A Brief Tour

Week 6’s reading, “A Brief Tour Through the Potent Mix of Modern and Ancient Worlds,” takes the Basic problem and applies it for the first time to the concept of religion and faith. Barely half a page into the reading, I was struck by a remarkable point of Prof. Chaloupka: that wisdom is not cumulative, but small bits of wisdom can be kept when we stumble across them. While I believe that rephrasing these bits of wisdom into our own words is also valuable, I wholeheartedly agree with Chaloupka’s insight that the reading primary sources of ‘original’ literature makes us less likely to be swayed by the biased or false interpretations of others.

Before presenting his bits of wisdom as an annotated compilation of readings, Prof. Chaloupka again defines the Basic Problem – but this time, as seen by Robert Cooper. Cooper’s view on the Basic Problem is very philosophical. In fact, it reminds me of the Philosophy 101 class I took four years ago. According to Cooper, “the spread of the technology of mass destruction represents a potentially massive redistribution of power away from the advanced industrial (and democratic) states… away from the state itself and towards individuals, [ie] terrorists or criminals.” This immediately reminds me of Hobbes’s State of Nature, in which every person looks out for themselves and life for all is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” To escape the State of Nature, Hobbes’s suggests a mutual contract between individuals and their chosen leaders. This contract gives governments a legitimate monopoly on violence and individuals the promise of protection. The world of the Basic Problem as described by Cooper seems to me like a shift back to the State of Nature – as power slips from the holds of governments to individuals, governments lose their monopolies on violence, and protection by law is no longer guaranteed for people. I believe, then, that the next logical conclusion is that if and when governments lose enough power to individuals, we will return to the State of Nature and civilization will be replaced with anarchy. I am very surprised that Cooper or Prof. Chaloupka did not make the link to Hobbes, the State of Nature, and the implications for humanity directly. It seems to me that despite taking the first step in defining the Basic Problem with the very ‘social science’ term of ‘redistribution of power’, both Cooper and Chaloupka stop short of explicitly connecting it to philosophy (arguable the origin of modern Western social science). Perhaps this is a subconscious embodiment by Cooper and Chaloupka of the Basic Problem itself.

Reading Cooper’s excerpt put me into a philosophical state of mind. As this week’s reading assignment began examining the relationship between science and religion, this led me again to be reminded of my freshman year philosophy course. Unlike the Christian fundamentalist conclusions of LaHaye and Noebel, my class decided that science and religion are not inherently contradictory to each other. Religion, we decided, was based on answering the ‘why?’ questions of the universe – why is humanity on earth, why do we die, why do certain life events happen, etc. Science on the other hand was based on answering the ‘how?’ questions – how has humanity lived on earth, how do we die, how do things happen. While science can hypothesizes and examines methods, religion looks at causes. In my view, this allows even a topic as controversial as evolution to be accepted by the religious. Evolution is a scientific theory of the process by which new species come to be. But why is evolution works or developed in the first place is a question for religion to analyze. I find myself asking – what if God created evolution and sat back to watch humanity emerge from the “ooze and amoebas?”

This week’s reading on the ‘Basic Problem’ embodied for me what this entire class is about. I was prompted to think of and make connections to materials from other classes I have taken. I myself was making a connection between science and society. Ironically, this was only possible after the Basic Problem was clearly defined – I do not think I would recognized the connection to Hobbes’s philosophy. I am also reconsidering the importance of the shift of power to individuals. Before this week’s reading, I considered the increasing ability of individuals to use science and technology in malicious ways to be a small side-effect of the Basic Problem, and incomparable to society’s careless push for ever faster innovation. Now, I realize that the increasing power of individuals to do harm is possibly the greatest risk in the Basic Problem.



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