But is it all inevitable? I recently came across another take on the issue of inevitability and the impossibility of stopping the relentless march of change over time. In Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, the narrator reflects on the consensus in his intellectual circle in Munich that as the 1930s unfolded, Germany was in for “hard and dark times
that would scoff at humanity, for an age of great wars and sweeping revolution, presumably leading far back beyond the Christian civilization of the Middle Ages and restoring instead the Dark Ages that preceded its birth and had followed the collapse of antiquity.”
Yet Mann’s narrator observes that no one objected to those conclusions. No one said this dark version of the future must be changed, must be avoided. No one said: ”We must somehow intervene and stop this from happening.” Instead they reveled in the cleverness of their insights, in their recognition of the facts and their inevitable results. They said: “’It’s coming. It’s coming, and once it’s here we will find ourselves at the crest of the moment. It is interesting, it is even good—simply because it is what is coming, and to recognize that fact is both achievement and enjoyment enough. It is not up to us to take measures against it as well.’”
It is a predicament well worth remembering, I believe, as we listen to our own technology enthusiasts. Our dark age ahead my not have death camps and atomic bombs but it has the possibility of being just as pernicious and inhumane. It could well be a time where in celebrating the wonders of technology we ignore what is the best essence of what it means to be human. We would do well to consider our choices while we still can.