Jonathan Yardley ends his recent review of Lucy Worsley, The Courtiers: Splendor and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace (Walker & Co, 2010; 402 pp, ISBN-13: 978-0802719874) with a well known but under-appreciated observation.
The human capacity for self-debasement in the search for glitter by association is deeply ingrained and hasn't changed despite the quantum leap from quill pens to iPads. The rooms in which the strivers now gather are warmer in winter and cooler in summer than was the King's Drawing Room at Kensington Palace, and the people in those rooms now smell a good deal better than George II's unbathed courtiers, but there's another stench that hasn't gone away, and won't.
Autonomous man is a device used to explain what we cannot explain in any other way. He has been constructed from our ignorance, and as our understanding increases, the very stuff of which he is composed vanishes. Science does not dehumanize man, it de-homunculizes him, and it must do so if it is to prevent the abolition of the human species. To man qua man we readily say good riddance. B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971 ISBN 0-394-42555-3) at 200-201.