Technology and Wisdom: Worshipping at Dead Altars
Bill Quick

Technology and Wisdom | Victor Davis Hanson – National Review Online

The latest fad of near-insolvent universities is to offer free iPads to students so that they can access information more easily. But what if most undergraduates still have not been taught to read well or think inductively, or to have some notion of history?

Or to understand that those iPads aren’t really “free,” and that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch?

When wind-chill temperatures fell to 40 degrees below zero in the frigid Midwest this winter and there were occasional storm-related power outages, was it better to have a computer-controlled central-heating system or an ax, some wood, and a cast-iron stove?

Well, my sister, who saw windchills of 80 below this winter, had a couple of cords of wood stacked on her back deck, as well as two indoor fireplaces suitable for heating and, if necessary, cooking.  But what was most useful to her was the 500 gal tank of propane in the back yard fueling a high-tech, whole-house generation with auto on-off.

The politicos who peddled the Affordable Care Act did so not just on the impossible logistics of giving more coverage to more people at less cost. They also hyped their new user-friendly website that would make getting health care no different from buying shoes on Amazon.

Neither is intrinsically impossible.  Health care is one of those arenas that are incredibly sensitive to advancing technology.  Just like computers – where, every year for the past thirty, we’ve given more people more computing power for less cost.  And simply because a corrupt bunch of ideologues couldn’t get a heavy duty web site to function properly doesn’t mean that such an accomplishment is impossible.  Vis., and VDH points out,

Technological failure has all but sidetracked Obamacare. And the resulting shock is not surprising, given how something so difficult to do was sold to us as if it were already done.

Actually, horrible optics, obvious lies, and economic reality have sidetracked Obamacare – to some extent.  But as long as Uncle Sugar’s purse remains to bail it out, it will remain.

So how could we lose track of a 250-ton Malaysian jetliner for days as if it were some lost clipper ship of the 1840s?

The answer is easy: The oceans are still big and the night remains dark. Jets, in comparison, are quite small. The seas are rough, the skies often stormy. For all our computerized sophistication, we really can lose a jet in a big and still-wild world inhabited by millions who have not quite mastered technology, or who use technology to thwart technology.

Oh, booga-booga.  Oceans are big, and nights are dark.  And we lost one flight out of how many hundreds of thousands over the years?  Not to mention that it isn’t irrevoacably lost, not yet, at least.  And if it is found, it will be due to robust technology that does it.

Our billionaire lords of high tech are not necessarily any different than entrepreneurs such as Jay Gould, John D. Rockefeller, or Leland Stanford of the late 19th-century Gilded Age. A fortune made in social networking is hardly any more noble than one made from monopolizing the railroad business, gobbling up steel companies, or setting up tax-avoiding trusts.

Or hardly any less noble, either.  All made their founders rich.  And all made a hell of a lot of other people rich as well, not to mention vastly improving life for millions of their fellow humans.

Billionaire tech wizard Steve Jobs gave away less of his fortune than did Andrew Carnegie. Google offshores its profits with accounting gimmickry that would have made J. P. Morgan proud. The hip Solyndra bunch got government-insider money and concessions of the sort that Mark Hopkins and Collis Huntington garnered to build the transcontinental line. Yet the old robber barons at least used government money to create something; their modern green-techie counterparts squandered it.

And here VDH either lies by omission, or twists the truth in order to pound his favorite conservative hobbyhorse toward the finish line.  First, Steve Jobs died young and unexpectedly, at what should have been the peak of his powers, unlike Andrew Carnegie, who devoted the last twenty years of his life to philanthropy, primarily building libraries.  And Bill Gates, still playing an active role in his own company, has so far given away at least 30 billion dollars, more than twice Carnegie’s entire fortune at its peak.  As for green tech, it is merely a scam foisted on the public by their leaders via corrupt corporatist arrangements.  Never has it been an actual industry, and it is unfair to the point of naked dishonesty to pretend that it is a legitimate industry comparable to the Robber Barons, who presided over the greatest period of growth America has ever known.

To paraphrase Shane of Western movie fame: A laptop is only as bad or as good as the person using it.

A gun is only as good as the person using it.  A sword is only as good as the person using it.  A pen is only as good as the person using it.  Spouting trivially obvious banalities is not a form of argument I find convincing.

See, here’s my problem with intellectuals like VDH who argue from the starting point of an antiquated version of conservatism, the sort that stands athwart history shouting stop,  (and how stupid is that notion when you really think about it?), the sort that automatically values the past over the present and the future, and automatically views with suspicion the new while equally automatically valuing the old simply because it is…old?

In truth, the march of human progress has been well nigh unbroken in terms of improving the lot of humanity over the millennia.  We live better today than our ancestors did a hundred years ago, they live better than those of a hundred years before them, and so on.  There is no reason not to imagine – and welcome – the idea that our descendants (and, maybe, if we are lucky, some of us, as well) will live better than we do today.  And if that happens, it will primarily be because of the new technology VDH views with such a jaundiced eye.

I’m tired of the old bulls and their fears of tomorrow, along with their mindless obeisance to yesterday.  Yes, the desert barbarians who wrote the papyrus and animal scripts that eventually became the Old Testament, or the Greeks who gave western civilisation the very notion of civilization, have something to teach us.  But not as much as antiquitarians like VDH would have us believe.  Certainly not enough to worship for all time at their crumbling altars.

True wisdom involves the apprehension of reality.  That means understanding an ancient bit of knowledge – A Equals A – and seeing that it requires acknowledging that the world changes, and a primary reason for those  changes is the technology that man himself has created for thousands of years to improve his lot.

Wisdom involves acknowledging that and understanding the nature, potential, promise, and pitfalls of technology now and in the future – not simply fearing and rejecting it because it is new.  And it is that innate fear and, in some cases, hatred of the new that motivates the thoughts of too many intellectuals, including, it seems to me, VDH himself.

Bill Quick

About Bill Quick

I am a small-l libertarian. My primary concern is to increase individual liberty as much as possible in the face of statist efforts to restrict it from both the right and the left. If I had to sum up my beliefs as concisely as possible, I would say, "Stay out of my wallet and my bedroom," "your liberty stops at my nose," and "don't tread on me." I will believe that things are taking a turn for the better in America when married gays are able to, and do, maintain large arsenals of automatic weapons, and tax collectors are, and do, not.

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