This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Technologically advanced, culturally backward

Perhaps it is a mere prejudice of mine, with no scientific basic in fact, but I often have the suspicion that our increasingly technologically novel and advanced societies are not only compatible with a general low level of intellectual and artistic culture, but actually promote and encourage such a juxtaposition.

My basic reasoning is as follows: in the past, when most of the population languished under exploitative and repressive hierarchical political structures, the mass of the population had neither the time, money, or opportunity to appreciate and participate in higher levels of enlightenment and enquiry. It was assumed, by our most idealistic forefathers fighting for universal liberation, that we certainly had the inclination. Once the mass of the population had sufficient disposable time, money, and opportunity, it was assumed, widespread enlightenment would follow.

This view does not sit well with our current reality. Trashy and unapologetic forms of culture now predominate. Science, technology, and consumerist capitalism have facilitated this phenomenon to a remarkable degree. People routinely and casually access and utilise technologies that, even a short time ago, were not available to even the most powerful and wealthiest individual on earth. An impartial Martian, observing from a distance, may be excused for assuming that this widespread use of technologically advanced practices and products would mean that the population at large would necessarily acquire an appreciation and respect for the scientific method and the accompanying intellectual virtues, since it is primarily these virtues which allow them to consume such a diverse assortment of much prized goods and services. This is not what we find. Quite the contrary.

It seems to me that a modern society requires the existence of a very small number of dedicated and diligent scientific workers, and that the primary function of these workers is to service the appetites of millions of people who don't care about or respect the scientific virtues. To paraphrase Churchill "rarely have so many benefited from the labours of so few that they substantially ignore".

Is it really to be the ultimate functional purpose of science simply to cater to the appetites of the lowest common denominator?



Comment RSS Feed

Please sign in or register to comment