Darwinism and "Mass Men" - Evolution News & Views

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Darwinism and "Mass Men"

Joseph Bottum at First Things has an excellent essay on José Ortega y Gasset, the early 20th Century Spanish writer. In Ortega's masterwork, The Revolt of the Masses, Ortega describes a new sociological phenomenon: the "mass man." Bottum explains:

Ortega's accomplishment...was to identify a new sociological species: mass man. As The Revolt of the Masses explains, the mass man is not just an ordinary man, and he is not associated with any particular class. He is, rather, a product of European historical development, a kind of human being born for the first time in the nineteenth century...The description Ortega gives is not particularly enjoyable. The mass man lives without any discipline, and--as Ortega remembers from Goethe--"to live as one pleases is plebian." The mass man "possesses no quality of excellence." He demands more and more, as if it were his natural right, without realizing that what he wants was the privilege of a tiny group only a century ago. He does not understand that technological wonders are the product of an intricate cultural process for which he should be grateful. [Emphasis mine].

Ortega's paradigm of "mass men" certainly rings true, and seems particularly true of modern ideologically-driven materialistic scientific culture. What is perhaps most astonishing about the rhetoric of contemporary Darwinists such as P.Z. Myers, Steven Novella, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Larry Moran is their ignorance of the cultural and historical origins of modern science and medicine.

Bottum explains:

The danger ... lies in mass man's lack of even a rudimentary understanding of culture. Here Ortega draws a critical distinction between civilization and culture. Civilization is the sum of the technical and technological tools that make life as we know it possible. And culture is that civilization's underpinnings--the set of ideas, motives, and religious truths that gave birth to civilization.

Bottum seems to speak almost explicitly of atheist ideologues who advocate crude versions of scientism:
So, for instance, mass man is oblivious to the fact that much of what is known in modern times as science started as a theoretical or theological game in the seventeenth century. The serious underpinnings of science were apparent to René Descartes, for instance. One of the founders of modern science, Descartes points out in several of his letters that his philosophical conception of God is indispensable for his new conception of science--since it is a view of God as capable of changing even the truths of mathematics...In other words, it was a new theological concept that ignited the scientific project.

Bottom points out that this ignorance and denial of the genuine Christian origins of modern science leads to dissolution of the civilization that was created by a theist understanding of man and nature:
Ortega admits that scientific civilization can go on living without being continuously propelled by culture. He warns, however, that if we exhaust our cultural resources, we will roll back to the level of barbarism. Civilization is like a vending machine, whose buttons we press to get a desired good, but after a while it requires maintenance: "History tells us of innumerable retrogressions, of decadences and degenerations. But nothing tells us that there is no possibility of much more basic retrogressions than any so far known, including the most radical of all: the total disappearance of man as man and his silent return to the animal scale."

Ortega observed that this arrogance and cultural ignorance heralds a radically new culture, and there may be no going back. Atheist materialism and its creation myth--Darwinism--were the basis for modern eugenics and were permissive and canonical, respectively, to the atheist-materialistic ideologies--Nazism and Communism--that laid waste to the 20th century. In the midst of the 20th Century we had a taste of "the total disappearance of man as man and his silent return to the animal scale." Most chilling is Ortega's suggestion that we have witnessed the mere premonitions of what materialist ideology may bring to mankind.

Eugenics and totalitarianism may be just the beginning of the transformation that materialism and the Darwinist understanding of man will bring to our civilization.