Page 14 - The.Ascent.of.Humanity
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are not to be trusted. The examples of what life is surround me and de- 

fine what is normal. Do I see anyone around me whose work is their joy, 

whose time is their own, whose love is their passion? It can’t happen. Be 

thankful, say the voices, that my job is reasonably stimulating, that I feel 

“in love” at least once in a while, that the pain is manageable and life’s 

uncertainties under control. Let good enough be good enough. Sure, life 

can be a drag, but at least I can afford to escape it sometimes. Life is 

about work, self-discipline, responsibility, but if I get these out of the 

way quickly and efficiently, I can enjoy vacations, entertainment, week- 

ends, maybe even early retirement. Listening to these voices, is it any 

wonder that for many years, I devoted most of my energy and vitality to 

the escapes from life? Is it any wonder that so many of my students at 

Penn State look forward already, at age 21, to retirement?

If life and the world are Just This, we are left no choice but to make 

the best of it: to be more efficient, to achieve better security, to get life’s 

uncertainties under control. There are voices that speak to this too. They 

are the evangelists of technology and self-improvement, who urge us to 

improve the human condition basically by trying harder. My inner evan- 

gelist tells me to get my life under control, to work out every day, to or- 

ganize my time more efficiently, to watch my diet, to be more 

disciplined, to try harder to be a good person. On the collective level, the 

same attitude says that perhaps the next generation of material and social 

technologies—new medicines, better laws, faster computers, solar power, 

nanotechnology—will finally succeed in improving our lot. We will be 

more efficient, more intelligent, more capable, and finally have the ca- 

pacity to solve humanity’s age-old problems.

For more and more people today, these voices ring hollow. Words 

like “high-tech” and “modern” lose their cachet as a multiplicity of crises 

converge upon our planet. If we are fortunate, we might, for a time, pre- 

vent these crises from invading our personal lives. Yet as the environ- 

ment continues to deteriorate, as job security evaporates, as the 

international situation worsens, as new incurable diseases appear, as the 

pace of change accelerates, it seems impossible to rest at ease. The world 

grows more competitive, more dangerous, less hospitable to easy living, 

and security comes with greater and greater effort. And even when tem- 

porary security is won, a latent anxiety lurks within the fortress walls, a 

mute unease in the background of modern life. It pervades technological 

society, and only intensifies as the pace of technology quickens. We 

begin to grow hopeless as our solutions—new technologies, new laws,

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