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By Wesley J. Smith, First Things, 11 . 10 . 17
Like everyone else, I have been pondering the recent “senseless” slaughters in places as disparate as Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs—atrocities in which lone sociopathic gunmen icily annihilated their fellow human beings, including babies and children, with all the moral concern of an exterminator eradicating a termite infestation. I distinguish these mass murders from the attacks committed by Islamic terrorists. As merciless as those despicable assaults are, there is a certain human heat behind the carnage, a twisted ideological motive that we can discern, understand, and perhaps combat.
But the non-ideological killers stymie us. Not only are we left striving to comprehend the why of such chaotic savagery, but we also find ourselves yelling at each other over what to do about it. “Control guns!” some say. Others respond that we should let more people be trained to carry guns as an informal security force. It’s all gotten so banal. Tell me which side I’m on, and I’ll spit out the talking points.
Our problem isn’t too many or too few guns. It’s the culture. We are sickened by a malignancy striking at the human condition. Notice that all these attacks were committed in places of intense human bonding: kids learning together in school, parishioners praying in church, country music fans partying at a concert festival. Beyond killing for its own dark sake, I think these mass murderers aimed at destroying human interconnectivity. In this sense, we were all the intended victims.
Surely such all-consuming malevolence did not arise spontaneously from darkened hearts. There seems to be an infectious desire—or, if you will, a spirit of the age—to break the human ties that bind.
Technology is proving itself a splendid nonviolent means of furthering our mutual uncoupling. Here’s a small example: I checked into a hotel the other night. No, I don’t mean that I was checked in by a courteous front desk clerk. I checked myself in using a computer that assigned my room and spat out my electronic entry card. Sure, a fellow was there to make sure I didn’t screw up the process. But it was clear that his primary purpose was to ensure maximum efficiency rather than to make me feel welcome—the hospitality industry, drained of hospitality.
Other, more encompassing means of automation are advancing faster than we can adjust to the changes they create. I worry about the threat posed by self-driving cars to wise-cracking cabbies and entrepreneurial Uber contractors, and even more so, about the impact automated trucks will have on long-haulers whom, not too long ago, we romanticized as highway cowboys. Robots will soon be cooking our fast food, perhaps even replacing our servers. Transhumanists promote radical solipsism, pushing the fantasy that we can upload our minds into computers and live forever. Talk about an antiseptic existence! Euthanasia is increasingly advocated, I’ve thought, to put the sick out of our misery, at the very least corroding the human bond that forms when we care for people as they die. There is even a burgeoning sex doll industry that promises customers greater pleasure than human intercourse with increasingly sophisticated manikins—all without the “mess” of emotional commitment and self-sacrifice that ideally accompanies intimacy.
It’s not just technology, of course. We live in an age in which many of our elites sniff disdainfully at those who gather together in prayer and faith; when even that great unifier, football, has become politically divisive; and in which many children are being raised in homes without emotional stability. In such an uncoupling culture, severely damaged people more readily metastasize into monsters.
So, my dehumanized hotel is a small metaphor for a much larger problem. We are ceasing to be a forest, becoming merely a bunch of trees standing next to each other. As we have seen, that can be deadly to body and to soul.
Now, please excuse me. My dog is nagging for a walk, and I have to get my earbuds. God forbid that I should have to endure any spontaneous human interactions.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism