Industrial Society and its Future

THE ‘BAD’ PARTS OF TECHNOLOGY CANNOT BE SEPARATED FROM THE ‘GOOD’ PARTS

121. A further reason why industrial society cannot be reformed in favor of freedom is that modern technology is a unified system in which all parts are dependent on one another. You can't get rid of the “bad” parts of technology and retain only the “good” parts. Take modern medicine, for example. Progress in medical science depends on progress in chemistry, physics, biology, computer science and other fields. Advanced medical treatments require expensive, high-tech equipment that can be made available only by a technologically progressive, economically rich society. Clearly you can't have much progress in medicine without the whole technological system and everything that goes with it.

✲1 ¶121 is sensible, while ¶122 is unfocused. In ¶122, the author seem to say that defeating natural selection is evil. Example given is the effect of modern medicine on diabetes. One cannot agree that such thing is evil. It is “evil” only if a person holds that natural way or natural selection is a holy way of life not to be meddled. Such view is absurd, because what's considered technology is only a matter of degree. As soon as men throw a stone or create a fire, it is technology and “unnatural”. To what degree are things “technology”? Nuclear plants are obviously technology and evil. Would chopsticks and forks be considered technology and evil? Is use of modern electricity evil? Would ancient aqueducts be considered as technology and thus evil? A water well is evil? Would organized raising of animals and plants for feeding — aka agriculture — considered technology and evil? Shepherds and tea brewers are evil? Or, is it just modern techonologies considered evil?

Modern technologies, say, onward from about 1800s, certainly created massive change to the world in a unprecedented scale. However, all technologies, including stone age or bronze age etc, bring change. It is absurd to hold the view that all technologies are bad. On the other hand, it would be difficult to draw a line of good/evil by the complexity or advancement of the technology.

The author's premise seems to be that one must live in a natural way. In his terms, evilness is judged by whether it is natural. This is different from evil being something that causes harm to human beings. I cannot agree with the author's premise, thus much of this section's argument seems either irrelevant or misguided.

122. Even if medical progress could be maintained without the rest of the technological system, it would by itself bring certain evils. Suppose for example that a cure for diabetes is discovered. People with a genetic tendency to diabetes will then be able to survive and reproduce as well as anyone else. Natural selection against genes for diabetes will cease and such genes will spread throughout the population. (This may be occurring to some extent already, since diabetes, while not curable, can be controlled through the use of insulin.) The same thing will happen with many other diseases susceptibility to which is affected by genetic degradation of the population. The only solution will be some sort of eugenics program or extensive genetic engineering of human beings, so that man in the future will no longer be a creation of nature, or of chance, or of God (depending on your religious or philosophical opinions), but a manufactured product. ✲1

123. If you think that big government interferes in your life too much NOW, just wait till the government starts regulating the genetic constitution of your children. Such regulation will inevitably follow the introduction of genetic engineering of human beings, because the consequences of unregulated genetic engineering would be disastrous. [19]

124. The usual response to such concerns is to talk about “medical ethics.” But a code of ethics would not serve to protect freedom in the face of medical progress; it would only make matters worse. A code of ethics applicable to genetic engineering would be in effect a means of regulating the genetic constitution of human beings. Somebody (probably the upper-middle class, mostly) would decide that such and such applications of genetic engineering were “ethical” and others were not, so that in effect they would be imposing their own values on the genetic constitution of the population at large. Even if a code of ethics were chosen on a completely democratic basis, the majority would be imposing their own values on any minorities who might have a different idea of what constituted an “ethical” use of genetic engineering. The only code of ethics that would truly protect freedom would be one that prohibited ANY genetic engineering of human beings, and you can be sure that no such code will ever be applied in a technological society. No code that reduced genetic engineering to a minor role could stand up for long, because the temptation presented by the immense power of biotechnology would be irresistible, especially since to the majority of people many of its applications will seem obviously and unequivocally good (eliminating physical and mental diseases, giving people the abilities they need to get along in today's world). Inevitably, genetic engineering will be used extensively, but only in ways consistent with the needs of the industrial-technological system. [20]

19. (Paragraph 123) Just think an irresponsible genetic engineer might create a lot of terrorists.

20. (Paragraph 124) For a further example of undesirable consequences of medical progress, suppose a reliable cure for cancer is discovered. Even if the treatment is too expensive to be available to any but the elite, it will greatly reduce their incentive to stop the escape of carcinogens into the environment.

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