[I’ve wanted to write about this for a long time, and the September issue of Scientific American finally provoked me. They talk about exceeding our evolutionary limits, living beyond 1oo, manipulating ourselves to be smarter (but no mention of wiser), and so on. So, another long essay.]
The term appropriate technology was popularised after E. F. Schumacher’s pivotal work Small is Beautiful. Schumacher argued against the modern economic pathology of endless physical growth, which of course cannot continue on our finite planet. He argued further that some technology only promotes endless growth, or it distracts us from more important things in life, and is therefore not beneficial. Technology that supports a fulfilling life and is compatible with a steady-state or slowly shrinking physical economy he called appropriate technology.
As for technology, so for science. A common assumption by scientists is that if a challenge is there then it is fair game to address it. In fact it is commonly presumed that freedom of enquiry, a central ingredient of an open democratic society, justifies such an attitude. However we need to recognise that such freedom comes with responsibility. This seems to be recognised regarding human cloning, for example, where strong legal and social restrictions have commonly been imposed.
Bob Brown has named it, the media are being precious. First, they whine, people complained about Gina Rinehart buying a few media shares, then Treasurer Wayne Swan got stuck into the gang of three miners for using media as their personal megaphones, then the Finkelstein media review recommended some actual, semi-government enforcement of abuse rectification. Oh, the outraged howls of injured innocence!
[A condensed and modified version published at Eureka Street, 7 Feb.]
The Australia Day “riot” at the Lobby restaurant in Canberra was the subject of hysterical misreporting – I know, I watched it. We would be wise not to dismiss this episode as just another example of media sensationalism. Rather, it is symptomatic of a growing nexus in Australia of fear, hysteria, racism and ignorant ranting.
These phenomena are rapidly degrading our capacity for decency, our democracy, and even our perception of reality. We are moving rapidly away from the decent, laconic Aussies of our stereotyping, and into being a fearful, intolerant, nasty and brittle society.
You might say our present dire condition is just the consequence of human nature, about which not much can be done.To this I say yes, but its due to the worst of human nature, not the best of human nature, and that implies there is something we can change: we can shift the values by which we live.