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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Discusses

Technology for a New Age

with Bill Kowaleski

Bill Kowaleski’s “Canticles for a New Age” appears in issue 616.


Of course you’re right about today’s fundamentalists: they embrace technology but oppose the science that created it. In “Canticles for a New Age,” the Simplifiers are more like the Amish, and their motivation is taken from Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Liebowitz: technology led to the destruction of civilization, therefore it must be evil.

I did not pattern the Simplification sect after present-day fundamentalists, who I think view technology as something akin to magic or else something God gave us through the minds of clever people. I don’t think they even see the connection between the scientific method and that nice smart phone they’re using!

I’m reminded of what Eric Hoffer said, and I’m paraphrasing here: The true believer never fully understands what he believes in. To believe is to be emotionally connected to a cause or an idea, but to understand is to lose that emotional connection.

Bill Kowaleski

Very good points, Bill; all taken.

In one respect, fundamentalists are much like everyone else. Some embrace new technology; others, not so much. Some use it normally; others prefer what can be “weaponized.” But they all differ from the mainstream in another respect: they have no use for science. It would mean thinking critically and independently outside of a political or social agenda.

With or without religion, the anti-technology trope is old. Jean-Jacques Rousseau — a radical but no “fundamentalist” in modern terms — went down that route with his Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts (1750). He won a prize for the essay, and it ensured his everlasting fame. However, in later years he had second thoughts and said it was his most poorly thought-out work. He realized that his real beef lay with a hierarchical society and authoritarian politics, and he began to find his way with the Discourse on Inequality (1755).

Granted, the “true believer,” in Hoffer’s terms, can rationalize his belief, but he may find it conflicts with other values. He risks becoming disenchanted if he understands it and draws its logical conclusions. However, Hoffer’s principle has corollaries, in particular:

“True believers” are not all alike; they’ll all have different reasons for their emotional attachment to the cause. Factions will appear and perhaps even schisms. All three of the “Abrahamic” religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are cases in point. And other religions follow the same general pattern in one way or another.

The real trouble arises when “true believers” of any sort are long on belief and short on logic. At worst, different religions or even factions within the same religion can’t tolerate other points of view. As we see in James J. O’Donnell’s Pagans, that’s where the fighting begins. And we see in his Ruin of the Roman Empire how it can even bring on a Dark Age.

The hard lesson of the last 500 years is that all Christian denominations need each other. Will others repeat Europe’s 16th century in today’s world, perhaps ultimately with nuclear weapons?

Finally, to get back to “Canticles for a New Age,” we know that Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz reaches a pessimistic conclusion. Your Marcus Hannegan wants to create a new way of thinking that will forestall a second catastrophe. How can he do that? Is it even possible? That’s where the story and discussion seem to lead.


Copyright © 2015 by Bill Kowaleski
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