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First ‘atheistic civilisation’ is heading for catastrophe

Former Czech President Vaclav Havel yesterday opened Forum 2000 by deploring the pride and shortsightedness of today’s global society

By on Monday, 11 October 2010

First ‘atheistic civilisation’ is heading for catastrophe

While China is cracking down on the imprisoned democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo who is this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, one of his sources of inspiration, the former Czech President Vaclav Havel is hosting a conference in Prague entitled “The world we want to live in”. The Forum 2000 conference covers different spheres from politics, economics, sociology and political philosophy to aesthetics and religion.

At the opening of the conference. Mr Havel, an acclaimed playwright and essayist, gave a speech in which he deplored the global society, describing it as the “first atheistic civilisation”. This society, he said, preferred short term profit over long term profit, but its most dangerous aspect was its pride.

He described the pride as: “The pride of someone who is driven by the very logic of his wealth to stop respecting the contribution of nature and our forebears, to stop respecting it on principle and respect it only as a further potential source of profit.”

Mr Havel continued:

“I sense behind all of this not only a globally spreading short-sightedness, but also the swollen self-consciousness of this civilisation, whose basic attributes include the supercilious idea that we know everything and what we don’t yet know we’ll soon find out, because we know how to go about it. We are convinced that this supposed omniscience of ours which proclaims the staggering progress of science and technology and rational knowledge in general, permits us to serve anything that is demonstrably useful, or that is simply a source of measurable profit, anything that induces growth and more growth and still more growth, including the growth of agglomerations.

“But with the cult of measurable profit, proven progress and visible usefulness there disappears respect for mystery and along with it humble reverence for everything we shall never measure and know, not to mention the vexed question of the infinite and eternal, which were until recently the most important horizons of our actions.

“We have totally forgotten what all previous civilisations knew: that nothing is self-evident.”

The former president described the current financial and economic crisis as a very edifying sign to the contemporary world and a call to humilty.

He said:

“Most economists relied directly or indirectly on the idea that the world, including human conduct, is more or less understandable, scientifically describable and hence predictable. Market economics and its entire legal framework counted on our knowing who man is and what aims he pursues, what was the logic behind the actions of banks or firms, what the shareholding public does and what one may expect from some particular individual or community.

“And all of a sudden none of that applied. Irrationality leered at us from all the stock-exchange screens. And even the most fundamentalist economists, who – having intimate access to the truth – were convinced with unshakeable assurance that the invisible hand of the market knew what it was doing, had suddenly to admit that they had been taken by surprise.

“I hope and trust that the elites of today’s world will realise what this signal is telling us.

“In fact it is nothing extraordinary, nothing that a perceptive person did not know long ago. It is a warning against the disproportionate self-assurance and pride of modern civilisation. Human behaviour is not totally explicable as many inventors of economic theories and concepts believe; and the behaviour of firms or institutions or entire communities is even less so.”

This call to humility, he said, was: “A small and inconspicuous challenge for us not to take everything automatically for granted. Strange things are happening and will happen. Not to bring oneself to admit it is the path to hell. Strangeness, unnaturalness, mystery, inconceivability have been shifted out the world of serious thought into the dubious closets of suspicious people. Until they are released and allowed to return to our minds things will not go well.”

He continued:

“Wonder at the non-self-evidence of everything that creates our world is, after all, the first impulse to the question: what purpose does it all have? Why does it all exist? Why does anything exist at all? We don’t know and we will never find it out. It is quite possible that everything is here in order for us to have something to wonder at. And that we are here simply so that there is someone to wonder. But what is the point of having someone wonder at something? And what alternative is there to being? After all if there were nothing, there would also be no one to observe it. And if there were no one to observe it, then the big question is whether non-being would be at all possible.

“Perhaps someone, just a few hundred light years away from our planet, is looking at us through a perfect telescope. What do they see? They see the Thirty Years War. For that reason alone it holds true that everything is here all the time, that nothing that has happened can unhappen, and that with our every word or movement we are making the cosmos different – forever – from what it was before.

“In all events, I am certain that our civilisation is heading for catastrophe unless present-day humankind comes to its senses. And it can only come to its senses if it grapples with its short-sightedness, its stupid conviction of its omniscience and its swollen pride, which have been so deeply anchored in its thinking and actions.”

For the full text, click here.

  • Philip

    There is much sense here but the comment “Market economics and its entire legal framework counted on our knowing who man is and what aims he pursues” is precisely wrong and very dangerous. It is because we do NOT know what aims man pursues that we have the legal framework of a market economy. That framework allows different people to pursue their diverse aims – some of which might lead to undesirable consequences and a legitimate debate about what external constraints should be put upon people. Without private property and other aspects of the legal framework of a market economy we could not have free communities of monks just as much as we could not have MacDonalds.

  • Scott W

    Havel is channeling Max Weber… I guess not much has changed in a 100 years…

  • E63l63r

    And a real philosopher along side his other accomplishments. We need more like him.

  • Jamie Macnab

    All very true. But the tendency to scientism has another, more serious fault than merely seeing the world as a more or less determined machine. The big danger is that people, especially the young, will be educated and conditioned to believe that they are indeed mere machines ; and in time they will become more and more machine-like ; not thinking for themselves and perfectly obedient to the dictates of scientific politicians, economists, industrialists and so forth.

  • Pmangod

    There's always a mastermind behind every nation. There's always a mastermind behind several nations. Meaning Presidents, Emperors, Royals, and other names used for Titles, are all coached by someone that is not seen in the News. They remain, stealth. A higher order. There's the bring the population under control, using many different, schemes such as, bio-engineered virus', poisoning meat, doctoring up food, making new pharmaceutical drugs-synthetic that no one knows how it really works, poison the water table, on and on of how to control the population. In China they keep the people dumb on purpose so people do not get wise to the officials control methods. Sometime ago they realized that they need to control the people like 'herds of animals.' In China they use this method. The problem with Anti-God societies is that, the masses get treated like 'animals' and 'beasts.' But man has been given a soul. A soul to find God and be regenerated to the Life.

    The Lord God said, if My People will pray, to change mankind, and not just to pray for this only, then God will perform the Miracle. But no one believes. Not in this day and age of Modernism. No. We instead, debate and become spectators, while the world and its citizens turn into real 'beasts.' This is the problem today. Modernism has hit every level of every human being. Modernism does not believe God, they are Agnostics who have poisoned the waters. They have subtly but with rigor and force, forced their ideals upon Man and Church. Hard to believe isn't it? Study the Papal Encyclical about the Stern Condemnation of Modernism.

    If you believe this is a promotion, you have been seduced by Modernism, because it's goal is to kill the Faith. Faithful souls, pray to end the madness that has swept the Earth.

    Peace be with you always