Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason and a contributor to the On Faith column at The Washington Post, has recently argued that the discourse around the oil spill (more like a leak in my opinion) and the governmental response to it is dominated by Unreason.
If you doubt that the greatest, long-term danger to American democracy is the unreason that chokes our public discourse as surely as the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico is choking the life out of the ecosystem that supports an entire culture, listen carefully to the tone and substance of the unrelenting criticism, from the left and the right, of President Obama’s response.
In part, she defends the President in her column from what she views as entirely rash responses that fault Obama with not “feeling enough” and “lacking emotion.” Though this is a line of argument that is rather familiar for those who have encountered Jacoby’s writing before, she somehow injects religion into her defense of the President’s response, particularly his Oval Office address, which political pundits have widely agreed as not connecting with the American people.
[…]Obama may have referenced God more than he usually does in his Oval Office speech, but I suspect he knows that God isn’t going to shut off that gusher or prevent the same thing from happening again. (And it won’t help you with the political right, Mr. President, to call for God’s help. FOX anchor Gretchen Carlson–a representative of the New Right Lunatic Ladies Association, Blonde Division– pounced right away, calling your remarks “disingenuous coming from a president who doesn’t even go to church on Sunday.”)
I suppose it would help if all people of faith took a vow to become worthy stewards of what they view as God’s creation, but, as far as I can see, God made a really bad decision when he gave man dominion over the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. Although many liberal faiths now emphasize the importance of responsible stewardship of creation, religion in general–by encouraging humans to regard themselves as superior to rather than as a part of the rest of nature–has historically encouraged the arrogance that produces man-made disasters like the one in the Gulf. And the Ayn Randian brand of secular philosophy, which asserts the absence of social and collective responsibility as a virtue, certainly won’t help either. Technology can help, but only if we understand the limits of the tools currently available. Understanding the limits of technology, however, seems to be beyond the disseminators of unreason. (Emphasis added.)
Jacoby, in a rather hasty and sloppy exegesis of the first two chapters Genesis, suggests that this kind of Adamic thinking is what is responsible for catastrophes such as the one still happening in the Gulf. She effectively shifts her criticism of the discourse around the oil spill to the “attitude” behind the oil spill itself. What Jacoby brackets out, however, is that the “arrogance that produces man-made disasters” is in large part fueled by technoscience, an end- product not of religion but of her beloved Reason.
Were those who developed the technology for offshore drilling clergy or theologians? Were they not scientists? Couldn’t we see this moment that the country is now facing, whereby all technological and scientific options have been exhausted and those with whom we give the responsibility to deal with things such as this have failed us, a moment of existential reckoning reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s Abraham in Fear and Trembling?
Read Jacoby’s column in full here.