Everywhere at Once, Nowhere at All

This essay posted on Front Porch Republic recounts Eric Miller's participation in a conference held at Baylor University on the topic of “Technology and Human Flourishing,"

Miller is the author of a superb biography of Christopher Lasch titled, Hope in a Scattering Time.


...Deneen, a Notre Dame political philosopher, had opened the conference by noting the looming, oppressive sense of inevitability that hovers over our lives as the techno-juggernaut rolls on. It’s an inevitability that may occasionally leave us uneasy but is, he thinks, our nationally preferred state of being: we are at bottom a constituency of selves, we Americans, freed by our mutual pact, ironically, to pursue life on our own. Our “political technology,” Deneen suggested, is our “operating system,” from which our morally and structurally individuated society has emerged. He quoted the novelist Stephen Marche in his recent Atlantic essay on Facebook, who confesses, baldly, that “We are lonely because we want to be lonely.”

Chosen loneliness is perhaps the saddest loneliness. It’s a loneliness, so carefully wired, that finally defeats any efforts to forge a “constituency,” that renders the notion of collective reckoning impossible. And it’s a loneliness that is closing in. Even education, perhaps our last collective bastion of decisive communal encounter, is giving way to these new pathways to loneliness. This was the final note of the conference, sounded sharply by First Things editor and theology professor R. R. Reno in an after-banquet address. Education “on your own terms,” he insisted, isn’t education. Rather, education requires, he noted following Newman, an “ethical atmosphere,” or “genius loci”—“an extraordinarily precious thing.” To pursue “virtual education” is to “deracinate higher education,” he charged. “There’s an electricity in face-to-face encounter. Face to face we feel the claims of others on our souls.”

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