Presenting Anthony Gottlieb’s new book, The Dream of Enlightenment, The New Yorker today raises the question whether we are “really so modern.” Modernity is not about science and technology, argues the writer. “Rather, it is a subjective condition, a feeling or an intuition that we are in some profound sense different from the people who lived before us.” He goes on to show that we are no different from the people who lived, say, a hundred years ago. We may have accumulated a lot of new technology and its gifts. But our attitudes haven’t changed.
Aristotle who was born 2400 years ago was more sophisticated in thinking than most people living today. If Aristotle were to visit us today, he would find us as savage as the people of his days. He wouldn’t accept our attacking certain people with missiles and bombs in the name of gods and ideologies as a sign of modernity. He would find it impossible to imagine that certain sections of people are kept away from the mainstream society labelled as Dalits or kafirs or anything of the sort. The torture, kidnapping, murder, rape by the police, financial corruption, religious persecution, censorship, and other human rights abuses perpetrated by an Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan, for example, would stupefy Aristotle. “Modernity?” he would scoff. Cattle being worshipped as gods and human beings sacrificed to them would appear more savage than what his contemporaries did.
The irrationality that dominates our actions would astound him. He would think we are an insane lot, far from being modern. He would wonder why so many of us are so unhappy in spite of owning a fleet of cars, a number of houses, more luxury than any people that came after Aristotle. He wouldn’t understand why we are so aggressively acquisitive.
The kind of gang rapes and other attacks on women happening in many parts of India would be far beyond Aristotle’s understanding. “Are you just a bunch of rapists and murderers? ” He would ask.
Godmen and their female counterparts would be huge jokes for him. “What’s this man doing amassing hundreds of acres of land in the name of god?” Aristotle would wonder seeing some of our godmen. He would shake his head in despair if we tell him that many of our godmen are actually in jails for doing much more than grabbing land and properties. He would think our religion is sheer humbug meant for hoodwinking people.
“How has the earth survived in spite of such savage brutes who strut on it so pompously, violating its very soul every moment?” Aristotle would wonder and seek immediate deliverance from our modernity.