EVERYTHING WE make involves technology-- it's the means to anything we create. It's a catalyst for change, a wonderful tool, but it should be a servant of humanity, not its master. Yet for most of its history, especially since the advent of the industrial revolution, it has dislocated and enslaved us, not liberated us, as so often we've been promised it would.
WHAT CAN technology do for humanity? Redfield, in the Celestine Prophecies, promises us (without specifics) that the "new technology" will allow most of us to pursue "higher", less mundane tasks in this life. Frank Lloyd Wright, in his vision of an American future which he formulated in the 1930s (and which he called Broadacre City), saw a future enabled by the telephone and other forms of wireless communication which would end the "tryanny" of having to work at another place (the first "post-modern" vision?)-- and thus each of us would be able to realize the dream (western, at least) of having our own little acre of paradise, staying there, and still being a productive part of the workforce.
TECHNOLOGY CAN liberate us, yet it hasn't. Why? Perhaps because we choose not to be liberated by it. Of course, that's too simple an answer, and the real answer seems to be a double-edged sword. Many books were written in the period between the 1930s and the 1950s which discussed how we would use the increased leisure we would gain from the increasing use of technology-- and it never happened, especially in the United States-- though Europe, thanks primarily to the healthy survival of widely-held homogeneous cultural values within each nation and honest, socially-conscious trade-unions, has had a 35-hour-week and four to six weeks' paid vacation for everyone for nearly thirty years now.
PART OF this seems to be due to the legendary and seemingly insatiable appetite Americans have for material possessions. When times have been good for labor opportunities, Americans have worked more overtime or taken second jobs. But there is another reason-- we have been conditioned through our ego-driven, mass-media-fed "culture" to feel insecure unless we consume and possess like there is no tomorrow. Indeed, at this rate, there may be little of tomorrow left, and most of it we've already placed in doubt and debt through today's consumption.
THE FACT is that technology cannot be the servant of humanity as long as we accept the primacy of ownership and wealth (especially if we continue to measure wealth in terms of "hard" currency or monetary "worth"). Redfield hopes that technology will liberate the vast majority of us from servitude to the machine. This is almost enigmatic if you approach the notion from the point of view of ownership of the means of production. To an ordinary human being, technology is wondrous in its ability to produce or make available things that took great craft and time to make or were simply un-attainable in the past. To an owner of the means of production, technology is a means by which he makes his profit with less trouble-- in fact, there are some who would say that even without the incentive of progress, owners would use technology to displace skilled workers because they cost more, and therefore cut into the profits. Once the "masses" have become a commodity, the profit-motivated owners find a way to keep them a cheap and interchangeable, easily replaceable commodity.
OWNERSHIP AS an unthinkingly accepted ethic has very far-reaching effects for all of us. I once got fired from a truck-driving job because I suggested to a manager at a delivery that he next-time call us twenty minutes earlier-- so I wouldn't be on involuntary overtime on a Friday afternoon-- and so I wouldn't have to spend another extra half-hour looking for a fork-lift driver to unload my truck because he knew his regular receiving-dock driver had already gone home before I could possibly even get there. I thought I was just making a suggestion to another human being as a human being, but it was taken by both him and my own boss as an "affront" to their superior authority. Based on what? Weren't we all on the same team? Doesn't basic human dignity and courtesy extend to us all (and be guaranteed by the US Constitution)?
WE ALL KNOW the old "maxim"-- the customer is always right. We want our businesses and livelihoods to survive. But do we want this at the expense of essential human values or at the expense of the survival of our (and all) species on this planet? When the "ethics" of status, possession and ownership overtake issues of humanity and sustainability, we are serving a master not worth serving.
AS THIS is being written, U.S. representatives are in Kyoto, according to the newspapers, "standing firm" in their proposal to reduce the U.S. production of "greenhouse" gasses to 1990 levels. The European nations seek more substantial reductions-- and they have more to lose, since those nations rely more heavily on manufacturing industry and less on the exploitation of natural resources. The U.S. is by far the largest producer of such global-warming producing gasses; there is no excuse other than greed that we should not at least attempt to meet the targets the Europeans suggest.
OTHER DAMAGING actions are the result of good intentions which suffer from a kind of "tunnel-vision" which the profit-motive greatly encourages. Due to the heavy use of farm ferilizers and pesticides, a "dead zone" of over 6,000 square miles has been created in the Gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi River flows into it. So much nitrogen runs off the farm fields into the river systems as to create a condition known as "hypoxia"-- greatly reduced oxygen levels created by algae blooms which feed on the nitrogen and use up oxygen in both life and death. Illinois farmers alone apply more than 1.5 billion (yes, billion) pounds of nitrogen fertilizers each year to increase maize and soybean yields. The simple fact is that we cannot continue to do such single-minded, stupid things.
BY MAINTAINING such positions we not only harm the planet further today, we pass the deadly "buck" to our children! What will we say to them? What do we say now? We mumble feeble excuses and buy a new SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle)-- dreaming of off-road adventures which the slick commercial images sell us, and seemingly unconcerned with the fact that the last one I saw reviewed has a fuel comsumption of 12 to 15 miles per gallon.
EGO AND self-will run riot are to blame for such earth- and human-destructive practices. So is fear, suspicion, mistrust. This is why it is imperative that we re-form our alliances and priorities, withdraw our support, tacit or otherwise, from those institutions, laws, legislators, executives and industries which do not promote human values and the sustainable interdependent survival of this planet. Today's technology has given us the means to reshape where and how we "work"-- and we've always had the ability to make the great material wealth of this age available to many many more. It's time we started getting together to make this happen-- and it's just a matter of finding our "true-self ethics" and creating communities, however small at first, that serve the empowerment of individual diversity and the bounteous wonder of Mother Earth.
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