What is the Hope for Humanity
The link above is of a debate held by the Veritas Forum, on the search for truth. The Forum describes it best:
Join [N.T. Wright](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N._T._Wright) , [Peter Thiel](en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Thiel), and moderator Ross Douthat in a discussion on hope, technology, politics, and theology.
This Forum considers the question “what is the hope for humanity” but what do we mean by this? In today’s modern culture, with all our technological and social advances, where is our hope most soundly placed? Is it even wise to hope for, or imagine, a better life? What does faith, or the absence of faith, have to do with any of this?
N.T. Wright is a venerable British scholar, an authority on the New Testament. Thiel, to take Joss Whedon out of context, is a “ billionaire genius philanthropist ” investor. To see such divergent people on such a respectable platform, having an intelligent discussion is a treasure. This is an absolutely lovely talk, and I’ve briefly transcribed the text I liked. The rights to the content and discussion belong to the Veritas Forum.
What is the Hope for Humanity
Peter Thiel mentions how both science and religion agree on one thing - that the future will be very different from the current stage. He argues that the world is not headed towards technological progress, but is actually slowing down. He believes that we are, contrary to popular belief, in an age of stagnation. He cites examples of how Hollywood today releases films that seldom portray technology or its benefits in a positive light - be it Avatar, the Matrix, or the Terminator, or Gravity. He laments that people no longer believe the future is going to be different from what is now.
Tom Wright supplements to Thiel’s argument that after the technological breakthroughs that started from the 19th century, people believe that they could do things that the previous generations certainly couldn’t. But he believes this faith has turned into a jaded post-modernist approach where the Utopian ideas have let people down, with inventions like the atomic bomb etc. shaking people’s ideas of technological advancement really is. He says that science has always promised a Utopia, but it hasn’t delivered on that. He deems it a “cultural weariness”, which I think is the most British way you can put this. The optimism has faded, as Thiel calls it.
The Political Sidebar
The discussion risked being an entirely political one, but with a historical focus. The Manhattan Project, the Apollo Space Program were touched upon, and Thiel’s distrust of the political system is palpable. Both sides argued that governments have abandoned the mantle of technological progress (Shutting down of the Space Program), and Thiel argues that if a politician gave a daring speech today, it would court controversy. It is unthinkable for a politician to give a speech that mirrored the likes of Reagan’s famous implore to Gorbachev to “tear down this Wall” , or MLK’s “Dream”.
At which point the moderator countered Thiel with a really good question - What about the 2008 Presidential Campaign? The Obama story, of an African-American becoming the leader of the free world had a hint of hope, that the future was going to be bright.“Do you want a Marxist criticism of Obama?”, he said, “ Observe how Yes We Can, the promised change, turned into“Change We Need - an absolute minimum amount of change that would be required.” The audience burst into laughter, as it should. Thiel’s a bloody genius.
Wright tied a nice bow to the whole argument by pointing out that politicians need to make promises - but they let people down, just like science has with its promises.
The Smart Debate
How is Thiel this smart? He points out to the moderator’s bit about how the generally accepted principle that “technology is rapidly progressing”, doesn’t actually mean anything, because the definition of technology is too broad. He points out how the term “technological advancement” in the 60s meant aerospace, nuclear power, turning deserts into farmland, and today it mostly refers to information technology advancement.
Thiel ultimately argues that the scope for technology has become limited.
“In a world without technological progress, you have a zero-sum society. Its not clear whether capitalism could work in such a society. I certainly do not think that democratic representative government could work because it works by having a growing pie, in which, you forge compromises - you divvy up the pie, and everyone gets a little bit more as long as the pie keeps growing. When the pie stops growing, politics gets polarized, and people are really angry at each other, even when there are no objective differences at all. This, I think, is a pretty accurate description of politics in 2014. ”
I suggest you watch the entire thing. Highly knowledgeable, and a very very interesting debate.