I happened to be reading William Wordsworth the other day. You know, because that’s what you do when you have time off from work: read English romantic poetry from the eighteenth century. Actually, I make no apologies. I’d rather do that than read about options trading or the so-called “Fourth Industrial Revolution” when everything will be done for us by artificial intelligence (can intelligence really be artificial?).
The poem that caught my attention was “The World Is Too Much With Us” (1807). In it, Wordsworth laments mankind’s descent into materialism and consumerism. You may have thought of the Romantic Age as the good old days, but Wordsworth believes that the industrialization that accompanied it lured us away from true happiness and forced us into a greedy quest for goods, wealth, and empire. As a result, we have forgotten who we are and lost our soul:
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;— Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! ...For this, for everything, we are out of tune...
If Wordsworth thought the Industrial Revolution was sordid, he no doubt would become apoplectic to see where we are today. We’ve gotten to the point where some of us deny even having a soul. I am thinking here of the “geochemistry is biochemistry” crowd. We’ve moved from better-living-through-chemistry to life-is-chemistry. With that kind of materialistic worldview, why wouldn’t people ask for an injection at the first serious disappointment in life? Certain politicians like the unctuous and puerile Justin Trudeau are planning on just such a thing.
I would not have had a chance to think about this had it not been for taking vacation time and intentionally reading poets like Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge. That’s one of the real advantages of a liberal arts education, and it’s not trivial (see “But Can You Type?”).
It’s also due to having had the time to make connections. We need time to think and relax when we are not groggy with the mind numbing jargon of ecosystems and pain points (please don’t get me started about “best practices”). This isn’t exactly news, but it’s crucial to recognize that the real sin of the emerging artificial order is the theft of time. We will be robbed of it in addition to privacy and independent thought. In fact, we can’t develop independent thought without sufficient time.
Aristotle knew this, even if his solution was to limit leisure time to a select few. Coming out of the Jesuit world, it does not escape me that Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) experienced his conversion during convalescence from a battle wound when he had nothing to read but spiritual works provided by his sister-in-law. He had reading and time. Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American engineer and physicist of alternating current and electric car fame, spent many months convalescing from various illnesses. He attributed his greatest discoveries and insights to those periods.
Jesuit spirituality teaches adherents to be in the world but not of it. It acknowledges the need to be practical and live among other people. After all, we are all social beings, even those who profess not to be. But not being of the world means that sometimes we have to escape, especially from those things that are too much with us and distract us from ourselves and God. This is the busy-ness of life, with the obvious etymological connection to “business.”
I have been involved in more meetings, workshops, and conferences regarding the coming wave than I care to remember. Some experts refer to it as an evolution, others as the “holistic integration” of silicon and carbon, although the latter is too grandiose for my taste. It smacks of the World Economic Forum and its plans for us in the near future. Klaus Schwab, Yuval Harari, and company assure us that they have everything under control, including the radical realignment of religion and the “recalibration” of speech by which they mean democracy.
Honestly, I’m tired of hearing about AI, virtual reality, machine learning, computer vision, ChatGTP, and the like. It’s not that I don’t believe these tools can be helpful. I just doubt they’ll remain tools. When that happens, guess what? We’ll really be out of tune.
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