Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Temporary

But is this technology of which we are so proud real? I mean, I am not saying it is all illusion... Actually I am saying it is all illusion, but not in the way you probably imagine.

No, television, heavy industry, computers, aircraft, are all made of the same matter and energy as the rest of the universe. (Well, most of it. I'm not. I'm made of thoughts and desires. The rest of you are matter and energy, though.)

The products of modern technology are real, and solid, and quite capable of killing if they fall on you from a great height. Their illusory nature lies in our confidence that they will always be there - that our level of industrialization is sustainable.

But unfortunately we live in a world of infinite possibilities, and finite resources with which to pursue those possibilities. We are attracted to the idea that technology will save itself; That when, in five years or five hundred years, oil passes its peak and global shortages begin to strangle us there will be developed a new and revolutionary source of cheap, portable energy, or that current alternatives will be refined to the level of adequacy. But what of steel? What of silver? Coal? Copper? etcetera. (Actually, etcetera supplies seem to approach the infinite, but that's a story for another time).

And if technology does somehow save itself and overcome its ultimate dependence on finite resources and one day - in the far future - the Earth is a writhing mass of humanity, flesh right through to the core. What then will we consume?

"But," they cry - they being the usual kind of unspecified morons us brilliant writer guys drag out of our spectacular imaginations whenever we need to attribute some kind of asinine statement that will allow us to attack our favourite straw man, like some kind of man made of straw.... "But," they cry, "In these dim dark future times of which you speak man will have mastered space travel, and humanity will move ever outward to the stars, in an endless diaspora of going-outwardly-ness!"

To which the response, generally speaking, is "Bollocks!"

... Well, I suppose I could elaborate, although it seems "Bollocks" covers it quite nicely... Look, even assuming the mastery of faster-than-light travel, you'd have to be some kind of cretin to not see the glaringly obvious flaw in this plan - that humanity can easily create two-legged virii at a vastly greater rate than we could manufacture starships sufficient to carry our excess population to the stars.

And, anyway, hands up who really believes technology will, given the stuff I went on about earlier, be able to save itself? I mean, I know we want to so believe. "Go, Technology, Go!" We cheer with much ado and much enthusiasm, and much secretly hoping it can just hang in there for another decade or two or three or however long it takes - just so long as we are dead and buried before the REALLY BAD STUFF happens. And then we get the guilt, you know, because of our children and what they're likely to be facing.

It's not that there is nothing can be done. There are solutions - or there were - and there are steps that could have been taken, given sufficient time, and intelligence, and willpower.

Heinlein said, "Never underestimate the power of human stupidity." But the truth is it is not stupidity drives us. It is greed. Ambition. The desire for MORE. Humanity rules this planet not through intelligence, creativity, or righteousness, but through the raw thumping engine of ruthless competitiveness that rumbles beneath the surface.

But these forces that bring us to this pinnacle of technological mastery, of civilization, are also the same forces that guarantee we will not - cannot - stop. It is not in our nature.

Oh, there are individuals able to rise above these instincts. Small groups perhaps, dominated by a strong few belatedly-advanced individuals. However, in the end, nations, and the great mass of humanity as a whole, has never and will never be able to cast aside millions of years of evolution and choose to halt the reckless dash to saturation, and the inevitable collapse.

History knows this pattern well. Rise, explosive success, resource exhaustion, wars, collapse, darkness, followed by a long, slow recovery. But this time around the top of the wheel has been something to behold in terms of its sheer scale and breadth. Let us hope the downside is not equally spectacular.

1 comment:

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