In his latest Atlantic essay, “After Babel: How Social Media Dissolved the Mortar of Society and Made America Stupid,” Jonathan Haidt turns the Biblical story of Babel the other way up. This story in Genesis relates a time after the nice flood when all of the individuals of the earth spoke one language and joined collectively in a plan to construct an excellent tower that may attain into the heavens, thus “making a reputation” for themselves. Observing the venture, the Lord concludes that “nothing can be inconceivable” for this monolingual individuals, so he confuses their language and scatters them over the face of the earth. The implicit message is that the Babel venture was a nasty thought. For Haidt, nevertheless, there was nothing incorrect with the venture. Its solely drawback was its failure.
The post-Babel scenario is, in accordance with Haidt, a catastrophe and the “finest metaphor he has encountered” for “the fractured nation we now inhabit.” Haidt imagines the post-Babel world to be one in which individuals wandered amid the ruins of the destroyed metropolis “unable to speak, condemned to mutual incomprehension.” The identical is true at present, he asserts. “We’re disoriented, unable to talk the identical language and acknowledge the identical fact, minimize off from each other and the previous.” Conversely, a world of “one individuals” who all converse the identical language could be a a lot better place. It’s also one we got here nearer than ever to attaining in 2011, when Google translate turned out there on our smartphones, and social media enabled us to “join with buddies and strangers to speak about frequent pursuits, at no cost, and at a scale by no means earlier than possible.” However then, between 2011 and 2015, technological modifications transformed social media into an echo chamber of mob dynamics, and we entered the post-Babel period.
Haidt doesn’t present a cautious exegesis of the Babel story. That’s not his curiosity. Babel serves as little greater than a hook. His main concern is the position of expertise in our tradition. Particularly, he argues that social media has fragmented humanity, a state of affairs he merely assumes to be undesirable. Technology, he holds, mustn’t divide us however allow “cooperation at bigger scales.” However the Babel story argues for warning in pursuing a contemporary Babel venture by way of expertise. Why?
For one factor, unanimity and homogeneity can promote and perpetuate error. The place everybody speaks the identical language and operates with the identical aspirations and fears, self-examination and self-criticism are more likely to be uncared for. Likewise, mass consciousness can threaten the event of particular person identification. In such a setting, peace could be doubtless, however so too could be authoritarianism and even totalitarianism, in which divergent factors of view are ignored or actively suppressed. The builders of Babel are, from the Bible’s standpoint, too positive of themselves and too disinclined to ask arduous questions of each other and themselves. Likewise, the much less fragmented and contentious world that Haidt needs could also be too apprehensive about preserving peace to problem the views of the specialists and leaders who typically decide what’s deemed true and good.
Pursuing a contemporary Babel venture by way of social media expertise isn’t any higher than the traditional Biblical venture pursued with bricks.
The Babel venture can also be extremely prideful. Its builders suppose they’ll overcome pure human limitations by way of new expertise – in their case, by baking higher bricks. However constructing a tower, even one which reaches the heavens, doesn’t change the human beings who would ascend it to make gods of themselves. Babel’s builders are blind to the distinction between the human and the divine. They could suppose they’re remodeling themselves into gods, however they’re in reality overlooking the important distinction between the human and the transcendent, a distinction that stops them from recognizing what is actually good. Unity among the many peoples of the earth is an eschatological hope; it isn’t a purpose that may be achieved by way of human expertise and planning.
Pursuing a contemporary Babel venture by way of social media expertise isn’t any higher than the traditional Biblical venture pursued with bricks. Senseless homogeneity and alienation that undermine the seek for fact and restrict the event of human souls are too excessive a worth to pay for large-scale international cooperation. There’s nonetheless a threat that expertise will enslave us, selling a false sense of ever-greater energy whereas hiding our dependence on powers not of our making and past our management.
Haidt’s admiration for the Babel venture displays his desire for technological treatments. He means that we “harden” democratic establishments by ending closed celebration primaries, introducing ranked-choice voting, and having nonpartisan panels draw electoral districts. Likewise, he desires to reform social media, by modifying the “share” perform on Fb to make it harder for a number of customers to share the identical content material; requiring social media platforms to confirm that their customers are actual human beings; mandating higher oversight by the Federal Communications Fee or Federal Commerce Fee; and elevating the age at which firms can acquire private data from youngsters. However in accordance with the Genesis account, expertise is much less the answer than the underlying drawback.
The Babel venture displays a common human aspiration. It expresses highly effective needs for safety, stability, and permanence, achieved by way of rational and peaceable means, made potential by frequent speech, uniform ideas, and expertise. The dream of a united humankind dwelling collectively in peace and freedom shouldn’t be going to die anytime quickly. From this attitude, the priority of Haidt and others in regards to the fractious nature of our world is comprehensible. Nobody would need anger, dishonesty, and mob dynamics to proceed in the event that they might be eradicated with out value. However the Babel story suggests this isn’t potential. Battle and anger are inherent hazards of a society in which human beings are free to precise their views and discover the views of others in a need to dwell higher lives. To place our religion in expertise to get rid of and even ameliorate these dangers guarantees to make our issues solely worse.
Within the Bible, the Babel story is instantly adopted by the decision of Abraham to a brand new lifestyle. From this, some have concluded that the Babel story is a prelude to a greater method for human beings to dwell collectively that’s extra conscious of our items and limitations. This strategy aspires to not large-scale tasks, however to the small and intimate, starting with the instruction of 1 man, then one household, after which one individuals. It emphasizes not higher expertise, however higher individuals, whose lives and habits of performing, feeling, and considering allow them to make use of expertise to have interaction in fruitful and even spirited dialogue. And whereas it acknowledges the attraction of unity, it doesn’t search to ascertain this by way of human efforts, however to belief that such unity already exists and may be higher, however by no means absolutely, identified and appreciated by these with the needs and virtues essential to hunt it.
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