Monday, February 8, 2010

Technology: Good Or Bad?

Many will likely be critical with the contention that technology is neither good nor bad. For how can it not be good that the lifespan of humans in industrialized societies at least has dramatically increased in just the last century, for example?

It is tempting to judge this as good but ultimately our judgment on any given matter is only ever based on something already known or experienced. For example, if the longest any human lived was known to be only 30 years, we would base our judgment on living approximately 30 years. If one attained this age or beyond, this would of course be deemed good. On the other hand, if the longest any human lived was known to be 200 years, a 30 year lifespan would seem tragically short and deemed bad.

It is enticing for the marginalized to see something “better” and label it good or for the fortunate to see something “worse” and label it bad, but this is only due to disparity. This disparity can be analogous to having something good taken away. Once it is seen what can be, this then becomes the de facto standard and of course there is a desire to attain or maintain this good thing.

But it must be pointed out that this thing is not really good. It is only relatively good. In other words, the thing just is.

I want to further express what I am talking about with what will no doubt be a very emotional topic. Let's suppose that due to medical technology, the infant death rate goes from 1 in 5 to only 1 in 5,000. This is good, is it not? But what if we subsequently came across a civilization that experienced an infant death rate of only 1 in a billion? Is 1 in 5,000 still good? What if your child was one of the 1 in 5,000 that perished?

In this case, statistically it is almost certain your child would have survived if the death rate was only 1 in a billion. As such, might you, or anybody else for that matter, now see this death rate as bad?

One might claim that only 1 in 5,000 is good because it is better than 1 in 5. However, when compared to a death rate of only 1 in a billion, it seems bad. Furthermore, it is tragic when any infant dies but is especially so when it is yours! So whether the death rate is 1 in 5 or only 1 in 5,000 or still more impressive only 1 in a billion, if your child dies, none of these is good. Conversely, if your child survives, none of these is really bad either.

Perhaps we could legitimately declare it good when no babies die. Then again, could infant death simply be nature's equilibrium so as to preserve the lives of the greatest number of babies and more generally, and perhaps more importantly, to preserve Life in general? Of course this principle will no doubt be hard to accept especially if your baby dies.

In any case, might it be suggested that nature seems to obey the principle of utilitarianism even with an incredibly delicate issue such as this?

One could similarly draw an analogy to the idea of promoting longevity as an intrinsic moral good. Should we adopt this imperative?* What if this places such a strain on society that it undermines the health and well-being of everybody?

Would it be better for people to live 1)marginally well for 150 years, 2)moderately well for 100 years or 3)phenomenally well for only 50 years? Once again, are the ravages of old age nature's equilibrium so as to best serve Life in general (the proverbial One)?

In summary, it seems wise to avoid imparting judgments and to just accept what is.

*Would those predisposed to boredom deem a longer lifespan good?

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