Devil’s in the details



I’d like to share my favorite Bertrand Russell quote with you. It goes: “It is only insofar as we renounce the world as its’ lovers that we conquer it as technicians.”   Russell wrote that in 1959 when a computer like the one that may be in your lap took up an entire room.  He went on to say that falling under the spell of technology is like worshipping Satan – a losing proposition. In the 21st century such sentiments are most often viewed as neo-Luddite or, at the very least, quaint. However, a good many folks may not need a philosopher or even a Unabomber to clue them to a growing uneasiness among their neighbors toward an over-dependence on things we plug-in or fuel-up. Anyone who has found their hurried lives stretched all the more thinly by computer malfunctions or mechanical breakdowns may have the growing suspicion that the Devil’s in the details.

March 28th will be the anniversary of the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island nuclear plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  A moment when the population of the East Coast seemed to stand still just long enough to ask: what exactly have we gone and done?  The answer, after all the official damage control, was never quite clear. A whole lot of people scrambled for one form of cover or another. Our young family wound up in Florida where we met more than a few fellow refugees who had fled the Mid-Atlantic States. The fear was palpable.

As anti-nuclear activists, we had assumed such a day would arrive, but for folks who had gone about their lives leaving things to the experts, Three Mile Island became a sort of silent monster in the closet.  What else might turn on them?  What other technologies might bite the hand that feeds it?

Today, we see other even more frightening examples: the ongoing multiple meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan, the dead zones they have created, and the fact that those damaged highly radioactive reactors and fuel storage pools are the same type as the one sitting on the shore of the Connecticut River at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, or near Boston at the Pilgrim plant, or in any of twenty-one other communities in these United States. There is a school of thought that tells us much of our anxiety and neurosis has more to do with the things we’ve created physically than those we’ve dreamed up in our minds.

So, what is the price of modern technology? How much of a good thing is too much? I believe I’ll stand with the Hopi elders who long ago warned us of the clever path of invention, one that wanders off into oblivion. Traditional Native elders pretty much agree on the need to walk in balance with the natural world.  I guess the individual decides for her or his own self where that balance lies.

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