Tearing Down the Temple

Reactions to reading the book of Romans

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Romans 1:18-24. The Unholy City—IV. Stuff

Reared as I was on the thinking of C. S. Lewis, I can reflect and reiterate his concern for the reduction of man to mere material (The Abolition of Man), with this provision: I have experienced a lot more of it than he did. As a programmer of computers for thirty-two years, I have lived the dream; I have tasted it. The reduction of thought, of ideas, of life and culture, and most of all, of people as a whole, to mere components of a great machine has advanced to degrees that Lewis only dimly imagined.

The great advance in thinking that has made the growth of the City possible is our understanding of ourselves in terms of mass phenomena. Our understanding of economics is founded on mass activities. The same is true of politics, fashion, marketing, and book publishing. In fact, no economically viable (read, money-making or profitable) enterprise is conceivable that does not partake of this quality. Even education has long since yielded to this ideal, this mismeasure of man.

The science of statistics, born in the realm of gambling, has grown up and is now the reverse telescope that brings man’s total universe into sharp, if distant, focus. Statisticians flourish among us like priests, uttering their oracles of public opinion, market share, confidence, and prospects for the prospects for the future.

The salubrious belief of our age is that man is measurable. That which is measurable can be known; that which is knowable can be used; that which can be used can be conquered; that which can be conquered can be trod underfoot. In the West, we have become stuff: producers and consumers, not men and women; economic quanta, not free people making free choices. Those who inquire into us want to know not us, but what we will buy.

I like Mahler, Heifetz, soft chairs, Joseph Conrad, computers, peace and quiet, the color maroon, and the conversation of an old friend (all my friends are old these days, it seems). All right, what will I pay for these?

(Continued)

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