Monday, August 22, 2005

In the Nature of a Wrench

James Kushiner blogs, over in Mere Comments:

Man in the West does not seem at peace with his biological nature and in many ways seeks to transcend it or frustrate it. He does not seem at peace with, say, the natural fertility of the sexual act.

But man seems to be at peace with the mechanization of himself. Perhaps it is because these changes have generally happened incrementally over time that he has gotten used to them. Many men think they must be good changes and believe that, just like evolution, these steps must be in the direction of evitable progress, a gradual improvement of the species.

Now, comments such as these set off my "liberal arts" detector. Those of us over on the technology end of the academy also talk about "appropriate technology" and the like; what we don't do is make noises of amazement that people seek out and use technology. Maybe it's because, as people who exert what mastery we have over the world, it is hard for us to imagine there is anything remarkable about what we've done ever since we were old enough to pick up tools.

But there's also that nagging matter of scripture. Technology as the fruit of mankind is prophesied at length in the first three chapters of Genesis; the ability to attempt to manage the world about us is one of the fundamental traits of humanity. On that both scripture and the world agree. And a mathematician such as myself sees the will to do nothing as simply a specific case of that management; it is yet an exercise of the will.

That is, in particular, why I find discussions of fertility and its control almost inevitably crippled by incomplete consideration. It is not just with steroids and rubber and the knife that we control fertility; in the larger picture, it is with vaccines and antibiotics and sanitation that we have made the biggest impact. I think that nobody would willing go back to a 17th or 15th century control of fertility through disease and war and famine.

The truth is that, yes, there are plenty of engineers out there who are completely blind to the implications of the devices they design. And unfortunately, there are as many lawmakers, and manufacturers, and writers and counselors who are blind. And there are many whose particular hammer is the universal tool-- engineers who can fix everything with technology, and writers who can fix everything with words.

But there are also plenty of people, all around, who do consider the implications of what they build or advocate. But they sin, and therefore do not think things through well; and the rest of humanity is so very cunning in their ability to pervert whatever the thoughtful people come up with. Thus it seems to me that one's "thoughtful" consideration is easily itself perverted into a sinful self-ratification. Nothing is more ironic than talk of the perils of technology, broadcast worldwide on the internet.

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