we should know that our selfishness would not produce general growth, because it was God's self-giving which produced the universe. Knowing that this world is cursed subject to futility, we should know that 'nature' and society do not tend to balance, but to decay. And yes, we suppress the truth of our humanity in order to avoid blame for our corruption. If we can describe our actions with equations, we can sleep at night. The blood of equations does not cry to us from the ground. The flaw: we are not machines, and we need love and grace from others, and from our creator, to survive.

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