Sunday, April 17, 2011

Technology: The gateway to the worst parts of the bible.

It might be too small to read, but the text in the little window
says "fuck yourself."  I couldn't help it =)
Hopefully, by this point, my readers know that I am about as far from a bible thumping fundamentalist as Ellen DeGeneres is from having sex with Russell Crowe, or any dude for that matter.  I am, however, Catholic, and I take the Catholic faith fairly seriously, at least the non-hypocritical parts.  So when the current pope, Benedict XVI, says something, I tend to take heed.  I don’t listen just because he’s il papa, but because he’s an intellectual.

At Palm Sunday mass at the Vatican today, he warned listeners that “man will pay a price for his pride if he believes technology can give him the powers of God.”  I’m sure that hard-core, science worshipping, pedantic atheists everywhere just shat themselves as they guffawed at such a statement, but I think the pope may be right.

I’m not a technophobe.  Some of my friends make fun of me for not having a facebook page, and they accuse me of being behind the times, or afraid of technology.  I know they mean it in jest, I mean my computer’s primary purpose is not to grace the internet with my literary and intellectual prowess, but to play computer games at a fairly high level of graphical quality.  I’ve got a PS3, an X-Box 360, a fairly baller PC, and a nice 42 inch flat panel LCD television.  I think that qualifies me as embracing technology fairly well.

They look pretty happy considering they could have a
cloud of mustard gas floating their way.

So although I don’t fear technology and the things it can do to improve the quality of life, the pope still has a very valid point to make.  Let’s take WWI for example, as it is a prime exhibit for how technological advancement has not always been a good thing.  WWI was the first large-scale slaughter the world had seen.  The problem was that military tactics had not changed, but technology had.

The old idea of war was that you stood in a line and shot at each other, and whoever was left standing would be the victor, and you occupied that territory.  With the birth of trench warfare, armored vehicles, flame throwers, and chemical warfare, stalemate became the word of the day.  They sat in their trenches, not moving an inch forward, slaughtering each other.  If 10,000 men died, they were replaced with 10,000 more.  And this went on and on, with little end in sight, and it became a war of attrition rather than one of territory.  Technology had outstripped the way humans wage war.

Science has done many wonderful things for us.  We’ve made so many advances in the field of medicine and agriculture that life expectancy today makes that of previous generations pale in comparison.  But humans are proud, and we figured out that we are capable of doing things that we should probably not be doing.  Before we figured out that we can actually create and manipulate life, we discovered something far sinister.

"I may or may not have figured out how to
facerape the entire planet . . ."
We discovered that we could harness the power of the atom, and with that power that we could actually bring about the destruction of life on this planet as we know it.  “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds,” said Oppenheimer when he realized the magnitude of what he had achieved.

As the pope said, technology has ushered in entirely new levels of evil into the world.  Atomic warfare, chemical and biological warfare, and other weapons of mass destruction; all things that have changed the world forever.  For these scientists, such advancements might not be a quest to create god-like powers.  They are scientists, curious, and dedicated to understanding the mysteries of this existence.  I would argue that these advancements are not the products of the sin of pride, but perhaps the ridiculously unfortunate consequences of dangerous curiosity.

In the Lord of the Rings (I know, I’m a hard core nerd), when they reach the mines of Moria, the narrative takes some time to allude to the fact that the greed of the dwarves was their undoing; that their lust for mithril had driven them to dig deeper and deeper into the earth.  Gandalf suggests that they dug too far, and because of that they unleashed something that should have remained buried, which we eventually discover is the Balrog.

That’s an allegory for the greed and curiosity of man.  We can’t help but push ourselves to the absolute limit.  We want the capability to manipulate existence as much as possible.  We want to shape the destiny of the universe.  So perhaps it is hubris.  I’m guessing that hubris mixed with insatiable curiosity might not be such a good thing, but I guess we won’t find that out until we blow ourselves the hell up.

Woops . . .


Harrison said...

Can you be a "good Catholic" but ignore some tenets?

Jack Camwell said...

Hey I never said I was a "good," Catholic =) And it's not that I ignore some of the tenets, I just disagree with them.

And disagreeing with something on an intellectual basis is part of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition, in a round-about sort of way.

Silverfiddle said...

A most excellent and thought-provoking post. Satan's fall, Adam and Eve... Everybody wants to be God, even today. Human nature does not change.

Technology, wealth, success, luck all tempt us to believe we've got it, we don't need God.

I too love the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I first read those books many years ago in high school and have read them a few more times since then.

They contain valuable moral lessons. Who could wield absolute power and remain uncorrupted?

Jack Camwell said...

Thanks for stopping by =)

That's a good question, "who could wield absolute power and remain uncorrupted?" I would argue that only few hold that quality. As the story of the LotR teaches us, even the most pure of heart and well-meaning people are susceptible to the corruption of power.

I think that George Washington (as cheezy as that sounds) is probably the closest thing we'll ever see as being a modern day Cincinatus.

Excellent insight.

Silverfiddle said...

I was thinking of Washington as I was typing my comment...

It's not cheezy. The King of England was reportedly astounded at his relinquishing power and thought him a great man because of it.

Contrast that with FDR and every little petty statist who wields the least amount of federal government power.

KP said...

Special post, Jack. And I enjoyed Silverfiddle's comments! Well done.

Jack Camwell said...

Thanks brah =D

Always On Watch said...

Technology is both friend and foe.

LD Jackson said...

This is an excellent post, Jack. We would all do well to remember that great power has to be handled carefully. As Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility.

Jack Camwell said...

Thanks for the thumb's up. I once used that line on someone and he made fun of me. Despite it being a line from a super hero movie, I think it's salient nonetheles.

LD Jackson said...

Maybe it does sound a bit foolish, but it is relevant, nonetheless. We would be wise to keep it in mind.

By the way, I want to thank you for dropping by Political Realities. Your comments are always well thought out and respectful and I appreciate that.

Jack Camwell said...

Hey no problem man. Thanks for coming over here to the dark side of the train tracks. I get out all my vitriol here so I can go out and be more civil with the rest of the blogosphere.