Over the weekend of August 16-17, 2008, I caught a few minutes of an interview on one of the C-SPAN channels. Charles Murray was handing softball questions to an academic philosopher named Kronman. Kronman was pontificating that life could only be meaningful because there was death. He suggested that those pursuing longevity research were misguided.
I sat there appalled, pondering how many wonderful, amazing projects we could get done, if only we had more time.
Some wise philosopher once said that you can only have useful dialogue with someone if the two of you have some shared assumptions. I don’t expect to be dialoguing with Anthony Kronman anytime soon. And that is just as well, since life is way too short to waste much time worrying about the Anthony Kronman’s of the world.
(In case you think I’m making this up, I quote below, from Kronman.)
(p. 229) The spiritual emptiness of our civilization has its source in the technology whose achievements we celebrate and on whose powers we all now depend.
Technology relaxes or abolishes the existing limits on our powers. There is no limit to this process itself. Indeed, every step forward is merely a provocation to go further. This might be called the (p. 230) technological “imperative.” . . .
. . .
(p. 230) If we lived forever, our powers, however great, would have no significance. How could it possibly matter whether we exercised them one way or another, sooner rather than later? This can matter to us only within the framework of a lifetime, that is, within the boundaries of a mortal existence. That we sometimes imagine (or think we imagine) that we want to have and use limitless powers in a limitless life is an illusion that always depends on our covertly smug-(p. 231)gling into our imagined picture of such an existence some essential feature of the human mortality we can never escape. In reality, the idea of immortality is for us quite unimaginable. It remains an empty abstraction.
PS: The following sentence appears on the copyright page of Kronman’s book: “The paper in this book meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources.”
So the longevity of books is pompously praised, while the longevity of humans is belittled?
Don’t waste time on:
Kronman, Anthony T. Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given up on the Meaning of Life. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.
(Note: ellipses added.)