Thursday, September 8, 2011

Screwed Up

Of all the books that Doctor Wiker lists in his 10 Books That Screwed Up the World, the only book that I have read through is Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill. I have read part of Descartes' Discourse and while I have not read Marx's Manifesto I have read part of Das Kapital.

Few of the books actually listed "Screwed up the world" in the way Wiker suggests. While Marx and Darwin may have influenced Lenin, both books are based on prior thinking. The Prince was a far worse influence since its intentions were clearly malevolent. Marx thought he was doing science and Darwin actually was. Both of their ideas helped humanity progress and we cannot ignore the good just because of the bad.

Utilitarianism was an attempt to create a secular morality. As a theoretical matter, I think it was a pretty good start. However, the attempt to make it practical completely dooms it. It is impossible to determine if an action should be done on the basis of whether or not it increases total utility of all impacted since the circle of impact can be quite large. Add this to the fact that one man's good can be another man's bad and how can one tell which is which, the information required could become enormous.

The books by Lenin and Hitler do not appear to have had much impact beyond the author's own life. I am not sure if their books encouraged support for their eventual rise to power, but neither one has significant influence today. There certainly are Neo-Nazis and Leninists but they have almost no influence. Bad ideas serve as a reminder about the frailty of humanity and how prone to error we truly are.

Other authors mentioned like Freud, Mead, Kinsey and Friedan had certain ideologies as they attempted what they thought was science. They may have been wrong, but this had lead to interest in these fields. We have a case of where wrong ideas have lead to research and true scientific understanding. Far from screwing up the world, these books can spark interest in subjects that otherwise might be left to just opinions. By trying to create a scientific justification for their beliefs or pursuing science in a biased manner, these authors have brought their areas of interest into the realm of scientific inquiry where claims can be tested and rejected.

2 comments:

Friar Tuck said...

"As a theoretical matter, I think it was a pretty good start."

I have to strongly disagree with you there. When morality is reduced to utility, men become only means to an end for each other. There is no possibility for authentic love, just a mere using of human beings. John Paul II argues this in his book "Love and Responsibility."

Friar Tuck said...

"The books by Lenin and Hitler do not appear to have had much impact beyond the author's own life. I am not sure if their books encouraged support for their eventual rise to power, but neither one has significant influence today."

I question this somewhat. Certainly there books lead to there rise to power, but their rise to power lead to the death of untold millions. I don't think this is a small thing.

As to their continued influence, I'll grant it for Hitler, but Lenin still have a strong influence on Marxists. Marxism hasn't disappeared and the way that they speak about the revolution gives the impression that more untold millions will die if the oppressor doesn't surrender his power soon.

"Both of their ideas helped humanity progress and we cannot ignore the good just because of the bad."

I imagine Wiker would grant them the good that they did. However, the evil cannot be ignored, because of the good. Both reduced humans to machines, machines that could be disposed of in Social Darwinism or the Revolution. Fundamentally, both deny the dignity of the human person, and this is the huge error that we continue to make.