Are you against computers, Socrates?
Socrates: Of course not. Am I against brains? I am against confusion—against personalizing instruments and instrumentalizing persons—which is what is at stake in this philosophical question about human and computer intelligence.
From Peter Kreeft’s brilliant book The Best Things in Life, which imagines dialogues that occur when Socrates visits a modern university campus. Even more poignant: this book was written in 1984.
The paragraph below, from Alan Jacobs, is an important one to comprehend. The rest of his post helps frame some of the wider issues at hand, and points to other helpful works for those seeking to read more widely on these things.
I want to make a stronger argument: that the distinctive “occupational psychosis” of Silicon Valley is sociopathy – the kind of sociopathy embedded in the Oppenheimer Principle. The people in charge at Google and Meta and (outside Silicon Valley) Microsoft, and at the less well-known companies that are being used by the mega-companies, have been deformed by their profession in ways that prevent them from perceiving, acknowledging, and acting responsibly in relation to the consequences of their research. They have a trained incapacity to think morally. They are by virtue of their narrowly technical education and the strong incentives of their profession moral idiots.
While it is not the only point of the paragraph, I cannot help but revisit the final sentence (emphasis mine):
they are by virtue of their narrowly technical education … moral idiots.
Learning to lead, love, and serve our world does not require more technical training, either in K-12 or higher ed. It requires more humane teaching and learning.
Your eight year old can learn to code from an app whenever they need it, whether that is this summer or twenty summers from now. They cannot so easily learn what it means to be a human being who is a member of a human society, while also learning to master the art of letters and numbers.
One of the best things you can do now to prepare young children for the moral idiocracy of our age is to ground them in a rich education in the liberal arts.
Working title for a writing project I am chipping away at these days:
Presence in a Virtual Age: a sacramental theology you didn’t know you needed
I have to imagine that those who work towards developing or are in any way excited about the Metaverse have only ever watched the first five minutes of a Black Mirror episode.
All work email is officially blocked on all devices for the next eight days. One of the few true breaks from work in the year. Looking forward to it … especially after the withdrawal dissipates.
But a deeper question lurks beneath this debate: are these services making you a better or worse version of yourself?
On social media and character, by Cal Newport.
They said ‘Vide, look! How the love one another.’ They did not say, ‘Aude, listen to the Christians’ message’; they did not say ‘Lege, read what they write. Hearing and reading were important … But we must not miss the reality: the pagans said look!
Alan Kreider, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church
The Roman Empire was “(almost) infinitely tolerant” of a variety of religions. Christianity, on the other hand, is rooted in a historical and exclusive truth claim about Jesus of Nazareth. Faced with these two realities, Kreider asks “Why in such a world did Christianity attract converts?”
His answer is that, in part, it was the embodied patience of the Christians that made the faith attractive. Christian behavior—how they buried their dead, care for one another, the poor, and orphans—was “deeply unsettling” and yet eventually attractive to their pagan neighbors.