Marley’s Ghost and the Loss of Order, Robert Frodeman

SERRC —  December 24, 2016 — 5 Comments

Author Information: Robert Frodeman, University of North Texas, Robert.Frodeman@unt.edu

Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-3nN

Please refer to:

dickins_christmas

Image credit: valkrye131, via flickr

As we do every holiday season, last night we watched the 1951 version of Dicken’s Christmas Carol. It was deeply comforting, and deeply troubling. It’s great because the director (Desmond-Hurst) treats the subject matter with the gravity and modesty it deserves. This is the version that haunted my childhood: how Marley’s face on the door knocker frightened me, as did his banging of chains. Ditto the hand that juts out from the black figure of the ghost of Christmas Future.

But what frightens me now is what the story portends for our future. The movie declares that it’s a story of redemption, or as it says, of (individual) reclamation. But it is about something more fundamental than that. It assumes the existence of a moral and metaphysical order. The accounts always balance: Marley wears the chains he forged in life, and if Scrooge is to avoid the same fate he must come to his senses. Of course, terrible injustices exist in Dicken’s London, but there is a stability to the world that is intensely consoling. Now, however, it’s this stability and consolation that’s been lost.

I feel that the greatest task of the philosopher—I mean the term in a generic sense, which includes STSers and many others—is to try to identify the deepest, most profound, and most significant problem of his or her time and think it through. Of course, people will differ in their evaluation of what this is. But that’s ok. In fact it’s good, for it increases the chances that someone will get lucky and hit upon the right problem. This is what led me to environmental philosophy, and then to interdisciplinarity, and most recently to what might be called policy studies but which is really about thinking through the problem of the mismatch between the supply and the demand for knowledge.

Now, all these issues remain central. But I am increasingly gripped by the sense that it is our loss of a moral and metaphysical order that is the chief problem of our time—an instability that is being driven by science and technology. It’s a point that Ted Kaczynski spotted early, though I reject his methods. When I read about the latest developments in AI and DIYbiology I feel a world spinning out of control—and feel that it is this feeling, mis-interpreted, that has led us to Trump. It’s spawned a wildness that expresses itself in Trump’s statements and behavior, and of some of those who support him, a feeling that things have been spinning out of control (MAGA); but rather than trying to react in a conservative or Burkean manner to reestablish order, the urge has now become nihilistic, expressing itself as authoritarianism and irrationality—Bannon’s ‘let’s blow up the entire system’ and the GOP’s ‘who cares if Putin threw the election, our guy won’.

So it is that here, teaching in Texas, I find myself saying repeatedly to my classes: you guys say you are christian; you picket abortion clinics; but why aren’t you picketing the biology building, which represents a much greater threat to your world order? In this sense I think Fuller is correct, that our political choices are reorienting themselves from left-right to what might be called black-green—that the real debate before us is between those who seek deification via technoscience, versus those hoary old metaphysicians who declaim the folly of that path and call for the observance of some type of larger order and limit.

It’s a battle that I fear I am on the losing side of. Which goes a long way to explain my love of old movies like A Christmas Carol, where I can (for all the Jim Crow or sexism or other stupidities) for an hour or two find a moral and metaphysical order that offers me solace.

5 responses to Marley’s Ghost and the Loss of Order, Robert Frodeman

  1. 

    This is incredibly touching, but no excuse for laziness on the part of those (I’m looking at you, big guy) who want to pull back the reins!

  2. 

    I’ll say that it is dogmatism on all sides, including perhaps as you say, those invested in the technoscientific at varying levels, but also those lying outside of it. Then again it’s also a mix of laziness (“let me stay in my sweet spot where I can diss others not like me with my intellectual authority”) and self-righteousness that contributed further to the distasteful world we are in right now.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Embrace the Inner Fox: Post-Truth as the STS Symmetry Principle Universalized, Steve Fuller « Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective - December 25, 2016

    […] Robert Frodeman, “Marley’s Ghost and the Loss of Order”. […]

  2. Social Epistemology and Social Accountability, Frank Scalambrino « Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective - December 26, 2016

    […] Robert Frodeman, “Marley’s Ghost and the Loss of Order”. […]

  3. Robert Frodeman Syllabi Spring 2017 « Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective - April 10, 2017

    […] Frodeman, Marley’s Ghost and the Loss of Order […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s