Friday, October 16, 2015

“Contemporary man has not been trained to use power well": Laudato Si', 101-105

In the next chapter, Francis takes aim at the "technocratic paradigm". But in the excerpts below he begins by considering the virtues of technological changes, before questioning our ability to apply self-restraint to our new-found power. (Several times in these excerpts he quotes Romano Guardini, a German priest who opposed the Nazis and whose works were read by a wide variety of folks, including Flannery O'Connor, Hannah Arendt, Benedict XVI and, obviously, Francis.)


101. It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis. A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us. Should we not pause and consider this? At this stage, I propose that we focus on the dominant technocratic paradigm and the place of human beings and of human action in the world.


102. …We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change…. It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us, for “science and technology are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity”.[81] The modification of nature for useful purposes has distinguished the human family from the beginning…. Technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings. How can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications?...

103. Technoscience, when well directed, can produce important means of improving the quality of human life…. It can also produce art and enable men and women immersed in the material world to “leap” into the world of beauty. Who can deny the beauty of an aircraft or a skyscraper? Valuable works of art and music now make use of new technologies. So, in the beauty intended by the one who uses new technical instruments and in the contemplation of such beauty, a quantum leap occurs, resulting in a fulfilment which is uniquely human.

104. Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA, and many other abilities which we have acquired, have given us tremendous power. More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world. Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely…. We need but think of the nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century, or the array of technology which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions of people…. In whose hands does all this power lie, or will it eventually end up? It is extremely risky for a small part of humanity to have it.

105. There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture”,[83] as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such. The fact is that “contemporary man has not been trained to use power well”,[84] because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.,,, “Power is never considered in terms of the responsibility of choice which is inherent in freedom” since its “only norms are taken from alleged necessity, from either utility or security”.[85] But human beings are not completely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.


[81] JOHN PAUL II, Address to Scientists and Representatives of the United Nations University, Hiroshima (25 February 1981), 3: AAS 73 (1981), 422.

[83] ROMANO GUARDINI, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 9th ed., Würzburg, 1965, 87 (English: The End of the Modern World, Wilmington, 1998, 82).

[84] Ibid.

[85] Ibid., 87-88 (The End of the Modern World, 83).

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