Wednesday, August 08, 2007

We should not mistake technological supremacy for civilization

The western world has proven supreme in driving human invention in modern times. As a result, the outlook of our entire planet has changed beyond recognition in just a couple of hundred years. It has enabled unprecedented masses of people to enjoy material comfort and access to our planet’s resources at such staggering scale as to fundamentally challenge the sustainability – even within the foreseeable future – of our entire existence.

Our only option, so it seems, is to fuel new invention capable of effectively bridging the gap – over the long term – between our material aspirations and existing scarcity. The hydrogen economy must be around the corner, if only the technologists work hard enough to get us there. And probably they will.

For it is my firm belief that technology is there to stay. It is there to advance more or less infinitely. Such advancement in my view will be a prerequisite for the survival of mankind and for the fulfillment of its potential as a living reality in our universe. A tremendous path still lies ahead.

But we may ask ourselves, particularly at this juncture, what civilization will successfully carry mankind beyond its current conundrums into a prosperous and humane future and towards a truly sustainable habitation of humanity on our living planet? For we should not mistake the technological achievements of our time for advanced civilization nor is it self-evident that our culture, including our political culture, and our social fabric are capable of bridging all other gaps that persist in our world, in particular between those who share and those who do not share the fruits of western advancement.

Well indeed, our social fabric is being eaten from inside, almost as if the world wide web has encapsulated us the way a caterpillar allows itself to be eaten by the butterfly that grows within its pupa. We sense that a new fabric is developing from within but we have no clue what kind of civilization will ultimately emerge once we truly master the possibilities that our technologies offer. We have yet to re-invent our world both a the level of the community or communities we live in and at the level of our markets, our politics, and our global alliances.

The great challenge we face is to allow for this transition without falling back to (escalating) archetypal conflicts most notably the conflict that exists to this day between the Western (Christian) world and the Arab (Muslim) world. It must be obvious to every one that in case of such (further) escalation, the security of the European world will be heavily undermined and as a consequence all other securities that have been maintained throughout the post-WW II era.

That era will come to a close, no doubt, but we have it in our hands to let this happen either with a bang or with a trumpet. A strategy purely aimed at victory can only lead to huge destruction as is clearly demonstrated by the disastrous policies of the present US administration in Iraq. Not only are those policies detrimental to the people of Iraq, they do not serve the integrity of our own world either. An offensive aimed at reconciliation – a joint effort of all nations including the US, Europe, Russia and Asia – is needed to substantially turn away from the present downhill slide of the Arab world.

But the key to a prosperous future for all is a reconciliation of the contradictions in our own world. We cannot wish for – almost – unlimited material wealth without re-assessing our true values and societal objectives. We cannot continue to advance our technology without a valid civilization to support – and utilize it. Our potential at present far outreaches our actual grasp of it.

There is no way we can stare into a crystal ball and visualize a pre-determined future. It doesn’t exist. We will have to conceptualize that future ourselves.


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