This month is the 80th anniversary of the kickoff of the second World’s Fair hosted in Chicago, held from May to November of 1933. Utopian rhetoric was par for the course at World’s Fairs, and since this one came during the Great Depression, the organizers naturally wanted to convey a feeling of optimism, so they called it “A Century of Progress.” Looking back on the history of the exposition, what is really striking is the motto the organizers settled on — a motto that conveys a startling understanding of what counts as progress: “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms.”
What a diminishment of the human being that motto represents: Science and technology are unstoppable forces, and man has no choice but to remake himself in their image.
Today marks another anniversary — the tenth anniversary of the launch party for The New Atlantis, a quarterly journal, which I am honored to edit, focusing on the ethical, political, and policy aspects of modern science and technology. We push back against the “man conforms” attitude; our goal from the beginning has been to concentrate on the human side of progress: remembering that the scientific enterprise is a human institution rather than an impersonal force, and attending to the deeper questions of human nature, human dignity, and human responsibility raised by technological advancement.
For the last decade, we have tried to think about biotechnology in human terms, to champion projects that speak to our highest aspirations, and to call out egregious affronts to human dignity and welfare. We have contrasted the promise of technology to fill our lives with leisure with the basic satisfaction of working with your hands. We have pushed back against the claims that our minds are just machines, that our genes are like computer programs, and that we face a posthuman destiny. We have explored the literary and biographical background of the most towering figures in science and the most trenchant commentators on it. From nitty-gritty policy debates to the deepest questions about living and dying well, we have sought to offer a particularly American and conservative way of thinking about both the blessings and the burdens of modern science and technology.
In our latest issue, we are pleased to offer powerful essays about how we should think about and treat animals, a symposium on what we can (and can’t) learn about ourselves from evolutionary biology, and an insightful analysis of the TV show Breaking Bad.
It is no small thing to start a magazine and to keep it running for a decade, let alone a policy and literary journal, and all of us at The New Atlantis are deeply grateful to the donors and other supporters who have made our work possible, and to the many readers who have made it all worthwhile. (Won’t you consider joining them by becoming a subscriber?)
No one can know what the future will hold — the brightest utopian dreams and the darkest, most glowering scenarios each mislead as much as they instruct — but we will continue to strive for a vision of progress in which science and technology are seen as servants of humanity, and not the other way around.
— Adam Keiper is editor of The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology and Society.