Friday, July 04, 2008

A Technophile's July Fourth

Okay, I'm an American. Can't really be anything else, even if I wanted to be. Many of the values we Americans are supposed to have, I have.

But there's a particular undercurrent in America, a belief that progress is inherently good. Even people who are anti-progress, such as the zealots poisoning our research and education, are only selectively anti-progress: they're still very happy to buy the latest cell phone and take the latest cancer treatments. As much as they may deny it on the surface, they share the belief that progress - at least, the parts they can't clearly see - is good.

Sort of like the way most of us eat beef, but don't like how cows are treated, let alone actually being willing to butcher one.

America is inherently a culture of dissatisfaction, and technology plays a big part of that. It's where you find me: the American Technophile. Perhaps we're the same in every country.

I believe progress is inherently good.

There is a saying that technology (any power) is neutral and can be used for good or for evil. I think that's crap. I think that technology is inherently good.

Bad things have been done with technology. Atom bombs are bad. But that same technology was used to build atomic reactors and medical treatments. Forward on the same scientific basis we find advanced materials, next-generation medicines, and freakishly small miniaturization. Do they outweigh atom bombs?

Well, I suppose you could argue it either way - especially if you're Japanese - but nuclear theory has always been the "big example" of "when science goes wrong". At worst, it's actually pretty close to breaking even.

Most science and technology is just flat-out beneficial.

Whether this is because progress is inherently constructive or whether it's because the human appetite for good things is larger than the human appetite for destruction... I can't say. But even before we take into account that most of the problems we attribute to technology aren't technology's fault, technology still comes out well ahead.

So, yes. That's me. I believe progress will cure cancer, put us in space, fix the climate, stabilize Africa...

Despite the way we're inhibiting it.

How can I be proud of America, celebrate my 'mericanniness, when half my country believes in creationism? When people avoid inoculations and medical treatment in general in favor of prayer and voodoo? When people argue against genetic manipulation instead of simply arguing against the way it's being abused? When people have such a shallow understanding of science that they can't tell you if Jupiter orbits closer that Saturn, or further away. (Let alone locate France on a map.)

So, no, I'm not running around gleefully cheering on our nation. Because our nation fucking sucks.

... is yours any better?

6 comments:

Patrick said...

Ahh the fourth of July rant.

I thought Argentina might be pretty cool, and it is in a lot of ways, but its infrastructure us worse and its people are just as religious, stastically speaking. Crappy government too. Seems like we're just shifting through incumbent trends in "human nature", for the lack of a better term.

Some vacinnes do have mercury content that contributes to autism, there's good data on that. I think you were referring to Christian Science or something to that effect, which I agree, is crazy.

My rant was about energy policy ROI and how that plays into surveillance and foreign policy. I think we're on the same page as far as want to transcend the emotional/political dialectics with some good ol' fucking intelligence.

From a geek perspective, the easiest thing to get patriotic about is how sweet our infrastructure is. Japan and Wester Europe pwn us in light rail, renewables and telecom, but we do have lots of parking.

Patrick said...

I also wanted to mention, I get into a lot of disagreements with peak oilers who claim that thinking technology will solve the problem amounts to "magical thinking" and an irrational belief in progress. While Progress as an abstract isn't something I'd choose to "believe in" (same goes for God, the Free Market, or anything in caps) it kindof annoys me that these people take the time to research crude production curves but not the state-of-the-art in generation, hydroponics, batteries, fuel cells, and so forth.

Do you ever deal with these people? What's your take on it?

Craig Perko said...

To be blunt, I think they're right: I don't think we're going to face much of a peak oil crisis. We'll either figure out how to make more oil or, as the price rises, switch over to something else.

As for your mercury/vaccine link, NO.

There are sure a whole lot of links on Google, aren't there? But they're from hysterical moms, snake-oil salesmen, and just people who simply aren't scientists. Nothing is quite as easy as drumming up moms.

Wikipedia - should be your first stop.

Something with a bit more vitriol.

There is no "good data" on any link between VACCINES and AUTISM. There is a lot of bad data, a lot of disproven data, and a lot of data that doesn't have anything to do with vaccines we use today. There are a lot of people shouting at the top of their lungs... but nobody who knows a goddamn thing about science.

David said...

And yet there is alot of Autism. Anyway, my country is pretty cool, we're communally self-governed, try not to muck up other people's lives (even help if they ask!) and generally try to be productive and content.

Craig Perko said...

I don't know what country you're from, David.

There is quite a bit of autism. There's also quite a bit of starvation, drunk driving, and people who believe in fairies. This does not mean that they are caused by vaccines.

David said...

My country starts at my front door and ends at my back door.

And believing in faeries is good for you as long as you're not starving yourself looking for them. : )