A case for modernization as the road to salvation

Knowledge workers are more alienated from the products of their labor than any other class in history, unable to claim some role in producing food, shelter, or even basic consumer products. And yet they can afford to spend time in beautiful places — in their gardens, in the countryside, on beaches, and near old-growth forests. As they survey these landscapes, they tell themselves that the best things in life are free, even though they have consumed mightily to travel to places where they feel peaceful, calm, and far from the worries of the modern world.

Putting faith in modernization will require a new secular theology consistent with the reality of human creation and life on Earth, not with some imagined dystopia or utopia. It will require a worldview that sees technology as humane and sacred, rather than inhumane and profane.

The risks now faced by humanity are increasingly ones of our own making — and ones over which we have only partial, tentative, and temporary control. Various kinds of liberation — from hard agricultural labor and high infant mortality rates to tuberculosis and oppressive traditional values — bring all kinds of new problems, from global warming and obesity to alienation and depression. These new problems will largely be better than the old ones, in the way that obesity is a better problem than hunger, and living in a hotter world is a better problem than living in one without electricity. But they are serious problems nonetheless.

Evolve by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, from the September/October 2011 issue of Orion magazine.

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