Danger of a modern Babylon

Reprinted from Law and Freedom

In his recent time Atlantic The article, “After Babylon: How Social Media Has Dissolved the Mortar of Society and Made America Foolish”, Jonathan Hyde reversed the Bible story of Babylon. This story in Genesis relates to a time after the Flood when all the peoples of the earth spoke one language and came together in a plan to build a huge tower that would reach heaven, thus “making a name” for itself. Observing the project, the Lord concludes that “nothing will be impossible” for these monolingual people, so he confuses their language and spreads it all over the world. The underlying message is that the Babel project was a bad idea. For Haidt, however, there was nothing wrong with the project. Its only problem was its failure.

According to Haidt, the post-Babel situation is a catastrophe and “the best metaphor he encounters” for “the broken country we now live in”. Haidt imagined the post-Babylonian world as a place where people wandered through the ruins of a devastated city, “unable to communicate, condemned for mutual understanding.” The same is true today, he insisted. “We are lost, unable to speak the same language and recognize the same truth, isolated from each other and past.” Conversely, a world of “one man” who speaks the same language would be a much better place. This is even closer to what we achieved in 2011, when Google Translate became available on our smartphones, and social media enabled us to “connect for free, to talk about common interests with friends and strangers, and never before. Imagine that.” ” But then, between 2011 and 2015, technological changes transformed social media into an eco-chamber of mob dynamics, and we entered the post-Babel era.

Haidt does not provide a careful explanation of the Babylonian story. It is not in his interest. Babel works a little more than a hook. His primary concern is the role of technology in our culture. In particular, he argues that social media has fragmented humanity, a situation he simply considers undesirable. He says technology should not divide us but allow us to “collaborate on a larger scale”. But Babel argues for caution in following a modern Babel project through story technology. Why?

For one thing, unity and solidarity can promote and perpetuate error. Where everyone speaks the same language and acts with the same desires and fears, self-examination and self-criticism are likely to be neglected. Similarly, mass consciousness can threaten the development of individual identity. In such an environment, there may be potential for peace, but also authoritarianism and even totalitarianism, where different perspectives are ignored or actively suppressed. The creators of Babylon, from a biblical point of view, are very confident about themselves and uncomfortable to ask each other and themselves difficult questions. Similarly, the less fragmented and controversial world that Hadd wants may be too anxious to challenge the views of experts and leaders on peacekeeping who often determine which is true and which is good.

The Babel project is also extremely proud. Its makers believe they can overcome natural human limitations with new technology – in their case, better baked bricks. But building a tower, even one that reaches heaven, does not change the people who will climb it to make their own gods. The creators of Babylon are blind to the differences between humans and the divine. They may think they are transforming themselves into gods, but they are actually ignoring the essential difference between human and transcendent, a difference that prevents them from acknowledging what is truly good. Unity among the peoples of the world is an eschatological hope; This is not a goal that can be achieved through human technology and planning.

Following a modern Babel project through social media technology is no better than following the ancient Bible project that was followed with bricks. The senseless unity and isolation that undermines the search for truth and limits the development of the human soul has to pay a heavy price for large-scale global cooperation. There is still a risk that technology will enslave us, propagate a false sense of the ever-greater power when we are not created and hide our dependence on power beyond our control.

Haidt’s appreciation for the Babel project reflects his preference for technical solutions. He suggested that we “strengthen” democratic institutions by ending closed party primaries, introducing rank-choice voting and drawing non-partisan panel constituencies. Similarly, he wants to reform social media by modifying the “share” function on Facebook to make it more difficult for multiple users to share the same content; Social media platforms need to verify whether their users are real people; Make greater oversight mandatory by the Federal Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission; And raising the age at which companies can collect personal information from children. But according to the Genesis account, technology is less of a solution than an underlying problem.

The Babel Project reflects the aspirations of a universal people. It expresses a strong desire for security, stability and permanence, which is achieved in a logical and peaceful way, made possible by common speech, uniform thinking and technology. The dream of a united humanity living in peace and freedom together will not die soon. From this perspective, the concerns of Haidt and others about the fragmented nature of our world are understandable. No one wants to continue the anger, dishonesty and mob mobility if they can be eliminated at no cost. But telling the story of Babel is not possible. Conflict and anger are the inherent dangers of a society where people are free to express their opinions and seek the opinions of others in the pursuit of a better life. Our belief in technology to eliminate or even improve these risks promises to make our problems worse.

In the Bible, the story of Babel is immediately following Abraham’s call for a new way of life. From this, some have come to the conclusion that the Babylonian story is a prelude to a better way for people to live together that makes us more aware of our gifts and limitations. This approach is not for large-scale projects, but for small and intimate aspirations, starting with the instruction of one person, then a family, and then one person. It does not emphasize better technology, but rather enables better people, whose lives and practices of acting, feeling and thinking, to use technology to engage in fruitful and even enthusiastic dialogue. And when it acknowledges the appeal of unity, it does not seek to establish it through human effort, but rather to believe that such unity already exists and can be better, but never complete, known by those who have the necessary aspirations and qualities. And cannot be appreciated. It is

Richard Gunderman

Richard Gunderman

Richard Gunderman, MD, PhD, is the Chancellor Professor of Radiology, Pediatrics, Medical Education, Philosophy, Liberal Arts, Philanthropy and Medical Humanities and Health Studies at Indiana University.

Her most recent books are Marie Curie and Contagion.

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Mark Mutz

Mark Mutz is a lawyer in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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