The Ambivalence of the New Epoch

We should note that the purpose of these reflections is not to generate enthusiasm or promote the wondrous capabilities of some “new age.” It is rather to observe the circumstances of our time and try to understand their implications for the human person and the world. What we have seen is that unprecedented access of human beings to power and information gives certain basic questions a new urgency. We can do many things. What should we do? How should we do it? Progress in human power does not contain within itself the answer to these questions. Indeed, we live today in a world of unprecedented human capacity for destructiveness. The emerging new epoch contains a widespread perception that was essentially foreign to the modern mentality: anxiety. The modern epoch’s serene overconfidence in the capacity of human reason to master the physical world (and even to manipulate the human body) has been shaken. We are now keenly aware that the pursuit of human progress can have disastrous consequences. As we expand our scope of opportunity, our material comforts, our convenience, our range of choices, we risk exhausting the world’s resources and poisoning our environment. Moreover, our strength and wealth render possible terrible forms of violence against one another and ourselves. Unlike modernity, the new epoch does not promise us unequivocally a brighter and better future. We see organizations and governments scrambling to patch up the already evident crises generated by the irresponsible use of our new, vast human powers. But how do we know that the solutions we devise will not become sources of new and unforeseen problems for human beings and for the world? What is needed in our time is to grapple once again with the really essential questions. What does it mean to be a human being? What is the purpose of human reason’s interaction with the world? How (and why) do humans share their lives with one another? The emerging new epoch demands from us a more profound appropriation of the foundations of human responsibility.